Bringing Balance Back

Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District Master Plan
Wenham, Massachusetts

The Regional School District comprising the towns of Hamilton and Wenham was facing enrollment declines, largely due to greater “out-migration” from the affluent municipalities than “in-migration.” Young families were increasingly having difficulty buying into the high-priced real estate market, and enrollment was reflecting that.

The Challenges

The District consists of three K-5 schools, a middle school, and a high school. Although the reductions in student population were, and were expected to continue to be, significant, they were not to a level that warranted the consolidation of schools.

SMMA approached the master plan by identifying fixable problems that, once solved, could help “right the ship,” so to speak. What often accompany enrollment declines, and was the case with Hamilton-Wenham, are reductions in both elective offerings and teaching personnel. At the middle and high school levels, the reduced electives were resulting in concerns over relevancy and student engagement, and the teacher drop-off ensured a vicious cycle that would continue to impact course offerings.

During the master plan process, the school committee voted to reduce the number of choice-in students, and SMMA undertook a community-based visioning process and an exploration of the curricula and educational delivery models that set the stage for a new thinking for the schools.

The Solutions

SMMA’s master plan necessitated identifying those issues that were impacting the elementary, middle, and high schools, collectively, and then narrowing focus to address individual obstacles at each level. 


Across all schools, SMMA stressed the importance of better collaboration areas, both for teachers and students. For the middle and high schools, rethinking curricula meant a shift toward interdisciplinary, project-based learning, focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and working toward a 1:1 technology environment, wherein each student has individual access to a computing device, such as a tablet or laptop.

Sharpening Focus

More targeted initiatives for the elementary and middle schools included, respectively, right-sizing classrooms, media centers, and other core facilities, and eliminating computer labs in favor of “make spaces,” where students are able to apply lessons in a hands-on manner. At the high school, SMMA called for the reorganization of underutilized classrooms for collaboration environments, maker spaces, and more focused 21st Century technology labs; expansion and general improvement of the science labs; and introduction of the school building as a teaching tool.