WILMINGTON — The School Committee discussed and ultimately voted that Wilmington Public Schools will not participate in school choice for next year during their meeting last Wednesday night before they received presentations on behavioral health and the NEASC report.
Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand explained that the Department of Education expects all districts to participate in school choice unless they take a vote to withdraw. He also reminded the committee that Wilmington has not ever participated as far as he can tell.
“I’d suggest that based upon where we are right now… that we maintain our current position and do not participate for next year,” he said.
He proposed that doing so at this juncture would overextend Wilmington’s commitments considering the work required for the Wildwood School MSBA process.
School Committee member Melissa Plowman asked Brand to speak to the requirements and time commitment that would be involved in school choice. She wanted to make sure that if it’s something the district does, there is enough time and effort available to do it right.
Brand answered that some of the provisions would require managing the lottery system, handling applications, and providing communication, although he didn’t know about the time commitment piece.
M. J. Byrnes commented that she would like to see school choice considered, but perhaps under more stable circumstances.
“I’m hesitant to move forward at this juncture,” she said.
She also asked for more information about the process and the cost of participation so that they could consider school choice more thoughtfully next year.
David Ragsdale said that he would consider school choice only at the high school level. He also agreed that next year would be a better year to do so, when there would hopefully be fewer extra projects.
Stephen Turner, the committee’s newest member, offered another reason to opt out of school choice this year of recent leadership turnover.
He said, “taking care of students in the right way is the most important thing.”
He also thought that increasing student enrollment to a certain level may decrease state funding and lead to the cost of school per student increasing.
Jesse Fennelly wondered if it was possible for students who get accepted by school choice in Wilmington to decide to leave the district. Brand answered that they could do that.
Plowman added that there were a number of new housing units in town that may also impact enrollment, with which Brand agreed. He mentioned that the MSBA reconsidered their enrollment projections due to the property being built at 100 West St. They then voted not to participate in school choice.
Coordinator of Behavioral Health and Social Emotional Support Christine Murray and Social Emotional Learning & Family Engagement Specialist Erin Dunham presented updates from the Behavioral Task Force.
Murray spoke to the efforts toward social-emotional learning and professional development for staff leading to the creation of the task force and subgroups. The task force helped to provide training to staff on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and responsible decision-making.
Another exercise teachers participated in was a social-emotional learning Jamboard focused on current SEL efforts in the classroom, in the building, and new things to try.
They promoted their upcoming annual fair on Wednesday May 4 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium, which will feature vendors and their Care Solace representative. Anyone in the community is invited to attend for access to resources on mental health.
Then, high school senior Olivia Erler explained a project from her Service-Learning class wherein she was required to do a service project to benefit the community and chose to bring presentations on mental health to the high school. This started a program to keep these presentations going which she will pass on to another student after she graduates.
The committee said they appreciated all of their efforts and that they look forward to the fair.
The last presentation of the night came from WHS Principal Linda Peters on the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Report. Peters shared some of the positives that the NEASC representatives found at Wilmington, including student pride in school and strong connection with faculty, course offerings and civic engagement, senior exploration programs, active learning strategies, and the Vision of a Graduate.
Their recommendations suggested priority areas to focus on improvement in curriculum mapping, instructor collaboration, schedule review, active learning, civic engagement, student counseling, and more.
Byrnes asked Peters to make sure that her successor will continue the work in these priority areas.
Plowman mentioned that she appreciated the concrete feedback and noted that some of the recommendations were already being incorporated. She said that in her mind, active learning goes hand in hand with social-emotional learning, so helping students to connect with the material or teacher will also lead to more active learning.
Ragsdale commented that scrutinizing the schedule was definitely a good idea, along with teacher collaboration and learning from each other. Brand thanked Peters and the leadership team involved in the presentation and efforts.