Cooperative School District History
Students from Brentwood, East Kingston, Exeter, Kensington, Newfields and Stratham have been educated together at the secondary level since the days of Robinson Female Seminary (for girls) and Exeter High School (for boys). In the mid-1950’s the Seminary closed and Exeter High School became coed, with an addition to the original Tuck building.
As the one room schoolhouses began to give way to consolidated elementary schools, 8th and then 7th graders traveled to Exeter for Junior High School (in the old Tuck building). The Exeter School District owned all the buildings and the Exeter School Board made all the staffing and curriculum decisions. The ‘sending towns’ paid tuition.
Growth in the sending towns began to put pressure on the Exeter buildings, particularly the Junior High School, even after a ‘new’ building was constructed in 1967 and the Tuck building was incorporated into the High School. By the 1990’s a building designed for 550 students had a student population of nearly twice that number.
A ‘Cooperative Study’ group was formed at the SAU level. A proposal was made for a school district for grades 6-12 with all towns having ownership of any buildings and representation on the school board. The proposal was approved by the voters in each of the six towns and thus created what is today the Exeter Regional Cooperative School District (ERCSD). The bond for a new Cooperative Middle School to be built in Stratham was approved several months later. In 1994 the voters approved a new Exeter High School on Route 27 in Exeter.
Building the Cooperative Middle School
The original Middle School Building Committee formed soon after the vote to form a Cooperative District in March 1996 and the election of a School Board in May of that year. The vote to form a Cooperative District was contingent upon the approval of a bond for a new school. Newly elected board members were charged with creating a new district (philosophy, policies, etc.) and putting together a school plan. A proposal to resolve the issues at the Exeter Area Junior High had to be approved by the voters before March of 1997 for the Cooperative District to go forward. In the interim, the Exeter School Board remained in charge of grades 7-12.
The future of the Coop rested in a successful bond vote – therefore Coop Board members were heavily involved in the building project. Citizens from all 6 towns volunteered to serve with the board as well as Exeter Area Jr. High teachers.
Many possibilities for a 6-8th grade school were considered. Included among them were: relocating the Exeter High School and using the Linden Street site as a middle school; building a new school on a new site; or building two 710 student schools on different sites. After much debate the option of a new 6-8 grade school for 1400 students on a new site was chosen.
Realizing that upon its completion the proposed school would be the largest middle school in New Hampshire, a lot of time was spent on the design. Architect Frank Marinace came up with a building centered on a courtyard for the instructional wing. Pods, clusters of five classrooms, accompanied by a team area with lockers helped to give the school a feeling of smaller ‘schools’ within the larger complex. Co-curricular activities like Family & Consumer Sciences, Vocational Education, Music and Art along with the library, guidance & administrative offices were grouped around the courtyard. Every instructional space was designed to have at least one window.
The cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium along with the entry lobby were located in a separate wing. Thus the parts of the building utilized by the Community – for recreational sports, theatrical productions, meetings, etc – would be totally separate from the instructional areas.
Building sites with adequate acreage were identified and investigated in Stratham, Exeter and Kensington. Eventually the site off Guinea Road in Stratham was selected. The summer and fall of 1996 were spent refining the plan and presenting the proposal to the voters at numerous meetings in each of the towns. A vote was held on November 9, 1996 and the bond passed. Construction began in the Spring of 1997. CMS officially opened its doors to students in September of 1998.