Friday, January 18, 2002
Minuteman Regional High School
School of Applied Arts and Science
by Bill Churchill
I had not paid a visit to Minuteman Regional High School on Route 2A in Lexington in the past five years, not since I left the school committee job. I found the school not much changed physically except for the construction at the entryway.
As I rounded the corner to the front of the school, I came to the "energy house." The house was built by the students in 1983 t o demonstrate how efficient a super-insulated house could be. At the time there was little interest in the house although now many area contractors use various superinsulated and air exchange techniques employed in constructing the house. It is now used for classes and meetings and costs only about $350 per year to heat.
Across the street in front of the school is a daycare center that serves employees of MIT's Lincoln Lab. The facility provides a learning station for Minuteman students and employs some Minuteman graduates.Interview with superintendent
I had made my trip this morning to talk to Ron Fitzgerald, superintendent of the school. Ron, 68, who has been superintendent for 26 years, since 1976, two years after the school opened, says that he has been a school superintendent longer than anyone else in the state. Although he is past what people consider the normal retirement age, Fitzgerald has no plans to quit. In fact, a number of years ago school committee chairman Nyles Bernert managed to convince Fitzgerald to give the committee a year's notice before he moves on.
I asked about choosing a possible successor, such as Bill Callahan, the principal, who, at 55, has also been at Minuteman for 26 years. Fitzgerald explained that the selection of superintendent is one of the primary functions of the school committee and that he would not interfere when such a need arises.
"Ron, how is the school going?" I asked.
"It's fine this year, but we could have some problems next year with enrollment," Fitzgerald replied.
Some towns have found a way to block tuition students from attending the school. Minuteman, however, is sponsoring legislation, which has widespread support, to make it easier for tuition students to choose to attend the school.
One town, Wayland, has not allowed pre-high school students to tour Minuteman or let Minuteman talk to the parents. The Wayland posture is to let only the interested students go. "If they don't see the school, how do they know they are interested?" asks Fitzgerald. Wayland used to send 57 to 60 students but now they send only four students, all special education (SPED). Carlisle, which does not block admission, now has five Minuteman students, down from a high of 15. It should be noted that Concord-Carlisle High School, according to guidance counselor Tom Curtin, is no longer a comprehensive high school, since it does not offer classes in home economics, business and industrial arts.
A number of towns send a high percentage of special-needs students. Fitzgerald says that the MCAS pressure has caused some towns to send Minuteman their poor readers so they don't count in the town's high school statistics. Fitzgerald pointed out that students who are failing all through the seventh grade suddenly have passing marks in the eighth grade, making them eligible for vocational schools like Minuteman. Other vocational schools have also seen this behavior. Minuteman's SPED percentage is 47 percent.Dramatic improvement in reading skills
According to Fitzgerald, Minuteman often finds that SPED students can see dramatic improvement in reading skills by a change in the style of teaching. Many of these students are visual learners and have trouble with the phonics type of programs in grade schools. By putting these students through an accelerated learning program using a specialized computer lab, Fitzgerald claims to increase their reading ability an average of 2.3 grade years for each year of study. This is still a problem for a student who comes in as a freshman with a reading level in the fifth grade. In one year he cannot meet the MCAS tenth-grade requirement. However, by the twelfth grade the student can be reading at the tenth-grade level. Many students entering as SPED freshmen graduate without that classification.
I was Carlisle's representative on the Minuteman School committee for 15 years after my son Philip graduated in 1980. Now, as in the past, under the school's format, students attend academic classes such as English and Math for one week and then vocational or shop classes for the alternate week. When Philip attended Minuteman, the school had 13 different clusters or vocations. There are now 23 possible vocational majors broken into three programming areas.Technology
This program includes electronics, computers, drafting, electromechanical, biotechnology,environmental technology and pre-engineering.
Fitzgerald explained that drafting is very different from 20 years ago since today everything is done on computers. In fact, Minuteman uses computers for all of its vocational instruction.
