Safety Concerns Cancel Public Comment

            The November 15 meeting of the Mattapoisett School Committee started on a somber note, with Chairperson Carly Lavin making the announcement that the public-comment section would not be held during this meeting.

            “As a result of the threatening, disruptive and disorderly conduct of two members of the public that were held during the open-comments portion of the Joint School Committee held on Monday, November 7, which forced an abrupt adjournment of that body before any business was really started, I have made the decision not to allow for public comments at tonight’s business meeting on the matter.”

            The conduct referenced includes foul language and slang terms used by members exiting the meeting after the open-comment section had already ended. The comments emanated from an ongoing debate over sexual content in books at the high school library that has spawned the filing of Open Meeting Law complaints as well as numerous public comments, group letters and Facebook threads.

            “Each member of this elected body has been and will continue to be open to hearing and reading public comments from all of our constituents. However, when members of my committee need to be escorted to their vehicles for fear of their physical safety due to hostile or disorderly conduct from members of the public, then I’m forced to prioritize not only our safety but the business of this body,” stated Lavin. “It is my sincere hope that respectful, civil discourse will return to the Tri-Town. I do believe that as adults, we have both the responsibility and the moral obligation to model behaviors of civility. After all, our children continue to watch and listen.”

            From there on out, the tone shifted to a much more positive one, with Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Shari Fedorowicz giving an extensive PowerPoint presentation on the intricacies of the OpenSciEd program.

            “It’s a three-year rollout,” she began. “So we’re doing two units per year. The resources provide supplemental and instructional delivery sciences that are high quality and rigorous. They are open-(education) resources, which basically provide free access to resources that are aligned to the Massachusetts state frameworks, and the next-generation, science statements. So basically, it provides an innovative, instructional delivery model. It’s quite new. Kids are having a lot of fun with it.”

            The supplemental PowerPoint, with additional details on the OpenSciEd program, have been shared alongside other meeting materials to the ORR district website, Fedorowicz said.

            “The objective is to improve science education through the development and implementation of high quality, freely available sites and structural materials that are research based,” Fedorowicz explained. “The three-year, pilot rollout with two units were implemented this year, and the next unit will be implemented in spring.”

            It’s not just student materials either. Professional development for each unit is provided for teachers and administrators, including a four-day course that was provided before the launch. Each unit is tailored to a targeted grade level. Grade 6 studies light, matter and sound waves, while Grade 7 covers thermal energy, and Grade 8 focuses on chemical reactions in matter and energy.

            MCAS testing was discussed; it was noted that certain milestones and testing procedures had been delayed or upset because of the pandemic. “Student-growth percentiles” or SGP’s are used to measure student level achievement and how it has changed over time. These scores can be used individually per student or averaged out to represent the average student growth for that school or group. The Old Hammondtown Elementary School’s average for English Language Arts is 11% higher than the state average, and the math SGP averages 14% higher.

            As with the OpenSciEd program, the PowerPoint presentation relating to MCAS testing, including in-depth data and graphs, is available through the ORR district website, attached to the uploaded documents for the November 15 committee meeting.

            Lavin brought to the committee news that the Select Board has acknowledged an oversight where it concerns representation of the school committee in town financial matters and planning as dictated by town bylaws. Lavin told the School Committee that she has been appointed to the town’s “planning committee.” She is also seeking a volunteer from the School Committee to represent it to other town committees.

            The Principal’s Report covered the first Fun Run, held through the Boosterthon which raised $22,000 to support field trips, enrichment programs and playground repairs and enhancements. The Scholastic Book Fair was also noted to be a huge success. There was also an open call to attend the OHS band and Chorus’ annual holiday show on December 13 at 6:30 pm.

            The Facilities Director Report was brief and to the point, covering a number of repairs, such as a broken gym window, as well as taking inventory of the snow and ice winter supplies for the inevitable New England storms.

            Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson reported to the committee on the progress of the Collins Center study that in part is furnishing town officials with information and citizen feedback for the purpose of long-range planning that could potentially consider school consolidation. Nelson said two opportunities were held for citizen feedback, and the school department’s involvement in the project is basically up to date. He said, based on the attendance to the two in-person feedback sessions that the Collins Center believes a remote-access feedback session would not provide any significant information not already gathered.

            Nearly 3,500 responses were made to the online survey, according to Nelson’s report. Collins Center team members were to conduct a site visit on November 18. All data reported by Nelson, he said, has also been made available to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) which will make the information accessible to the public.

            In discussing her participation in the feedback session, Lavin stated what a pleasure and honor it was to share with citizens of different ages and demographics whom she had not met their common bond of care for the Town of Mattapoisett.

            “The experience of truly listening to how others felt about the value of education and our school buildings was an enriching and very powerful activity,” said Lavin, commending and thanking those in attendance for offering impassioned views and differing opinions in a civil manner.

            The committee voted to increase second-meal rates set in 2018 to $3.30 for lunch and to $2.75 for breakfast. First meals remain free of charge. Nelson told the committee that the other Tri-Town committees already voted for the increase.

            The Center School and Old Hammondtown Principals reports acknowledged Native American Heritage month, taking place in November, an observance started in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush.

            “The month provides an opportunity to commemorate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories and acknowledge the important contributions of Native American/Indigenous people. It is also an important time to educate the general public, as well as young people in schools, about the bias, discrimination and unique challenges faced by Native American/Indigenous people both historically and currently, and the ways in which they have confronted these challenges.”

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett School Committee will be held on Monday, January 9, 2023 at 6:30 pm in person and accessible live via Zoom. The next Joint School Committee will be held on Thursday, January 19, 2023 at 6:30 pm, also available in a hybrid format.

Mattapoisett School Committee

By Jack MC Staier

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