Town Crier

TEWKSBURY — 2021 presented many challen­ges for the Tewksbury School Committee. Here are some of the most no­table moments of the past year.

In January, the committee held its first budget workshop of the year with Business Manager Dave Libby. Libby explained that the FY22 budget would be heavily influenced by changing pandemic conditions as many coronavirus-related leaves of absence and one-year hires were due to expire at the end of FY21. Libby added that FY22 will be the last year for the current budget model as the new Pleasant Street elementary school will come online during FY23.

February brought more discussion about returning students to the classroom full-time, as well as gratitude for staff members working throughout the pandemic.

Tewksbury Public Schools nur­ses were recognized for their work including lead nurse Kelly Constan­tino, Mackenzie Coneeny, Amy Connell, Kathy Kors­lund, Deb Kraytenberg, Sandra Miller, Angela Rea­ney, Jill Robinson, Karen Rossi, and retired school nurse Elaine Walsh.

Malone discussed possibilities for in-person lear­ning full-time, noting chal­lenges with transportation and lunch but underscoring the need to “shift the narrative from why we can’t to how we can.”

Discussions continued into March as Malone outlined current concerns and parent and family needs, including childcare and social emotional de­velopment. Ad­minis­tra­tors collected in­formation and data from the district’s reopening task force, parent and stu­dent surveys, TTA negotiations, neighboring district collaborations, and DESE and state guidance regar­ding more in-person time.

In April, Scott Wilson, who filled an unexpired term left by Dennis Fran­cis, and longtime member Jamey Cutelis departed the committee as newly elected members Bridget Garabedian and Nick Par­sons took their seats.

The district saw its first positive COVID-19 case through newly implemented pool testing. The district was able to re-test students in the pool and allow students with negative results to return to the classroom.

In May, Malone reported that the school reopening task force voted to disband, as the district sought to take a school-by-school approach in the future.

Libby said that the district had received a total of approximately $2.4 million in COVID-19 grants.

June brought the end of the school year and a celebration of several retir­ees, including Carolyn Dooley, June Fa­gan, Jayne Farnham, Sue Spollen, Marguerite Weid­knecht, Lynne Hardarce, Pa­tricia Whitehouse, and Luigi Gi­setto.

In the residents section, parents complained about mask policies in schools, with several raising their voices at committee members. Chair Keith Sulli­van warned participants to conduct themselves in a civil manner.

In July, the committee heard a proposal for a school-based therapy dog led by school resource of­ficer Eric Hanley. High rates of anxiety and de­pression among students existed pre-pandemic and evidence pointed to positive impacts by incorporating a dog into the so­cial emotional support of the schools. Hanley is now in the process of training Waffles the labradoodle; the name was proposed by second grader Jack John­son.

The committee conducted superintendent Ma­lone’s annual evaluation. Malone was rated as proficient in in­structional leadership for navigating public health guidelines and mandates from the state; exemplary in management and operations, earning praise for fiscal responsibility throughout the new Plea­sant Street elementary school project; proficient in family and community en­gage­ment for making himself available through “constant communication;” and proficient in professional culture.

In August, the committee faced challenges with an in-person meeting due to a power outage at TMHS caused by a car hitting a utility pole on Pleasant Street. When the meeting was up and running, assistant superintendent Bren­da Theriault-Regan shared details of TMHS’s new 1:1 Chromebook program for students to take a laptop back and forth to school with them.

Theriault-Regan also shared developments about a district mentorship program for new teachers.

The committee referred two open meeting law violation complaints to the district’s legal counsel, which necessitated the committee and support staff’s attendance at additional open meeting law training.

In the citizen’s forum sec­tion, parents and community members spoke for and against masking policies in schools. Sev­eral parents alleged that mask-wearing constitutes child abuse and raised concerns about children not being able to see fa­cial expressions. Parents with medical and scientific qualifications spoke in favor of universal masking, citing the prevalence of the delta variant. Amid heckling from the crowd, the committee took a nine minute recess; Sullivan asked Tewksbury police officers to remove disruptors from the auditorium.

Members expressed frus­tration that the decision on masking had been left to individual school committees by the state, but voted 4-1 to enforce a universal masking mandate with a 60-day review period. One week later, the state Department of Ele­mentary and Secondary Education announced universal masking requirements across the state for all public school staff and students over the age of 5.

Athletic Director Ron Drouin made a presentation about the athletic complex at the new elementary school on Plea­sant Street. Drouin highlighted the facility’s exterior, which used reclaim­ed rocks from the former field house at Doucette Field. The new building in­cludes an indoor weight room and turf area, which can be used as a function area.

In the public comments section of the meeting, Tewksbury Teachers Asso­­ciation President and TMHS English teacher Conner Bourgoin, along with many staff members wearing “red for ed” im­plored the committee to consider recent proposals from the TTA to come to a swift contract agreement for teachers and aides.

In October, the committee met at Tewksbury Town Hall. In the resident comment section of the meeting, several parents returned to share their concerns about mask re­quirements. One woman was concerned that Chris­tian values are not being taught in public schools.

Malone announced that Framingham principal Purnima DeMorais had signed a contract to take over as interim principal at the North Street School following the departure of principal Karen Cronin.

The committee voted to name the new elementary school on Pleasant Street the “Center Elementary School.” The committee also appointed Nick Par­son to the town’s Diver­sity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee.

In November, the committee resolutions of re­cognition for re­tiring TMHS girls basketball coach Mark Bradley and TMHS boys basketball coach Tom Bradley, whom Drouin called “great leaders of our athletes.”

Malone reminded parents to remain vigilant amid a significant rise in positive COVID cases. The district tracker peaked at 45 cases, which Malone said would “probably match our top weekly tracker number in the whole of the pandemic” [a/n: as of this printing, the current active cases in Tewksbury Public Schools is at 149 according to the district COVID dashboard].

As part of National School Psychology Week, Malone highlighted the work of school psychologists, adjustment counselors, and social work­ers to support the social-emotional needs of students, especially with issues re­lated to the pandemic. The district is still looking to hire substitute teachers, classroom aides, and one-on-one support aides.

Malone also announced his intent to retire in Feb­ruary of 2022.

At the committee’s last meeting in December, the committee announced that it had requested a mediator from the state to assist in settling a contract with the Tewksbury Teachers Association.

Dorothy Presser of the Massachusetts Associa­tion of School Committees dis­cussed the superintendent search process.

Malone said that the district is looking deeply at school security protocols following the Nov. 30 mass shooting in Oxford, Michi­gan; four students were killed.

Administrators are re­viewing ALICE active shooter training protocols and continue to discuss the social emotional as­pects of supporting students.

Theriault-Regan shared that the district is implementing new social emotional self-reports and screeners for students grades K-12. Ther­iault-Regan said that the as­sessments will help students identify their strengths and work on building the skills they need to improve, giving them immediate strategies for setting goals to improve competencies; the screener as­sesses five categories of social emotional metrics: self-awareness, self-management, responsible de­cision-ma­king, relationship skills, and social awareness. The results of the screener will provide stra­tegies, les­sons, and activities tailored to the needs of individual students and classes.

The next meeting is sche­­­duled for Jan. 12, 2022. The meeting may be viewed on Com­cast channel 22 and Veri­zon channel 3

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