RMS on Two-Year Improvement Plan

            After Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson made introductory comments to the October 7 meeting of the Rochester School Committee summarizing the ORR District’s Acceleration Road Map, Rochester Memorial School Principal Derek Medeiros presented a two-year School Improvement Plan.

            Medeiros introduced his team that helped produce the PowerPoint document, including teachers Forrest Cote and Jenna Tavares, paraprofessional Donna Cisco, and in new two-year terms, Student Council parent representatives Beth Jupin, Lindsay Tallman, and Maciel Pais.

            Medeiros explained that ORR’s overarching plan built around 21st Century Learning, Social Emotional Learning, and Global Citizenship will provide the framework upon which Rochester’s two-year plan will be localized.

            “The main goal for us [is] our students will be engaged in instructional practices that expose them to 21st Century skills, obviously through project-based learning experiences but also dealing in the classroom,” he said. “In order to make sure those project-based learning experiences are the highest quality … we know that we have teachers and specialists in our buildings who do this well and find this to be work that they take pride in and are going to be teacher-leaders for us.”

            Project-based learning experiences will aim to enable students to demonstrate media, and informational and tech-based literacy. At least one of those experiences will occur in Year 1 with an expanded schedule of such opportunities.

            In answer to committee Vice-Chair Anne Fernandes’ question, Medeiros said, “Teacher-leaders for us, honestly, are folks that are willing to do the work and want to be leaders on their grade-level teams or in their content area.” Medeiros said they are willing to be collaborative, have an open mindset, and are usually leaders in their field as acknowledged not only by himself and Assistant Principal Charles West but fellow faculty.

            Nelson stressed that meetings going back three and four years ago the district has been looking to ensure that individual schools’ strategic plans and school improvement plans connect to the adopted goals of the ORR District. That includes establishing timelines that flow with those on the district level.

            Committee member Kate Duggan was happy to hear world languages mentioned. She considers language opportunities crucial to the appreciation of other cultures.

            Committee member Jason Chisholm mused as to potential interaction with Tabor Academy, which draws students from all around the world. Chisholm suggested that bringing students from other lands and cultures to RMS from as nearby as Marion may be an untapped resource.

            “That is a great point, Jason, we will certainly look into that,” said Medeiros.

            Citing the School Council’s potential for connection to the community, Committee Chair Sharon Hartley suggested a senior citizen for School Council.

            Acknowledging her own plan to retire from School Committee in 2022, Hartley found the humor in the notion that she might be a prime candidate to fill such a role. She said she will bring the idea to seniors at the Council on Aging. Medeiros inspired laughter as he reminded Hartley that the meeting’s minutes would record her interest.

            The committee voted to approve the School Improvement Plan.

            The members also revisited edits to the Student Handbook and voted to approve the final version that includes the mask mandate that has been extended to November 1. Nelson said that the handbook can be amended again as needed during the school year.

            A Literacy discussion was on the agenda, and Hartley introduced an article published titled, “What is wrong with how schools teach reading.” Despite the pessimistic title, the article resonated with Hartley, whose 40 years of experience in and around education have not eradicated an abiding sense of how complicated the subject of reading still is for many students.

            Drawing from an interview with expert Emily Hanford, Hartley quoted from the article Hanford’s comment that, “The brain is hardwired to speak but not to learn to read. … Children have to be taught explicitly how to connect letters and sounds.”

            Reading does not come naturally, she summarized.

            So many theories of reading comprehension have come and gone, but Hartley said cognitive science is now addressing the science of reading. She suggested the schools have a “research guru” to stay up to date on the latest research.

            Citing the two-sided challenge of teaching and learning, Chisholm asked about strategy at the sight of struggle. Nelson said that, while Aimsweb is ORR’s official screening tool, MCAS also comes into play, and he added that there are different angles to interpret data and ways to connect evidence-based science of group studies.

            Town of Rochester Facilities Manager Andrew Daniel joined the meeting via Zoom to update the committee on Green Communities grant funding for Rochester Memorial School. Daniel told the committee that the town has received a second batch of funding in the amount of $176,000 to be focused primarily on the school building.

            Repairs will target the air ceiling, gaps in insulation, and work around the perimeter of the building including missing sections of brickwork that will be sealed. Lighting upgrades are also in the works, and Daniel estimated that RMS will need more grant funding to complete necessary repairs and upgrades.

            “We looked at the school top to bottom and did an assessment. … I think it’s about $300,000 (of work needed),” said Daniel. “This will get us started.”

            Lighting and automatic sensors inside classrooms, the library, and the cafeteria are first on the list. Work in the gymnasium is anticipated during the next wave of grant funding. Daniel scheduled a walkthrough with a job site foreman for this week and hopes to achieve a gameplan.

            Meantime, associated paperwork has been completed, signed, and approved by Eversource. “We’re actually pretty close to getting boots on the ground and getting some of the work done,” he said.

            Once all of the rounds of Green Communities grant funding are spent, upgrades at RMS are estimated to generate approximately $26,000 in annual energy savings, according to Daniel.

            In other business, Nelson provided a COVID-19 update. Six nurses are conducting tests so one nurse is available to every ORR District site every day. There have been 14 COVID-19 positive tests at RMS since the start of the school year; there were five positive results isolating as of the October 7 meeting.

            Nelson reported that the boil-water order in the Tri-Town does not apply to Rochester Memorial School, which draws from well water.

            The committee ended the public meeting to go into executive session to discuss collective bargaining and to comply with grant-in-aid provisions and only returned to adjourn.

            The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, November 4, at 6:30 pm.

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