A brief school choice hearing was held on Monday, April 22 prior to the regular Plympton school committee meeting. Chair Jon Wilhelmsen opened the discussion to the public as well as the committee. The discussion mainly consisted of Superintendent Joy Blackwood pointing out the large size of the incoming kindergarten class as traditionally school choice was used in years when enrollment was low. Vice Chair Jason Fraser seconded Joy’s hesitation saying he would only support school choice for the siblings of students already attending Dennett Elementary. The motion not to accept school choice for the 2019/2020 school year was passed unanimously.
With Blackwood retiring in January of 2020, the search is on for a new superintendent. Blackwood will be staying on until January in order to complete an additional budget cycle and help with the transition. Fraser said that he had reached out to three different organizations that conduct superintendent searches. The organizations were MASC (Massachusetts Association of School Committees), Nesdec (The New England School Development Council), and a collaborative in Massachusetts that is trying to get into these types of searches. The collaborative was ruled out as Fraser never heard back from them while Nesdec had conducted far fewer of these searches in Massachusetts compared to MASC who has done several successful searches in the last 18 months. The committees, with Fraser abstaining, chose to go with MASC to run the superintendent search. They also authorized $15,000 to be spent by Silver Lake with the remaining charges of between $750 to $950 to be paid by the school committee. The expense for the search will be less than ½ of 1% of the overall budget of $50 million.
Of the decision to hire an outside organization to handle the search, Fraser said, “It’s a bittersweet moment. The average tenure for a superintendent currently is about 4 years in Massachusetts. We don’t want that to be part of our legacy. We don’t want to have Joy, who’s been part of the family for over a decade, be the last person we have as far as a family who stays here and really nurtures their career and nurtures our school district. That’s why we chose to go with an organization that can provide us with the firm structure to do a superintendent search instead of trying to freehand it ourselves.”
The plan is to have a preliminary screening group that consists of one person from each of the elementary school committees as well as one person from each of the towns from the Silver Lake Regional School Committee. Eric Crone will represent Kingston Elementary, Jon Wilhelmsen Plympton Elementary, and Summer Schmaling will likely represent Halifax Elementary. The three Silver Lake Regional members representing their respective towns will be Michael Antoine for Plympton, Laura Tilton for Kingston, and Paula Hatch for Halifax. In addition, the screening group will also include one administrator from the elementary schools, one administrator from the Silver Lake campus, and one administrator from the central office. Filling out those roles will likely be Principal of Silver Lake Regional Middle School James Dupille, Principal of Dennett Elementary School Peter Veneto, and from the central office, Director of Business Services Christine Healy.
Once more dates, etc. are in place, Fraser also plans to reach out to the three towns to try to get some municipal involvement from either the finance committees or selectmen. The search will likely be a long and extensive one with finalists likely not selected until the fall.
Regarding the issue of lead in the water at Dennett, Veneto said he had sent eight months’ worth of testing results to Greenseal and had been in contact with a representative there. Veneto said of his conversation, “she seems willing to want to make the problem better.”
Fraser gave an update on the plans for a new Dennett school playground citing a lot of public support and excitement for the project. More offers for donations have come in in the form of labor, landscaping, surveying, and a bank of swings (requested by students when surveyed) with estimates placing these donations at a value of $30,000 to $50,000. The additional revenue would help in making the playground even more accessible for students with intellectual, emotional, and physical disabilities. The donations, however, are contingent upon the article from the Community Preservation Committee for $94,000 toward the playground passing at the May 15 town meeting. Currently, there is roughly $132,000 available from school choice funds which has been held for just such a one-time use for students such as the building of the new playground. Fraser stressed the importance of people attending the May 15 town meeting and asked that people understand it is a two to three hour commitment that requires staying until the end and being thoughtful on a number of school and education related votes that night. Also included on the warrant for town meeting and special town meeting are school budget, regional budget, the article for the school resource officer, and assuring that the special education stabilization fund stays fully funded at 2 percent as allowed by law.
People have been mobilized to send out Facebook messages, make phone calls, and hold signs prior to town meeting in an effort to ensure a good turnout. Fraser said, “We need our parents to show up and people in town to realize that their property value is directly related to the function of this school and the reputation of this school.” Wilhelmsen added, “Make sure you mark the 15th not just for all of this stuff but there are a lot of other really important items that will be on the warrant this year including a lot of work done with respect to zoning in town and that also goes together with all of this.”
Veneto gave the principal’s report beginning by addressing Blackwood and describing her retirement news as “certainly sad for us but happy for you.” MCAS testing is beginning and will be coming to a close for all grades on May 21 and 22. Other upcoming events at the school include a living historian presentation on April 25 at 6:30 focusing on the life of teacher and astronaut Christa McAuliffe as well as a May 5 field trip for Grade 2 to the Heritage Museum. The kindergarten parents’ information night will be held at 5 pm on May 23 with the annual art show to follow at 6 pm.
Finally, Blackwood shared her draft of the school calendar for next year. Important dates include the start of school on Wednesday, 8/28 and the tentative last day of school on Friday, 6/12.