The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in-person at Silver Lake Regional High School on Thursday, Jan. 13.
High School Principal Michaela Gill went over a revision to the course change policy that pertains to students who request to drop a course or change a level. Gill said the handbook currently states that students cannot request to make such a change from the start of school until the end of the first term. Gill said that historically there have been special considerations made for students. Five years ago, a course change request form was created. Gill said there have been very few times when a request was not granted and noted that decisions were always made in coordination with the parents and the student. Gill asked for approval from the School Committee on the edited level and course change policy. The Committee voted to approve the change.
The Silver Lake Food Service Director Megan Ahrenholz appeared before the Committee to address an offer versus serve (OVS) policy. An OVS allows students to decline a certain number of food components in a reimbursable meal to eliminate some waste and food cost. One of those components must be a half cup of a fruit or vegetable. “It’s something that we’ve always done in practice, we just wanted to have it in writing,” Ahrenholz explained. Committee member Summer Schmaling asked why if a child brings their lunch and just wishes to purchase a milk, they are charged for that milk whereas if they bought the whole meal, it would be free. Schmaling said there was concern that students would take the free lunch and throw away everything but the milk. Ahrenholz said the USDA does not allow a student to receive just the milk for free. “What we found is that most students don’t do that,” she said of students disposing of the entire lunch. The Committee voted to approve the policy before them.
Debate on Canceling Midterm Exams
Student Council representative Connor Doyle addressed the Committee. Doyle said that in December they were able to hold the traditional student versus staff basketball game. He said that they were able to raise over $850 worth of nonperishable food items to be donated to the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless. “As for this month, the major talking point with Student Council and around the student body is, of course, the mid-year exams coming up,” Doyle told the Committee. He said that the Student Council Executive Board had sent out a survey asking if the exams should go on as previously scheduled due to the state of the pandemic. He said the resounding answer was no. The proposal to cancel the exams was put before the School Committee. Gill said that the previous Thursday, 20 percent of students were absent most of which were due to COVID. “We are proposing that midterm exams not be counted as 20 percent of the semester grade and that instead of traditional mid-year assessments we use that time to prioritize instruction and provide academic support for students who are in need,” Gill told the Committee.
“I’m really struggling with this,” Schmaling said while acknowledging that she was sympathetic and saying that her own daughter came home in tears over the upcoming exams. “The real world doesn’t stop because all of this madness is going on,” Schmaling said. She continued, “My fear is that we are not adequately preparing our juniors and our seniors for college, when they go to college and they say tough cookies, the midterm exam is on this day, you better be prepared for it… are we setting up our kids for failure by essentially babying them right now.” Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee said, “I’m in complete agreement with Summer.” McGee confirmed with Gill that the last two years there were no final exams. She said that she was hopeful that would not happen again this year. “I can see this as a special circumstance so I’m sort of inclined to approve it,” McGee said while thanking Doyle for sharing their findings with the Committee. “I worry about the resiliency,” Committee member Emily Davis said while saying that she was still likely in favor of the proposal. She also told Gill that didn’t believe that, even in normal times, an exam should account for 20 percent of a total grade. “We’re not going to beat a horse when it’s down; that’s not going to build resiliency,” Gill said. Schmaling asked if the exam could count for a lesser percentage. Gill said that they would leave it to the teacher’s discretion to still hold the assessment albeit one that would not count for such a large percentage of a student’s grade. Despite the debate, the Committee did vote to approve the proposal.
Gill said that Term 3 began on January 24 and report cards were issued digitally on January 28 through parent square. “I often say that it is easy to watch the news or scroll social media and lose sense of the good around us… which is why I’m thankful to be part of a school community that regularly restores my faith in humanity,” Gill told the Committee. She said that in addition to the nonperishable food items that were donated as a result of the student/staff basketball game, the Red Cross Club packed over 10 large trash bags full of new or gently used coats, etc. to be donated to local shelters. She said that the National Honor Society hosted a holiday luncheon for staff as well. Students in the Project Lead the Way Program have been going to the elementary schools to share engineering skills and a general love of learning.
Gill said the original venue for the senior prom on May 20 was in Boston where vaccinations would be required. She said that they were able to find a different venue, the Wychmere Beach Club in Harwich, on May 26 that would not require vaccination. She said that the red carpet will take place as usual assuming there are no changes from DESE before then. There will be no junior prom moving forward. Schmaling said she had heard that some parents may organize one and Gill said that it would be a non-school sponsored event. Gill said in December they awarded the Silver Stars Drama Club with recognition for upholding the school’s core values including inclusivity.
