WILMINGTON — Wednesday night’s school committee meeting began with a department report from the Wilmington Wired Wildcats, the high school’s robotics team. Science program team leader Julie Kim, one of their co-advisors, explained that the team is part of FIRST, which is a global robotics community that promotes STEM.
The team members all introduced themselves to the committee and told them about some of the challenges they had encountered this year: adapting to different types of competitions, creating the robot’s claw and gaining social media followers. They also showed the committee their robot and gave the committee some keychains they had made.
After that, the two student representatives of the college, David Dynan and Isabella Zaya, shared some of the recent events that took place at the college. These included the next edition of the time capsule-themed literacy magazine, high school guidance counselors visiting eighth graders, the Gay Straight Alliance Club sponsoring a day of silence, and the production of the Drama Beauty and the Beast club.
Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand discussed updates on the MSBA process, the Wildwood School, and two leadership searches in addition to presenting the executive summary of the college and high school exit survey in his regular report .
He shared that the special town hall voted to pass the feasibility study for the new Wildwood School. He thanked all the residents who came to vote. He also said next steps will include certification of registration sent by the MSBA, documentation of successful voting, and then invitation by the MSBA Board of Trustees to the feasibility study.
David Ragsdale acknowledged that not everyone attended the meeting before the vote.
Brand announced that a new principal from Wildwood School had been selected to join after the April school holidays. He also brought the new principal of Wilmington High School to the meeting. He mentioned that the new principal had experience as a teacher and associate principal in Massachusetts and Virginia.
Regarding the current Wildwood School, Brand explained that relocating students, staff and administrators had not been straightforward and there was no place at one school for everyone. The solution they had found would be to split Wildwood staff and pupils between secondary schools, Woburn Street and Shawsheen Street.
It would also affect the students and staff of these schools. The plan would be to have the last day in Wildwood on the 19th, move things to that day and the 20th, then bring in new students and staff on the 23rd.
President Jenn Bryson appreciated how quickly the plan was developed and all the work that went into it.
Brand’s presentation of middle and high school graduation survey results provided enrollment trends, survey data and next steps. He shared information from other districts – in 2019 Reading lost 364 students to 396 at Wilmington and 229 at Woburn. It also showed how the percentage of Wilmington students at Shawsheen Tech has been steadily increasing for years.
They received 281 survey responses, some from families whose children left the district before high school and others whose students are still in the 8th grade in middle school. Among 8th graders, the score on whether they would stay in high school was almost evenly split between yes, no, and unsure.
The survey also asked families about their motivating factors for exploring options other than high school. They answered questions such as improving educational opportunities, community vibe, technology education and certifications, course options, and college experience.
Some of the next steps he listed were exploring other opportunities to collect data from Wilmington families and informing students and families in advance of what Wilmington High School has to offer.
Bryson said the survey might have meant families would have to think about other school options based on how the questions were worded. She also wanted to make sure they asked current college students about their experience.
Melissa Plowman wondered what answers the students would give compared to those of their parents.
“I wonder if it’s not more parents who feel connected to the college culture,” she said.
The rest of the committee shared the idea that it seems people have a perception of poor college culture that needs to be corrected.
They mentioned the importance of marketing the good stuff from high school and giving kids a chance to imagine themselves in high school before they get there.
Plowman asked if they could develop action points and receive regular college updates. She suggested that students might be more interested in technology right now because it’s trending.
“There’s always an opportunity for kids interested in the technical world to be there,” she continued.
Brand also referred to another survey sent even more recently to parents, students and college staff. He assured them that it was not out of a desire to prevent high school students from pursuing other options.
The committee chose to reserve its discussion on school choice for its March 23 meeting.