Out with the ice cream truck, in with the school bus: Dartmouth Public Schools rev their engines

Aug 22, 2023

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — back to school season is here and Dartmouth Public Schools are ready. The floors are waxed, the bulletin boards are decorated and the staff is ready for the students.

Along with the new year comes new staff, new courses, new programs and of course, new students.

“When schools are in session, the community is truly vibrant!,” said Superintendent June Saba-Maguire, who will start her first academic year with the town.

Dartmouth High School is excited to start a new Pre-AP English course which they hope will build confidence for students who may doubt their abilities in a standard AP class.

The course will be offered at random to 9th grade students and sophomores in a pilot period.

“The whole point of the pre-AP class is that all students can take it,” said Rachel Chavier, associate principal of the high school. “You can have an IP, a 504 [plan], you could be a student who might struggle in English, you could be an all A student, it is for all.”

Chavier and principal Ryan Shea see this program as helping to identify what they call “potential AP students.” They added that even if a student does not go on to take an AP class, their experience in a pre-AP will help develop skills applicable to other classes.

Along with pre-APs, Dartmouth High is excited to offer more AP classes, including AP music theory.

“We have the world's greatest band, but we don’t have an AP music class so we really wanted to put that in the structure for this year,” said Shea.

The town’s elementary schools are also looking to add new programs, and build up some old ones.

In science classes at DeMello Elementary School, assistant principal Adam Hill hopes that they can continue to connect gardening to their curriculum.

He hopes that in the next year they can plant vegetables so students connect food to its origins.

DeMello is also looking to help students with language arts by implementing a word of the week to help improve vocabulary.

“We have a year-long focus on improving literacy in the building,” said Elizabeth Correia, DeMello’s principal. “The staff is going to be working on ways to make sure vocabulary [initiatives] are implemented across the grade levels while making it fun for the kids”

Another perk DeMello is looking forward to in a post-Covid world is inviting parents into the school more often. This will come in the form of literacy, math or other themed events.

“We are looking forward to more family nights, having more people come in and more cultural events in the building,” said Correia.

Previously, DeMello hosted an Arbor Day event where students presented and planted trees and other events that show off what the kids learn at school.

Cushman Elementary School, which enrolls only preschool and kindergarten students, will add one extra preschool section and have one less kindergarten section this school year.

This year, Cushman is introducing a “Mobile Kindness Library,” a cart which will shuttle books around the classrooms. The mobile library is provided by a grant from the Feinstein Foundation. Cushman does not have its own library, but frequently takes kids next door to the Southworth Library.

Parents will have access to a new communications platform, ParentSquare, which allows for increased communication with teachers and more information about classroom activities. Teachers can share newsletters, announcements and photographs through the platform. The school will no longer be using the Remind app.

Dale said Cushman is always looking for more parent volunteers, especially with slightly larger class sizes this year in Kindergarten.

Cushman is looking forward to hosting an open house for parents on Monday, Aug. 28, said Principal Justine Dale.

The high school will also roll out its ATLAS program for students 18 to 22 years old who are unable to graduate. Previously, these students had to go out of district for comparable programs. Upon completion, students receive a certificate of attendance.

Attendance will be something promoted at the high school more this year than previously. Shea pointed out that low attendance is a federal problem, but one they want to take on one student at a time.

“We have the best teachers and they can’t teach you if you’re not here,” he said.

The administration recognized that each student is different, and they plan to look into why students are missing school and how they can encourage and incentivize coming to school.

Shea also feels that improved attendance will come with greater involvement in extracurricular activities.

“Even if you come to a club once a month, you have a trusted adult in your life that you didn't have before,” said Shea. “I think that is really important because every student needs to feel like they belong in this building.”