READING - The Reading School Committee extended a congratulatory welcome to several new members of the public school staff during their meeting on Thursday, July 11. This included METCO Academic Coordinator Grant Hightower, Director of Student Services Jennifer Stys (appointed in March with a July start date), and newly elected Chair Charles “Chuck” Robinson and Vice Chair Jeanne Borawski.
June 27th Superintendent John Doherty announced he was taking a leave of absence due to family and personal reasons, and therefore was not present at the meeting. Assistant Superintendent Christine Kelley was present, as well as Chief Financial Officer Gail Dowd and Administrative Assistant Linda Engelson.
The meeting officially began at 6:00 p.m., as Committee members praised the Reading public school staff in their work to address Doherty’s leave of absence. The Committee stated that it will continue to update the public regarding the Superintendent, and Engelson is recognized as the first person to contact regarding concerns from parents and students. Committee member (now former Chair) Elaine Webb stated that the Reading public schools were “well situated” to welcome students this August, as prepared by the public school staff.
Hightower will oversee Reading’s participation in the METCO program starting the next academic year. There were 25 applications in total for the position, with Reading officials meeting with teachers and parents. This resulted in a comprehensive vetting process with several rounds of interviews. Hightower, a father of four, originally worked in the Wellesley public school system as the METCO Academic Coordinator, and facilitated several community activist projects with students “to give kids a voice,” Hightower said.
In regard to better coordination between parents and public school policies, the Committee reviewed an updated Reading Memorial High School handbook with Principal Kathleen Boynton. While there were no major policy changes introduced at the meeting itself, Boynton addressed “structural makeovers” to the handbook such as an organized table of contents with revised material. This included sections such as “Academic Information,” “Code of Conduct and Behavioral Expectations,” and “Safety and Security,” which were all reviewed by the Committee.
Since Period 1 at the high school will now begin at 8:30 a.m., the bell schedules in the handbook have been changed to reflect this. Other personnel changes were noted in the handbook as well, such as Assistant Principal Michael McSweeney returning to his former position as a teacher. RMHS will hire a new Assistant Principal.
Committee member Tom Wise highlighted several issues with the handbook regarding the high school’s policies in referring to the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse (RCASA). Wise noted differences between the official town policy and the handbook, and the Committee recommended that the handbook clarify its language. Boynton assured the Committee that the handbook would be updated and reviewed before the beginning of school in August. The handbook was approved in a 5-1 vote, with Wise voting against.
The Committee then welcomed Dorothy Presser of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) for a workshop reviewing the Committee’s current operating protocols. Presser emphasized accountability, close community relationships, internal communication, and the usage of data to monitor student progress. The Committee recognized that its updated operating protocols had not been published online, and went under review for several changes to its language.
The end of the meeting saw Robinson elected as Chair and Borawski elected as Vice Chair. The meeting adjourned at 9:26 p.m.