Returning to two housemasters at with a student population of more than 1,500 would negatively affect the services students receive, timely intervention for discipline and academic problems, school safety and communication, Housemaster David Swanton told School Committee members on Monday night.
"We're known for the Braintree way. The Braintree way is being proactive and servicing our students," Swanton said. "It would become a different school. I understand the challenges of a district and of being financially equitable."
Swanton was joined on Monday by housemasters Andrew Delery, Nancy Moynihan and John Hurstak, who, like the headmaster, is retiring after this academic year. Also in attendance were several BHS PTO members, lending their support for a position that the committee appears ready to fund if the money becomes available from the state in the beginning of fiscal year 2013.
The $51.7 million school budget that the committee and approved did not include a replacement for Hurstak, nor a third housemaster administrative assistant position. Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg and several School Committee members have tentatively agreed to fund those positions, along with an ELL teacher, if an expected increase over the Chapter 70 money Braintree built into its budget comes from the legislature this summer.
"It's a priority," Chair Shannon Hume said.
Others within the district have also been advocating for those dollars, which could amount to more than $200,000, saying that in particular should be addressed.
Yet the committee members, aside from Pam Kiley who was absent Monday, appeared to support filling the administrative hole at BHS. Member Lisa Heger, who is a Braintree High parent, said that three housemasters makes the school "calm and orderly and conducive to learning."
"The three housemasters work," Heger said. "Hopefully the money will become available."
Twelve years ago, the school department hired a third housemaster after the student population at BHS rose from about 1,100 to 1,300. Since then the school has added more than 200 students.
This year, each housemaster has about 500 students that they work with, some more regularly than others, depending on academic and discplinary status. Switching to two housemasters would increase their workload to 750 students each, Swanton said.
The headmaster credited strong administration, in part, for bringing Braintree High to the point where less than 1 percent of students drop out and 92 percent will go on this year to higher education. "There's a reason for that," he said. "It doesn't happen by accident. It happens because students are serviced."
Housemaster duties go far beyond discipline today, Swanton added. They are also in charge of coordination in a range of areas, from MCAS testing and mid-year and final exams to working with teachers on new technology like the Aspen Parent Portal and organizing community service initiatives with BHS clubs.
"There's a whole other relationship [with students] that we establish," Moynihan said.
Swanton also presented examples of other Massachusetts high schools with about 1,500 students, noting that most of them have at least three housemasters – or assistant principals or deans as they may be known. North Quincy High, for instance, has one assistant principal and four deans, Waltham has four housemasters and Plymouth South, with a smaller student population than Braintree, has four as well.
"You're the line of defense," Mayor Joseph Sullivan said. "You don't have to sell us. We're buying. The question is do we have the purchasing power for that third position, not just for next year but for the years to come?"