Amidst a deteriorating enrollment, the Monomoy Regional School District is hanging its future on the hope its new high school will bring back students lost to school choice, charter schools and Cape Cod Regional Vocational Technical School – or at least keep as many kids as possible from leaving the district.
School Choice Mystique
School choice was once the engine that kept Chatham’s school district alive years beyond its expiration date. Chatham “sold” itself on the mystique of an excellent academic program delivered in a small, intimate setting not unlike a private school. Chatham was light years ahead of other Cape districts in this regard.
It was an excellent and wildly successful marketing program. MCAS scores going back thirteen years indicate Chatham was never quite the academic powerhouse that it branded itself, but the staff there knew how to sell the district and keep their school choice customers happy.
Now the mystique of “small, intimate Chatham” is gone and so are the school choice students. These days most of the school choice customers are heading to Nauset which offers diverse programming and performs well on MCAS year after year.
Monomoy Superintendent Scott Carpenter might want to focus more on improving his elementary schools if he wants to stop families from leaving his district.
Both Monomoy elementary schools have Grade 4 MCAS scores almost as low as Dennis-Yarmouth. Indeed, in 2013 only 45% of Chatham’s fourth graders scored proficient or advanced in English Language arts. DY had 42% proficient/advanced and Barnstable beat them both with 52%. Both DY and Barnstable beat Chatham by one percentage point in Grade 4 Math MCAS proficient/advanced scores.
If a parent has just experienced six years of mediocrity in a Monomoy elementary school, are they not more likely to look at alternative middle school opportunities? A school like Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School has made a practice of taking woefully skill-deficient sixth graders and dramatically improving their skill level over three years’ time.
Middle School Challenge
Monomoy’s middle schools perform rather well in English Language Arts but show mixed results in math and science, tech/engineering. Harwich Middle School has the second lowest scores of nearby districts in both domains. Chatham Middle School is middle-of-the-pack in math and leads the pack in science, tech/engineering. See the chart below.
High School Contrast
Chatham High School’s 2013 MCAS disappointed, with the district scoring at the bottom of nearby districts with 82% advance/proficient in English Language Arts and an embarrassing 52% in Math.
Harwich High School tied Sturgis Charter with 100% advance/proficient in ELA. They ranked second after Sturgis in Math with 93% scoring advanced/proficient. See the chart below.
Monomoy Must Do Better, Any Other Course is Naïve
If Monomoy expects to survive more than five years as regional school district it must bring in new school choice students and halt the hemorrhage of kids who are leaving the district. One of the cornerstones of successful school choice recruitment is an excellent academic reputation, which currently eludes Monomoy.
It is naïve to suggest that a student who decamped to another school district will return to Monomoy in the middle of their high school career. Our years of covering Cape school competition have taught us that “when they’re gone, they’re gone – and so are their siblings.”
Early on in the formation of the new regional school district an administrator told this reporter that the district was taking a serious look at the International Baccalaureate program that has served Sturgis Charter Public School so well over the years. We haven’t heard anything of that lately, as an active IB program could be a magnet to draw new school choice students to Monomoy.
A shiny new high school isn’t a “magnet” unless it is infused with magnetic energy. An IB offering would be just the thing to make Monomoy an attractive destination – unless Nauset gets there first.
Dennis-Yarmouth continues to struggle with academics. A strong elementary program at Monomoy could bring many DY families across the town line and keep them at Monomoy for the thirteen years of K through 12.
Desperation? The Lacrosse Roads.
The Cape Cod Chronicle reported this week that Monomoy's Superintendent Carpenter said he had a call from a parent who said that her son and “19 of his friends” were planning to choice out to Nauset “so they could play varsity lacrosse”.
Carpenter’s reported response was to promise the creation of a lacrosse team next year.
We find it difficult to believe that 4% of Monomoy’s high school students threatened to decamp to Nauset if lacrosse was not offered. Certainly 4% of the kids in Chatham and Harwich might enjoy lacrosse, but we doubt that all of those parents would commit to four years of driving to North Eastham twice or more each day, just so their kids could play lacrosse.
If the report was that 19 kids were already contemplating Nauset’s excellent academic programs - and lacrosse was the icing on the cake - we might pay more heed.
That the superintendent agreed to field a lacrosse team – and committed the district to funding another athletic program for years – makes one wonder if desperation has set in at Monomoy.
Based on FY2013 enrollments, we can expect to see fewer than 600 students show up when the new high school opens next fall.
Looking ahead, if every single child last year enrolled in Monomoy’s grades 4-8 stays in district, the high school will enroll 733 students in five years’ time. However if the current emigration to other schools remains constant, it is unlikely Monomoy will ever attain the state-mandated enrollment of 700 students at its new high school.
One thing is certain: without solid academic programs yielding measurable results in place, Monomoy remains a very tough sell as a school choice destination.
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