BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

Great Barrington                     Stockbridge                  West Stockbridge

SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING

Teleconference Meeting via Zoom

October 1, 2020 – 6:00pm

Present:

School Committee:                 S. Bannon, D. Weston, B. Fields, S. Steven, M. Thomas, A. Hutchinson, R. Dohoney, J. St. Peter, D. Singer, A Potter

Administration:                       P. Dillon, S. Harrison

Staff/Public:                             T. Lee, K. Farina, B. Doren, S. Soule

Absent:

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:  hour, 54 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.

  • Minutes: August 27, 2020; September 10, 2020, September 17, 2020 and September 24, 2020  MOTION TO APPROVE MINUTES OF SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETINGS NOTED ABOVE    FIELDS      SECONDED:  M. THOMAS            ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS
  • Superintendent’s Report – P. Dillon – school is starting face-to-face on Monday and we are very excited about that. Folks have been working hard, teachers, parents, paras, principals, custodians, etc.  A slight shift that is going to happen at Muddy Brook; the arrival and dismissal are each going to be five minutes later there.  That gives us a little more flexibility with the bussing.  Connected to that, the PK hours are going to shift a little bit and they are going to be from 9:10 to 2:10.  Ben put together a very detailed and thoughtful plan around the hybrid learning model and I would like to give Ben some time to talk through it.  It is many, many pages and it is complex and really good work.  It is a starting point and things will continue to evolve from there.
    • Good News Item(s)
    • Review of Middle School Hybrid Plan – B. Doren – this is basically an overview of what we discussed last week in the school committee meeting and also what I was able to discuss in my parent forum last Wednesday. I took the feedback from the school committee and I appreciate the discussion and was able to put together a much clearer explanation with a whole lot more detail and as well work out some of the speculation of what we would do if we were in hybrid longer than two weeks.  It is broken down and discusses our values, the way we are approaching the hybrid model and gives an explanation or a visual of what the schedule would look like and some schedules of what it would look like if we went longer than several weeks; then talks a little bit more about what we would do in the long run if we felt the hybrid model wasn’t working.  The hybrid model was pretty straight forward.  We are maximizing face-to-face time so that those two in-person days are very much about students being in classes and having very small groups (10-12 students) for 45 minute periods allowing us to have some really strong focus to excellent learning.  The idea is they go through their six learning experiences, along with crew during those two synchronous in-person days, then having a synchronous crew connection at the beginning of hybrid on Wednesday as well as Thursday and Friday mornings and afternoons but then for a chunk of the day on Wednesday where students would be working asynchronously.  There are other middle school models that mix that synchronous and asynchronous across the four of five days.  We are trying to really maximize the face-to-face time in this model and as well we are also trying to minimize the total amount of screen time.  The amount of screen time a child is on the computer is six hours a day for four or five days a week is not healthy, both from a larger intellectual standpoint but also from an emotional and developmental sense.  The idea is to really maximize the in-person time then teach students how to do their work during the school day.  There are a lot of crew check-ins.  That is what I discussed but the feedback I got was “what if we go longer, didn’t we do a lot of crew in distance”; the answer is yes.  It set us up for really strong relationships with kids and it isn’t just relationships that are important but the academic connections and the academic oversight that a crew leader shepherding 11-12 kids through a school year but we set that up in distance and we need to set it up in the transition to hybrid; it is not easy.  If we are in hybrid for more than two weeks or so, we would really want to, and the teachers are really having a strong interest, in maximizing the connection with academic time so one of the moves we are looking to take would be to move some of that crew time on Thursday and Friday to check-ins and direct engagement with their core teachers.  If we were to move back into remote learning, we would also then start to have a more regular schedule across the grades of two or four times a week of academic engagements instead of the one and also transferring a chunk of those crew minutes to academic periods because we have already been in distance and the transition would be quick because we now know how to do it.  The document just explains that hybrid is and will be for the next couple of weeks and talks about some of the shifts we would make if we had to.  