Friday, June 1, 2007
Students find an alternative at Minuteman High School
Carlisle is one of 16 towns that belong to the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District (the full name of the district), located in Lexington. The other towns in the Minuteman district are Acton, Arlington, Belmont, Bolton, Boxborough, Concord, Dover, Lancaster, Lexington, Lincoln, Needham, Stow, Sudbury, Wayland and Weston, though students outside the district may attend if space allows. All students residing in member towns have the option of attending Minuteman for grades 9 to 12. In addition Minuteman offers post-graduate studies and adult education classes.
The school recently hired Dr. Edward Bouquillon to replace retiring Superintendent William Callahan. Bouquillon will begin at Minuteman in July, after serving as director of the Windham Regional Career Center in Vermont.
Nancy Weiss of Brook Street has been on Minuteman's 16-member School Committee for many years. She said attendance from Carlisle fluctuates between 8 and 11 students. Both of her children attended Minuteman. The current enrollment figure for grades 9-12, according to the Department of Education, is 653 (435 male, 218 female). In comparison, CCHS has 1,256 (589 male, 667 female).
In answer to what kind of student would do well at the school, Weiss replied, "I would have a hard time finding a student that wouldn't be successful at this school." She added, "Minuteman is different from other technical schools right from the beginning. We take a student, and find out where a student learns best." She said one of the school's goals is to teach students how to learn. She noted that adults often change careers, so teaching learning strategies is key to successful life-long learning.
Both CCHS and Minuteman charge Carlisle a fee based on the number of students attending. Tuition assessments for Minuteman are based on the per- pupil costs specific to the needs of the student, the per-capita wealth of the town, and an even split of the operating costs. While all towns pay an equal proportional split of the operating costs, some towns pay a higher tuition based on the town's wealth.
Regarding the cost of a vocational education, the Minuteman web site explains, "On a national basis, vocational programs cost an average of two times as much per student as chalkboard based academic classes." (www.minuteman.org). "This is the result of lower class sizes needed for safety, high energy (electricity) use, and more extensive equipment." The average cost per student for all member towns is $16,918. Carlisle's cost per student is $20,273. (See Table 1.)
At the May 16 Carlisle School Committee meeting, parent Alex Krapf noted that, "I've never heard Minuteman discussed in regards to budget. We've never even talked about Minuteman, so I don't even know what our obligations are." Committee member Michael Fitzgerald replied, "It's a valuable school, and offers a good program." He noted that the tuition charges are "disproportionate, based on per-capita wealth." But, he said, "It's not your auto- mechanics-and-beauty-school any more."
The courses at Minuteman School are offered in three major divisions: Technical, Commercial and Human Services, and Trades. Under each division are focus areas.
The Technical Division, which focuses on sciences, includes honors-level academies in areas such as pre-engineering and biotechnology. Other concentration areas in the division are telecommunications, environmental technology, electronics, computer programming, and computer-aided design.
The Commercial and Human Services Division offers "people-focused" courses such as culinary arts and hospitality, health care, dental technician, child care, cosmetology, graphics, and retail and banking.
The Trades Division offers "action- focused" courses such as carpentry, electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, automotive technician, collision repair technician, welding and landscaping.
The freshman year at Minuteman is called the "exploratory year." Students take courses in all the 22 focus areas offered at the school. The goal is to assist students in choosing their areas of concentration. A mini-exploratory program is available for those students who transfer to Minuteman in tenth grade.
The typical weekly schedule for all four years is a "one-week-about" program, with one week focused on a technical study, and the next on regular academics.
After a year of exploratory classes, students are asked to choose their area of focus. For example, a student who chooses retail, banking and marketing as their focus area would then take courses such as inventory control, receiving, buying, budgeting or sales promotion. Students in environmental technology take courses including wildlife biology, geology, and meteorology, and hazardous waste operations.
Students who study culinary arts will be involved in the Fife and Drum Restaurant and the bakery, which are open to the public. Banking students gain experience working at the Minuteman Branch of the Cambridge Savings Bank, and cosmetology students work in the beauty salon. Other services include The Mall Store at Minuteman, the day care center, auto mechanics department, the auto body shop, printing shop, welding shop, and catering services by the Gourmet Club, Inc. "Plumbing and Culinary Arts are always filled," noted Weiss.
