The Halifax Elementary School Committee held their first meeting of 2021 virtually on Monday, Jan. 4. Superintendent Jill Proulx said that the town of Halifax has been in the red risk zone for COVID-19 for four consecutive weeks. Initial guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) stated that communities in the red should move to remote learning. It was later changed to state that communities in the red for three consecutive weeks should move to remote.
The most recent guidance issued in late October recommended that communities remain in either a hybrid or full in-person learning model regardless of risk designation provided there wasn’t evidence of in-school transmission.
Proulx said that there has not been any evidence of school spread and said that the school administration has been in contact with all necessary parties regarding Halifax’s numbers. She also said that the district’s nurse leader has increased the frequency of her communication with the Board of Health providing them with daily updates. School Committee Chair Gordon Andrews said, “I know that any decisions made are always made with the best interests of those in the community in mind.”
Proulx also provided an update on student learning time in the hybrid model. Per DESE’s standards, schools in the hybrid learning model must provide an average of 35 hours of live instruction over the course of two academic weeks. Proulx said that all Silver Lake and Union 31 schools have cleared the standard.
Halifax Elementary School principal Kayne Beaudry provided an update for the Committee. According to Beaudry, enrollment currently stands at 572 students. Cohorts A and B have a nearly even distribution of students. Enrollment in Cohort C, or the fully remote cohort, has been reduced from approximately 100 to 85. “Teachers are doing a great job adapting and being flexible,” Beaudry said.
Beaudry had high praise for the virtual winter concert organized by music teacher Brenda Lessard. A recording of the chorus’ performance was made available. “If you have not seen them, check it out, it was pretty amazing what she was able to pull off with the students,” Beaudry said of Lessard. Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch nodded vigorously in agreement.
Beaudry told the Committee that two esteemed members of the cafeteria department retired on December 23. Between the two of them, the retirees had over 50 years of experience working there. “We will miss them,” he said. He also gave a shoutout to everyone that contributes to the giving tree at the school which provides hats and mittens to the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless.
Each of the standing committees that have had a meeting since the last School Committee meeting provided an update. Committee member Summer Schmaling read from an email from Halifax Youth and Recreation Director Richard Steele. Steele reported that the Halifax Elementary School gym has been used for the last two months for basketball practices only. As of the week beginning January 4, town basketball will also be held in the gym. Steele reported that the gym was one of the only ones open in the area. Schmaling expressed her gratitude for children being allowed to play sports in town. “Shoutout to Youth and Rec for making sure that happens because it’s really important to a lot of our families,” she said. The gym floor was also recently refinished.
The PTO last met on December 2. Due to cancelled field trips and other events the PTO has a surplus of money that they are looking to allocate. For this reason, Beaudry said that teachers should submit any wish list items to them. The PTO recently held a teacher appreciation luncheon. Participation in the recent book fair was down, but it was anticipated due to the unusual circumstances.
Proulx presented a first draft of the budget proposal for 2021 to 2022. The draft which was shared with members of the Committee represented a 3.41 percent increase in the regular day operating budget as well as a 5.13 percent increase overall. Principals were asked to prepare a level service budget as well as a capital plan that included input from staff. The budget presented by Proulx did not include Beaudry’s staffing requests nor did it include the current staffing for the hybrid model. Proulx said that shared costs were not yet included and said that she anticipated that the addition would increase the budget.
The budget includes an increase in custodial supplies as the need for continued increased cleaning is anticipated. It also includes $5,000 for a shed. The Special Education reimbursement program Circuit Breaker was factored in at 55 percent, a number that is likely conservative. Proulx also said that the budget accounted for five slots in the out of district vocational tuition line though there are currently four students enrolled, three of which will be graduating. The actual number remains to be seen.
The overall enrollment numbers are down while homeschool numbers have increased. Student enrollment at Halifax Elementary School is down by 17 from 2020 to 2021. Halifax student enrollment at the middle and high school levels is down 5 students.
Andrews requested that the school make regular videos to showcase the work being done by the students and teachers as a way to show the taxpayers where their money is going. “There is a great return on investment,” Andrews said. Andrews referenced the presentation to the Committee by the students in the Pathways program for 18-22-year-olds that included a video of their recent work. “It made me feel good and gave me a reason to want to be on the School Committee,” he explained.
Andrews told the Committee that he wanted to acknowledge the great work done by Facilities Manager Matthew Durkee, Head Custodian Bob Clancy, and Director of Building Maintenance Scott Materna in getting the backflow device at the school fixed after the recent snowstorm. Without the quick fix, the school would not have been able to open. Durkee, who was on the call, also acknowledged the assistance they received from various local companies including City Point Fire Protection, Inc., John Hoadley Plumbing & Heating, Inc., and FW Webb. “The group really pulled together and was able to accomplish this… kudos to all involved,” Durkee said. He also thanked Halifax Board of Health agent Bob Valery who he said was instrumental in getting things up and running. Andrews said that the Committee would be sending letters of thanks to those involved. “I know how long and hard you guys worked to try and get a solution into place,” he said.