BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
September 17, 2020 – 6:00pm
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
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, 49 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:
August 20, 2020
September 3, 2020
MOTION TO ACCEPT THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE MINUTES DATED AUGUST 20, 2020 AND SEPTEMBER 3, 2020
- Superintendent Report:
- Good News Item(s):
- Lee, Principal, Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School – Monday, September 14th was our first day of school for distance learning for all students. I would like to highlight mainly some good news but also make the committee and the public aware of some things that we are still working on and things that still have our attention everyday. First I would like to echo Peter’s thoughts that the launch of the school year with the new Canvas learning platform was really a testament to the hard work of not just our canvas team that did a fantastic job but also our teachers and staff and Muddy Brook who really committed themselves to learning the platform and putting together a quality interface for parents and students as they started the school year in distance learning. Thank you to our Canvas leaders but also to all of our Muddy Brook faculty and staff for their hard work and contributions. Participation this week in distance learning has been hovering around 90%; a little bit better on some days. Very strong on the first day; dipping off a couple days later. I feel ok about this but certainly for the 10% of students that are not connecting and not participating at this point, this is one of the things that I mentioned to keep in the forefront of our work; finding out who these students are, what the issues are, what is preventing them from connecting with their classrooms and their teachers at this time. On a case by case basis, solving those problems. That has been the focus of my work and Ms. Thompson’s for a bulk of this week and it will certainly continue as we go forward. I want to thank our parents and point out their expression of support, directly to teachers and to me. Most recently for recognizing the quality and engagement of our distance learning program to start the year. I have heard some really positive responses from our parents as we started the year. I don’t know if I have mentioned it before but at Muddy Brook we have endeavored to start the year with a focus not so much on intense academics but really instead trying to build meaningful class communities and also build confidence and comfort with the Canvas platform so students would quickly become independent. Continuing to prepare for the hybrid model that his now a little more than two short weeks away if we are able to stay on that agenda, there is quite a bit of work that we have do in the office and for myself and Ms. Thompson. Part of that work is to be creative with staffing so that we make sure we have the staff present to deliver face-to-face instruction when the students indeed return. Another challenge that will be addressed a little bit later in tonight’s meeting is the more global challenge that we face with the nature of distance learning and not being an optimal fit for the needs of our youngest learners. Developmentally speaking, students in the early childhood programs of PK, EK and KDG, it is really quite a lift to be able to provide a quality program. I would like to recognize our teachers for doing their very best but the nature of your children and the way that they learn best has really presented some challenges that I hope we can address and I know it is on the agenda for a little bit later in the evening.
- Doren, Principal – WEB DuBois Regional Middle School – I agree with Tim and I am so excited for school to have started. The students were so eager to come back and the teachers and paras, the entire staff, secretaries, custodial staff, everyone worked so hard the first several weeks to lead up to it. I am so appreciative. We started off the school year with a convocation on Monday morning and it was very well attended by students. I was very impressed with the attendance. We are hovering around 95% and even more on some sessions. It is a testament to the outreach. We had some really good engagement with our Crew this year which is our advisory program, called expository learning which is a great progressive curriculum and we are trying to dive deep with connecting and collecting students and engaging them. Our advisors are crew leaders who have done a lot of work during the first Monday and Tuesday; connected with kids on Wednesday and today they really started in earnest in classes. We have been impressed with how excited kids really are to be at school. They just want to be there and do things. Kids didn’t realize how much they needed school so that is a real exciting moment. It bodes well for the next couple of weeks as kids connect every day and are doing activities. We have a lot of stuff planned. It has been a really nice engagement.
