The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in person on Thursday, Sept. 8.
Committee Chair Paula Hatch read a statement she prepared regarding recent incidents of bullying within the school district. “We’ve seen more incidences since Covid, whatever we can do to assist in helping to reduce the number of incidences… do we have students that are comfortable playing a role being a student that you can come to if you are being bullied?” She said she feels strongly that the School Committee play more of an active role in trying to reduce bullying in the schools. Superintendent Jill Proulx said that a number of steps have been taken in the last few years to attempt to curb bullying. “We’re working with our high school to consider new student-led opportunities,” she explained. One suggestion was made that a taskforce be created to address issues of bullying.
“We have a very divided community on some of the cultural things here at the school and some of it may be feeding into and swinging the pendulum the wrong way inadvertently,” Hatch said. Silver Lake Regional High School Principal Michaela Gill got emotional saying, “When we cross that threshold, we have to set aside our personal and political beliefs, but we all have to have the shared fundamental belief that every child belongs in our school and if you cannot support that on the School Committee, I’m not sure this is the place for you.” Committee member Jason Fraser concurred saying, “we also see it in the discourse amongst adults in our own communities; the children learn from their homes first, we are their first teachers and I really think it is incumbent upon the adults in our three communities to check themselves – check the rhetoric and remember that the children are listening.” Hatch ended the discussion saying that she would like to see them take it up again at their next meeting and perhaps come up with some ideas that allow them to be part of the solution.
Director of Career and Technical Programs Elliott Glass attended to speak about the selection for outdoor service projects. “The program is obviously a live work, learning based program that puts our students outside to work on a real, hands-on project that has a pretty awesome outcome,” Glass explained. He said that students have to be in the program for two years before being allowed to work off site. “We use a work request form… the biggest factor that we are looking at is the curriculum, and so we have a mission and a job to provide state frameworks to our students in a carpentry program,” Glass explained. He continued, “we consider differences between residential requests and municipal requests to town buildings.” Some recent projects include Pope Tavern’s roof, stairs and landings at the Plympton Fire Department, the dumpster area at Kingston Senior Center, Handicap accessible benches at Gray’s Beach, etc. A Committee member asked about advertising and Glass said they are limited in what they can do with that but said that a detached two-car garage in Kingston was recently completed. Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee said she still felt that the criteria for selection was still unclear and said she would like to see it be more need-based. Glass said that after speaking with other vocational directors he didn’t receive a single other response saying that need was considered when selecting a project. Glass said the waters could get muddied and said he was not interested in making that a criterion.
“As you probably know, we have had growing numbers and a big influx of students last year that applied… it was over 50 percent of the 8th grade population that submitted a CTE application; as those numbers have gone up there are some other factors at play; we’ve always been able to tuition in some Pembroke students that are part of our budget,” Glass explained. Someone asked Glass the state assigned tuition rate for students from Pembroke and was told this year’s number is $11,000.
Glass, who called Pembroke a really great partner to them, said that they filled all of their seats this year with in-district applicants as the demand was so great. Glass said that Pembroke was asking if something could be done to ensure that some seats would be available for Pembroke students. “I do think there could be a mutually beneficial agreement in something like this,” Glass said. “We do need to offset that number with the extra Chapter 74 funding we get for each pupil of our own that goes into CTE programming which is about $4,700 above Chapter 70 so we have to subtract that away from what we get from Pembroke to understand the true revenue implications,” Committee member Jason Fraser said of the out-of-district tuition.
Camp Norse School Approval
Hatch said that Camp Norse had approached the Committee looking for approval for the school that is offered there. Superintendent Jill Proulx had asked for a list of resources from Camp Norse so that they could review and vet them before the meeting. Hatch said materials were received just before midnight the night before and that they would need to go back to Camp Norse to tell them that they didn’t have enough time to digest the material. She said they would tell Camp Norse that they would review before their next meeting and decide at that time.
Charter School Discussion
A discussion was had based on limiting access to charter schools including Math Academy which sought to expand into Silver Lake. “Every time we lose a student to a charter school, the money travels with the student… we’ve seen an uptick over the years with students going to a charter school and it does hurt… and then there’s the financial burden that goes along with that,” Hatch explained. “A million dollars every single year from Halifax, Plympton, Kingston goes to paying charter school tuitions from the Silver Lake budget, that’s four percent of our budget,” Fraser said. Both McGee and Committee member Gordon Laws spoke about the nuanced discussion that needed to take into account both the negative consequences for the school district as well as parents’ need for choice. They did agree to craft a letter expressing that they were not in favor of charter schools expanding further into the district.
Municipal Representatives in Collective Bargaining
Proulx said that towns were invited to elect municipal representatives for collective bargaining purposes. Halifax Selectman Jonathan Selig and Kingston Town Administrator Keith Hickey were there to garner more information. Proulx said they had yet to hear back from someone from Plympton. Hickey said he wasn’t comfortable being the representative without having the go ahead from his Board of Selectmen. Selig said that given the day-to-day responsibilities of being the only Selectman in Halifax, he didn’t feel comfortable committing to being the municipal representative.
Silver Lake Regional High School Principal Michaela Gill provided an update for the Committee. She said that they are joining with many organizations including Mass General in a program called, “I Decide.” The program is to provide financial support and resources for students who may have substance abuse issues.
Gill said she had an unconventional out of state field trip request for the music program. She said two proposals were on the table. The first to perform in Disney in Orlando and the second was for New York. Gill said they planned to allow families to vote for the preferred trip and then begin fundraising from there.
New Middle School Principal Becky Couet also provided a Principal’s Report. She began by asking for permission for an out-of-state field trip on Oct. 28 for the chorus to sing at the Providence Bruins. “They’ve done this in the past in the spring, but our beloved music teacher Sandee Brayton is retiring in December, and we want to make sure that she gets to go,” Couet explained.
Couet said they have a Robotics Club but due to covid there was no fee the last two years. She said that to participate in competitions, teachers were asking for a $75 fee for students to participate. The Committee voted to approve the fee.
Superintendent and Assistant Update
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch spoke briefly about goals for the new school year. “With curriculum as our focus, one of our professional development days is devoted toward providing staff with time to collaborate together and make progress on having a standard aligned Pre-K through 12 curriculum.” He also said that they had a professional development day that past week focusing on inclusive practices.
Superintendent Proulx began her update saying that Massachusetts will provide universal free meals this year. Regarding Covid, Proulx said that universal masking and testing requirements are no longer recommended. She did note that those who continue to mask will be supported in that decision.
Proulx discussed student learning goals for MCAS testing. She said that having 70 percent of students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations by 2024, was a goal.
Hatch addressed the regional agreement calling it a living document that was changed periodically. Fraser made a motion to start the process to review the regional agreement. The Committee voted to do so unanimously.
Standing Committees Reports
SLEA President Jon Lay addressed the Committee saying he appreciated the conversation that was had regarding both bullying and charter schools. He said that everyone was excited to start the school year fairly normally for the first time since 2019. He said there was huge turnover with paraprofessionals this year. “By my calculations we have at least 25 percent turnaround this year with paraprofessionals,” he told the Committee. He reiterated that the rates being paid by Silver Lake are 8 percent below the median of the local area.
Fraser began the legislative update saying, “we saw a 6.4 percent increase from the State of Massachusetts here in Silver Lake I know that the burden often feels like it is on the towns to support the schools, the State really came through in a big way for us this year.” He said that the free lunch program currently being funded through the State, should ideally be a federal program and the hope is still that it will be adopted as such.
Regarding SAFER, Fraser said that the first tri-town meeting will be at 5 p.m. on Dec. 1. He said that quite a few town officials will be participating in the meeting. Fraser also said that the Driver’s Ed program is currently offered at $650 which is lower than the typical fee of surrounding schools. Fraser asked the Committee to increase the fee for the program from $650 to $700, in part to pay for a new vehicle that is needed.
Fraser told the Committee about the Neptune Gametime Player which is a subscription that vets music that is selected by students for warmups during athletics. This would ensure that the music that is played is appropriate. There is potential for advertisements to be played over the program which would help offset the cost of the subscription.
The surveying for the tennis courts is done and the hope is to get the project out to bid by January.
Before adjourning, Hatch thanked McGee who will be leaving the School Committee. “One of the things I have really enjoyed working with you these last few years is you are not afraid to put a different idea out there, a different thought… it’s meaningful, it’s well thought through and many times it has put us in a different direction.” McGee received a rousing round of applause.