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10+ Takeaways from the Shawsheen Tech School Committee Meeting

Civics project results in veteran’s parking spot; Tewksbury on track to send 121 freshmen

The Shawsheen Valley Technical High School District School Committee met on Wednesday.

The meeting started with a presentation on a 21st Century Civic Literacy project by students Grace McDermott, Emma Casey and Crystal Tempesta with support from the Graphic Communications and Metal Fabrication shops.

The project involved identifying an issue or concern in the community, researching a solution and developing an action plan based on the research, which could involve contacting local officials or leaders to help implement. In this case, the students decided to create a repositionable sign for reserved parking for a veteran that could be placed near the restaurant or anywhere the public is expected. The proposal was approved unanimously.

Changes were approved for the 23/24 student handbook. They include a tighter cell phone policy where phone use is allowed only before and after school and at lunch.

“The co-op employers on the school council and the ones we hear from, generally, cell phones are a huge complaint,” said Principal Jessica Cook. “Students are not managing their cell phones well. We also see a number of problems during the school day between students using cell phones in school when it’s not necessary, and so we really want to model what those workforce expectations are.”

Cook acknowledged that it will be a culture shift and said parents who need to reach students, or vice versa, will be asked to go through the main office. While some shops do collect phones, that won’t be mandated for academic weeks. But phones will need to be powered off during class.

The hall pass system is being changed to limit vaping and students congregating in restrooms. There will now be color-coded passes on lanyards so staff can see if a student is away from their designated area. The dress code has been “cleaned up” to reflect what employers expect to see in a work environment, with an emphasis on safety and professionalism. Under Mass. law, the ability of schools to dictate dress is limited, said Cook.

There will be a mandatory $40 annual fee to be put in a revolving account of about $52,000 to cover repair or replacement of school-issued devices. This a “self insurance” program versus going through an insurer, which would be more expensive. The school spent about $85,000 last year on device repairs/replacements. Any guidance counselor or teacher can request Title I funds to assist families that cannot afford that fee.

Patricia Meuse, Tewksbury’s member, noted that attendance rules request notification within three days of an absence.

“That’s a long time before the parent realizes the kid isn’t in school,” said Meuse. Cook clarified that families are contacted on a daily basis.

Meuse also clarified that parents can opt students out of sex education classes and how eligibility for “senior signout” will work.

The auditor will visit the school on June 6 to provide a full presentation.

“Good financial standing makes us more appealing to lenders, especially if we’re going to have a new building,” said Business Manager Jenna Lesko. Lesko said her office has had a positive experience with the current auditor, but the committee did recommend doing some “shopping around” to ensure the school is getting the best price for the auditing service.

Note: In September 2022, Brian O’Donnell, chair of the Facilities and Capital Planning Subcommittee, announced that the Massachusetts School Building Authority would visit the Tech on Oct. 5 to tour the building in response to the school’s statement of interest to enter the state’s school construction grant program for a new or renovated high school.

In his Superintendent’s report, Tony McIntosh began with a Class of 2027 admissions update. Billerica has the highest number of confirmed acceptances, followed closely by Tewksbury. In total, 456 Billerica students attend Shawsheen, followed by 340 from Tewksbury, 312 from Wilmington, 124 from Burlington and 33 from Bedford.

“Our target is 360 freshmen after Labor Day,” said McIntosh. “Ideally we’d like to have some additional kids on the waitlist.”

He plans a social media push to encourage students who may be on the fence or unaware that admission is still open to formalize their acceptances.

For the co-op program in the current school year, 214 students are taking part, including 62 from Tewksbury, along with 208 local employers. Seniors have collectively worked 103,427 hours to date and earned $1,675,825. Many students will continue in their placements over the summer.

For the SkillsUSA program, eight students have qualified to represent Massachusetts in the National competition to be held in Atlanta in June. Shops represented include Health, HVAC/R, Masonry and Plumbing. Tewksbury led in community medals with 11 versus 10 for Billerica, 6 for Wilmington and 3 for Burlington.

“We swept Masonry,” said McIntosh. “They had an outstanding showing this year so kudos to the instructors and the students down there and all the time and energy that they put into getting where they are.”

Twenty-four students completed the school’s first Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy testing in eight languages; 19 qualified, with two qualifying with distinction, in Bulgarian and Portugese. Financial aid and grant money is available to students that graduate with this designation on their diplomas.

Finally, McIntosh said hiring for retiring teaching staff is going well. Interviews are ongoing among more than 50 applicants for a guidance counselor position.

In subcommittee reports, Meuse reported that contract negotiations are ongoing.

Old business consisted of a review of the superintendent evaluation, which was overwhelmingly positive.

McIntosh characterized interactions with sending towns’ managers around Chapter 70 funding as hit or miss.

“Some of them were a little bit more forthcoming with information about their process after a meeting this year, some of them weren’t,” he said. “I’m hoping that also improves on their end too because it’s hard for us to plan around their budget cycles when they don’t share dates for their meetings with us, so again I’m hoping that this is more of a two-way street.”

McIntosh said he and Lesko will work on a planning meeting in the fall with managers to share capital and operational budget targets.

In new business, Taryn Gillis, member from Billerica, was named delegate for the annual MASC Conference in the fall, with Meuse as alternate. McIntosh shared than any member is welcome to attend. All out of state field trips were approved, as was a public sale of two surplus vehicles, a 1968 Ford pickup that was purchased for restoration and a roadster with no top that was a donation but that is taking up needed space.

McIntosh brought up installation of a programmable sign, similar to the one at TMHS that has the school’s name and Rams mascot, between the two main entry doors.

“I have problems with the money,” said Meuse, citing the $20,000 projected cost.

“Please don’t make it tacky,” said Bedford member Nancy Asbedian. McIntosh promised the sign would be tasteful, hopefully paid for with end-of-year surplus funds and cleared with the Billerica Planning Board. He will report back in June.

Asbedian is on the Wellness Committee and reported that the school would like to add three AEDs to the eight that are in the building now; there is also an interest in CPR and AED training. The director of the Billerica paramedic unit offered to come out and do some of that training. Asbedian also suggested training for the School Committee on gender identity and sexual orientation and working to open more unisex bathrooms; there are currently two.

Scholarship night is May 30 at the Tewksbury Wilmington Elks.

After an executive session, the Committee unanimously awarded McIntosh a 3% raise for the coming school year.

The next meeting will be Tuesday, June 13. These meetings are open to the public and broadcast on YouTube.

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

One Comment

  1. […] at the high school. The rising 8th grade class has 259 students, smaller than usual, with about 120 of them expected to choose Shawsheen Tech over TMHS. At the Sept. 21 School Committee meeting, superintendent Brenda […]

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