PMHS principal presents vision for school at board work session; teachers voice need for more space, staffing, resources


Pelham Memorial High School Principal Mark Berkowitz stressed the importance of excellence empowered through community during a presentation on the vision for the high school at the Feb. 1 board of education meeting, which also included a panel of 13 high school teachers.

Kicking off the board’s work session on PMHS, Berkowitz highlighted the science research program, expansion of the arts and multiple merit scholarship winners as examples of success at PMHS.  

Excellence is also demonstrated through habits that are learned in the classrooms, Berkowitz said. PMHS seeks to give “our students strategies for approaching problems” and the ability to “communicate clearly,” he said. 

“We want all our students to graduate with purpose,” Berkowitz said. 

On the teacher panel, at least one educator from each department described what they believe demonstrates excellence currently, as well as the vision they have for the high school in the next five years.

Social studies teacher Megan Rice said she believes the classes that center around civil discourse in society “seek to connect our community, local and global issues, to the past.” When asked what the social studies department hopes to see in the future, Rice said to create a humanities research program that is “more similar to the science research program.”

We need to explore how we are supporting all of our students, not just students who are accessing the higher-level classes.

— Director of Humanities Dr. Maria Thompson

Board Vice President Ian Rowe asked the teachers to speak about endeavors that may be viewed as unrealistic, but would greatly improve the environment at PMHS. The overwhelming response from most of the teachers was the need for an increase in space, staffing and resources. 

“How many kids are you losing having a class of 28 or 29?” asked Bridge Academy teacher Jeanette Connolly. She said it was “very hard to make connections” with such larger classes. 

Band teacher Andrew Van Bochove spoke on behalf of the music department: “We do not have the staffing or space to fit the musical needs of the students.” There are seven music teachers across the entire district. 

“We will need to explore short-term and longer-term staffing needs,” Berkowitz said.

The PMHS administration plans to increase peer leadership-training opportunities. “We wish to strengthen the bridge into the ninth grade,” Berkowitz said. He described the need for a ninth grade discovery course in which freshmen would be guided by upperclassmen in learning the academic and social skills required for the high school years. 

Berkowitz said it was “less than ideal” that high school students have to eat lunch in stairway landings. While it may be a longer term plan, he said, the administration is looking at increasing the amount of open space for lunch during free periods. 

If we are going to be an AP school, let’s be the best AP school.

— Board President Dr. Michael Owen-Michaane

Trustee Jessica DeDomenico asked the panel about the district’s policy of open enrollment, which allows any student to take honors, Advanced Placement and college-level courses. 

“We need to explore how we are supporting all of our students, not just students who are accessing the higher-level classes,” said Director of Humanities Dr. Maria Thompson. The staff at PMHS strives to ensure that regents-level classes are enriching and promote active discussion, just as AP, honors or other college-level courses do, she said. 

Board President Dr. Michael Owen-Michaane ended the panel by discussing the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement instructional pathways. Owen-Michaane said he believes that it is in the school’s best interest to continue to build its AP program and explore other opportunities that the Advanced Placement path allows. 

“If we are going to be an AP school, let’s be the best AP school,” Owen-Michaane said. 

The next board of education meeting will be Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the middle school library.