The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 14, 2004


DOE official Hans Meeder visits Minuteman High

Hans Meeder, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education for the U.S. Office of Vocational and Adult Education, was the guest of honor at the Minuteman Regional High School on Wednesday, May 5. Meeder's office has begun an initiative to recognize "comprehensive" (academic and technical) vocational schools.

Arriving at 9:15 a.m., Secretary Meeder was treated to refreshments in the library and an introduction to the format and philosophy of the school before beginning an hour-long tour. Students Coleen Mahoney, a junior from Cambridge, and Alex Ehlke, a senior from Lexington, led the tour, heading first to the electromechanical engineering/robotics classroom.

A comprehensive school

Minuteman is a four-year public regional high school, with approximately 820 students from over thirty towns including Acton, Carlisle, and Concord. The school is labeled "comprehensive" due to its combination of academics, preparation for college, and vocational-technical career training. Minuteman offers academic courses in four main career areas: academics (pre-college courses), technical (science and logic), commercial and human services (people-focused), and construction/power (build and repair).

Robotics students Kurt Naser of Arlington and Ned Dalzell of Stow caught Meeder's attention with their electronic "heated chairlift seat" design. Describing their testing methods and displaying a worn part, Dalzell remarked, "We ran it to destruction." Meeder asked, "Do you do designs on design software?" Naser explained they use computers for their design phase and for tracking their project.

Other projects presented to Meeder included a car heater, an automatic chair adjuster to avoid poor ergonomics, and an underwater robot used to collect plankton samples.

Business course incorporates English skills

Meeder then visited an English classroom to learn about "English for the entrepreneur," a one- or two-year business course that incorporates math, computers, database design, writing and communication skills. Much of the course work is done out of the classroom, explained teacher Dr. Sebastian Paquette. "The content seems more like business management," remarked Meeder. "We focus on grammar," responded Paquette. "There's a great deal of writing. The business end is used to give them a vehicle." Paquette explained all students have basic four-year requirements such as English, social studies and math.

Meeder was next led to the Biotechnology Academy where he observed a genetics experiment using yeast. He was interested in learning that students' schedules alternate from week to week, taking focused vocational courses (i.e. ocean science, engineering, biotechnology) one week, and core academics the next week.

Environment Sciences classroom

In the Environmental Technology & Ocean Science Academy classroom Meeder watched a PowerPoint presentation on a watershed class project in Cambridge. Juniors Stas Michalski, from Cambridge, and Chris Wise, from Needham, presented a project titled "Natural Resource Manager in an Urban Environment." "The real life stuff that we do is amazing," said Michalski. He explained he was getting Ds in his previous school, but found Minuteman motivating. "Now I'm getting As". "How many days do you get out in the field?" Meeder asked. "We have weeks when we're not here, like a classroom without walls," Michalski replied.

Career exploration

Minuteman literature states the school "specializes in science and technology." During their freshmen year Minuteman students are encouraged to take a variety of courses to explore the school's technical programs before choosing one area in which to major. "A major goal of the school is helping a student find a career path that will give college and other future study special meaning." Three subject areas, Biotechnology Academy, the Pre-Engineering Academy, and the high technology cross-major college preparation program, do not allow freshman exploration. Those require competitive testing to enter a program in the freshmen year and present demanding advanced academic study.

For students interested in general college prep technology and science courses, the choices include computer-related fields, electromechanics, biotechnology and medicine, telecommunications, and engineering. In the Commercial Division the student can choose college preparation, and courses such as child care, cosmetology, graphics, health care, culinary arts, and dental technician. The courses in the Trades Division include college prep, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, landscaping, and automotive technician.

Meeder's final visit was to the Pre-Engineering Academy where ninth-graders Andrew Schwalenberg of Arlington and Avi Love of Stow gave a short presentation on their design of a pressure regulator. "How did you learn the basics of design?" asked Meeder. Love replied they used a variety of sources including textbooks.

MCAS testing a concern

Minuteman Superintendent Dr. Ronald Fitzgerald (left) greets U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Hans Meeder. (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

The tour group met back at the library for a follow up talk, led by retiring Superintendent Dr. Ronald Fitzgerald. He expressed concern about the MCAS testing requirement, explaining that some students enter Minuteman in tenth grade. "Kids with lower reading levels enter the school, and improve in their average reading scores, but many are not reading well enough for the testing. What credit do we get for improving their reading? None," he said. All Massachusetts students are required to pass the MCAS in their tenth year in order to graduate in their senior year. "It's held against us," added Fitzgerald. "The crux is that the tests do not make sense for the vocational educational experience."

Meeder replied that the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) law is new, and "only in its second real year of implementation." He explained that Massachusetts was different than some other states in that accountability already existed. "All the issues you raise are important," he continued, "Congress will revisit the Perkins Act next week." The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act was originally authorized in 1984, and reauthorized in 1998. The purpose of Perkins, according to the language of the act, was to encourage the development of programs in which students "could develop academic and technical skills needed to succeed in a knowledge- and skills-based economy." The act stipulates that federal funds will provide the principal source for innovation and program improvement, while state and local funding support the school infrastructure, salaries and other operating expenses. However, the act requires technical/vocational schools to be held to the same testing standard as all other schools.

Hearing that the Perkins Act may be modified, Fitzgerald said, "Your coming here gives us hope." "When you see the Perkins Act next week you'll see positive changes," replied Meeder. "As long as we don't go down the drain with the funding," Fitzgerald pointed out.

As the meeting concluded Meeder remarked, "We had seen some of the data on this school, so we were very impressed. The Perkins Act will be updated and funding will continue."

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito