The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in-person on Thursday, March 17. Committee Chair Paula Hatch opened the meeting to public participation and parent Janet Stanford asked to speak regarding the book, “So Far from the Bamboo Grove”. A parent had raised concerns over the content in the book which spurred the creation of a review committee who was to investigate further and make a recommendation to the School Committee. Stanford read the passages in question, which included mention of rape, during the meeting. Stanford, who identified herself as a therapist and former guidance counselor, said there was no warning from a teacher that the students may be reading something troubling. She further said she would have hoped that an alternate book would have been made available to students. Stanford said she felt that the teacher’s response did not address her concerns and only defended the merits of the book. She had similar complaints regarding her conversation with the ELA Director. She did say that her conversation with Middle School Principal Jim Dupille went better but expressed concern that no one had suggested her daughter visit with a guidance counselor. “I understand that not every student is going to be upset by the book, but some may,” Stanford explained. Stanford also said that she was denied the opportunity to be part of the review committee. She also emphasized that while she was not in favor of banning books, she felt that it should be raised to the high school level.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch led the discussion on the review of the novel. He said the review committee was comprised of 11 members including the ELA coordinator, the middle school adjustment counselor, The middle school principal, three members of the School Committee, a middle school parent, a seventh -grade ELA teacher, an eighth-grade teacher, a librarian, and an eighth-grade student. “It was a collaborative positive meeting…we valued participation and everyone’s voice being heard,” Lynch said. “The Review Committee reached a unanimous consensus that “So Far from the Bamboo Grove” is an appropriate instructional resource for the seventh-grade ELA curriculum. The Review Committee recommends that teachers continue to communicate with parents about instructional goals and content being used in class. And the Review Committee reminds families that an alternate text can be offered to a student if needed per the district policy,” Lynch explained to the larger School Committee. Committee member Gordon Laws pointed out that the text could be triggering for students who may have experienced trauma and spoke in favor of parents having the opportunity to review the content ahead of time and select an alternative text if necessary. Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee suggested parents be able to access a syllabus at the start of the school year. The School Committee voted to unanimously support the review committee’s recommendation.
Dupille provided a principal’s report. He said that the Grade 6 orientation was held earlier that week and went very well. Dupille said that 12 of the school’s chorus students were selected to participate in the Junior District Music Festival in Scituate. Dupille also told the Committee about a new tutoring program that brings high school students in to help tutor middle school students who may be struggling in a certain content area. Dupille said that March Madness will be taking place culminating on Friday, March 25 in a pep rally, student vs faculty basketball game, and a dance.
High School Principal Michaela Gill said that the third Credit for Life Fair would be back in-person after being held virtually last year. Gill said the entire junior class would be attending. “I would really like to extend a huge appreciation for our advisors,” Gill said. The Fair teaches students how to make “real life financial decisions.” Gill also said that they kicked off their unified sports at Silver Lake in partnership with Best Buddies and the Special Olympics. She said they would be starting off with a track season this year with a basketball season to be added next year. MCAS have begun for ELA. Math will be in May and science in June. Gill said that the CTE deadline will be April 1 and she told the Committee that nearly 50 percent of the eighth-grade class has applied to be part of CTE. She called it a testament to the program.
Senior Callie MacInnis, who will be studying mechanical engineering in the fall, spoke on behalf of the Student Council. MacInnis said she thought that the inclusion week that the school held went “very well.” She said that individual winter team sports would be having their banquets soon. “The mask optional after break has been going very smoothly in my opinion… the people that do [continue to wear them] don’t get criticism for it which I know was a worry,” MacInnis said. MacInnis also spoke out in favor of the book discussed earlier in the meeting saying that she read and studied it when in seventh grade as well and found it to be appropriate. She also commended the teacher’s communication with students regarding some of the potentially troubling material in the text.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch said that they recently had a professional development day with a focus on social and emotional learning and anti-bias training. Lynch said that 85 percent of the staff responded favorably when surveyed regarding the training.
Superintendent Jill Proulx shared version two of the budget with the Committee, first outlining some of the changes included. She said a middle school leave of absence would result in a $40,000 savings. There were several other small savings. She said that two high school retirements would result in a savings of $55,000. “The budget in front of you… is a net change increase of $2,000,” Proulx said. She continued, “The total budget is an increase of 3.74 percent – an increase of $1,020,066 more than last year.”
She proposed several reductions to fund curriculum coordinators for Grades 7-12 including an arts coordinator for Grades 7-12. Proulx expressed concern for the music programs. “We need to save the music, it’s the reality; the only way we can do that is by being like other elementary schools in our State and in our area by offering instrumental lessons for K-5,” Proulx explained. She also told the Committee that the administration would like to see the assistant principal at the high school restored to a 12-month position. Proulx said that they would also like to see a behaviorist at the middle school at an additional cost of $24,000. If no cuts were made, the additional requests would bring the total increase to 4.068 percent.
Committee member Jason Fraser said he came into the night’s meeting prepared to support the increase of 3.74 percent. He said he would ask the Committee to think about the sustainability of the budget as well as the ramifications of bringing a budget increase over 4 percent to each of the town meetings. Halifax has expressed concern over their inability to support the regional budget. If forced to support it, it would likely mean decimating the Halifax Elementary School budget as it would be the only large town department not already at minimal funding. McGee said that it pained her to pit one town against the other two towns saying it went against the spirit of regionalization. She commended Hatch for getting the tri-town meetings together earlier in the budgetary process. The Committee voted to approve the 3.74 percent increase as presented in version two of the budget with Laws being the one dissenting vote. Fraser stressed that the Committee voted the bottom-line number but said it would be up to the discretion of the Superintendent to determine how to utilize those funds.
Fraser began his legislative update by saying that the Chapter 70 funds were being eroded due to charter school tuitions. He said that just as charter schools reach out to public school students to entice them to transfer, the law also affords public schools that same ability to reach out to charter school students. He suggested that the Committee “commission our administration over the summer… to maybe put together a pamphlet/flyer that they can send out.” He suggested the flyer include mention of the wonderful programs at the various schools. “To show what we have to offer,” Fraser explained.