My Turn: Greenfield’s Grade 8 where it needs to be

  • Greenfield High School STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 11/20/2023 6:21:51 PM
Modified: 11/20/2023 6:21:31 PM

In 2008, Greenfield’s School Committee voted to address the Greenfield High School building. At that time, the high school was literally falling apart — heating pipes bursting in floors and walls, windows that could not shut, a nonfunctional heating system, termites, flooding, asbestos, roof leaks. Even the foundation was crumbling.

On appealing again, the state’s School Building Authority agreed to address our high school building. Multiple architects were involved. The state’s first approval was for repair. After analysis, the approval changed to renovation. When the estimate for renovating Greenfield High School exceeded $50 million, the School Building Authority said they would only consider new construction.   

Greenfield’s $66 million high school took five years to design and build, with 78% paid by the state. The paperwork involved defending every room was extraordinary. And the state’s approved design for the high school included an eighth grade wing. After many hearings and dozens of meetings, residents supported the new Greenfield High plan with an eighth grade wing by a 5-1 margin. We then added a part-time associate principal just for grade eight.

Academic goals for eighth grade in the high school building included encouraging advancement. The School Committee passed a specific Policy IGC:  Grade 8 Students Taking High School Courses. This is still Greenfield’s policy. It reads: “The Greenfield School Committee supports opportunities for students to advance. Accordingly, Grade 8 students at Greenfield High School may take scheduled high school courses.”

The policy emphasis was advancement in “science, technology, mathematics, and world language.” In addition, having grade eight at the high school allowed participation in sports, chorus, band, and similar programs.   

Greenfield High, under Principal Donna Woodcock, secured a grant at this time to become a designated Math and Science High School. The school added Advanced Placement courses in mathematics and science, including environmental science. AP courses were filled, partly because we were committed to encouraging advancement of eighth graders taking ninth grade courses, which enabled more students to reach level 5 courses.

We had students graduating who were testing out of first-year college courses. I still have my written congratulations to Principal Donna Woodcock and her faculty when Greenfield High was acknowledged nationally as one of the New England’s top high schools.  

Ribbon-cutting for our new, $66 million high school with an eighth grade wing was approved less than 10 years ago. And most or all school districts in our rural county have eighth grade in a building with grade nine. It is the norm here.

I have read that all consultant options for Greenfield School District grade reconfiguration call for moving grade eight out of the high school and back with younger grades.  

School districts have as many students needing advancement individualization as it has students needing remedial individualization. A key to raising district achievement is high expectations for all students and allowing advancement. For Greenfield’s eighth grade students, having their own wing in a high school with opportunities to advance and leaders committed to encouraging advancement is a proven, positive school district feature.  

Susan Hollins served as Greenfield’s school superintendent from 2008 to 2014.


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