The Opening of Miscoe Hill Middle School in 1980

    The opening of the newly constructed Miscoe Hill Middle School in September 1980 solved an ongoing
    problem of overcrowding and inadequate number of classrooms, and at the same time, opened up a new
    way that children aged ten through fourteen would be educated in the Mendon-Upton School District.  The
    population of Mendon and Upton grew significantly in the 1960's through 1970's, and this meant that the
    number of students in the town's schools had also increased.  There were not enough classrooms in the
    existing buildings to accommodate the influx of students at each grade level.  The new school provided the
    classrooms that had been so urgently needed.  It also provided a new philosophy of how students in
    grades five through eight would learn.

    The problems of classroom space needs in the 1970's were solved by double sessions and portable
    classrooms.  Seventh graders attended school in the morning and were dismissed at noon.  Eighth
    graders began the school day at noon, and their day ended at five o'clock.  In the winter, seventh graders
    boarded their buses in the dark.  Eighth graders got off their buses to go home in the dark.  All extra-
    curricular activities were curtailed. The elementary schools in both towns were surrounded by portable
    clasrooms, pre-fabricated wooden buildings that served as temporary classrooms and extensions of
    Clough and Memorial Schools.  Obviously, these remedies were not in the best interest of the children, and
    obviously a new school was needed.

    Miscoe Hill Middle School opened as an attached rear wing of Nipmuc Regional High School at 148 North
    Avenue in Mendon.  Mr. William Milligan was the school's principal.  He indicated in his first annual report
    that there were 518 students enrolled for grades five through eight.  The space needs had been solved.  
    Double sessions ended, and the portable classrooms were taken away. (Note: A portable classroom was
    purchased by the Mendon Parks Department, and it is located at the parking lot across from the town
    beach.  It is currently used for storage, but it was once a classroom housing first and third grade
    classrooms in the 1970's.)

    The new school, under the direction of Mr. Milligan, offered a new philosophy in education: the Middle
    School concept.  It was not to be regarded as a junior high or a feeder system for a high school.  The
    students would not be regarded as mini-high schoolers, but rather as students aged ten through fourteen
    having their own identities in regards to academic, social, physical, and emotional needs and issues. It
    acknowledged that middle school students have high levels of energy, and that the energy would be guided
    and channeled in a positive manner that would benefit the academic growth of each child.  It did not
    recommend that energy be stifled, but rather directed.  There were activity periods that mixed grade levels.  
    As an example, students in grades 5-8 could sign up for a cooking activity with Mrs. Loeper, or bird watching
    with Mrs. Robertson, or making their own simple machines with Mr. Malloy. Industrial arts and home
    economics were part of the curriculum. Tracking of students by ability (7-1, 7-2, 7-3, 7-4, 7-5) was no longer
    permitted.  Classes contained mixtures of high level and low level achieving students.  There would be
    student role models in each class, and there would be no labeling or having to endure the humiliation of
    being in a 7-5 class. The middle school concept utilized and harnessed student energy and focused on
    promoting academic growth and self-esteem.

    An interesting sidelight of Miscoe Hill's opening year was that it was being watched and evaluated by other
    communities throughout the state.  Teachers and administrators from other towns often came to visit and
    tour the school during the day.  Apparently, the middle school concept was regarded as somewhat of an
    experiment.  A group that had been studying middle schools in the early 1980's ranked Miscoe Hill as the
    highest in the state.

    Looking back to 1980, thirty years later, the construction of Miscoe Hill Middle School solved the school
    district's problem of inadequate number of classrooms and opened up a new approach to educating
    children.  Since then, there have been many challenges.  They have included continued town growth and the
    ongoing need of more space, budget and financial constraints, MCAS expectations, and changes in
    technology and equipment.  Since its opening, the student population has nearly doubled, and the school
    now includes all the classrooms of the adjoining former high school.  Though times have changed and
    circumstances are different, some things have not changed.  Miscoe Hill Middle School continues to be
    characterized by dedicated, caring, and hardworking teachers and administrators and an energetic and
    academic student body.  The vision of Mr. Milligan, the teachers, the administration, the school committee,
    and the townspeople of 1980 has endured and prospered.

    Richard Grady
    former Miscoe Hill teacher
    from 1980 to 2008
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