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The Boston Globe

South

Middleborough

Officials make video in bid for new school

The issue isn’t whether Middleborough needs a better high school, officials agree. The crumbling, outdated brick structure on East Grove Street speaks for itself — long on leaks, windowless spaces, and cramped conditions, and short on classrooms and technology.

Teachers do their best and students succeed despite the obvious deficits, Superintendent Roseli S. Weiss said, including spotty Internet connections that hamstring classroom presentations and stage lighting that shuts off — or can’t be turned on — for performances.

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“We are totally held captive by this facility,’’ she said. “We should be making sure our kids have the same advantages as other kids.’’

Weiss has sent a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the agency in charge of funneling millions into communities to help pay for new schools or renovations. But it will probably be December before a preliminary answer is received, she said.

In the meantime, Weiss and other administrators, including high school principal Paul Branagan, are working to open the discussion about their need in a community that does not always approve tax increases for schools.

To help make their case, administrators have produced a 33-minute video, “In the Middle of the Borough,” that showcases Middleborough High School’s pluses and minuses, compared with new schools such as the one they recently toured in Hanover, where they say students have all “the 21st-century tools” they need to succeed.

The differences are startling, said Weiss, who indicated that Middleborough could be a good candidate for the school building authority’s Model School Program, through which a district recycles the design plans of other schools to save considerable time and expense.

“It’s not the Taj Mahal we are talking about,” Weiss said.

But gaining support for a new high school could be tough, Selectman Allin Frawley said, coming as the town is about to spend millions of dollars on a wastewater treatment facility and an expensive addition to the police station, which is also to be renovated.

“I don’t know how those two projects will affect the high school,’’ Frawley said. “But I have a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old baby, and I hope one of them gets to attend a new high school.”

Resident Teresa Kelly Farley, who has one child in fourth grade, another in first grade, and a toddler, said she and her husband made a conscious decision to send their children to public schools, despite the conditions at the high school. She is one of many parents who are encouraging an open discussion to see what’s best for the community where she intends to raise her family.

School administrators aren’t saying “let’s spend $15 million,” Farley said, just “let’s investigate this.’’

“For me, this is where I live,’’ she said. “I’m invested. This is my home.”

In the video, Weiss, Branagan, assistant principals Danielle Desrosiers and Andrew Dizel, and coaches, teachers, and students discuss the high school’s benefits and shortfalls, alternating photos that compare the school with its new counterparts that boast airy student-union-type cafeterias, modern classrooms, science and computer labs outfitted with the latest technology, natural lighting throughout, and Internet access everywhere.

“Even the weight rooms in other schools look like Planet Fitness or Gold’s Gym,’’ said Dizel, who is also a coach, pointing to Middleborough’s dingy workout area tucked behind the gym’s bleachers. “I hope the community doesn’t judge this school by its cover.’’

Despite the building’s shortfalls, the school is known for its achievements. In 2011, Branagan was named High School Advisor of the Year by the National Association of Student Councils, and the student council itself has won numerous state awards.

Students are receiving a great education in Middleborough, Branagan said, “but when you have a classroom that is 42 years old, it presents a challenge.”

As does the lack of learning space that forces some teachers to float with their belongings from one room to another, and causes art, for example, to be taught in a science room. Other classrooms are bulging at the seams with well over 30 students and have no climate control, officials said. And the school can’t host a regional theater competition it wanted to because its staging and lighting is unreliable.

“The main challenge is the facility’s inability to support the good work we do,’’ Weiss said.

Branagan said he is committed to bringing the best he can to his students, whom he praised for their resilience, achievement, kindness, and positivity. Still, he said, it’s hard not to covet.

“More and more communities around us are having this opportunity, and our students aren’t,’’ he said. “We aren’t saying the town is not taking care of our kids. But at a certain point, you can only put a Band-Aid on it, and I don’t ever want our students to say, ‘Why can’t we have that?’ ”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@
live.com
.
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