BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

Great Barrington                     Stockbridge                  West Stockbridge

SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING

Teleconference Meeting via Zoom

September 10, 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:  1 hour, 01 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 of Meeting:  N/A

  • Superintendent Report: Dillon – I just have three updates tonight.  The first is on Canvas.  Folks in the three schools have been working very hard on Canvas and I really appreciate the champions that have been training and supporting their peers around this.  I appreciate everybody else who is working on it.  It is a heavy lift.  I want to be clear to both the school committee and parents that the work the teachers are doing is serious and challenging.  Though I do like to hold everybody to high standards, I want to manage expectations as we start remotely on Monday.  I think people have done really well and right by it but we are building a whole new system, a lot of it from scratch, so be a little patient in the first week or two as we roll it out.  The big thing is I want to thank the faculty for all their hard work they have been doing.  The next thing is, we have obviously been spending a lot of time getting ready for the opening of schools.  Steve Soule and his folks are running around and doing tons of things.  Even though we are starting Monday remotely and kids likely are not coming in until October 5th, there is a lot going on.  The nurses have also been working very hard.  We are very close to finalizing a procedural document that tries to answer all the questions around COVID and what happens if you have a sniffle and on and on.  Inevitably there are going to be more questions then the state, DESE and Department of Public Health guidance addresses.  The nurses with the support of the health group will address that on a case by case basis as needed.  Those documents will be shared with staff and get some additional feedback then we will share it with parents and get some feedback there.  I imagine they are not in stone and those documents will continue to evolve over time.  The third thing I would like to do is address something that came up in negotiations.  Typically we wouldn’t do this but we spoke to the negotiating team on the school committee side and the teachers and paras unions on their sides and what I would like to do is pilot something for three weeks.  We are working hard on the agreement and it isn’t finished yet.  We hope to finish it soon but there is some time sensitivity there.  I am going to look at my notes and talk to you a little about this and hopefully garner your support to do this as a three week pilot.  We are about to on Monday jump into our initial phase of remote learning which will be for three weeks.  While I would still like to encourage staff to work from school, I think there is something wonderful about the opportunity to connect with colleagues face-to-face, I also know that our internet connections in school are significantly better than most people’s connections at home.  I would like to allow a subset of staff to reach out to me and work from home as needed.  The particular reason I am targeting this is particularly while we are all remote, people with younger children who don’t have a place to send their kids and I would like to afford people a little flexibility for these three weeks to work from home.  My assumption and expectation is people will work very hard and meet all their obligations but will just be doing it from a different place.  We will keep a careful eye on it and monitor people’s effectiveness and after the three weeks, we will come back with a recommendation.  I am intentionally framing it as a pilot so there is not an expectation that it continues.  It is a three week experiment during the remote phase and we will revisit it at the end.  S. Stephen – how many people will this involve and in what buildings?  P. Dillon – it is unclear how many people are involved.  There are some number of folks that have medical documentation that is keeping them out of the buildings.  They have complicated conditions and their doctors or health care providers want them not to work from school.  We have a letter about that.  There are about 18-20 people like that.  I think when all is said and done, it might be another 15-20 people.  That is my estimate based on a staff survey I did awhile ago.  It may not be that many people for each of the 15 days of remote.  It may be on a Tuesday for one person and a Friday for someone else.  In all likelihood they may be able to physically be in school for the five days a week but for the people who are struggling with this, I am confident they can meet their professional obligations and it does give them a little wiggle room.  J. St. Peter – two points on this.  One, from a purely understanding the new Canvas, this to me is a good thing because if teachers feel comfortable enough to work from home, they must be comfortable working with this new system.  That is a plus.  One of the concerns I have is purely from a hardware standpoint. I know in middle school, each student is going to have one two-hour block a week of time so if your math is on a Tuesday morning and if the computer crashes and there is a problem and the staff is in the building, they can go to IT and in 10-15 minutes, get a new computer.  If they are home, the child is not going to have math for the whole week.  My concern is from a hardware perspective.  Are we going to be giving these teachers back-up chargers or computers in case this happens.  Our students are behind the eight ball starting full remote anyway and I don’t want to lose a whole week of one subject because there was a hardware problem.  P. Dillon – I hear you.  I think the devices people have are high quality and the IT people often provide remote support so when I am in my office in Stockbridge, one of my issues is my computer doesn’t always connect well to my printer.  