The Natick School Committee has approved a plan to expand the METCO program to elementary school students in the next school year. The METCO program, which started in Natick in the late 1960s, brings a diverse population of students from Boston into the Natick Public School system.
The School Committee as a whole supports METCO expansion, though the question at the Jan. 23 committee meeting (about 10 minutes into the Pegasus recording) was whether to expand it starting in the 2023-2024 or 2025-2026 school year. The argument for starting sooner was to realize the benefits right away and help the next wave of Natick METCO students establish connections within the school system as pre-teens, while the argument for waiting was to ensure that the support infrastructure is in place to make the expansion successful, and that the expansion will work in light of enrollment projections.
The METCO discussion began with a motion from School Committee member Julie McDonough to start the METCO enrollment expansion into elementary schools starting in the 2025-2026 school year, and it was quickly seconded. McDonough’s rationale for waiting is that current enrollment projections are not stabile enough, with enrollment up 44 students this year from the past year alone. By waiting, she argued that the system should have a better sense of elementary school enrollment in the wake of the Johnson school closing and with more information about the renovation or rebuilding of the Memorial Elementary School. The latest NESDEC figures also indicate fewer students entering Natick kindergarten in 2025-2026 from the previous year, she said.
Committee Chair Cathi Collins put a competing motion on the floor to start the expansion in third grade in 2023-2024, as proposed by Natick METCO Director Rasheedah Clayton (see request document below). This motion was also quickly seconded. Collins said there is room at Ben-Hem to support the program in the next school year, commenting that “we are 1 of 2 [METCO] districts that doesn’t have [the program in] elementary school, which I just find borderline criminal…I think it’s important that we start this. One cohort is what’s being asked for…”
Committee member Dr. Shai Fuxman said sooner is better since METCO creates “opportunities for belonging, for friendship, for conversations, for perspective taking that are so critical for the development of our students’ well being.” He’s sees the METCO program currently having not just dozens of students, but thousands, given its impact across the student body in grades 5-12.
Natick’s METCO program is much smaller than that of some nearby communities such as Lincoln and Newton, which have 7.5% and 3.7% of their student population from METCO vs. 1.3% in Natick with the near-term expansion, said School Committee member Elise Gorseth. “That just doesn’t feel like an effective program to me, it feels like it’s too small,” she said. “I think we should go big or go home, and we should take that extra year to really try to build this program and to see if we have the extra capacity to expand to what would be a more similar number to other districts that have really strong DE&I programs.”
Natick METCO Director Clayton emphasized that funding might not be available for expansion if the town waits, citing uncertainty over how the new Commonwealth administration will approach this. The school system passed on more than $120K in funding last year when it decided not to go forward with METCO expansion, she said. The proposal she submitted to the School Committee for consideration says there are 50 METCO students in grades 5-12, and that the aim is to add a K-4 cohort of another 16-20, starting with about 6 students in the initial phase.
Supt. Dr Anna Nolin added that the school system initially is looking to just return to METCO program numbers it once had before transportation issues forced it to scale back.
Several METCO alum or parents of current students urged the School Committee to consider expansion sooner than later. Tamika Scott, who attended the Dover-Sherborn school system from elementary through high school as a METCO student, said she created bonds from early on that have lasted through her life, and encouraged Natick to expand its program to earlier grades to “further the commitment of your community” to “interconnectedness.” Her daughter had a great, but different experience in the Natick METCO program, where she has had to catch up in bonding with other students having started here in middle school.
In the end, School Committee voted against expanding the program in 2025-2026 by a tally of 4-3, and voted 4-3 in favor of expanding in the 2023-2024 school year.
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