By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
“We are trying to personalize education so there’s no student who falls in between the cracks,” said Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson. “We want kids to be successful, and in order to do that, we have to get to every single kid.”
Beginning in August, first-year students will take all of their core courses – English, science, math and social studies – in the new freshmen building, taught by teams of 8 teachers with about 200 students each, Anderson said.
The new building will also house administration and guidance staff who will deal exclusively with freshmen students.
Anderson said the hope is that next year’s nearly 700 freshmen will feel more comfortable in a smaller environment at a school with an enrollment of more than 3,100. Teaching teams will also be encouraged to compare notes on student progress throughout the year, she said.
While construction of the $23-million project started in the fall of 2009, Anderson said the school’s long-range planning committee began considering the possibility of creating a freshmen “school within a school” in 2000.
“Instead of just building another building, we said, ‘OK, do we want to change the philosophy?’” Anderson said. “We did a lot of research and met with a lot of different schools, and we just liked the philosophy of a school within a school making a large school feel smaller.”
Construction was originally scheduled for 2008, but Anderson said the economic downturn slowed the project. At that point, the work was expected to cost about $29 million, she said.
With the reduction of a $4 million playing field complex and under-budget bids, construction on a revised $23 million building began in the fall of 2009.
To date, she said, the project remains on budget.
At this point, about 70 workers are completing painting and heating improvements to the interior of the building, while much of the outside brick is already in place, she said.
Once completed in July, the three-story building will house 28 freshmen classrooms, 6 math classrooms for upperclassmen and 9 rooms for the school’s culinary, allied health and video production Career Technical Education programs. Plans also include a media center with 75 computers open to students of all ages, a freshmen cafeteria and a small lecture hall.
All staff moving to the new building will come from other areas on campus, Anderson said, and the school will be able to remove 22 of its 40-year-old portable classroom buildings once the new space is open.
Two of those portables will be moved to the special education department at Haynes House, she said.
Anderson said the building will be paid for by a 25-year bond and is expected to account for an increase of about $250 in per-student tuition next year.
In total, Pinkerton tuition will increase by $342 next year, to $9,712 per student.
But Anderson said that money will be well spent.
“All Derry, Hampstead and Chester parents and residents should know that we have done a ton of research and put a lot of thought into this,” she said. “We didn’t just build a building because we needed to get rid of portable buildings. We built this with a specific philosophy in mind that will better meet the needs of our kids, their kids.”
Once the freshmen building is ready, Anderson said she’s hoping to bring similar concepts to other areas on campus, working slowly with the existing infrastructure.
“We’ve got the facilities to be able to go in whatever direction we want, with more research,” Anderson said. “Change is slow to the academy, but that’s not always a bad thing.”