Turners Fall, MA — Work is beginning on Powertown in the 21st Century, a project that will provide all Turners Falls High School students with a 21st century education that is rooted in the local community and will prepare them for a bright future in spite of unpredictable economic and social conditions in the region and the world. A generous eighteen month planning grant from the Boston-based Barr Foundation will provide funds to Turners Falls High School (TFHS) and its project partners to work with students, families, school staff and community members to identify, evaluate and select a model for a redesigned high school experience by 2019.
The project work will be completed with the support of longstanding partnerships between Turners Falls High School and the Collaborative for Educational Services (CES), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), Greenfield Community College (GCC), the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board (FHREB), and the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership (GMCSP). Representatives from each organization will serve on the project’s Design Team.
Annie Leonard, Principal of Secondary Education in the Gill-Montague Regional School District, has been instrumental in creating the opportunity for this project. Ms. Leonard said, “I am so energized by the possibility of working with our families and local partners to build on what we love about TFHS and what is working well for our students, and to determine what we need to do to better prepare our students for their futures beyond high school. Combining our traditions with a forward-facing view represents the true Powertown spirit that I have come to know in my three years with the district.”
The project partnership is supported by a $200,000 grant from the Barr Foundation for the planning and redesign of Turners Falls High School. The Barr Foundation’s mission is to invest in human, natural, and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts. Based in Boston, Barr focuses regionally, and selectively engages nationally, working in partnership with nonprofits, foundations, the public sector, and civic and business leaders to elevate the arts, advance solutions for climate change, and connect all students to success in high school and beyond. Barr is among the largest private foundations in New England.
“We are thrilled to support the Collaborative for Educational Services and Gill-Montague Regional School District as they collectively engage in a comprehensive planning process to transform Turners Falls High School into a competency-based school where educational experiences are designed to enable students to acquire the knowledge, skills, and habits essential to success in high school and beyond,” said Jenny Curtin, the Barr Foundation’s senior program officer in education.
The design team and the TFHS School Council will convene monthly as the project progresses. These teams will work with staff, students, families and community members to conduct research into emerging models for secondary education including competency-based education (a model where progress toward graduation is based on demonstrations of competency, not accrual of credit), experiential learning, and/or early college experiences.
The vision is that every student entering Turners Falls High School will have an individualized learning plan guiding their educational choices and trajectory through high school graduation and beyond. By the 2019-20 school year, a small group of students are expected to participate in a pilot of a new TFHS model which could include early college classes and/or community-based learning experiences.
The team hopes for strong family engagement and advocacy during the planning process, especially from families of high-needs students (i.e., English language learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities). The new approach will shift the school away from the traditional credit-based high school graduation requirements and into a competency-based system where educational experiences are designed to enable students to acquire the content knowledge, creative know-how, habits of success and wayfinding abilities essential to improved life chances, especially for those disadvantaged by disability or other adverse circumstances.
Dr. William Diehl, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, will facilitate the Design Team. Says Diehl, “We anticipate that this project would make Turners Falls High School a leading contributor to the development in Massachusetts of innovation career pathways that emphasize applied learning and work-based experiences, competency-based learning, and early college pathways that can lead to the attainment of at least 12 postsecondary credits. We’re excited to participate in this work and It’s the belief of the partnership that the project will support and expand the school’s core values and beliefs about learning.”
About the partners:
Turners Falls High School in Montague, MA, is one of the four schools in the Gill-Montague Regional School District. It serves about 230 grade 9-12 students. TFHS offers academic programs to fit the needs of every student who walks through its doors and a diverse curriculum that aims to ensure the success of the student population.
The Collaborative for Educational Services has been working with schools, districts, families, children, youth, and adult learners in the Pioneer Valley and across Massachusetts to create and improve educational opportunities both in and out of the classroom since 1974.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges is an independent, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization which connects and serves over 2,000 public and independent schools, technical and career institutions, colleges, and universities in New England. NEASC Accreditation attests to a school’s high quality and integrity.
Greenfield Community College is one of the 15 community colleges in the Massachusetts higher education system, known for the caring and supportive attitude of the faculty and staff, academic excellence, and for the broad support it enjoys from the surrounding community.
The Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board is the region’s policy-making authority in developing workforce skills. In partnership with government, business, labor, education and community-based organizations, the FHREB coordinates and oversees the region’s publicly funded workforce training and placement programs.
The Gill-Montague Community School Partnership is a broad-based coalition of organizations, families, youth and community volunteers. The Partnership uses a positive youth development approach, to promote healthy, safe, caring, and constructive environments for all youth in our community.