Over the past several years, the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District has been operating with state funding that has been stagnant at best, and declining at worst.
In addition, enrollments have been declining steadily over the past several years, a trend which is seen across the state and is expected to continue. While some of the enrollment decline is attributable to demographic trends, an increasing number of the district’s students select vocational placements.
The member towns of Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury have been considering all options in dealing with these issues, including the possibility of consolidating the Regional Middle and High Schools into a single building.
The district has begun to explore both the financial efficiencies and the potential educational benefits of merging the secondary schools, grades 7–12.
Exploration of a possible consolidation gives the district the opportunity to reimagine our secondary programming through the lens of 21st century education. This means providing students with multiple pathways to prosperity including vocational and technical licensure programs along with traditional and non-traditional pathways to higher education.
As a public school system, we must critically evaluate our educational programs, and be ready to strengthen and create new educationally engaging and relevant experiences for our students.
Discussions have begun with Greenfield Community College leadership about the possibilities consolidation might offer by opening up the middle school building for other programming. These include on-site college courses for students, licensure programs in technology and nursing, and stackable degree opportunities with local four-year institutions.
Although this consolidation work is in the conceptual stage, the partnership with GCC is already progressing. It is anticipated that evening courses will be offered in Amherst beginning in GCC’s spring semester of the 2015-2016 academic year. This presents significant educational opportunities not only for our district’s students, but for adult learners in the community as well.
As we consider the exciting possibilities consolidation could provide, we must also weigh the social challenges created by having a wider range of ages within one setting.