Short Agenda, Long Night for School Committee

With updates on two old business items and four new business items and on their Thursday night agenda, the School Committee met until 10:49 PM, with much discussion and many items carried over to next week. 

Chair Stacey Raffi opened the remote meeting shortly after 7 and began with a reminder of a Zoom panel presentation, “Let’s Talk About Pandemic Parenting—Part 2,” on Tuesday, May 19, 7:00-8:30 PM.  Holliston Public Schools, HPS SEPAC and HPS MindsShare sponsor the presentation.  (Click for information)

Dr. Brad Jackson, Superintendent, updated the Committee on School Start Times Implementation.  He mentioned that all staff are “on the same page moving forward” concerning start times.  In a general COVID 19 update, Jackson introduced Adams Middle School principal, David Jordan, to speak about student participation in remote live sessions at Adams.  An analysis of feedback data has resulted in adjustments that will decrease the number of students per session and increase the number of live sessions.  These adjustments have led to an increase in student participation.

Members of the Committee brought forward concerns, such as student isolation and anxiety and the quantity of choice in assignments.  Jordan remarked that another phase of remote learning is planned with “more live instruction, more focus, and clear guidance.”  “The survey data helps us make incremental changes and modifications,” said Jordan.  The committee requested more follow-up data from Jordan.

Jackson said that he and the Administrative Council are working on a plan for reopening schools.  He and Peter Botelho, Assistant Superintendent, attended a New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) seminar concerning the topic of reopening. Additionally, he said, Massachusetts is planning at the State level “Return to School Working Group,” about restarting and recovery. 

Jackson expects statewide guidance in mid- to late-June, and recommended that planning wait until the guidance comes.  “The State Department of Health will be involved as well.”  Jackson continued,” The brainstorming both local and Statewide is driven at a pace …the virus will allow.” 

Raffi asked for the educators’ perspective regarding the “snail’s pace” that guidance is to be given.  She said, “Administrators, teachers, students, parents, need their voice in it.  They need to hear from the first three floors, not just the ivory tower.  We should make this about us as a district.”

Dawn Naborsky said that parents and others on a task force could provide “a broad range of insights.  The community would like to be a part of this task force for the next few months.”  Others echoed her sentiment. 

Jackson said he would work toward “developing options and have them ready so that when the State guidance arrives, we can align ours to the State guidance or directives…In my professional judgment, …[a task force] is premature.  It would slow down the process…The Senior Administrative Team is spending time working out concerns of various scenarios, moving at the pace it needs to. Putting scenarios on the table is just window dressing, it’s not going toward problem solving.”

Botelho remarked that the team is putting in hundreds and hundreds of hours and “it can’t afford inefficiencies.  We’re at a point where I’m concerned.  We need to be as efficient as possible.”  Jackson said that information would be communicated to building principals “before a plan is in place and after the State guidance.  Then we can focus on one scenario.”

Much discussion followed the return of fees agenda item.  Budget sub-committee chair Anne Louise Hanstad presented the criteria used for making its recommendations (see graphic below): 

The criteria involve an assessment of the services delivered during the shutdown, the expense incurred, the savings realized, and the resulting refund.  In total, the district saved approximately $18,000 in busing due to COVID19 school closings.  Using these criteria, Hanstad said a refund of $20.46 per rider (with a maximum of 3 per family) was the total saved by the district.  No refund would be given to those who did not pay for the service.  No vote was taken.

A brisk discussion of refunds for Pre-Kindergarten and Full-day Kindergarten ensued.  Jackson recommended the School Committee not refund, despite the fact that “the impact on families is understandable.”  The decision to refund fees was tabled.  The Committee decided that the entire refund discussion would be continued next week. 

Hanstad reviewed three capital items for the Spring Town Meeting warrant: $125,000 to repair the Miller School roof, $500,000 to replace the turf of Kamitian Field, and $400,000 in technology items.  The sub-committee’s recommendation was to approve the Miller roof and defer the turf and technology until the fall Town Meeting.  The SC voted to approve these recommendations.

Hanstad reported that she had met with the Select Board this week to discuss changes to their capital policy, especially the “unworkable timeline,” but also “to amend gender references.”  Cynthia Listewnek commented, “It’s the Select Board policy and we can suggest, but we can’t change it.  I’m uncomfortable.”  The Committee decided to get counsel from Andy Waugh, lawyer for the School Committee.

Dawn Naborsky proposed changes to the 2020-21 School Calendar.  She requested the Committee consider moving the first day to school up one week and moving some Professional Development time to “optimize time having the kids in the building” due to this school year’s closures.  This item will be discussed at next week’s meeting.

Raffi announced she had paid a school bill for $126,695.11.  The next session of the SC will be an Executive session on May 18, at 4 PM.  The next open meeting is Thursday, May 21, at 7:00 PM. 

Yvette Cain

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