By THOR JOURGENSEN
SAUGUS — Town officials are organizing a June election in which residents will be asked “to support and invest” in a sweeping local school reorganization featuring a middle-high school district-wide facility.
The plan, tentatively discussed to date with town educators and parents, proposes several significant changes. A grade 6-12 middle-high school is at the center of the plan. Belmonte Middle School would be established as an “upper elementary school” for grades 3, 4 and 5, and Veterans Memorial Elementary School would become a “lower elementary school” for pre-kindergarten to grade 2.
“This is a real opportunity for the Town of Saugus to meet the goals of its educational plan,” said Town Manager Scott Crabtree. “Challenging our students to reach their full potential necessitates that our schools have the resources and facilities to meet the academic needs of all students and prepare them for success should they pursue higher education or compete in today’s workforce.”
The proposed middle-high school complex will total 270,000 total square feet including a 12,000 square-foot gymnasium and capacity for 1,360 students in grades 6-12. There will be state-of-the-art science labs and technology classrooms, fine and performing arts classrooms and a 750-seat auditorium.
In addition, the proposal includes a new sports complex and outdoor track, walking paths, outdoor classrooms, and student gardens. Veterans Memorial Elementary School and Belmonte Middle School will also receive construction updates.
A town statement outlining the proposed school changes emphasized their potential to move the Saugus public school system’s status under state education rankings from from a Level 3 to a Level 1 school district.
The statement says the proposed reconfiguration is also intended to provide fair and equal access to all students enabling them to reach their highest potential and to continue to prioritize education.
The proposal’s school building improvements are also intended to maintain accreditation with New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and address address health and safety issues including identified deficiencies in fire protection, sprinkler systems, and disability access compliance.
“Providing our students and staff with resources and facilities that achieves the vision of our Town’s educational plan is critical,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi. “This solution will facilitate a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction, and an emphasis on the critical thinking, communication and technology skills needed to enhance 21st century skills our students need to be successful.”
The proposal’s additional elements include new science labs that meet state educational and safety standards. Building designs include work spaces for student collaboration and project-based learning in all subject areas; and shared instructional resources and opportunities for increased teacher collaboration.
The town statement lists no specific June date for bringing the proposal before voters.
“This middle-high school district-wide solution is critical for the residents of Saugus because it will enhance our children’s education and change the way education is valued and delivered in the community,” said Jeanette Meredith, School Committee chairwoman and Saugus High School Project Building Committee.