The Marion School Committee has not yet followed in the Mattapoisett School Committee’s footsteps, which on January 11 unanimously voted to bring back Grades K-2 to school on a full-time basis beginning January 19. But significant steps have been taken so that Marion can decide to follow suit.
Sippican School Principal Marla Sirois presented a plan during the Marion School Committee’s January 19 meeting that outlined what would take place for Grades K-2 to return to school on a full-time basis. Sirois said she was able to navigate the plan with school nurse Meg Allen to accommodate Grades K, 1, and 2 without disturbing Grades 3-6.
With 32 children in Kindergarten, 43 first-graders, and 50 second-graders, a phased program can be implemented by moving children to other rooms, including access to part of the library. The 43 first-graders would move to the band room and the library, while 50 second-grade students would relocate as follows: Those in Room 118 would move to Room 107, those in Room 121 would move to Rooms 123 and 122, which would be combined via a removable dividing wall, and likewise, those in Room 120 would move to Rooms 126 and 128.
“The library is a large move and one I was hoping not to make,” said Sirois, explaining that the mobile book cart keeps all books accessible.
The phased approach began with assessing needs, including space, moves, tech, and staffing. Subsequent phases would include moving lab space and YMCA before- and after-school care, converting the library, moving partitions, relocating the Title 1 room, preparing the band room, adding desks to Kindergarten classes, moving teacher/student spaces to larger spaces, and removing tables in favor of desks in the cafeteria.
Sirois laid out two options, one that would put Grades K-2 back in school five days per week at the cost of recording classes for students in quarantine, the other bringing them back four days per week with the ability to serve those 60 quarantined students.
“I think it’s important for us to acknowledge families that have chosen other learning models for whatever those reasons might be,” she said.
Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson told the committee that the plan would need time. Its initial support would result in making a calendar off of the outlined phases, so, at the right time, with support from key stakeholders, the decision to approve such a plan ultimately remains the committee’s decision to implement.
Doing so will require after-school and weekend work to move pieces. Nelson recommended making the preparations while maintaining the hybrid learning model, then pivoting to increase in-person learning time with the School Committee’s support.
“This is an initial conversation,” said Nelson, thanking Sirois for creating the proposal.
Marion School Committee Chairperson Michelle Smith said, “Looking at the plan actually gave me a little more ease.”
Committee member Nichole Daniel asked if a return would result in a faster learning pace. Sirois said no. “I see the ability to be with more practice for a given skill like we would have done in a normal year. The practice that parents are working with kids on hybrid out days will now be done by teachers on hybrid-in days.”
More review, more practice, longer time spent on the same material is what Sirois envisions.
“We’re going to be able to provide consistency for them. Not that the parent can’t, but let’s be realistic,” said Sirois, noting that students cannot engage in partner-reading during a hybrid-out day. “We would be able to put that curriculum of depth back in place.”
Member April Rios asked if plans are underway to address those who will wish to go from hybrid to full remote due to the change. “I have thought about that.… There might have to be a shift in our remote teachers,” said Sirois, who has resisted larger class sizes but admitted it might have to be on the table.
The committee voted to support moving forward so that the school can position itself. Nelson said he hopes to have essential health officials to join the next meeting to discuss further.
The committee voted to approve Sirois’ plans to address literacy in compliance with the Student Opportunity Act. The three-year plan meant to close academic gaps and create action plans to monitor progress was temporarily shelved by COVID-19 until the late fall.
The committee discussed DESE’s new regulations on structured time for learning; indications are more specific guidance will follow in the coming weeks. “I think it’s important not to make changes so that we’re not implementing things that are going to change,” said Sirois. “It makes the most sense for me to wait a couple of weeks. I think we have to get the first graders up and running before we make any big changes…. I think we need to wait for that guidance because every time they say that it’s big.”
Smith reported that input and feedback had been received regarding the FY22 draft budget. “We were happy with what we presented to the town…. I’m pretty pleased with the process at this point,” she said.
Committee member Jody Dickerson asked that the documentation be forwarded to the Finance Committee. “This is the most detailed budget I have seen from the School Committee in a lot of years, so I want to commend you on the job that you have done,” said Dickerson.
Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Howie Barber said that ORR is waiting on news about state aid to know how to assess its budget.
The committee approved the Student Handbook revision outlining the fee schedule to support device maintenance. Sirois said she prefaced that addition with language for the parents to better understand the intention behind the new fees.
In his Financial Report, Barber said that through December 31, 2020, the ORR School District used 86 percent of its operating budget for student learning and $383,000 remains unencumbered. He said that the second half of the school year money is typically needed to cover facility-related costs. He also thanked Food Service Director Jill Hennessy for doing a great job despite the loss of staff. ORR has lost two cooks to retirement and a speech pathologist.
In the Central Office Administrator’s Report, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Dr. Janell Pearson-Campbell reported on a January 11 professional development day and thanked her assistant Kim Reed.
Director of Student Services Craig Davidson said Kindergarten report cards are expected February 4-5. There will be a 6:00 pm information session for elementary school parents focusing on online learning. Preschool assessment is scheduled for January 27 at Sippican School and on March 10 at Rochester Memorial. There will be a Childhood Learning Council meeting from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm on Tuesday, January 26.
Nelson reported on the Anti-Racism Subcommittee, noting that it had been divided into two subgroups, one looking at a survey design for student feedback and the other developing a common language. The subcommittee also heard from a consultant and is in a negotiation phase for that person’s services.
Nelson offered heartfelt condolences to Facilities Director Gene Jones on the recent loss of his wife, Peggy.
In her Principal’s Report, Sirois thanked ORCTV for its Christmas Wishes presentation and welcomed back music teacher Hannah Moore. She also thanked everyone who made it possible for Sippican School to help 18 families and 45 children in Marion during the holidays.
The School Committee went into executive session, only coming out to adjourn.
The next meeting of the Marion School Committee is scheduled for February 24. The ORR School Committee was to meet on January 20, and the Joint School Committee will meet on March 11.
Marion School Committee
By Mick Colageo