The Silver Lake Regional School Committee meeting on Thursday, Dec. 2 began with celebratory cupcakes from the culinary department in honor of Attorney Fred Dupere’s retirement. “Your dedication, integrity, and work ethic are an inspiration to all of us; your depth of knowledge is truly impressive and beyond comparison,” Superintendent Jill Proulx said. Committee Chair Paula Hatch added, “You’ve helped us through things big and small… you truly are a part of the Silver Lake family.” Dupere’s son Russell will be taking over as school counsel.
Principal Michaela Gill provided the Committee with a Principal’s report. She had to leave the meeting early as she was participating in the school’s play. In her words, her participation included “lines, a costume change, and choreography.”
Gill said she wanted to recognize some fall athletes including Summer Bejarano and Samantha Faherty who participated in the State Cross Country Championship. “Our girls’ soccer team had a historic season making it to the State Championship game for Division II,” Gill told the Committee. The cheerleading team made it to the State Competition where they placed third and had a bid to Nationals. “I would like to thank all of our coaches and athletes,” Gill said. Gill also said that due to low numbers Silver Lake Regional and Whitman-Hanson Regional requested approval from the MIAA to become a cooperative swim team for the 2021-2022 season. Gill said they were granted that approval and noted that they currently have a cooperative girls’ hockey and gymnastics team with Whitman-Hanson and Pembroke respectively. “It actually is a cost savings for our District,” she said.
Gill told the Committee that proposed changes were made to the school dress code to make it less gender specific and less restrictive overall. She noted that hats and boots would no longer be prohibited but said that teachers could still request that students take them off at their discretion. Committee member Summer Schmaling asked Gill to clarify what constitutes hate speech on articles of clothing. “Anything targeted towards a protected group of individuals,” Gill clarified. Committee member Emily Davis said, “I would just say as a former teacher, I think this is fantastic. I think it is going to allow educators to focus on positive relationship building with students as opposed to constantly asking kids to take their hood off or pull their shirt down or pull their pants up. And I think especially coming out of the pandemic when some of those relationships didn’t have the opportunity to flourish the way they usually would.” The Committee voted unanimously to approve the revised dress code.
Gill told the Committee that the school recently donated over $11,000 to Dana Farber as part of the October Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. She said it was the largest donation to date. She also said that Silver Lake was excited to welcome therapy dogs back through a non-profit organization out of Scituate.
Gill said that 10 CTE students recently participated in a Skills U.S.A Leadership Conference. “The students that participated in the Community Engagement Program built picnic tables for the Hopkinton Y.M.C.A.,” Gill said. Some students created a 90 second video with their group that had to meet specific criteria using only the allotted timeframe. Several Silver Lake students won awards in that category as well as others.
Freshman and Student Council Representative to the School Committee Katherine Arnold provided an update to the Committee as well. “Throughout November we did a bunch of fun activities,” she began. She said the junior and senior girls played a flag football game against Pembroke. “We sadly lost the game, but a bunch of donations were made for Toys for Tots,” she told the Committee. She also said they hosted Laker Day which included school-wide Bingo and prizes. A hypnotist show and pep rally were also held in November. A student vs. faculty basketball game will be held just before the holiday break in December and funds will be raised for the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless.
Middle School Principal Jim Dupille began his update saying he would like to welcome Jessica Kennedy, who is the new part-time adjustment counselor at the Middle School. She comes with a great deal of experience. He told the Committee that the teachers won the annual Turkey Bowl this year which Dupille himself participated in as well. He noted that there were over 500 students who attended the event. “That sharing of that day amongst our students and our teachers and our staff – that was kind of a powerful moment,” he explained. He asked the Committee for permission to hold an out of state field trip to Canobie Lake Park. Committee member Jason Fraser said that he has had wonderful experiences dealing with Canobie Lake and said he felt comfortable sending students there. The Committee approved the trip.
Dupille said they have been awarded the Cape Cod Educational Grant for $500 to support the positive behavioral intervention program at the school. The Committee voted to accept the grant.
Dupille said the Holiday Head Start party would be held at Head Start this year on Dec. 22. He said there would be carolers, cookies, and Santa. The Toys for Tots program and Coats for Kids program are both also occurring this month. Student Council will be holding Stockings for Soldiers on Dec.7 through Dec.16 for military serving overseas. The Annual Giving Tree will also be held where staff provide gift cards for needy students and families. The food drive, coordinated by Student Council, was held in November. Dupille said that the winter concert would be held on Dec. 14. Basketball tryouts will be held on Dec. 14, 15, and 16. ‘Twas the Week After Christmas, the school play, will be held on Dec. 11 and 12.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch said that middle and high school students will take a survey this month that the social and emotional learning taskforce will then prepare next steps from after interpreting the data. There was significant conversation and debate amongst the Committee regarding how that data would be dispersed and used and ways in which participants would remain anonymous. “It’s a busy year and we appreciate all the energy that goes into, not only supporting students, but adding on new things and moving forward with new initiatives that are important,” Lynch said.
