By Mike LaBella
---- — The number of Haverhill students admitted to Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School each year has long been an issue of concern for Haverhill’s School Committee.
Committee members said that of the 11 communities served by Whittier, Haverhill pays the most, but in the past that wasn’t reflected in the number of Haverhill students that were accepted to the school.
They said the latest enrollment figures are encouraging, and that the number of Haverhill students being accepted to Whittier now better equates with what the city is spending. School officials say that by educating middle school students about what they can do to prepare for admittance to Whittier, it gives them a better chance at getting in.
”I would definitely say the numbers are up in Haverhill’s favor,” School Committee member Raymond Sierpina said. “I think right now, the amount of what we’re paying is coinciding with the number of kids who are going there.”
Sierpina brought up the issue at the last School Committee meeting and said that from time to time the committee wants to be informed about how many Haverhill students are being accepted and are enrolled.
”We do fund a large portion of Whittier’s budget, so we want to ensure what we’re paying for, we’re getting and it’s something we need to check on periodically,” Sierpina said.
Whittier’s admission criteria rate students on grades, attendance, recommendations by guidance counselors, discipline and conduct, and an interview. Mayor James Fiorentini has been critical in the past of Whittier’s admissions policy, calling it too stringent. Whittier officials have defended the policy as one that weeds out students with attendance and behavioral issues.
According to Haverhill Superintendent James Scully, 213 of Whittier’s 342 freshmen are from Haverhill. He said Haverhill students represent 62 percent of total grade nine enrollment. Students in that grade participate in all of Whittier’s 19 exploratory programs, then in grade 10 they select a particular career path.
Scully said he and Whittier Superintendent William DeRosa have been working together over the past two years to help local students become more knowledgeable about what Haverhill High School and Whittier have to offer. In addition, he said Haverhill’s middle school guidance counselors have been very transparent as to what the entrance requirements are at both schools, and what students need to do to be accepted.
”When students decide to do something right or wrong, they’re making choices,” Scully said. “What we’re saying is, ‘Make the right choices.’”
Scully said the rate of Haverhill students accepted at Whittier is better than in the past because Haverhill’s middle school guidance counselors are more knowledgeable of the admissions requirements and what the school has to offer.
”It’s a better working relationship between the superintendents now, and parents are more aware of what the benefits are of our comprehensive high school and Whittier,” Scully said.
”Like the mayor always says, any kid from Haverhill who wants to go to Whittier should have the opportunity to go there,” Sierpina said. “Our acceptance rate is up, kids who apply to Whittier are getting in, but at the same time we have the attraction of Haverhill High School, moreso than in the past, and for many different reasons. Kids are being attracted back to Haverhill High with programs such as the Classical Academy, high level courses, and school-to-career programs such as cosmetology. And not to mention the renovated building, which appeals to parents.”
Scully said that at a open house this Wednesday at Haverhill High, he planned to tell parents although Haverhill High might be a good fit for some students, Whittier might be a good fit for others.
”The purpose is to educate people so they can make better choices for their children,” he said. “I think it’s been wrong in the past to see Whittier as competition. I see it as an asset to what we’re trying to do.”
Whittier enrolls more than 1,200 students in grades nine to 12 from 11 local communities. The school serves Haverhill, Groveland, Merrimac, Georgetown, Amesbury, Newburyport, Newbury, West Newbury, Rowley, Salisbury and Ipswich, and offers 20 vocational-technical majors. Students graduate with high school diplomas and industry certifications.