Holiday Breaks Come under Scrutiny

            Mattapoisett School Committee members Carly Lavin and Tiffini Reedy pushed back on the proposed inclusion of Wednesday, November 23, as part of the Thanksgiving Day break when the 2022-23 draft school calendar was discussed during Monday night’s committee meeting.

            “I think it’s just a little choppy … might be a fan of being at least a half-day on the 23rd,” said Lavin, adding that most public-school districts on the south coast attend a full day of school on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. “I prefer to see less extra days throughout the year so kids can get home (for summer vacation.)”

            The Mattapoisett School Committee, said Old Rochester Regional District Superintendent Mike Nelson, does not vote on the academic calendar, the Joint School Committee does. But Nelson added that such dialogue is an essential ingredient to the process of arriving at the final calendar and that he would report that feedback when the JSC meets on Monday, January 20.

            Also proposed is early dismissal on December 22 for Christmas break. Students would return on Monday, January 2, 2023.

            August 30 would be the first day of the 2022 – 23 academic year and barring cancellations, June 16, 2023 would be the last.

            Other off-days include but are not limited to: October 10 Indigenous People’s Day aka Columbus Day; October 25 parent conferences; November 10 full professional development day; April 7 no school; and April 20 – 24 spring vacation.

            Reedy questioned why April 7 is a day off as a “Catholic” holiday but there are no other religious holidays on the school calendar. Nelson said he would bring that concern to the JSC.

            Member Karin Barrows asked if should school extend three days beyond the prescribed calendar, Juneteenth would be an off-day held on June 19. Nelson said, yes, provided it falls into the actual school calendar.

            Lavin also asked if the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is counting hours or days toward the establishment of a full academic year. Nelson said the state authority now considers both days and instructional hours.

            The subject of limitations reached the school committee itself when Committee Chairman Jim Muse received pushback after telling the membership that he would like to adopt a goal for all regular school committee meetings to be limited to 90 minutes and subcommittee meetings to 60.

            “I don’t think it’s appropriate to put a limit. … I don’t support that cap,” said Lavin, who indicated that targeting 90 minutes is a reasonable approach.

            Clarifying his request, Muse said discussions aiming toward a committee vote should not limit debate, but questions about presentations can be addressed as follow-up opportunities. “Meetings that last two, three and four hours, are not fair,” said Muse, who insists on maintaining a 20-minute block for public comment. He sought no vote on the matter, only a show of support to engage in a policy.

            “I understand sometimes there are lengthy presentations, but the number of meetings that are necessary, it demands that we give some opportunity to the administration to manage this,” said Muse, noting that members can further the cause by planning their comments and reading the agenda and minutes in advance of meetings.

            Barrows suggested labeling the agenda, noting which items will require votes. Lavin and member Carole Clifford supported Barrows’ point. “If we do that, we don’t need a limit. … To put a limit, I do not agree with,” said Clifford.

            Muse reiterated his clarification that, “If there’s something that requires debate, then we’ll debate as necessary. But I would like to plan to complete our work within a 90-minute period.”

            In her Principal’s Report, Rose Bowman celebrated a grant involving Lisa Lourenco, a technology teacher in both the Center and Old Hammondtown schools. A $6,000 grant from Worcester Polytechnic Institute was procured thanks to the suggestion of WPI alumna and Mattapoisett School Committee member Frances Kearns. Lorenco helped write the grant.

            The grant will include robotic equipment and four professional-development days with the team from WPI. It will provide children with the opportunity to receive additional education and materials. Lourenco, who has also been working with Old Colony Regional Vocational-Technical High School to bring such opportunities to ORR students, drove to Worcester to get the materials. “Teachers and administrators go the extra mile to make this a great school system,” said Muse.

            Bowman also discussed the Mattapoisett PTA and Cultural Council’s plans for a presentation with artist Bren Bataclan, who will visit classrooms in grades K-3 at Center School on Friday, January 21. Half of Bataclan’s fees will be covered by a grant from the Cultural Council.

            Nelson indicated that several Budget Subcommittee meetings have occurred, resulting in substantial progress with the FY23 draft budget. The next step, he told the school committee, is inviting a member of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee and Town Administrator Mike Lorenco. Once Muse determines that the subcommittee is ready to bring the budget to the school committee, the latter will approve a budget figure and bring that to Town Meeting.

            Director of Student Services Craig Davidson reported on the tiered, focused monitoring audit update that Nelson called “a cumbersome process,” crediting Davidson for his work. “I couldn’t ask for a better team,” said Davidson, thanking special educator Jennifer Rusinoski for “outstanding” work with Julie Evans at DESE. “We did not have a single problem with the audit (no findings) … and we’re very proud of that.”

            In his Central Office Administrator’s Report, Nelson announced that the state mandate on mask wearing in public schools has been extended through February 28. Acknowledging the Covid surge, he said, “I’m very proud that our school continues to offer in-person learning.”

            Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howie Barber was unable to attend on Monday, but Nelson told the membership that Barber had sent them expenditures, along with facilities and food service reports. He said that there is $540,000 remaining in the budget to begin January 2022.

            In her report, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Jannell Pearson-Campbell told the committee that Loretta Laroche will present to the faculty on stress management on Tuesday, January 18, as part of professional development.

            In his report, Davidson said that through Mattapoisett’s test and stay program with school nurses, 1,277 school days have been saved.

            A 10-part series on community talks has been launched on ORR’s themes of social-emotional learning, 21st century learning and global citizenship. Part 1 on managing anxiety was held on January 5, and Part 2 will be advertised in the coming weeks. “We could not believe how many people signed up,” said Nelson. “The first event, over 100 registered and over 60 stayed the whole session (90 minutes.)”

            Muse summed up his Chairperson’s Report by thanking all staff, teachers and administrators, recognizing Bowman, the superintendent of Mattapoisett public elementary schools. “We’re very lucky,” he said.

            The committee entered executive session and only returned to adjourn.

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett School Committee is scheduled for Monday, February 28.

Mattapoisett School Committee

By Mick Colageo

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