School Committee hears concerns about bus monitors, discusses enrollment

Sept. 11, 2019 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM – The Sept. 5 Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District School Committee meeting began with an open comment period in which Hampden parent Mike Salemi asked the committee about putting monitors on the district’s buses.

“My youngest is 5, and he’s riding the bus with eighth-graders. That’s a pretty large span of age,” Salemi said. “You can see that there’s a potential for younger kids to be exposed to things that are past their age.”

Committee Vice–Chair Sherrill Caruana responded, “I’m not sure what your expectations are for bus monitors. There are cameras on all of the buses. They’re taken very seriously.” Salemi noted that cameras are useful after something has already happened, whereas bus monitors could be proactive. Salemi shared taht nothing had happened, but he was concerned about the future.

School Committee member Heather Zanetti admitted there are conversations that eighth-graders have that aren’t appropriate for young children. John Derosia, one of the curriculum directors for the district, agreed.

School committee member Sean Kennedy said if Salemi’s 5-year-old was sitting with a 10-year-old on the bus, it’s a failure of the seating system which organizes younger children in the front and progresses by grade to the back. Kennedy suggested parent volunteers might be an option at no cost to the district. Superintendent Albert Ganem said it is something the committee can discuss with the bus company.

Total school district enrollment as of Sept. 1 is 3,025, down 33 students from the same time last year. The kindergarten class sizes, however, has increased year over year since 2017-2018. Green Meadows kindergarten classes have risen by five students in each class since the fall of 2017, and Mile Tree classes have also risen slightly. Each kindergarten class in the district has 22 students. Neither of the schools has the physical room for an additional kindergarten class. Grade four class size at Soule Road is also close to the maximum.

The committee discussed the idea of hiring a “teacher in the pocket,” as Ganem called it - and unassigned teacher to use as needed. Ganem said he was keeping an eye on it and there is “still some fluctuation” in the numbers.

Zanetti proposed a survey on students moving out of the district, whereas Ganem said he’d like an incoming survey to see why students had moved into the HWRSD.

 “We have to know what we’re doing right and wrong,” said Zanetti.

While discussing the idea of a symposium on substance abuse, Caruana said, “I don’t know why Wilbraham should have two vaping stores and a cannabis store.” She later corrected herself to say she meant a CBD store. She suggested the school committee band together with two select boards to make their communities vape free.

John Derosia and Julie Keith, curriculum directors for the district, were on hand to brief the committee on the professional development work done so far this year.

“Every kid in a seventh-grade math class should have a baseline understanding,” of what’s expected of them, Derosia said. He said teachers had spent two days before classes began establishing expectations.

Gina Roy of student services said the Thornton W. Burgess transition program “got off to a good start.” The student services department has moved to that building. She also explained the pilot program at Mile Tree in which two faculty members spend half there time as paraprofessionals and the other half as behavioral technicians, addressing social-emotional issues.

Roy said a goal for this year was to make sure services are uniform across the district, including developing a paraprofessional rubric, transition protocols, and writing standards-based goals. She said she and her team have an hour and a half monthly meeting.

Some housekeeping issues were addressed. The committee voted to rescind the reconfiguration working group to avoid open meeting law pitfalls and rework the idea of a steering committee. Kennedy said there are two student representative positions called for in the district handbook, noting that they haven’t been filled in his four years on the committee.

Howard Barber, finance in operations director for the district, said that the Wilbraham Middle School roof project is on track with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The MSBA accepted documents from the district this week and they are looking at the next steps.

“We’re in great shape,” said Barber.

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