WILBRAHAM — Following the lack of public consensus at the recent community forum, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee agreed during its March 7 meeting to delay the reconfiguration vote and research other options for addressing the district’s concerns, including a pathways program.

At this meeting, the School Committee was initially scheduled to make a final decision on the reconfiguration after narrowing down options to two at its Feb. 1 meeting. Option 1 organized Green Meadows Elementary School as pre-kindergarten to grade 5, Mile Tree Elementary School as kindergarten and first grade, Stony Hill School as grades 2-3, Soule Road School as grades 4-5, Wilbraham Middle School as grades 6-7 and Minnechaug Regional High School as grades 8-12.

Option 2 maintained similar changes but placed three sections of grades 2-5 at both Stony Hill School and Soule Road School. In both options, Thornton W. Burgess School would close. These changes were set to occur during the 2025-26 school year, as stated by Superintendent John Provost.

In making either of these changes, the district would also be required to modify the regional agreement, as it currently requires kindergarten through eighth grade students to be educated in their respective town, according to the School Committee. The committee’s proposed change was to allow all students to be educated in either town.

However, during the Feb. 15 community forum, residents expressed concern with changes from both options. Specifically, multiple residents argued that eighth grade students should not attend a high school setting and that teachers could provide a better educational experience for students when a single grade was in one building, rather than divided as in Option 2.

On March 7, School Committee Chair Michal Boudreau read a summary of the Planning Committee’s discussions about the forum that occurred on its March 5 meeting. In this report, she highlighted three potential methods Provost raised at the meeting as “alternatives” to address the concerns that prompted the reconfiguration discussions. These concerns included the number of school transitions for students, the size of each school and the number of students at each school.

One recommendation “would be creating an annex of the middle school. This would be an innovative pathway that would allow approximately 100 eighth graders to choice to Minnechaug Regional High School,” Boudreau said, stating that this program could take “up to a year” to plan in order to coordinate with needed partners and assess community interest in the program.

Innovation Career Pathways are programs that combine opportunities for career-specific courses with real-world experiences in order to prepare students for a field, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“You’re essentially giving students a chance to declare a major in high school,” Provost said. He explained that students participating in the pathways program would take subject-specific courses before finishing with an internship in their field. “The idea is the student would leave with some industry-ready credentials.”

Due to the nature of the program, Provost would need to fully research the pathways program before he could bring a recommendation to the public to gauge interest, Boudreau explained.

The pathways program might assist with receiving funds for projects at other schools, member Sean Kennedy stated during discussion, referencing his previous statement that the Massachusetts School Building Authority was unwilling to provide funds for renovation until Minnechaug Regional High School was used to its full capacity.

“Maybe the MSBA would look favorably on that we do have a program here. We are using this space here at Minnechaug well so when we start asking about building on to other schools … they might look at that more favorably,” he said.

Kennedy later suggested that another option could be relocating grade 6 students to Green Meadows Elementary. This would place grades 7-8 at Wilbraham Middle School and grades 9-12 at the high school. In response, Provost stated that he would look into whether this option had been previously considered.
Member Michael Tirabassi highlighted that residents may not support the pathways program because it would still divide a grade of students and move eighth graders to the high school. These were two concepts that residents were largely against at the community forum, he said. Tirabassi recommended that the committee also review an option that did not move any grade 8 students to Minnechaug Regional High School.

Other suggestions raised by Provost at the Planning Committee’s meeting included building an addition to Wilbraham Middle School, which would be a “local cost” and help to reduce the overcrowding at the school, and to no longer accept transfer requests for students and create an addition at Green Meadows Elementary School. This method would require an additional expense for added teachers, Boudreau said.

After discussion, the School Committee voted to officially direct Provost to investigate the pathways program further.

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