BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
November 12, 2020 – 6:00pm
School Committee: S. Bannon, J. St. Peter, A. Hutchinson, C. Sprague, R. Dohoney, B. Fields, M. Thomas, D. Singer, B. Bonn-Buffoni
Administration: P. Dillon, S. Harrison
Staff/Public: T. Lee, K. Farina, B. Doren, S. Soule
RECORDER NOTE: Meeting attended by recorder and minutes transcribed during the meeting and after the fact from live recording provided by CTSB. Length of meeting: 2 hour, 03 minutes.
CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Steve Bannon called the meeting to order immediately at 6pm.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The listing of agenda items are those reasonably anticipated by the chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed, and other items not listed may be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law. This meeting is being recorded by CTSB, Committee Recorder, members of the public with prior Chair permission and will be broadcast at a later date. Minutes will be transcribed and made public, as well as added to our website, www.bhrsd.org once approved.
- Reorganization of School Committee:
- Election of Officers:
- Chair: Bannon
- Vice Chair: Dohoney
- Assistant Treasurer: Sprague
- Secretary: Singer
- Appointment of School Committee Representatives to Sub-Committees
- Negotiation Sub-Committee: Hutchinson, M. Thomas, S. Bannon, J. St. Peter
- Policy Sub-Committee: Bannon, J. St. Peter, C. Sprague, S. Stephen
- Warrant Sub-Committee: Leave as is
- Buildings & Grounds Sub-Committee: St. Peter, B. Fields, M. Thomas, D. Singer
- Superintendent Evaluation and Advisory Sub-Committee: Hutchinson, S. Stephen, B. Bonn-Buffoni
- Technology Sub-Committee: Bannon, S. Stephen, R. Dohoney, C. Sprague, B. Bonn-Buffoni
- Finance Sub-Committee: Dohoney, B. Fields, S. Bannon, B. Bonn-Buffoni
- District Consolidation and Sharing Sub-Committee: Bannon, R. Dohoney, A. Hutchinson, M. Thomas
- School Center, Inc.: Bannon, J. St. Peter, D. Singer
- Fund for Excellence: Fields, D. Singer (alt)
- Vocational Advisory Board: Bannon, M. Thomas, J. St. Peter, C. Sprague, D. Singer
- MASC Reps: Fields, J. St. Peter
- Educational Committee & Eight Town School Consolidation Committee: Not needed at this time
- Minutes: October 1, 2020 and October 22, 2020 – MOTION TO APPROVE MINUTES OF OCTOBER 1, 2020 AND OCTOBER 22, 2020 FIELDS ACCEPTED: R. DOHONEY ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Superintendent’s Report: Dillon: Today I sent out a letter to the whole school community, to parents, school committee members and staff talking about where we are with COVID-19 and what we need to do. That letter came out of work I am doing with a group I meet weekly that has teacher members and a school committee member on it. The big thing, and I’m sure you read the letter, it is a long one, is that we need to continue with hand washing, face masks and social distancing. As COVID-19 starts popping up all around us and potentially in our own community, we have to be really deliberate and careful going into Thanksgiving break and the rest of the holidays as well. Late breaking news after I sent the letter, more cases appeared in Pittsfield and the Pittsfield schools have decided to go remote for a few weeks. Obviously, Pittsfield is close by. We interact with that community quite a bit. I have talked to the principals about working with the teachers to be ready to pivot to a remote approach quickly if we need to do that. I hope we don’t need to do that but it is a possibility. At a previous meeting, the principals and I talked about trying to get additional kids back to school, face-to-face. The aspirational goal is 11/30, our plan is solid and good but we might delay that plan a little bit in the context of Thanksgiving and now we are tentatively going to look at 12/7 to bring kids back, the 3rd/4th and 5th/6th so that will give us a little cushion on the end of Thanksgiving and we will see what happens. I really hope that we as a community need to be in a moral compact with each other and do the right thing over Thanksgiving. If we continue to have our infection and transmission rates low, we can get more kids back to school. If we blow it, the rates will go through the roof and we won’t be able to get more kids back to school; it will do the opposite and reduce the number of kids in school and maybe go into a remote posture. In response to my email, some people said it is great and really thoughtful and other people have different opinions of it. We will work through that. Several people have asked me why don’t we shut down schools like the colleges and universities and not have school from Thanksgiving until New Year’s? We are being given direction by the governor and the commissioner not to do that. Colleges and universities have a much different circumstance than we do but we will continue to do what we can to ensure student and staff safety and look at the numbers very carefully. The group that I met with, we were initially meeting on Wednesday then we were getting data later and meeting on Thursdays but the data is coming later so we are meeting on Fridays now. There are other daily reports that I look at and weekly reports and multiyear trends. One of the things that is scary or intimidating is while Berkshire County has done pretty well, to our east, the Pioneer Valley is not doing great; do our south, Litchfield County, CT, is not quite terribly and two our west, Columbia County, NY is also not doing great. Vermont is a little better. That is something to keep an eye on. We will try to move forward with this plan to have more kids around December 7th but all of that is connected to where we are at that time. R. Dohoney – I totally understand what you are saying. I do think looking ahead, we need to visit the calendar for the second half of the year. At least have some talks around negotiations but we are going to have an awful lot to make up. We cancelled April break last year. I think that is going to have to be on the table as well as the end date of school. I don’t know if we need all of the PD days in the second half of school either. You need to start thinking about that. P. Dillon – just to be clear, I made the decision to fold the half days into our Wednesdays. We don’t want to lose a quarter of the days in those weeks so we are not doing that. One other thing we are doing is I applied for us to be part of a larger testing thing. We did, through a grant connected to Rutgers, a saliva-based COVID test for staff and we tested between Berkshire Hills and Richmond, a little more than 120 people. Thankful all of those tests came back negative. We are in the que to be part of a broader testing cycle for staff and students and I will share an update on that when I hear back from them.
