The Silver Lake Regional School Committee met in person on Thursday, September 9. Silver Lake Regional High School Principal Michaela Gill introduced senior Riley Doyle. Doyle is the Student Council Executive Board President, and one of the seniors on the Student Advisory to the School Committee. The other senior is Callie MacInnis. Other members of the Student Advisory Board include junior Mia Mitchell and sophomores Connor Doyle and Nikhil Harish. The seniors will attend the School Committee meetings. “We’re delighted to have their voice and their experience at the table with us,” Gill said.
Gill presented her Principal’s Report to the Committee telling them that this year’s theme for the staff and students is “Lakers to the Core”. She said that the phrase will appear throughout the building as well as on social media with that hashtag. Gill said she hopes to “remind folks what it really means to be a true Laker.”
There are several new staff members at the school. Lori Cullen joins the math department as a computer science teacher, Laura Mackey is a new biology teacher, Beth Fradet is a new art teacher who will also act as the yearbook advisor, Laura Olsen is a new French teacher, Colin Foley is a new social studies teacher and freshman soccer coach, Craig Murray is a new physics teacher, Silver Lake alumna Jessica Guilford is a member of the office staff, Silver Lake alum Jamie Jones is a new preschool paraprofessional, Kelly Griffin joins the English Department, Dan Richards will serve as a long-term substitute, and Suzanne Simmons will serve as a paraprofessional.
Gill said that Amy Woods will serve as the new PTO President. She also said that Spirit and Homecoming are coming up. Additionally, Gill said there were several dress-up days on the calendar and noted that they were returning to their pep rallies. “We’re thrilled to be back to as much normal as possible,” Gill said. Gill also said that parent teacher conferences will be offered as a choice of either in-person or remote. Gill also provided an update on the dual enrollment program saying that over the summer they did have a student take several courses through that program.
Silver Lake Regional Middle School Principal Jim Dupille also provided a Principal’s Report saying, “There’s definitely some normalcy to the starting of the year which was really good to see; the students in the classroom – the excitement and energy,” he told the Committee.
Dupille said that the Summer Enhancement Camp that was run in July was highly successful. This year’s camp included a social and emotional component. He said that attendance rates were high with more than 20 incoming seventh and eight graders attending. He also noted that they had successful professional development programs over the summer. The open house held in August included more than 400 people. A motivational speaker came to meet with students at the school that day. Dupille said that his message to students was to connect to their passions.
The Back-to-School night will be held on Thursday, September 23. Parents and guardians will begin the night in the auditorium speaking with Dupille. The Welcome Back Cookout and Karaoke night will be on Friday, September 24. Dupille said the Haunted Halls will also be coming back with tours in October. He noted that there are a myriad of clubs and activities that will be making a return this year.
During Director of Business Services Christine Healy’s financial update, Committee member Summer Schmaling asked what would happen to the Silver Lake budget if Halifax doesn’t get a quorum at their next town meeting. “At Halifax’s town meeting, the Finance Committee supported a number that was less than what was going to support our budget; they supported a 2 percent increase and their assessment went up more than that… so at town meeting they voted a number that does not support the full commitment that they would need to make for their assessment for the year,” Healy explained. Healy said that if the town does not have a quorum on Sept. 21, the town plans to address it within the annual town meeting. Other Committee members clarified that the town would have to “fall into line” so to speak as the other two towns force them into that position with their votes.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch also provided an update saying that on August 31 there was a professional development event focused on social and emotional learning for the district’s paraprofessionals. He thanked the Middle School PTO and High School Yearbook Committee for providing breakfast treats for the opening day.
Lynch also provided grant updates saying they were approved for their ESSER II submission. He said the allotment for Silver Lake is $250,589. “The focus for that grant is unfinished teaching and learning – social and emotional supports and operations,” Lynch said. He said they are working with teachers and administrators on where to best allocate the funds based on the needs of students. Lynch also said that they are looking to line up ESSER III which is due in October.
Superintendent Jill Proulx provided an update to the Committee. On September 25 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., a vaccination clinic will be held at the Kingston Intermediate School in collaboration with the Kingston Board of Health for residents from Halifax, Kingston, and Plympton who wish to be vaccinated. Proulx provided data from the Nutritional Director regarding summer meals saying that from June 23 to August 18, meal bundles including five breakfasts and five lunches, were distributed on Wednesdays. In total, they served 25,998 meals.
Proulx also provided a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) update. She noted that as of August 25 they have mandated masks indoors for all K-12 public schools. “The State is using vaccines as the primary mitigation measure,” Proulx said. She said they were being encouraged to host vaccination clinics. There are plans through November to hold several more vaccination clinics at the Kingston Intermediate School. Proulx said that unlike last year there are no social distancing requirements. She said that they have signed up to be a part of the test and stay program that would allow asymptomatic close contacts to remain in school while being tested daily for a determined amount of time from exposure. She said they had just received their first set of tests that day and said that there was some delay in securing a program testing coordinator. Parents will receive the opportunity to opt into that program.
Proulx said that close contacts are those within 6 ft of a COVID positive individual for 15 minutes or more indoors during a 24-hour period. She noted that certain exemptions apply including those who are asymptomatic and fully vaccinated. Other exemptions include if both individuals were masked and three feet apart as well as those that were masked on buses with open windows. Finally, those that were diagnosed with COVID in the last 90 days but are currently asymptomatic are also exempt. Proulx said that masking would likely be in place until a school reaches a certain vaccination percentage – likely 80 percent.
Proulx shared with the Committee the vaccination percentages for each community in the district. She said the first number would be the vaccination rate for 12–15-year-olds and the second number would be for 16–19-year-olds. As of late August, Halifax stood at 57 and 59 percent, Kingston at 63 and 84, and Plympton 65 percent and 71 percent. Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee said she would like to see the Committee receive aggregate numbers of the percentage of Silver Lake Regional students and staff that are vaccinated between now and October. Proulx said she would need to speak with the nurse leader about how accessible that information would be to the district.
Committee Chair Jason Fraser spoke saying while DESE and DPH are working on a way to facilitate an easy way to identify school vaccination rates, their current priorities lay elsewhere including the test and stay program. Fraser said that there have already been 30 school districts in Massachusetts that have had to quarantine entire classrooms or school buildings. Fraser said that while the 80 percent vaccination rate is the metric being focused on at the moment as it is quantifiable, if the incidences of COVID in Massachusetts were to reduce greatly, that metric would likely change. He further said that currently there are nine states and the District of Columbia that have mandated vaccines for all school staff at the state level and said that he expects Massachusetts to be next. Fraser said that some school committees have mandated vaccines for school staff and even for some school activities.
“As you may have noticed, Commissioner Riley came very late to the game in the masking of our students; it’s because he’s very concerned about many of the same issues that a lot of parents and a lot of you have expressed at this table,” Fraser said.
The School Committee also considered whether or not to rescind their current masking policy. One of the ramifications of doing that would mean that students under 5 would no longer be required to wear a mask but would be strongly recommended. McGee said that she would be voting against rescinding the policy because it takes away local control to make decisions as it would then mean strictly following DESE and DPH guidance. Committee member Emily Davis said that she didn’t feel comfortable going past the mandates by DESE and DPH and said she would be fully in favor of rescinding the policy. The Committee ended up voting in favor of rescinding the policy by a divided vote.
Proulx provided some non-COVID related updates including that they would be hosting a capital planning meeting on September 30. She said that many community stakeholders would be invited to attend.
Fraser provided the legislative report. He said that in December of 2020, the legislature released a report from the special committee for improving efficiency relative to student transportation. Fraser said that he had previously told the Committee that regional transportation funding was in jeopardy. He verified with Healy that Silver Lake Regional receives about $590,000 in state reimbursement for transportation aid. He said that towns like Plymouth that have an extraordinary number of miles that need to be traveled each day are wondering why regionalized districts get reimbursement funding and they don’t. He said that the report that was passed onto the legislature suggested that they look at the needs of the region including low-income students and also the distance traveled each day. He said that compared to other regions, their communities come out looking “rich” despite not feeling it. He said that another item in the report that might have budgetary implications for Silver Lake was their “greening the fleet” proposal that would see them move toward all electric or hybrid buses. Fraser promised to let the School Committee know if he saw movement on any of these measures.
Fraser also said that at the Federal level, there was a House bill being considered under reconciliation that includes several hundred million dollars for universal pre-k, community college, school safety upgrades, etc. Fraser said that these were all areas that have seen erosion in recent years. “This would put us back to whole and beyond whole, hopefully.”