The Plympton School Committee met on Tuesday, May 31. They began with a reorganization. Jon Wilhelmsen was once again elected as Chair while Jason Fraser was named Vice Chair and Nikki Mahoney Secretary. In her first meeting on the Committee Kait Johnson was named to Union 31 as was Dan Cadogan. Fraser remained the Legislative Agent. Mahoney and Wilhelmsen remained on Negotiations. Cadogan remained on the Pilgrim Area Collaborative. Fraser and Wilhelmsen were named to Policy and Mahoney to CASA.
Projects Supported at Town Meeting
Wilhelmsen said that the town of Plympton voted to reallocate funds to support several school related projects at Town Meeting. Projects include upgrading the intercom system, moving toward an electronic locking system for doors, renovating four classroom floors, and making paving upgrades. One of the paving projects involves the creation of a pad next to the little garage that sits between the soccer fields and the schools. The pad will provide a space for the dumpsters. A ramp up to the garage will also be added. “It is still possible we will return some funds to the town when everything is said and done in July,” Wilhelmsen said.
Director of Business Services Christine Healy provided an update on the additional rubberized surfacing that is to be added to the new playground. She said the biggest question is what to do with the wood fiber that is currently being used for surfacing. She said she had reached out to the Selectmen and Town Administrator to identify a need for the wood fiber in town. Once an accurate surface area is ascertained, Healy said they will look to get the best pricing possible for the remaining rubberized surfacing.
Solar Panel Project
Wilhelmsen told the Committee that the town made the necessary approvals at Town Meeting to proceed with putting solar panels on the back wing of the school. Wilhelmsen said that they need to confer with the Building Inspector about whether the snow guards can be removed from the roof. Their removal will allow for larger panels which will allow for the greater production of electricity and, hopefully, a lower cost of electricity for the school.
“We are in the sixth inning of the seventh inning game called the budget season,” Fraser said. “We really benefited greatly from the State budget locally this year,” he continued. As a result, Plympton was able to present a school budget to the town that had a net zero cost increase over last year’s budget.
Fraser said there were two measures that were not included in the State budget that he would like to see returned. The first was the free meals program for students which Fraser said he was hoping would get added back in during Conference Committee. The second was legislation introduced by Senate President Karen Spilka known as Mental Health ABC Act 2.0. Fraser noted the importance of the initiative, saying that children in crisis are facing long wait times when seeking mental health services. Fraser told the Committee that he sent a letter to the State House advocating for them to take up both positions.
Fraser also approached his fellow Committee members about a resolution that he wanted to bring to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC). Fraser’s goal is to increase the maximum balance allowed by the Special Education Reserve Fund from two percent of net school spending, as set by current law, to five percent. Wilhelmsen likened it to a savings account specific to this expense. The Committee voted unanimously to support Fraser’s resolution as written.
Dennett Elementary School Principal Peter Veneto gave an update on the end of the school year proceedings. “Despite the stomach flu and covid’s best efforts, all of our students finished up MCAS,” Veneto said. He told the Committee that June 2 marks the day seniors return to Dennett to walk the halls. Veneto said it was especially bittersweet for him as this year’s seniors were in kindergarten when he started. June 3 will be Future Lakers Day. Veneto said that June 10 will be an especially busy day as it will be ride your bike to school day, field day for Grades K-5, Step Up Day at the Middle School for Grade 6, and the talent show in the evening. June 22 will be the moving on ceremony for Grade 6. He also said that they are aiming to have a D.A.R.E. graduation for the first time in three years. Veneto said that paraprofessionals Kathy Dries and Karen Agnew will be retiring at the end of the school year. He said they will be greatly missed.
Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent’s Update
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch told the Committee that on June 14 a second student survey will be administered to assess various aspects of social and emotional learning. Parents can opt out of having their child take the survey by emailing Veneto by June 10. “We know these are challenging times and we just want to make sure we are correctly identifying the needs of the students and give them a voice,” Lynch said. He said the second survey will also be used to track the school’s progress in meeting students’ needs.
Superintendent Jill Proulx asked the Committee to approve next year’s school calendar. August 31 is slated to be the first day of school with the last day tentatively scheduled for June 14. There are five potential cancellation days and if all were to be used, the last day would be June 22. Winter break will begin on December 24 and school will reopen on January 3. April break is scheduled for April 17 through April 21.
Proulx said that Plympton supported a number of initiatives for the Regional Schools during their Town Meeting including their share of the school resource officer position, the establishment of a Silver Lake Stabilization Fund, and the refurbishment of the tennis courts. Proulx specifically thanked Fraser and Wilhelmsen for their ability to speak with eloquence on all the school articles.
Proulx said that the COVID testing program will continue through the end of the school year. She said that self-tests will be provided for symptomatic testing for summer programs. By the fall of 2022, the State anticipates that it will no longer offer testing services or programs for schools and districts. Proulx also said that there is an effort in place to try and raise the threshold for chronic absenteeism from 10 percent to 20 percent for the current school year given the unique challenges facing the student body.
Proulx asked the Committee if they would support a 0.2 FTE position for instrumental instruction. She said that it would be funded using grant money. The downside would be that the school would need to figure out how to fund the $14,000 in future years. “Instrumental music is critical for students for a multitude of reasons… I’m absolutely in favor,” Fraser said. The Committee voted to unanimously approve the request. “I think you are going to love the results, I’m hoping,” Proulx told the Committee.