Friday, July 16, 2004
Dr. Fitzgerald reflects on years at Minuteman High School
Minuteman Regional High School Superintendent Dr. Ronald Fitzgerald finishes his twenty-eighth and final year this August. In a recent interview he reflected on his years as superintendent and emphasized the need to reach out to students from towns like Carlisle.
Q. What were the early years like at Minuteman?
I became superintendent in 1976, two years after the start of the school. Previously I was superintendent of Schools in Amherst, Massachusetts. Minuteman was started by people working in the high-tech field, and preparation for higher education has always been one of the main goals. Communicating that goal to the public was difficult at first. Most technical high schools were not college-oriented. It has taken constant communication and word of mouth to reach families in our district. In the '80s there was a dip in the population so we expanded our district, adding four towns, and reaching out to kids outside the district. We also briefly participated in School Choice [a state program for including out-of-district students], but dropped it four years ago because the $500 reimbursement per student from the state was inadequate.
Q. How many students today go on to college?
In the early years it was about thirty percent. Now the average is fifty percent overall. In our high-tech academies (biotechnology, ocean science, pre-engineering), it is over eighty percent. In the industrial fields (construction, plumbing, automotive, etc.) it averages over thirty percent, depending on the field.
Q. What types of students do well at Minuteman?
All types. Our style of teaching cuts across all achievement levels. Students who are high achievers are attracted to our academies. Students who have had trouble being motivated in school find success at our school. We offer hands-on learning, which helps visual learners. We offer three kinds of divisions, and three kinds of careers, so there is something for every kind of student. A lot of students learn by doing and students who have low reading skills respond to our visual teaching style. Some SPED (special education) students are occasionally rejected because we are not equipped to deal with severe problems. The most important message is that the school services a certain type of learner, not a specific achievement level.
Q. Do you assess towns a higher fee for SPED students?
Yes, an additional $4,900 surcharge to the town on top of the $4,500 tuition. But it costs us close to $15,000 to educate students.
Q. Why aren't more Carlisle students attending Minuteman?
Communicating to towns like Carlisle remains a problem. We have many students from Arlington, Stow, and Lancaster, where the population is less mobile. In towns where families are moving out and in we constantly need to educate new residents about our school. We don't touch the percentage that we should and I think that results from the mistaken stereotype of the school. Our school committee's primary role is to promote communication, to inform towns like Carlisle that we are dedicated to continued learning. Our bio-tech students are going on to college. We will be establishing more academies, but we do not do high tech at the expense of trade training. There's something for every type of student.
Q. What are your retirement plans?
I want to continue to do learning-style consulting, which I do all around the country. I am finishing a book on learning styles and use of data management for teachers, which should be published soon. I plan to continue to run workshops, training educators in "Brain-based Teaching."
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito