Monday, July 31, 2017

Grade Configuration FAQ


As you are probably aware, the Billerica Public Schools are currently building a new Billerica Memorial High School that will serve Grades 8-12.  This was approved by the Billerica School Committee and Billerica Memorial High School Building Committee in March 2015 in order to address educational and facility needs in the district.  Below, please find some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about this new configuration.

Where did the idea of a Grade 8-12 high school originate?
This idea came out of the district’s comprehensive master facilities plan that was developed in 2012, and is designed to address both educational and facility needs in the district.  It originated during a series of educational visioning sessions done as part of the development of the plan.  During those sessions, we had about 50-60 participants that included administrators, teachers, parents, students, town officials, and community members.

The plan to bring Grade 8 into the high school would be done in conjunction with a building project that created physical separation between a Grade 8-9 part of a building and a Grade 10-12 part of a building.  One of the big motivators was to create better transitions for adolescent students as they move from middle school to high school.

What are the educational reasons to add Grade 8 to Grade 9-12?
The transition from middle school to high school can be a difficult one for many students.  By creating an environment where Grade 8 and Grade 9 students are clustered together within a high school building, separated from the older students, it has the potential to create a smaller and more conducive learning environment for students during these critical years. 

At the same time, moving Grade 8 into the high school would provide opportunities for students who excel to take advantage of greater learning opportunities that they would not have access to in a middle school setting, e.g., advanced math, fine arts, etc.

Beyond these two reasons, adding Grade 8 to the high school would also increase the number of students that are able to access a modern educational facility in a given year.

What are the financial/facility reasons to add Grade 8 to Grade 9-12, and what impact would it have on the other schools in the district?
In the 2012 master planning study, the district looked at all of the school buildings in order to identify a long-range plan that made sense for the district as a whole.  The study identified that the majority of our elementary schools were undersized for their current populations and were relying on temporary modular buildings that have outlived their normal lifespan.  By building a Grade 8-12 high school, this relieves pressure on the elementary schools by shifting the grades in the other buildings as follows:

With 8-12 high school
High School
Grades 9-12
Grades 8-12 (8-9/10-12)
Middle Schools
Grades 6-8
Grades 5-7
Elementary Schools
Grades K-5
Grades K-4

Is it true that the Vining School would close if a Grade 8-12 school is built?
Yes.  By shifting the grade spans of the elementary schools to K-4, this would create enough room in the other five elementary school buildings to house the district’s population. 

Although the Vining is an excellent school, it has physical limitations as it is the district’s oldest elementary school, built in 1957.  It currently houses only 201 students (as of the end of the 2016-17 school year), and the master planning study identified over $13 million of capital improvement work needed in the building.  Closing the Vining would remove the financial liability associated with maintaining this older building as a school, and has the potential to identify cost savings in the operating budget through consolidation of district resources.

If the Vining were to close, this would necessitate the need to look at attendance boundary lines for all of our elementary schools.  One of our goals in redrawing these lines would be to try to create a direct correspondence between elementary schools and middle schools, so that students from the same elementary school would not be split up into two different middle schools as they transition.

How would you look to manage the age range of students in a Grade 8-12 building?
By creating physical separation between the Grade 8-9 part of the building and the Grade 10-12 part of the building, students would have little interaction during the school day.  The two areas of the building will share common areas (e.g., library, cafeteria, gymnasium), but will have their own administrative support systems.

Would Grade 8 students be able to participate in athletics, performance groups, or other high school extracurricular activities?
Yes.  In fact, in selected sports with smaller numbers, some Grade 8 students already participate through athletic waivers; this would open up the opportunity to all Grade 8 students.  Similarly, other activities would be accessible for all students.

When will the changes occur?
The new grade configuration and associated redistricting will take effect when the new high school opens in September 2019 at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

Where can I find out more information?
Information about the Building Committee can be found at, on Facebook at, or on Twitter at @NEWBMHS. 

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