- Good News Item(s)
- Expanded Student Voice – I have a group of students who requested, but it is state law anyway, that meetings include student voice. I will let the group of students speak to this and put it in context and urge you to support their thinking. We had a nice meeting with the students: Kristi, Sean Flynn, Krista Dalton and I. They are looking again to formally establish student voice not just on the school committee but potentially on the sub-committees and other things that are happening in and outside of the buildings. I think it is great and I think we should figure out more ways to build that in. Krista – A little over a year and a half ago through the Mass Ideas grant, we had connected with a group in Vermont called Up for Learning (YATS Youth and Adults Transforming School) together. I tried to collect a dozen students that represented every corner of our building which is quite difficult at times because there tends to be less representation of some groups in our building than others. Twelve of us, adults, faculty members and students, went up and did a workshop there for two days. We came back feeling strong and empowered. We have gained numbers, we lost numbers through all of these transitions and we are a turning point where they are trying to decide a way to have better communication with adults in the district, the school building and community and also just ways to support the inequity and inclusion of unheard voices in our building. This group came together between Greta Luf and I were working together. We were working together last year. Greta has graduated. She decided on Dalia Logan and Jacob Shron to be the leaders of the YATS group with Alanna Doren being an assistant at the Mass Ideas group. Sharon – thank you to the committee for allowing us to have this opportunity to speak with you and be here tonight. I am a sophomore at Monument and I am one of the student leaders of YATS along with Dalia Logan and Alanna Doren. We are here tonight to present our proposal of having a student or two have an official seat on the committee so it can be more inclusive of student voice and the ideas that we have. YATS is the name of our group. We are a group of students and adults working on student voice in many aspects and decisions in our schools, specifically Monument at the moment. We do have to expand it to middle school and elementary school as well. We have been working together for over a year and growing our group and expanding our reach within Monument. We facilitated professional development sessions with teachers, all run by students this summer and we are currently running weekly meetings with our group also all run by students. A. Doren – I am a junior at Monument and I have been a part of YATS since we went to Vermont last year. I think Krista and Jacob covered the background. I am going to pass it to Leela and I am new to YATS. I am a freshman at Monument and I joined to lift the voices of students. Zadie – I am also new to YATS and I joined to work with fellow students and to take part in the effort to get more student voices heard. Olivia Ruggiero – I am a junior at Monument and I have been joining the past couple of YATS meetings. I am really grateful to be here and am very excited to help add important student voices. Julian – tonight we are here to ask for guidance and for help on how we can achieve this. We want to work with you and create a cohesive bond. We want to create communication and a line of communication with the students in the school and the administration. Forgive us for not having a formal letter to submit. We will have one to vote on and accept this to happen. That is in the works. Through discussions in YATS and in our student government and student senate at Monument, we see a certain problem. That problem is the lack of communication between the district and the students in the schools. It happens at the student level and the administration in our own building and at the highest level we are seeing it with the students in each building and the school committee. No sitting member of the school committee either works or learns in the buildings and none of them are directly affected by the policies and the changes that the school committee takes out and we don’t see this as an effective way of leadership. We don’t see this as an effective way of governing. We think that there should be some role of student voice in the decisions made seeing as they affect our daily lives and our community. In accordance with MGL Ch. 71, Section 38m, a student or group of students is allowed to sit on the school committee. So what we are asking for tonight is for you to accept this proposal for allowing a group of students, yet to be determined by an election and some process within our school, to sit on both the school committee and some sub-committees of the school committee as non-voting members but a memer with a voice and a member to bring forward the voices of the students in the school and student not often heard. S. Bannon – we have had some excellent student representatives recently and I know we love having students members besides it being the law. I think we just need you to tell us who the representatives are and we will welcome you with open arms. Usually a principal would appoint a student to our school committee. At the next meeting, you just let us know who is going to be the representative and you will start receiving the packet and you will be welcome. We do not need a motion. It is a law.
