Schools Gain Seat in Consolidation Talks

            While the Mattapoisett School Committee was eager during Monday night’s public meeting to share in the same positivity pervading the Old Rochester Regional School District at large, the potential consolidation of school building lurks as the UMass Boston Collins Center carries out its study.

            Committee Chairperson Carly Lavin and ORR Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson met with Collins Center representatives on September 8 in what was called an “initial project-oversight team meeting.” Nelson said school-side stakeholders achieved agreements on communications, data sources and impact and also agreed to meet regularly, the next meeting scheduled for October 6.

            The next steps will include site visits in September and October with town-side and school side representatives. It is anticipated that the Collins Center will finalize its report in April 2023.

            “It’s a very aggressive timeline,” said Lavin, who at the same time was pleased with Nelson’s summary. The school district is pushing for two opportunities for the school committee’s participation, one in the evening and one during the day.

            Later in the meeting while giving her first Chairperson’s Report, Lavin told the committee she appreciates the participation of Town Administrator Mike Lorenco and also Chuck McCullough, who filled in for Select Board Chairman Tyler Macallister.

            While many messages indicate district-wide teachers and administrators are happy to be back in school, ORR Director of Student Services Craig Davidson said that for many, school never closed.

            Davidson reported that over 200 students participated in ORR’s SAIL summer learning program, for which he publicly thanked coordinators Charlie West and Kyle Letendre. A summer enrichment program that piggybacked on the SAIL program with afternoon opportunities was attended by 100 other students.

            High school students played a key role in the success of the program, especially as the younger participants sought out the high schoolers as role models and leaders. “The most rewarding part of this program,” said Davidson, was that it brought the community together. “We didn’t want summer to end so we applied for another grant and ran a second Acceleration Academy,” he added. The Acceleration Academy focused on literacy for younger students up through Grade 4.

            In all, ORR’s summer of 2022 saw seven weeks of programming facilitated by 136 staff members, 115 of which are current educators in the Tri-Towns or high school students. “Some actually joined us after the summer so it was truly a rewarding summer,” said Davidson.

            The committee’s Open Comment session near the end of the public meeting yielded two impassioned remarks, one from within the committee and one from without.

            Committee member Jim Muse reported that this summer, after a decade of advocacy at the state house, Massachusetts higher education laws were amended to open up state colleges and universities to students with intellectual disabilities or autism.

            Before the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) grant program, explained Muse, unless someone was in a grant program, a student between ages 18 and 22 with an intellectual disability or autism who did not pass MCAS testing and did not receive a high school diploma was prohibited from even auditing in the state educational system.

            The change in the law has been codified and barriers removed. As a result, students with disabilities will be able to participate as nonmatriculating students and participate in extracurricular aspects of campus life.

            “I can’t tell you what a big deal this is,” said Muse, who said that for the first time in the state and “hopefully” as a trend-setting law that could expand across the country, “individuals with disabilities and autism will be able to be life-long learners. This is something that can definitely be on their horizon. … This is a great event for education as a whole.”

            The second comment came from Tom Kearns, 8 Fairview Drive, who told the committee he was looking for a town with antiracial, antibullying policies when he moved his family to Mattapoisett.

            “We believe everyone has a right to exist in a nontoxic atmosphere,” said Kearns.

            Despite the ORR administration’s antiracism policy, resolution and subcommittee, life for students is not without reminders of the past. Kearns told the committee that last school year his daughter ran into some bullying problems, and only three days into the new school year, his son was targeted by racial slurs.

            “I just think we have to do better as a community. Racism is alive and well, so instead of playing whack-a-mole on a case-by-case basis, we need (stricter policies that take the judgment out of the hands of teachers,)” said Kearns, stressing that the vast majority of students conduct themselves as if they have excellent role models. The outliers, he suggests, learn racism. “They’re not born to be racists, they’re taught this. There has to be a clear set of rules.

            “I lost a daughter to this a few years back so I have a personal vested interest. If X, Y and Z happen, your parents are going to get involved.”

            Kearns suggested that bus monitors be positioned midway down the aisle of the seating area, the end game being zero tolerance for racist behavior under the watch of the school system. Kearns readily admits the efforts can only be effective where the message has teeth. “It’s just in this school system, it shouldn’t be allowed,” he said. “It’s a small population … doing this. The educators are great; this should not be put on them.”

            The committee voted to approve changes made in the Student Handbook that serves both Center and Old Hammondtown elementary schools. Changes are accessible on the district and schools’ websites, but Old Hammondtown Principal Kevin Tavares said he would make sure parents seeking a copy of the Student Handbook could get one.

            The committee voted unanimously to approve three donations from the Mattapoisett Parent-Teachers Association and the plan for a student run to support improvements in athletic facilities on school grounds.

            The PTA donated $1,745.63 to replace the unsafe surface under the swings at Old Hammondtown, $1,137.21 fix a loose and rusty staircase and $3,000 for new backboards and rims and new paint for the basket supports at the basketball court.

            The PTA is also hosting an October 18 Fun Run fundraiser event to be simultaneously held for K-6 runners at both Center and Old Hammondtown. Funds raised will pay for playground safety improvements, help defray the cost of field trips and provide programs for enrichment.

            New staff was recognized, including new Center School Principal Linda Ashley, along with three teachers, Jillian Lakey (halftime reading), Allison Dunn (halftime Remedial Math) and Grade 5 teacher Jocelyn Mare. They will help replace Principal Rose Bowman, halftime-reading teacher Diane Lizotte, halftime math teacher Patricia Cooney, reading teacher Holly Maloof and Paraprofessional Teresa Camara. Two teachers transferred: Carolyn Pawlishen from Grade 4 teacher to reading teacher and Kristen Sunde from Grade 5 to Grade 4.

            Pre-school screening will be held on Oct 25 for district-wide families at Rochester Memorial School.

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett School Committee is scheduled for Monday, November 14, and the next meeting of the Joint School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, September 29. Both meetings are to begin at 6:30 pm.

Mattapoisett School Committee

By Mick Colageo

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