Minutes – October 22, 2020 – approved 11/12/2020
BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
October 22, 2020 – 6:00pm – approved 11/12/2020
School Committee: S. Bannon, B. Fields, S. Steven, M. Thomas, A. Hutchinson, R. Dohoney, J. St. Peter, A. Potter
Administration: P. Dillon, S. Harrison, D. Singer
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: 1 hour, 20 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.
- Superintendent’s Report
- Good News Item(s) – P. Dillon – People have been working really hard and I would like to recognize them; in particular we had a really tough storm a few weeks ago and the maintenance guys got out after that storm in the rain with chainsaws and totally cleared the cross country course. One of the neat things is the MIAA ranks the top fastest times for cross country athletes and after all the work the maintenance guys did, three of our high school young men landed in the top five statewide. Keegan Leach is #1 in the state, Peter Larochelle is third and Diego Salinetti is fifth. I think that it is unheard of to have three Monument students in the top five and a part of that was Frank, Pete and Mark and the crew got out and cleared the course so the guys could go fast. A big appreciation to everybody.
- Follow-up: Sustainable Monument – Sam – we wanted to come back and reconnect now that we are sort of settled into the hybrid schedule. I think everyone received the letter we sent out outlining what we are looking for this year in terms of support and endorsement of this; to really get the ball rolling. We recognize it is an extremely tough year for everyone on this call right now trying to make adjustments in the schools but at the same time something like Sustainable Monument is even more of a priority this year than it would be a different year. We want to recognize that it is a tough time but we need some support and guidance from the school committee to keep pushing forward and to make this happen. Today I walked around during a mask break and most classes were outside and there was a math class doing their work on the grass. Imagine if they had a few desks out there or tables. I walked by Mr. Collins teaching the French Revolution under the tree; imagine if there were some picnic tables there or a discussion circle of benches. The possibilities are endless. There is a great opportunity to harness what is going on in the school right now. Dillon – in the letter, there are three asks from the Sustainable Monument committee. One is to formally endorse the Sustainable Monument 2020-2025 plan; the other is to support the adoption of the core principle recommendations for FY2021 and the third is to add a school committee member to serve as the liaison and embedded later in the letter is a recommendation that the school committee member be Bill Fields. MOTION TO APPROVE ALL THREE ASKS NOTED IN LETTER FROM THE SUSTAINABLE MONUMENT COMMITTEE AND APPOINT BILL FIELDS AS LIAISON A. HUTCHINSON SECONDED: A. POTTER ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Shifts in Hybrid Learning – P. Dillon – each of the three principals has a small update to share. Again, I want to recognize teachers and staff, paras, and principals for all the effort they are pouring into this. For the first time in a long time we caught our breath a little bit this week and had time to reflect and forecast ways we may be making shifts in the future.
- Lee, Principal, Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School – Just to back up a little bit and remind you where we have been over the past several weeks, we were programmed to come into this school year with all students, all grades participating in a two day on, three day off hybrid model except for the four days a week students identified in Cohort A. You may recall from previous presentations that there was a proposal I made to bring back our EK, KDG students and then our grades 1 and 2 students to a four day a week schedule. We have been able to do that. We started on October 5th with grades EK, KDG, 1st and 2nd attending four days a week. To make it happen at grades 1 and 2, we actually had to create new sections so we could have the physical distancing limits met within our 1st and 2nd grade classrooms. Now we have five sections of Grade 1 and Grade 2. The class sizes in KDG through Grade 2 range from the lowest number of eight up to the highest number of 12 at this point and I wanted to give a special shout-out to two individuals on our staff: Barb Minkler is a veteran 2nd Grade teacher; however for the past several years, she has been working at Muddy Brook as a reading specialist and skill interventionist as part of our RTI program. Barb was reassigned to be one of the new 2nd grade classroom teachers. I also want to recognize Maeomee DeVos. She was hired as our school librarian back in July and she has an elementary teachers license so she was tapped to lead the 5th section of first grade. Now we have all of our students in EK, KDG, 1 and 2 attending four days a week with the exception of the students who are still remote only and that I would estimate is only about 10% of all those grade levels. Grades 3 and 4 at Muddy Brook are still operating per the original hybrid model meaning that we have two days (Monday/Tuesday), Wednesday is a day of distance learning for everybody, then we have another cohort return for Thursday/Friday. There are some students that attend four days a week. What that looks like at the elementary level, particularly in the hybrid days off is that teachers in grades 3 and 4 have shown tremendous innovation in finding ways to bring students at home into the classroom experience using technology. I have visited several classrooms where they have a blended environment going on where the teacher is providing a lesson in mathematics for both the at home students and the in-person students. They are participating together in that activity using smart boards, projection, microphones, etc. The