| Chris Goudreau
WILBRAHAM – Forty-eight students at Thornton W. Burgess Middle School (TWB) have been approved by the district to be transferred to Wilbraham Middle School (WMS) at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
Combined with 50 fifth graders at TWB that are set to be transferred to Green Meadows Elementary School, that total number of students set to be transferred from the school to others in the district amounts to 98, which is 44 percent of TWB’s student population. At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, there would be approximately 107 students at TWB. The student population of WMS is 528 students as of Jan. 17.
During the School Committee’s Jan. 10 meeting, Superintendent of Schools Albert Ganem Jr. announced there were 47 transfer requests.
Ganem told Reminder Publications the following day after the School Committee’s Jan. 24 meeting, one transfer request had accidently fallen through the cracks prior to the Jan. 10 meeting, but that situation was rectified before the committee reviewed applications at its Jan. 19 executive session meeting.
“We looked at each letter, each request, individually and we looked through the three reasons that the regional agreement gave us,” Ganem said. “The three reasons are that it’s prudent, it’s in the best interest of the child, and that it’s something the district will be able to do. We were able to do it in the best interest of the child because every parent had a good reason why that it was in the best interest of their child.”
He added 21 students from Grade 6 at TWB would be transferred to WMS next school year, 14 students from Grade 7 would change schools and 13 Grade 8 students would move to WMS.
Although the transfer requests allowed parents the option to move WMS students to TWB, none filed requests for this option, he noted. If a parent or guardian decides they would like to move their child back to TWB, an additional transfer request would have to be made.
Ganem said the district’s job for the following school year is to ensure that TWB students are provided with a high quality education despite the low population.
“There’s a middle school in Quabbin that has 88 kids in it,” he noted. “You can provide a high quality education. It’s not the quantity of kids; it’s providing a high quality education with the students that you have. That’ll be our job – to right size that and make sure we provide a high quality education.”
When asked if teaching staff might be eliminated due to the anticipated drop in students at TWB, Ganem replied, “I’m sure, but we haven’t even looked at that yet. The transfers finally got approval last night. I couldn’t even go forward until all these were approved by the School Committee. So, I’m taking it one step at a time.”
Ganem spoke with Reminder Publications on Jan. 23 as well and addressed a rumor that the district has plans to lower the population in order to mothball TWB beyond the 2017-2018 school year.
“We’re looking out for the best interest of all of our kids,” he explained. “We don’t want any of our students to fail. We want our students to be successful. We want our students to be doing better. They’re doing a nice job, things are going well, but we need to do even better. We want our schools that are level two to become level one schools. We want our students to do better on our standardized assessments. We want our students to get a better education so they can be productive and high performing adults. For anyone to think that we want any student [or] any school to fail would say that we want our students to fail and there is not one single person that I’ve worked with in this district that doesn’t want success for these students.”
He explained he views the district holistically and if TWB’s performance is slipping, that is something he wants to change, not only to help TWB students now, but to make sure those students are ready to move onto Minnechaug Regional High School.
Ganem also answered questions sent to Reminder Publications from Hampden resident Robert Moreau. The first question asked how many middle school children received robocalls about school choice.
“They all did,” Ganem stated. “All students in Hampden and Wilbraham received the same exact message. Did it go out to a select group? No. It went out to absolutely everyone.”
The second question asked if faculty members at TWB were moved to WMS. “It had to do with their seniority and it had to do also with their certification,” Ganem replied.
When asked if it was suggested that TWB faculty should update their resumes, Ganem stated, “Absolutely not. No way.”
The last question posed to Ganem asked him what he and the School Committee have implemented this year to improve performance at TWB.
“There’s a couple things that we’re doing at TWB,” he noted. “I’ve been spending a lot of time at the schools and in those classrooms … It’s a daily basis. Second of all, we’re really looking closely at the curriculum there. That’s going to be consistent across all schools in our district – not just the middle schools, all schools by grade level.”
When asked if TWB’s performance hasn’t been in line with WMS’, Ganem replied, “It’s hard for me to say. So, right now I’m looking at the data right now. Right now I’m looking at what’s taking place. That’s why I’m spending time [at TWB] to look at the instruction that’s taking place and look at how the curriculum is being taught.”