HANOVER — South Shore Tech is fortunate to have very good partners in the W-H school district in terms of ensuring that students select their best path through high school, according to Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey.
“All middle school students should know of career technical education,” Hickey said.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently updated its regulations on school admissions, Hickey explained recently. SST, meanwhile is an over-subscribed school with a waiting list, and has success in being a school students in it’s sending towns want to attend, with 80 percent of its student population coming from Whitman, Hanson, Abington and Rockland.
“A lot of attention has been given to vocational schools and school committees updating their admissions policies, which now we will be required to do on an annual basis,” he said. “Part of the regulations also address, slightly, the important issue of access to students in sending towns.”
While Hickey recognizes the financial impact of vocational schools — because dollars follow students – he views access as a fairness-equity issue.
“You can’t make a decision about something you don’t know about,” he said, noting that the state’s main emphasis is for vocational schools that don’t have that kind of access.
Whitman representative to the SST School Committee Dan Salvucci reported to the panel on the topic Nov. 17, when he attended a DESE Vocational/Technical admissions regulations workshop earlier this year during which a Division 8 session discussed being able to get the message of vocational education to the state’s middle schools.
Salvucci said he planned to talk about it at that the Mass. Association of School Committees/Mass. Association of School Superintendents’ joint conference.
“There’s still a lot of areas that will not allow vocational teachers [or other representatives] to go into their schools and have a class session to explain to the [students] in the middle schools, what vocational school is all about and if it’s something that they want to try,” he said. The talk was part of a broader discussion of admissions.
“We’re a public school,” Hickey said of the public vocational school created in 1960 by a vote of town meetings in the eight member communities. “We are a second public high school, paid for, in large part by local tax dollars.”
So, how do students decide between vocational education and a regular high school? Hickey said student tours of buildings has generally been a dependable tool.
“Our desired access routine would be something like our admissions counselor goes to the middle schools in our district and makes a presentation to all eighth-graders,” Hickey said. That is followed by a tour, or site visit, as a school field trip with adequate chaperones and parental permission slips. The lengthy building tours would then be followed by a community open house on a weekend, to help keep parents involved in the process, Hickey noted.
“The emphasis at the state level is to try to make sure that we’re able to provide information to every eligible student in our district, and — if they don’t have an interest — we’re not arm-twisting,” he said.
Some of the concern has roots in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think right now, there’s no question in my mind that these new regulations, layered on with COVID concerns, have turned everything upside down,” Hickey said. “I am confident that COVID, hopefully, in the rearview mirror soon, we’ll be able to re-engage with students.”
SST has even had to change the way it conducts that annual open house. This year, there was none of the usual marketing — no lawn signs, no news releases — instead they leaned heavily on social media and mailed information to sending towns. Students and parents then had to register for a 10-minute window for a visit to begin. They would then have an hour to tour the school when they arrived. Staff members keeping count to ensure the maximum number of people to safe levels.
“Hopefully we would be able to return to some more normal open house recruitment,” he said.SST has also secured a grant, along with the towns of Rockland and Abington to address English-learner recruitment amid a growing population in the area, and to increase equity in recruitment, if they are interested in SST or not.