- Introduction: Director of Learning & Teaching – P. Dillon – Jon Bruno is our new Director of Learning and Teaching. Jon comes to us from the Region I School in Falls Village, CT where he was a special ed teacher. He previously worked as a learning coach at Mission Hills School in Boston and was a special education teacher with the Boston Public Schools. Jon has a doctorate in education and instructional leadership from Northeastern, Masters in education and a BA in history from UMass Boston. We are really excited to welcome Jon. The role has been vacant since the beginning of the year and the year previously we had two part time folks pitching in. To have a full time person back in that role is great. Jon has spent his first few days meeting with teachers and other staff and will continue to do that for the next month as we really develop his scope of work and plan together. Welcome Jon. Bruno – I am really excited to be in this role and I am looking forward to connecting and collaborating with everyone in the schools and the communities. Thank you.
- Signage: E.B. DuBois Regional Middle School – In the packet is proposed signage for Monument Valley and beneath it is a reiteration of what the new signage could be. Luckily the folks that did the original sign are still around and willing to do the new sign and they came up with this design. We ran this design by the buildings and grounds subcommittee and they unanimously supported it. It is not very often you rename a middle school so we wanted to run it by the whole school committee for their feedback and support. MOTION TO APPROVE THE NEW SIGN FOR THE WEB DUBOIS MIDDLE SCHOOL R. DOHONEY SECONDED: J. ST. PETER ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS B. Fields – would it be good to say that this is being contributed by a unanimous member of the community? S. Bannon – yes, this is costing the district nothing. P. Dillon – as the signage is done, we will cover it in something and have some sort of celebration. We are limited by the number of people we can celebrate with but we will do something where the appropriate numbers are physically present and will simultaneously webcast it. Hopefully it won’t be terribly cold when we do it and we can celebrate that together.
- October 1 Enrollment and Assessment Report – P. Dillon – this is a report we share every year and it is important for a number of reasons. One, it drives the assessment to the member towns; two, it gives us a sense of overall enrollment and part of that is then connected to either state funding or foundation funding and/or the amount of revenue we get in from school choice. As you go through the pages, you will see grade by grade reports of who are district students, who is tuitioning in and who are choice students. Then you get total numbers of students. We are down eleven students from last year. Last year we had a particularly large senior class. Being down eleven students in a global pandemic is quite remarkable. I was talking to the principals about this the other day; as we lost some students to home schooling and other options, the principals did a really good job of back filling seats with choice students and the financial impact of that is quite significant. If they had not done that, we might be down 80 students or so and that would have thrown our budget quite differently. We always have some number of students that participate in homeschooling but that number is larger this year. We hope as vaccines develop and folks see the world and schools as safer, we can get some of those students back to us. The pattern here is a little different from a percentage so for the first time in quite some time, Great Barrington is down a little bit and West STockbridge is up a little bit. That is an interesting shift. I am happy to respond to questions. Sharon is on the call and can respond as well. Dohoney – it looks like the choice numbers came in well above what we budgeted for. Is that correct? S. Harrison – they have come in above what we budgeted for however it is just a net of two students from last year. R. Dohoney – I see an uptick in the tuitioned students in 7th grade which I think is important. S. Harrison – yes. J. St. Peter – I know the tuitioned students going out of our district comes out at a different time. In the future, especially with new members on the committee, I would like to have our most recent choice-out numbers come in the same packet as this so we can have a side-by-side comparison. That would be helpful. S. Harrison – the challenge with that is if we were to compare, we would get a June number and we wouldn’t be comparing apples to apples because they would have changed by October 1st. We do the October 1 report; we report to the state all of the students that are choicing into our district. They then compile that across the state and break it out and send reports in December to each of the school districts to say which students are choicing out and that can vary from year to year. That is the only challenge to getting it at the same time as our October 1st numbers. We don’t have the correct information. J. St. Peter – can we get that in December? S. Harrison – yes, sometimes it doesn’t come out until the 28th so it might not be until the beginning of January so it really depends on when they release it. J. St. Peter – ok, so when we send out those numbers, let’s send these numbers as well so we can have a side-by-side comparison. It would be a lot easier. B. Fields – I notice that the students from Great Barrington went down by 15 and yet our assessment went up by 7421 to 7457. Can you explain that? When we are talking about millions of dollars it might not be that small. S. Harrison – it depends on the percentage of students in Great Barrington compared to the total number of students. R. Dohoney – our percentage goes down Bill. You are reading that wrong. P. Dillon – no, he is reading it right but the percentage went up a little bit but the denominator is slightly smaller. Even though the number is going down it is a slighter greater percentage with a smaller number.
