SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury eighth-graders may no longer be able to enroll at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School, Schools Superintendent Joseph Sawyer recently told the Board of Selectmen.
State policy has changed, Sawyer said, explaining that vocational technical high schools must give preference to students in their member communities.
“Given the demand that they expect for the 300 seats that they will fill next year in their freshman class, which they’ll essentially have to do through a lottery, they expect that it’ll be unlikely that there will be any seats left over for communities like ourselves [and] Clinton,” Sawyer said.
“It’s quite possible that zero current eighth-graders in Shrewsbury will be admitted to Assabet,” he said. “And, frankly, it’s probably the exact same story at any other vocational technical high school that they might want to apply to.”
Assabet’s public relations team did not respond to a request for comment for this article prior to press time.
Shrewsbury’s vocational enrollment
Shrewsbury is one of well over 100 communities in Massachusetts that does not belong to a regional technical high school district.
According to Sawyer, state policy is requiring vocational technical high schools to change their admission processes to prevent them from being selective in who they admit.
“There’s sort of a minimum standard that a student [is] progressing to the next grade, and they don’t have any really significant behavior, disciplinary history over the past year,” Sawyer said.
He said the policy states a school must give preference to students from their member communities before they enroll outside students.
Assabet’s district includes Berlin, Hudson, Marlborough, Maynard, Northborough, Southborough and Westborough, according to its website.
Shrewsbury sent its students on a tuition basis.
According to a presentation to the School Committee earlier this month, there were 96 Shrewsbury students enrolled in a vocational technical high school in 2021.
Sawyer said there are typically 30-35 Shrewsbury students joining the Assabet school community in a given year. This year Shrewsbury had 15 students enroll.
‘A complete loss’
Sawyer said the change leads to policy questions for the Shrewsbury Public Schools. It will also likely lead to increased enrollment at Shrewsbury High School.
Although not at the same level as Assabet, Sawyer said students who still want some of the educational opportunities provided at vocational schools will be able to participate in hands-on programs like Project Lead the Way.
Selectman Beth Casavant, whose child graduated from Assabet last year, said she couldn’t imagine where Shrewsbury would start in replicating Assabet’s program.
“That program, in and of itself, is masterful in taking kids for whom a traditional high school educational program that we offer at Shrewsbury High School is not the correct fit,” Casavant said.
These students need the balance of academics and hands-on setting, focusing on the basis of a career, she said.
“I just think that it’s a complete loss for the current eighth-graders to know that avenue of a high school education [is gone],” Casavant said. “And if it was my child and I heard this, I would be just devastated, just knowing the value of that education at Assabet and knowing that Shrewsbury did tuition and paid that tuition for my child to have that experience.”