By Evan Walsh and Laura Hayes
SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen and School Committee have taken the first step to have the town possibly join the Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School’s regional school district.
Both boards respectively authorized School Committee Chair Lynsey Heffernan and Board of Selectmen Chair Moe DePalo to send a joint letter to the Assabet School Committee requesting consideration for a process for Shrewsbury to potentially join the district as a member community.
This comes after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made changes in 2021 how technical high schools admit students, resulting in limiting access for Shrewsbury students at Assabet.
During the Sept. 14 School Committee meeting, resident Patricia Minton said Shrewsbury needed to find a way to help students who may not seek a typical college path.
“For atypical students, such as my daughter, this was extremely disappointing,” Minton said of the admissions change.
Changing admissions policy
The Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School District is made up of Berlin, Hudson, Marlborough, Maynard, Northborough, Southborough and Westborough.
Shrewsbury is not a member of the district, but the town has had a long-standing relationship with Assabet as a “preferred” vocational technical high school for students, according to Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Finance Patrick Collins.
Shrewsbury students would attend as out-of-district students, meaning that an annual tuition would be paid for each student. However, Collins noted that Shrewsbury does not share in capital costs.
Since 2011, there have been between 40 to 15 Shrewsbury students enrolled as freshmen at Assabet. This year there is only one.
“You can just kind of forecast what the issue will be here,” said Collins. “Of course, going forward next three years, we could have three to five students at the most students at the school entirely.”
In total, there are 64 Shrewsbury students enrolled at Assabet this year. At its peak, there were 134 students enrolled in the 2014-2015 school year.
In November, Superintendent Joe Sawyer shared the changes to admission during a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen. Since, there have been meetings with Sen. Michael Moore and Rep. Hannah Kane and later with Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to discuss the issue, and a letter was sent to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
In the meantime, the district launched a career exploration pathways job shadowing internship last year with a variety of businesses, and a career and trade fair held at the high school. The district also partnered with Worcester State University to launch an early college program.
Sawyer said that had been in the works prior to the admissions policy change.
He added that it was “incumbent” on the district to find more opportunities, which may be a thread to work on during the district’s strategic planning process.
How Shrewsbury may join Assabet
In addition, the Town of Shrewsbury is exploring the opportunity of joining the Assabet district, though Collins said it was a “lengthy” and “very difficult” process.
Two-thirds of the Assabet School Committee needs to vote to change the regional agreement to allow a new member communities. Then, all of the member committees would have to vote affirmatively at either Town Meetings or City Council meetings.
“If, for example, you got a yes in Berlin. And you moved to Hudson, and Hudson said, ‘No,’ then the process stops because you need 100%,” Collins said.
Additional reporting by Caroline Gordon.