Parents Will Receive Edited Handbook

The Rochester School Committee will schedule a special Zoom meeting this summer to vote its approval to final edits to the 2024-25 Rochester Memorial School Student Handbook, it was decided at the committee’s June 6 public meeting.

            After Assistant Principal Charles West summarized changes for the 2024-25 academic year, committee member Robin Rounseville asked if the traditional opt-out of photos made available to students’ parents/guardians could be similarly clarified to parents/guardians with concerns about their children’s access to certain books.

            Old Rochester Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson said the district preferred a vote but could revote any item at the committee’s next meeting on August 29. Member Anne Fernandes said she prefers to wait on a vote so that the community receive the version of the handbook that the committee finally approves. Nelson deferred to the committee’s preference. Rounseville agreed the changes are worth waiting for.

            Chairperson Sharon Hartley wondered aloud if a special meeting is warranted to ensure the handbook in its edited form gets to the community as soon as possible.

            The committee agreed.

            In his summary, West noted greater collaboration this year. West said he now has a goal of having the table of contents hyperlinked when accessed online.

            West said Rochester Memorial School will be “moving some things around,” including four fourth-grade classrooms and three each for first and sixth grades. Some teachers are changing grades, information West said can be found in the RMS handbook.

            Two paraprofessionals will not return for 2024-25.

            The student dress code will align with that of the junior and senior high schools.

            Among highlighted sections: A “No Head Adornment” policy will have an exception for medical, religious and cultural reasons; more specific language has been added for recess policy; the telephone policy has been simplified to mean that students needing to make a call need to report to the office to do so; the social-emotional section took out the suicide-prevention parts to emphasize the school’s emphasis that West said focuses on being proactive and understanding emotional awareness; and under Safety and Injury Prevention, references to gun violence and motor-vehicle safety were removed; fire safety remains in the handbook.

            Also: Regarding MCAS, the new 2025 testing dates are in the new handbook; the next several sections on student behavior were updated to reflect the ORR District-level policy language (includes conduct, discipline and bullying prevention); and the interim tag will be removed from Principal Heidi Letendre, who later in the meeting would share her School Improvement Plan with the committee, providing a progress report and updates.

            At the request of some committee members, the committee discussed community members’ interest in moving Public Comment from the end of the agenda and more toward the beginning of the meeting.

            Hartley requested an opportunity to meet with the chairpersons of other district school committees before the Rochester School Committee takes a vote.

            Member Anne Fernandes said she does not want to be held to what the ORR District or other towns are doing regarding open comment. “This is Rochester, and we don’t do everything exactly alike,” she said. With that, Fernandes made a motion that the subject be tabled until the August 29 meeting of the committee.

            When time came for Open Comment, resident Jeff Costa reminded the committee that its members work for the taxpayers and asserted that the committee is stifling open comment. Costa referenced details, including the order of the agenda and a lack of transparency.

            The School Committee heard an update on communication from Hartley, who started by telling the membership that she moved into Rochester in 1971 and has attended every single Memorial Day event since. This year, she said, the event was promoted and executed with “many errors and many mistakes.” As a result, she reached out to Select Board member Adam Murphy and reported having held “a terrific meeting.”

            Hartley suggested a committee be created to oversee the holidays in Rochester. Murphy concurred and invited Hartley to attend a subsequent Select Board meeting, where it was decided to create such a committee.

            The committee conducted an executive session for purposes of exception #3, “To discuss strategy with respect to collective bargaining or litigation if an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body and the chair so declares,” and exception #7, “to comply with the provisions of any general or special law or federal grant-in-aid requirements.”

            Murphy attended the executive session remotely, then voted in concert with the entire committee to approve the Memorandum of Agreement between the School Committee and the Rochester Memorial Teachers’ Association.

            The committee voted to accept a Vacation Acceleration Academies Grant in the amount of $43,000. The grant will allow the district to operate instruction in between the Summer Sail program and the start of the 2024-25 school year and target English Language Acceleration skills.

            The committee voted to accept a High-Quality Instructional Materials Purchase Grant in the amount of $27,992. Fedorowicz explained that the grant will fund new materials that will target STEM and science resources for younger grades.

            The committee voted to accept an $849 grant from the Tri-Town Education Foundation Fund to Ann Realini to attend the four-day, “I’m Getting My Teach On!” education conference.

            The committee approved the following school committee meeting dates: August 29; October 3; November 14; January 16, 2025; March 20, 2025; May 1, 2025; and (Wednesday) June 4, 2025.

            After some discussion citing several years since increasing the rent, the committee voted separately to approve the memorandums of agreement under current terms by which SMEC and Countryside Childcare use Rochester Memorial School space.

            The committee approved the following book donations: From the RMS PTO, “Dog Man The Scarlet Shedder” by Dav Pilkey; from the Plumb Memorial Library, “The Tower of London: A Chilling Interactive Adventure” by Blake Hoena; “Surviving Mount Everest” by Blake Hoena; “Game Changers: Heavy Hitters” by Mike Lupica; “The Sports Pages” by Jon Scieszka; “You Go First” by Erin Entrada Kelly; “Perseus and the Monstrous Medusa” by Joan Holub; “Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions” by Lenore Look; “The Last Musketeer” by Stuart Gibbs; “Down and Out Down Under” by Geronimo Stilton; “We The Children” by Andrew Clements, “Game Changers: Play Makers” by Mike Lupica; “Other Worlds” by Jon Scieszka; “Stink and The Ultimate Thumb Wrestling Smackdown” by Megan McDonald; and “Saving Fable” by Scott Reintgen.

            At the start of the meeting, Hartley welcomed newly elected member Josh Trombly and had kind parting words for outgoing member Jason Chisholm, selecting a book to honor him for his positive and thoughtful contributions during his service from 2021 to 2024.

            The next regular meeting of the Rochester School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, August 29, at 6:30 pm at Rochester Memorial School, and the next meeting of the Joint School Committee will be held on Thursday, June 20, at 6:30 pm at ORR Junior High School.

Rochester School Committee

By Mick Colageo

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