Dillon – do folks on the school committee have questions on this more articulated plan?  R. Dohoney – thank you for the written explanation.  It clarifies a lot.  I think you mentioned earlier and I kind of agree with you, I know this is what we are starting with and it will change if it becomes a long-term thing which I don’t believe it will be and I hope it’s not.  I am sure you will have adjustments for us that we can talk about.  The one thing that has come out of this though that I didn’t share last week, 15 years ago when they changed the middle school from 7-8 grade to 5-8 grade, I was one of the people who were skeptical but I think it is a great model.  I have had two of my kids go through there and one is still there.  I do wonder in this hybrid and remote-learning context, how much we can really be treating 5th and 6th graders the same way we treat 7th and 8th graders.  I know you are keeping an eye on that but if we have to stay this long-term, I think a lot of time on the screen is far more detrimental to 5th and 6th graders than it is to 7th and 8th graders.  We have to tailor it more toward grades.  B. Doren – thank you and I appreciate that and teachers are already starting to make those moves.  I want to appreciate the hard work that went into planning and just thinking about building a model and working within it and I know the 5th and 6th grade teachers are making the moves that they can right now but also thinking about what more long term would be and how they would look at the upper elementary and the 7th and 8th graders are clambering for some more rigor around the academics in that way.  As people get more comfortable with working within hybrid and distance, we will see the teachers pushing for the things you are talking about.  MOTION TO ACCEPT THE PLAN PROVIDED BY THE MIDDLE SCHOOL       R. DOHONEY            SECONDED:  J. ST. PETER            ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
  • Sub Committee Reports:
    • Policy Subcommittee – N/A
    • Building & Grounds Subcommittee – N/A
    • Superintendent’s Evaluation Subcommittee – N/A
    • Technology Subcommittee N/A
    • Finance Subcommittee – R. Dohoney – we just met and covered the two high-level overviews, one for FY21 and really started our planning for next year. Sharon was able to share some updates in terms of potential savings around bussing and some other matters but there are no real numbers around that.  At this point COVID hasn’t affected us dramatically one way or the other but it is very much a wait and see thing for this fiscal year.  We did decide on what we think is a pretty aggressive budget planning for FY22 which would put us on track to meet our regular deadline and be able to present a budget to the full school committee by that last meeting in December.  By this time we are usually through all the different presentations and the various departments that are actually analyzing numbers.  We are going to meet through then and usually in January we get the governors’ numbers and there is a little tweaking.  We think we will have a budget in December; we will review it with the full committee and then once the governors’ come out, there may be a real intense re-writing, re-planning, re-allocating of it.  We are not only expecting an intense couple of months but more importantly and more intense budget session we have had before.
    • District Consolidation & Sharing Subcommittee – N/A
  • Personnel Report:
    • Certified Appointment(s)
    • Long-Term Substitute Appointment(s)
    • Non-Certified Appointment(s)
    • Leave of Absence
    • Retirement(s)
    • Extra-Curricular Appointment(s)
  • Business Operation
    • Warrant Report – S. Harrison – during COVID we had just one person come in to sign the warrant so when that occurs it is a requirement that we send a report to the school committee for your review. It is pretty straight forward.  It is our typical payroll, accounts payable, etc.  MOTION TO ACCEPT THE WARRANT REPORT           – DOHONEY           SECONDED:  B. FIELDS            ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS
    • FY20 Q4 Transfer Overview & Detail Report -S. Harrison – this is a little later then we like to get transfer reports. While we are closing out the end of the year, which happens in September, we still will have transfers.  The items, 1, 2, 3 and 4 and sort of typical operating budget changes for additional supplies, tax materials that weren’t anticipated at the beginning of the year.  As you see with number 5, at the beginning of the COVID closure, we froze the budget because we weren’t sure what was going to happen if we needed additional funding.  So we closed the budget and when we got closer and saw where our bottom line was and not knowing what the state budget is and what was going to be happening, we requested that the principals look at some of their highest needs purchases for this year and released funds to them.  I apologize that the accounts that they were moved from didn’t come out on the report.  I am not sure what happened there.  What you will see on the first line, general elementary school, that is were we moved money for their purchases; the same with the middle school and the high school.  We moved money from the contingency account into the general supplies then moved it unto the particular lines for each of the schools.  We had a teacher during the remote work that made a small software purchase in order to enhance their classroom.  That is what number 6 is and the remaining larger number both in volume and in dollars is my normal end-of-the-year balancing and closing of the accounts.  MOTION TO APPROVE FY20 Q4 TRANSFER OVERVIEW & DETAIL REPORT   ST. PETER            SECONDED:  R. DOHONEY         ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS
  • Education News
  • Old Business
  • New Business – R. Dohoney – we are rapidly approaching the next model. I would like to hear what the timeline is for this because I know there are parts of the MOU that have to get triggered.  Dillon – as part of the MOU we agreed that the health and safety committee will meet after the data is typically released on Wednesdays at 6pm so it would be on a Thursday or a Friday.  We will look at where the numbers are and where we might be in terms of moving forward.  We did not meet today because it was redundant.  We didn’t need to.  We will be meeting next Thursday.  We will weigh state data specific to all our three towns plus anything specific to the county.  We are also going to look at other trends.  Our goal is not to have yo-yo decision making but to look at least three-week trends.  If there is something really dramatic happening, we could pivot on a dime but if we are moving from one model to another, we would like to do that in a way that gives parents and staff some notice and time to get ready.  As we look forward, we have more flexibility in the elementary school than any of the other buildings in terms of kids and class sizes and space.  As we go up to the middle and high school we have a little less flexibility.  I think it is a possibility the guidelines at the state level might change and might influence what decisions we might make and as Ben alluded to, our range of models and approaches might quickly evolve over time.  That give you a high level sense of it.  After next week, I will be able to tell you where the group is in terms of its thinking and where the data is trending.  Then we can start having a more detailed conversation around the next steps.
    • Public Comment – B. Donovon – I just want to find out if Peter has found out since we start school on Monday, if someone goes home with COVID symptoms, I know Rich Dohoney had brought this up, he didn’t want them coming back until they have had a COVID test. Has that been figured out?  Dillon – that is something that we talked to our attorney about.  It is not the guidance and we didn’t follow up on that in terms of having our own policy that goes beyond that.  Becki, you know better than I do what the specific guidelines are.  I have to open up the written materials to speak to it explicitly.  We can’t compel people to take tests but there are a range of steps in there.
      • DeSalle, Tolland – I have three kids amongst the two schools, 8th, 9th and 12th graders. I appreciate all the work that has gone into this.  I can’t imagine day to day what happens in terms of decision making.  My first concern, Ben touched on, was the amount of time that kids are spending in crew.  I completely understand the need to bring them up to speed on the new world and I think Rich touched on it.  I think there is a big difference between 5th graders and 8th graders and their ability to grasp technology and what they need and where they need to be.  Last night, I asked the question, how far behind are we.  We are asking the kids to set goals and if curriculum accomplishment is a goal for both teachers and administration, then that is something we need to be mindful of and he said we were about three month behind which makes sense.  It has been a slow start so I feel we are a couple of more months behind.  I would ask as a parent of an 8th grader preparing a child to move to the high school that we try to challenge and reach and keep them on track.  I worry about how far behind we are going to fall here if we keep spending time in crew and not in core.  I also thought in October classes could be outside potentially and the question came up last night about what the capabilities are at the middle school to be outside and apparently we don’t have a hot spot to be outside with class.  I was somewhat surprised by that.  Granted, March, April, May we were trying to figure this out and we had the summer to digest the fact that probably by fall we were not going to be fully in person and we needed to do everything we could to simulate classrooms whether it be inside or outside and yet at the middle school which is a slick new school, we can’t be outside because we don’t have wifi.  I am lost on that one and third and you already asked the question, if numbers are so low, parents are asking what is it going to take, if not now then when.  How many more weeks and months can go by where we are not attempting to be in school full time which is obviously the top scenario where we can be as normal as possible.  S. Bannon – our arrangement was on October 5th we would go to hybrid.  We were not going to go from hybrid to in-person within a day or two.  That would make no sense so we will meet next week as a group and there should be some sort of announcement coming out after that.  