hybrid out experience for our students varies somewhat from grade to grade and class to class but they will have at least one if not three synchronous learning or meeting experiences with their classroom teacher and their classmates in a day. In addition to that, you may recall a while back I shared with the school committee that to fully utilize the members of our faculty that were not able to report for any sort of in-person work due to their own health concerns or health concerns of their family, they were reassigned to a position of remote learning teacher. We have four people filling those roles currently and they bridge the entire grade span of our school with one individual being assigned to the PK-KDG years, another being responsible for Grades 1 & 2; another teacher doing grade 3 and a fourth teacher doing grade 4. Their rules are a little bit different depending on the grade level. In PK-K, and in grades 1 & 2, the remote learning teacher has pretty much graded a completely separate class for the remote only students; we call them Cohort D. They don’t have a lot of interaction except for Wednesdays and team planning with their respective grade level team mates. They pace together and try to cover the same content but because EK, K, 1 and 2 are all four days a week in person now, the classroom in-person teachers have really but the bulk of their efforts into their in-person work with the students that are in front of them. Having the remote learning teachers has worked out pretty well because they have been able to direct their attention to the remote only kids with the whole class getting together and connecting on Wednesdays. In grades 3 and 4, it looks a little bit different. With those two grades still in the hybrid, the role of the remote learning teacher is to support what the classroom teacher is doing to lead skill groups with the students who might be in the hybrid out days so they would have another synchronous experience with the teacher beyond what they are getting with their classroom teacher. Also, they help the classroom teacher coordinate the assignment of homework and the collection of homework as well so the remote learning teacher has really become incredibly valuable to promote a more unified experience in those grade levels. Looking ahead, as a school leader and representing the voices of our 3rd and 4th grade teachers, we would also like to get to a place in the future. I don’t know how near future, where we are able to bring students in 3rd and 4th grade back for four days a week as well. What we are finding with grades EK, K, 1 and 2 is that with the small classes, the adult attention, the really strong community building and that happens when you have a class of 8-12 students. It is going really well and we would like to be able to offer that experience also to grades 3 and 4. The challenges that we face right now, there are several: 1. Cost; in order to bring the third and fourth grade back to four days a week in the way we have with first and second grade, I have kind of used up all of my internal resources to be able to add an additional section. We would still need to add an additional section of third and fourth grade so I can look at my discretionary budget and perhaps find some resources but to do one of those two grades but we will have to dig deeper and maybe look at other situations for the leap to fourth grade. I don’t have that quite figured out yet. Another challenge we have with bringing back third and fourth grade four days a week, because right now we are operating a schedule providing the four day a week classes with pretty robust specials experience, lunch, recess, all of the things we do in elementary school to actually bring back those grades just one additional section so we could have all sections four days a week, it is going to have a pretty significant on our current schedule and I am not sure how we are going to pull of the same sort of richness of our specials offerings and the supervision we need to provide for recess and lunch. That is another barrier/problem that we have to solve in order to move forward. One more challenge I will mention is that if we add a section of grade three and a section of grade four, a very real challenge we will need to anticipate is that we now have forms somewhat cohesive class groups and to form a fourth section of each of those two grades will mean that we will have to break up some of those class groups and reassign students to other classes. It is going to reconfigure the needs, balance of gender, social/emotional mix in each one of our classes that we tend to put a lot of thought into so we will have to think through that carefully. At this time based on the input from our teachers, it is definitely a place we would still like to go but I know the teachers wisely advising at this point that we proceed very thoughtfully and very slowly in bringing back the remaining two grades at Muddy Brook to four days a week. I think we can do it. My soft target at this time would be the start of the new school year or January 4th. It is possible if some things fall into place that we might be able to begin a little earlier but again, given the thoughtfulness we would like to put into the formation of those groups, the challenges that we will face with staffing and funding, I think realistically that is a doable date. I want to thank the school committee for their support thus far with the initiatives that have allowed us to bring the early childhood program and the first and second grade back for four days a week. It is really making a huge difference not just in the learning experience that we are able to provide but I would dare say as well for the overall morale and tenor of our school building. To be able to have small groups focused on their learning, supported with individual instruction by their teachers on a daily basis, it’s really been a morale shot in the arm for our school. Thank you for that.
