The Plympton School Committee met on Monday, Nov. 1. The committee briefly discussed the ongoing issue of dog excrement being left on the playing fields at the Dennett. While Principal Peter Veneto said that he had not received any new complaints, Committee member Amy Hempel said that she was still seeing dog droppings left on the fields despite bags being available. Committee Chair Jon Wilhelmsen said that they would need to come up with a plan going forward before the spring sports season begins.
Regarding the new playground, Director of Business Services Christine Healy asked, “who could imagine a pandemic and 100 mph winds while we are trying to build a playground?” Healy said they were at the phase where they need to order concrete for the footings that couldn’t happen until that morning as the companies had been shut down. Healy also said that once the equipment is in place, a determination will have to be made as to whether the rubberized surface will be able to be placed as it is weather dependent. Wood surfacing will be used until the spring if the rubberized surface cannot be placed. “We’re closer to the completion than we are to the beginning,” Healy said remaining optimistic.
Veneto said that someone, who wished to remain nameless, came to see him and offered a check for $20,000 to be used toward the construction of the playground. “Well, I think that is incredibly generous,” Wilhelmsen said. He further said that he hoped it could be used toward the rubberized surfacing as more of that surface makes the playground more accessible to all users. The committee voted to accept the donation.
Regarding the solar project at the school, Wilhelmsen said they were still working on agreements. He said that one of the challenges is that the laws in the state have changed with respect to pilot agreements for solar projects. He said that the agreement voted upon at town meeting would not be in compliance with the new rules. “So, we have to go back to town meeting,” Wilhelmsen explained. He said they have also joined a group called Power Options who are a consortium of which Select Energy is their chosen provider for solar. As a result, it is not necessary to go out to bid for the solar panels on the roof. Wilhelmsen said the best option would be to go to town meeting in May and approve a new plan.
Committee member Jason Fraser began his legislative update by saying, “The State has more money than it has ever had in its entire history.” He said that the American Rescue Plan Act funds total $6 billion, representing about 15 percent of the State’s annual budget. He said that some of that money has been allocated toward education though Fraser said he didn’t yet know how it would affect them at the local level. He cautioned against the fiscal cliff saying, “we’re working with our delegation up at the State House urging them to use caution, to use patience in the spending of these funds.” He urged that the money be used toward school infrastructure and programs as opposed to hiring new personnel.
A CASA update was provided and it was said that the Halloween dance and the Harvest Festival in October were both successful. They also just finished selling Dennett merchandise. A thankful luncheon will take place this month and the Holiday Bazaar will be back in December.
Principal Veneto provided a school update saying that enrollment was holding fast at 243 students. He said he has received multiple letters of resignation including the school nurse, the music teacher, and a long-term substitute. Additionally, an aide will be out on maternity leave shortly. He said he is scrambling to fill the open positions.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch also presented to the Committee. He provided information regarding the MCAS testing including what was different in 2021. He said that some students were able to take the test remotely. Across the state, over 90 percent of students took the test and at the Dennett the percentage was closer to 99. Lynch said that students tended to struggle with math in 2021 compared with 2019, the last time the test was administered. Fraser acknowledged that there was a push in 2021 not to administer the MCAS but said that the argument in favor of holding the tests was that there was data to be gleaned from it. Fraser also said, “I just need to acknowledge… the incredible job that our kids in the fifth grade did last year and their third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers teaching them that curriculum to get them ready for it… very satisfied with their ELA results.” He said that his concern is with the mathematics scores but said that tools are being added to help bring those scores up.
Regarding the ESSER funds, Lynch said that they still have about 90 percent of ESSER II remaining to be allocated. “We’re continuing the work with ESSER,” he said. Regarding the 20 percent of funds to be used for social and emotional learning, Fraser said, “If kids are still dealing with social and emotional issues then they are not available for learning.” He also said that he wanted to make sure that they were getting teachers the best quality professional development available. Lynch said that the SEL (social and emotional learning) task force has met with Panorama Education, a research-based company out of Boston for assistance in figuring out where student needs lay. “I’m looking forward to getting this information into teacher’s hands so they can figure out what our students need,” Lynch explained.
Superintendent Jill Proulx presented to the committee regarding the core values for the school. “We aspire to create a community where everyone belongs and students and staff encourage one another to grow, learn, achieve, and dream without limit,” Proulx said. She further discussed steps to be taken to achieve those goals. Proulx called the five-year plan, “a pretty ambitious plan.” She discussed the proposed steps to be taken for the coming year. Strategic objectives include building relationships, emphasizing high expectations for all students, and creating and implementing an aligned and engaging curriculum for PK-12. “While we want to align to the state standards – we don’t want to teach to the test,” Proulx said. Yet another strategic objective is to improve structures and processes to focus on learning, efficiency, and outcomes.
Proulx also provided an update on enrollment. She said the October 2020 enrollment at the Dennett was 209 compared to the October 2021 enrollment of 241 students. Regarding assessment percentage changes for Silver Lake, the Plympton assessment decreased compared to Halifax and Kingston who both increased. For Union 31, the Plympton assessment has increased. “So that will have an impact on our budget as we begin that process as well,” Proulx said. Fraser said he would be interested in pursuing an increase in Chapter 70 funds as the Dennett enrollment has increased by 15 percent.
The Plympton School Committee also met on Monday, Nov. 15 to decide whether to advocate for a half day for parent-teacher conferences. Wilhelmsen explained that it took a vote by all four school committees to make a change to the district calendar, but that Plympton would be voting in favor or against it that night. President of the Teacher’s Association Ann Walker spoke on behalf of the teachers. “We really feel it would be valuable to us so that we can get parents into the building and get to communicate with parents,” Walker explained. She noted that the remote option would also be available. The Committee voted to approve a half day during the first three weeks of December pending the approval of the other committees.