FITCHBURG -- Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School is starting the 2014-2015 school year with a new principal in place and an active search underway to replace Superintendent-Director Steven C. Sharek, who resigned this summer.
Business manager Tammy Lajoie is serving as acting superintendent-director until the 22-member School Committee hires a replacement.
Thomas R. Browne, longtime Leominster High School principal, was recently hired to lead Monty Tech's staff of approximately 200 and record-high enrollment of nearly 1,440 students.
The new school year got underway Aug. 26, with students in grades 9 to 12 reporting for a full day.
A total of 366 incoming students from 18 member communities make up the Class of 2018. An orientation to assist the newcomers in transitioning to a large, regional high school was held Aug. 19 and 20.
Administrators have been busy this summer finalizing plans on a number of new programs and initiatives.
After a couple of years absence to complete a number of major construction projects throughout the school, Monty Tech is resuming its Annual House Building Project. Students and teachers in the building trades will be constructing two affordable-housing homes in the area. They include a duplex in Fitchburg for Habitat For Humanity, and a single-family house in Ashburnham for the Montachusett Enterprise Center. Renovations to the Sterling Municipal Light building are also scheduled.
Three new advanced-placement courses have been added to the curriculum, bringing the total number to six. As part of the school's ongoing college and career readiness initiatives, a seven-credit, full-year biotechnology dual-enrollment course will be available to qualifying upperclassmen. Implemented last year, the course is extremely popular with students.
Plans are in place to pilot the new state-mandated student assessment program known as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). The test will eventually replace the MCAS test.
Construction is nearing completion on a career closet, which will be located in Monty Tech's Career Center. With funding from the Monty Tech Foundation and TJX Companies Inc., students going out on job interviews will be able to access business-appropriate attire. All clothing items, including shoes, will be new and available to students at no cost. This is a long-awaited goal that, thanks to our supporters and business partners ,is now a reality. Students and teachers in Monty Tech's cabinetmaking program did all the construction work.
It was a very busy and productive summer for students, teachers and staff. Highlights include:
* A total of 80 middle-school students from throughout the region attended Monty Tech's first-ever Summer Camp. The students spent a week discovering the world of art, photography, cosmetology and culinary arts, capping off the experience was a field trip to Boston that included the legendary Duck Tour, an IMAX movie, lunch and a tour of the Museum of Science.
* Sixty incoming 9th-, 10th- and 11th-grade students were able to boost their reading, writing and math skills this summer by attending Monty Tech's MCAS Academy. This is the 15th year the academy has been helping students prepare for the state MCAS test through hands-on, interactive instruction and activities.
* A total of 138 Marine Corps JROTC cadets from throughout the country attended the second annual Marine Corps JROTC Cyber STEM Camp held this year at Fort Devens. Sponsored by Monty Tech Marine Corps JROTC program, the camp provides in-depth instruction and training in cyber-security, computer forensics, networking and robotics.
* Monty Tech's fifth student-designed science experiment was launched into space this summer where it will spend time on the International Space Station collecting data on the effect microgravity has on the production of a common bacteria found in air, water and decomposing plant matter. The mission is sponsored by the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, which Monty Tech has been participating in since 2011.