The Plympton School Committee met virtually on Monday, Sept. 20. Director of Business Services Christine Healy provided an update on the new playground at the Dennett. Healy said that excluding the surfaces, the balance of the equipment was delivered Friday. Healy said that the only foreseeable issue might be the installation of the surfacing as maintaining a temperature of 50 degrees is necessary during the process. She said that getting further into October may present a problem. Healy said that originally they were not able to afford to do the entirety of the playground with the preferred surface but noted that there was money available through State Representative Kathy LaNatra’s office. “It will be going through DESE to apply for the grant; It’s one of the Ed grants and it is the full $25,000,” Healy explained. She said they should have access to the funds as soon as they are ready to use. “My goal is to get as much of the surfacing as we can,” she said. Healy also said that $3,600 would be needed from the school budget, once they had exhausted other funding, in order to complete the playground. “I look forward to the ceremony when it opens,” she said. Chair of the School Committee Jon Wilhelmsen added that he really likes the area where the playground will be installed saying, “I think it has a much nicer feel.” Healy said that they would be working that week on a realistic schedule for completion.
Future Meeting Locations
There was a brief discussion regarding whether to meet in-person for future meetings. Some members expressed their desire to keep joining the meetings remotely. Wilhelmsen said that were the meetings to be held in-person, if a quorum was reached inside the building, a member or two could still join the meeting remotely. Committee member Jason Fraser said he was in favor of keeping the meetings remote until more data could be acquired. It was decided that the November 1 meeting would be held remotely and they would revisit it at that time.
A discussion was held regarding the Dennett sports fields. Committee member Daniel Cadogen said he had been to the fields recently and they looked clean. There had previously been a problem with dogs going the bathroom on the fields.
Wilhelmsen provided an update on the solar project at the school. “There were some back and forth concerns regarding prevailing wage particularly with the installation of the solar panels,” he explained. He said that the solar company took the position that prevailing wage did not apply while Plympton’s solar attorney said it did. He said that it could add up to 30 percent to the total cost of the project. Wilhelmsen further said that two provisions were written into the contract. The first stated that at the end of 20 years the solar panels would be left with Plympton during which time they would inherit the property. The second was that if the solar company decided to sell the system, Plympton would be given first priority to buy. Wilhelmsen said that removing those provisions meant that the company was merely renting the rooftop and therefore there is no procurement eliminating the prevailing wage concerns. He said they can now move forward with the project. “Like everything else, it is not as straightforward as we would like it to be,” he said.
Fraser provided the legislative update. He said that back in December of 2020, the House received a special report on transportation. “Some of the findings might pertain to us specifically because we are responsible for pre-k through 22 students and our vocational education students,” he explained. He said that some of the provisions were to allow pay directly to parents to transport their students to vocational schools and alternative special education settings. He pointed out that right now Healy was responsible for finding and paying vendors to transport those students. “Another interesting finding was pushing the legislature toward greening our school bus fleet away from diesel buses to hybrid or fully electric fleets sometime in the 2030s,” he said.
Fraser said that the previous week a bill had gone through reconciliation and one of the items included in that was hundreds of billions of dollars for school infrastructure. Fraser said he was hopeful to see some of that money trickle down to Massachusetts in the form of Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) funds noting that the Dennett will need a new roof in the next 5-10 years. He said that currently they would not qualify for MSBA funds for the project but said that he was hopeful that this additional money might change that. Wilhelmsen added that what is able to be granted out with respect to school construction costs is not aligned with the increased costs currently. “The amount of dollars going out from the community to be able to do building work is really, really significant,” he explained. He noted that this applies to all municipal buildings.
Dennett Principal Peter Veneto said that they currently have 232 students enrolled saying, “for us, that’s actually pretty large.” He spoke about some recent projects saying that the entire driveway has been seal coated. There is also a new blue vinyl exterior wall. Veneto also said that all open teaching positions have been filled. He spoke about the CASA enrichment programs and said that last week they had a professional bike trick rider come to speak at the school. “The kids – they listened politely but they really wanted to see the tricks; it was awesome,” he said. Laughing he said that the school has about six classrooms that may have to pull the shades due to the excitement of watching the machinery install the playground. Of the playground, Veneto said, “It’s been interesting to watch and it’s been a lot of fun to see it come to life.” Veneto also said that all specials like art, music, etc. are now back in their original classrooms saying, “the custodial staff did an amazing job putting everything back together… there is definitely a strong feeling of normalcy.” Wilhelmsen chimed in with praise for Facilities Manager Matthew Durkee.
Assistant Superintendent Update
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch said that the Plympton teachers joined the rest of the district for opening day where they focused on relationship building amongst other core values. He said they were making progress with the new K-5 literacy program pilot. “We’re excited to see what is the best fit for Dennett and the district,” he explained regarding the program. Lynch also provided an update on the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. He said that they were required to check in with stakeholders for the ESSER III grant application. There were 605 responses across the district regarding how to best use those funds to meet the needs of students. Lynch said that top priorities from the survey included academic support and intervention, mental health supports, social and emotional learning, and technology support. “When we submit the grant, the proposal would be based on the input from our Plympton families… roughly 40 percent of our entitlement would be for closing gaps like tutoring, summer programming, supplies,” he said.
Superintendent’s Update Including COVID Guidance
Superintendent Jill Proulx began with an update from Nutrition Director Megan Ahrenholz saying that from June 23 to August 18 across all three towns, 25,998 meals were served. “I just wanted to thank the school nutritional staff,” Proulx said. She told the Committee that vaccination clinics will be held throughout the fall in coordination with the Kingston Board of Health. Proulx said that vaccines are the primary mitigation strategy this year.
She shared with the Committee updates regarding COVID guidance from the Department of Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). She said that unlike the previous year, in-person learning rather than remote learning is considered time on learning. Proulx said that the Education Commissioner was granted authority to mandate masks this year for all public K-12 students and staff. Exceptions are made for those that cannot wear masks due to medical or behavioral needs. Unmasking as of October 1 may potentially be an option for schools that meet certain vaccination rates. Proulx said that the school website has a tracker for COVID cases and noted that close contacts are still notified by the building principal.
Proulx said they have signed up to participate in the new test and stay program that got off to a delayed start. The program will allow caregivers to give permission for their student to stay in school and be tested daily using a rapid antigen test if they are a close contact as long as they remain asymptomatic. This would be in lieu of needing to quarantine at home. Close contacts are defined as individuals who have been within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive individual indoors for 15 minutes during a 24-hour period. Exemptions include those who are masked and 3 ft apart, those who are masked on a bus with windows open, and those who have been diagnosed within COVID-19 in the last 90 days. All exemptions would be based on the individual remaining asymptomatic.