Sobering Reminder of Ongoing Mission

            Old Rochester School Committee member Frances Kearns, speaking for the Equity Subcommittee at the committee’s September 7 public meeting, spoke of its July meeting in which the membership discussed plans for the 2022-23 school year.

            Kearns noted that the creation of the subcommittee (originally known as the Anti-Racism Subcommittee) was the result of various students and families in the community voicing the need for diversity in education and making the Tri-Town district a safe and welcoming place for all students. She went on to describe how some goals that were created with direct input from students and their families were easy to meet, while others seemed out of reach.

            “On the second and third day of school this year, my son was subjected to multiple instances of serious and concerning racialized harassment. After we talked about the incident, he asked me to please do something because it’s only going to get worse,” said Kearns, who implored other members of the subcommittee to dedicate themselves to the “hard work” next time they meet. “We need to renew our focus to real, measurable actions that will remedy the current negative aspects of the school culture that allows this to happen.”

            While the committee had much to celebrate and look forward to as the 2022-23 academic year was being launched, Kearns’ words provided a sobering reminder that the work to address racism and other inequities now in the purview of the subcommittee remains an ongoing process subject to new actions.

            The September 7 meeting of the ORR School Committee began with a full roll call before Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson welcomed Shari Fedorowicz, the new assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning, emphasizing how quickly she has jumped into her new role.

            Fedorowicz thanked the staff for her warm welcome and added her praise to the others, stating that she was thrilled with the first impression she got when touring school buildings.

            Several new staff members were introduced, including Julie Cotillo, the new school psychologist who owns a red husky named Kona and played the guitar and ukulele. Next was School Adjustment Counselor Vanessa Gelinas, who coaches gymnastics as a second job and will be getting married in October, followed by Courtney Higgens, preschool teacher, mother of four and enthusiastic painter of things from canvas to furniture.

            Kyrle Holland was introduced as a new English teacher, avid hiker and a Patriots fan, followed by Guidance Counselor Mike Janicki, who has a doctoral degree and has completed 13 marathons. Following him was Allison Lima, Physical Education teacher who speaks Portuguese as her first language and has a dog named Boston who was ironically rescued from Texas. Next up was Nicole Reedy, who has been a nurse for 15 years and will be working as one at Old Rochester Regional, alongside training for her first marathon in October.

            Paraprofessionals Teresa Camara, Paul Guilbeault, Jonathan Nogueira and Lori Westgate were all welcomed in sequence before moving on to ORR Junior High staff.

            Up first was Alisia Cabral, a Grade 7 Science teacher born in San Jose, with three dogs, three cats and a love of all things spooky. Then was Jennifer Medeiros, teaching Grade 7 Math, with a love of cooking, painting and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Darren Gray and Amy MacDonald were welcomed to the Junior High as paraprofessionals, along with Leslie Halnen in her new role as Special Education administrative assistant.

            The Central Office Report referenced opening festivities for staff, including coffee and breakfast treats followed by a pump-up meeting in the auditorium with a speech delivered by the superintendent. “My focus was celebrating our educators,” Nelson stated. “Acknowledging the incredibly important work they do for our children and families and how great they truly are.”

            Having visited the various schools on their first or second day of classes, Nelson told the story of one third-grade student who recognized him from the year before. “(The student) leaned over and he said, ‘You’re wearing the same shoes as last year, you didn’t get new school shoes?’” said Nelson, indicating it was time for a new pair of shoes.

            ORRHS Principal Mike Devoll explained further preparatory efforts undertaken by teachers and staff which had ended the last school year discussing the difficulties and impact of the ongoing pandemic, including the emotional toll it has taken on students and adults alike. Devoll praised the endurance and enthusiasm that the staff has been showing and expressed wholehearted optimism about the 2022-23 school year.

            Howie Barber, the assistant superintendent of Finance and Operations, discussed the FY23 operating budget, reminding those present of various policies, particularly regarding the ORR meal program which allots eligible students one free breakfast and one free lunch a day.

            Barber mentioned the potential of upcoming price changes for school meals as a result of item and shipping availability. He took an extra moment to thank custodial staff for their hard work both over the summer and into the ongoing school year, as well as the tech staff who maintain the school’s and students’ laptops, iPads and other learning devices.

            Nelson mentioned the ongoing implementation of Covid protocols in the schools, based on the BPH guidance from Massachusetts and aligned with the CDC. He continues to collaborate with local medical staff to make sure the community is kept informed and healthy and with that concluded the Central Office report.

            In his Principal’s Report, Devoll covered some of the ongoing athletic teams and early year activities.

            “One of our points of pride is getting the freshmen ready for their first day and a series of firsts. We try to string together as many positive firsts as possible. Your first day, your first week, your first term; the next thing you know, it’s been your first year,” he said.

            The committee voted to restructure, and Michelle Smith, the acting chair, was nominated outright, seconded instantly and unanimously voted into the role. Kearns was likewise the committee’s unanimous vote for vice-chair. The role of treasurer was carried on by Michael Perrone, and Diana Russo continues in her role as secretary, both with unanimous support. Further roles in various subcommittees can be found on the ORR website, though some are in the process of being updated to reflect the 2022-23 appointments.

            The next ORR School Committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 19, at 6:30 pm both in person at the ORR Junior High media room and via Zoom.

Old Rochester School Committee

By Jack MC Staier

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