The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in-person on Thursday, April 7. Superintendent Jill Proulx spoke about anti-bias training that is taking place at the Middle School to support anti-bullying, respect, and fostering a welcoming community for all. She said that a similar program will be rolled out at the High School using a peer mentoring model. Proulx said that a representative from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) would be leading it.
Committee member and Halifax Elementary School Committee Chair Summer Schmaling clarified that students would have the ability to choose whether they wanted to be a peer mentor but not whether they participated in the program as a recipient of that mentorship. She said, “Hanover has this programming, and it is to the point where there is no escaping it; it is being jammed down these kids’ throats… these peer mentors… it’s not as nice as it sounds; it’s a very aggressive campaign, if you will.” She said she does not want the ADL in Silver Lake’s schools. She said she feared the environment would become “toxic” and “poisonous.” She said she wanted parents to know when the programming would be taking place so parents could pull their children from it. Proulx pointed out that the Attorney General is partnering with the program. “Look at our Attorney General,” Schmaling said. Proulx said that opting out of assemblies would present a problem due to a lack of adequate staffing. “So, for some people this organization is racist, anti-police, and driven by hate,” Schmaling said after being told by Committee Chair Paula Hatch that the Committee was not in the habit of vetting material used by school clubs. Hatch said she participated in the anti-bias training herself and called it “very benign… not in the least bit abrasive or antagonistic.” “These parents are bull, and they are rising up in the hundreds and speaking out against it,” Schmaling said of parents in other communities where the programming was being implemented.
“I’m uncomfortable with the pre-judging prior to it happening,” Committee member Emily Davis told Schmaling. She continued that she found Schmaling’s attitude disrespectful to the administrators and community. Schmaling was asked to stop interrupting while Davis was trying to voice her opinions. Davis used the example of the Gay-Straight Alliance as being potentially polarizing but pointed out that it was a safe space for many. “Being exposed to things that make us uncomfortable or that are different opinions is necessity for us to be able to build bridges and have meaningful conversations,” Davis said. “I think this club presents the perfect opportunity for students that have very different opinions and very different ideas and ideologies to be able to have those conversations in a safe and supportive community and I think, in my opinion, that is the very purpose of an education,” Davis said.
Schmaling remained heated saying the programming was driven by a political agenda. She went on to say that she took issue with children being taught that they are inherently racist and privileged because of the color of their skin.
There was a debate on whether to create a standing committee to review texts when concerns are brought up regarding specific texts included as part of the Grade 7 through 12 curriculums. A committee was recently formed to provide a recommendation on the title, So Far from the Bamboo Grove after a parent raised concerns about the appropriateness of the text. Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee said that she felt it would benefit everyone involved if there was more transparency in general regarding the syllabi for various courses. High School Principal Michaela Gill said that syllabi should be posted per policy.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch said he was asked to investigate how best to address concerns arising over specific texts. “There are policies around… reconsideration of instructional materials,” he said. He said that ideally, concerns should first be addressed with the classroom teacher. If questions remain, an additional meeting with the coordinator or principal would follow to see if the concerns could be addressed or an alternative text provided. The final step would be for the Committee to consider if the resource should be changed. Schmaling said she fears that concerns are not raised early enough for a parent to intervene before a child is exposed to what some may consider inappropriate. Schmaling said that she would prefer that a syllabus be provided in hardcopy format as opposed to being posted on an app. Hatch agreed.
Schmaling was personally concerned with the text, The Perks of Being a Wallflower which is part of the 11th grade program of studies. Committee member Gordon Laws gave an impassioned argument that while the subjects broached in the book are uncomfortable, they are meant to be, and they are in line with the real-life experiences of students in the age range that are reading the text. He did say, however, “If Summer does not want her daughter to read that, I fully support her right to say, ‘you’re not going to read that.’”
Student Council representative to the School Committee Callie MacInnis spoke up saying she was in agreement with Laws. “It is a very uncomfortable topic, but I think it is necessary to know at that age… it’s something that you should know… I think it is better to read it in a setting of a book, which you know is fictional,” she explained. Hatch said to MacInnis, “you are a wonderful asset and I enjoy having you here as I think the rest of the Committee does; you are meaningful in what you say.” She continued, “One of the reasons I continue to enjoy my experience on this Committee is because we can have honest, intelligent, thoughtful, meaningful conversations – everybody here tonight played their role in it, and I want to thank you; this was a robust discussion and we hashed out an uncomfortable subject and came to some reasonable thoughts.”
