The Elmwood School replacement project, school enrollment and the attendance policy were among the topics of discussion at the Hopkinton School Committee meeting on Thursday.
Elementary level administrators also presented improvement plans for the board to review.
Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said the Elmwood project — assuming it gets funded — is expected to take 4 1/2 years: two years for design, two for construction and a half-year obtaining town/state approvals.
The first community forum will be held virtually this coming Monday at 6 p.m. Forums will continue each month for the rest of the year, with information available on the district’s website.
Cavanaugh said 40 sites are being considered, at this point based solely on the fact they have 10 acres or more.
Going forward, criteria will include location of wetlands, shape of parcel, water/sewer, geography, proximity to gas and other easements, site access and whether it is privately or publicly owned land.
“By February 2023, we should have a good sense of where we are going” with the project, said Cavanaugh.
Enrollment tops projections
Regarding enrollment, Cavanaugh said as of Sept. 15 the district has 4,178 students, including 102 in preschool.
A consultant’s enrollment projection had 4,104 students by the end of this school year and 4,186 as of the end of the school year in 2024.
The superintendent pointed out that the district already exceeded the projections “nowhere near the end of the school year” and is eight students away from going above the 2024 figure.
She added that the district typically adds more students as the year progresses. As a “fun fact,” she noted that there are 41 new residential permits this year to date. That number compares to 106, 95 and 875 in previous years.
Attendance policy removes COVID language
In an effort to update the attendance policy, it was proposed that specific symptoms associated with COVID-19 be removed from the language going forward. However, board members said that parents should not send kids to school who have fevers higher than 100, strep throat, etc., and must use discretion. Parents must provide an explanation in writing or by phone to the nurse.
The district allows for five full-day absences in a six-month period before a letter is sent home. The state’s general law stipulates seven absences before the attendance officer can file a complaint in court against the parent/guardian.
Cavanaugh said students don’t get to an eighth absence very often, and if they do, there could be “school avoidant issues” in play.
School Committee member Holly Morand asked if a mental health day could be added into the policy. She described such a time as a student feeling particularly anxious or overwhelmed or adolescents feeling stress, knowing it would not be a “great day to participate in education.”
She suggested that one excused absence be allowed per semester, asking if the district has the “leeway,” to institute such a measure.
Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey LaBroad said that parents know best if their child is not ready to learn, whether for mental or physical health reasons. However, he emphasized the focus should be on doing everything possible to keep the kids in school and “promote a positive presence” in the buildings.
He said a discussion could be had for thinking about “wellness” with broader strokes but was hesitant to factor it into the policy, stating, “If you don’t need it, don’t take it.”
Cavanaugh said it was important to vote on the policy as soon as possible because there were 20 families who had yet to send their kids to school, and principals are worried.
When a student shows up a few weeks into the school year, they will have missed a lot and may feel like they are not part of the school community, the superintendent noted.
Although School Committee members wanted to review the wording further, they voted to accept the policy with the stipulation it would be revisited and reviewed again.
School improvement plans presented
In other business, Marathon School Principal Lauren Dubeau, Elmwood Principal Anne Carver and Hopkins Principal Vanessa Bilello talked about social/emotional learning strides they are making in their buildings as well as professional development.
Strengthening writing curriculum in the early grades and using “differentiated instruction” at Hopkins were among the many other topics presented.
Carver spoke about having “positive” office referrals and not just sending children to the principal’s office when “naughty behavior” occurs.
The principal said the positive feedback is received well, though she recognizes that some kids feel awkward about a big display and prefer recognition in a quieter, low-key way.
Bilello talked about supporting flexible grouping of students to increase “opportunities for personalized learning.”
She said that fourth- and fifth-graders run the gamut from still being in the “dinosaurs and unicorn” stage all the way to “texting [and] exploring relationships and crushes.”
“It keeps the office and counselors busy,” she said.