7 school districts with innovative programs in affordable communities

Lesley Becker/Globe staff

Part of our inaugural themed-section on real estate and education. Pore over the latest data from the state’s public schools at

When it comes to choosing a school system, parents are immediately drawn to top-rated districts like Lexington, Newton, and Wellesley. But if homes in those sought-after communities are out of your budget, there are unique programs in more affordable communities, ones in which the median sale price is under $500,000. Whether you’re looking to challenge a gifted student, expose your child to a new culture or language, or find a setting with extra social, emotional, or behavioral support, here’s a sampling of districts that are thinking outside the box.


Behavioral and therapeutic support and well-being

Amesbury, Amesbury Innovation High School, grades 9-12

This program provides an alternative environment for up to 50 students who struggle in a traditional high school setting and need extra social and emotional support and nurturing. These students typically have challenges — learning gaps, abuse, anxiety, lack of motivation, bullying. or little support from home. “Over the years we’ve shifted from a poverty-stricken population to more of a population that’s the round peg in a square hole,’’ said Eryn Maguire, principal of the school, which was founded 16 years ago. “For whatever reason, a traditional setting doesn’t work, and that can be almost any student.’’ The school has a student support center, and all staff members are trained in trauma-sensitive practices. The school also has a work-study component requiring all students to work at least five hours a week and an intensive college- and career-advising program. “By the time they graduate, they have a plan,’’ she said. “We’re not just teaching academics here. The whole-student approach is pretty unique.’’

Median sale price $302,950 (single-family homes, December 2016)


Price $332,500

Year built 1900

Lot size 0.19

Bedrooms 3

Baths 1 full, 1 half

Taxes $5,075 (2017)

Located on a tree-lined street in Amesbury Highlands, this 1,705-square-foot Victorian offers a dining room with a tin ceiling, an L-shaped eat-in kitchen, a one-car garage with a wood stove, and a wraparound porch.

Kathy Thompson, Stone Ridge Properties, 978-388-0880,

Berlin/ Boylston

Global awareness

Berlin/Boylston, Tahanto Regional Middle/High School, program serves grades 11-12

This is the second year of the global studies program, which was developed to give students a sense of life outside their communities and help them realize the impact of global economics and culture on society, said Diane Tucceri, principal. Students apply to the program at the end of their sophomore year and must take required classes, maintain at least a B average in those classes, and give back to the community. Students will graduate with a global studies distinction on their diploma. The service learning takes place locally, but every two years the group goes on a trip. Last year, they traveled to the Dominican Republic, where students and their advisers lived in a village in huts and helped build a clean-water system. Next year, a group will travel to Nicaragua. The students must fund their own trips, but financial assistance is available for those who qualify. The global studies club at the middle school is collecting school supplies for students in Mexico, and the high school program brings in guest speakers. “It’s really opening up our students’ eyes to the world beyond Berlin and Boylston,’’ Tucceri said. “Our students are very academically oriented, but a lot of times they don’t get to see and experience outside of what is taught in the mandated curriculum.’’

Aerial shot of Tahanto Regional Middle/High School —Handout
Teacher and adviser Steve Pacheco and students Aidan Knowles and John Allen on trip to Dominican Republic. —Tahanto Regional Middle/High School

Median sale price Berlin, $407,500, and Boylston, $419,900


Price $389,900

Year built 1952

Lot size 2.48 acres

Bedrooms 3

Baths 2 full

Taxes $4,736 (2016)

This 1,354-square-foot Cape has a sunroom, hardwood floors, a heated sunroom, and a mahogany deck.

S. Elaine McDonald, RE/Max Executive Realty, 888-838-9444,


Dual immersion

Framingham, K-12

All 700 pupils at Barbieri Elementary School (except those in special education) take part in a bilingual program, learning Spanish and English, through fifth grade. Enrollment is by choice and done by lottery because of its popularity, said Genoveffa Grieci, the district’s bilingual education program director. “Parents choose it because research shows that learning two languages is so beneficial. Becoming bilingual and bicultural opens up new ways of looking at and thinking about things,’’ she said. Half of the children in the kindergarten class primarily speak Spanish at home. Pupils initially spend 80 percent of their day learning in Spanish. By third grade, half the instruction in language arts, math, science, and social studies is in English, and the rest is in Spanish. Spanish-speaking pupils identified as English learners also receive English as a second language support. “The philosophy is that students maintain their native language and culture while acquiring a second language,’’ Grieci said. Pupils can continue on to Walsh Middle School, where they receive social studies and Spanish language arts in Spanish, and math, science, and English language arts in English. In high school, bilingual students are enrolled in a Spanish language and literature class and can take advanced placement Spanish in 12th grade or dual-enrollment classes at a local college.

Median sale price $400,000


Price $399,999

Year built 1912

Lot size 0.27 acre

Bedrooms 4

Baths 1 full, 1 half

Taxes $5,831 (2015)

Highlights of this 2,712-square-foot Victorian include a wraparound porch, pretty molding, and pocket doors.