Superintendent Jill Proulx also provided an update. Proulx said that the vaccination rate for the middle and high schools for students was nearly 58 percent. The high school alone is at 67 percent. For staff at the high school the vaccination rate is nearly 94 percent and at the middle school it is at nearly 81 percent. The middle school’s overall average is nearly 63 percent, and the high school’s overall average is nearly 69 percent. “The cases in the State are, in fact, rising,” Proulx said. Vaccination clinics were held on Dec. 4 and 9 and another will be held on Dec. 18 from 9-12. The Middle School has tested 19 students and the high school has also tested 19 students. “We have fewer students who need to be tested at the secondary level,” she explained. She pointed out that cases are rising steadily at the elementary level. Committee member Emily Davis asked why students exposed at home also couldn’t be made a part of the test and stay program. Currently, students must be exposed in school to be tested through the school. “My understanding is that test and stay is only for school close contacts,” Proulx said.
Schmaling asked if a child was exposed at home but tests negative, could they return to school. She was told that they could test after five days but would need to stay home until seven days had passed post exposure. Hatch argued that if you are exposed at home you are subjected to continuous exposure rather than limited exposure. Fraser told the Committee that the test and stay program has saved over 50,000 days of learning state-wide since its implementation. He said the number is likely closer to 100,000 days as the data has not been checked recently.
Proulx said the next item for discussion was a recommendation from a School Committee member to put on the agenda whether to send a letter to the Department of Education regarding unmasking and the 80 percent vaccination threshold that must be met. “When and if the school were to reach eighty percent, that does not mean that schools are unmasking necessarily,” Proulx explained. She said the decision would need to be made locally. Davis asked if having Covid in the last 90 days would count toward the 80 percent vaccination rate since having Covid in the last 90 days exempts you from having to quarantine post exposure. Proulx said that it only applies to exemption from testing and quarantining post exposure.
Fraser said his greater concern would be dividing the student body along the lines of those that can unmask and those that cannot if and when the schools hit the 80 percent threshold. Fraser said that other options for unmasking were discussed at the state level including looking at the CDC charts regarding transmission at the county level. Davis said, “We’re pretty far from 80 percent at this point and I think it would behoove us to know if there were other off ramps in the making,” she said regarding unmasking. Fraser pointed out that in the latest numbers, Plymouth County is even further away from the CDC’s qualifications for low transmission. Fraser, who serves on the Executive Board of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC), said that he has been and will continue to push for answers to the questions presented during the meeting that night. Attorney Dupere recommended moving in that direction as opposed to sending a letter to DESE.
Proulx provided a District update which included data received as of this point in the school year. Student enrollment in Grades K-6 is up in Kingston by 13 students, down by 5 in Halifax, and up in Plympton by 32 students. For Grades 7-12, Kingston has declined by 16 students, Halifax has declined by 16, and Plympton has declined by 22. Home school enrollment for K-6 has declined since last year. Home school enrollment for Grades 7-12 has increased District-wide by 7 students.
Leslie-Ann McGee said that the school start time subcommittee had been changed to a working group. McGee asked the other School Committee members if they had any input as they begin to more actively explore the issue. Hatch said that it might be best to get members from the other school committees as well as potentially some parents to participate in the working group. Schmaling asked if the intent behind the working group is to change the start times or see if there is interest in the communities to change those times. Davis said that there is a growing body of evidence that changing the start times would be beneficial. McGee said that there is a lot of evidence out there that they should be evaluating but said that polling the parents and staff would also be important. She noted that she does not have any preconceived notions.
Fraser provided a legislative update. He said that Massachusetts State Senate President Karen Spilka delivered a mental health bill that has yet to be passed. It would bring about 2,000 more mental health care workers to the State. Fraser said that certifications in the State can be archaic. “This bill would address some of those issues to streamline the process; it would also create a state database of available beds for mental health treatments,” Fraser explained. He continued saying that last month, Children’s Hospital in Boston said it was taking them an average of 35 days to find an available bed for patients in mental health crisis. He said the bill would also make it harder for insurance companies to deny referrals for mental health care.
“$4,000,000,000 in federal funds have been finally approved; they’re starting to unveil how those funds will be spent,” Fraser said. Unlike others who think they spent too much time deciding how to spend the funds, Fraser said he was grateful for how deliberate the legislature was in taking the time to decide how to spend the one-time funds. He noted that the State took $100,000,000 out that was specifically earmarked for school infrastructure funds. One-hundred billion dollars was taken at the federal level. He said he is going to D.C. in January to meet with their delegation and one of the first things he would ask them to do is work to put that $100,000,000,000 back into a federal infrastructure bill to support aging schools amongst other things.
McGee brought up the stabilization fund that was proposed to be a receptacle for things that would not have to be taken out of E&D. “The tone from the towns has changed tremendously this year,” Fraser said of the fund crediting the work of Committee member Chris Eklund. Eklund said they met with the three towns back in November and received a bit more support for the stabilization fund than what was seen in the spring when it was viewed as “rushed.” He said that version 1 of the capital plan was reviewed earlier that night and noted that the tennis courts were still “kind of a question mark.” He said that it may end up as an article this year as it likely won’t fit into the capital plan.