Anthony Constas, front, and Jeremiah Daly work on the punch list at the new J. Henry Higgins Middle School in Peabody. Item Photo by Owen O’Rourke
By Adam Swift
Peabody middle school students will soon step into the future on their first day of school.
About 1,400 sixth, seventh and eighth graders will file through the doors of the new Higgins Middle School next Wednesday.
While the size of the $92.6 million school, at 224,000-square-feet, is slightly smaller than the old building being demolished next door, Principal Todd Bucey said the new Higgins feels bigger, brighter and more user-friendly.
There are big windows with lots of glass everywhere, letting in tons of natural light, something that was in short supply at the old Higgins, Bucey said. The new building also features a state-of-the-art cafeteria and food court, a culinary arts department and is fully wireless.
Many of the teachers have already been in the school, preparing their classrooms for the new year.
“The feedback has been all positive,” said Bucey. “It’s a great experience to be able to move to a state-of-the art building. For the teachers that have been in here, for the first time they realize that this is going to be their building in a week and a half.”
At first glance, the 500-seat auditorium with choreographed lighting and three riggings for shows or the newly buffed and polished main gym may be more impressive centerpieces to the school. But Bucey said the technology advancements at the school may be even more important when it comes to learning.
“Technology is a big improvement,” said Bucey. “We made due at the old building.”
— Focusing in on technology —
At the new school, staff and students will be doing much better than that.
Each classroom has an interactive projector, and later this week, each student will be handed a Chromebook that they can take with them everywhere.
This year, the one-to-one Chromebook program is being implemented in the district in grades six through nine. Within three years, the program will be expanded to every student in grades six through 12.
Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said the upgrades at the Higgins are only part of the focus on technology in the district.
The new J. Henry Higgins Middle School in Peabody will open this fall. (Photo by Owen O’Rourke)
“We are increasing broadband capacity at the high school and elementary schools,” he said. “I feel this is a great step forward for technology and for assisting our students in the 21st century.”
There has been some general maintenance work and improvements at other schools in the district, the mayor said, including new windows at the McCarthy Elementary School. Next summer’s plans include a new roof for the high school.
But with opening day little more than a week away, much of the excitement remains focused on the Higgins, which has traditionally been one of the largest middle schools in the state.
“We’re very happy and we feel that everything at the school is on target,” said Bettencourt. “It’s a reality now.”
Before Bettencourt took office in 2012, there were plans to renovate and build an addition onto the existing school.
Bettencourt later contacted the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), a quasi-independent authority created to fund capital improvement projects in public schools, and told them the city needed a new middle school, according to Jack McCarthy, the agency’s executive director.
Construction began on the new school, only feet away from the existing Higgins, in the summer of 2014. The MSBA is covering just under $44 million of the project cost.
While it has mostly been teachers and staff who have seen the fruits of the labor at the Higgins so far, several students got sneak of the new facility earlier this spring as contractors turned over the keys to the building to the city.
“Looking around, it looks so futuristic,” said Adam Abdulghani, a seventh grader. “It looks like someone took a page from ‘Back to the Future.’”
— On target in Lynn —
In Lynn, students moved into the new $67 million Thurgood Marshall Middle School at the end of the last school year.
But with 28 buildings to look after in the district, the city’s division of building and grounds stayed more than busy during the dry, hot summer.
Taking just the Lincoln-Thomson Elementary School on Gardiner Street into account, there was a major overhaul to the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms and masonry work to the exterior of the building.
There’s been a lot of work put into the school, which opened in 1913, over the past few years said Joe Smart, Lynn’s director of buildings and grounds.
“That should extend its life for at least another 100 years,” he said.
A small sample of some of the other work undertaken over the summer include bathroom upgrades at the Tracy Elementary School, security upgrades at nine district buildings, the second phase of a bleachers project at Lynn Tech, new windows at the Harrington Elementary School, an updated PA system at Lynn Classical High School and rehabilitation of the portable classroom at the Ford Elementary School.
Like Peabody, Smart said the multitude of Lynn schools projects are on target for completion by the beginning of the school year.
“There’s proper planning, great execution, and the contractors are in early to define the scope of the projects,” said Smart.
— A new leader in Marblehead —
In addition to new and spiffed up schools, North Shore students and parents can expect to see some new and familiar faces in new positions.
Former Beverly High School assistant principal Daniel Bauer takes the reins as the new principal at Marblehead High School.
Upon his selection, Marblehead Superintendent Maryann Perry praised Bauer for his “knowledge in curriculum and assessment along with his ability to build relationships with students, staff and the community makes him a perfect fit for our school system.”
— Lynnfield is ready —
Lynnfield Superintendent Jane Tremblay said this is the most excited she has been for an opening day in her 30 years in the schools.
“We are on target to open and are ready for August 29,” she said. “We have 13 new faculty members and three new administrators.”
The new administrators are Kevin Cyr, who is moving from the high school to take over as the district’s Director of Teaching and Learning; Brian Bates as a new assistant principal at the high school; and Thomas Sallee, a new assistant principal at the middle school. Bates comes to Lynnfield from the Lawrence Public Schools and Sallee recently worked in Natick.
“They bring unique skill sets to their jobs,” said Tremblay. “I’m confident they will be valuable additions to the schools and the administration.”
Adam Swift can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.