They can log onto my computer and take it over and if I step away from it for five minutes, they can fix it.  I think we are in pretty good shape.  There are a couple of things we can’t control.  Every once in a while the power goes out around us or somebody hits a tree and a power line goes down, potentially in bad weather like we have been having lately, there could be a storm or something.  I think if somebody lost connectivity, then we would work to reschedule the missed time.  I don’t imagine it is going to be a significant problem but if something came up we could troubleshoot in real time around it and if for some reason we couldn’t fix it right then, then the teacher could make arrangements to hold a subsequent follow-up session so that time is not lost.  R. Dohoney – I support it as a pilot Peter.  I trust your ability to implement it and staff’s ability to adapt to it.  I will say, I supervise over 50 essential employees.  We never went fully out and called most people back in June and we implemented a similar kind of pilot program.  Even though the most well-intentioned diligent employees had issues.  The main reason to go remote was childcare.  It is a very challenging thing to do and if you start to see the same types of trends, it simply is not fair if you have two different classes, teachers teaching the same thing, one from home and one not from home and you notice a qualitative difference that one set of students isn’t getting the same product.  I am in a totally different industry.  I don’t know how it translates.  When the reason for working from home is childcare, you do see a dropoff.  For the student’s sake, I hope it is monitored closely.  P. Dillon – we will monitor it closely and it’s really unusual times and I appreciate your flexibility around it.  Three weeks is three weeks.  It will be very clear at the end of three weeks of what worked and what didn’t.  Presumably at the end of that, then most of the childcare issues evaporate because kids are back in school or in preschools.  M. DeVos – I am the new librarian at Muddy Brook.  I have a rising third grader at Muddy Brook.  I am just curious when you say stay at home with younger children, do we have an age parameter on what you mean by younger children.  P. Dillon – I am not making that distinction now.  I think it is really individualized.  There are probably 13 year olds who are perfectly competent to be home alone and some of us might know 17 year olds who shouldn’t be home alone.  From a legal perspective, they are good but from a live perspective, they need more support.  I am most sympathetic to people with toddlers because I remember that and it is a challenging parenting time.  M. DeVos – has there been discussion on being allowed to bring our child with us on campus during these three weeks.  S. Bannon – the only problem here is we are starting to get into negotiations.  M. DeVos – oh, ok thank you.  I appreciate being heard.  B. Fields – The issue of evaluation, how are you assessing what effectiveness is in regards to remote learning.  I would like to ask what the criteria is.  Does that have to be arranged and negotiated.  What does it mean to measure the effectiveness of it?  That is a very vague term.  P. Dillon –  I would love to go on a 35 minute monologue rant and tell you all about this, and I am not saying this to be not transparent, obviously, evaluation would be a topic of any negotiation and it is in this case now so I am not going to address it now.  In the three weeks, we will keep an eye on participation and attendance with kids and if things are getting posted on Canvas and if people are involved in teams, like academic teams or grade level teams and are connecting and participating  in those meetings, the bigger evaluation question is really subject to negotiation and hopefully we will move forward on our work with negotiations and come back to you with a whole package for your approval.  B. Fields – my point is, I have always felt every teacher should have the flexibility to decide whether or not they as an individual teacher would work best at home or best in the school.  Is that being ruled out or is that going to be allowed?  P. Dillon – on a continuum, your approach is more generous than mine and what I articulated was my hope is people come in and work from school. If somebody has a particular reason that they need to work from home and they reach out to me, I will accommodate it but it’s not a unilateral statement that everybody can work from home for three weeks.  Some people actually need to come in and work from school because their internet connection at home is lousy that they couldn’t’ meet their professional responsibilities at home.  I really want them to come to school.  My general preference is for people to come to school but there are a whole host of reasons and I will be very accommodating around those reasons.  B. Fields – if Google and Microsoft can allow all their employees to work from home, we could do the same and their pay is a lot more than our budget.  My position is it is up to the individual teachers to do what they feel is the best way to deliver their curriculum without a mandate.  I know the state of their expectation when they come in the building.  I just feel, as I said in the last meeting, the unintended consequences of that are if you require teachers to be in the building and that is what is going to happen ultimately, then you are treating teachers like grade school kids.  The unintended message is that teachers can’t be trusted or we have to have people looking over their shoulders.  I am not sure that is a right message to have but I understand where you are coming from.  I will just wait and see.  P. Dillon – I hope I am not sending that message.  I opened tonight thanking people for all the work they are doing and all the other stuff that is going on.  This is like a short term compromise in the middle of broader negotiations to give people a little bit of flexibility.  It is framed as a pilot so we can learn something from it and then go forward from there.  