A joint meeting of the Silver Lake Regional School Committee and Union 31 was held on January 9 in order to interview and potentially hire a new assistant superintendent.
Newly promoted from assistant superintendent to superintendent, Jill Proulx told those gathered that she had previously worked with candidate Ryan Lynch for five years during her tenure as assistant superintendent in Scituate. Lynch was the English Department chairman for the Scituate Public Schools from 2008-2015 before serving as principal of the Lester J. Gates Middle School in Scituate from 2015-2019.
Lynch, who grew up on the South Shore, received his Bachelor of Arts degree from The University of Notre Dame and completed his master’s degree at Brown University.
Lynch comes to the table with nearly two decades’ worth of experience as a classroom teacher in addition to his administrative roles.
Proulx described Lynch as having a “devotion to meeting the needs of all learners” as well as a “growth mindset.” “I think we would be very lucky to have Ryan on our team,” Proulx said.
“I am the product of a public high school. I believe in the power of schools and the value of public service. My mother is a retired high school principal and that really inspired me to see the kind of work that school districts can do to change lives,” Lynch told the committee and Union 31.
Regional School Committee Chair Jason Fraser said, “The build to this point in your career is rather unique as you were so long in the classroom and in the trenches, which is something that many of us have said many, many times that we really look for in someone coming forth in an administrative position.”
Many of those present took the opportunity to ask Lynch a variety of questions on topics such as “initiative fatigue” and charter schools. Those present were impressed with Lynch’s responses.
Jeanne Coleman, a member of both the Kingston School Committee and Union 31, was a part of the search committees that unanimously forwarded Lynch on as the sole candidate. Coleman said, “He’s very authentic and very positive. Every one of the questions that we asked him, which were pretty heavy, he answered very thoroughly and also with a lot of optimism for our district and also with a lot of knowledge about our district already.”
Regional School Committee member Paula Hatch said that she considered Proulx and Lynch’s time working together in Scituate to be a positive. Hatch said, “Sometimes it’s hard when somebody comes in to get a rhythm going… I would think there would be an immediate gel moving into the team and that’s a big hurdle that you’ve already jumped over and that’s a wonderful thing for the district that you’re already that much further ahead in the process.”
Lynch was unanimously voted through by both the Union and the Regional School Committee as the next assistant superintendent.
Regional Budget Discussed
Once the joint meeting adjourned, the regional school committee began their budget discussion. Superintendent Joy Blackwood said that herself, Proulx, and Director of Business Services Christine Healy have been meeting frequently to build the budget for fiscal year 2020-2021.
Blackwood said that version one of the budget came in much too high and that middle school principal Jim Dupille and high school principal Michaela Gill joined Blackwood, Proulx, and Healy in trying to reduce that number. They were successful in cutting $331,239 from version one without cutting staff. Blackwood said, “I’m sort of willing to cut most anything except staff; that’s always my last resort.”
The original version of the budget was coming in at 3.84 percent while version two came in at 3.34 percent. Much of what was cut was equipment including bleachers, technology items, and books. “We cut pretty much to the bone,” Blackwood explained. Blackwood said that finding cuts is quite difficult as 98 percent of the budget is fixed costs.
Blackwood said that enrollment has been decreasing over the last ten years but did note that the number of students being homeschooled has also decreased. Twelve students at the grade 7-12 level are currently attending school in surrounding districts due to school choice.
“I had not realized the numbers that we are losing to school choice,” Blackwood said. Of Silver Lake considering school choice, Blackwood commented, “Considering our financial situation and the fact that we have space, it may be worth considering going forward. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do but I think I would be remiss in not mentioning it as a potential source.” Currently there are 293 students enrolled in the career and technical education program (CTE), which accounts for 26 percent of the entire high school.
There are five retirements including some aide positions that will not be replaced, providing clean savings for the budget. Blackwood said that the addition of an allied health teacher as well as a nurse leader were not included in the current version of the budget. In order to seek Chapter 74 certification for the allied health program at the high school, a second teacher will need to be added. Half of the program, which is currently the most popular of all the CTE offerings, can be paid for through a grant but the other half, roughly $30,000, will need to be added into the budget. The position will be paid for by the additional Chapter 74 income but that won’t take Effect until the year after next. The nurse leader position would be a shared cost position were it to come to fruition. Several members of the committee said that despite the need for further cuts they would still be supportive of adding these two positions.
There are a few areas that may potentially provide further cost savings when the final numbers are received. A five percent increase is currently built in for health insurance, but that number may likely be as low as three percent, providing roughly a $56,000 savings. The district is going out to bid for the bus contract and the number currently entered into the budget is quite fiscally conservative. Blackwood said that they are hopeful to have those numbers finalized by the February committee meeting.
Perhaps the biggest hit to the budget is the contribution to the Plymouth County Retirement. The contribution this year is up $111,238. Blackwood and Healy said that they are at a loss as to why the large increase.
Principals Dupille and Gill both addressed the methods that have been taken for curbing the vaping epidemic in the schools as well as the approach to disciplining those found using vaping devices. A vape detection system was purchased and installed over the summer but has been malfunctioning since. Administrators reached out to the company and have since deactivated the system. A new devices will be reactivated in the next few weeks.
Gill said that a task committee was formed to study discipline data related to vaping. What was found was that the traditional approach consisting of multi-day suspensions, etc. was largely ineffective in deterring use. The school has started to develop a deviation program, based on the one used in the Belmont school district, that would provide education, support, and counseling for students to help with their addiction. Some students have done the Upper Academy in North River which is a 5-day program, in lieu of a suspension, that focuses on counseling and therapy and learning about what’s causing their addiction. The end goal is to start a four-week long program in-house at Silver Lake that would provide similar services. Gill said that another goal is providing a safe space where students can self-report and receive help.
The administration also recently partnered with the allied health program and the SADD (students against destructive decisions) program to unite students and staff together to combat the epidemic. The allied health students hope to reach out to students across all age levels in the district in order to help with education and prevention.
The SADD students are working on school PSAs to spread awareness about vaping and the dangers associated with it. Silver Lake Regional School Committee student representative Jake Twomey is enrolled in the allied health program and is also a part of the coalition of staff and students intent on working on a solution to the ever growing problem of vaping.
Twomey said that the students intend to do a presentation aimed at high school students, another one aimed at middle school students, and still another for the youngest cohort at the elementary level. Twomey explained that the hope is that the words would carry more weight coming from students. He also said that the goal is to focus not just on fixing the problem, but also on preventing it. A student support group is another idea that has been floated.
Dupille said that students undergo SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) screenings. Additionally, the school offers anti-vaping programs throughout the year including this past week’s Vaping Me Crazy led by presenter Michael DeLeon. Dupille stressed that such presentations are open to anyone and are not limited to middle school parents.
Vice chair of the Regional School Committee Eric Crone said that he has been alarmed at the number of parents and grandparents who believe that vaping is not addicting and mild compared to what people of an older generation were doing in school. The consensus among the committee was that oftentimes parents as well as students need to be better educated regarding the risks associated with vaping.
Superintendent Joy Blackwood Prepares for Retirement
Staff threw a retirement party for Blackwood to thank her for her many years of service at Silver Lake. During Thursday’s meeting, Gill said, “On behalf of Jim and I and all of our staff and our students Joy, we just wanted to express our heartfelt thank you for your dedication and service to this district. We’re going to miss you, wish you all the best in your retirement, and we just want to publicly acknowledge all that you have done for our students and thank you for that.”
Fraser said, “The biggest impact you’ve had on my life is the impact you’ve had on my children’s lives.”