ORR Joins Fight to Power Down MCAS

            Old Rochester Regional School Committee member Margaret McSweeny has the entire committee on her side of the MCAS debate, and a unanimous March 7 vote adopted the Thrive Act Resolution recommending that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) downgrade MCAS testing as the sole standard of public education and an essential hurdle to high school graduation.

            Appealing to data, local school districts have been arguing that MCAS is a biased test that unfairly divides students according to economic status.

            “This doesn’t eliminate MCAS, but it does move in the right direction of taking away … some of the power that it has over school districts and over students trying to graduate and who may not do well on this test for multiple reasons,” explained McSweeny before the vote. “The MTA fully supports this act. I want to make sure ORR is on that list of school committees who are in support of this bill and getting over the MCAS and onward.”

            McSweeny researched other participating municipalities’ drafts and liked Somerville’s resolution for its breadth and the potential she saw for agreement among ORR committee members “so that MCAS couldn’t hold the scores against it and also it couldn’t stop graduation. And those were the two things that I think the majority of us agreed on.”

            McSweeny said the matter will be discussed at the state house next month and encouraged committee members to write the state house as individuals. She later suggested that some of the money spent on MCAS testing could be more effectively be spent in other ways.

            Committee Chairperson Michelle Smith recommended the committee go with the Somerville version of the draft. Smith publicly thanked McSweeny for bringing forward the matter and spearheading the committee’s action.

            Committee member Matthew Monteiro stressed the importance of understanding that the measure does not remove accountability from the school system to establish academic standards but removes MCAS as the sole measure of those standards.

            “There’s plenty of other accountability for students and school systems,” he said.

            ORR has a transportation contract.

            The committee approved separate memorandums of agreement between the district and the local school system for the towns of Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett for 2025 transportation.

            Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howard Barber explained that bids came in higher due to the comprehensive nature of the bid package. The process was redone so that each town had its own bid process suited to its particular needs.

            McSweeny said she is grateful to Barber for his work on complex negotiations.

            The School Committee discussed the current status of the Facilities Condition Assessment, divided by Nelson into two pieces to address over the spring.

            Regarding the process, ORR Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson said that during the 60-day window of the town meetings (May 13 in all three towns), the ORR School Committee would need to vote to authorize the towns to take on new debt. All three towns must approve at their respective annual town meetings to move the question to ballots that would allow voters to respond to those ballots.

            Regarding the goals, the ORR District wants to invest in the building, thus the Facilities Condition Assessment that is essentially complete. The next step would be to identify a set of priorities, most likely starting with safety, HVAC, etc.

            Nelson, in his report, said the FY25 budget negotiations have been among the most challenging of his tenure.

            At Barber’s recommendation, the committee approved the transfer of $100,000 from the operations budget to capital planning.

            The ORR School Committee voted to approve the continuation of the FY2024 Safe and Supportive Schools Grant, accepting a second $10,000 grant from the state. Nelson explained that the year-two amount will bring the total for the program to $20,000. He said the first $10,000 helped each of the Tri-Town school districts to build a building-based team that could identify areas of improvement that they could support in the second year.

            Nelson said the year-one effort confirmed the need to address the students’ social and emotional needs through explicit instruction. Year-two funds, he said, are meant to identify “what that would look like at the different levels.”

            Particularly at the elementary and junior high level, they have gone beyond a social-emotional curriculum to a character-strong focus at the junior high and high school, explained Nelson, who further noted that the goals of the program align with the ORR District’s Strategic Plan and the Superintendent’s Goals.

            “It’s nice when we have these three moving pieces tied together,” he said.

            The committee voted unanimously to approve a student trip to Portugal and Spain in April 2026. Mike Nailor was on hand to report on a successful trip to Italy and Greece and discuss the proposed trip to Lisbon, Portugal, for two nights and then to Seville and Madrid, Spain, ending with a bike tour.

            The committee was eager to publicly thank Marion resident John Menzel for his $4,000 donation to the high school for the purchase of two 3D printers in the engineering classroom (technology lab).

            In his report to the committee, ORRHS Principal Mike Devoll highlighted achievements and recommended public recognition at a future meeting for senior track athlete Tyler Young, who broke the school record in the 1,000 meters and junior Wesner Archelus, who won the MIAA Division 4 state championship in the 55-meter hurdles with a 7.91-second time in the preliminaries and a 7.77 time in the final.

            The committee entered executive session and only returned to adjourn the public meeting.

            The next meeting of the ORR School Committee will be held on Thursday, April 11, and the next meeting of the Joint School Committee will be held on Thursday, March 28. Both meetings will start at 6:30 pm and be held at the ORR Junior High Media Room, 133 Marion Road, Mattapoisett, MA 02739, and via live streaming.

ORR School Committee

By Mick Colageo

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