Moving Sandwich’s 7th And 8th Graders Into The High School Is Not A New Concept
By: Michael J. Rausch
Superintendent C. Richard Canfield’s proposal to bring the 7th and 8th grades to Sandwich High School has been met with trepidation from parents worried about interaction between the grades. After all, the youngest 7th graders are just barely 12 years old and the high school seniors are legal adults.
It is worth noting however, that when the high school opened in 1976, it began life as a junior-senior high school, housing students from 7th through 12th grade. The school stayed that way for 14 years until it became just a senior high school. That restructuring was made because of a growing number of students in town.
For generations, the only school in Sandwich was the Henry T. Wing School. Built in 1926, the Wing School housed 13 grades, counting kindergarten. The school was divided into a high school (grades 7 to 12) and an elementary school (kindergarten to grade 6), and each school had its own principal and faculty.
In the early 1960s, the population of Sandwich hovered around 2,000. By the end of the decade, that population had more than doubled, with records showing a total of 4,100 residents by 1971.
Former assistant town clerk Judy K. Hendy explained that the swell in the town’s population back then was due, in part, to the building of the canal power plant in 1968. Ms. Hendy said that construction of the plant brought with it a lowering of town taxes, which made the community more affordable and more attractive to young families.
With the growing number of students, room within Wing School became tight.
Town archivist Barbara L. Gill said that the idea of a junior-senior high school in Sandwich was first proposed in June of 1969. Ground was broken for the school five years later.
The 181,373-square-foot school building cost $9,610,669 to build. It was designed to accommodate 1,000 students and included 58 classrooms, a cafeteria, a gymnasium, an auditorium, a bookstore and a swimming pool.
The new school opened its doors on February 26, 1976, and graduated its first class in June of that year.
Matthew J. Bridges, current director of pupil personnel services for the Sandwich School District, graduated from Sandwich High in 1979. He later taught health and physical education at the high school, and eventually became the school’s assistant principal in 1988.
Mr. Bridges said that when the school first opened, it was set up in the same way that Dr. Canfield envisions his science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) academy. The academy would bring the 7th and 8th grades back to the high school in what the superintendent calls “a school within a school.”
Mr. Bridges said that Sandwich Junior High School housed 7th and 8th graders in a separate wing of the building. The junior high had its own principal, James H. Sibson, its own student government with elected student council officers, and its own extra-curricular activities, such as school dances.
However, Mr. Bridges said that unlike Dr. Canfield’s proposed STEM academy, which would have its own athletic program, students in both the junior high and senior high schools competed together on the same teams.
“Anyone who did not make a school team participated in town recreation programs,” he said.
Thomas R. Hickey of Emerald Way was director of facilities for the Sandwich school district from 1977 to 1994. Mr. Hickey recalled that the junior high and senior high schools also had their own lunch times and gym classes. Mr. Hickey said that all the students came into contact with each other in the hallways in between classes, but he did not recall seeing any trouble between the grades. He noted that many of the younger students had older brothers and sisters who looked out for their siblings, and that the majority of any bullying issues at the time occurred between students in the same grade.
Mr. Hickey also pointed out that the school also offered vocational courses, similar to the classes offered at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School. Some of the classes students could take were home economics, drafting and auto shop, he said.
“The auto shop was where teachers and students would take their cars to be repaired,” he said, mentioning that there was a paint room and several lifts where the cars were worked on.
He explained that by 1990 the high school’s curriculum had changed drastically, and with the increased popularity of Upper Cape Tech, fewer students were signing up for the vocational classes, so the high school’s curriculum changed drastically with the vocational courses eventually being dropped.
The town’s population continued to grow, aided by the superb reputation of the Sandwich school system, Mr. Hickey said.
“The district had very high SAT scores,” he said.
By the mid-1980s, the number of residents had nearly doubled again to 11,954, and by 1986, the total student population at the Wing School was 1,379.
The history section of the Wing school’s website noted that by then, the building was “absolutely bursting at the seams.” That same year, the high school, which was built to accommodate 1,000 students, had exceeded its designed capacity with a population of 1,103.
The jump in population led the school administration to approach the town about building new schools in order to accommodate the increase in the number of students at both schools.
Responding to the need, the town approved construction of the Oak Ridge and Forestdale schools, both built in 1988.
The decision was made to move the 7th and 8th grades out of the high school, and spread them among Wing, Oak Ridge and Forestdale, creating three K-8 schools.
