When we moved to Bedford in 1975, I did not understand what Regional School Committee was. As my children advanced through the Bedford schools, I learned that it was Bedford’s version of the “voke ed” that I grew up with. But at that time, it meant automotive shop, for boys only. However, things have changed dramatically.
I have always had an interest in vocational education with the belief that every student should find a school community that fits his/her needs and interests and also that some students are not on track for college. Neither of my children expressed any desire to leave Bedford’s schools and my exposure ended then. However, when a position became vacant on the Regional School Committee, I made inquiries and learned a lot fast.
The Shawsheen Valley Regional Vocational/Technical School District has five participating towns: Bedford, Billerica, Burlington, Tewksbury, and Wilmington with two members from each community. Monthly meetings review and make policy for the district, as do most school committees. But the similarity ends there.
Shawsheen is in Billerica on a sprawling campus which houses approximately 1300 students. Bedford’s participation averages only around 30 students. Over 30 specialty programs range from health assisting and dental assisting to plumbing; from computer programming and web development to automotive technology; from masonry and tile to culinary arts and bakery; from machine tool technology to electronics; and from cosmetology to HVAC. There is truly a program for every interest. And while developing proficiency in a skill, students have a full academic load.
In March I will mark my two-year anniversary on Shawsheen’s School Committee. The first year was spent in a search for a Superintendent-Director which was challenging. The second year has been dominated by Covid 19 which constantly demands a re-evaluation of programs, protocols, and all that a healthy school system requires.
Shawsheen’s students and staff have met every obstacle during this period and the school continues to thrive. If I sound proud, it is because I am. Students and staff have a deep respect for each other which is evident when walking through the halls…if that is possible. This is a caring and supportive environment which balances academics and career skills. Approximately one-third of Shawsheen graduates attend college. Another third continues to a two-year college or post-graduate training. A final third is employed in their field of choice or the military.
I urge anyone who has an interest in helping students to achieve his/her career fulfillment to consider running for this position. I am most grateful that I did.