The Halifax School Committee held their close-out meeting for the year on July 1. Principal Kayne Beaudry gave an update on some of the end of school activities. Beaudry said that the pickup of student materials was done by homeroom and social distancing was practiced. “It was super smooth…I can’t thank everyone that chipped in enough,” Beaudry said.
Halifax Elementary also held a graduation that was similar to the senior auto parade. Beaudry said that students received certificates and swag bags. The Halifax Police and Fire departments assisted and Superintendnet Jill Proulx attended. Beaudry said that despite the oppressive heat the event went well.
According to Beaudry, reopening plans have been taking up much of the administration’s time. Despite a growing Facebook page for homeschooling in Halifax, Beaudry said he would be surprised if many parents opted to go that route having previously had the experience of practicing remote learning. As of the summer, the incoming kindergarten class stands at 78 students. Beaudry noted that the exiting sixth grade class was a good size.
Beaudry also went over some of the updates to the student handbook. There was some discussion with the committee about the dress code including comments that it felt “female heavy.” It was also suggested that there be some pandemic guidance given in the dress code. Proulx pointed out that state regulations would override anything in the handbook should the guidance or directives change.
Kindergarten registration was also discussed. Beaudry said that the elementary school principals have formulated a plan anticipating that the schools will be reopening in the fall and that students will be inside the building. Since screenings for incoming kindergarteners were unable to be held in May as is typical, screenings will occur on Thursday, September 3. Placements will be finalized on September 4 and the Kindergarten Open House will be held on Tuesday, September 8. The first day of Kindergarten will be Wednesday, September 9. All dates, etc. are subject to change dependent on guidance from the state.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch shared with the committee the results from the most recent survey of parents, staff, and students on their experiences and preferences regarding remote learning. Lynch said the response rate was high for both staff and parents with a staff rate of response of 71 percent. Staff consistently responded that they were appreciative of the efforts of famillies. It was also reported that grade level time was highly effective. Lynch said there was a “mixed bag” of responses in terms of the effectiveness of whole class Google Meets though both staff and parents said that small group Google Meets were largely effective.
Both families and staff were also in agreement that they would like to see evaluation of student work go beyond a credit/no credit scenario. The Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education has already declared that if remote learning is needed again in the upcoming school year, grades will be a part of that.
Lynch also said that there were some communication challenges and that parents didn’t view the posting of assignments as being on par with teachers actively communicating assignmnts. Other concerns included excessive screen time as well as a lack of socialization. Lynch said that improvements for the upcoming year, should they need to incorporate remote learning, will include improved technology for staff as well as training and implementation of K-6 social and emotional learning. “We know that we have to take care of students not just academically, but the whole child,” Lynch explained. Lynch also pointed out that back in March there was an immediate need for high quality remote learning with a day’s notice. If remote learning is needed come the fall, the school will be better equipped to handle it.
Proulx also provided an update on preparations for the coming year. Proulx thanked the town of Halifax for promoting and supporting the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and technology through the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. “We’ve been trying to purchase things to get ahead… we are doing whatever we can to keep the students as safe as possible,” Proulx said.
In addition to receiving support through the CARES Act, Proulx said they have also applied for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. Proulx said the grant, which would be for $51,000, could be used towards things such as PPE and technology including remote screen casting.
The administration is currently working on three separate plans for the return to school. Those plans include one for an entirely remote scenario, another for full-time re-entry, and a third which would be a hybrid of the two. Proulx said they were told to plan for all three as even if the school year starts one way, the virus could cause a change in course at any time.
Proulx also gave an update on the FY21 budget saying that as of July 1, the one-twelfth budget had been approved. Andrews took a moment to thank Director of Business Services Christine Healy for all of her efforts during the extremely convoluted budget process.
The committee also touched upon concerns over the chemicals used in the fogging and disinfecting process. According to the fire chief, classrooms can be disinfected in thirty minutes. Schmaling expressed concern over the “nasty chemicals” and commented on the tendency of young kids to put things in their mouths and whatnot. “It just makes me very uncomfortable to think about fogging these classrooms every day,” Schmaling said. They also discussed the possibility of utilizing UV technology as a possible alternative for disinfection.