School Committee reviews challenging year, adjusts vacation policy

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The School Committee met Thursday to review the successes of the year during the pandemic, elect new leadership and discuss the administrator vacation policy.

Nancy Cavanaugh was unanimously elected chair. Previous chair Amanda Fargiano was unanimously elected to serve as vice chair, the position Cavanaugh previously held.

Committee reviews accomplishments, data

Fargiano highlighted the achievements of the schools during the school year.

One major policy implemented was a nondiscrimination policy. This included an anti-racism pledge, the inclusion of a liaison from the Hopkinton Freedom Team (HFT) and attendance of School Committee members at two HFT active bystander trainings.

A number of policies implemented revolved around COVID-19 protocols.

Fargiano noted that the percentage of white students is declining, while white teachers comprise 91 percent of the district, compared to 88 percent for the state.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said there are 428 new students enrolled for the 2021-22 school year (primarily kindergartners but also new students in other grades). There were 328 high school graduates, meaning there is an increase of 100 students. The district had budgeted for an addition of 70.

This school year, six juniors earned the Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction, while 11 earned the Seal of Biliteracy, all of them in Spanish. The distinction awardees excelled in Spanish, Arabic and Tamil. Six seniors earned the distinction seal for language proficiency, five in Spanish and one in Russian. Twenty-five earned the seal in either Spanish or French.

Juniors were not tested the previous year. The previous year, there was the same number of distinction awardees and 18 students who were awarded the seal, most in Spanish and two in French.

College plans were announced. Five students will attend the University of Michigan, 27 will go to UMass-Amherst, 16 will attend Northeastern and seven will attend Boston University. Fifty-eight students, or 17.8 percent, chose public colleges, while nine chose a gap year before matriculating to earn money and ensure that the pandemic is over.

“It was a different kind of year to be searching for colleges,” noted committee member Joe Markey. His daughter was a senior and had to tour some colleges online or get a map from a college administrator, as college buildings were closed during the year because of COVID-19.

Regarding COVID vaccinations, 95 percent of 16-18-year-olds received at least one dose, which is “absolutely phenomenal,” according to committee member Meg Tyler.

Tyler commended Fargiano for the “absolute commitment and brilliance” she displayed as chair while navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[She] carried us through that pandemic like a storm trooper who never slept and never took a wrong step,” she said. “Your performance all year was incredible and your level-headedness and your generosity. I felt like I was witnessing grace.”

Vacation policy altered for 2021-22

The committee voted 4-0-1 to allow administrators to carry five vacation days over to the next school year. Markey abstained, noting that administrators did not take most of their vacation time last year, so it did not seem appropriate to make this change.

Carol Cavanaugh noted that administrators worked all last summer without vacation to consider and administer COVID-19 policies.

“I’ve never worked for a company where they’ve carried vacation days,” Markey said, noting the budget implications. He said administrators should take vacation time for balance.

Carol Cavanaugh noted that a school principal could not take a week off during the pandemic and leave a school without its leader, especially at the elementary level.

“There are 600 little people that they are in charge of every day,” she explained.

“Then why are we giving five additional vacation days that we know the administrators won’t take?” Markey questioned.

After much discussion, it was decided that this would be a one-year change to reward the efforts of administrators during the COVID-19 crisis.

HEF grants awarded

The School Committee approved the acceptance of $37,409 of grants awarded by the Hopkinton Education Foundation (HEF). This year was unique in that despite the financial challenges of the pandemic, HEF was able to coordinate two separate rounds of grants rather than one.

HEF president Chris Fredericks said that the grants ranged in subjects from mindfulness matters, “Creepy Crawly Composters,” sustainable housing and a fourth-and-fifth-grade curriculum on the use of books highlighting diversity and LGBTQIA topics.

“One of the things that came up in our HCAM hour is that Hopkinton is an amazing place to live because you can never go without,” said Carol Cavanaugh, highlighting the $22,000 grant for a school television studio. “It there’s something you really, really need, you can find a way to get it.”

Student recognized for science fair honor

Ninth-grader Eva Bennett was recognized by the committee for her science fair fourth-place award in the Translational Medical Science category for her work on teratogenicity testing. A teratogen can cause birth defects. She earned the opportunity to participate in the Regeneron International Science Fair after placing first at the regional level and second place at the state level by studying the effects of retinol on an earthworm species called a planarian. This could potentially reduce the amount of genetic testing on pregnant mammals.

“My project was inspired by some family friends and people close to me who have birth defects,” Bennett said. “I have an aunt with heart defects that needed to be corrected with surgery when she was a baby. A close friend family friend of mine has cleft lip. A child in the class I volunteer in has a missing finger, and a dear elementary school classmate of mine has Down’s syndrome.”

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