For several years, North Reading's Secondary School Building Committee (SSBC) has been hard at work to come up with a solution to our aging secondary school problem. In cooperation with the MSBA, project architect Dore & Whitter and project manager PMA Associates, the SSBC has put the pieces in place for this project to succeed. Now it's time for the community to become informed, because the project will soon be on the fast track.
At October Town Meeting residents heard the latest on the middle school and high school project. In the following weeks, the school committee will hold its regular meetings in each of North Reading's schools to give parents and other residents a chance to come out, hear what is going on, and ask questions.
The deficiencies in our current middle and high schools are well known by members of the school committee and by many parents who have or have had students in these schools. However, the community at large needs to become involved to understand the issues facing each of these schools. While they may look okay from the outside, they are seriously lacking in many areas on the inside. In order for our children to be prepared for a 21st century economy, they must receive a 21st century education. With our existing high school and middle school facilities, this is close to an impossible task.
Our school system continues to be high-performing and our students do well on standardized tests. But, we need to be looking to the future and the skills and expertise that will be required to succeed. This requires changes and new ways of thinking when it comes to education. Unfortunately, our current facilities limit how far we can go to meet the demands of the new century.
North Reading High School opened in 1955, making it 56-years-old. Other than a small addition and some minor renovations in the early 90's, the school is in its original state. The North Reading Middle School opened 9 years after the high school, making it 46-years-old, and has had no renovations or additions. Both schools are augmented by the use of 18 modular classrooms, 10 at the middle school and 8 at the high school, because the buildings are not large enough to house the number of students at each level.
Here is what the MSBA says about our high school: "While the building is well-maintained, many of the original classrooms are inadequately sized, and the building systems have outlasted their life expectancy." On a personal level, I remember two years ago when the Masquers' annual musical almost had to be scrubbed because the light for the show overloaded the electrical system at the school, forcing it to shutdown. Things like this just shouldn't happen.
Clearly, much has changed in terms of educational requirements since these buildings came into service some 50 years ago. Much of the educational space and equipment is outdated and not conducive to providing a 21st century education. Given the challenges the United States faces from country's all over the world in the new global economy, we need to give our children the best opportunity to compete and succeed.
Of course, it's not all about the buildings. If it was, our students would not be succeeding at the levels they are. At the same time, we can't expect to be able to continue this level of success if we do not significantly upgrade our high school and middle school facilities. There are so many areas in each school that are lacking, it is impossible to detail them here.
That is why it is critical that you attend one of the school committee meetings over the next few months to understand where the project stands, what we actually hope to build, and why it is important that this gets done. You also can find out just why we need to improve our secondary schools.
It is anticipated that the school project will be put before a special town meeting and election in the January, 2012 time frame. It is in the town's best interest for everyone to be fully informed prior to making his/her vote. I hope to see many of you over the next few months.