AYER — National Honor Society members Brynnan Farrington, Lindsey Cozzens and Zak Keeley greeted guests at an eighth-grade open house at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School on March 2. The event started at 6 p.m. with a complimentary spaghetti dinner prepared by food-service staff.
Just 16 students signed in during the first half hour, but the room bustled with activity. Most tables were filled as eighth-graders, parents, siblings and teachers mingled, chatted and shared a hot meal on a cold night.
Ryan Harding was one of the Shirley eighth-graders who attended. Asked about his plans for next year, he said he would likely go to high school there. His freshman class will be the first in the new Ayer-Shirley Regional School District.
Principal Don Parker presented the evening’s agenda, which included a student video, brief student talks about activities at Ayer High, a parent information session, classroom demonstrations for prospective ninth-graders and building tours.
Parker said visitors would “hopefully have a better appreciation for what we do here.” He pointed out that the high school is “fully accredited” by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and noted improvements over the past year, including expanded course offerings and more Advanced Placement courses and alternative programs, such as the Freshman Academy.
Another significant change is the recent choice of a new superintendent, Carl Mock, to lead the new district next year. At that point, there were two finalists for high school principal, he said. After 44 years, Parker will retire at the end of the current school year.
Next year promises Virtual High School and more independent studies, he continued. He spoke of “extraordinary programs” and a “caring group” of teachers and administrators who go beyond their job obligations to meet students’ academic needs — guidance counselors Cindy Esielionis and Kim Sweetly, Social Studies Department head and National Honor Society adviser Amy Allaire and Assistant Principal Jamie Lamoreaux, for example, all of whom participated in the open house.
Several students, including the Honor Society greeters, talked about extra-curriculars: mock trial and drama clubs, band and chorus, girls basketball, soccer, cheerleading, ice hockey, track and field, softball and other sports. One student said the Recycling Committee “sounds like work, but it’s a lot of fun.” Another touted Student Council and the National Honor Society, with activities such as fundraising, organizing and community service. One young man described highlights of the Human Rights Squad. “We help at homeless shelters and collect pennies for the needy,” he said.
Art teacher Jim Ryan introduced the student film, created by Corinne Joseph, as an example of output from the popular video class.
Later, he demonstrated how to throw a clay pot in the art room, while Lamoreaux supervised students trying out the rock-climbing wall in the gym. Other subject-centric classroom demonstrations included Humanities and math and science.
In the cafeteria, the guidance counselors and Parker wrapped up their presentation and answered parents’ questions.
Noting the recent failure of a two-town election vote that would have authorized the Regional School Committee to launch a feasibility study to renovate the high school building, Parker said the work is “vital.”
When the building was first occupied in 1963, it was a “state-of-the-art facility,” he said. But like anything 50 years old, it’s “starting to show its age.”
Science labs then didn’t have computers, but such equipment is integral to instruction now. The study would “tell us what to do with the building” to make it 21st century-ready, he said, from structural upgrades to updating the electrical supply. And its H-shape could accommodate a new wing. “It’s absolutely vital for the viability of the school and our students,” he said of the make-over. “The building must support instructional goals.”