The options for Watertown students looking for a trade or vocational training program have shrunk recently, but local school officials will work with them to try to find a place for them at Watertown High School or in surrounding districts.
The School Committee heard the report from the Vocational, Technical, and Career Education Options Ad Hoc Committee on March 27, and unanimously adopted the recommendations. The study of vocational programs in Watertown and at other schools in the area found that spots are difficult to find these days, especially for incoming ninth-graders in the fall of 2023.
School Committee member David Stokes, the chair of the ad hoc committee, said that many of the schools in the area have been undergoing changes in leadership, have recent or ongoing construction projects, or both. Also, the demand for these programs appears to have increased.
For many years, dozens of Watertown students attended Minuteman High School, a vocational school in Lexington. Watertown paid out-of-district tuition to send the students to the school, but in the last few years the openings have dropped to almost zero for communities outside the nine Minuteman District members.
Minuteman recently opened a new school building, which both increased interest, and also decreased capacity.
“Capacity is a challenge. Some have no room in ninth-grade exploratory,” Stokes said. “They have pathways that begin in 10th grade, so that means you have to know what you want to do and have the application ready to go when you are in ninth and not take exploratory.”
The committee also looked at schools in Waltham, Cambridge and Somerville. Other schools that have had openings for ninth grade in prior years, but those appear to be gone, too.
“Medford seemed to be the only school with capacity. In late January they announced there is no capacity in the required academic subjects,” Stokes said. “Even though students are taking CTE classes, in say plumbing, they still have to take English and math and other academic subjects to fulfill requirements. And they said they would not have enough capacity in ninth.”
Medford did say students could apply to start in 10th grade, Stokes said, but he added that vocational schools in the area will not likely have openings in the most popular programs, such as electrical or plumbing.
The report also looked at the growing career pathway programming offered at Watertown High School. Stokes said Watertown has three Chapter 74 Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and may add two more.
WHS offers CTE programs in Engineering Technology, which has 20 students per grade level and began the 2020-21 school year; Digital Media Communications began in 2022-23 and has space for 20 students per grade level; and Medical Assisting has space for 15 students per grade level, and also started in 2022-23. Students who complete the program become eligible for a Certificate of Occupational Proficiency.
Other career education courses at Watertown High School that are not part of a CTE program include:
- Biotechnology, 75 students
- Carpentry/Construction Technology, 24 students
- Culinary Arts, 11 students
- Engineering Technology, 5 students
- Marketing/Finance, 27 students
- Programming & Web Development, 20 students
- Radio and Television Broadcasting, 31 students
- Graphic Design and Visual Communications, 2 students
Superintendent Dede Galdston said that Watertown’s CTE Coordinator, Laura Alderson Rotondo, has been working with students to try to find the best solution for them within the limitations.
“She had very individualized conversations with families of eighth graders,” Galdston said. “They should understand even if not able to attend (a vocational) high school as a ninth grader they will come to Watertown High School and we will provide them with excellent opportunities and then we work with them as they move into 10th and look at all the options, whether it is Medford, Minuteman, Somerville, and we will do our best to advise them.”
While Mintueman and Medford were focused on in the presentation to the School Committee, Stokes said the committee looked at several schools in the area. The report includes the following information about each school:
- Cambridge declined to accept students at this time, but expressed an interest in revisiting the possibility in the future. Cambridge is currently in the initial stages of conducting an internal audit of their twelve C74 (Chapter 74 programs.
- Medford originally expressed a willingness to accept both grade 9 exploratory and/or grade 10 students into specific programs with excess capacity. They had estimated approximately 50 available seats in grade 9 and about 30 in grade 10. However, for the 2023-24 school year, Medford has determined that they do not have enough space in their academic CTE courses (like ELA and math) for any nonresident grade 9 students; rising grade 10 students can still apply to their C74 programs.
