School Committee approves all school improvement plans, teachers union contract

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The School Committee at its meeting Thursday night unanimously approved the student improvement plans for each of the district’s five schools.

The common thread among all the presentations was weaving a focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) with education on diversity and equity.

School improvement plans discussed

Marathon School Principal Lauren Dubeau explained that SEL was a paramount concern as children return to school after the challenges of the past year, particularly for younger students.

“Where we are now, coming back from a pandemic, it’s even more critical than it was prior because we’ve had children coming back from such vast experiences,” she said. “And even coming together is new for some of them. At our level in particular, some of them haven’t really left their family or been with other people.”

One goal is to make sure that everyone feels welcome, including students and parents of all cultures and backgrounds. She stressed that students become more confident in a supportive environment and are better able to learn.

Positive behavior incentives and supports (PBIS) are being emphasized in the elementary schools. She said the concept at Marathon is that students “should take care of themselves, take care of each other and take care of their building.” This strategy is the building block on which the concepts of respect and responsibility will be layered as the students advance in grade level.

One bright spot of the pandemic, Dubeau said, was being able to integrate technology into everyday learning and connecting with parents. Workshops will be held to educate parents on SEL concepts in recorded sessions.

Teaching students about different cultures and traditions also is a key facet of education at Marathon as well as in the other schools. Books have been chosen that reflect a variety of backgrounds that can prompt discussions and understanding.

“It’s deeper and it’s at a different level than it was a few years ago,” Dubeau explained, noting that the district now has an SEL program director.

Staff collaboration on curriculum across elementary schools was another positive gained during the pandemic that will continue to be utilized, she added. This allowed for consistency across classes.

“If anyone can find a silver lining in the pandemic, it’s you,” said School Committee Member Meg Tyler. “We talk so much about loss in the pandemic and the scars. But you’ve shown us how much we’ve gained. We’ve been able to look at education through a different lens now.”

“There’s a collective sense that we’re back to a more normal school year, even though we were back together in the spring,” added Chair Nancy Cavanaugh.

Hopkins Principal Vanessa Bilello described a similar strategy for Grades 4 and 5. It focused on having a safe and inclusive learning environment that promotes diversity and respect.

“Our goal this year is bringing those two areas together under one umbrella,” she said.

Another priority is helping students get back to having a school structure, as well as helping those students for whom the transition is challenging. Also, an emphasis will be made on asking students about their interests and providing for their different learning styles through activities like interactive read-aloud groups.

“Every kid needs an opportunity to expand and deepen their learning,” Bilello said.

Hopkinton Middle School Principal Alan Keller said that having students talk to their peers about diversity is one objective this year. Another is making it easier for students to report cases of bullying or bias.

Regarding the curriculum, the civics program that started last year will be expanded. The concept of “windows and mirrors” was discussed so that materials reflect the cultures of all students. A mental health literacy course has been added this year.

One concern Keller brought up was the lack of classroom space. All of the rooms are now being used, and there are five lunch periods. He suggested creating a building task force to analyze how enrollment in upcoming years will impact the need for space and staffing.

Member Amanda Fargiano said this was a good goal, because the space crunch is coming on faster than originally anticipated.

Hopkinton High School Principal Evan Bishop stressed a focus on the “three C’s,” which are the school’s culture, connection and community.

“We need to work at making those connections, building those relationships and making sure that everybody in our community feels valued,” he said. Another goal is establishing “the habits of success” that will lead to a successful high school graduate, including critical thinking, self-awareness and communication skills.

In addition to approving all of the improvement plans, the School Committee unanimously approved the high school handbook. The district’s overall improvement plan passed by a 5-0 vote.

Teachers union contract approved

The committee unanimously approved the contract for the Hopkinton Teachers Association A and C units. The contracts had been ratified by the union the previous day.

Club money transfer requests OK’d

Keller requested that the $500 allocation for the science fair be transferred to the successful Mathworks program because a science fair will not be held this year. He said there has been a declining interest in the science fair, while the popularity of the math club has soared. The request was approved 5-0.

A similar request by Keller shifted the $500 allotted to the peer tutoring program, which is not being held this year, be split among two teachers who have offered to lead the school’s Diversity Club. He asked that the Diversity Club, which started last year, be made a permanent club. The motion was approved 5-0.

HHS building project nears completion

The HHS addition should be completed in the third week of September, according to Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh. The scaffolding has started to be removed, and all of the exterior windows are installed. The brickwork also is complete.

“I think we’re finally in the home stretch of this project, which is really wonderful,” she said.

Superintendent goals approved

The superintendent presented her goals for the upcoming year, and they were unanimously approved.

One goal would be to analyze student learning data to make sound instructional choices. Another would be for her to meet with each school principal weekly for feedback.

Anti-racism and social justice are additional areas of focus, as well as combatting bullying and bias. Enrollment growth is another critical issue, as the school-aged population continues to expand, which will lead to a need for more learning space.

Supporting the whole child through social and emotional learning and equity is another superintendent priority that was reflected at all of the schools.

Students receive recognition

The committee recognized middle school students who won the VEX IQ World Champion Excellence Award for their high achievement in an international robotics competition this past spring. They are: Akshay Jana, Kaisar Rangwala, Kevin Zhu, Ragav Jeevanantham and Jacob Dold.

In addition, high school students Lauren Strechay and Nicolette Buonora were praised for winning two awards at the Invention Convention U.S. Nationals, including being awarded a patent for their invention, a “Battery Swap” flashlight to assist emergency personnel. The flashlight has a second battery chamber that would be activated in the event that a flashlight’s primary batteries died, eliminating the need to carry and install extra batteries.