Guest Post: New ‘Innovation School’ in Massachusetts provides early pathways into college

October 29, 2010 •

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

Pathways Early College Innovation High School is one of the two Innovation Schools that opened this year under a new Massachusetts law allowing for the creation of district schools with exemption from many rules and regulations. In September Secretary of Education Paul Reville described the motivations behind the law in an blog post.

In this post Michael Baldassarre, Superintendent of the Ralph Mahar School District describes how they work with Gateway to College to provide early-enrollment college options for motivated students that seek to expand their limits.

On August 31, 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting with the first twenty students in the newly created Pathways Early College Innovation High School at Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC). The Pathways Innovation School is the product of the continued partnership of the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District and MWCC, which are located about fifteen miles from one another in Central Massachusetts. In this program the students who I met will earn their Associates Degrees in the same time that they earn their high school diplomas.

Three key components went into the creation of the Pathways Innovation School.

First and most important was legislation sponsored by Governor Deval Patrick and Education Secretary, Paul Reville, which allowed our partnership with the community college to create an “Innovation School.”

The second component was the pre-existing mechanisms found in our currently active School of Choice policies, Dual Enrollment policies, and our Gateway to College funding formula.

Finally, the meaningful partnership that exists between the school district and the community college was conducive to planning for and opening the Innovation School without complication.

The school district and community college created the Innovation School by building on the success of another program that is known nationally as the thriving dropout prevention program, The Gateway to College. There is tremendous like-mindedness among the administrations from the district and the community college. We have referred to our approach an “N of 1” methodology for creative successful solutions for individual students. By working to meet the learning needs of students on an individual basis we have seen nearly 100 would-be high school dropouts earn their high school diplomas.

The Pathways Innovation School serves to compliment The Gateway to College by providing promising opportunities for students who are not considering dropping out of school, but rather seek greater academic challenge. For students on both ends of this spectrum education as it is currently branded may not be a good fit. The Innovation Schools initiative has provided us with a way allocate school funds to its core purpose of providing robust opportunities for promising student outcomes. It is our hope that the program will grow to 120 full time students over a two year period and that its success will be replicated by other community colleges and high schools around the Commonwealth.

Image: Michael Baldassarre