- Minuteman can only accept nonresident students after all in-district regional students have been accepted. As a result, last year there was no excess capacity to accept nonresident students. The same lack of capacity is expected to exist in the coming year, also. The option of joining the Minuteman district is explored in Section IV of this report.
- Somerville initially indicated a desire to explore the possibility of accepting students in grade 10 for specific programs with excess capacity. They also indicated that they are fully enrolled for grade 9 exploratory and unable to accept grade 9 students. However, upon further review they have expressed concerns that they may not have excess capacity in academic classes to serve additional students. Discussions are currently on hold.
- Waltham declined to accept students at this time, but expressed an interest in revisiting the possibility in the future. Waltham is in the process of constructing a new high school that will expand C74 program offerings from ten to fourteen and is scheduled to open for the 2024-25 school year.
- Watertown has recently opened three C74 programs with a combined capacity to enroll 55 students per grade level in grades 10-12 with plans to possibly add a fourth and fifth program after the new high school opens. Watertown would be required to offer a grade 9 exploratory program at the point in time that it establishes five approved C74 programs, as required by regulation.
- Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School (commonly referred to as “Essex Aggie”) admits nonresident students into their agricultural programs through special legislation that allows students to apply directly to the school without following the nonresident application process. Please see the link here and in the appendix entitled “DESE Advisory on Specialized Agricultural Programs” for additional information.
The landscape at the vocational schools may change, Stokes said, and more opportunities may arise for students in coming years.
Minuteman may be building an addition, and officials there have already taken steps to increase space in the school. One step was creating a public-private partnership for the animal science program and moving it to a privately owned building on campus. Stokes said. Also, the advanced manufacturing program moved the large machines out of the school building to another space to free up room in the main school building.
The committee also looked at what it would take for Watertown to become a member of the Minuteman District. Stokes said it would take about two-years, and requires approval from the Watertown City Council as well as the approval from the Council or the Town Meeting in each of the nine current members.
However, Stokes noted that the school has not been able to admit all the students who apply from the communities that are currently part of the district.
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca wondered what the chances would be of them accepting a new community.
“Why would they approve a new town to join if their own students are not getting in?” Mosca said.
Getting detailed information from Minuteman has proven difficult, said School Committee member Lily Rayman-Read, who also served on the ad hoc committee.
“One thing I really want to make sure the community understands is that the hold up on Minuteman is not on our side. The hold up is on Minuteman’s end,” she said. “They did not provide us with information. They did not provide us with answers to questions we asked numerous times.”
The cost of sending a student to Minuteman has also been a question that doesn’t have a clear answer. For the nine member communities, Galdston said the average cost is about $52,000 per student per year. Some pay $90,000 because they only send two students, while other communities that have more students at the school pay $48,000 per student. For out-of-district students, the tuition starts at nearly $19,622, there is a capital fee of $8,920 per student to cover the cost of the constructing the new building, and for special education students there is an additional cost. It works out to be $28,542 for non-resident tuition, and $33,000 per student for a special education non-resident tuition, Galdston said.
The report found that the non-resident tuition at Medford is $10,407, at Cambridge is $12,740, $14,037 at Somerville, and $18,766 at Essex Ag.
The Committee came up with three recommendations in the report.
First, Watertown students interested in applying to any school under the non-resident tuition process, including Minuteman, should also apply to at least one other school, in order to increase their chances for acceptance to a CTE program.
With the changing situations at the various schools, the committee recommended that the Watertown Public Schools should execute a review process every six months for the next five years.
The updates would identify which CTE programs have capacity for Watertown students under the non-resident tuition process by mid-January. It would also determine the risks and costs associated with joining a regional vocational technical high school, like Minuteman, before the City’s budget is finalized.
The third recommendation is to get word out to students and families of middle schoolers about the vocational programs available, and how the process works. This would be done at a time that would allow students to go through the admission process and send in the application, which are usually due in March.
See the Vocational, Technical, and Career Education Options Ad Hoc Committee’s Final Report by clicking here.