Middle School Principal Jim Dupille began his update saying that parent teacher conferences will be held on February 2 and 3 with the first day being reserved for virtual meetings. He said that the night the school will be singing at the Providence Bruins game had to be rescheduled to February 11 due to a recent snowstorm. The school talent show will be on February 15. The Geography and History Bee will be back after a brief hiatus. Dupille requested permission from the Committee to bring back the trips to New York City and the Kennedy Space Center next year. The Committee approved both trips. Schamling said she did not want to approve a trip to New York where some students would be excluded due to vaccination status but Dupille assured her he would not purse the trip if those restrictions were still in place.
Superintendent Jill Proulx provided a district update. She introduced the new Attorney Russell Dupere who is the son of retiring Fred Dupere. She said that families were recently sent updated COVID guidance with the most significant piece being the shortened isolation period – from ten days to five. She also said that the mask requirement would be extended until February 28 when it will be revisited by DESE.
Proulx provided the Committee with a preliminary budget. She said that both Principal Gill and Principal Dupille were asked to create a level service budget which would include only what was necessary to maintain current staffing and programs. She said the total increase in this version of the budget was 3.74 percent. Proulx, who went over some highlights, said that there was more than a 21 percent increase in special education transportation. “We are suffering from a lack of vendors right now due to the pandemic,” Proulx said of the increase. Proulx told the Committee that payroll and benefits represent 82 percent of the total budget. She said that two known retirements represent a savings of approximately $130,000 potentially. There is an increase in the technology/hardware line that was moved from the capital plan to the operating budget.
Proulx turned the presentation over to the principals to speak to significant increases and decreases. Gill said that there were decreases in athletic transportation. The most notable increase is related to textbook and staffing. She said there was an ask of $23,000 for equipment that is “dying or dead” including a treadmill and a piano. She asked that the Assistant Principal position be brought back from a 10 month to a 12-month position. She asked the same of the outdoor custodian position. These changes would represent $13,000 and $8,000 increases respectively.
Dupille also spoke to notable increases including bringing in guest speakers and replacing equipment such as copiers. He said that the textbook line would be $40,000 less than the previous year. There is another $6,000 in savings for software. Dupille said he would like to expand the school’s athletic offerings to match what is available in surrounding school districts. He said that close to 90 percent of parents and students surveyed said they would like to see more athletic offerings. He said he is asking for a number of small increases that make a big impact including having class advisors and a school newspaper. Dupille said the school is also looking for a special education reading specialist and a change from a part-time to a full-time adjustment counselor.
Proulx spoke about some additional needs. She said that two of the district’s elementary schools were two of the only schools in the surrounding area not to offer instrumental instruction by Grade 5. Proulx said that a possible consideration in the budget would be the addition of a fine and performing arts instructional leader at the K-12 or 7-12 level. She also said that a curriculum coordinator for Grades 7-12 or an assistant special education coordinator for elementary and secondary might also be needed. She said that a content area specialist for English as a secondary language might also be considered. Committee member Chris Eklund recommended hiring from within to allow for costs savings. McGee recommended choosing one or two positions for this year. “Because I think financially it’s going to be a big hit,” she explained. Committee member Eric Crone said that it may be necessary to cut from other areas to make room in the budget for these additions. He also pointed out that there could be additional federal money coming. Proulx asked that the Committee also consider an additional shared costs computer technician and a human resource director for the district.
Committee Chair Paula Hatch said, “we run a really big district with a really lean administrative team.” She emphasized the importance of doing the most possible for the students while still supporting the administration and considering the needs requested by them. Schmaling spoke to the dire situation faced by Halifax saying that departments were asked to level fund not level service.
Silver Lake Education Association President Jon Lay spoke to the Committee. “I would like to advocate for a couple of things… one is the middle school special ed position; I really think it is key.” He also advocated strongly for the music program emphasizing the importance of having band at the elementary levels. Currently, Halifax and Plympton do not have instrumental instruction at the elementary level.
Eklund provided an update on SAFER saying that they have had several successful tri-town meetings. He said they are trying to find a way for the towns to support their efforts for upgrades to the HVAC system using ARPA funds. Eklund said that the cost for air conditioning at the high school and middle school would be $1.55 milion dollars. Eklund said that on such a large project, the towns would be able to overspend their ARPA fund allotment while waiting for the next round of funding. Eklund made a motion that they allow the Silver Lake School District to expend the $29,150 for plan design if it is available through the funds allocated from the State House through Kathy LaNatra’s prior bill. The Committee voted to approve the motion.
Eklund said they talked about the district stabilization funds saying they would likely open them via an article at the various town meetings. He told the Committee they weren’t making much progress on the need for upgrades to the tennis courts. Much debate was had over the state of the courts and McGee said she certainly understood the need for equity amongst the different sports’ facilities saying that some were excellent while others, such as the courts, were on their last legs.
Eklund also said that they completed a $30,000 preliminary feasibility study for a new admin building.
The public budget hearing and joint meeting of all the school committees is on Feb. 10.