The Committee voted to accept a donation from a resident to aid in paying off any unpaid meal debt for students. Committee member Jason Fraser said that there was a bi-partisan bill at the federal level to extend through September 2023 the federal free meals program. “There’s bills at the State level and the Federal level right now trying to work on making the current way we are doing lunch a permanent fixture,” Fraser explained.
Middle School Principal Jim Dupille gave an update on the students that went to the Regional History Bee. Two of the students made it beyond the regional and have qualified for the national academic competition in Orlando. “Congratulations to all of our students that have participated,” Dupille said. Superintendent Jill Proulx thanked Dupille for his 11 years of service to the district as he is leaving. She said that they will begin interviews as early as the last week in April. She said they hoped to be able to make an appointment by the end of May. Silver Lake Education Association (SLEA) President Jon Lay read several tributes to Dupille’s tenure at the Middle School from a number of faculty members. Many praised him for his professionalism and his family first attitude.
Gill asked the Committee to consider changing the way the second semester grades are calculated. She said that final exams are currently calculated to account for 20 percent of the final grade. “We think this is a bit excessive for a student’s final grade to rest so heavily on one form of assessment,” Gill said. She continued, “What we would like to do instead… is to create two equal terms for three and four at fifty percent, the final assessment or project that is done in the class be part of the term four grade which traditionally has more interruptions than the rest of the school year anyway…that would allow teachers to continue to have the autonomy to assign their final exam… or learning based project… seniors with an A minus or better would still have the opportunity to be exempt from their final exams but, again, I think it would alleviate some stress for kids.” “I think it’s a great solution; I would love to make it permanent,” Fraser said. Other Committee members spoke out against the proposal citing fears that students would not be prepared for future endeavors including college. McGee said that her own child, who went through Silver Lake schools, was struggling in college due to not having the rigor usually required in their last two years of high school during the pandemic. “I’m going to vote no on this and it’s not because I don’t’ respect what you and your staff have done to come up with this; I just don’t think it’s the optimal solution,” McGee said. The proposal passed during the Committee vote though several members voted against it. The change would only affect this year.
Gill told the Committee that students have been engaging in a number of endeavors to support the people of Ukraine. Efforts have included students in the Allied Health group collecting medical supplies and the Red Cross Club have been creating educational and awareness materials to share with their classmates. Gill said the Woman Empowerment Club held their first annual woman in the workforce career fair. Gill also said that all the junior and senior CTE students took the 10-hour OSHA certification earlier this month. The Senior Theatre Independent Study hosted SL Idol. It was the first time the event was able to be held in several years.
MacInnis also shared some recent updates with the Committee. MacInnis said that the spring sports were off to a successful start in addition to unified sports which is a partnership with the Best Buddies program. She said that pins could be purchased to support a day of silence for the LGBTQ+ community. MacInnis also said that the National Honor Society (NHS) would be partnering with the Middle School for their tutoring program. She also said that several drives were going on in the school including one for an animal shelter and a food drive to support the Pilgrim Area Collaborative.
Administrator of Special Education Marie Grable spoke to the Committee regarding a special education review that takes place every three years by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to monitor student outcomes. She said that of the 36 areas reviewed, only one fell outside the implemented category. This pertained to procedures used to provide services to eligible students enrolled in private school at private expense. She said that since it was only partially implemented, they now must provide a plan to correct it. Grable said, “Every school has an obligation to locate and evaluate students with disabilities that are either home schooled or enrolled in private school at parent expense… private schools located within a school’s boundaries, so for us we are looking at Sacred Heart School in Kingston. The districts are to calculate and spend a proportionate share of the Federal Special Education IDEA fund to provide equitable special education services to the eligible students.” She said there were 4 students attending Sacred Heart and 6 that are homeschooled. She said they must engage in meaningful conversation with these students’ families and schools to discuss what, if any, funding would help to ensure that these students obtain equitable services.
Grable explained to the Committee the difference between a unilateral placement by a family versus a team decision to send a child to a different school. Grable said a unilateral placement is one where a family would decide to send a student with a disability to a district outside of Silver Lake. In this case, Silver Lake would have conversations with the family regarding implications of that decision. “When we have a student in our system here that we are feeling we cannot meet their special education needs… then we do seek to find an appropriate out of district placement for that child.”
During the Chairman’s Report, Hatch said she was contacted by Hanson Selectman Jim Hickey regarding a subcommittee on the feasibility of de-regionalization. Hatch said they are considering de-regionalizing from Whitman and wanted insight on how things were handled when Pembroke left Silver Lake. She also said that they expressed interest in potentially joining Silver Lake. Hatch said, “this is very early on, and it may not come to anything.”