- Ben Doren, Principal, WEB DuBois Regional Middle School – Tim, that was really a wonderful update. Thank you. We are in week three of hybrid. There is a lot of great energy in the school. There are a lot of kids and a lot of 10-14 year olds even if we are doing two days at a time. I really want to give a big thank you to our nurse, Hilary Bashara and our assistant principal, Miles Wheat because they put together a pretty strong plan for us coming back and making sure to reassure that the health guidelines are met. There is a lot of movement in the middle school. We have a robust schedule. We have kids moving about the building. It has really just been very smooth. The kids are in small enough groups that teachers are teaching them how to be healthful and safe, using hand sanitizer, making sure they are six feet apart, how to go to the bathroom; these don’t seem like really big things but they are really big things when you want to have a robust program and moving kids around the building. The other reason it has been going so well is I want to give a big shoutout to Scott Jenny and the whole custodial crew. Scott has been so collaborative with Miles, Hilary and myself, with the teams, with the teachers just to make sure that everything is spic and span, that we have all the materials and all the resources we need but again I can’t really stress enough what having a well-functioning physical plant does for everybody, sense of safety and allows us to move onto learning and teaching. Miles also gets a lot of credit for the arrival and dismissal plan. It is going very smoothly and allows us to get students into the building and out of the building very quickly which also maximize instructional time. Arrival when we get kids out of cars and the busses come, we are literally done with arrival within six minutes; we still have students arriving by cars for the next ten minutes but I can’t tell you what that does for the time to check them in and get them situated in their crews and have them ready for learning right at 8am when we start. The same goes for dismissal at 2:45pm. I have been getting around to classrooms this week. I felt like a principal this week. It is very exciting to see instruction. It is really beautiful to see these small groups of 10, 11, 12 students in the classroom. There is really intensive instruction going on. This week, I want to give you a sample of what I have been able to see. 5th grade I saw an amazing math lesson today and early this week. We have been working with the teacher development group for several years now and this idea of getting kids to really think about their thinking and have to talk through how they come up with concepts of math and their understanding of math. I think maintaining this level of deep instruction is important. Our writing program, I was in a writing classroom this week. We have been able to accelerate since coming back, teaching kids the depth of learning in the writing program, getting kids to reflect on their work, etc. The small groups really make a big difference. In 6th grade I saw a science lesson today on setting up graphs using data. Students have been doing amazing investigations around measurement of things around the room and using different variables to do some comparisons of things of different weights and it is part of our introductory lesson and moving into more in depth use of data and graphing data. PE is great, we are getting outside every day. Today was a blessing. Health class is great. We have been doing our typical unit on alcohol and other types of substance use and getting kids to really think about what are some of the drawbacks for the use of alcohol or the traps that you can have as a teenager and an adult and getting into the science of it as well as the emotions of it. It was really great seeing kids have to dive deep into these conversations. 7th and 8th grades are really diving deep by taking advantage of the time of face-to-face. I saw a great conversation in an english classroom on an antiracist view trying to frame out a lot of units that are going on during the school year but the depth of discussion on what it means to be active in your community versus being passive. Great lessons in art and design that I saw. Students are making family trees with different creative areas. They are going to start doing art projects from that. Design is project lead the way and we will keep that going and an important initiative. The 8th graders that I saw were doing app design so literally coding and designing apps and loading them onto Android devices to test them out so really learning basically real work skills about how to be app designers. I saw a great social studies lesson on the election, the electoral college and what it means to get to 270 and what is polling and how all the states do it. It is politics in the classroom but it is real and the kids were so into it and interested and eager with so many questions. As Tim mentioned, our Group A students who are coming in four days a week, we have a different situation than the other schools. We have a significantly larger group in the middle school which requires a careful way of scheduling. I am very impressed with our special educators being able to manage and balance all of our students and the many ways we are using our paraprofessional time. They are focused a lot on our students who are here four days a week making sure those kids are getting the intense instruction they need so we are not losing instructional time and are closing gaps. I am really proud of our ESL teacher, Gabriella Sheehan who helped to design a program where students are included all day two days a week in programming. Being able to have two days a week with new comers is great. We are going to be able to accelerate a lot of instruction and make that instruction really meaningful. I am super impressed with the teachers and what they have been able to do and what they have taken advantage of with the high-interest units and the intensive instruction that has been going on. It has been amazing. We just did a big schedule shift this week, reduced the amount of crew time and put a significant amount of time back in to our academic subjects creating much longer blocks of time. We are looking to bring students back full time for half the school. 5th grade is going to be in the next three to five weeks, 6th grade might be on the same schedule but teachers are very excited. It has a big lift to get our Group A students back and balanced so we feel really excited that we can get kids in. We want to be able to teach these kids full time. We have been able to launch student leadership. This weekend students from a world of difference, a program through the anit-definamiton league, presented at the DuBois homesite rededication which was great. We had our crew council which is like a student council and we are looking to have students take leadership in the community and culture at the school. Students are really excited to take this on. I was surprised at how much students wanted to lead the crew and want to do the world of difference program to get in and start teaching their peers. I am so super impressed with the students.
- Kristi Farina, Principal, Monument Mountain Regional High School – as most of you are aware, when we were building our schedule this year, we planned the schedule we built with the mindset around flexibility and it is the reason we went to six periods, it is the reason we eliminated study halls and I think the teachers and students spent, well are still spending, but definitely spent the first six weeks, in a growth mindset together around how to use Canvas well. I think there has been tremendous improvement with that. I think the students have been in and have gotten some direct support from their teachers. There were some really challenges around using Canvas in things like, how do you upload an assignment correctly…it seems really simple but there are some students that were getting work done, saying they submitted it and teachers weren’t getting it. Having kids in class where they can get some direct support from teachers I think has been really meaningful. I agree with Ben that the logistical planning around how we move students in the building, planning around bathrooms, lunch, etc. has all gone very well. Students picked up very quickly how to move around the building correctly and safely and we have been very impressed by that. The feedback we are getting from students on the experience of hybrid learning has been good. What’s interesting and this is where the flexibility we built into our schedule is critical is our Cohort D has actually grown a little bit. Those are students who are opting for fully remote. We have about 85 students now who are learning fully remotely and then we have the remainder of our students split into our B and C. Last week what we started to do is analyze some data to determine what students we should be inviting in for Cohort A. The high school actually had the lowest number of students identified in Cohort A initially so what we have been looking at is students who are on IEPs, 504s, ELL or students who are part of our bright program, a handful of those students were identified for Cohort right out of the gate but there were other students who were not. What we are doing is taking those four groups to start with and we are looking at attendance data, their performance data, their engagement and grades to try to determine which students might actually benefit from that additional time in school. Last week we started making invitations to increase the number of students coming four days a week. We do now have some additional students joining us for that. I think that the balance of remote and in person used to be a challenge. Today for the first time we actually got bluetooth speakers that we are starting to roll out to classrooms and we are hoping this will be a game changer. Teachers have had earpieces so teachers could hear the kids who were tuning in remotely but the kids in the classroom could not hear their peers that were on the computer. The kids on the computer were not able to hear the kids in class so today for the first time we had the bluetooth speakers in the classrooms and I was getting emails from teachers all day expressing thanks that it was really a game changer because the students could hear one another and I think that is going to improve the learning experience for both the remote students an the students in the classroom because it will allow the students to have dialogue with one another. That is pretty important. I do agree with what Ben said, obviously all of us want more students back in the building. We want to see our students. At the high school, one of the things I need folks to understand is it is very different from what Tim was able to do at the elementary yschool. He took staff and reassigned them in order to create additional sections. I would have to create additional sections as well. I have classes running with larger numbers than we typically see because we did reduce from eight periods to six. If I were to have a class of Algebra II that Kathy Erikson is teaching that has 27 students back in school, I would have to split that into two sections and I would have to reassign I don’t know who to teach it. I wouldn’t’ work for me to take Chris D’Aniello out of the auto shop to teach an Algebra II class. I think there are complications of that at the high school level that make that additionally challenging beyond the space issues. I just wanted to highlight that because that is something that is a struggle that we are working through. Right now our focus is to just continue to improve that academic experience that all of our students who are in person and who are working remotely are getting. We are doing that both through Canvas and technology we can use to improve both experiences for kids. I think we need feedback from students so I have been working this week in putting together a survey that we are going to give to students because over the past several years, I have been talking to you a lot about the importance of student voice and we need to actually hear from them and what their experience is so that we can actually use that data to make improvements on the work we are trying to do. That is going to be happening next week. Dillon – we are working with a parallel survey for families and our hope and it may be too ambitious is to try to get those surveys out every six weeks so we can make relatively real time corrections in our approach. During six surveys for all the kids we have and all the families we have may be a little overwhelming. Realistically, we might end up doing four instead of six but it should give us some really useful information. K. Farina – this is new to all of us and we know that there are ways in which we can improve our work on behalf of all students. That is our goal and the best way to do that is to have some actual information. That is where we are headed next. I do also want to highlight another piece I think is actually to serve us well at the high school and that is when we have students who have to be out for short-term absence, if a student goes home not feeling well, it might just be a cold and normally a student would be in school to be able to engage in their learning, the advantage of the structure we have is that they go home and if they are feeling good enough to do their work and they have to wait four days for a COVID test and can’t engage in their in-person learning for another week, they are not missing their education because they are able to tune in remotely. I do think the structure we put together that is allowing for that flexibility which is one of our main goals was, is actually providing the support that some of the students need as they transition in and out as things happen. Thank you.
- Dohoney – in Tim’s comments, he sounds like he is close to making an actual shift from hybrid. I am very interested in the 3rd and 4th graders coming back more. I was concerned that he is operating under the impression that there are financial restraints on that. If finances are the realm of the school committee and I can just speak for myself, if there is anything we can do to get the 3rd and 4th graders back, there is no price that shouldn’t be paid or looked at. All the educators should be exploring ways to get kids back as soon as possible and not be falling back on budgetary concerns. There is plenty of room to shift with our budget, there is plenty of room and opportunity down the road if we have to go back to the member towns. The most important thing is to get the kids back in school as much as possible as soon as possible. Personally, there is no price that can be put on that. T. Lee – thank you. I will remember that. J. St. Peter – I agree with what Rich just said. If we need to get back to in-person learning, these kids are at a disadvantage and we need to do everything we can to help them catch up. I would like to hear plans but aggressive plans to move forward. P. Dillon – you will get a formal proposal from me and the principals in advance of our next meeting. S. Bannon – one of the problems is the longer we wait, so I am glad to hear that, the more chance we are going to be back in remote because in the winter they are predicting a surge so let’s get the kids back so they can be together in school, in person as long as possible. B. Fields – I understand the enthusiasm to get back to what is normal but I think we have to be very careful about returning full time. I think we have to be very careful of what is happening in the eastern part of the state. I am reading more and more about problems with schools that have tried to go back and suddenly had to switch. I think we need to be very very careful about setting up parents to believe we are going to go back to five days. I just see multiple problems in that. At the high school level, I can’t imagine we are going to have 500 kids back before all of a sudden….it takes some real planning and we have to ask the staff. I know there is an association agreement but I really think it should be carefully looked at from all sides and not build up false hope that we are going to be one of the first districts that is going back and have business as normal because there is no normal anymore. There will never be what we have referred to as normal. That is my take. A. Hutchinson – I agree that we need to get kids back in school as much as possible but Bill don’t worry, everyone won’t be back for the full five days. (inaudible) Maybe Wednesday can become something different at some point. B. Fields – I agree with Anne. I think the small classes show that we have a living example of what small classes can do in education and I know for a fact that some students I talked to including my own granddaughter have liked the idea of having smaller classes. I think for people who have been critics of education that they say we can teach between 25-30 students, I think this is going to show that small classes are at an advantage in any subject. S. Bannon – we already knew that. The problem is we don’t have an unlimited budget. We have to do it but when push comes to shove, it isn’t affordable over the long run unfortunately.
