School Committee Starts September Strong

            The September 14 meeting of the Marion School Committee kicked off a few minutes behind schedule, as members of the committee went on a tour of Sippican Elementary School, meeting some of the new staff and checking out the setup for the recently started school year. Once everyone had settled in, the meeting was called to order.

            The meeting opened with a presentation to welcome new staff members, with short bios and fun facts presented in a PowerPoint format. Among them were Michelle Ennis, the school adjustment counselor who had moved to America from Ireland when she was 18. She’s had a photograph published by National Geographic and Parade magazines and has performed in professional bands for over two decades.

            The next newcomer was Taylor Nelson, a Grade 6 teacher who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard. She has a five-month-old daughter and traveled to Australia as part of a soccer tournament when she was 12. Then came Maggie Francisco, the school psychologist, with a birthday on New Year’s Eve and an affinity for cornhole; she has even helped design and build cornhole boards! Debra Smith is a Grade 4 teacher who started her career as a high school English teacher. An adopted child herself, she’s previously worked for an agency providing services for adoptive families as well as having volunteered for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, remaining in contact with her Little Sister to this day.

            Rounding out the pack was Katie Pike, the new art teacher, who has previously dyed her hair “every color of the rainbow.” She taught ceramics at a youth summer camp in Bridgewater for two years and loves to explore the outdoors in New Hampshire.

            After a warm group welcome, the approval of the minutes was raised. A brief debate ensued over details some members felt were missing with revisions suggested and reviews agreed upon. With that settled, the committee went into a brief Executive Session.

            Upon return, the members discussed the opening day of the school and the celebrations and events therein. Much praise was heaped upon the keynote speaker, Liz Kleinrock. She gained national attention after appearing in a short documentary produced by Fluid Film, as well as news outlets such as CNN, The Washington Post, NPR and BBC.

            Having worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer teacher, a classroom educator and a diversity coordinator, Kleinrock works around the nation to make sure students are getting the support they need in the classroom. She received the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2018 and has published articles with Heinemann Publishing and Teaching Tolerance on topics such as destigmatizing privilege, trauma-informed teaching and cultivating relationships with students and families.

            After an approval of the Student Handbook, the committee gave an update on the School Resource Officer. Given the year’s budget, hiring a SRO was not considered feasible, though it was noted that additional funding was being sought out and would likely be attained. There was also mention of a pilot program to increase the police presence in the building. Committee members wanted to stress the fact that this was something being actively worked on.

            The committee confirmed that there would be a free breakfast and lunch program for students for the 2022-23 school year and celebrated the announcement while going on to note that there had been and could continue to be supply-chain issues and subsequent cost concerns as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

            The installation of an ADA-compliant electric door in the Sippican Elementary School entrance is ongoing, as is the reinstallation of the rear playground to ensure students have ample opportunity for positive exercise and play.

            During the Central Office Administrators Report, the potential need for a literacy assessment for the student population was discussed. The goal would be to identify literacy needs within the school system. Funding has been sought through various grants and partners, though currently the status is “fingers crossed.” Details will come when more concrete plans have been identified.

            The Principals Report came with praise for all the new staff members, reminding those present how lucky they were to have a full clinical team including a school adjustment counselor and psychologist. Also mentioned was Marion Public School’s partnership with Tri-Town Against Racism in order to decorate the bulletin boards across the building, along with monthly classroom activities based around things like Black History Month or Autism Acceptance Month, “touching on all of the people who are in our community and celebrating who we are as a school.”

            After brief discussion of the fourth graders’ upcoming instrument selection, which apparently heavily favors the trumpet, the microphone was turned over to the School Committee reports, which commented upon a number of routine goings-on, including upcoming subcommittee meeting dates and potential future agenda items.

            The meeting was then opened for public comment, during which a Marion citizen took issue with ORR’s selection of Kleinrock as a lecturer to faculty. She claimed that Kleinrock, a Korean-American woman, was forcing a political narrative into the education system with her antiracist teaching. She claimed that a book that was recommended on Kleinrock’s website, “Not My Idea” by Anastasia Higginbotham, was racist against white people, before stating that Kleinrock’s endorsement of the book was further proof of Kleinrock’s political agenda.

            The second public comment was from another Marion citizen who wanted to raise concern against the lack of a School Resource Officer. The committee reminded them that they had previously addressed this issue and stated again that there isn’t room in the FY23 operating budget. After confirming that no further comment was raised, the committee adjourned the public meeting.

            The next meeting of the Marion School Committee is scheduled for Wednesday, October 26, at 6:30 pm at Sippican Elementary School and via Zoom. The next meeting of the Joint School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, September 29, at 6:30 pm at Old Rochester Regional Junior High School and via Zoom.

Marion School Committee

By Jack MC Staier

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