‘Balanced Cohorts’ Start at Sippican on September 16

            “Meaningful” learning opportunities remain the objective for the Marion School Committee and Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson, despite the daunting task of reopening schools for the 2020-21 school year. At their scheduled meeting on September 2, Nelson took a moment to provide a “brief overview” of how the school year is coming into focus, addressing issues ranging from cohort schedules, desk spacing, bussing, and hygiene protocols.

            Some of the major work has been done to promote hygiene practices, handwashing, and marking the floors of the school for traffic patterns. Classrooms will “look different” according to Nelson, but they are working on those classrooms to “look inviting to our students” while maintaining 6 feet of distance between students and staff members. Bus occupancy has been reduced to 25 to promote spacing.

            The hybrid school year begins on September 16, said Nelson, and will feature two cohorts: Cohort A will attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Cohort B will attend on Wednesdays and Fridays. All students will be remote on Mondays. The ORR School District has secured independent assessments on HVAC and air quality reports at Sippican School, and Nelson reported that administration was “extremely pleased with (the) results.” They will continue to monitor HVAC and air quality needs, and Nelson pledged to upload these regular testing results to the school website.

            Cohort assignments will be communicated to families prior to school start on September 16.

            “It doesn’t mean expectations have changed,” said Chairperson Michelle Smith, later in the meeting. After thanking administrative staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and other community stakeholders for their hard work to make the school year safe, Smith put a positive spin on an uncertain year: “We still expect our students to meet and exceed (these) challenges … we know the Sippican community will rock this year. We know this is going to be a great year.”

            Smith led the Committee in a moment of silence for Nolan Gibbons, a 15-year-old Marion student who passed away suddenly at home on August 18. Smith referred to young Gibbons as a “remarkable student” and a “talented young man.”

            In a Central Office staff update, Superintendent Nelson received a round of applause from the Marion School Committee members when he announced that the Central Office is now fully-staffed. After a recruitment process that Nelson called “thorough and thoughtful,” he announced the appointment of Howie Barber to the position of assistant superintendent of Finance and Operations, Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell to assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning, and Craig Davidson, director of Student Services. “We finally have a full team,” Nelson said, calling the new administrative leaders to be “the right folks who can serve our district now … and into the future.” Superintendent Nelson praised Barber, Pearson-Campbell and Davidson for their impressive backgrounds and for jumping right into one of the most “unique school years I think we all can remember.”

            The committee unanimously approved the creation of a district-wide Anti-Racism Subcommittee, which – pending similar affirmative votes from Rochester and Mattapoisett school committees – will be staffed by representatives of each town’s school committees. This subcommittee will be charged with translating meaningful conversations to policy creation to promote tri-town equity and inclusion “meaningfully, but also in a sustainable manner,” according to Superintendent Nelson. In a separate vote, the committee appointed Mary Beauregard to serve on this regional subcommittee, and adopted an anti-racism resolution, based on a similar resolution shared by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Mattapoisett and Rochester school committees will be also asked to adopt this resolution.

            The next meeting of the Marion School Committee is scheduled for October 14.

Marion School Committee

By Anne O’Brien

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