Records show that the Wing School was closed for six months in 1990 for renovations and repairs, leading then-superintendent Joseph R. Nicholson to report that “the overcrowding must continue for a brief period until the reopening of the Wing School.”
All K-8 students went to Oak Ridge and Forestdale until the Wing School reopened in September 1990.
Back then, parents were deeply concerned over the decision to have 12- and 13-year-old students suddenly intermingling with kindergarten and first grade students, some as young as 5 years old, Mr. Bridges said.
He said that the move was met with much of the same outcry that is currently being directed at Dr. Canfield’s proposal to have 7th and 8th graders attending the STEM academy in the high school.
Russell B. Norton Jr. of Earl Road, taught at Sandwich senior high from 1983 to 1987, and served as the school’s principal from 1992 to 1999. Mr. Norton said that while the junior and senior high schools occupied separate wings of the school, there was still social interaction between the students. He said that as principal he made only one rule regarding junior and senior high students mixing socially.
“I made an edict that you can’t bring a junior high girl to the senior high prom,” he said. Mr. Norton said that based on his experience as both a teacher and principal, he is in favor of returning the high school to a grade 7-12 structure.
“I think it will be a plus,” he said.
There are mixed feelings among former students, still living in Sandwich, who attended the high school from grade 7 through grade 12. Some said that they agree with Mr. Norton, and any bullying issues would only be found among students in the same grade, rather than older students picking on the younger ones.
Others stated their concern that putting 12-year-olds in the same space as 18-year-olds is inviting trouble.
Andrew J. Troyanos of Jeannes Way graduated from Sandwich High in 1984, when it was a 7-12 school. Mr. Troyanos, who teaches music at Mashpee High School, a 7-12 school, recalled that all the students were able to get along. “There was some bullying that went on, stuff that goes on all the time, but it was not a huge issue,” he said. He mentioned that at Mashpee, all the students, 7 through 12, mingle in the hallways together, and while there is the occasional problem person, “kids at Mashpee High do not feel threatened.”
Peter C. Reilly of Mill Road echoed Mr. Troyanos comments. Mr. Reilly said that he would have no problem with bringing the 7th and 8th grades to the high school. He said that both he and his wife, Brenda J., attended the high school when it was a 7-12 school.
Mr. Reilly said that he has a daughter attending Oak Ridge School, and she would “probably prefer seeing a different set of walls rather than the same walls for nine years.”
“Let’s use the school,” he said.
He called the return of the 7th and 8th grades to the high school, “all in all, a good thing.”
Kathleen M. Caggiano of Morningside Lane said that she is less enchanted with the prospect of bringing the 7th and 8th grades up to the high school. “It’s hard enough for a 9th grader to enter the high school,” she said, arguing that 12 years old is too young to be exposed to the same environment as 17- and 18-year-olds.
Ms. Caggiano graduated from Sandwich High School in 1985, when it was still a junior-senior high school, and she believes that instead of bringing the 7th and 8th grades to the high school, the town should instead consider opening a separate junior high school.
“We’ve needed a junior high since I went here,” she said. Ms. Caggiano said that in addition to herself, all her children have attended Sandwich High. Her oldest daughter, Alyssa, is currently attending Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and will be graduating in the spring with honors. Her middle child, Allie, is a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, and she has a son who is a 9th grader at the high school.
“None of my kids have had a bad experience at the high school, the kids made it into great colleges, but the high school should be a high school; keep it separate,” she said.
Former Sandwich School Superintendent Peter J. Cannone said that he is not surprised by such parental concern.
“There’s always going to be pushback from parents when it comes to moving kids,” he said.
He said that Barnstable moved their 8th grade to the high school two years ago and despite initial concerns,
“everything has worked out fine.”
Mr. Cannone served as superintendent in Sandwich from 1994 to 2004. He called his tenure in Sandwich “exciting” and “gratifying.” He said that when he was appointed, Sandwich High School was considered one of the top schools in the country, and he fielded many phone calls from people around the country who wanted to know about Sandwich High because they were considering moving to the town. He also said that at the time Sandwich consistently scored in the top 20 percent in the state on MCAS tests.
Currently a consultant for The Center for Executive Search, an arm of the Cape Cod Collaborative, Mr. Cannone has been involved in most of the school superintendent searches on the Cape over the past 10 years. He said that having worked in a number of different school structures during his education career, he believes that “configuration is important but doesn’t make or break a school system.”
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