Halifax Town Administrator Charlie Seelig attended Thursday’s Silver Lake Regional School Committee meeting. Seelig said he was there to address his budget concerns now rather than in February when all departments are too far along in the process. A concern of his that would later be echoed by Chair Jason Fraser was the lack of Chapter 70 funding the district is receiving under the fiscal 2020 plan. Chapter 70, which is the major form of state aid to public elementary and secondary schools in Massachusetts, made several changes this year including a change in the student poverty measure that resulted in more aid going to urban districts such as Brockton, Everett, Lawrence, etc. while more suburban and rural districts came up short.
Seelig expressed that the lack of funding is not only a school issue but a town issue as well since the district will need to rely on town assessments to make up for what they don’t receive in Chapter 70 aid. While there is little effect to Halifax Elementary, the other schools in the Silver Lake district are suffering. Both Seelig and Fraser were careful to say that it’s not that the urban districts aren’t deserving of the help, but that other districts cannot be forgotten. Seelig said, “We need some help too, maybe not as much as some of those other communities but we’re not floating in riches either.” Fraser has reached out to local legislators including state representatives Vinny deMacedo and Kathleen LaNatra regarding a $100 per pupil minimum increment. Vice Chair of the Committee Eric Crone initiated a motion to send a letter to legislators from the entire school district.
Former Plympton School Committee member Lynn Kaupp, who has a background in special education, attended the meeting to speak on behalf of the non profit Coastal SNAP and ask permission to have the schools disseminate the word about the program. The all-volunteer program provides youths with intellectual and physical disabilities the opportunity to participate in various athletic and recreational endeavors. Kaupp, who is President of SNAP, explained that students with disabilities are matched with other students preferably from the high school (although mature middle school students may be eligible) in a one-to-one mentor relationship. Kaupp explained, “you don’t have to play a sport, that’s not really what it’s about – it’s about connection.” Students needing 40 hours of community service to graduate might consider being a part of the program. All mentors require two references. Crone made a motion for the School Committee to support the SNAP program and Superintendent Joy Blackwood as well as Silver Lake High School Principal Michaela Gill approved Kaupp’s request on behalf of the administration. The Kingston Fire and Police Departments have both donated to the organization.
Also in attendance was Kingston Police Chief Maurice Splaine and Kingston Officer Matthew Donovan. Donovan, who is a graduate of Silver Lake, was named as the new school resource officer at Silver Lake Regional Middle School. Having a school resource officer at the middle school is new this year and is limited to only eight hours per week as supported by the town of Plympton. The town of Halifax voted against contributing to the school resource officer as they were opposed to the mechanism by which it was to be funded. The School Committee is hopeful that the number of hours can be increased next year. In addition to providing security, the job of a school resource officer includes bringing a law enforcement perspective into health related discussions including vaping and alcohol. Additionally, a school resource officer can act as a liaison between the police department and the school, notifying the administration of students who may need to be handled with extra care due to circumstances at home. Donovan will be attending a school resource officer class in November. Donovan said, “I’m excited to build relationships with faculty, staff, and most importantly the students.”
New Interim Assistant Principal Dan Stewart gave the principal’s report for Silver Lake Regional Middle School as Principal James Dupille was unable to attend. Stewart previously worked for the district as a school psychologist. November 9-10 is the New York City trip with eighty students from the school attending as well as a group from the high school and drama club. Stewart also reported on the success of the Haunted Halls and dance with over 80 percent of the school attending. The guidance department will be presenting the Science of Suicide on November 7 and 8. Principal Gill reported that students at the high school participated in Breast Cancer Awareness Month during October with events including a door decorating contest and a penny wars competition. In total, Silver Lake raised $45,000 with all donations going directly to local families being treated at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Weymouth.
Silver Lake technology director Steve Pellowe presented an overview of his department to the School Committee. There is a total of five people in the tech department and they manage over 7,000 tech devices ranging from access control panels to computers, etc. During the first month of school the technology department fielded between 60-80 help requests per day for grades K-12. Pellowe also talked about Securly which records searches done on school issued Chromebooks related to bullying or self-harm and reports them back to administrators. Pellowe said that they eventually hope to setup a student run helpdesk that could be delivered as a four-credit course. While Pellowe said that budgetary requests could be greater next year, he doesn’t anticipate any major impacts for the current year. Fraser said that Pellowe had the mindset of an educator adding, “There’s no one that knows you that doesn’t respect you.”
Superintendent Blackwood gave an update on enrollment at the various schools and the ways in which that enrollment affects the town’s assessments. Halifax Elementary School is down 22 students, bringing their assessment down from 31.4% to 30.6%. Kingston Elementary was up 25 students increasing their assessment from 56.3% to 57.1%. Dennett Elementary in Plympton was up a staggering 27 students. The middle school is down 11 students while the high school is down 10. Percentages by town for shared costs, which includes the superintendent, assistant superintendent, accountant, curriculum coordinator, etc., went down for Halifax (from 32.9% – 31.2%) and up for both Kingston and Plympton (from 56.3% – 56.7% and from 10.8% – 12.1% respectively). Budgets will hopefully be submitted by each school’s administration by Veteran’s Day. “It’s going to be a difficult year for the budget, no doubt,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood also spoke to three areas she would like to see considered during the creation of budgets. While partially funded now, Blackwood said she would like to see the school resource officer at the middle school receive more funding in order to ensure a greater presence during the school week. Blackwood also said that she would like to see a position added for a part time nurse leader who would oversee the other school nurses. The School Committee proceeded to engage in debate about whether or not it would be necessary to make such a position a full-time one. Crone pointed out that while the state audits hospitals, examining records no such oversight is provided within the schools and should be in order to ensure that laws are being followed. Blackwood said that Silver Lake is one of the only school districts without this position. The town of Marshfield, which is comparable in size to Silver Lake, has a full-time nurse leader. Blackwood also called for funding for a second teacher in the Allied Health program, which has the most students enrolled of any of the CTE programs. “This is something that we knew would be coming,” Blackwood said. Director of Career and Technical Programs Elliot Glass is currently applying for Chapter 74 status which would allow for an extra $4,000 per student. That approval would essentially fund this position. Blackwood and Fraser spoke to the success of the program as did the new student representative to the school committee Jake Twomey who is currently enrolled in the Allied Health program. Twomey who called the program phenomenal went on to say, “Honestly, it’s been almost life changing.”
Fraser gave an update on the search for the new superintendent. The hope is still to have some overlap with the new superintendent and Blackwood before Blackwood’s retirement later this school year. The search committee had narrowed it down to three finalists but one of the candidates had to remove themselves from contention for personal reasons. The next step will be conducting site visits to the candidates’ most recent place of work. Final interviews will occur on November 12 at 6 p.m. and November 13 at 6 p.m., both at Silver Lake Regional High School. The following night, November 14 there will be a deliberation and vote.