The pre-engineering cluster takes high-achieving students and allows them to prepare for engineering college. These students take not only actual college courses such as elementary differential and integral calculus but can gain college credits for the courses. My son Philip, who went on to college at MIT, could have used the math training that Minuteman now offers.
A biotechnology major teaches students how to do DNA analysis among other things.Commercial
Included here are programs in culinary/hotel management, retailing, printing, commercial art, cosmetology, health and dental and child care.
Minuteman has for years run two restaurants of its own. The Fife and Drum Restaurant on the entry level to the school, serves a good high-quality lunch and some special-occasion dinners. The Fife & Drum Grill is a fast-food service that used to be an in-house McDonald's restaurant. The school took over running and managing the restaurant after McDonald's contract ran out. Students operate this restaurant for students and faculty with the McDonald's menu and suppliers provide management training for students.
The Fife and Drum Restaurant is open Tuesday through Friday at noon excluding summer and school holidays. You must make reservations, 1-781-861-6510. Senior citizens discount 10 percent on Tuesday and Wednesday. From the web page you can get the day's menu at www.minuteman.org
This program includes the traditional building trades such as carpentry, electrical, plumbing, heating/air conditioning (HVAC), as well as the auto trades such as auto body and automechanics.
Fitzgerald says that the modern car is so complicated and computer driven that the school now requires that the students take an academic course in physics to graduate with a degree in that trade.
The job picture for skilled workers is excellent, explained Fitzgerald. One cluster, HVAC, is so much in demand that it is impossible to staff. The school lost one HVAC teacher and had an agreement with another teacher, a former Minuteman student. He turned down the school's $69,000 per year offer in favor of an $80,000 per-year offer from private industry. Most HVAC graduates can "write their own" ticket explained Fitzgerald.
Although many students don't go on to college, they may eventually run their own business. Still there are a surprising number of students who do go on to college. Fitzgerald says that from the technical division 84 percent go on to college, from the commercial division 50 percent, and from the trades division 30 percent.One mother's praise
Nancy Weiss of Brook Street, whose children Katrina, a senior, and Adam, a freshman, were recently named to the honor roll at Minuteman Regional High School, has nothing but praise for the school. "The school has a real commitment to the child's learning style and then finding the best teaching style to go with each and every student," said Weiss. Both her children and Carlisle student Reed Lockwood are in the Career Academy, which offers pre-engineering and biotechnology. These are rigorous college preparatory programs designed for academically talented, technically oriented students who plan to go on to competitive technical colleges or institutions upon graduation. The sixteen students per grade enrolled in the Career Academy have taken rigorous entry exams to be admitted into each of these programs. Weiss has been very happy with the school and feels her children are blossoming. "There are myths about the school," says Weiss. " One is that the school is for kids who don't go on to college. There are also some honors courses offered at Minuteman that are not offered at CCHS," she adds.
Asked about transportation to and from the school, Weiss says there is an early morning bus every day. There are several buses for the return trip to Carlisle: one at 2:30 p.m. each day, one at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays when teachers stay late to meet with students who need extra help, and a late sports bus which leaves each day at 6 p.m. Weiss finishes with one final observation: "If a child has a special interest, the school will support it. The school is dedicated to each and every child."Carlisle teacher at Minuteman
Jannine Baker, a Carlisle resident who has taught at the school for 16 years as an instructional technology teacher praises Minuteman for offering students "the opportunity to learn real life skills as well as traditional academic skills. Students learn to use their knowledge from how to splice genes to how to cut hair under teacher supervision.
"Units taught often involve 'teaming,' a skill that industry feels is critical. For example, our horticulture seniors create a blueprint for the Flower Show in Boston each year. Then, all of them help force the plants, go down and set up the exhibit and take it down.
"The school tries to live by the Chinese proverb
'If I hear it, I forget; If I see it, I remember; If I do it, I learn."
For more information on Minuteman Regional High School log on to www.minuteman.org.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito