Nelson Agrees to Contract Extension

            The Old Rochester Regional Joint School Committee/Superintendency Union #55 carried out a lot of business during Tuesday night’s public meeting, the most significant of which was formal agreement with Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson on what union-side Chairperson Sharon Hartley indicated would be a long-term contract extension.

            Both sides voted unanimously.

            Hartley served on a subcommittee to negotiate the contract with ORR School Committee Chairperson Heather Burke and Jim Muse. The terms of the deal will be made public over the next several days once the members sign and any corrections are made.

            In introducing the vote, Burke told Nelson, “This committee is very pleased with the work you’ve done in the district,” noting “superior leadership” and how Nelson “worked very hard in meeting the needs that the hiring committee expressed.” Those included town relations and transparent finances “despite very difficult times.”

            “It’s been a tough few years not only for me but for everybody, and you’ve been with me all the way,” said Nelson. “To everyone not here, I couldn’t have done it without you.” Nelson credited teachers and staff, “those in the buildings every single day.”

            “You’re seeing it again this year that they’re not taking their foot off the gas and are doing everything they can do to serve the children. … No matter what people’s different positions are, the fact that people show up speaks to how important all six schools are.”

            He also thanked his family for its sacrifice of his time. “I feel honored in my ability to serve the Tri-Town so thank you very much,” he said.

            Burke told the committee that Nelson reached out to begin the process on the new contract. The agreement was finalized during the same public meeting that updated the JSC on Nelson’s two-year evaluation process.

            An in-house assistant superintendent, who on February 29, 2020 interviewed so impressively that he beat out two other finalists, including an experienced superintendent and an associate superintendent from other school systems, Nelson took on the job vacated when Doug White’s decade-long tenure came to an end.

            Almost immediately, Nelson was confronted with the coronavirus pandemic and acted to implement a hybrid learning model with an option for full remote learning. Amidst heavy criticism that ensued from residents opposed to remote learning, Nelson implemented a Covid Dashboard on ORR’s website.

            There, he said, was information detailing each town’s standing relative to data-point thresholds that would trigger a potential pivot in the learning model. During the latter stages of the 2020-21 winter season, the Tri-Towns’ youngest students returned to full, in-person learning, followed by a progression upward until all grades were back in school full time before the end of the academic year.

            At the same time, Nelson was hired amidst growing unrest and racial tension. He responded by implementing an Anti-Racism Resolution, Anti-Racism Policy and Anti-Racism Subcommittee. He invited the grassroots organization, Tri Town Against Racism, to speak to the faculty via Zoom and enacted a partnership meant to end the era of sweeping racial incidents under the carpets of the district school buildings.

            More recently, Nelson was enthused to share that Marion and Mattapoisett town meetings held on Monday night both approved their towns’ school budgets and the ORR School’s budget. Nelson noted that the two towns’ approvals of the ORR budget constituted a majority vote needed to carry it forward. Rochester Town Meeting is scheduled on May 23.

            Nelson said he recently met with the Superintendent Evaluation Subcommittee and is working on a May 17 deadline to provide goals and backup information supporting them.

            Instead of a select few committee members meeting in person and the majority via Zoom, the proportions were the other way around on Tuesday night.

            In other actions, the JSC voted to approve the 2022-23 Professional Development Plan and policies including advertising in school.

            Before the vote, Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell brought the JSC up to date on the plan with a month-by-month breakdown for the spring and summer months. In May, the plan launched with a survey of families coming out of the pandemic yielding information on how those students can make the most of their time in school. Survey results were categorized by age groups in each of the Tri-Towns. Individual schools made associated reports.

            Director of Student Services Craig Davidson reported on Kindergarten transition scheduled for May 25-26 and noted that the sections in each of the three towns were at or close to capacity.

            Early in the meeting, Hartley shared a story about the ORR Class of 1970. She told the committees that Dave Sullivan brought a plan for his class that in lieu of the missed 50th reunion, it will be conducting a “50+2” reunion this year. The class has made a gift to the school of a tree, landscaped and planted. The class celebration will coincide with the tree at its dedication on Saturday, August 13, at 10:30 am, followed by a tour of the high school.

            The meeting was interrupted by a 90-minute execute session to talk in private about negotiations.

            The next meeting of the JSC is scheduled for Thursday, June 23, at 6:30 pm.

ORR Joint School Committee / Superintendency Union #55

By Mick Colageo

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