All students are required to take the Massachusetts Department of Education high school required courses in English, math, social sciences and physical education. (See Table 2)
Academies a different track
The academies within Minuteman are designed for students who are continuing on to college ("pre-engineering" is so named because it offers courses which prepare students for an engineering major in college). Entrance is by math and English competency test, and incoming enrollment is limited to approximately fifteen students for each academy. Weiss explained the academies are different from the other focus areas; job training is not emphasized and students who graduate are expected to continue on to college. Students in the Biotechnology Academy will take courses such as biotechnology ethics and issues, cellular biology, and computer fundamentals.
After-school courses on Mondays and Wednesdays are offered to middle students from the Minuteman district. There is a $20 fee for each four-week class and transportation from the students' middle school and back is free.
Minuteman provides training for adults during the school day to "prepare them for work or update their job skills," according to the Minuteman web site. Adults living in the district can take courses without tuition or for a small charge. Most course studies, such as dental technician, require at least one year's commitment.
Who is right for the school?
Minuteman says students who are "experiential learners" are best suited to the school. There is an emphasis on hands-on, laboratory learning. There is also a focus on cooperative education. "Kids are very respectful," said Weiss, and bullying is not tolerated. She said as soon as a problem is noted the school sets up meetings with parents, teachers, and counselors. "Minuteman is not a school for everybody," added Weiss. Students who have poor attendance records or behavior issues may not be suitable. However, explained Weiss, some students who do not do well at traditional schools may find themselves excelling.
Approximately 49% of students attending Minuteman receive special education services (Concord-Carlisle High School is about 14%). But the school does not describe itself as a special education school. Instead the literature says the focus is on science, technology, and vocational training. Weiss said students needing special education services are well supported at the school. "Minuteman does very well with that population," said Weiss. "There is a broad spectrum of kids going through the school."
Admissions Counselor Maria Gonzalez explained the admissions process,"We will accept applications late in the summer, but ideally we want them before the end of the school year." She said there are five criteria used to judge students' appropriateness for Minuteman: academic grades, attendance record, behavior record, successful completion of eighth grade, and positive recommendations from their previous school. Student interest is also a key factor. Students are given a test which helps the school determine readiness for subjects such as math and English. Acceptance to Minuteman is not based on the test, but entrance into the academies can be influenced by the tests. Gonzalez explained that students take a career questionnaire, and review the results at an introduction meeting. A sample can be found at: www.minuteman.org/topics/tpt.html.
The DOE tracks "plans of high school graduates," and lists these statistics for Minuteman: 63% plan to go to either a two- or four-year college or post-secondary training program, 33% plan to work, and 3% plan to join the military, with 1% unsure. Statistics for graduates from CCHS: 98% plan to continue in education, with 2% unsure. As in all Massachusetts public high schools, students must pass the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehension Assessment System) test to graduate. Most students in Minuteman's technical divisions pass the MCAS, but students in the trade and commercial divisions have lower passing rates. Students who fail the test in tenth grade are given intensive instruction to prepare to retake the test and pass by grade 12. Students must score at least "Needs Improvement" in English and Math to graduate. (Table 3)
Minuteman students perform well in many local competitions. Carlisle student Jocelyn DiFazio won a state-level culinary competition and has been invited to the national competition in Kansas City in June. (See page 3.) Recently Minuteman sent engineering teams to the Design Challenge at the Museum of Science in Boston, winning a gold level award. A team of two Pre-Engineering students placed second in the "West Point Bridge Design" contest — a national Internet-based software design contest.
According to Minuteman's 2006 Annual Report, graduates perform well on later examinations and board certifications. All dental graduates passed the National Dental Board examination, 100% of early childhood education graduates were certified by the Office for Child Care Services, all cosmetology graduates passed the state board examination to become licensed hair stylists. medical occupations graduates achieved 100% placement in college.
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