Inside crowded Grafton High

Grafton High

Let’s just get this out of the way: I moved to Grafton, with two children, from out of town. I came from the faraway land of Northborough and was raised in far-off Bellingham and, just to establish my otherness even further, I’m a mom who works… as a newspaper editor.

We moved to Grafton in 2004, on the weekend the Pats won the Super Bowl, after looking over every detail of the town. I toured South Grafton Elementary and Grafton Elementary, looked at the statistics for the high school and was, overall, quite happy with what I’d seen. I didn’t tour the middle school or high school — my son was in first grade, my daughter was barely into preschool.

This morning, I toured the high school with Principal James Pignataro and two other parents. Both the middle and the high schools offered tours for voters this morning and tomorrow morning; we were the only ones who signed up.

Grafton High School was built in 1964, with a renovation/addition completed in 1995. It’s a very pretty school, built “California-style” with lots of windows and a courtyard, and it overlooks Lake Ripple. The proximity of the lake makes it difficult to add on to the school without taking away athletic fields and parking.

View of Grafton High near Lake Ripple from cafeteria

There are now over 700 students in the school and space is pretty cramped. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), the regional accrediting association, has placed the school on warning status strictly because of the facility. (There are about 115 schools on warning status in the state)

What’s the future look like?

“We’re going to need a building for almost a thousand kids,” Pignataro said. “These kids are in the district and these kids aren’t going anywhere.”

NEASC’s first warning in 2001 concerned the nurses’ office, which was deemed too small. It has since been enlarged, but it’s still pretty cramped, with just two beds for sick students (not segregated from the rest of the office), filing cabinets, cabinets for medical supplies, and a long table/desk that was just stacked with files, books and folders, as well as a computer. In the short time we were in the office, several students came in — there’s barely any elbow room, nevermind space for the nurse to talk privately with a student.

In guidance, there are three small offices for counselors, plus a secretary. There is barely any space for college information.

A small windowless room near the entrance to the school used to be the school store, run by the honor society. That was converted into a conference room for guidance when the nurse’s office was expanded, and has since become a classroom for the speech and language pathologist.

The science classrooms are problematic. We looked in on a biology classroom that had barely any space set aside for lab work — there are 26 kids and just four tables, and at times the biology teacher has been a floater and has had to clear the classroom of the biology stuff so it can be used for, say, English.

This is a big issue for me — the space they had for biology, one of my favorite classes in high school, is even smaller than I had in the 1980s. If you do science well, you have to be pretty hands-on, and I can’t imagine 26 kids and four tables to be enough space for, say, dissections and microscope work.

The physics classroom does come equipped with computers. Unfortunately, the teacher at times has to send half his students down to the media center because there aren’t enough stations in class. And chemistry… let’s go to the notes here:

“Our chemistry lab is antiquated,” Pignataro said. “It needs to be updated. If you look at it, it looks like a 1970s chemistry lab.”

Another area that’s looking pretty dated: that would be the media center, which, because of all the books in there, I’d have to call “the library.” The space allotted to books is surprisingly small — I know we’re all about the Internet these days, but shouldn’t kids be cracking a book every now and then for a research project, book report or, I don’t know, pleasure?

“If there’s a place that is going to get us in a boat load of trouble with NEASC, it’s the media center,” Pignataro said.

View of lake from cafeteria

The cafeteria is another area that’s looking really tiny. There are 310 seats in the cafeteria, and there are now three lunch periods, the earliest at 10:45 a.m. At least one period has 280 kids eating at once. During the warmer months, the kids are allowed to eat at tables outside, but right now, space is at a premium — the school is reluctant to go to four lunch periods (kids eating at 10 a.m.?).

Cramped space in GHS cafeteria

While we were in the cafeteria, we saw a special education group meeting there. The sped students in the 18-22 group, who are transitioning into work life, have a converted closet off the cafeteria as their home base; another sped classroom we saw was pretty small.

Behind the cafeteria are the art classrooms, which get to hear everything that is going on in the woodworking classroom. In the nearby home ec classroom, students frequently have to go to the cafeteria to spread out fabric because the room is so small.

Corridor space is at a premium throughout the high school, in part due to the installation of new lockers, which are slightly wider. During the last renovation, new walls were built on top of existing walls, which also reduced the space.

“I don’t know how the town will go,” Pignataro said. “If they go with an addition, however, it’s going to be a massive addition.”

When the renovation was done in 1995, construction during school hours was distracting and, for several months, students had to go to school on Saturdays to make up time.

“There was a crane outside my room,” said Pignataro, who was a teacher at the time. “I had to teach for a month on the stage (in the auditorium).”

There has been suggestions of using space at the Municipal Building, which was once a school. Pignataro wasn’t in favor of this. Students would have to switch from building to building to class, which is a safety issue (and, practically, who wants to run from building to building in the freezing cold/snow that makes up so much of the school year?).

“As good as we think kids are, it’s not realistic to think they’re going to go directly from point A to point B,” Pignataro said.

There are two town-owned properties that are being examined for a new high school: Old Westboro Road/Estabrook and a parcel on Milford Road. The existing high school will likely become the middle school if a new school is built, and grades may be realigned to take advantage of the additional space at the current middle school.

Tomorrow: I’m touring the middle school, which my son will attend next year.

Below: A letter regarding the accreditation status from Principal Pignataro:

Dear Parents, Staff , Principals:

I have attached a letter from NEASC explaining the reasons why Grafton
High School was placed on warning status. There are three areas of
which the commission had concerns with: Instruction, Curriculum, and
Community Resources for Learning. Despite these areas of concern, it
is important to note that on Page 3 of the letter, the following
statement is made:

Although the Commission has concerns about some aspects of the school,
it does wish to commend the school faculty’s efforts, including the
creativity of teachers and the redoubling of their efforts to maintain
the viability of the school’s curriculum and the breadth of
instruction practices to overcome the facility’s shortcomings.

Mr. Charles McCarthy, Associate Director from NEASC made an excellent
presentation at last night’s school committee meeting regarding our
status. He was the first person on the agenda, so his remarks will be
on the early part of the program.

I would encourage you to watch a replay of his presentation at one of
the following times.

Channel 12- Wednesday, April 30th -4:00p.m., Sunday, May 4th-
12:00p.m., Monday, May 5th- 7:00p.m., Wednesday, May 7th- 4:00p.m.,
and Sunday, May 11th- 12:00p.m.

Channel 13- Thursday, May 1st – 8:00p.m., Friday, May 2nd- 6:00p.m.,
Saturday, May 3rd- 3:00p.m., Thursday, May 8th- 8:00p.m., Friday, May
9th-6:00p.m., and Saturday, May 10th- 3:00p.m.

Finally, a parent forum will be held on Thursday, May 8th at 7:00p.m.
in the auditorium to explain in greater detail the contents of the
letter. A powerpoint presentation will be made by me and then Dr.
Connors will speak on where we are as a district in terms of
addressing our space needs problems through the Massachusetts School
Building Authority.

I would hope to see many parents and community members attend this forum.

Thank you and please contact me if you have any questions

Sincerely,

James F. Pignataro
Principal
Grafton High School
The mission of Grafton High School is “to prepare our students
intellectually,physically, and socially for their role as life-long learners
and responsible citizens.”

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