School Committee considers new goals for new year

Aug. 14, 2019 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM – Wilbraham Select Board Chair Susan Bunnell and Town Administrator Nick Breault met with the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) School Committee during the Committee’s Aug. 8 meeting. Along with Edward Cenedella, director of facilities and operations for the HWRSD, they discussed the next steps in procuring funding for the Wilbraham Middle School roof project.

The required paperwork for the project is 75 percent complete. Once the documentation is submitted to the MSBA, the agency will review records of maintenance that has been done at the site. Then, they will assign an owners project manager an architect. A design schematic should be complete by December or January at which point the MSBA will vote on funding.

The MSBA vote will likely take place around April, allowing the town to vote on appropriation at the annual town meeting. The money for the roof would come from free cash or the capital expenditure account.

Committee Chair Patrick Kiernan spoke of not making the same mistakes the town made the last time they worked with the MSBA. Then, the town failed to secure funding for a project at Soule Road School because the vote failed at the town meeting.

Bunnell said the town did not reject the Soule Road project but didn’t know enough about it. She said the language on the warrant was confusing. School Committee Vice-Chair Sherrill Caruana agreed that the language would have to be carefully crafted for clarity. The bond counsel determines the language of the warrant article.

Kennedy asked if the MSBA could turn down the project at that point. Cenedella said it was “highly unlikely. I’ve never seen it.”

Tracy Movick, field director from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees addressed the committee to talk about goals for the upcoming school year.

“The goals you set for yourself should work with the goals you set for the district,” Movick said. She cautioned the committee against being too ambitious with their goals and emphasized setting goals that are achievable and can be concretely measured.

Caruana said that if there was data to look at they could look at it a few times per year and measure where they are and adjust their plans accordingly.

One challenge that the committee identified was in communication. Kennedy and Committee Member Bill Bontempi, who joined the meeting via speakerphone, said communication with parents and community awareness could be improved.

Committee Member Maura Ryan said parents have been asking her about bus schedules and other things that should be available online and said that the website isn’t as easy to use as it could be. Ryan also said public access to data on academic achievement would help keep people from moving to other school districts.

Superintendent Al Ganem said each school will have a webmaster in charge of updating their school’s page on the HWRSD website. He also said he will be having a meeting with principles about social media presence to keep parents in the loop.  

Kennedy asked how is academic defined and what metric they were using.

“How can we in our mission statement talk about academic achievement,” without having a way to measure it. “We might as well be talking about Winnie the Pooh.” He said there needs to be a formula.

Bontempi agreed, saying, “We are charged with academic growth and academic achievement, but we don’t have a tool to measure.”

Caruana responded that there are state define benchmarks in which a percentage of students have to be at a certain level.

The committee discussed the different assessment tools, such as I-Ready and MCAS.

“It’s not what we’re looking at instead of the MCAS,” Bontempi said. All of the measurements are important, he said, but he wanted to know how each was weighted in the overall assessment. He floated the idea of bringing in a consultant.

Ganem said they’re looking school to school for best practices and the teachers have been brought together by grade level to determine how to assess each grade.

While discussing budgetary goals, Kennedy said the number of students who said they felt sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks has increased significantly. The source of the data he cited was not made clear.

“There is a freight train heading right at us,” Kennedy said. He suggested a symposium between all schools to have students speak, if willing, about bullying, vaping, substance abuse and misuse.

“A lot of parents don’t have a clue about vaping,” and what can be bought and put into vaping devices, Bontempi said. He warned that kids are moving away from alcohol and towards marijuana and THC. Ryan called vaping, “an epidemic.”

“We need to market this so that parents are more or less terrified not to attend this,” said Bontempi. Kennedy said that they should record it and put it on Facebook for maximum access.

The committee rehashed the design of a gifted and talented program.

“We want to work on universal design for learning. Our teachers are going to be able to teach the kids on the high end, teach the kids on the low end,” Ganem said.

Kennedy argued that he doesn’t want to put more work on the teachers. Caruana agreed, saying the district needs to put funding into professionals to work with high-end students.

 Kiernan said he believed class sizes are more important than a gifted and talented program if they had to choose where to put the funding.

Ryan raised the issue of inequalities in programming between the schools and gave the example of band. Band is not offered a Green Meadows School but is needed as a prerequisite to take band at Minnechaug Regional High School. When asked, she stated that it was not a Hampden versus Wilbraham issue.

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