WILMINGTON — Wilmington’s School Committee responded to all sorts of staffing, budgeting, social-emotional, and learning issues affecting Wilmington Public Schools this year. Though some were the result of the coronavirus outbreak, the committee was made aware of increased turnover and staffing needs as early as January. Lack of necessary staffing continued through the year as hybrid learning and quarantines required extra staff and substitutes.
In February, the committee received presentations on school start times and the superintendent’s 2021 budget. The former work was stopped in March and resumed only recently; the latter was approved with a 4.25 percent increase. This went to a budget hearing from Town Manager Jeff Hull later that month and was eventually approved in full at a lengthy Town Meeting in June.
Other related actions at the Town Meeting included naming the band room after Barbara Mette and starting the plans for a new town hall and school administration building.
From there, 2020 brought the Wilmington School Committee a host of unanticipated issues. It was mid-March that the district shut down schools temporarily to quarantine. Teachers, administrators, and staff made last-minute remote changes to finish out the 2019-2020 school year with constantly shifting DESE learning guidelines. Food Services began giving out meals for students and families for free every week.
The searches for new Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development and Principal for the West Intermediate School took off in April. The two search committees soon selected Christine Elliott and Dr. Edward Foster, respectively.
Summer did not let the committee break, as racial injustice unrest continued and fall 2020 approached. The committee responded to protests over the murdering of unarmed Black people by the police by approving a resolution for racial justice.
Along with the superintendent’s evaluation, in June the School Committee recognized retiring teachers, student support services moving from the Wildwood to the Arts Center, and the first feedback about remote learning. The need for more teachers and staff continued to grow.
The district started the eight School Reopening Advisory Groups and negotiation with the Wilmington Teachers’ Association for the coming school year. Negotiations lasted until late September with the safety of students and staff in mind.
A statement from Wilmington Teacher’s Association President Jennifer Fidler was brought to the School Committee in July following the release of spring remote learning feedback.
“While many Wilmington teachers wanted to move forward with new learning, we kept up with the guidelines. We were all learning to teach remotely on the fly,” the statement read.
Fidler explained that the survey was teacher-focused, but teachers weren’t making most of the remote learning decisions.
At the same July meeting, Wilmington parents requested in-person learning in the fall for the social and emotional wellbeing of their students.
Mia Muzio was hired as the new Athletic Director starting July 1, replacing Ed Harrison as he acted as interim AD during the hiring process.
Results from the reopening advisory groups came out in mid-August after time spent planning in summer meetings. These groups were tasked with everything from transportation to scheduling to creating COVID-19 procedures exploring remote, in-person, and hybrid learning models. A School Committee vote approved hybrid learning for fall 2020. They also created a new Equity Subcommittee later that month.
September saw the school year starting fully remote with a decrease in enrollment. Remote learning was extended until Oct. 22 due to unfinished negotiations and the delay of extra air filters, although high needs students received in-person learning at the high school from the beginning of the year.
The School committee approved the fall sports season with some regular fall sports moved to the floating “Fall 2” season because the Middlesex League deemed them “high risk.”
A number of extra laptops and electronics were provided for students and families to support hybrid learning. Besides the transition to hybrid learning in October, the School Committee heard that the MSBA application decision was postponed and voted to leave the question of snow days being remote days up to the superintendent’s discretion.
Families were also invited to switch learning models, and school made changes as soon as possible.
December’s meetings considered the winter sports season Middlesex League decision to allow no spectators and a last minute change to remote before Christmas break.
The superintendent provided a bare bones 2022 budget for the committee’s initial review. It was also in December that DESE updated regulations for structured or synchronous learning time, which required the district to form three groups to make new elementary, middle school, and high school schedules so that all cohorts receive 35 synchronous hours every 10 days.