Mashpee's new superintendent, Brian Hyde, has jumped into his first year on the job with a list of ambitious changes. Most have been well-received, but one in particular, the elimination of the middle school principal position, has met with some opposition.
Hyde got the job last summer after working in Mashpee schools since 1989, mostly as a high school history and social studies teacher.
One of the biggest changes slated for the fall is the creation of a preschool program with enough seats for every 4-year-old in town. The preschool will be tuition-free and transportation is provided.
Under the program, 20 Mashpee 4-year-olds will spend six and a half hours at preschool each day -- a full school day. Another 75 seats are considered half-day, meaning that children are in school for about two and a half hours, either three, four, or five days a week.
"Everything that people want to do throughout the Cape and Islands and the Commonwealth, we're starting to," Hyde told WCAI.
Many public schools already have limited preschool programs, and typically charge tuition to at least some of its students. Mashpee's program is rare in its scope.
"We're trying to make it available to all [Mashpee] four-year-olds," Hyde said. "And I don't know of anyone [on Cape Cod] who is offering transportation and free tuition."
Mary Pat Messmer of Cape Cod Child Development says Mashpee's move is part of a nationwide trend, fueled by encouragement from President Barack Obama and governors across the country, including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
"Preschool is really becoming the new kindergarten," Messmer said. "Schools are realizing that the earlier we can provide high-quality educational experiences for children, the more grounded the youngsters are, and the better outcomes we have in the grades that follow," she said.
In addition to the expansion of preschool, Hyde has implemented a new online foreign language class for grades 3 through 6, interscholastic athletics for grades 5 and 6, and an iPad for every 6th grader, among other initiatives that will start in the fall.
He has stayed within the budget largely by eliminating administrative positions or reducing their hours.
Not all of those changes have been popular with parents.
After Hyde eliminated the position of middle school principal for the coming school year, a handful of parents let him know they were unhappy with the idea. They worried that middle school students wouldn't get the attention they need in a grade 7-12 school. Seventy-three people joined a Facebook page opposing the merger.
Hyde held a series of meetings to discuss the change, but at least one parent was worried enough that he announced he's running for school committee so he can keep a close eye on what happens.
The candidate, Chris Santos, has three children in the school system. He says he wants the middle school students to continue to have their own clubs, fields trips, and activities -- and not to share them with the older students.
"The emotional and physical differences between seven and eighth graders and high school kids...the mixture is just, it can be a bad idea if it's done incorrectly," Santos told WCAI.
Santos says the only way he will be satisfied that things are going well is to have a seat on the school committee.
Hyde says that any change can be painful and that he's confident the new school configuration will mean more attention for grade 7 and 8 students, not less. He's adding a guidance counselor and a headmaster -- kind of like an assistant principal -- to ensure that services for the middle school students will continue.