ORR Pushing Forward with Academics

            In outlining the priorities of the Old Rochester Regional School District’s Acceleration Roadmap to the September 23 meeting of the ORR Joint School Committee / Superintendency Union #55, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jannell Pearson-Campbell listed the need to foster a sense of belonging and partnership, monitor students’ understanding, and ensure strong, grade-appropriate instruction with “just-in-time” scaffolds when they are needed.

            ORR’s Acceleration Roadmap to Equitable Recovery is designed to prioritize learning acceleration over traditional remediation and functions as a blueprint to utilize to move beyond the pandemic. The Acceleration Roadmap outlines best practices to ensure that learning is memorable in our classrooms.

            In discussing the Acceleration Roadmap with the JSC, Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson stressed that the Acceleration Roadmap is not a new initiative but a roadmap to best practices based on fresh survey results from families.

            To this end, ORR conducted a survey to collect data on the status of students and their families where it concerns many aspects of the 2020-21 academic year that began with hybrid learning while offering fully remote learning and eventually transitioned back to in-person learning while still offering the fully remote model.

            Director of Student Services Craig Davidson said there were over 1,400 survey participants.

            Region-side member Joe Pires called the survey results “commendable” and said, “To be in the positive percentile in almost all of the categories is really something to hang your hat on. … Moving forward, I think having that feedback will allow us focus on some areas and maybe pull back on other areas.”

            Pires recommended that the district make public the impact, and Region-side Chair Heather Burke agreed, suggesting that a minimum of 1,400 respondents would be eager to see how their answers compared to others’ responses.

            The membership on both sides of the JSC applauded the effort but added a variety of questions and concerns.

            Acknowledging that last year’s work seems to be carrying over in the Acceleration Road Map, member Frances Kearns encouraged administration to continue working with community partners in an effort to close the gap on the weaker areas of the survey.

            Member Carly Lavin asked how parents of students squarely on track or slightly ahead should be thinking of the Accelerated Learning program. Nelson explained that the Accelerated Road Map, while inspiring most discussion around the most advanced or most challenged students, is for the students on target as well.

            Member Margaret McSweeny articulated worry about the half of families that did not respond, suggesting that they tend to be the ones that may feel negatively toward school. “It’s the non-response that we really need to be focused on,” she said, acknowledging that 1,400 respondents out of a potential 2,600 “is a great number.”

            Nelson indicated that history shows that lack of response to surveys and lack of attendance tends to go hand in hand.

            Member Tiffini Reedy asked about focus groups addressing children’s needs, especially those who feel unsafe. Nelson said there could be a building-wide approach or another way to connect and loop to families. “Our clinical team, we would lean on those experts in combination with the administrative team,” he said.

            Nelson’s Strategic Plan Update, a five-year program culminating in “Vision 2023,” broke down the shift back on academics to think, to learn, to care. He delegated presentations to committees representing 21st Century Learning, Social and Emotional Learning, and Global Citizenship.

            In discussing 21st Century Learning, ORR Junior High Principal Silas Coellner, the chairperson of the goal joined by committee members, including ORR Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jannell Pearson-Campbell, Sippican School Assistant Principal Peter Crisafulli, Early Childhood Coordinator Doreen Lopes, and Sippican School Principal Marla Sirois, said elements of the strategies borne in the pandemic-disrupted third year became valuable parts of the overall learning plan.

            Coellner also said the committees wants each student to experience two project-based learning experiences in each grade level.

            Under Social and Emotional Learning, Rochester Memorial School Assistant Principal Charles West, whose team includes Nelson, Mattapoisett Elementary Schools Principal Rose Bowman, ORRJHS Vice Principal Kelly Chouinard, and ORR Director of Student Services Craig Davidson, said that a strategic initiative is to develop and expand effective and consistent discipline practices, expectations, and teacher language throughout district schools.

            The Year 4 goal, said West, is to achieve three to five family engagement opportunities with an emphasis on alignment with the guidance from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

            Under Global Citizenship, ORR Principal Mike Devoll, whose team includes ORR Assistant Principal Vanessa Harvey, RMS Principal Derek Medeiros, and Mattapoisett Elementary Schools Associate Principal Kevin Tavares, said that Year 3 commitments were built around the shift toward anti-racist philosophy.

            “Our aim three years ago versus where we are now versus where we are going certainly has changed,” said Devoll, tying the broad categories of Global Awareness, Personal Responsibility, Civic Literacy and Citizenship, and Empathy into the larger, changing society. He said project-based learning that included families has been key in communication.

            Medeiros added with discussion of how project-based learning experiences have been incorporated into classroom learning.

            School Committee were invited to respond, and Kearns suggested a future-meeting discussion on mental health support for students in the schools. In light of homophobia and transphobia, she also suggested having a clinical specialist talk with the district team about available services and activities that “dovetail” with the strategic plan.

            Nelson referred to work last school year with clinical psychologist Dr. Alex Hirshberg. Davidson said Hirshberg will work monthly with ORR staff throughout the 2021-22 year.

            Asked by Lavin if there are enough community groups representing the students for empathy and uncovering any blind spots, Nelson said, “I’m sure we do (have blind spots),” and that cultural proficiency work is never finished.

            In other matters, Reedy asked about continuing the COVID-19 Dashboard that was regularly updated on the ORR website last academic year. Nelson said the first dashboard was due to appear on September 24 and would be subject to continued tweaking where it concerns the reporting of cases.

            The JSC voted to raise pay rates for substitute teachers and staff including long-term substitutes and nurses. The two-part vote raised rates for the 2021-22 academic year and voted on a permanent basis to maintain any increases in the state minimum wage for instructional assistants and cafeteria, clerical, and custodial personnel.

            As summarized by Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howie Barber, the state minimum hourly rate is scheduled to increase from $13.50 to $14.25 effective January 1, 2022, and again on January 1, 2023, to $15.

            For the 2021-22 academic year, the JSC voted on per-day increases from $80 back to $120 for non-certified substitute teachers. Certified substitute teachers, previously earning $85 daily, would increase to $150 a day. Last year ORR was up to $165 per day. Nurses, earning $120 per day, would increase to $200 per day.

            Long-term substitute teachers and staff would earn the minimum rate over the first 20 days; once beyond 20 days they would move to the Step 1 schedule. Non-certified substitute teachers would earn $120 per day for first 20 days and, once beyond 20 days, move to Step 1.

            In her introductory comments, Burke discussed the proposed Capital Stabilization Fund that will go before voters in town meetings over the next few weeks.

            “The creation of the fund doesn’t magically create the funds that go into it,” she said, noting the difficulty in procuring funding coupled with the aging buildings at ORR. “The last time these schools had a major renovation was almost 25 years ago.” She credited the maintenance staff but said the buildings “get worn down.”

            “This is a big moment for us, and I’m glad it’s finally getting to the citizens of the three towns,” said Nelson.

            Hartley was voted to continue as chair of the union side and April Rios as the vice-chair.

            The JSC entered executive session to comply with the provisions of grant-related requirements and returned only to adjourn. The next JSC meeting is scheduled for January 20, 2022, via Zoom.

ORR Joint School Committee / Superintendency Union #55

By Mick Colageo

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