- Farina, Principal – Monument Mountain Regional High School – I also want to start with some appreciations. None of this would be possible if it weren’t for a lot of hard work of many individuals so I am going to go through a whole list of folks I want to thank for some specific work they have done. I want to take a moment to recognize all of our paraprofessional staff; for all of the support they have been given teachers in this opening time around the organization. They have been helping distribute materials. We have been distributing Chromebooks, laptops, chemistry materials, art materials, textbooks. We have had pickup going on all week this week with folks coming in the front of the building to pick things up for their children so they can be engaged and successful with their academic experience. I want to thank our custodial for all the extra cleaning they are doing to keep the building clean and safe for teachers to be here in preparation for our students because we are working really hard to set up for the hybrid model. They started moving furniture around today and putting things in storage so it is a big lift and I want to thank them for that. I want to thank all of our office personnel and the guidance department for all of the work they have done getting information out to families, both electronically and through our mailing which went out really late this year but they worked really hard to get it done. Poor Dede and Mike Powell were literally working on schedules to the last possible moment and they put in a lot of hours to make that happen and I want to make sure to recognize them. Our food service, our nurse, Peter Falkowski have all been working very hard on preparation for students to come into the building; working on the protocols and procedures we are going to need in place, particularly at the high school around shops; like how to run a hybrid when we have automotive and horticulture. How do you do culinary in this environment. We have a lot of things we have been figuring out with those folks and I want to appreciate them for that. Steve Soule has been involved in a lot of those conversations. Of course, I need to thank the teachers for all of the work they have done in the first 11 days. Really in their own learning they tried to do this big life around Canvas and I have actually been very impressed with what they have been able to pull off. I am not surprised that they have been very collegial and supportive of one another. One person learns something and the next thing you know, the next day we are having a session in the library showing each other how to integrate the apps into Canvas. I want to give them appreciation for that as they took on this new challenge. I want to thank families. I really want to appreciate how patient families have been as we have tried to navigate this uncharted territory. I know just simple things like waiting for your child’s schedule and not having it look anything like a schedule has looked in the past and having all sorts of questions and having to be patient while the guidance team can’t get back to you right away. I just really want to appreciate all of the families out there for their support and understanding in this. Finally, I have to thank our students because ultimately they are who all of this is about. We are all here for them and their energy and showing up this week has just really filled us all up and fueled us through some really difficult times. They are definitely demonstrating to all of us the resilience and their ability to change with things that us older folks struggle with sometimes. I definitely want to appreciate students for that. I want to end just echoing something that both Ben and Tim mentioned that we began this year with a real focus on student well-being. We did some professional development work specifically on our advisory for the first three weeks. We meet every single day and the importance of student wellness and well-being because ultimately we know students can’t learn if they are not well. If their needs are not being met, they are not going to engage academically. The advisor/advisee relationship is something that we believe is going to be key in student success this year. We integrated it into everything that we are doing. I think Monument has always prided itself on our ability to build relationships with students and families and it is something we really want to continue and be very deliberate about in this environment.
- Stephen – I have to say that my daughter has appreciated what has been happening and Bridget has found it definitely more challenging now than in the spring.
- Fields – I want to repeat what Kristi has said and the other two principals as well. I have been in all three buildings and there is a lot of anxiety, a lot of pressure with teachers, you can feel it in the building. I went on Friday. I can say that they have come through this. Everyday is a challenge. One teacher told me, there are going to be good days and bad days but we have a staff that has risen to the challenge. I understand the awful transition for somebody that was not at all equal to remote learning, I was a hands on, face-to-face person in the classroom and I found many teachers who are in my vintage and a little younger ready to face the challenge. I know in the high school, Kara and Tom Roy were really indispensable in helping that staff. They earned as one teacher said they should be double their salary as Scrooge said to Bob Cratchet. They were immense in helping teachers make this transition and the transition is still going on. I am really pleased to tell you from my observation, this has been a good start. There are going to be stops and starts and parents should know that. A. Potter – Bill, you have been waiting to use that Dickens reference.
- Potter – I ran into one 12-year old who told me he would love it if the learning management systems went out of business. P. Dillon – Ok, let’s transition. Bill, I would like you to pay particular attention to our health protocols. We are making a point of keeping visitors out of the buildings. So you go through our safety and security system and we are going to be a little tighter going forward.
