The Halifax school committee meeting on Tuesday, October 15 began with a discussion on the current situation with the school’s buses. Halifax Elementary School Principal Kayne Beaudry and Superintendent Joy Blackwood reached out to the bus companies employed by the school to request that data be collected for several weeks regarding schedules and headcounts. According to that data, unlike last year, all buses are now under capacity. Halifax has four buses with capacities of 77 students a piece. The headcount for most of the buses came in in the forties with Bus 23 having sixty something riders. Blackwood explained that while it is required that there be space on the buses for all registered students, these numbers reflect the number of students actually riding the bus on a daily basis.
The data also revealed that the routes that take the longest are Bus 22 in the afternoon and Bus 38 in the morning with those rides averaging around 50 minutes. Currently, Bus 22 is the third of three buses to leave the school in the afternoon heading in the same direction for a time. As a result of the order, Bus 22 needs to stop behind the other buses dropping off students while its own first stop isn’t for nearly 20 minutes into the ride. Beaudry said it may be possible to change the order of the buses to see if it could cut down on ride length for Bus 22. Overall, however, the buses are reporting their completed routes back to the school ten minutes earlier than last year.
School committee members inquired about behavioral issues on the bus and whether there was improvement over last year. Beaudry said that they try to pull and examine the tapes from the bus on a regular basis. Additionally, bus contracts are set to go out to bid soon with Blackwood saying they are exploring the option to do so in the fall rather than the spring. One of the things that both the school committee and administration would like to see come from that are cameras that are located both at the front and back of the buses.
The policies subcommittee recently met to discuss updated school policies. One of the new policies will allow for alternatives to dissection as many students now hold strong beliefs regarding veganism, etc. Blackwood explained that while this has been the practice for quite some time, it is only now becoming official school policy.
Another policy update was made regarding the administration of medications. This policy underwent a thorough vetting including review by legal counsel to ensure that the changes were in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws. Additionally, Blackwood consulted with nurses from all six schools in the district over the summer.
Summer Schmaling told the committee during a Union 31 update that three finalists have now been selected for Superintendent. Schmaling reminded the committee members that the final interview process is open to all school committee members and invited their participation. Field trips to the campuses where the final three candidates are coming from are also going to be scheduled. The search committee hopes to have a final decision made by November 14.
Principal Beaudry gave a report on the recent happenings at Halifax Elementary including the open house held on September 11. Beaudry said, “The place was packed, it was great; it was a good vibe in the building.” The PTO run ice cream social in the cafeteria was also a huge success. The staff also underwent ALICE training (active shooter response training). They plan to roll it out to students as well. Beaudry shared some important upcoming dates as well including the PTO run book fair from October 21 to October 25 in the school library. The Halloween Social is scheduled for October 25 and the Turkey Trot for November 7. Volunteers are still needed for several of the events.
Assistant Superintendent Jill Proulx gave a presentation on the Halifax MCAS results. Proulx said she met with Beaudry, Assistant Principal Brian DeSantes, and K-6 Curriculum Coordinator Melissa Farrell to go over the results and talk about next steps. While there was marked improvement in English Language Arts (ELA) scores in Grades 3-6, math scores for the same cohort have dropped since 2017. Farrell said it’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused scores to raise or lower but at least partially attributed the drop in math scores to a change in curriculum and explained that, “in implementation of a new curriculum, it’s historical that you see a dip.”
Another area that needs improvement is the Grade 5 science and technical engineering scores. This was the fifth grade’s first time taking the science test. Farrell said that the long-term goal is to move the teaching of science more toward doing and less toward nonfiction reading. Farrell also pointed out the difficulty of trying to keep up with changing Massachusetts standards, saying, “What isn’t aligned with standards is any textbook that is out there.” Farrell and Proulx assured the committee that they are working on making sure that teachers and students are in the best positions possible to meet those standards.
Farrell, who oversees Title 1 funding and spending, said there was an overall decrease in funding and that this year Halifax is functioning off a $250,000 grant. At this time last year there were 74 students being served under Title 1 and this year there are 83. Despite having more students, Halifax lost one of their four part time Title 1 staff members.
Unlike qualifying for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), determining which students receive Title 1 services is less strict and more fluid. Farrell explained that two pieces of data are used to determine which students will receive Title 1 services. Examples of data include test scores, teacher recommendations, social needs, etc. Title 1 funds are used for professional development, summer programming, etc.
Farrell said that she is concerned about funding summer programs next year because of the cuts. Ways to supplement the grant money used for the summer programs are currently being explored.
Blackwood provided details regarding enrollment at Halifax Elementary as of October 1. This year’s kindergarten class was smaller than last year’s by nearly 20 students. Unlike Kingston and Plympton that both have an increase of students, overall enrollment at Halifax Elementary was down 22.
For the year 2020, 31.4% of Silver Lake students are from Halifax with estimates placing those numbers at 30.6% for next year. This is good news for Halifax’s budget as it means that their contributions will go down.
Blackwood also gave the committee her recommendations for where funds could best be used to better the school district. Blackwood said that she would recommend a nurse leader and said it was unusual not to have one. Blackwood urged that it would bring value, safety, and oversight to the district. It would be a part time position and Blackwood estimates that Halifax’s portion of the cost would likely be around $6,000 – $7,000.
The second recommendation was to bring band back during the school day. Blackwood again recommended a part-time position emphasizing that the change would equalize the playing field and allow all students to participate and not just those whohave rides during after school hours. “For many students that is what makes school worthwhile – the extras,” Blackwood explained.