School Committee logo'... a big chunk of money ... the right choice.'

-- Kirsi Allison-Ampe

Taking funds from nearly $8m contingency

UPDATED Sept. 28: Agreeing with the superintendent, the School Committee voted unanimously Thursday, Sept. 22, for the second of two choices presented to cope with the ongoing reconstruction of Arlington High School. “Option 2” was the more expensive choice but the one that would keep all AHS students on campus for full school days from the first scheduled instructional date of the 2023-24 school year.

“Option 2” will require the postponement of certain aspects of the construction, at an estimated cost of $1.2 million, all to be paid from the already established contingency fund of nearly $8 million. See both options here >> 

“This is specifically the kind of thing that contingencies are built for,” said committee member Jeff Thielman, head of the building subcommittee. “The needs of the students are paramount.” Later, making the motion favoring option 2, he said that this choice is “not increasing the total cost of the project” and that “this is in the best interest of the students,” particularly freshmen.

Kirsi Allison-Ampe concurred, calling the amount “a big chunk of money” but “the right choice.”

Importance of start stressed

In recommending option 2, Superintendent Elizabeth Homan said that “the first few weeks of school are exceptionally important to establishing relationships and routines” and said that AHS Principal Matthew Janger, other AHS leaders and faculty shared this view.

The rejected option 1 had called for students to attend only half their courses for at least the first 11 instructional days in September 2023, possibly requiring some of them to come to campus in the morning and again in the evening. The resulting deficit of 30 hours’ instructional time would have required schedule adjustments, temporary construction, temporary relocation of many employees, additional storage costs and possibly more. 

Moreover, the true all-in cost of option 2 was proving difficult to accurately project, Homan said. Temporary construction, including a connector between usable portions of campus, would have been on the order of $309,000, coping with the lost instructional time around $675,000. Moreover, she said, other, previously unforeseen issues might have surfaced and that therefore the true cost might have been comparable to that of the alternative, she suggested.

Revision of AHS handbook approved

Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. reported that minor language changes, most having to do with disciplinary policies, had been made to all four handbooks in use at Arlington Public Schools: AHS (grades 9-12), Ottoson Middle School (grades 7 and 8), Gibbs School (grade 6) and elementary (grades K-5). 

He said that these had been reviewed by legal counsel and that upon committee approval, the handbooks would be translated into languages commonly spoken locally and posted online.

See four agenda documents here >> 

Committee member Len Kardon mentioned discrepancies in the draft handbooks as to dress code at the middle-school level, noting that students at Gibbs were to be allowed to wear such headgear as hats, hoods and bandannas, whereas those at Ottoson were not. MacNeal said that continued discussion would be needed about attire and that policies “as much as possible will align across the district.”

Six committee members voted to approve the handbook for the high school. Allison-Ampe abstained, explaining beforehand that she had been unable to read the new versions of the handbooks online.

Pandemic protocol, policies: two views

How to cope with Covid-19 was addressed briefly by Homan in her superintendent’s report, which by longstanding practice is delivered toward the end of each committee meeting. She said information is posted on the district website and that the district is consistent with what is required by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

Any outbreaks are to be monitored by the nurse’s office at each campus. “Recommendations will follow local conditions within each school,” she said. If multiple cases should occur in a given classroom or cohort, she said, the district will notify families and recommend masking or other mitigation methods. 

She said that there “aren’t hard-and-fast thresholds” for what constitutes a school-based outbreak given that students often are interacting off campus as well as in the classroom. Families with questions should contact their school nurse, principal, Nursing Director Doreen Crowe or herself, Homan said.

As at the previous committee meeting, on Sept. 9, no committee members spoke to the issue.

The only other person who brought up the pandemic was Ann Marie Faust, a founding member of local parent activist group Safer Air = Safer Schools. (Seetwitter.com/SaferAirSchools and gofundme.com/f/safer-air-safer-schools.) The group has been lobbying for reinstatement of stronger measures. She spoke for the allotted three minutes per person during the public-comment section of the meeting, which takes place at the beginning of each meeting and is rarely responded to by committee members or administrators. 

Faust said she had to speak on Zoom rather than in person because her child has Covid and had been infected within days of the start of the school year even though “he did everything right.” She said he had tested positive on day six of his illness and said that, even though he theoretically would have been allowed to return to campus then, she was still keeping him home.

Safer Air = Safer Schools has asked for increased monitoring of campus ventilation systems, outdoor lunch and other mitigation methods. Faust said that so far the district is resisting these demands.

Faust was one of two dozen local residents to attend the meeting remotely, a higher number than usual. The committee has been convening in hybrid mode – in person at AHS and simultaneously via Zoom as well as being simulcast on public television station ACMi – since June 23.

YourArlington asked Homan on Sept. 23 why the possibility of temporary remote learning for AHS at the start of next school year was not among the options offered to the committee. She replied by email the same day to explain: "Remote learning is not a learning model approved by the State of Massachusetts. We are required to provide 990 hours of in-person instruction every year, and remote learning would not allow us to meet that requirement." 

Equity audit report

DEI Director Margaret Credle Thomas presented a slide show of an executive summary of an equity-audit report completed last month. See the four agenda documents >> 

The team had 56 stakeholders representing administrators, teachers, students and community members and had selected Longview Education as a contractor after a competitive request-for-proposals process.

Strategic recommendations were:

  • Create or refine – and use – a bias and discrimination process;
  • Begin or refine a human resources data -tracking process;
  • Require ongoing professional development in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI);
  • Carry out a review of intervention services;
  • Create clarification about roles, expectations and vision for the district to effectively integrate DEI efforts; and
  • Begin to transition from a culture of compliance and accountability toward one of student-centeredness and inclusion.

Credle Thomas said that she and Homan would be hosting community forums and that MacNeal would be rolling out a new approach to implementing professional development.

Committee member Paul Schlichtman praised the report, saying that “This is just so critically important” and noted “how far we have come” and the need for the “willingness to go further.” He lauded the use of the term “belonging” rather than “welcoming” and said that “Every student must feel that they are an equal and valued member of the [school] community.”

Allison-Ampe asked whether the achievement gap – the fact that nonwhite students on the whole generally tend to score lower on most standardized tests than white students -- could be attributed to minority students feeling disenfranchised or alienated on campus. She said, “I want to be sure that we’re not missing another big area.” Credle Thomas responded that “We’re looking at all data.”

In other business

  • New administrators were briefly introduced, including the directors of history/social studies, wellness, performing arts and visual arts, and assistant principals at the elementary and middle-school levels. See all names listed here >> Filling a key vacancy – to replace Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason, who is to become deputy town manager in November – is in process, with initial interviews next week and final interviews set for early October. Homan said the process had garnered “a strong pool of candidates.”
  • Mason gave the monthly financial report, saying that the district has so far spent $9 million of its more than $84 million budget. He said that monthly expenditures, including salary payments, would likely increase soon -- “We are still hiring and filling vacant positions.” He debuted a new visual presentation method -- bar graphs comparing each month’s projections to actual expenditures -- and said he hoped his successor would continue use of this template.
  • Committee members briefly discussed concerns about the time and place of subcommittee meetings, noting that handicapped access to the committee meeting room at AHS is suboptimal. The committee voted unanimously to refer the matter to the community-relations subcommittee.
  • The consent agenda passed unanimously. The committee went into closed session at 8:35 p.m.
Watch the whole meeting on ACMi:


Sept. 9, 2022: Smooth reopening for schools, committee weighs future issues 

  


This summary by YourArlington freelance writer Judith Pfeffer was published Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, and updated Sept. 28, to add an ACMi video window.

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