- Principal Ben Doren – Comments on Middle School Name Change – Two weeks ago I was really proud of our district and school committee. Thank you very much. I feel very honored now to be the principal of the WEB DuBois Regional Middle School. It has been a long time coming as many people at the meeting said. It was just a real nice cap to the work we have been doing over the past two or three years at the middle school and I know in the district. As you know in 2018, it was the 150th anniversary of his birth and I worked with a lot of community members as well as faculty at the school to start to infuse the study of DuBois into the school. We did a collaboration with a school in Philadelphia. We did a visit out to UMass Amherst to the DuBois archives. Teachers have been slowly but surely integrating DuBois into their curriculum. It is not easy; his language is pretty floral; it is pretty 19th century so it is hard to make the language relevant to 10-14 year olds but on the other hand, so much of the history of DuBois, the nation and around the world is so relevant that it can easily be brought in. So interesting in my mind is his love of Great Barrington, love of Berkshire Hills and the Housatonic River and the Housatonic Valley. When we opened school on Monday, just a few short days ago, it felt like weeks ago, I was able to help the kids understand who DuBois was and I talked a little bit about growing up here; going to the same schools even though they might not be in the same location, all the way through high school. It was the Great Barrington High School then became Searles High School, then Searles Middle School then it became Monument Valley then there we were at the WEB DuBois Regional Middle School. I talked about his history and why he is an important person for our area, our nation and for the world. I talked for the students and I think it was really important that he advocated for quality inclusion for all people in our society and he was an inspiration for people in our country and around the world. For me, that was a real honor to be able to now be the principal of the school. I want to give my thanks to the community for promoting the idea that we could change the name. I want to commit to the idea that the WEB DuBois Regional Middle School is about the wonderful history and legacy of our region and our area. I also want to also commit not to just studying DuBois but other local dignitaries and really play up the idea that students can invest in our local landscape and our history to really understand who they are and where they come from. I would like to leave you also with a quote which I think is helpful to DuBois because I think it makes sense in both what he stands for and what school is but also that we have hard work ahead of us here and in the world and we should continue to commit to the hard work. It is from his book The Philadelphia Negros which is the first one he wrote and published in 1898 and in the chapter called The Credibility of the Results. “Nevertheless here are social problems before us demanding careful study questions awaiting satisfactory answers. We must study. We must investigate. We must attempt to solve it. The utmost that the world can demand is not lack of human interest or moral conviction, rather the moral part quality of fairness and an earnest desire for the trust despite its possible unpleasantness.” I think that speaks wonderfully to the idea of study in school and about being real and what we study and being open to the possibilities that lay before us as we study the world and learn. I am very honored. I thank you and share my appreciation. Many of our faculty are super excited and I know our community joins me in celebrating this. Thank you. Dillon – on a structural level, I reached out to the state about it and I am waiting to hear back from them as we update things. Presumably, at future buildings and grounds meetings, we will have some conversations around signage and the like. All good stuff.
- Remote Learning
- Health Protocols – P. Dillon – our nurses, Steve Soule and I have been working on this and we got some help from Christina Lenfest who is the nurse in Richmond as well. The first few pages are ours and most of the rest of it is state guidance. I think the big thing for me to reiterate and I am making a point of doing this publicly then we will send it out to parents and send more later, we are all in a compact with each other and the way we can work to support our own health is to be quite conservative in our actions and our decisions. The document starts with a daily student and staff screening tool. You go through this checklist of things and if you have any of these symptoms, if you are a staff person, you call your boss and say I have some of these symptoms and you either stay home or go home and if you are a student and you have them, you make arrangements to connect with the nurse and they expectations is a parent shows up and picks up the child within half a hour. This is going to be really hard, particularly as we get to flu or allergy season and symptoms show up that could be COVID related or they could be hay fever related. The nurses have extensive training and a lot of tools around this and they will make calls around this. The way we can support them and support the collective welfare of the community is to be responsive. That is the highest level thing. The rest of it is largely self explanatory. The big thing that people keep saying is wear masks, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer and be thoughtful, deliberate and careful and Berkshires have done an extraordinary job of keeping rates low and hopefully we can maintain that. As you continue to go through, there are different things that happen if somebody has symptoms, if someone tests positive. The quarantine is around 14 days. The thing I think that is important and folks are wondering about is, if somebody has symptoms, the close contacts will be notified and shortly thereafter, the whole school community will be notified. We won’t say that it is Timmy Jones in 1st grade but we are a small enough community that people will start wondering if someone is not there. We will be very clear and transparent about what is going on. As you go through the documents, there are some sheets that explain if this happens, then what happens next and that is really the state guidance. We will be sending this all out to parents. There is guidance about disinfection on the buses and school. It concludes with what happens if there are multiple cases in the school or district and there is some guidance there. The state has