I agree with you that we should as quickly and safely as we can go in-person so hopefully we will announce next week a date.  That hasn’t been decided yet.  P. Dillon – the first thing with the transition from a hybrid to a face to face, I think part of why we are doing a hybrid is to demonstrate we can do it safely so having half the kids in the school and showing that we can do that well is an important first step before we have all the kids in school.  The crew vs core particularly at the upper grade level at the middle school is something we are hearing loud and clear and we think the investment in crew at the beginning is really going to help kids foundationally.  You will see over time a shift and I think that will be good.  There are a couple of pieces to the outside time.  We want to get kids outside to do things outside because that is important.  Some of that outside work might be doing stuff outside on laptops but very much of the outside work might just be doing things in groups outside and getting off the laptops.  It is my understanding that while we don’t have wifi hotspots that go outside, the wifi does extend fairly close to the physical boundaries of the building much like you see people outside in the summer on the great barrington library.  We can do that.  I will look into it.  We do have a number of hotspots we are giving to individual families.  I will look into what makes sense additionally to do outside of the school.  We have purchased a number of large tents that we are going to set up outside each building so kids can have a place to go even if it is bad weather to do some work outside.  S. DeCalle – it just seems that we could have anticipated some of these things.  I own the fact that we live in Otis on the reservoir and we have been asked several times and have done surveys around connectivity and we are in that 10-15% of people who have to say we don’t have reliable internet but I haven’t relied on the district.  I have owned that myself.  I bring the girls to my office in Great Barrington but for all the surveys we have completed there has been absolutely no outreach around connectivity.  That is not an issue for me.  I figured that out myself but I was surprised to learn that while we still have a month of beautiful weather and if we could be outside doing math or whatever, that we are not yet prepared to allow the kids the opportunity to be in nature and learn their core subject simultaneously.  Thank you for listening to me.
      • Dillon – Becki, this goes back to your question and while folks were talking about something else I looked at the guidance on it and I will read it – if somebody decides not to test and is symptomatic, remain home and self-isolation for 10 days for symptoms onset then return once 24 hours have passed with no fever and improvement in symptoms without the use of fever reducing medication. That is the most concrete specific guidance on that.  B. Donovan – right, that I was aware of.  I just knew that a couple of meetings ago, Rich had said that he would have preferred to have required testing.  I knew that is what the state wanted. If you have symptoms you have to stay home for 10 days or if you’re in close contact it is 14.  So I guess we will stay with that.  P. Dillon – when we took legal advice on it, we couldn’t find another district that is forcing people to have testing so we left it at that and to follow the state guidance.
      • Steve & Stacy Shultz – we have students in both the middle school and the high school and we have maintained close with both those principals and appreciate all of the work that is going in. I want to echo Sherrie’s concerns about crew.  I think at this point, my concern isn’t about what is happening today, it is about what will happen if we have to go back into a hybrid or virtual model.  I am hearing all the right things about reducing crew but I would also like to see in the future some kind of plan put in place.  I felt like we started this school year a little bit flying by the seat of our pants and I understand why.  I think we are trying to compare the education of our children to too much screen time as the actual parent of the child, I would like to worry about that and I would vote for them to get more education out of it especially at the 8th grade level and other areas.  It is the repetitive nature of the education that is going to create the foundation of them to be competitive in high school.  As we look at the other districts around the area where our kids could have gone and look at other models they are following, sometimes we are left scratching our heads about some of the decisions but we understand that there is more to the story.  We are trying to be as patient as we can.  If I could just drop anchor on that screen time a bit I would ask that everybody involved, if you talk about studies have shown screentime is bad, I am sure there are plenty of studies that show education is bad too so please don’t put us in a position that we have to choose between one or the other because I think education has to win out and the expectation is none of this is long term anyway or at least that is the hope so I think that is part of the approach we have to take.  I also want to touch on the screen time.  I spoke with Ben at the meeting yesterday and briefly today, and kept on saying the reason why synchronous learning is not being offered on the two days they are home during a hybrid situation is because of too much screen time but the asynchronous time that is being offered is being offered on a screen.  I think there could be some creative solutions that could be offered where you are bridging a student who is in the classroom already using their laptop and instead of reaching someone across the room, the could be reaching someone at home so these kids are not isolated for three days and only having contact with teachers during two of those days.  Checking in in the morning is not enough.  I do understand that crew is great.  It is a great tool but it just isn’t enough to solidify their education.  How do you learn a foreign language if you only speak it two days a week.  You need to have that repetition even if there is an audio only component that you have a video of the classroom going on, the people at home get to see it, then there is the repetition of the practice.  There has just been a definitive answer of no synchronous and there are plenty of options that could be incorporated into the hybrid model.  I am struggling with any kind of published metrics for these transitions.  We are in a position where we can remain flexible when the school transitions from remote to hybrid to in person and potentially back to hybrid or fully remote but if the metrics remain mystified, then I think most of us are left scratching our heads wondering who is making the decision and why.  This way we can be a little bit more prepared.  I read through the 54 page report that was put together and I thought there was a lot of good information in there but I thought it was missing some of the specifics parents and families deserve so we can make decisions about appointments and babysitting, etc.  Dillon – the driving metric, and I know lots of people would like a concrete formula but I see an the folks that negotiated the MOU see it as complex.  We are looking at the state data that comes out every Wednesday at 6pm.  That is most obviously represented in a map of the Commonwealth and each community is indicated as grey, green, yellow or red.  Right now Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge are gray which is good.  There is a little bit of stuff that is funky in there because smaller communities are given more latitude because a one person change could create things.  The quick answer is if we got into red, then we go into a fully remote approach.  If we in gray after we get through these next few weeks, then presumably we would be in school presumably we can meet all the other requirements around six foot spacing.  It is a little easier at the elementary school than it is at the middle or high school and we are working on some of that.  Where it gets more complicated is if we land in the yellow and what’s happening around us, our staff come from 39 different communities in Massachusetts so if something was going on in Pittsfield and it turned red that might impact us because the number of students and families and staff come from Pittsfield.  That is where it gets a little more complicated.  We also look at Berkshire County although they count the numbers differently to look at Columbia County in NY which borders us and if something dramatic happens there, that could potentially also impact us.  We try not to make yo-yo decisions because that would be very disruptive for families so the hope is we look at a three week trend and if things are trending down then that is wonderful; if things are trending up then we watch it very carefully over time.  K. Farina – I really want to take a few minutes to talk about the full spectrum of student experience that I am hearing about at the high school so the school committee has a sense of different experiences that students are having.  I have gotten some positive feedback from families about the experience in remote learning so far.  I also know that there are some families and students out there that are really struggling with keeping up and figuring out how to use the technology correctly.  I know that I didn’t speak last week or this week about our hybrid plan and I do just want to say that my staff are going to work really hard to try to pull of both synchronous learning with kids at home and kids in the classroom but I do need to just be publicly on record saying that this is a huge lift even the way we have created it at the high school.  I just would like to ask for some patience from the community in regard to the work our staff is trying to do.  Thank you.
      • All communication with the school committee based in Stockbridge lost – S. Harrison – the meeting has been adjourned. People can stay on but the school committee members should be aware and not be discussing anything.  I didn’t hear it either but I just checked.
    • Written Communication

MOTION TO ADJOURN – not taken

Meeting Adjourned at 6:54pm

Submitted by:  Christine M. Kelly, Recorder

______________________________

Christine M. Kelly, Recorder

______________________________

School Committee Secretary