Some students returning to brand new schools in Fall River, Westport

Back to School

WESTPORT, Mass. (WPRI) — The pandemic showed how virtual learning is possible but is not preferred by educators, parents, and students.

A new high school was built in Fall River and new middle and high schools were built in Westport. Now taxpayers are hopeful the new schools will bring enthusiasm to their communities.

Students and teachers in Westport will be entering the new schools on Old Colony Road on Tuesday for the first day of school.

“The old school was really tight, it wasn’t a great learning environment,” English teacher Jon Bernier said.

Jon and his son will both be starting the school year in a brand new 8th-grade classroom. The new school’s design features offices between the classrooms, and Jon will be sharing it with another English teacher, Bill Bernier — his twin brother.

“We shared a bedroom for 14 years as kids so,” Bill said.

Jon and Bill both attended and also taught in the old middle school building.

“The main building was 1954, I think,” Jon said.

Jon was on the school building committee and said they hope the new gym and theater inspire students to join and create new extracurricular activities.

Superintendent Thomas Aubin said the goal of the $97 million building is to keep kids in public schools, which is where the taxpayers invest.

“We had about 450 students leave the district over the past 10 years,” Aubin said. “The cost is over a million dollars.”

In Fall River, the goal is the same with the brand new Durfee High School.

“I think our numbers are already up this year,” Mayor Paul Coogan said.

Fall River residents voted to increase their taxes even, to pay for the estimated $263 million facility. It’s expected that about 60% of it is funded by the Massachusetts School Building Authority grant money.

Coogan gave 12 News a personal tour and said his push for the school predates his time as mayor. He started as a teacher at the old Durfee High School.

“You need technology, you need space, you need the right kind of ventilation,” Coogan said.

Among the new age technology and education, there’s also a bit of the past included in the new school building. Beams and wood in the media center circulation desk are from the Old King Philip Mill, and the granite is original Fall River granite.

“I was a student in the old building and an employee. Especially on a gray day, it never gave you a sense of enthusiasm,” Principal Matt Desmarais said about the old school.

It’s this renewed sense of enthusiasm that the city hopes attracts and retains students and teachers for years to come.

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