put together a quick response thing which is like a mobile home that could come out. I think right now the likelihood of that group coming out to the Berkshire is small because there is a lot of stuff going on at the North Shore and I hear there is talk that they might be a Berkshire-based equivalent of that if we needed to do a lot of testing. I wanted to go over that at a high level. Some of this also overlaps the negotiations we are doing with the union and we hope to conclude those soon. We think those are going nicely and we will talk about a meeting next week where we potentially might vote on a MOU. Dohoney – I have one quick question. If we have a child who is symptomatic, the document includes scenarios if the kid is not tested and still comes back to school. My first question is why is that even an option. I see the option for test positive and test negative but why do we even have this option before the come back to school without a test and two is it seems like the time for kids who don’t get a test, they come back earlier than the 14 days. P. Dillon – I will check on that again. It came up in a conversation today. I think it is likely we will stick …. Some of the guidance…this stuff keeps changing constantly. From the time we printed the document to today, it may have shifted from 10 days to 14 days. Right now there are two choices. You get a test or you quarantine for 14 days. Like we did with the mask policy, we may come back to the school committee and request a policy around a higher standard than the state standard. R. Dohoney – I would voice my position that if a student or a faculty member is out of school because they have COVID symptoms, they need to get a test. There is no “no test” option. If a kid is going home with a fever or cold symptoms, I want him to get a test for their own good but certainly for the school. Tests are pretty readily available in Berkshire County. P. Dillon – I agree with you. I want to get a little legal advice on that so all the ducks are in a row. I will likely come back to you next week with that. R. Dohoney – I commend you for working with Christina Lenfest, she has really emerged as a leader in the field on not only making school safe but also the effects of not being in school has on kids and balancing those two factors. I am glad she is partnering with us and helping us out. P. Dillon – the combination of Christina and Becki Donovan who is great as well and also a leader in the field, and Rhonda Patrick at the high school and our newest nurse, Hilary Bishara is really quite powerful so we are lucky to have them work with us and be in our orbit. They are doing good things. A future document we are fine tuning now is one that is more about building-based protocols, entry, dismissal, lunches, cleaning, things like that and we hope to share that with you next week.
- Early Grades Proposal – P. Dillon – Tim shared this with me as a memo are some potential changes to the early childhood programs and it is really quite articulated. I want to put a little caveat in that at the end of this I made a note that this is all subject to negotiations with the BHEA so we will be doing that. Let me let Tim talk you through his document a little bit and then you can respond to questions you might have. Lee – To touch on the point I shared at the beginning of the meeting, one of the challenges that we have in providing distance learning is providing an effective engaging learning program to young children because of their age and where they are developmentally doing things virtually is not in any sense of the word, optimal. Another co-occurring circumstance that we have with the numbers in the KDG enrollment currently and the numbers of families that are choosing to work remotely at this time, has left us with class sizes at the KDG level that are around 12 students in each class at this point. Given our assessment of the needs for physical distancing in our KDG classrooms, information provided by Steve about the capacity in those rooms with teachers working, we have an opportunity to move from the hybrid model of two days on and three days off for our KDG students to offering a program that could include four days, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday in a full day face-to-face experience with their teachers and their peers. You may be aware that there is a segment of our students already that will be attending for four days under the hybrid model. Essentially the entire group of KDG students would be joining that model. Another thing that I learned today based on some more updates to our enrollment numbers and some constantly shifting numbers is that we have a mixed class this year of EK/KDG and we have a class of EK that we have had for a long time but we are in a very similar place right now with numbers in those two classes so these are students who are four and five years old. Students for whom distance learning is not in any sense the most optimal means of delivering instruction. We have an opportunity also that I did not share in the memo at the time I wrote it but now appears to be a possibility to bring students at that age leve back for a program that includes four days of face-to-face learning. The one exception in our early childhood programs remains, the Pre-K program and it serves students who are 3 and 4 years old. Our Pre-K program is essentially a special education program with its primary purpose is to identify and serve students who are identified to be in need of services like speech, instructional services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, intervention services and then another part of our integrated Pre-K program is that best practice indicates that we will always the identified students with a cohort of typically developing peers; we call them peer partners. The modified proposal that I am asking the school committee to consider tonight is would be in a position due to staffing changes and the needs that we have around faculty and staff in the early childhood level, having to work remotely, we are still able to serve the students who meet the identified category, four days a week, and then we would offer the hybrid enrollment for the Pre-K peer partners. The second piece of proposal is that for KDG students, we move to a model when we go to the hybrid of operating four days a week, again subject to negotiations and preparation of the space and program so that those students can have a more enriched face-to-face experience that is going to be a more developmentally start to their school career at Muddy BRook. Most recently, a modified point that I would like to