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Draft of education plan for reconfigured Hopkins School unveiled

by | Jan 5, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

The School Committee on Thursday viewed possible schedules for students in fifth and sixth grades at Hopkins School as part of a proposed education plan should an addition/renovation project receive Town Meeting approval in May.

One of the district’s capital requests is $46.7 million for the project.

Should that request pass, sixth graders would move from the middle school to Hopkins in the fall of 2027.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh explained that the scheduling presentation was a “rough draft” to get an idea of what is possible going forward.

Hopkins School principal Matt Cotter was on hand to answer questions as well.

According to the superintendent, current conditions at the building include having four lunch shifts starting at 10:45 a.m. and ending at 1:20 p.m., using interior windowless rooms for general education spaces, dividing the library to carve out new classrooms, changing conference rooms into counseling and small group instruction rooms, and administrators sharing office space.

One of the issues that arose is a discrepancy among the length of math classes, with teachers wanting to keep the pace the same for different groups of learners, said Cotter.

“Teachers handle it really well, but if we can resolve this, we’d love to,” he said.

Another discussion revolved around WINN (What I Need Now) blocks that alternate with increased amounts of related arts time during the week.

Cotter explained that during WINN blocks, students can work on enrichment activities, receive help in reading or math working with a tutor, do makeup work or “whatever the student needs.”

Cavanaugh explained that the related arts consist of physical education, general music, digital art, health, drama, studio art, library and engineering. The time students spend in these areas will increase from 270 to 450 minutes weekly in the proposed schedule.

If schedules and staffing allows, the superintendent said students in band, orchestra and chorus would benefit from having general music classes to learn the basics they could apply in performance groups.

On the academic side, classes in science, social studies, math and reading have maintained a similar amount of hours per week.

There could be flexibility in schedules. As an example, Cotter talked about a student in need of math tutoring who might also love playing violin. “We wouldn’t want to take those chances away from them. It is important to the whole child,” Cotter said.

Committee members also talked about the reduction of lunch shifts from 150 total minutes to 100 minutes. Cotter said the students eat in 10 minutes and spend the other 20 “looking for something to do.”

Under the plan, both fifth and sixth graders would have 20-minute lunch shifts and 4 minutes of transition time.

Student representative Jack Ianelli concurred it would be enough time, saying high school students never had a problem eating lunch in that time frame.

Vice chair Amanda Fargiano questioned the shortening or elimination of “pack up and go home” dismissal time in the schedule. Cotter replied that with having the fourth graders at the new Elmwood School in this scenario, the fifth and sixth graders could handle exits more quickly.

Nevertheless, he said it would be up to the discretion of the teachers in the last block of the day.

Member Lori Nickerson noted that her fifth grader uses dismissal time as homework time, so she thinks it is adequate.

“We need to find a balance to get kids home on time and safely,” Cotter said.

Chair Nancy Cavanaugh noted that additional staff in the related arts would impact the operating budget in the first year. The plan calls for six periods in the arts to increase to 10.

Cotter said he would like to see sixth graders alternate “Hiller blocks” (similar to WINN blocks) with recess three times per week.

The superintendent showed the latest drawings by Perkins Eastman on the new addition project. She said the plan would address space needs by enlarging the gym/multipurpose room, having a larger nurse’s suite and room for administrative offices, and including six science classrooms, technology-fitted digital art space, music and drama areas, additional intensive/moderate special needs rooms and a larger cafeteria/kitchen.

“All the chiseling we’ve done in the old building can be rectified here,” Carol Cavanaugh said.

“We shared that this would be an opportunity for Grade 5 and not a detraction for Grade 6, and I don’t think we’ve been disingenuous about that.”

Fargiano asked what the role of the School Committee is in the process, given that the project is not receiving funds from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The superintendent said the education plan is an “evolving document” that would have budget implications.

Nancy Cavanaugh said it would be important to have transparency and a vote prior to Town Meeting for that reason.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance Susan Rothermich noted that if approved, the project first would focus on the addition portion. Once the addition is done, the idea is to move the students over to it while the other renovation interior work is going on while classes are in session.

Elmwood naming to be discussed

In other business, Carol Cavanaugh noted that talks should start soon about naming the new Elmwood School, as it is then reflected in the building design.

She said that suggestions would be entertained from the community, then she would present a list and make recommendations, and the School Committee would vote.

Members said they wanted to review the policy on the criteria regarding naming a school and address the issue later in the month.

Booths added to HMS cafeteria

The superintendent talked about how the district increased the number of seats in the middle school cafeteria by installing booths, including those in a serpentine shape. The booths are meant to accommodate six students, Cavanaugh said, but she has already witnessed some with eight students squeezed in.

“The flooring and walls have changed over time, and it is a nice, modern-day cafeteria,” the superintendent said, adding that students are excited by the booths and dash to claim them.

Budget presentation repeated

With no changes since the last meeting, the superintendent and Rothermich repeated the budget presentation, outlining the proposal for $63,144,790 in fiscal year 2025.

The total represents an increase of $3,207,037, or 5.35 percent.

The budget features $1.5 million in contractual obligations and $701,508 in staff requests for 9.45 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions, including a second assistant principal at Hopkins School.

Member Susan Stephenson said that she was impressed by the budget process, noting the various requests that been brought forth and how “you guys were able to finesse and say, ‘No, not right now’ sometimes. You did an amazing job to put a lid where you could.”

Member Adam Munroe said he liked how the budget process was done in a transparent way that shows how much work was put into minimizing the impact. He said it would help townspeople as they prepare “to take that hit financially.”

A public hearing on the budget will take place Jan. 11 followed by a School Committee vote on the budget Jan. 18.

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