- Dohoney – maybe we could also have an update on a plan going forward for extracurricular programming. I know we talked a lot about sports but not on anything else. I would like some updates on that. I think we talked a lot and spent a lot of money and time on all the extracurriculars, not just sports. We never had anybody play basketball at Duke or football at Notre Dame but we have a lot of kids at Berkley, Northwestern, NYU in acting programs and I just want to hear what the planning is around that for the balance of the year. K. Farina – I just did outreach to all the club advisors to get the clubs up and going and we have multiple clubs that have been working unofficially, Pathways, Key Club, Yearbook, Project Sprout, Student Government (they are holding elections next week). We did hear from Shakespeare and Co., but they can’t do a typical fall fest. What they are doing is an online program with the seniors from all of the local schools so those students are at least engaging. I would love to continue a conversation with them to see if we could get our underclassmen involved. Karl has put together a brochure that we are going to get out to students and we are also going to make a video to show in advisory because we typically in the fall do a club fair mostly for our underclassmen. Rich, I think it was you at the last meeting that talked about how we hadn’t really recruited for fall sports in the way we normally do. We are looking at how we can do that for both clubs and sports for the remainder of the year particularly get the freshmen and students who have joined us (schools choice and new students) that don’t know what Monument has to offer to get kids involved in these kinds of activities. Our Project Connection program, I don’t any of us mentioned this, but that did start this week in all three schools remotely. We are looking to actually transition that to a hybrid Project Connection program in the not to distant future. We are working on the plans around transportation, etc. We are working on all of those things.
- Department of Justice (DOJ) Grant Awards – P. Dillon – in May in the middle of all this stuff that was going on, we put together two grants to the Department of Justice. The school committee knows about this but the public doesn’t. We got both of those grants. They are three year grants and the total of the grants is $817,000. I think it is our largest competitive grant ever; I may be wrong on that. It is a sizable amount of resources from the Department of Justice. The grants fall into two areas. One is around safety and looking at safety in our buildings, developing or purchasing an off-the-shelf app so kids can report incidents and things like that and a big investment in professional development around safety. The second one is around mental health, anti-bullying and anti-racism and anti-harassment work. It is a great opportunity. The DOJ is in a transition with their reporting systems. I spoke to their head policy guy yesterday. They are going to share more information about it in the coming months. We will be assigned a program officer and will have opportunities to finetune our plan as we receive the resources. In both cases, I am going to put together advisory groups to help me think about it with people from the schools and community and many of the local non-profits we often work with to develop plans going forward. The other nice thing, awhile ago we talked about this grant that we got that is aligning us to mental health work statewide. That had some resources, particularly the mental health piece of this will be a nice extension of it so we can really leverage the support well. I am excited about it and I will share regular updates as we get more information from the DOJ. The other thing I think is interesting is we applied for two of these grants, they are in different categories, only four grants total were awarded in MA so we got two of the four. The city of Worcester got one and Brockton got one. It is a pretty big deal. We did very well in a quite competitive field.