J. St. Peter – this is all new.  They haven’t been teaching online for ten years.  If they had, then I would feel a lot more comfortable.  This is a learning curve for all of us and if the administration feels that everything can be done equally well as far as learning and getting up to speed on Canvas, up to speed on everything else, I would agree with you but to me, these teachers have been taught to teach in person.  These teachers have been taking most of their professional development in person.  Maybe in ten years, after doing this, they will be equally adept at going both ways but to me it just doesn’t make sense that they would be able to teach as well from home as they would in school.  A. Potter – are you saying that they wouldn’t be able to teach as well in an empty classroom?  J. St. Peter – no, I am talking about using the new management system.  I am assuming there are going to be problems adapting to it and to be in school and talk face to face with IT.  A. Potter – Jason, I’m 60 years old.  I work from home five days a week and I have for quite a few years.  J. St. Peter – are you teaching?  A. Potter – I am not teaching but I am a professional.  I do a lot of online training.  S. Bannon – I would say that I agree with Jason.  All things equal, I would prefer because it is the first three weeks and it is a new system that if all things were equal and everyone was in the building, unfortunately not all things are equal right now.  I think that is what Jason is saying too.  The more people we have in the building the better but I think we have to give some flexibility.  A. Potter – I think Peter’s solution is equitable, I think it is solid, I think Bill is right, we don’t treat the teachers like children.  They are professionals as well.  They are learning; we are all learning.  S. Stephen – let’s wait for Peter’s formalized proposal to come to us.  R. Dohoney – this is a pilot.  We are not setting any long term policy.   MOTION TO APPROVE THE THREE WEEK PILOT FOR ALL TEACHERS          R. DOHONEY                 SECONDED:  S. STEPHEN                    ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS
    • Richmond Extension – P. Dillon – as you know, for the last four years, I was the Shaker Mountain superintendent. This year the school committee direction for me as superintendent and not work in Hancock or New Ashford but to be Richmond’s superintendent.  This got delayed a little because of all the other pressing stuff going on.  My recommendation and the Richmond folks voted on it, is extending the shared services agreement for this year so July 1st – June 30th and then as we meet in October and November with that shared services group, probably no later than December, we should determine if anything happens after June 30th.  Rich, you were involved in it.  Do you want to speak to it at all?  Dohoney – the last three or four years, the agreement was known as the Shaker Mountain Union which was Hancock, New Ashford and Richmond.  They have or in the process of dividing that up so going forward for this year, Peter will just be the superintendent for Richmond which is a far more palatable option in terms of concerns I know I had and others had with the drain on Peter and the administration’s resources.  For that reason I am comfortable moving forward with it.  We have to keep our foot on the petal in terms of the reevaluation as a long-term plan.  I personally have done a full arc in my time on the school committee, a big proponent of shared services and I believe it is a separate but equal form of education.  I support merger with any of our neighboring districts but I think shared services are really not a great model.  The Richmond people in all regards have been really good partners and so I think it is a good plan to continue on this for one more year.  S. Bannon – one of the things I would add is two other towns that we partnered with, their biggest disadvantage for us was geography.  I will take full blame for that.  We didn’t look at that very closely.  Peter was driving more than being superintendent.  I would agree with Rich.  A. Potter – with Zoom and our new remote opportunities, I would say perhaps Peter would have an easier time doing it.  He wouldn’t have to drive.  P. Dillon – the good news is Hancock and New Ashford already hired their own part-time superintendent and special ed director.  A. Potter – I was just being a jerk.  P. Dillon – oh, ok good.  S. Stephen – We are trying to get out of this agreement because we are working on a new high school and now we have this COVID nightmare which throws a hundred different things on everybody’s plate.  We have Richmond more than enough time to get themselves a new superintendent.  S. Bannon – what we said to Richmond is we would like to have frank discussions about you joining our district or doing something.  We also have said from the beginning that wasn’t going to happen either before COVID or in a few months.  We said to Richmond that this will be the last year that we will share a superintendent.  We hope we will come to a good conclusion before this year ends.  We are in the process of having those discussions and Peter agreed to this.  We will not leave Richmond high and dry as you suggest.  We didn’t give them plenty of time.  We actually said to them we will give you another year so we can come to a good conclusion and give them enough time to find a superintendent because both sides decided that working together past this year is not going to work.   MOTION TO APPROVE THE SHARED SERVICES AGREEMENT AS PRESENTED BY THE SUPERINTENDENT              R. DOHONEY             SECONDED:  A. POTTER                   ACCEPTED:  8:1
    • Update: COVID-19 Reopening Plan(s)
