Use this search box to find articles that have run in our newspapers over the last several years.

Task force created to address decline in HWRSD student enrollment

Date: 10/2/2014

WILBRAHAM – At its Sept. 23 meeting, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee voted unanimously to approve the creation of a Middle School Task Force (MSTF) to assess an ongoing decline in enrollment in both town’s middle schools.

Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea said for the 2014-2015 school year the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) has an enrollment of 744 students.

The projected enrollment for the 2020 to 2012 school year is 564 students, based on current K-5 enrollment.

The New England School Development Council (NESDEC) released projection data for the district in January 2013, showing roughly 600 students as the potential enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year.

“The implications of this decline are significant,” O’Shea said. “Educationally, it becomes more difficult to maintain the middle school team concept, an arrangement where four core academic teachers work together to provide consistency and continuity to promote the academic, social, and emotional growth of small group of students at the same grade level.”

In smaller schools, the team concept breaks down because scheduling flexibility decreases, he added. Teachers must be scheduled across grade levels and in some cases across disciplines.

“Enrollment numbers directly effect Chapter 70 aid calculations and other revenue streams which, in turn, affect resource allocation, staffing patterns, facility usage, and transportation,” O’Shea explained.

The MSTF will review school and district improvement plans; assess staffing patterns as well as needs and deficiencies; review past, present, and future enrollment; and set actionable recommendations for the committee to take.

Wilbraham and Thornton Burgess middle schools will also be assessed for their planned and current capacities, technological, health, and safety infrastructures, operating systems, and space usage.

The task force currently is composed of School Committee Chairman Marc Ducey, and School Committee members Lisa Morace and Peter Salerno, who were appointed at the meeting.

The Wilbraham and Hampden boards of selectmen will appoint one designee each.

Five school and district administrators will be appointed and four parents or community members from each both towns will also be appointed.

A brief letter of interest for the position must be sent to the HWRSD School Committee by Oct. 3.

Letters can be sent to Executive Secretary Kate Belsky at or to the HWRSD at  621 Main Street, Wilbraham, MA 01095.

In other business, the committee approved the acceptance of three grants awarded to the district, all of which combined are roughly $1.6 million this year.

Gina Kahn, director of the district’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students programs, said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) approved the Drug-Free Communities grant, funded for $125,000 a year for five years, and the Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) grant for $100,000 a year for two years.

“One thing that I would emphasize is that I think these three grants really will drive home some strategic directions that are already in place in this district and have been in place for a long time,” O’Shea explained.

Kahn said the Drug-Free Communities grant will focus on substance abuse prevention, targeting marijuana and opiates.

AWARE training will focus on mental health education.

“AWARE is the project that will allow us to train 250 members of our community over the next two years,” she added. “The network of this training is not just going to be our teachers. I really think that its strength is going to be reaching out to parents and reaching out to youth serving organizations and agencies.”

The School Climate Transformations grant was also approved for $334,000 a year for five years, which is a project to initiate district-wide platforms related to behavior and to hire an additional school psychologist and behaviorist.

“This will give us the resources to really establish that suicide prevention curriculum and perfect it over time,” Kahn added.