- Proposed Policy Changes – R. Dohoney – One is a minor tweak to our policy about school improvement plans and the second is a new policy regarding a diversity recruiting program. There is nothing in any of our policies in my ten years and there is nothing we have ever done to state that we view diversity among our staff as an asset and a priority. I view the lack of diversity among our professional staff as a major deficit of our district. The only way to fix a problem is to talk about it, address it and get a plan going for it. I don’t know if the policy is perfect, it is my first draft. Essentially what it calls for is that we need the administration and all of the staff to prioritize diversifying our professional staff with emphasis on recruiting and how we hire people through interviews, evaluation processes and then development advancement within our organization. I was particularly broad and we as a committee have to tell our school community for the first time in our history that diversifying our professional staff is important and a requirement. I don’t think there is a quick fix here but you have to start somewhere. MOTION TO REFER BOTH PROPOSED POLICIES TO THE POLICY COMMITTEE – R. DOHONEY SECONDED: FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Sub Committee Reports:
- Policy Subcommittee – N/A
- Building & Grounds Subcommittee – J. St. Peter – we met yesterday and we were joined by Steve Soule and Peter Dillon. Update on the buildings is as good as expected considering all the extenuating circumstances. The custodial staff has gone above and beyond doing a great job in the whole district. They have changed their shifts. Usually there is just one custodian during the day and now there are two to keep things as clean as possible. The high school’s night crew comes in from 12 to 8 instead of after school to help lunchtime and after. What has also helped is not having any after school activities, sports, activities, Project Connection; that less demand has really helped them improve and now that they are caught up and used to it as we start to increase our after school time, they had a chance to adjust and I don’t foresee a problem. We have all the electrostatic sprayers in so everyday they are cleaning and Tuesday night into Wednesday they do the deep cleaning in between the two cohorts. Traffic patterns in the buildings are good and kids are responding. Specifically there was concern with the high school bathrooms policy but the students have really responded and have done a great job. Steve also reported there is a lot of PPE on hand. It is being funneled through the nurses for the entire school for the kids and staff. The wastewater treatment plant, we budgeted for new filters and our own crew is able to do that which is a huge help expense wise. They also replaced a valve that was broken and the readings have been great. That should buy us another five to seven years on the treatment plant which is good. The air handing Steve reports is in very good shape in all three buildings. The air quality has been very good. The chiller in the elementary school is going out to bid. It is broken. In H05 there is a fully handicapped bathroom going in at the high school. That is going to be done over Christmas break hopefully. There was a washer/dryer in there that got moved to H04A so that is on the near horizon. The new high school dishwasher is in. Fields – the custodial crew in all three buildings have been outstanding. This has been a really heavy lift especially in regard to this need for deep cleansing. The changes in schedules; we have an outstanding crew and certainly the shape the buildings are in and especially when you look at the high school, what they have done is outstanding and I am not sure how many other schools have a custodial crew that would go and cut trees down and shed a trail so we could have runners run and do what they do best. My support goes out to them and the public should know that the buildings are in good hands and things are going very well due to the dedication of our custodians. J. St. Peter – the next topic was the signage for the WEB DuBois Middle School. It’s not just the sign in front, it is also the letterhead, computer changes online, etc. It is in full effect and moving forward. The sign in front of the school, Peter indicated that the company that did both the elementary and middle school sign is still in business so we consulted with them and are hoping by next meeting to have some different plans to look at. An anonymous donor has come up and has pledged to cover the cost of all of the new signage. That was very generous. The state did officially okay the change as well which was a formality which was great to hear. A. Potter – does the full committee actually have to approve signage? Can’t the administration just take care of that. J. St. Peter – yes, we just thought as a committee we could look at it as well. P. Dillon – an update on the statement of interest, last spring we submitted it, typically the MSBA would act on those at their December meeting. There is the possibility this year because of COVID and other things the timing may be off slightly. We are hopeful the MSBA acts favorably on our statement of interest and we are keeping our fingers crossed that we might move forward. I will share additional updates as I get them.
