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11 Takeaways From the Sept. 21 School Committee Meeting

1. Student representative Rania Elouahi gave the first TMHS update for the school year. Many sports and clubs have started at the school. The International Club car wash scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1, is a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders. the TMHS Theater Co held tryouts for its fall production. Thursday, Sept. 22 is the first in-person open house in a couple of years; it runs from 6 – 8 p.m.

2. A team of town staff was on hand to give a presentation about the DPW/School Maintenance Facility project. (To see our reporting on the resident information session, click here.) Tony Wespiser from Weston and Sampson presented to the committee. Wespiser notes that the current school maintenance staff is responsible for eight buildings — seven schools and one administration building — and with the Center School closing, they are without a permanent facility.

The DPW does not comply with current building codes, including sprinklers and egress. The project will make the building code-compliant and safe for staff. It will also provide better protection for the town’s vehicles and equipment, it will be more efficient, create better response times and will consolidate the town’s DPW and school maintenance resources, including district-owned vehicles, in one location.

The new building will cost $17.4 million, renovations to the current building will be $1.5 million, site development is projected at $4.4 million and soft costs are $4.7 million, for a total cost of $28 million. If the town doesn’t fund the project it will still need to find a location for school maintenance staff and bring the current building up to code. Member Keith Sullivan asked if it was possible for staff to stay in the Center Fire Station, where they are housed now. Town Manager Richard Montuori said that location was a fine temporary solution but not an adequate long-term home for the school maintenance department.

Member Rich Russo inquired how much DPW work is contracted out. Montuori said that the town does contract for some services if we do not have the staff, equipment or expertise, but he doesn’t believe that is a factor in the need for a new building. He notes if we didn’t contract out, the town would need to hire more staff and purchase more expensive and specialized equipment. He also pointed out that the current building is 40-60 years old, is unsafe to work in and inefficient. Based on additional questioning from Russo, he said there has been no discussion within the North & Trahan School Reuse Committee about using either of these sites for school maintenance staff. (Note that that Committee has a survey up until Oct. 4 to find out what residents want at those sites.)

Chair Bridget Garabedian asked if this colocated facility would create an opportunity for collaboration with the two departments, which Montuori confirmed. But he also made clear that this is in no way a takeover of the school staff by the town department, with Business Manager Dave Libby adding that the two teams serve vastly different functions.

Montuori closed by adding that there will be a vote to fund this project at the October 3 Special Town Meeting. Of the spending, $1.5 million will come out of free cash and $26.5 million from a bond. This spending will not impact the school budget this year or next year.

3. Kim Jennings and Adrian Depasquale from Alphabest, which provides extended day and summer care, gave an update on their program. The company had more than 100 children participate in the summer camp program this year. This summer, staff partnered with community-based organizations to provide entertainment for the children, like the school’s baseball teams and a local dance academy.

Alphabest currently serves 222 students and has a wait list, but Jennings said they hope to expand the program for families in the next 30 days. They are also looking into having extra capacity on early release and Professional Development days.

Based on a query by Garabedian, Jennings shared that they have partnered with Kids Included Together (KIT), to help provide staff support with any special-education students who will be using the service.

4. Superintendent Brenda Regan started her report discussing the successful start to the school year. All school staff attended the first full staff in-person opening day on Monday, August 29, the first time in three years staff has all been together. Of the first day she said

“We kept the message very positive and inspiring with the theme of our opening date and climbing for all and teamwork and that we are a team,” said Regan of the first day. “Just public schools stronger together and better when we’re working as a team on behalf of students and families.”

On the second day, psychologist Alex Hirschberg educated the entire staff on the science of student behaviors, regulation and dysregulated behaviors, training that was well received.

Regan asked parents to pay attention to the district newsletter coming out this week as it will have important notices for families, including inclement weather information.

5. The new ELA pilot program is up and running, per Assistant Superintendent Lori McDermott’s update. She also shared that the Director of Literacy Felicia Cenanovic and the reading specialists traveled to the schools to streamline DIBELS testing, taking the pressure off classroom teachers.

6. Libby gave a transportation update, saying it was a typical start to the year, with some tweaking of bus routes and stops to happen as building principals observe arrival times. He noted the district decided to keep transportation for K-4 the same, so when students transition to the Center Elementary School, children will continue to ride the same buses.

Member Kayla Biagioni-Smith asked if there is a plan to make sure second graders know to get off at the Center Elementary School and not their previous school. Libby said buses will have monitors, and COVID support staff can help. They may also reach out to the PACs to ask for parent volunteers, if they feel they need additional help. He said to look out for the new bus app this week in the district newsletter.

7. Libby also had an update on the upcoming move to the Center Elementary School. He’s been working with the town’s move manager and will be messaging out to staff when details become available. The district has requested an RFQ from moving companies and plans on hiring one in mid-October.

The plan is to move administration into the new building in late November or early December and possibly move in the library and some other staff mid-December. The bulk of students and staff will shift over December break. There will be tours of the affected schools next week for moving companies that will be bidding.

8. The TSEPAC met last week and parents shared updates and goals for the year, which included community engagement, professional and transparent communication, support and advocacy for future requests and protecting student safety and confidentiality. The group is looking to promote itself more and might purchase business cards for staff to give to parents who may be unaware of the resource.

9. The Policy Committee’s work is still ongoing. All updates and changes can be found in the School Committee packet.

Policies reviewed and adopted with no change:

  • BEDA-Notification of School Committee Meetings
  • BEDB-Agenda Format
  • BEDD-Rules of Order
  • BEDDD-Delegations of School Personnel
  • BEDF-Voting Method
  • BEDG-Minutes
  • BEDGB-Releasing of Executive Session Minutes
  • BEE-Special Procedures for Conduction Hearings
  • BG-School Committee Policy of Development
  • BGB-Policy Adoption
  • BGC-R-Process for Policy Review
  • BGD-School Committee Review of Procedures
  • BGE-Policy Dissemination
  • BGF-Suspension of Policies
  • BHC-School Committee-Staff Communications
  • BHE-Use of Electronic Messaging
  • BIA-New School Committee Member Orientation
  • BIBA-School Committee Conferences, Conventions, and Workshops
  • BID-School Committee Member Compensation and Expenses
  • BK-School Committee Memberships

Policies for Consideration for Revision and/or Adopt MASC Recommendations:

  • BGC-Policy Revision and Review

Policies for Consideration, First Reading:

  • IJOA-Field Trips
  • JJH-Student Travel
  • JJH-R-Student Travel Regulations
  • DD-Funding Proposals & Applications
  • DIE-Audits
  • EFC-Free & Reduced Price Food Services
  • BBA-School Committee Powers and Duties

Tabled and to reviewed again at the next Policy Committee Meeting:

  • IMG-Animals in Schools

Policies for Consideration, 2nd Reading (Approved unanimously)

  • DA-Fiscal Management Goals
  • DB-Annual Budget
  • DBC-Budget Planning & Schedules
  • DBJ-Budget Transfer Authority
  • DEC-Federal Funds & Applications
  • JKAA-Physical Restraint of Students

Policy to be rescinded (this is already included in a policy EDD, Approved unanimously)

  • BEDB-E-Order of Business at Regular Business Meetings

10. Full district enrollment numbers can be found in the packet, including breakdowns by grade and home room. Regan noted that enrollment is declining but said the good news is smaller class sizes. Per her report, also found in the packet, no class will have more than 25 students. Many have 20 or fewer.

11. Member Nick Parsons had an update from the town Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. They discussed future programming to acknowledge holidays and events related to diversity, equity and inclusion, spanning from October to February.

Future meeting dates of note:

  • September 26: DEI Meeting
  • October 3: Special Town Meeting
  • October 5: Policy Sub-Committee Meeting & Wellness Advisory Committee
  • October 12: Next School Committee Meeting
  • October 13: Elementary School Building Committee
  • October 20: TSEPAC Meeting
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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