make, sort of an update to the memo that you read, is that numbers are now favorable in the EK classrooms that students at the level would also come back four days a week. My belief is that the early childhood staff, KDG teachers, early KDG teachers are in support of this idea; that it is going to provide a better, more developmentally appropriate early learning experience for these students. At this time, the numbers would allow us to do it and also maintain the physical distancing that we are observing in all other parts of the school. This has been an ongoing discussion with the KDG teachers and the early childhood staff and we have fairly widespread support from teachers and staff for this change. Thank you for your time and consideration. B. Fields – what if the parents who have opted to have their kids at home, decide later on in the second marking period that they want their kids back. Is there a plan there in case those 20% change and the percentage goes down to 10%, what happens if there is a return back to the higher numbers? P. Dillon – Tim and I talked about that. T. Lee – that is really a possibility that I think of a lot. If that were the case, and just as a little back story on this, we have heard from a number of parents that have selected the remote option for this year and again, these parents selecting this option is really the means to be able to consider this proposal. There are a number of them that are comfortable educating their kids at home and through the year. Some parents did not respond to an inquiry about why but to your point Bill, if we were to offer a four day a week option, they might be interested in coming back. The reality would be that we would enroll all of the students that chose to come back and if we cross the threshold of not being able to maintain physical distance in the classrooms anymore, there are two possibilities that I see. One would be that we would revert to the hybrid programming that we are planning on right now but another option might be the reallocation of staff within our building to be able to open up another section. That option got some discussion too. I am not sure how feasible or realistic that option is given our current staffing situation is and the need of some of our staff to work remotely at this time. P. Dillon – Bill, potentially a third option might be something in between the two which instead of having kids in for four days, you have them in for three and everybody drops a day and that might help with the numbers. We have been looking at it a lot of different ways. R. Dohoney – just to be clear, are the families that have opted for pure home learning, they will have an option to come back or not. T. Lee – yes, they will. That is my understanding at this time. I know that we discussed at one time having to put a commitment attached to the parents that have selected home learning and there was some review done to that and I don’t believe that commitment was ever operationalized. I am not sure if it would be permissible either. I think that it would be voluntary and I do know that for a few of the parents that have opted for remote learning, there was some initial discussion that I had asking parents to make a commitment for one academic quarter for about nine weeks and most were fine with that. I am just thinking about the near future right now and the opportunity to serve some of our youngest students better in a more developmentally appropriate way. P. Dillon – Rich, to speak to you thing a big, the thinking in if somebody want to go from hybrid to remote they could do that on a dime but if they are going back the other way from remote to hybrid, we kick around the idea of doing at the end of the marking period but we probably need at least a few weeks so we don’t have a yo-yo effect and so we can make arrangement around class sizes, busing and a whole host of other things. The commissioner has encouraged us to try to do those transitions within three to four weeks. I think we are small enough on a case by case basis but there should be an expectation that it doesn’t happen the next day. A. Hutchinson – I think it is great we are getting the youngest kids back in. It is wonderful. S. Bannon – I think this is a really good plan. P. Dillon – I am a little torn whether to vote because I think we need to continue to formally talk with the teachers about it. Would you like to postpone a vote until we have a little more time to bring it up in the context of negotiations or would you like to do it the other way around. S. Bannon – I have no problem waiting until next Thursday to vote on everything. P. Dillon – my sense is there is appreciation for the thoughtfulness of this plan and ultimately there will be one. S. Stephen – yes, let’s keep this going.
- Sub-Committee Reports
- Policy Sub Committee N/A
- Building and Grounds Sub Committee N/A
- Superintendent’s Evaluation Sub Committee N/A
- Technology Sub Committee N/A
- Finance Sub Committee N/A
- District Consolidation & Sharing Sub-Committee N/A
- Personnel Report
- Resignation(s) – P. Dillon – The next two are very thoughtful people. Emily Olds has been with the district for 23 years. She worked in the high school in two different roles and re-invented herself and did some exceptional work as an ESL teacher at Muddy Brook. I want to thank her for all her efforts. She was presented with a really interesting opportunity in Pittsfield so she is taking that opportunity and we support her there and look forward to keeping in touch with her. Amy Shaw has been with us for much less time. She was our Director of Out of School Time and then switched into the role of Director of Learning and Teaching. She was also afforded a really interesting opportunity to be an assistant principal for learning in Pittsfield and she is moving over there. We are relaunching our DOLT search. We have a number of good applicants and we hope to do interviews shortly. I would like to thank them all.
- Retirement – P. Dillon – Jack Cowles had worked with us starting as a paraprofessional and then worked with us in Project Connection for several years. He has announced that he is going to retire effective October 16th. I want to thank him for his work there. Project Connection has been an outstanding program and really impactful on a lot of kids and Jack has contributed quite a lot.
- Extra Curricular Appointment(s)
- Business Operation
- Education News
- Old Business
- New Business
- Public Comment
- Written Communication
MOTION TO ADJOURN – A. POTTER SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 6:49pm
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary