The Halifax School Committee met in-person on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. A member of the public asked to speak during the public participation portion of the meeting regarding Chair Summer Schmaling’s request during the previous meeting to form a subcommittee to review curriculum. “Isn’t there a position held by someone in the District to work on and understand curriculum?” they began. They continued, “You gave an example of a writing prompt regarding the Christopher Columbus holiday as a reason for you to look at the curriculum. You were aware of the whole assignment, correct? That it was an opinion piece, and the students were able to state their own opinion?” They concluded, “Finally, I am greatly concerned with your statement about School Committee members being on opposite sides of the spectrum – I am not sure what spectrum to which you are referring; I have heard you state that you were one of the more conservative members of the Committee. Please be more clear in what you mean as the School Committee is not supposed to be elected based on your party affiliation.”
School Committee member Karyn Townsend spoke as a parent rather than as a Committee member regarding the assignment in question in which students were asked to write about Columbus Day. She said that after requesting further information about said assignment, she found out that it was a “persuasive essay” and said that samples of writings were provided from those stating that Columbus Day should be celebrated as well as those that felt that it should not. “Just as a fellow concerned parent, I just wanted to make sure that we were aware of what the actual prompt was that was given,” Townsend ended her statement.
A member of the public asked Schmaling if the meetings of the Curriculum subcommittee that was facing so much scrutiny would be publicly posted. She was told that an answer could not be given at that time but that they would try to have one by the next School Committee meeting.
Still another member of the public, who said he has been working in public safety for many years, also asked to address the School Committee, this time regarding school safety and security. He said he is part of a team that creates plans to address things like active shooters. He implored the Committee to read the aftermath report regarding a recent school shooting. He left the Committee with a packet that he said might be best read during Executive Session.
Superintendent Jill Proulx told the Committee, “the Mass. Association of Superintendents has sent out a memo regarding Juul Vape litigation… the case seeks to hold Juul and other companies producing vaping products financially responsible for enticing adolescents to begin vaping and for the resulting harm to young people because vaping impacts the educational environment, the plaintiffs seek damages for school systems in the form of vape detectors and curriculum.” The case is scheduled for trial in San Francisco in November. Participation requires a vote from the School Committee. “Education is always the best way to curb behaviors,” Committee member Lauren Laws said regarding her opinion on participating in the lawsuit. Laws said that while it isn’t really an issue in the elementary school it certainly is in the middle and high schools. She stressed the importance of educating the students starting from an earlier age. Asked if she had an opinion on the issue, Superintendent Proulx said that it was hard for her to say without having access to what the curriculum would entail. After some discussion, the Committee voted to participate.
Reports were given for the standing committees. For Youth and Recreation it was reported that fall and winter basketball will be starting the last week in October for girls and shortly thereafter for boys. The school is looking for two more bids for the tennis courts project. It was also reported that after school programs are at capacity. There is hope that an after-school art program would be starting soon.
Townsend reported that the PTO discussed the continued need for a school psychologist. Another update from the PTO was that the Halifax Teacher’s Association was looking forward to holding the Family Fun Night this year. A representative from the Boosterthon attended the most recent PTO meeting to provide an update on the curriculum. Townsend said that some parents expressed concern regarding the need for more social and emotional learning. She said, “the social and emotional learning for the Boosterthon by the PTO was lessons about gratitude, stewardship, bravery, perseverance, and wonder and then I did ask the Boosterthon rep as well as administration to make sure they shared all relevant materials with parents.” A bookfair will be held in October and the Mingle and Jingle in December.
Principal Kayne Beaudry provided a Principal’s report. He gave an update on the after-school program saying that an art program was “in the works” and that they were also looking to get a S.T.E.M. program up and running as well. Beaudry said that current enrollment is at 561. “We had open house on September 8. It was a great turnout, we had great weather – lots of positive feedback from families and staff,” he told the Committee. He said that the Boosterthon raised just over $30,000. He also said that October is Bullying Prevention Month and noted that students and staff work on lessons focusing on refusing, reporting, and recognizing bullying as part of the social and emotional curriculum.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch provided an update on MCAS testing. He said that State-wide, math scores were improved while English Language Arts (ELA) scores were declining slightly for Grades 3 and 4 while they were improving slightly for Grades 5 and 6. Science scores were up a little bit. “DESE [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] commented on how much student absenteeism remains a challenge across the Commonwealth,” Lynch said. Regarding Halifax specific results, Lynch said, “58 percent of our students in Grades 3-6, they met or exceeded State expectations.” Halifax performed better than the State average in both ELA and math. Lynch said that the greatest decline in performance for Halifax was in math. Regarding science, Lynch said, “our students did particularly well in Halifax with 67 percent of students in Grade 5 meeting or exceeding expectations compared with 42 percent State-wide.”
Principal Kayne Beaudry spoke to what next steps will be taken to ensure continued improvement in Halifax on the MCAS testing. He said they have tiered supports for literacy that are in the works. He also thanked the Committee for supporting a full-time math interventionist.
Proulx said that principals have been asked to start soliciting input from their staff to build their budgets. She further said that principals have been provided with an outline requesting that they include “an overview of how their requests align with strategies for district improvement and school improvement goals, budgeting priorities for the upcoming year and the rationale, staffing including current class sizes and anticipated class sizes, requests for additional staffing and rationale, if necessary, etc.” Proulx also asked that the School Committee start thinking about their priorities for the FY24 budget. She outlined the budget timeline saying that the budget is typically approved by the School Committee by March ahead of the May town meetings.
Regarding assessments, Proulx said that Halifax’s Silver Lake percentage remains the same for this coming year, but their shared costs assessment has gone down by nearly 2 percentage points.
Before adjourning, Schmaling reminded everyone that November 14 would be the next School Committee Meeting and a joint School Committee meeting with the rest of the District would be held on December 1.