    • Athletics Update – P. Dillon – I asked Karl to give a very brief overview that is going to reference the memo that he sent to the school committee to give you context around what is happening with fall athletics at Berkshire Hills in relationship to what is going on with the MIAA and other school districts. I think you will appreciate what he has to say and then either Kristi, Karl or I will respond to questions after that.  Zigmund – MMRHS wants to offer fall cross-country boys and girls teams and golf co-ed.  Due to risk factors and modifications, we want to move all other fall sports to fall two season which would run from mid-March to the end of May.  We also want to offer practice only activities during the fall season for any fall sport that is listed in the fall two season.  What I would like to do tomorrow, Friday, September 11th, I would like to send a family link home to parents which will include registration for the following athletic team and pre-season options:  cross-country which would start September 21st and run through November 20th; golf, same dates.  Our pre-season practices for football, soccer and volleyball would delay until October 5th when we are in the hybrid model and that would run until November 20th.  There would be four athletic seasons for the 20-21 school year.  Fall one with the dates I just listed.  A winter season which would include basketball, hockey, wrestling, alpine skiing and swimming would start on November 30th and go through February 21st; then fall two season, March 15th through May 1st would include fall football, soccer and girls volleyball and then the spring season starting May 3rd and ending June 30th which would include baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and field and tennis.  All of these are pending on what is going to happen with COVID-19 but that is the plan.  There are four schools that have committed to the first fall season to compete in cross-country and golf.  They are Wahconah, Mt. Greylock, us and we can confirm Mt. Everett right now.  I just heard from the Lee AD today that they have the OK to join us for golf.  R. Dohoney – The memo that was circulated outlining this was very impressive and gave me the clearest understanding of what the extra-curriculars were going to look like that I have ever had since I have been on the school committee and that is pretty impressive considering this is the biggest turmoil we have ever had.  I am very appreciative of that.  One question, the difference in the dates between the practices and the playing sports in the fall, why is that and is it necessary?  Why can’t we just let the teams start practicing?  K. Farina – When Karl and I discussed this.  It is a pretty quick turnaround to get everyone into FamilyID and get things rolling for the September 21st start date.  We are also concerned about the equity around transportation and we need time to coordinate with Sharon regarding transportation once we hit that hybrid schedule.  We are going to have some kids on campus some days and others on other days.  We wanted time to really plan that well for those sports that are practicing.  That was our thinking on that and why we wanted to delay the start for those.  R. Dohoney – will we maintain the status quo in regards to the kids being able to use the fields like they are now for informal captains’ practices.  K. Farina – yes, we weren’t planning to change that.  K. Zigmund – there is also a youth club soccer league that is going to be starting up but of course if they want to continue to run captains’ practices, that is fine.  R. Dohoney – the club league, they will be using our fields as well correct?  K. Zigmund – I think that was approved.  Right Peter?  P. Dillon – that is just a decision that Steve and I make in the context of facilities.  I am happy to take any direction from the school committee on it.  We are not letting outside groups use our indoor spaces but we are open to letting outside groups that follow all the guidance and every group is guided by its own particular guidance.  If they follow the guidance we are comfortable with them using our fields within our own guidelines and the guidance specific to that activity.  There is particular guidance for youth soccer, youth football; some of it is at the state level and some at the national level.  K. Farina – I do appreciate Peter that you pointed out about the indoor spaces because that is where some conversation around whether or not people would be coming in to use the bathroom and that was something Steve and I did not feel comfortable allowing.  B. Fields – my concern is keeping people out of the building as much as possible except during the school day.  Are we going to have Porta Potties available or is the cross-country team going to use the natural environment?  K. Zigmund – Peter and I have been in discussions about this and we still haven’t decided what is the best way to go with that.  P. Dillon – I can make a public recommendation to use the natural environment so I think we will be getting some Porta Potties.  S. Bannon – the problem with that is I am not sure you aren’t going to have more problems cleaning those than just letting them in to use the bathrooms in the school.  There are cleaning procedures for Porta Potties too.  P. Dillon – I may need to come back to you with an update on this at our next meeting.  I think the timing is ok.  If we didn’t use Porta Potties and we did allow access to the building, we might only allow access to that one hall that connects to the bathrooms that we normally have open during football games.  I need to do a bit more work on this one.  R. Dohoney – what he said is correct.  The use of the building and grounds is not for us to say.  It is for Peter and Steve.  I don’t want to micromanage.  I have complete confidence they will use the grounds in a safe and reasonable way.  K. Farina – For me there is a distinction and I would like to point it out between outside groups that are coming to the campus to do activities using the building versus when we are having our own cross-country players or our own golf players or soccer players who are going to go through very clear procedures in order to participate, using the buildings for the bathroom.  I think we can continue this conversation but there is a distinction between those two things.  