WILMINGTON — The School Committee voted to approve the new middle school handbook and received staffing and other updates from the superintendent and the assistant superintendent during their meeting last Wednesday night.
Before anything else, Wilmington Middle School Principal Dr. Jeannette Quirk addressed a public comment from earlier where a resident asked for an explanation behind the decision not to use lockers this year. This was also discussed in an email from Quirk earlier in the week.
Quirk explained that they had seen some benefits from not using lockers, including cutting down on school supplies. This would require teachers to help mitigate school supply requirements and help students to manage what they bring in their backpacks.
She said they would push the use of online books and Chrome Books for required materials and activities given the advance of technology and online resources.
While each student may not be assigned a locker at the beginning of school, she did say that students would be given a place to store their coats as of Oct. 15.
Quirk also included a survey in her email asking parents whether they wanted their students to use lockers. From the results she’d seen so far, she was surprised to see 55 percent of parents who had responded say yes.
“I will always be revisiting every topic,” she added.
When prompted by Melissa Plowman, Quirk named other benefits of not using lockers, including fewer class time disruptions from students having to go back to their lockers and students being more prepared because they have everything with them already. She recognized that it will take work for students and teachers to adjust to this change.
The School Committee then voted in favor of the edited handbook after noting one small typo.
Director of Human Resources Andrea Stern-Armstrong was next invited to share staffing updates. Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand established before she began that the problem WPS is seeing is universal across school districts in the area.
Stern-Armstrong shared that she’s seen a number of job changes come through her office recently ranging from transfers to resignations. While the transfers are happening between schools to fill other positions, they’re opening new positions along with those being unoccupied from teachers and staff resigning or retiring. Plus there are scheduled leaves on top of all of the staff changing roles or leaving the school system.
She referenced eight educational assistant positions that are still open and 10 other staff recently hired. For some positions, she said that she’s reaching out to temp agencies to fill them.
Plowman commented that it seemed worrisome to have so many educational assistant positions open, but Stern-Armstrong explained that these are mostly newer positions created for additional support. She also mentioned that the middle school has the largest number of openings at the moment.
Brand told the committee that some staff are leaving to pursue jobs in other communities, and that it’s highly unusual for these positions to be open right now. He also said that it’s uncommon for so many to be retiring or taking their tenure at this time of year.
Despite what the human resources director said, David Ragsdale recalled being surprised last year that the district was continuously able to fill positions in the same environment.
Brand went on to share updates on two other positions in the school district. He named Rebecca Brown as the interim Coordinator of Health Services temporarily taking the spot of Doreen Crowe, who he said is moving to Arlington Public Schools.
“She brought an awful lot in her tenure to this community,” he added.
Ragsdale also thanked Crowe for the tremendous work that she’s put forward and wished her well in the future.
Brand then mentioned that a candidate had been chosen as the joint SEEM Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion position between Wilmington, Melrose, Lynnfield, North Reading, Stoneham, and Woburn.
Assistant Superintendent Christine Elliott delivered updates for the bullying prevention plan and staff opening day. She said that the changes made to the bullying prevention plan were mostly clerical. The final version of the plan is available on the district website.
Jay Samaha asked if she could specify what the changes were exactly. She mentioned adding the vision and the mission, changing some terminology, and adding specific curriculums and programs.
Plowman wondered how bullying and other types of concerning conduct are tracked across the district.
Elliott finally gave the committee a run-down for the two professional development days for all staff to start the school year on Monday and Tuesday Aug. 30 and 31. They would attend a district-wide virtual meeting with Dr. Brand, learn how to use the Panorama platform and the playbook, and complete the ALICE training.
Staff will also have time set aside for IEP and 504 reviews and to set up their classrooms, both of which the committee members were glad to see.
The next School Committee meeting will be on Wednesday Sept. 8 at 7 p. m.