- Superintendent’s Evaluation Subcommittee – N/A
- Technology Subcommittee – N/A
- Finance Subcommittee – R. Dohoney – we met tonight on the FY21 budget process and the timeline. We covered special education, technology and facilities today. No big surprises either way. The presentations were excellent. I know more today than I do about our technology structure and capabilities than I have in my prior eight years on the committee because we have a real deep dive into how that works. Hopefully we will be ready for that first meeting after Thanksgiving to come back to you with a projection.
- District Consolidation & Sharing Subcommittee – N/A
- Personnel Report:
- Non-Certified Appointment(s)
- Extra-Curricular Appointment(s)
- Business Operation
- Education News
- Old Business
- New Business – J. St. Peter – is there any update on the joint meeting between the teachers’ union and the group to shift to full time? (inaudible) Dillon – that’s not a negotiation; it’s advisory in nature. We met together for the first time, Steve and I and Anne were on the call, Donna Astion, Carole Aberdale and Becki Donovan the school nurse, and we really looked at two data sets and had a nice conversation. We looked at the governor’s and department of public health data set which is the big map of the Commonwealth and it is color coded. R. Dohoney – the one that came out during this meeting? P. Dillon – it comes out on Wednesdays. R. Dohoney – this week it came out on Thursday, just now and we are still in the grey as are the surrounding towns. P. Dillon – I saw it yesterday. We talked about that. We have a separate map that we are also tracking. We generally talked about what is going on in Boston and Holyoke, Springfield, Amherst and here. From a COVID perspective we are in very good shape. Berkshire County is. The challenge that the principals feel in different ways is it’s not just about the incidents or the infection rates, it is also about the social distancing and the staffing. Many people see the map and we are grey. Grey, we should all be full time immediately; but the other consideration is keeping kids six feet apart from each other and what kind of class sizes you need to do that and what kind of staff you need to do that. As much as I would like to flip a switch and say everybody goes back to school tomorrow, we can’t do that because the distancing and staffing don’t allow us to do that. That work that Tim, Ben and Kristi have been doing is trying to figure out ways and places in grades where we can get as many kids back as possible as soon as possible within those distancing guidelines. It is a complex thing and a misunderstanding. You see the map that says Berkshire County is great so you assume everybody can go back but we can’t all go back. R. Dohoney – We spent two and a months analyzing all this and negotiating with everybody, agreed on a metric and now it doesn’t matter because it is a whole other metric; but that’s fine. At full, we have 100% of the kids in the building; hybrid we have 50% of the kids in the building. There is some percentage of kids in the building where we can meet that six foot metrics. I want to know what percentage that is for each building because it seems to me that there may be solutions between 50 and 100 if we get creative and squeeze in. I don’t think it is a 0, 50 or 100 option. I would like some data. P. Dillon – that is fair and fine. To clarify, we are not at 50% right now. We have the Cohort A kids and each of the principals detailed to some degree what those numbers are then we have the remaining kids, except for the kids that are in Cohort D. We are probably closer to 60% than we are to 50%. I agree with you, the challenge is how do we get past that. In the elementary school right now, with PK-2nd grade being in and it is 100% of those kids, except for a small number in the elementary school we are probably way above 60% even approaching 70%. With the middle school with their four grades, if we get the 5th and 6th grades in, again we will probably be approaching 70% and we will continue to look at ways to get there. It is clear we can’t get to 100% but we might get to 84% and what 84% look like. That is the work we have been doing and will continue to do. I would show you a set of spreadsheets you would fall out of your chair. It is like eight pages of sheets with seven tabs in each page looking at every single possibility. A. Hutchinson – looking at how we manage the kids when they are in school and where mask breaks are and where lunches are. Recent studies show that even a short time of masks off is not so great. Maybe we really look into how many kids can be outside and what space we can provide for them. It is important that kids have safe places to be without their masks and eat their lunches. P. Dillon – the article you shared from the Washington Post, I turned around and shared with the administration within minutes. Part of our weekly admin meeting on Tuesday is also the day we expect additional guidance from the commissioner and the DPH.
- Public Comment
- Written Communication
MOTION TO ADJOURN – R. DOHONEY SECONDED: B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 7:20pm
Submitted by: Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary