About 100 Tewksbury teachers and supporters attended the meeting
Vice Chair Keith Sullivan was the only member not in attendance.
1. The meeting opened with a public hearing on the FY24 budget presented by Business Manager Dave Libby, who opened by pointing out some of the challenges involved in putting together next year’s budget. This is the first year the district will be operating with six schools versus the usual seven, and that gives the district only six months with data for the Center Elementary School. Some of the COVID ESSER funds will be drying up this year. There will also be an increase in the Pre-K program enrollment but an overall decrease in enrollment.
The district will be working on upgrading technology in the schools with new smart boards. Libby will also look for a replacement for the copy center, since having a central location was not cost effective. Overall a 3.7% increase is expected, which is in line with what the town manager had recommended. Budget documents are here.
2. There were two recognitions tonight. TMHS Athletic Director Ron Druin is the Athletic Director of the Year; unfortunately he could not be at tonight’s meeting but will be recognized next month by the committee.
Center Elementary School custodian Paul Bishop noticed that a child was choking on baby carrots. Bishop gave the child the Heimlich maneuver and saved the child. He will be nominated for a Heartsaver Hero Award.
3. Rania Elouahi was on hand to give the TMHS Student Council update. The theater program recently put on A Grand Night for Singing. The International Club has an opportunity to teach Ukrainian students English. The robotics club is building a new robot. The Class of 2025 will be having calendar raffle; tickets are $10 and there is a chance to win a prize every day of the month.
4. The Citizens Forum was lively tonight, with many speakers from the Tewksbury Teachers Association. There was a prior agreement between the TTA and committee that the comment section would only be 15 minutes. At issue is a hazing concern brought forth by a TMHS teacher, Peter Molloy — learn more here. Molloy asserts that he has been harassed since voicing his concern as a mandated reporter, including on social media by two sitting school committee members, Keith Sullivan and Richard Russo.
Prior to the public comment section, Chair Bridget Garabedian stated she wants any school community member to speak out about any student concerns. She says teachers and staff are respected and appreciated. She takes seriously the integrity of the climate and culture that exist in our schools. She notes that, per School Committee policy, all powers at the Tewksbury school committee derived from the state laws are granted in terms of action as a group. Members of the Tewksbury school committee have authority only when acting as a committee legally in session.
Tewksbury made the network news: Check out 7 coverage here.
Superintendent Brenda Regan also added her thoughts before any of the additional speakers. Regan stresses that their work will always begin and end with student safety, that the administration encourages staff to come forward and she appreciates that the party did so. She points out the district annually trains staff on their responsibilities as mandated reporters.
“As a result, all teachers are aware of their responsibility as mandated reporters, and they know full well that anonymity cannot always be guaranteed in order to appropriately investigate allegations,” she said, adding that the complainant was reminded of this during the investigation.
Ultimately the administration concluded that no hazing occurred.
The following teachers spoke:
- Peter Molloy is the teacher who reported the hazing concern. In his email, he requested confidentiality because he was worried about repercussions if his name was leaked. His email was sent to Regan, who then forwarded it to the School Committee chair without his consent. The chair then shared the information with the full committee. In regard to Sullivan’s Facebook post, Molloy notes that only two staff members who are teachers are also former coaches, making it easy to identify him.
- Julie Taggart notes that teachers are mandated reporters and are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect. They must report concerns; it’s not for them to decide or investigate, and this responsibility is not something teachers take lightly. She says teacher’s jobs are now made harder by School Committee members, and she hopes this doesn’t scare other teachers into not reporting, concluding that if a staff member is fearful to speak out, how can a student feel safe coming forward?
- Loren Carlino said that children learn by example, and teachers tell children they shouldn’t resolve issues by bullying and should think long and hard before posting anything negative online. It’s hard to teach these lessons when they see their School Committee members doing the same thing to their teachers.
- Maura Dearing started by saying they are required to report any situation where they suspect abuse or neglect and are required to do training every year to spot these issues. They speak to students about once you hit “send” there are consequences for your actions. And members of the School Committee have demonstrated a total lack of judgment.
- Emily Niles shared that for the second time in less than a year teachers felt wrong for trying to keep kids safe. They are supposed to be a voice for children. She is asking for a public apology.
- Connor Bourgoin is the current TTA president and says his membership is very upset, and lots of ideas were tossed around for how to handle this. They want to ask for an apology and not ask anyone to step down. They want respect and for these actions to be condemned.
Member Rich Russo, who had commented on the social media post in question, also gave a statement. He shared he works on sub-committees with Mr. Molloy and believes they have a good working relationship. He says he reached out a week ago to have “open and honest dialog,” a promise he says he made while campaigning.
Concerns he regularly hears from parents are that they “want kids to be kids.” And that whether it’s about masks, vaccine mandates or hair cuts, they want to do what they feel is best for their kids. And he himself has expressed some of that frustration.
5. Karen Baker O’Brien was at the meeting to discuss preschool and kindergarten registration. Tonight preschool parents were invited in for an informational session. Registration opens February 28; spots are limited, but if a child is selected, parents will then be able to complete the full registration paperwork. She does note if your child is on the wait list, you may still get a spot as this happens every year.
Kindergarten registration began January 17, and the district has projected 251 students. The plan is to do all screening prior to the first week in May. The district has also moved to an online registration system to streamline the process and to create less paperwork.
6. Brenda Regan began her superintendent report thanking Lead Nurse Kelly Constantino for enrolling the district in the School Nurse Liaison Project. This is a community of schools that will benefit from consultation. The group also provides resources and training to school nurses.
TPD is rolling out the Office Waffles Kindness challenge. Each month students and school staff can nominate a student or classmate who they believe should be recognized for going above and beyond in the area of kindness. Winners will be selected by the Tewksbury Police Department kindness committee and will win a photo opportunity with school resource Officer Hanley and Waffles. Winners will also be presented with an Officer Waffles challenge coin. Students from each school will be selected each month.
February 3 was the official ribbon cutting ceremony for the Center Elementary School. There were more than 100 attendees, including state senators and representatives and the DESE commissioner. The next day 500 community members were able to tour the school.
7. Assistant Superintendent Lori McDermott’s Report opened with some information from last week’s townwide PAC meeting where she learned of a great need for PAC volunteers at TMHS.
She shared that the district plans to switch to standards-based report cards, something that was originally started in 2019 but had to be temporarily abandoned. She shared the teachers are excited for the change.
8. Business Manager Dave Libby’s report started with a thank you kindergarten parent Mr. D’Ambrosio, who is on a competitive robotics team and won $5,000 to be donated to the charity of his choice. He opted to donate to the Tewksbury Public Schools for support services.
Tewksbury Transit is currently looking for drivers and bus monitors.
9. Sub Committee Reports
- Elementary School Building Committee punch list items are still being worked on.
- TSEPAC is Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., with a family support group on Zoom. Those interested can register on the TSEPAC page.
- Wellness Advisory Council: No update
- Policy Subcommittee: No update
10. Last up were member concerns. Kayla Biagoni-Smith encouraged parents to check PAC pages as there will be lots of volunteer opportunities coming up. Garabedian noted that it is Black History Month and the Tewksbury DEI Advisory Committee will host a showing of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on February 23 at the TMHS Auditorium. The committee is seeking nominations for the Ginsberg Family Award and the Krissy Polimino Outstanding Educator Award.
11. Future Meetings
- School Committee and Budget Public Hearing: March 8
- School Committee Meeting and Reorganization: April 12
- ESBC: Feb. 9
- TSEPAC Business Meeting: Feb. 16 (check TSEPAC page, meeting may be deferred to March)
- Wellness Advisory Committee: March 1