TEWKSBURY — Recapping the School Committee’s 2019 agenda items, the committee had a productive and wide-reaching set of issues to cover.
In January, the Tewksbury Teachers Association and the School Committee ratified a three-year contract as well as a three-year contract for educational support personnel. 2019 also saw the selection of AlphaBEST, Inc. as the new extended day and summer program facilitator, a transition that included a few bumps in the road but was eventually sorted out.
The year also saw efforts by the Tewksbury Special Education PAC to engage state and local officials in a more open and transparent dialog.
The School Committee endorsed the new elementary school building plan, a project that will replace the North Street and Trahan elementary schools, and absorb second graders from the Dewing and Heath Brook schools. The project has been met with concern by abutters on Munro Circle regarding wetlands and traffic issues. The project is managed through the Elementary School Building Committee.
Schools implemented security standards and upgraded technology infrastructures in their buildings, along with other facilities improvements such as paving, painting and roof work. The district also addressed mosquito spraying due to high Eastern Equine Encephalitis risk.
On July 24, long-serving committee member Dennis Francis submitted his resignation.
“On behalf of the School Committee and the administration both past and present, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Francis for his over 20 years of dedicated service to the Tewksbury Public Schools system,” said newly-appointed chair Keith Sullivan. “Whether it was starting in his work in the PACs, or most recently in the last decade that he served on the School Committee, Dennis was an honorable and decent man. He always did what was best for our students. Not only his commitment to lowering the classroom sizes to under 25, but his tireless work on the high school building committee and the new elementary school will have a long-lasting effect on our community and will only help improve achievement throughout the district. So please, if you see Mr. Francis in a store, on Veterans Day, or Memorial Day, please thank him not only for his dedicated service to his country but for helping this school district be a better place.”
In a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen, the committee interviewed candidates and selected former selectman and Finance Committee member Scott Wilson to serve out the rest of Francis’ term.
The district made significant progress in STEM education. The committee accepted a $500 donation for STEM programs at the Dewing School from the Exxon-Mobil Educational Alliance Program through John Sergeant, manager of Tewksbury Mobil. The committee also recognized the Corning Foundation’s grant to support STEM programs. Corning Incorporated’s life sciences division is based out of Tewksbury.
Additionally, the committee invited fifth and sixth graders from the John F. Ryan Elementary School to speak about the Massachusetts STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Week Real World Design Challenge. This year’s challenge focused on zero-waste, and understanding the impact of microplastics on the environment.
Teachers participated in training programs designed to craft instructional time to work on the program. Ryan teachers Kim Hillson and Eileen Lindsey led the team of fifth and sixth graders to a third-place win at the state challenge in Boston, judged by engineers from local companies. In a short video, the team shared the design process of creating a method to filter microplastics out of cosmetics, including Ivory Spring body wash.
“They were OK with failing and going back to the drawing board and trying again,” said Lindsey.
The students presented their prototypes and informational boards to the committee and explained their design process. They also explained that microplastics can get into food, soap, fish, and water, and can cause major problems.
New hires to the district included a director of student and family support, a behavior specialist, a district-wide math coach, a district -wide ESL teacher, a kindergarten teacher, moderate special needs teachers, associate school nurses, an adjustment counselor, an integrated preschool teacher, a STEM specialist, two digital literacy specialists, a grade 3 teacher, a PE teacher, a world language teacher, and a guidance counselor.
Superintendent Chris Malone noted that enrollment declined by about 50 students in the 2019-2020 school year, though he expects numbers will stay stable in the long term. Additionally, assistant superintendent Brenda Regan noted that the TPS are in the five percent of public schools that are making “substantial progress towards [MCAS] goals.”
The next meeting of the board is scheduled for Jan. 15, 2020 in the large group meeting room at Tewksbury Memorial High School.