The School Committee and administration have been studying options for expanding cafeteria and classroom space at Needham High School. Following are key questions about the identified needs at the school:
Q: Given many School Committee and Town priorities and the limited resources available, why is the Needham School Committee looking to add space to Needham High School seven years after it opened?
A: Needham High School lacks sufficient space to meet the current and projected needs of its students, staff, and families. The community’s expectation for a high performing high school program cannot be met with the existing number of classrooms.
• The high school is—and will remain—over its capacity by 200 students, all of whom learn in classrooms designed below contemporary standards. For example, Needham High School (NHS) was designed for 1,450 students and opened the doors in 2008 with enrollment of 1,404. Current enrollment is 1614 and is projected to sustain an average of 1,652 students through the year 2028, the last year for which we have projections.
• General classrooms at NHS include 760 square ft. of floor space designed to accommodate an average class size of 22 students. (Current MSBA standards call for classrooms designed to accommodate 23 students at 850 square ft. per classroom.) Over 125 classes, a quarter of all classes at NHS, hold 25 or more students; due to the lack of adequate space, the number of math, English, social studies, and foreign language classes with 25 or more students has doubled, going from 47 sections in 2007-08 to 95 sections in 2014-15. The number of core academic classes with 28 or more students has quadrupled in the same time period, going from 5 sections in 2007-08 to 25 in the current year. Large class sizes limit student-teacher interaction, instruction, and personalization.
• Over half the faculty is scheduled into two or more spaces, resulting in lost preparation time for travel and classroom setup, limited space for student/teacher conferencing, and the loss of an effective, consistent, and personalized instructional environment for students. Students report that conversations with their teachers and requests for assistance are limited, abrupt, and impractical due to teachers moving back and forth between shared classrooms.
• Conference and collaboration spaces (e.g., METCO, Science, and English conference rooms) have been converted into much-needed classroom space, further limiting and restricting the teacher-student relationship. This summer a science storage room and the language lab will be turned into permanent classrooms to help provide spaces for the additional 50 to 60 students attending NHS in the fall.
• Options for students will become increasingly limited due to the lack of appropriate space. For example, in the upcoming 2015-16 school year, the lack of an appropriate lab space will limit the numbers of students taking AP Biology. It has become increasingly difficult to provide spaces for special education classrooms and other spaces to meet the needs of students who may have non-traditional learning needs. The Greater Boston Project, a new and popular interdisciplinary course involving English, social studies, and math, has 30 students enrolled in the current year; next year’s enrollment tops 90. However, given space constraints, the program will need to limit participation. Without additional space, class sizes will continue to stay high; offices, storage areas, library spaces, auditorium, and other non-classroom spaces will be repurposed to meet program needs; and academic programs, including interdisciplinary learning, science instruction, and student support and special education programs will be dropped or curtailed in order to fit within the existing and undersized school building.
• The cafeteria is undersized, and during most lunches the number of students assigned exceeds the cafeteria’s maximum occupancy of 488. For example, the second lunch seating has an average of 620 students assigned. As a result, students are forced to find alternative seating and/or juniors and seniors eat off campus. The school can no longer simply add seats; additional space must be provided to meet building and safety codes.
Q: What is needed to address the identified space needs at Needham High School?
A: Needham High School requires a minimum of six new classrooms and an expanded cafeteria to sustain its current and projected enrollment and to meet the diverse needs of a high performing academic program.
• The addition of a minimum of six classrooms will a) provide appropriate learning spaces for high school academic programs, including math, English, social studies, science, and special education for the next generation of students; b) keep class sizes within acceptable ranges; and c) ensure students, teachers, staff, and families have adequate space to conference, collaborate, meet, and learn.
• Certain spaces and rooms that have been repurposed to meet classroom needs will return to their original use and design. For example, the English conference/curriculum room, currently scheduled with up to six classes, will be restored to its original purpose: a space for teachers, students, and families to study, meet, and conference. The school will optimize its schedule and spaces to ensure students have options for academic and co-curricular programs.
• An expanded cafeteria with 2,500 additional square feet will alleviate overcrowding and ensure building and safety codes are addressed.
• The FY16 Capital Plan details available funding for a project in the amount of $4.4 million. Initial estimates, however, suggest a project with a café expansion and a minimum of six new classrooms may require funding in the amount of $6.7 million.
The School Committee will pursue at least a cafeteria expansion project at the upcoming May Town Meeting and then work with Town boards and officials to continue to study affordable options for expanding much-needed classroom space.