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9 School Committee Meeting Updates: Reorg, DECA State Champions, Dyslexia Presentation, Superintendent Search

1. The School Committee reorganized after the April election. The current committee is comprised of Kayla Biagioni-Smith, Bridget Garabedian, Nick Parsons, Rich Russo and Keith Sullivan. Garabedian was elected chair, Sullivan as vice-chair and Biagioni-Smith as clerk, as is customary for the top vote getter.

2. Next up were recognitions. Representatives from the Tewksbury/Wilmington Elks Post 8164 were on hand to share winners of the Patriot’s Pen and the Voice of Democracy competitions. For the Patriot’s Pen 8th grader, Katelyn Murphy took 2nd place at the district level, and 6th grader Olivia Jensen won 1st place at the district level and 6th place at the state level. The district level 1st place winner for the Voice of Democracy was 11th grader Brooke Bunyan, who also placed 4th at the state level.

Also being recognized were DECA State Champions from the Mass. State Career Development Conference. Moving on to Nationals in the category Project Management Community Giving are Mia Gaglione and Ava Gilligan, and in the category Business Law and Ethics Team Decision Making, John Regolino and Michael Sullivan advance.

Biagioni-Smith and Russo join the School Committee

3. TMHS student Jack Stadtman gave his last student representative report. Stadtman reported that senior projects have started, TMHS theater performances of Mama Mia will run April 28 through April 30, students are collecting donations for Ukraine for the chance to win raffles, the International Club recently picked up trash and debris, and members of the class of 2022 who are interested in participating in Senior Week events must be sure to pay all of their class dues.

4. Director of special education Rick Pelletier gave the committee a presentation about dyslexia services in the district. Acting superintendent Brenda Theriault-Regan first gave background, stating that, in 2018, the state passed an Act Relative to Students with Dyslexia, leading the district to form a PLC (professional learning committee) comprised of reading specialists, moderate special education teachers and speech and language educators. Based on data, by spring 2019, the district brought in reading intervention program iSpire to help struggling students.

“The special ed department has worked to align the district leadership literacy initiatives over the past several years, with specific focus on developing a more comprehensive and explicit approach to specialized instruction,” said Pelletier. For children to succeed, they must develop fluent reading and language comprehension. This also applies to students with DLD, developmental language disorder. DLD may affect as many as 50% of children with dyslexia, so the educators must create targeted interventions for each student. To assist, in 2020, Tewksbury partnered with the Speech and Language Literacy (SAiL) Lab at the MGH Institute of Health Professionals to strengthen the district’s knowledge and awareness of dyslexia and DLD and to “really pinpoint assessments, instruction and intervention through professional development.”

MGH has done three professional development courses for staff, with a fourth planned, and presented a program for families, which approximately 30 attended.

In fall 2021, staff were asked to complete a survey, which will ultimately become a research paper. The survey focused on six topics: training, knowledge about oral language, written development and disorders, roles and responsibilities, current collaborative practices and district resources and additional perspectives from the faculty. The survey results are not yet available because 23 paraprofessionals who work with the district’s autism community took the survey, and the district felt that skewed the results. MGH is revamping the report, and Pelletier anticipates it will be available later this month. Preliminary results do show that staff is building knowledge and skills; data also shows a need to focus more on oral and written language development.

Based on a query from Russo, Pelletier shared that the partnership is currently being paid for with grant money. Russo followed up by asking if students being remote, then wearing masks in class, resulted in them not picking up on some of the reading and writing cues they would have pre-pandemic. Pelletier said that has not been observed but also notes that the number of students seeking special education services is up, both in town and regionally.

5. Four finalists in the superintendent search were announced. Brent Conway, Darcy Fernandes, Nan Murphy and Theriault-Regan are in the running; check out our article with background information about the candidates here. There were 21 applicants for the position, and the search committee conducted six interviews.

The next step is for the School Committee to conduct site visits to the candidates’ current districts. Candidates will also visit our district, and the School Committee will conduct interviews. Site visits are tentatively scheduled for April 26, 27, 28 and May 3.

Here are the finalists’ resumes.

6. The Citizens Forum had only two speakers. Superintendent Search Committee member Lisa Wilson spoke for a group of parents requesting that the new superintendent selected not be “biased based on their own personal political agenda.” Wilson also demanded transparency around the curriculum, citing issues the group finds controversial, such as CRT (critical race theory), comprehensive sexuality education and vaccines. They are concerned that the public education system is indoctrinating students with “far left ideology” that will result in bullying against people with conservative Christian values.

Parent Robert Hanley is concerned with the school schedule for the rest of the year and hopes that outdoor time can be maximized. He’d like to see more unsupervised play where children can make connections they haven’t been able to over the last two years.

7. The AG’s office found no merit to an OML violation complaint filed on Sept. 14, 2021. The Division of Open Government conducted a review and informed all parties that the School Committee did not violate open meeting laws. The determination letter can be found in the packet, and the original complaint can be found in the August packet.

The School Committee has been the subject of numerous alleged OML violations and public records requests. Sullivan suggested that the town may need to hire someone specifically to deal with the associated paperwork, while Parsons offered that the Committee could instead seek to find the root cause of parents issuing these complaints.

8. There were multiple updates regarding the new Center Elementary School. The original Center School demolition has begun, and a visual of what the grounds will look like can be found in the School Committee packet. The administrative office move to the Center Fire Station is complete, thanks to IT and maintenance teams who made the move happen in two weeks instead of the planned three months. Everyone involved worked hard to convert the fire station to offices and get everything up and running.

While Sullivan was selected as the new School Committee representative to the Elementary School Building Committee, the Committee also voted to have former member Shannon Demos stay on the ESBC. Demos has been on that committee in numerous capacities since it began; her appointment must be approved by the Select Board. The district hopes to get its occupancy permit for the building around Thanksgiving 2022; administration will move in shortly thereafter, joined by students in January 2023

9. The Committee heard a number of miscellaneous updates:

  • Heath Brook pre-K students donated toys to Tufts Medical Center in the name of a student who is currently receiving treatment there.
  • Director of athletics Ron Drouin and TMHS football coach Brian Aylward attended a virtual event, “Addressing Hate and Bias in School Athletics,” hosted by Mass. AG Maura Healey, DESE and other groups. The idea is to help prevent and address incidents of hate and bias in school athletic programs.
  • The annual Art Show will be May 6 and 7 at TMHS; the public is welcome to attend.
  • Food services had two successful audits.
  • The TMHS end-of-year calendar has been updated and can be found in the School Committee packet here.
  • The last day of school is June 21 and is an early release day.
  • The $70 million budget for the 2022-2023 school year was approved; full details can be found in the packet.
  • School handbooks were updated with minor changes, such as administrative names and dates.
  • TMHS received a $15,000 Innovation Pathways FY22 Support Grant.
Julie Naughton
Julie Naughton

Julie likes coffee and covers education and all things concerning the Tewksbury Public Schools, along with other topics, for the Carnation. Contact her at: attn Julie N.

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