WILMINGTON — The School Committee meeting last Wednesday night began with public comment before they received the Superintendent’s Report and discussed MCAS, the 2021-2022 school calendar, and the district’s MSBA applications.
Three residents spoke in person in support of Wilmington returning to full in-person learning.
“The board owes it to the population to find a way for students to participate full day, every day,” one commenter said.
They brought up the social and emotional toll that remote and hybrid learning has taken on students and asked the board to think of creative ideas to bridge any learning gaps and return in person as soon as possible.
Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand’s report focused on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the revised hybrid schedule, the U. S. Senate Youth program, and the fine and performing arts programs.
He explained that the YRBS survey would capture health behaviors and risk factors in students like personal safety, nutrition, drug use, and other matters related to different spheres of health.
School Committee member M. J. Byrnes asked if the data report from the survey could be customized, but Brand explained that a third party collects and reports the data. David Ragsdale asked if the questions stay the same and Brand said that there would likely be some of the same questions and a few more timely ones.
The updated hybrid learning schedule approved by the board in January is fully in effect although there were some hiccups along the way, he said. Brand also shared that the United States Senate Youth Program selected Wilmington High School senior Miriam Nelson as one of two students in the state to be a delegate. Nelson will attend the event online in mid-March and also receive a $10,000 college scholarship.
The final item of the report was an update on the district’s Fine and Performing Arts programs.
Assistant Superintendent Christine Elliot named all of the extracurricular activities at the high school, including the Mentor Club, WHS Talent Show, Model UN/Debate Club, Environmental Club, Art Club, Mock Trial, Club WHS/The Community Service Club, Academic Decathlon, Asian Heritage Club, Women’s Studies Club, Yearbook Club, Gay Straight Alliance, Animation Club, Expressions, Social Justice Club, and the Next Chapter.
She also listed those at the middle school: WMS Talent Show, Drama Club, Math Team, Ukulele Club, Homework Club, WMS Pawprints, Art Club, Students Against Drunk Driving, WilmingTones, and Fitness Club.
Byrnes led an item called 2021 Assessment and Accountability, where she brought up a discussion on MCAS testing. She reported that School Committee members in the state have started a petition to Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Riley asking to bypass MCAS this year.
“I’m in full agreement of this personally,” Byrnes said.
The committee seemed to agree that MCAS would be adding unnecessary stress onto an already stressful time for students.
“Given our circumstances, I think that it is the entirely wrong move to make if we’re worried about bringing students back to more in-person learning because of social-emotional well-being,” said Jay Samaha.
He added that MCAS would not accurately capture the learning loss from this pandemic. Byrnes suggested the creation of a new way to capture learning loss instead that considers social-emotional learning.
Elliott mentioned that for this upcoming year, teachers would be introducing pre-assessments for each curriculum unit in all content areas for students to capture what was missed. This will allow them to directly target particular students and the specific areas where they need help.
She suggested that planned early release days for students in the next calendar year would allow time for teachers and staff to address these sorts of things.
The first reading of the calendar for the 2021-2022 school year was in fact the next item on the agenda. Brand mentioned moving the usual professional development day in November to the beginning of the year for additional planning and better schedule flow in November. He also pointed out some early release days and a new holiday: Juneteenth, recognized with a day off on June 20.
Byrnes wondered if there was any discussion about using February break to catch up with any identified learning losses, which Brand answered there hadn’t been. Samaha said that he appreciated the changes with professional development and Juneteenth, but perhaps seven early release days for professional development and four for parent conferences were too many for parents and guardians.
David Ragsdale and Jenn Bryson also agreed that perhaps another full day for staff and teachers instead of so many half days would allow them to get more done.
Brand later gave an update on the district’s MSBA application via a joint memo from himself and Town Manager Jeff Hull. The essence of the memo was the MSBA is looking to gather a sense of school configuration options that the town doesn’t like. He said presentations will be made at meetings of the Finance Committee, the Board of Selectmen, and the School Committee on all of the options to consider to gather a consensus.
They discussed the Board of Selectmen taking no action to fill the open seat on the committee and instead placing a 2-year term on the upcoming election ballot before the subcommittee reports on SEPAC and the Equity Committee.
“I think this is the outcome that makes the most sense,” Samaha said.
Newhouse shared that a SEPAC meeting would also be taking place that Thursday and Samaha gave an update on behalf of the Equity Committee.
The next School Committee meeting will be March 10 at 7 p.m. in the WHS media room.