School Committee Meets Using Technology

This is the new look of committee meetings.

The School Committee open meeting began at 7:05 following an Executive Session. The meeting was conducted using Zoom, a video conferencing tool, in accordance with Governor Baker’s order that elected boards could meet remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Minutes from several previous meetings were unanimously approved.

The School Committee presented its budget to the Finance Committee earlier in the week. Budget Sub-committee Chair Anne-Louise Hanstad reported that the meeting was very productive. The proposed FY21 education budget is $36,598,807 – up 4.73% from FY 20. Talks will continue with the Finance Committee in the coming week.

Plans to conduct a baseline impact survey related to the new school start times may not happen due to the schools being shut for a protracted period. The topic will be discussed at the next Committee meeting – perhaps then there will be a clearer picture of when school might resume.

The Committee unanimously approved Superintendent Jackson’s proposal to use funding from the Student Opportunity Act (MGL Chapter 70) to purchase an English Language Arts curriculum for grades k – 5.

Dr. Jackson provided an update and a request for non-budgeted expenses related to the COVID-19 school closure.

  1. Dr. Jackson requested a total of $21,750 to purchase 75 new Chromebooks and related software (discussion below)
  2. The Superintendent provided an update on HPS staff
  3. He described the Enhanced Learning Opportunities (ELO) program that will implemented for all Holliston students beginning Monday, March 23, 2020.

Following a technology needs assessment conducted by HPS Director of Technology and Digital Learning, Dan MacLeod, it was determined the district needed 75 more Chromebooks to outfit all students and staff for the upcoming distance learning activities. Dr. Jackson found a vendor who could deliver the needed equipment / software on Monday March 23, 2020. After a lengthy discussion the Committee unanimously approved Dr. Jackson’s procurement of the Chromebooks.

Much of the discussion surrounding the purchase was related to gaining a clearer understanding of the reason for more technology – the Enhanced Learning Opportunities activities. A wide-ranging discussion included: what types of activities would be involved, how would teachers / professional staff engage with learners, will new content be part of these exercises?

Dr. Jackson described the ELO as a program to reinforce content / skills already taught, review content to keep it fresh, explore new things, and develop ideas. Also important will be maintaining connectivity between educators and learners and having a cohesive learning structure throughout the shutdown. Jackson feels this approach will ‘find the highest common denominator’ among Holliston’s learning population.

Two virtual professional development days were held on March 19 and 20 to prepare teachers for conducting ELO exercises. E-mails from building Principals and Classroom teachers will be sent out in the coming days.

Decisions regarding back-to-school and year-end will be made in the future once a clearer picture of the virus’ impact is known. Guidance counselors and school psychologists are available to students / parents during the closure. Dr. Jackson assured the Committee that all HPS employees are working from home.

Two reminders from Dr. Jackson: all school fields and playgrounds are closed to discourage public gathering; AND the free meal program being distributed at Miller School is available to ALL families.

Dr. Jackson thanked the Committee for its support through this unprecedented situation.

The Education Collaborative (TEC) – the Committee voted to approve the changes that were sent from the Board of Directors in addition to the approval of having Medway join this Collaborative.

Committee Member Lisa Kocian proposed that the Committee approve a resolution requesting a state-wide shelter in place order be issued to illustrate the severity of this pandemic. The resolution reads; Resolved: “That the Holliston School Committee, out of concern that the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase, calls on Governor Baker to issue a shelter-in-place order for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” The Committee approved the resolution and it has been shared with the Select Board and Holliston Board of Health.

The Committee approved a process for signing warrants during the closure. Mrs. Raffi will be the Committee member who signs the warrants on behalf of the Committee.  Anne Louise Hanstad will be her backup.

The meeting adjourned at 8:52 pm. The Committee will meet next on Thursday, March 26, 2020 to receive a status update from Superintendent Jackson.

Publisher’s note: It seemed appropriate that the committee responsible for learning in Holliston was an early user of this format – demonstrating for others how it works. Also, when I first saw the screen with multiple boxes, I thought I had found an old “Hollywood Squares” episode!

Chris Cain

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