- Proposal for Expanded Learning Opportunities – P. Dillon – We are looking at starting on December 7th. As you know our PK – 2nd grade students and teachers are in school face-to-face four days a week. We think we can extend that to 3rd and 4th grade and Muddy Brook and to 5th and 6th grade at DuBois. There is a lot of planning that the principals, assistant principals, teachers and paras around doing that. I would like to have both Tim and Ben talk about it for a couple of minutes so you realize the depth and work of the planning. Obviously, we are only going to do this if the current environment and climate permits us to do it because we really value student and staff safety but we think we have come up with a thoughtful plan. Lee – I want to start with a correction. I know when we talk about the students being back for four days and what we have accomplished thus far we say PK through grade 2 but actually it is EK through grade 2. The PK program is still hybrid for peer partners. They are attending two days a week. Identified students are indeed attending four days a week. Just that clarification to start with. Currently students who are not remote only in EK – 2nd grade at this time attend school four days a week in small classes ranging in size from 10 – 12 students. It is going quite well. The systems at school are in place to support that. The schedule, the movement of students, the cohorting, there has been a lot of thought put into all of that. Teachers report that the impact they are able to have with such small classes is much greater and they are reporting now that it really feels like the kids in those grade levels are starting to move in their skill growth. I am really happy to report that. The next step for us is the movement in grades 3 and 4 to four days a week. Currently a good portion of the students are attending through a hybrid model, two days in and three days out and that poses a whole number of challenges not just for learning but for teachers in the delivery of instruction, the amount of screen time that students rack up over the course of a day. There is a whole list of reasons why the hybrid is less than satisfactory for us at this point. Looking at grades 3 and 4 we came up with what we think is the beginnings of a workable plan and at this point kind of the core of both grades 3 and 4 coming back to four days a week would be the creation of a new section; so a new 3rd grade class and a new 4th grade class. We have to do this because we need to keep the numbers down in the classes below a certain threshold so we can provide adequate physical distancing in the class. In grade 3, it is looking like if we are able to move forward with our current plan, we would be able to move from three sections to four sections of grade 3 with classes averaging about 12 students in each. In grade 4, we are moving from three sections to four sections with those class sizes averaging a little bit larger, about 13 or 14 in each. That in itself is a little concerning because 14 is what we are thinking of as the upper limit to where we need to be at six food social distancing in our classrooms. We could possibly go another student or two but basically we have to remove all of the furnishings from the classroom and some of those are still in use. That is one of the challenges we are facing right now. Another challenge we are facing is the provision and coverage of students who receive special education services. In 4th grade, I think we have a pretty solid plan in place. Basically elevating a current paraprofessional staff member to the status of teacher. This individual has secured a provisional license from the state and has been working to some degree with the 4th grade for quite some time. She is ready to step into that role and help with the leadership and teaching of a co-taught 4th grade classroom where we can also serve the special education needs of the kids in that grade. 3rd Grade is a little bit more complicated and quite honestly we are still working out the details at this time. That remains a challenge. It will reassign staff and possibility the elevation of another paraprofessional staff member to the status of teacher through securing provisional licensure. The good news about that is the cost impact is not as great as it would be if we had to hire new teachers to fill these roles and another sort of indirect benefit is that there aren’t a whole lot of teachers out there right now looking for jobs. I am still confident we can stay in our timeline and bring the 3rd and 4th graders back to four days and they can enjoy the same benefits for frequent in-person instruction that our other students are enjoying right now. Another challenge that we face is going to be that in creating new classes, we are also creating new glass groups so students that have essentially started the school year with one teacher, one group of peers, one group of friends, we are going to ask them to move to a new group midyear. If we do it correctly and given the staff that we have chosen to lead the classes, I think it will be a smooth transition but we want to pay careful attention to make sure the students are fitting into groups where they are going to have their needs met but also where they are going to have friends. That is important to us. The December 7th timeline again is pushed back from we had originally anticipated but I know as Ben and I talk about this, we are both really invested in making sure that any change that we make to four days a week goes well and some of the things that we have been discussing about COVID and the holidays and some of the possible risks and quarantining that might be taking place after the Thanksgiving break of students and staff, we were a little concerned that we might be starting in a week where we might have a number of folks that might not be able to be there and we wouldn’t have as good a start as we could. That’s where we are at with the elementary school. I am still feeling pretty good about it all and I hope to report back shortly once things fall into place a little more. B. Doren – We are really working together. We started talking several weeks about the EK – 2nd grade success about bringing back our next load of students at the same timeline. We just want kids back in school four days a week as well as the staff and faculty. It helps them socially and educationally but we also want to weigh the costs and the benefits. We have been talking a lot about that as a staff. 