The Plympton School Committee met remotely on Tuesday, June 1. Superintendent Jill Proulx called the meeting to order and initiated the reorganization of the Committee. Jason Fraser nominated Jon Wilhelmsen to once again serve as Chair. The vote was unanimous.
Wilhelmsen then took over control of the meeting. Committee member Dan Cadogan nominated Fraser to once again serve as Vice Chair and Amy Hempel seconded the motion. It was also voted unanimously. Fraser nominated Hempel to serve as Secretary, a position previously filled by Mike Antoine. As was the case with the other positions, the vote was unanimous.
Special Town Meeting Updates
Under new business, Wilhelmsen said the school had requested a number of transfers to deal with the driveways at the Dennett, a new mower for the fields, and other requests. Wilhelmsen said all passed during the Special Town Meeting. Another request was to take $20,000 to divide among the employees at the Dennett Elementary as an additional $500 payment. It passed by only two votes during the Special Town Meeting but after that meeting had closed and regular Town Meeting had resumed, it was discovered the Finance Committee’s votes had not been counted. All Finance Committee members voted against the transfer as they felt such a transfer should be granted to other town departments and not limited to just the schools. While the vote was recorded as passed at the Special Town Meeting, Wilhelmsen said he felt that the school should not use the money and return it to the town as the vote would not have passed had it been done accurately. The Committee agreed.
Use of Dennett Fields and Grounds
Regarding correspondence, Hempel sent in a request on behalf of Plympton Athletic Youth Sports (PAYS) to hold a movie night on the Dennett fields following a soccer game on June 12. “It seems like a great event and a great way to sort of kick off the summer,” Wilhelmsen said. The Committee agreed it was a good idea.
There were also discussions regarding the care of the Dennett grounds. Wilhelmsen said it had been several years since it was last discussed and he wanted to find out the pleasure of the current Committee. While the schools have authority over the grounds, they delegate care of them to the Highway Department and PAYS. Hempel said the budget is quite small with the bulk of it going to sprinklers leaving only $500 for additional maintenance. She explained, however, that PAYS is fine handling the additional expenses as long as they can hold movie nights and other fundraisers to compensate.
The misuse of the fields, particularly regarding dog excrement, was also discussed. Wilhelmsen said that a previous suggestion was to keep bags nearby for dog waste. Wilhelmsen said, “the next step will be to say the fields are off limits.” He said he hated the idea of doing that as it would negatively impact all of those who do pick up after their dogs while enjoying use of the fields. There are several signs already indicating proper use and procedure regarding picking up after dogs. Hempel said they were aware of who the offenders were.
Pandemic Related Changes
Wilhelmsen brought up the issue of whether or not there could be remote participation once the School Committee meetings are back in-person. He said other committees have tried to do so and found it to be “clunky.” He said their next meeting will be July 12 and then not again until September. He asked the other Committee members if they wished to do that meeting in-person or remotely again. Cadogan asked that the July meeting be held virtually. Wilhelmsen said that provided that the Governor allows for it, the Committee will plan to hold that meeting virtually. He also said that if a streamlined approach could be figured out, he would like to still offer virtual participation for future in-person School Committee meetings. Proulx suggested reaching out to Area 58 for assistance.
COVID-19 updates from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) were also discussed. Fraser called the Plympton Board of Health “a great partner” in helping to keep the schools updated on the changing guidance. For schools, the only change issued was that masks would no longer be required for outdoor activities. There has already been indication that schools will be expected to be open five days a week next year without social distancing in place. Fraser did note that masks at the elementary level are still possible. Summer school guidance does say they expect kids to do exactly what is being done currently for distancing and masking.
Playground and Solar Project Update
Director of Business Services Christine Healy said they have gone out to bid for the playground both for materials and installation. A pre-bid walkthrough of the site was held with several potential vendors. She said four bids came in with a variety of rates and references are now being sought. Healy said the next step will be awarding the bids. Cadogan asked what the timeframe was for completion of the playground and Healy said they were hoping for mid-August.
Wilhelmsen said the agreement on the solar project at the school was voted through at Town Meeting. He said the goal would be to have a structural inspection done by the end of June with construction beginning in July, and the project finished prior to the start of school.
Reports of Standing Committees and Administration
Union 31 held a meeting on May 27 at which point the evaluation of the Superintendent was approved. Wilhelmsen said they also looked to make sure the administrative staff was granted proper time off. Wilhelmsen said that there would be a week over the summer where the administrative office would be closed down in order to provide a much-needed break.
Cadogan provided an update on PAC saying there were six new enrollments. “PAC itself is doing well financially,” he told the Committee.
Fraser provided the update for the Policy Subcommittee. “Policy is a cumbersome thing; it typically takes three months for us to change policies,” he explained. He noted the difficulty in keeping up with the changing guidance coming in from the State. Of note, the face covering policy has been changed to indicate that the Superintendent and School Nurse have the authority to make changes based on new guidance from the State. Several other policies that had been changed to give the Superintendent the ability to make changes have now been reset to their original intent prior to the COVID emergency. Other policy amendments include ensuring student privacy when learning in a remote setting.
Hempel provided the CASA update saying the last staff luncheon will be held in a couple of weeks. She also said that they have secured a local cultural council grant for an enrichment program. Some openings on CASA will also be advertised. “They did an amazing job, especially with the baskets,” Wilhelmsen said referencing the livestream of the fundraising event.
Dennett Elementary Principal Peter Veneto also provided an update. “I couldn’t be prouder of the staff, the students, the families,” he said referencing making it to the end of the unusual year. He said the senior parade will be taking place allowing seniors to return to their elementary school for a final farewell. The sixth graders will be participating in step up day where they tour the middle school. He said kindergarten numbers are holding tight right around 40. “That’s not a small number,” Wilhelmsen noted.
Healy provided a financial update saying the FY21 budget continued to sustain the Dennett even with the unusual year that was had. She said despite a number of deficits they should be easily absorbed in other areas.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch said that there were Dennett staff members working toward diversity, equity, and inclusion and ways to incorporate those ideals into the curriculum and the community. Lynch also spoke about the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. He referred to the ESSER funds, which are in part meant to offset the loss of learning time due to the pandemic, as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The funds are allocated but their uses must be approved.
Fraser suggested using some of the ESSER funds to better compensate staff members to run after school clubs for the coming year. He said it would be interesting to see if some staff members might offer AM as well as PM sessions for various clubs. Hempel said that pre-COVID they had run through some ideas regarding clubs including gardening, Lego, robotics etc. but said that payments for staff was always an issue. Cadogan asked if they were limited to teachers and staff or if they could hire someone outside the school system. Hempel said that the idea was a possibility. “We’re still kind of in the information gathering phase,” Veneto said about the venture. Healy said the ideal mechanism for staff payment would be to have a revolving fund established through Town Meeting. Wilhelmsen spoke about the importance of the clubs for the social and emotional well being of students especially given the stress of the pandemic over the past year plus.
Superintendent Proulx provided a district update. She said that districts will no longer be able to offer remote learning as a standard learning model in the fall. The meal flexibilities are available through June of 2022 regardless of the State’s state of emergency. Proulx also noted that youths aged 12 and up are now eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. She said a Summer Learning Academy will be offered to offset learning losses as a result of the pandemic. It will be held at the Kingston Intermediate School and will be intended for elementary aged students. Another program will be offered for select students at the middle school level.
Fraser addressed Proulx saying, “It was a pleasure taking part in the evaluation of the Superintendent and acknowledging your hard work this past year.” Proulx said she couldn’t take credit for the successes of the past year calling it a community effort.