The possibility to add more in-person learning time to the current hybrid model was discussed during the remotely held Silver Lake Regional School Committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14. Silver Lake Regional Middle School Principal Jim Dupille and Silver Lake Regional High School Principal Michaela Gill both weighed in on possible configurations for an altered hybrid plan. Currently, Cohort A attends in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays and Cohort B attends in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. Cohort C consists of those students who have elected to be fully remote and Cohort D consists of the highest needs learners who are prioritized for the most in-person learning days; some of which already attend school in-person on Wednesdays. Up to this point, Wednesdays have largely been used for professional development and planning. The new plan being proposed would have students in Cohorts A and B alternating Wednesdays in-person.
School Committee member Leslie-Ann McGee confirmed that this would not be a change to the learning model but rather a change in the way that the district is executing the hybrid model. Gordon Andrews, who serves as Chair of the Halifax Elementary School Committee and as a Halifax selectman in addition to his role on the Silver Lake Regional School Committee, asked how they plan to coordinate the change with the elementary schools in the district. Superintendent Jill Proulx said that once a timeline and proposal were established, she would address it with each of the other school committees either at a meeting or in an email.
School Committee member Chris Eklund brought up the stress that changing the look of the hybrid model at the middle and high schools but not at the elementary level could have for families with students spread out across the district. Two of the three elementary school committee chairs were at the regional meeting with Andrews and Kingston Elementary School Chair Eric Crone both on the regional committee. Only Plympton Elementary School Committee Chair Jon Wilhelmsen wasn’t present. While Crone said that Kingston had previously discussed the possibility of adding in-person learning on Wednesdays for Cohorts A and B, Andrews and Proulx confirmed that neither Halifax nor Plympton had.
The possibility of holding a joint meeting between Silver Lake Regional and the three elementary school committees was discussed. Crone pointed out the need to move quickly as it took several weeks from the time a vote was taken in Kingston to implement certain members of Cohort D attending school in-person on Wednesdays.
There was some debate back and forth regarding the practicality of adding the additional in-person learning time. At her first meeting since being appointed to the Regional School Committee, Emily Davis, concerned for posing more of a hardship for teachers, asked if Wednesdays were the only planning time available for them. Gill confirmed that it was. Gill also said that some teachers had proposed the possibility of a half day return to in-person learning on Wednesdays.
The hope would be to make the change as early as possible in Semester 3. McGee made a motion to accept the new proposal and it was voted through unanimously. Andrews asked that the administration focus their attention on implementing the plan saying, “we accept that other things won’t be at our normal timeline… I just want to give them the flexibility to get what we’re telling them is the number one priority done.”
Proulx provided an overall district update saying that despite the towns of Halifax and Kingston remaining in the red risk zone, there has not been evidence of classroom spread so the schools continue to remain open. She did say that there had been evidence of team spread which necessitated the canceling of team practices for close contact sports for two weeks.
Both Dupille and Gill also provided updates on their schools. Dupille said that drama has been reinstated albeit virtually. They held their first remote meeting on Jan. 13 at 9 a.m. The students are preparing a virtual variety show which will consist of each student’s performance being pieced together for the audience to view. Speaking of the staff responsible, Dupille said, “What they’re doing to connect and engage our students during this difficult time is really wonderful.” Dupille also said that the virtual robotics club will be restarting for the spring session on February 8. As of Thursday’s meeting, 20 of the 30 spots had already been filled.
Gill told the Committee about a number of new elective offerings, most of which fell under the ELA umbrella. Courses include “the podcast studio,” “the happiness class: rhetoric and the good life,” “grammar for modern readers and writers,” “race, society, and Identity,” “film studies,” and “soapbox to social media: analyzing media through the times.” The Committee voted to approve the new course offerings for the 2021-2022 program of studies.
Gill also asked the Committee to waive some of the graduation requirements as they had done the previous year in light of the pandemic. The waivers would include the 40 hours of community service needed to graduate as well as flexibility on the 96-credit requirement. Gill said the credit waiver wouldn’t include core content classes but rather an elective here and there. The Committee voted to approve Gill’s request.
Gill also introduced School Resource Officer Richard Allen to present his proposal for a criminal justice internship program at the high school. Allen, who is a patrolman with the Kingston Police Department, said the internship would be designed for 12th grade students with an interest in entering a criminal justice field. The goal would be to obtain an overview of a number of careers in the field and distinguish differences between roles such as police officer, parole officer, social worker, corrections officer, probation officer, and case manager.
The internship would include 8 hours of classroom time as well as 4-8 hours of field trips to places such as the Plymouth County Courthouse, Plymouth County Correctional Facility, Plymouth DCF, and the Kingston Police Department. Topics covered would include constitutional law, motor vehicle law, and the US court system. Allen said that the allied health program at the high school was his inspiration. Allen told the Committee, “My hope is that by them partaking in this internship program, they be able to make a more informed decision.”
Director of Business Services Christine Healy provided an update on the current year’s budget saying, “we’re still doing pretty well.” She said there were a few deficits including in the superintendent category due to conferences and travel that is mandated by her contract. There is also a deficit in homeless transportation at the middle school level though Healy said that will be balanced out by the surplus at the high school level. There is a deficit of about $1,100 for athletics as they haven’t been able to raise any revenues due to COVID restrictions. Finally, a deficit of $36,000 exists for unemployment as Healy said it was a difficult summer with many people collecting.
Proulx presented on the preliminary budget process for the coming year. She said that principals were asked to prepare a level service budget that would encapsulate only what it would take to maintain current staffing and programs. Proulx said that the preliminary budget does not include the costs for staffing the current hybrid model because it is assuming a return to full, in-person learning next year. It does reflect shared costs though it has not been adjusted for potential retirements. The increase in the preliminary budget from the current year is $714,168 or 2.67 percent. “Right out the gate, to see something under a three percent increase is surprising,” Chair Paula Hatch commented on the lower than usual percentage increase.
Proulx also gave an update on overall enrollment. At the secondary level, the total enrollment is down 21 students from last year. Homeschool enrollment has increased by 10 students in Grades 7-12 and students leaving the district through school choice has increased by 2 students. Proulx said she was waiting to hear if the state would hold the decrease in enrollment against the district given the circumstances surrounding the current school year.
President of the Silver Lake Education Association (SLEA) Jon Lay spoke briefly saying he was “very pleased that we were able to settle the teacher’s contract… I’m hoping that we can settle those things more expeditiously in the future.” He also spoke to what he called the “light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic” saying that he would like to see the staff vaccinated quickly. The staff will be eligible during Phase 2 which is scheduled for February to March. Lay also said that he spoke with Proulx about having Silver Lake handle the vaccinations directly as employers with more than 200 employees are eligible to administer them directly.