The Silver Lake Regional School Committee meeting Thursday, December 5 began with a performance of Frozen Jr. by the Middle School’s Drama Club.
The students, who were led by their Program Director and school nurse Carol Beck, performed a number of songs for the school committee and administration.
Committee Chair Jason Fraser thanked the parents for bringing their students and said, “Break a leg next week obviously, and thank you so much; we always look forward to seeing the students… we never really get to see the fruit of our labors and it is lovely to see.”
Silver Lake Regional Middle School principal James Dupille said, “I want to thank my students for coming and doing Frozen Junior.” He also praised Carol Beck for her work as the program director and told the committee that Beck was a big part of the annual New York trip where she took several students to see Frozen on Broadway. Showtimes for the middle school performance are this Saturday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m.
Nutrition Director Megan Ahrenholz gave a follow-up presentation to the one she had presented in the spring. As she had done in her previous presentation, Ahrenholz brought one of her newer dishes for the committee to try, in this case, mango salsa. Ahrenholz, who is in her second year at Silver Lake, said that the department ended the previous year with a profit of $24,480. The current year is not looking as good with an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 loss anticipated. Ahrenholz said that an 8 percent increase in the cost of food, only one grocery vendor bid, and a decrease in school lunch participation were all significant factors in this year’s loss. Fraser said that they were having difficulty securing multiple bids in other areas as well, including school buses.
Ahrenholz shared with the committee several initiatives meant to reverse this trend. Amongst those were beginning breakfast at the high school in early 2020, offering new ala carte options at the middle school, and changing to a lower cost chicken patty. Ahrenholz also shared that she hopes to start a social media account for the nutrition department as well as having all recipes entered into the NutriKids menu planning program so parents, etc. can easily access nutrition and allergen information. Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee said, “I always think its wonderful when anybody comes to any meeting with a problem, also comes with a list of potential solutions, so I applaud you.”
Administrator of Special Education for Silver Lake Marie Grable also gave a presentation to the Committee. Currently, there are 637 total students in the district receiving special education services. The number of students in Halifax is 133, the number of students in Kingston 214, in Plympton the number stands at 53, and for the regionalized schools in Silver Lake 237. In terms of percentages, 16.8% of the Halifax student population have Individualized Education Programs (IEP), 15.1% of those in Kingston do, 16.8% of those in Plympton do as well. For the regionalized grades 7-12, 14.8% of the student population have IEPs. McGee asked Grable, how many, if any, of the students with IEPs were in mediation. Grable said that none of them were.
IEPs are contracts between the school and the family. When disagreements arise between the two parties that cannot be easily resolved, the case is sent to mediation with the most drastic outcome being a hearing before a judge. Committee members agreed that it was wonderful news to hear that none of the IEPs in the district were in mediation. The Committee also applauded Grable and her team for reducing the number of students with disabilities going out of district each year.
Fraser said, “Being able to keep our students here, in home, getting very specific instruction for very individualized needs and saving money at the same time is an unbelievable win-win-win situation. I know these are just numbers, but these are also kids and these kids all have families and the amount of difference that this makes in the lives of so many human beings is just remarkable.”
Grable’s presentation leaned heavily on the concept of equity rather than equality. As explained by Grable, equity equates to fairness, whereas equality equates to sameness. Essentially, just giving everyone the same opportunities does not amount to equality since that assumes that everyone is starting from the same place. Grable played a video for the Committee and administration entitled “Why Special Ed Isn’t” by Jennifer Sommerness. Sommerness argues against students being confined to self-contained special education classrooms. She also argues for thinking of students in strength-based ways.
Principal Dupille gave a report on some of the significant events that have either taken place or are scheduled to take place at the school.
The annual Head Start holiday party coordinated by the National Junior Honor Society is scheduled for December 16 from 4-6:30 p.m. Dupille also reported on the Jingle Ball Tournament this past Monday, December 9 where all participants brought in donations for Toys for Tots.
Other goings on in the spirit of giving include a coat drive from mid-December to mid-January where gently used winter coats will be collected during winter concerts as well as a giving tree organized by Carol Beck where donations will be made for fifty local families. A recent food drive at the school also resulted in donations of over 700 items. Staff and students had the opportunity to face off against one another, Principal Dupille among them, during the Turkey Bowl the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Silver Lake Regional High School principal Michaela Gill was unable to attend due to a family commitment so superintendent Joy Blackwood showed a video Gill had prepared. Various department chairs were recorded giving an update on changes within their departments.
Melissa Fontaine, the chair of the social studies department, said that they were reviewing changes to the framework to align with statewide curriculum standards. Fontaine also said that they were adding a student-led, non-partisan civic project to their U.S. history requirements. Kelley Depasqua, who heads up the fine and practical arts department said that the department is working toward embracing more modern types of music and will be offering a modern band course that is more in line with rock band style music. On the art side of things, the department is working toward offering more digital media and graphic design-oriented classes. Chair of the foreign language department, Buffy Hines, said that the department plans to rename themselves world languages, rather than foreign languages. Computer science and mathematics chair Kevin Sawyer said that a new course called business and money management will be offered. English and language arts department member Nicole Afanasiw said that a creative writing 2 course will be added as well as a humor writing class. Committee members praised the presentation format.
The Superintendent gave a report that included an update on the budget process. Blackwood said that she had met with the principals of the various schools to have initial conversations. The hope is to have a clean budget by January. Among the requests to potentially be made in the school’s budget is the addition of a teacher for the Allied Health program at the high school as well as potentially making the part-time adjustment counselor position at the middle school a full-time one. Fraser said that the addition of the allied health teacher would qualify the program for Chapter 74 funding which would practically pay for the additional cost of bringing on another teacher. For her part, Blackwood would like to see more hours added for the school resource officer at the middle school. Currently, Plympton is paying for 8 hours a week, but Halifax voted against funding the position at town meeting. Kingston currently pays for the high school resource officer. Blackwood believes that the position should be built into the police budget as is done in other comparable districts. Blackwood would also like to see a full-time nurse leader position added. Blackwood also said that she would like to see the pay for substitute teachers increase from $85 to $95 per day and for substitute nurses from $125 to $175 daily. Blackwood urged that the increase is only fair and would ensure better applicants to fill the positions. The district will also be going out to bid for bus transportation.
Fraser gave an update on the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) Conference that both he and Blackwood attended in November. Fraser said he had the opportunity to take a picture with Attorney General Maura Healey.
Fraser said the he told Healey that Silver Lake would potentially be interested in signing onto the lawsuits that the state is pursuing against the vaping industry. Both Principal Gill and Principal Dupille have been tracking some of the data related to school spending on the epidemic. The Committee recommended that it be complied into a document of some sort.
Fraser also said that Resolution 1, which Fraser wrote and which bans polystyrene foam from public school cafeterias by the school year 2022-2023, was passed by the MASC. There are currently three bills at the State House regarding such a ban. Fraser said he was hopeful that this resolution would help give those bills momentum.