By Torrey Smith
I serve as chair of the school board. I am also a parent of two current Harwood students and one recent graduate, and I spent much of last year subbing in several of our elementary and middle schools. I’d like to share a snapshot of what is happening in our district that might be different than others you have seen recently in social media.
I want to tell you about the integrity, talent and perseverance of our staff at every level. I want you to know about the yeoman’s work our school board has done in the last several years to merge six different school districts into one and to begin the tricky work of long-term planning for our district. I want you to be proud of the future that our community offers to its children in the schools we have built and worked to fund.
Educators wear a lot of hats on any given day. Of course, first we think of curriculum -- teachers are sharing knowledge of their subject area. But these days, that’s the tip of the iceberg of an educator’s job. Below the waterline, staff in our schools are called on to be a listening ear, a cheerleader for an anxious student, mediators in disputes, advocates helping students access needed resources.
Let’s look at academics. In the last couple years, a number of new classes have been added to Harwood’s lineup. In English and Language Arts we’re now able to offer classes beyond just the canon that most of us grew up with and have a chance to explore writing by women, people of color and other under-represented authors, journalists and poets. In STEM, electives include environmental science, forensic science, personal finance and robotics. Our music program continues to be a draw for students -- from chorus and band, to jazz band and drumline. Art classes in ceramics, crafts, photography and digital media are more popular than ever.
Let’s look at rigor. Under the new proficiency-based model (mandated by the state several years ago), every class at Harwood now offers a choice to do advanced work -- what used to be thought of as “honors.” This means that every student has the chance to do this type of work, not just a select few. Harwood offers 11 AP classes. Harwood’s SAT scores are above both the state and national averages. Sixty percent of last year’s graduates went to colleges with a wide array of program offerings -- from the American University of Paris to Champlain College, from Lewis & Clark to Middlebury, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to the Savannah College of Art & Design. Another 40% of our students go on to work, the military, two-year or professional training programs or have other post-secondary plans.
One of Harwood’s great strengths is its ability to meet students where they are -- not to force them into one model of learning or judge them by one outdated notion of success. The Flexible Pathways program includes alternative learning options within Harwood -- like the Harwood Community Learning Center -- as well as beyond the campus -- like independent studies, travel studies, career and technical centers, internships, dual enrollment and early college. These options are rigorous, have high standards and help students take charge of their own learning in ways that were not available when today’s parents were in school.
Co-curriculars -- sports, clubs, plays, etc. -- are another major learning tool in our district. It’s well-known that participation in activities like these fosters healthy social connections, builds grit and perseverance, and offers opportunities to enrich learning and engagement. Because this is such a valuable tool, our district makes participation free and available to every student. Harwood currently has 37 JV or varsity sports teams and 16 student-led clubs.
Is our school system perfect? Of course not. No system made up of humans -- and ours includes over 2,000 children and adults, as well as all their families -- is ever going to be perfect. Is there opportunity for improvement? Of course, there is. In addition to the constant refinement that happens in every classroom and in every building, current district-wide focus areas are looking deeply into anti-racism, social-emotional development and literacy. Change is on the horizon as the school board searches for the district’s next superintendent this year. The bond proposal before voters next week offers another effective way to improve our schools -- one that can only be accomplished through community support.
As chair of the school board that has put the proposal before voters, yes, I hope you will support the bond. But even more importantly, I hope you will take a close look at what is actually happening in our schools -- and how responsive they are to the demands on our kids today -- and be proud of the work of our educators, our board and our community to build the strongest future we can for our children.
Torrey Smith is chair of the HUUSD Board and lives in Duxbury.