J. St. Peter –  Karl, if kids sign up for cross-country or golf, does that mean they can’t sign up for one of the two soccers to football?  You might get a lot of new kids going out for golf or cross-country and if you can do both you are going to do that.  I hope the coaches are taking that into account.  Can they do both or pick one.  K. Zigmund – you can only register for one.  J. St. Peter – if we started the other three sports that might steer more people into those so we aren’t overwhelmed with golf and cross-country people.  K. Zigmund – that is a good point.  B. Fields – in regards to the schedule October 5th and November 20th, you are going to have soccer, football and volleyball.  I am concerned with the locker room situation.  Maybe this has to be worked out but as our former athletic director who we all know and love says in some situations a locker room might pose more of a problem in COVID-19.  How is the situation especially dealing with football, how is that going to be worked out.  Are players going to be expected to come dressed and not use any of the facilities except possibly the bathroom?  K. Zigmund – our guidelines are going to be pretty strict that they come ready to go with their own water bottle even though at that time we can have some kids in the locker room but it is a certain percentage and we are really going to have to work with the coaches to make sure they are following those guidelines and not allowing the entire team into the locker room.  I don’t see it as a big locker room need for football the way we are going to be doing it as it is just preseason training for the fall two season.  B. Fields – that issue may come up later when fall two starts.  Is there any reason why, and this was brought up by somebody I know really well at Wahconah, why baseball, softball, track and field even lacrosse could have been done in the fall because we have had baseball all summer long was it ever talked about with the ADs, why not have baseball in the fall; why not have softball in the fall?  K. Zigmund – I know the seasons were made up by the MIAA and we have to follow them.  The only thing I heard in that regard was baseball with the uncertainty of what is going to happen and if we were to cancel them again after losing their spring season, that would be really tough.  The season that is most likely to go on with the least is the baseball season that will be late in the school year.  P. Dillon – One of the things that Karl, Kristi, Sharon and I are all universally recommending while we typically collect user fees for this particular school year we would like to waive the user fees.  Things are up in the air.  People are having a tough time financially.  We think there will be some savings in transportation because we are going to be doing less travel and we would like to eat the revenue from the user fees.  I think we can cover it in other ways out of our operating budget.  We think that would be a welcome relief to families because the user fee is something the school committee voted to do, I think I need your support to waive them for a year.  R. Dohoney – It is an easy vote for me.  I have always been against the fees.  MOTION TO WAIVE ATHLETIC FEES FOR THE 20-21 SCHOOL YEAR                      R. DOHONEY               SECONDED:  M. THOMAS                        ACCEPTED:    UNANIMOUS
      • Public Discussion/Comments
    • School Committee Decision – MOTION TO ACCEPT THE PLAN PRESENTED BY KARL ZIGMUND, ATHLETIC DIRECTOR FOR MONUMENT MOUNTAIN POTTER                        SECONDED:  B. FIELDS                         ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS
  • Personnel Report
    • Extra Curricular Appointment(s)
  • Public Comment – Paul Gibbons – what accommodations or modifications were made in the transportation area with respect to last year and this year? Dillon – from a contractual perspective and I don’t have it right in front of me, last year, we reached an agreement with the bus company where we paid them less on days when they weren’t able to provide services.  We are in the process of doing that now.  The other thing that Kristi, Karl, Sharon and I are working on is what transportation might look like and that is very challenging because to do our transportation to begin with is complex and then to restructure it so it is around the hybrid model where half the kids are going some days and some on others and some kids are going four of the five days, is challenging.  We worked hard to get those lists right and they still are still changing a little bit.  We are working with Marie and the bus company to make routes knowing that if we defaulted to a full remote from a transportation perspective, it’s easy.  We don’t have to do much.  If we move back to full face-to-face, then we are essentially running three or four different schedules.  There is the M/T schedule, the Th/F schedule, there are the kids that are being transported four days a week and then if we go back to the face-to-face with everyone going five days a week so there are a lot of moving pieces there.  They have been quite accommodating.  P. Gibbons – I have been to a lot of these meetings and I just want to remind everybody, members of the school committee as well as parents who might be listening, that teachers are trying to do their best to serve the students but teachers are also parents, they have children and parents themselves.  This is brand new territory for them.  I would help that people understand that teachers are being asked to do a lot of stuff that they never had to do before. I know they are going to do their best and I hope the administration and the school committee keep that in mind and have the teachers backs.
  • Written Communication

MOTION TO ADJOURN – A. POTTER                SECONDED:  S. STEPHEN                        ACCEPTED:  UNANIMOUS

Meeting Adjourned at 7:01pm

Submitted by:

Christine M. Kelly, Recorder

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Christine M. Kelly, Recorder

 

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School Committee Secretary