Philip R. Ottaviani, 774-245-1055, Realty Executives Boston West,




Haverhill, Haverhill High School, Classical Academy, grades 9-12

Classical Academy is a rigorous humanities-based exam program for “academically promising students,’’ similar to the Boston Latin School, said Beth Kitsos, principal. Students must test into the academy, which starts in ninth grade and has about 50 students. They must take Latin, and are grouped together for required classes such as classical literature and classical perspectives. Academy students take math, science, and electives with other students, but all classes must be honors or advanced placement. Students must complete a senior seminar during which they identify a problem, solve it, and present it to a panel of community judges. Kitsos said the goal of the program is to provide a “challenging college preparatory curriculum intended to broaden and deepen their knowledge, skills, understandings, and civic commitment.’’ Last year, academy students were accepted into many prestigious colleges, including Harvard, Princeton, and Georgetown.

Median sale price $299,000


Price $275,000

Year built 1987

Lot size 0.19

Bedrooms 4

Baths 2 full, 1 half

Taxes $3,393 (2016)

Perched atop Silver/Observatory Hill, this 1,854-square-foot Gambrel has a living room that runs the full length of the front of the home. The kitchen and dining area fill out the back half. The basement is finished and includes a full bath and a bedroom. As of press time, an offer was pending on this home.

Brian Murphy, LAER Realty Partners, 978-852-6006,


Traditional, Montessori, and French immersion

Holliston, Sam Placentino Elementary, grades pre-K-2

Pupils entering kindergarten choose one of three pathways for elementary school: Montessori, French immersion, or traditional. Traditional kindergarten is either half or full day; full-day pupils have Spanish and science classes. Montessori students (preschool is a half day, kindergarten is a full day) are placed in multi-age classrooms — preschool and kindergarten work together, as do first- and second-graders. With the exception of specialist subjects, pupils in the immersion program, also full day, are instructed entirely in French from kindergarten through second grade. Kindergartners can talk in English but are expected to speak only in French for most of first grade and all of second grade. French instruction starts decreasing in third grade; by sixth grade, students have just one French class. The two nontraditional programs are extremely popular and lottery-based when necessary, but they aren’t for everyone, said Jaime Slaney, principal. “I really encourage parents to think about who their kids are as learners,’’ she said.

Median sale price $473,000


Price $375,000

Year built 1961

Lot size 0.41

Bedrooms 3

Baths 1 full, 1 half

Taxes $6,521 (2017)

This 1,315-square-foot split-level close to the center of town features a living room with a bay window, hardwood floors, and a brick fireplace with a wood mantel and slate hearth. The kitchen has a built-in buffet, and the three-season porch off the kitchen and dining room offers access to a bluestone patio. A freshly painted family room with new flooring and built-in shelves can be found on the lower level.

Barbara and Miah Kattman, Century 21 Commonwealth, 508-277-6675,




Malden, Linden STEAM Academy, K-Grade 8

Linden became an innovation school serving kindergarten through eighth grade five years ago to have more autonomy over hiring, professional development, and school policies, said Richard Bransfield, principal. At the same time, the school took on a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) theme with a stress on project-based learning. “We always have a wait list,’’ Bransfield said, noting that the school numbers about 910 pupils. The focus on STEM subjects includes an engineering partnership with Tufts University; in the arts curriculum, there’s a particular emphasis on music. All students learn to play the guitar, for example. There is also a chorus, band, and drama club. Technology is a key part of the school and is incorporated throughout the curriculum, whether it’s used for GarageBand (music studio software) or to help students make a movie trailer for a novel they read. The school has three computer labs, one-to-one Chromebooks for students in sixth through eighth grade, iPad carts for younger students, and an engineering lab in which computers are used for robotics and computer-aided design.

Median sale price $392,500


Price $479,895

Year built 1900

Lot size 0.09

Bedrooms 4

Baths 2 full

Taxes $4,742 (2016)

This renovated 1,416-square-foot single-family is on a dead-end. Updates include fresh paint, recessed lighting, tile baths, and stainless appliances. The home has views of Boston.

Gesiane Soares and Maria Silveira, Century 21 North Shore, 617-710-2681 or 781-241-3228,




Marshfield, pre-K-Grade 12

The school district implemented Peacebuilders, an anti-violence curriculum throughout the system in the 2011-12 school year as a way to help combat bullying and foster a safe environment for staff and students. Peacebuilders focuses on six principals — praise people, give up put-downs, seek wise people, help others, notice hurts, and right wrongs. Ellen Martin, assistant superintendent, said the program has helped create a positive, welcoming environment in the schools. “It’s a character-building program teaching kids to be empathetic, to not put down other people, and to help each other,’’ Martin said. Each school, and even each classroom, has the flexibility to incorporate principles of the program as they see fit, but many schools incorporate the program building-wide. Some schools say the Peacebuilders pledge every day and do activities revolving around a monthly character trait. Students might use “peace notes’’ to compliment another student. Martin said because the program starts in pre-K, students hear a consistent message throughout their years in the system. “You can see it changing the culture,’’ she said. “As they move into middle and high school, this is their foundation. Even our School Committee recites the pledge at the beginning of every meeting.’’

Median sale price $374,000


Price $383,000

Year built 1993

Lot size 0.72 acre

Bedrooms 3

Baths 2 full

Taxes $4,893 (2016)

Built on a corner lot, this 1,805-square-foot three-level Colonial offers an eat-in kitchen and a master suite that includes a den and balcony.

Kristin Dewey, Kornerstone Real Estate Brokerage, 781-834-8118,

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at