5th grade is quite large. We have about 84 students so that creates its own set of circumstances and limitations in pods of about 12 which work well for us at the middle school in the classrooms. Right now 5th grade is split into four learning groups that we split in half. We actually have eight groups but four show up on Monday/Tuesday and the other on Thursday/Friday. We really maintain the eight learning groups with some shifts based on concentration. 6th Grade is pretty straight forward. It is a smaller grade in terms of enrollment; it is about 70 students. Right now we have five groups that are split in half so five half groups come on M/T and five on Th/F. We would probably be able to nail six groups of 12 students so that would be a nice piece to have students back as well as one those six would be a remote cohort. The 6th grade would be relatively straightforward to schedule because of the small nature in the 6th grade. It would increase instructional time by about 50%. Right now students are in class periods a week per subject matter so this would increase it to three and allow us to spread that across four days. It would be great for the teachers and for the kids. 5th grade is a little more of a chore in terms of design. We have the same number of teachers in general; we do have more special education teachers but the reason why is the service needs for both direct services as well as co-teaching are very significant in the cohort. It would only increase actual instruction time in core subjects by about 25% but would also have students in supported academic classes, studies halls with paraprofessionals or other types of teachers. It would also add an entire library class which is great. The teachers have been very involved in scheduling and thinking about what it would look like. One of the costs through with benefits is right now we have our students who are Group A who currently come four days a week in our M/T classes for our 5th and 6th grade and our Th/F those cohort of students come for two extra days of instruction. We found that the intensive amount of instruction has been really beneficial similar to our ESL institute that we do in our extended school day on M/T and Th/F. That is a major benefit and going to four days a week would actually lose that intensive instructional time. We would still be able to provide the services but it actually would remove some of the intensive time. So we think about our highest needs students and our most vulnerable students with both the school closure that happened back in the spring and the lost amount of time we have had just in terms of trying to address the pandemic. We are very concerned about all students not making the kind of progress we want but in particular our highest needs students have felt the brunt of this. I have a lot of teachers involved in the conversation, as well as paraprofessionals, counselors and the like because it is just such an important piece. As Tim said we are really looking to do this soon. What we thought was soon probably needs a few extra weeks of planning and as well we really want to make sure we are doing it at a time that is not a time of increased infections and rising rates so giving us some extra time to the December date would be helpful. We are also doing some conversations in the 7th and 8th grade looking at ways of addressing some of the student needs but again what has worked very well is some of our highest needs students having the innovations with teachers and investment in skills and coaching students to best make use of their time and get them a better learning management system. R. Dohoney – I think it is great. When will an official notice go out to the parents? P. Dillon – I really want to look at tomorrow’s data and see where we are. I can send out a note that says this is our tentative plan and then we need to be flexible around it. S. Bannon – Do we need a school committee meeting next Thursday to continue this discussion because the Thursday after is Thanksgiving. P. Dillon – we could. Sure a short meeting is fine. P. Dillon – the only thing that would stop us from implementing this plan is if COVID spikes immediately in our district and if it is terrible all around us. If that is the case then we wait. R. Dohoney – it is just a communications issue because now everyone that watches the Zoom and talks about it, if parents don’t get something official from you guys…there are scheduling issues around this. At some point, sooner rather than later, some communication would be good so my phone doesn’t ring off the hook. P. Dillon – either tomorrow or Monday the principals and I will get together and put out some communication that we hope to do something on the 7th with a caveat that the broader circumstances change then we might delay it. M. Thomas – if the circumstances don’t change and this gets implemented then there is a spike, what kinds of adjustments have to be made to the plans? P. Dillon – if we plan to do it and there is a spike the two choices would be do we stay in the posture we are in now or do we retreat to a full remote posture like Pittsfield did today. I think if we do what everybody is telling us to do and we take it seriously and we don’t hang out in bars and don’t invite people into our homes that we don’t live and we do all those things and the stars are aligned, our transmission rates might be such that we can move forward with this. If two dozen of us leave state lines into a red state and get exposed then we may not be able to move forward on this. B. Fields – this group that you work with every week, are they on board with what is being tentatively proposed for December 7th. P. Dillon – it’s interesting, they were the last time we met and things have significantly gotten complicated since we last met. We meet again tomorrow at 4pm and I imagine what they are likely to say is if things stay the same, we are ok with it; if things get worse, we may not be and the conversation may be around what is getting worse mean? They are an advisory group and at the end of the day it is my decision. There are advantages and disadvantages to it being my decision. I try to view all of this information; it is extraordinarily complex. The data is imperfect; it changes regularly and we are trying to come up with an approach that works. The tension is we don’t want anybody getting sick and we also know it is really good from a mental health perspective and a whole bunch of other perspectives for kids to be in school face to face and be engaged. We are trying hard to weigh those things and hopefully the data will support us progressing this way. If it doesn’t, we will pause a little and when the time is right we will move forward, then we might retreat, then move forward, etc. This could be back and forth like this now through June. S. Bannon – what you will have though is a solid plan in place when and if we are able to go forward. If it is not December 7th, then it could be after the new year. P. Dillon – I can’t say enough positive things about the teachers and the staff and the principals but we are getting feedback on the survey today that I sent out about how things are going. There is always work to do but a large group of people are feeling positive around the growth we made with Canvas and the quality of the remote learning. People are working hard on all levels: parents, students, teachers, paras, and everyone is working really hard. I think we are in a place now if we had to go back to a full remote it is much more sophisticated. R. Dohoney – any plans for the high school? P. Dillon – we are working on a range of possibilities there and we will share those at a future meeting. One of the things we talked about was if roughly half the kids are in cohort B on M/T and half are in cohort C on Th/F, then cohort D are the kids that are working entirely remotely, cohort A are the kids that go four days a week, they have done a nice job of filling additional seats in cohort A so this is not a lot of empty space at the high school at any one point. Kids with special needs and ELL are getting help but also kids that have been less successful in a hybrid approach are getting more face to face help. It gets more complicated at the high school in some ways because of all the different classes and context of schedule. Some classes can be under enrolled and some overenrolled and you can’t rearrange the schedule as easily as the other buildings. They have done a nice job of reaching out.
- Proposed Allocation of Funds – Regional School District Planning Board (RSDPB) – P. Dillon – I have asked Lucy Prashkar to join us. She is the chair of the Regional School District Planning Board and I think she will give a short overview and then ask the committee to allocate a small but important amount of resources to continue to support the work of that group. Prashkar – Thank you all for the work you have been doing during this very difficult time. As many of you may know, earlier this year the eight member towns that comprise the Berkshire Hills Regional District and the Southern Berkshire Regional School District formed a 24 member Regional School District Planning Board for the purpose of studying and evaluating the possible consolidation of the two districts. As Peter said, I was elected chair. We have had a number of meetings with both the full board and of our three subcommittees which are an educational quality subcommittee, a finance subcommittee and an operations subcommittee. A number of the people on your school committee are on the board; Molly, Steve and others. We received some state funding early in the process to get our work started, and we used that funding to engage consultants to help us facilitate the work and also to gather certain data about our current baseline picture and they generated some reports that summarize that data. Those funds have been exhausted and we have a ton of work ahead of us. What I spoke to your superintendent about is about hoping the school committee would be able to support it by having the two school districts allocate $3,000 each to this work to help us get through the end of the year. At that point, we will be in a position to determine whether to seek more substantial funding from other sources including the eight member towns. I am hoping you are in a position to support that approach and I would be happy to answer any questions that you have. MOTION TO APPROPRIATE $3,000 TO THE MULTI-TOWN COMMITTEE R. DOHONEY SECONDED: M. THOMAS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS B. Fields – Lucy, are they reports that you have done and the information you have done going to be released to the school committees in both districts? L. Prashkar – they have been released to the members of your school committee. I had planned to get them posted on the Regional School District Planning Board location which is part of the BHRSD website and that is still the plan but they are public and available.
- Sub Committee Reports:
- Policy Sub Committee:
- Revised Policies: Policy BDFA-E-3: Submission and Approval of the School Improvement Plan; Policy JKAA-Physical Restraint and Behavior Support of Students; Policy JKAA ADDENDUM-Physical Restraint and Behavior Support during COVID-19 (First Readings)
- New Policy (Proposed): Diversity Recruitment Policy (First Reading)
- Policies will be brought back for final reading
- Building and Grounds Sub Committee – N/A
- Superintendent’s Evaluation Sub Committee – N/A
- Technology Sub Committee – N/A
- Finance Sub Committee – R. Dohoney – the big issue that we are facing is what are our assumptions for the next fiscal year in terms of budgeting. Originally we do a level funded budget; if we have to make additions or subtractions and every once in a while the administration will come with some changes. Are we assuming that the same model in a not COVID impacted time and budget that way? Do we assume we are going to be in the exact same position we are in now? Do we assume whatever the worst case scenario is financially? I would like to hear thoughts on that. What I don’t want to happen is we spend all this time working on a level program budget and show up to you in January and you ask about COVID planning or to have a budget that is much higher. What models do people feel most comfortable with? Fields – I think I feel at ease as planning as we would do in a “normal” year. I know that is iffy but I think it is the best way to go at this point. Then, I know this is more work, but in past cases, we have had two plans. If we vote on something and that doesn’t work, what do we do, what do we do if…., etc. Having another plan we can fall back on so we aren’t running around after the town meetings trying to figure out plan B. We would actually have something with Plan B in the works if Plan A is unfeasible. My view is we budget as if it is going to all go for next year under a normal basis for financial planning. A. Hutchinson – I think that we are going to be in an abnormal year next year and if there is a vaccine, some will be able to get that vaccine but it is not going to be available to the majority of regular people in time to make an enormous difference. I think we will still be dealing with this in one way or another. Also, seeing how the younger kids are doing in the small classes, we should seriously think about what we want to be looking for is bringing back as many kids as we can as safely as we can. This is a better way for them. S. Bannon – I agree somewhat with Anne. I don’t think we can plan this as a normal year because I think we could be on Plan B on the second day of school. Let’s look at a possible hybrid budget. My only concern is; as long as I have been on the school committee, superintendents said smaller class sizes are better every time we have looked at it. We just can’t afford to have an extra teacher in every unit so we know smaller class sizes are better but why now do we think we can afford it when we couldn’t afford it for the last however many years. Our class sizes are smaller than most school districts and from what I have been told is that yes we could always go smaller but we are doing well with the class sizes we have. I am not sure reducing class sizes is fiscally possible. R. Dohoney – I think we found the sweet spot in giving our kids an education at the right price. There are a lot of studies and there are such things as too small too; but during COVID from my perspective, there is no amount of money I won’t spend on more teachers and portable classrooms to get everyone of these kids in school five days a week. There is no amount of money that I wouldn’t ask the towns to spend to bring portable classrooms and 15 more teachers. That is what I think we need to be ready for because we are not going to be doing this in September. S. Bannon – I would want to know what the figures are before I made that statement. (Someone speaking but inaudible) P. Dillon – what we have repeatedly been able to do and it makes Sharon nuts is to figure out some ways of pulling some rabbits out of a hat. On the one hand, I appreciate the possibility of additional funding but what we are doing now, and we didn’t go into fine detail on this, with Tim’s plan he thinks he can reallocate some existing resources and we can pull some grant money from the feds tied to make that shift. The other thing is if we have smaller class sizes does that let us have fews interventionists because if you have class sizes of 10, you don’t need a discrete interventionist in the same context as you would if the class size were 22. I think there is a sweet spot in between what you are both talking about with also some really thoughtful work on the administrative end. S. Bannon – what this does force us to do is to break the rules that we have always had. Certain things were untouchable. Now because of the pandemic, nothing is untouchable; no position is untouchable, no class size is untouchable, nothing is. Let’s look at it and start over. We have done a decent job of that but this gives us an edge a little more. B. Fields – it also gives us a chance to maybe look at the way we have done things and open up new ways of doing things that have never been thought about. Maybe five days a week, which has been the traditional schedule, has to be changed. We already know that it is on four days; maybe we look at what we do within one of those four days. If we look at five days next year, maybe four of those days are academic and one day is for electives that could not be offered in any other way. We have to do this in a certain way in a certain schedule. We look at the whole academic experience using our experience from before but also how do we do things differently and give us a chance to experiment. A. Hutchinson – the kids missed a lot of school in March, April and May and may be missing some school now so the small sizes could help make up for that but we are not going to be caught up at the end of year; this is not going to magically disappear in the next six months. The kids this year might be behind where they might have been. P. Dillon – we have a really robust after school program in all our three buildings. If you add up that amount of time, even if you are in a cohort that attends two days a week, there are opportunities in the after school program, do we think about how to expand that to be available to even more kids over time and that is where we do some of that work. S. Harrison – I think it has been covered. If we budget for what we need for a normal year and the contingency plan is at the school level and if the principals see that there is additional need under the contingency plan, then we have that on the side. B. Fields – in regards to kids getting caught up, I think this is exactly what I am saying is we have to think differently. I know parents are concerned that my student is not learning as much. Peter sent out something last year that I thought was good because I sent it to all my older kids who are now parents and said there are other things that people are learning during this other than just what you “learning in school” and what the state is interested in shoving MCAS down our throats again. I think we have to get off this slide of benchmarks and what kids are not getting because I think there is another way of looking at it in a way. What are kids getting and what are they learning that cannot be tested and cannot be statistically put into a pot and mixed around and told it is wrong. This is another way of looking at it and I would like to see us go that way. The MASC which I am a representative of, has put out a resolution that all the school committees in the state talks about suspending MCAS and putting a three year test moratorium because we know what the testing the state is going to force down us is going to show. There is no doubt about it. Hopefully we can get off this idea that my kids are not caught up and just look at things a little differently. P. Dillon – we should have a conversation about that resolution at a future school committee meeting. With the change in the federal administration and the secretary of education, there is a much greater likelihood that the new administration might support waivers at the federal level which would then let the state administration request those waivers. I think the time is right for us to vote on that resolution and submit it. R. Dohoney – we have had many conversations about standardized testing and all the things that are not captured by standardized tests, those are the things that are eroding right now. I don’t care about the things that are not standardized tests like social/emotional development, learning how to think critically, those are the things that are eroding in our current educational model. The head of the Massachustts Pediatric Assocsiation said at the same conference you are talking about that right now there are more children in critical care pediatric units in Massachusetts with injuries related to suicide attempts than there are for COVID of public related symptoms. There are major problems going on right now. It is those things that aren’t counted on standardized testing we need to be focused on replacing those that aren’t there yet.
- District Consolidation & Sharing Sub Committee – N/A
- Personnel Report: Dillon – a number of grant-funded stipends, a couple of staff going out on maternity leave so congratulations to them.
- Certified Appointment(s)
- Non-Certified Appointment(s)
- Extra-Curricular Appointment(s)
- Business Operation
- Education News
- Old Business
- New Business
- Public Comment
- Gibbons – I heard about what is going to be going on with the 5th and 6th grades at the middle school but what are the plans for the other two grades? P. Dillon – those grades are a bit more crowded so if we do something different there it will take a little bit longer. B. Doren – you described it really well Peter. The grades are large. We have a strong structure. To bring the 5th and 6th grade back takes a significant of reallocating resources that we have; paraprofessionals, our librarian as well as organizing for lunch and recess which is a large endeavor so at that point we wouldn’t be able to that with the 7th and 8th grade without adding additional resources. As Tim was discussing he shifted a lot of resources into EK – 2nd grade to be able to start on October 5th full time. We are doing a similar shift of resources for 5th and 6th grade to do that. To bring 7th and 8th grade back would require a significant amount of resources to be able to manage that many students. In addition, it is about space planning. 7th and 8th graders are much bigger human beings than 3rd and 4th graders. Having an extra 90 or so students would require a lot of careful planning. It is something I would love to do. It is something I have ideas for. With our rising metrics I am not sure if we can get to that space quicker. P. Gibbons – I hear what you are saying but I hope that you are going to continue to work on bringing those students back also. P. Dillon – it is something we have talked a lot about. Ben has a plan but there are more challenges we have to solve. It is hopefully on the horizon. P. Gibbons – my former colleague, Mr. Fields, I hope that the committee takes his words into consideration and looks at things in a much different way. This is from someone who never was able to accept change too easily.
- Julian Bedell – I want to echo what Mr. Fields said. It is something we discussed in YATS and student senate and it is a growing topic at Monument. I hope to bring to the school committee this idea of reconstructing the way we think about education. We are in a time where it seems we shredded up the traditional way of schooling and it has all been thrown up in the air and we are now trying to put it back together. We need to take the time to consider how we can look at how we structure our schooling for a more proactive way. If you think about the time high school students are having to come to school as a prime example, using this opportunity to reconsider the way we have traditionally done things and to see what truly works for our students. The main is the time and what works for the teenage body and what works for our schedules. Just to try to take this into consideration as we are in limbo right now and when we start to set plans and try to create a structure to move forward in, to take into consideration this new wave of approach on our education.
- Pink – Julian, that was amazing and so well said. Thank you. I really appreciate your passion. I want to get a clarification on the diversity initiative. What is the next step for that and will it have community involvement. S. Bannon – the next step would be for the school committee to adopt that policy at our next meeting then it will be up to the administration to go from there. This is going to be something that is going to happen in a week or a month. It could take years.
- Written Communication
- Public Comment
- Policy Sub Committee:
- Election of Officers:
MOTION TO ADJOURN TO EXECUTIVE SESSION – R. DOHONEY SECONDED: M. THOMAS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 8:03pm
Submitted by: Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary