HOLYOKE -- Holyoke Public Schools will introduce two new middle school programs for the 2018-19 academic year, which begins Aug. 28.
Veritas Prep, a charter school based in Springfield, will operate one program under a contract with the School Department. It will be "co-located" with the William R. Peck School.
The STEM Academy will share space at the newly named Holyoke High School Dean Campus. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
The district is transitioning away from schools that house students in kindergarten to grade eight and moving toward a middle school model, where schools usually contain grades six to eight. Plans continue to construct two new middle schools in the next few years.
School Receiver Dr. Stephen Zrike said plans call for building the middle schools near the Peck School, which he described as "poorly designed," and H.B. Lawrence School on Cabot Street, a designated historical building.
The STEM Academy will serve sixth- to eighth-graders coming from the Morgan and E.N. White Schools.
Shortly after being appointed receiver by the state, Zrike said he heard from parents who wanted a better middle school experience for their children. He said parents called for courses in robotics, technology and engineering.
"Performance is really lacking in those areas. We long wanted to see a middle school at the Dean Campus," Zrike said. "The space was underutilized."
In the past few years, the Dean Campus built science labs. STEM Academy students will now have access to that space. Zrike added that Dean lends itself better to a middle school format.
"We know our students and families are dissatisfied with the middle school experience in Holyoke. It's been pretty watered down because of the K-8 model," he said. "There isn't a critical mass of students to create a robust middle school experience from a resource perspective."
He expects 250 students at the STEM Academy, which provides the "critical mass." Teachers at the academy will now only teach middle-school children, no longer subjected to multiple-grade curriculums.
Veritas Prep, which launches with a 130-student fifth-grade class, will occupy space at Peck, including an entrance only for Veritas students.
Zrike said Veritas Prep has a successful history in Springfield, receiving high performance and satisfaction ratings. Veritas will be a structured and organized academic setting.
He added that Peck School can easily accommodate the regular program, which serves fourth- to eight-graders, and Veritas Prep. Most of the Peck students will come from Lawrence School.