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School Committee revisits SEPAC relationship, Hopkins addition plans

by | Feb 2, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

At Thursday’s School Committee meeting, members met with representatives of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council to review where things stand following last year’s volatility. Last March, working with a mediator, the School Committee and SEPAC mapped out a strategy to improve their communication and connectivity throughout the year.

Because of changes in personnel, SEPAC chair Jen Halliday noted monthly meetings with administrators “fell off the priority list,” and she is hoping to get things “back on track.”

Halliday said she is happy with the “efforts made to build trust” despite the lack of meetings.

Adam Munroe is the committee’s liaison to SEPAC and has attended some of the one-to-one coffee gatherings at the library.

“It’s more relaxed, the conversation flows more than at a board meeting,” he said.

Halliday said SEPAC is using a more informal, less stuffy approach but is open to trying new things.

She said the organization is getting more parental involvement by having SEPAC meetings on Zoom. Parents of children with disabilities often have a difficult time leaving the house, so this option allows them to listen in, possibly while caring for their kids at the same time, Halliday noted.

She added that when monthly meetings with administrators resume, systemic issues will be discussed rather than individual family problems.

SEPAC will provide a presentation at the Feb. 15 meeting. In the future, there will be a roundtable public meeting that Director of Student Services Abigail Hanscom will organize.

Hopkins School project update provided

Representatives from Vertex and Perkins Eastman provided a presentation about the Hopkins School renovation and addition project. Town Meeting will be asked to vote on the $46.7 million measure in May.

Vertex project director Chris Eberly said next steps include seeking permitting in town and hiring a construction manager. According to Eberly, that person will be tasked with trying to deliver a project that is less expensive, done more quickly and has the least amount of disruption as possible.

A community forum will be held on Feb. 12, when a similar presentation will be made to the public.

Eberly spoke about collaborating with educators to ensure the project’s design would meet their needs.

“We want to make sure the way it is configured and presented is going to work for how they do their jobs day in and day out,” he said.

One of the elements, he said, involves bringing sixth grade programs from the middle school to Hopkins. Hopkins School will have a “lower middle school model” with Grades 5 and 6.

The new Elmwood School will house Grades 2, 3 and 4.

Dawn Guarriello, principal designer from architectural firm Perkins Eastman, noted the plan is meant to accommodate a forecasted 802 students.

Guarriello highlighted drawings and photos to give an idea of what the 24,000 gross square foot addition would feature.

The additions and renovations will include a new gym as well as a multi-purpose gym, an enlarged cafeteria and kitchen, art/music spaces, additional general and special education classrooms, a science, technology and engineering (STE) room, an enlarged nurse’s suite, administrative offices, larger custodial and maintenance areas and more.

Guarriello said the school would increase to 102,900 square feet from 78,600 square feet.

Dan Colli, project manager at Perkins Eastman, said most of the building would be geothermal, with one unit remaining gas-fired. He said the new system would be “as far toward electrified as possible.”

Next week, a test well will be drilled 500 feet, which will provide information “to right size them. … The actual performance number of wells may come down,” Eberly said.

HTA head supports paraprofessionals

During the public comment portion of the meeting, the committee heard from Becky Abate, representing the Hopkinton Teachers Association. Abate spoke in support of paraprofessionals, who she noted are still dealing with the aftermath of COVID and its impact on students’ learning.

Abate noted that it is difficult to find qualified paraprofessionals willing to remain in Hopkinton schools because they are “woefully underpaid.”

“Every month, people resign to go where pay is better,” Abate said, “and so they don’t have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet.”

She urged the committee to remember how “critical” paraprofessionals are to every intensive classroom.

As negotiations occur with the paraprofessionals union, Abate said, “Show them you value the work they do here” by giving competitive wages, benefits and opportunities for growth.

Project 351 ambassador introduced

Hopkinton Middle School Assistant Principal Ann Benbenek introduced eighth grader Ryan Moore, selected as Hopkinton’s Project 351 ambassador for 2024. During a day of service in Boston that followed speeches and events, Moore joined a group that went to Dorchester and made mental health kits to support veterans, packed meals for an outreach project and made blankets.

His project through Cradles to Crayons will involve collecting clothing donations from March 25 to April 5. He explained that the donations from the state’s 351 towns will be distributed in Greater Boston.

Benbenek noted that Moore also is attending weekly service-learning sessions via Zoom to hone his skills.

Munroe thanked Moore for his efforts, “As a veteran and mental health professional, I’m glad that moved you to be engaged,” Munroe said.

“Thank you for your service,” Moore replied.

When asked what surprised him most about the program, Moore noted, “Something I didn’t expect was how many people we impacted — a little over 27,000 lives in two hours. That was unbelievable.”

Nature’s Classroom approved

The committee approved Benbenek’s request for sixth graders to participate in Nature’s Classroom in two groups, the first from Nov. 18-20 and the second from Nov. 20-24, at Ossipee Lake, New Hampshire.

The students explore their natural surroundings, studying ecological concepts; take special interest classes to build upon school curriculum; and participate in large group activities during the program.

Benbenek said about 320 HMS students attended last year, with 50 remaining at school for various reasons. The cost is $400 per student. She said the district can provide resources for families having financial constraints, but some students have anxiety about being away from home or have never experienced that before.

The students who remain at school will have the same curriculum as their classmates and then enrichment activities that may involve going outside and learning in a more “hands-on” way, according to Benbenek.

Name suggestions made for Elmwood replacement

During her superintendent’s report, Carol Cavanaugh provided a list of suggestions for naming the new school submitted to date, which included the Hoyt family of Boston Marathon fame: Dick, Rick and Judy Hoyt; E. Aubrey Doyle, former teacher/athletic director; Frederick Douglass, orator and anti-slavery advocate; Aimee Graham Phipps, longtime teacher and principal; Magunco, a Native American settlement in the area; Valerie Von Rosenvinge, HHS drama teacher; Hiller, Patriot and several others.

The superintendent broke down the list into other categories as well, with pitches for Acorn, Soaring Eagles, Woodland Grove, Athens, Relay, Start Line, Hayden, Hayden Rowe, Discovery, Tree of Knowledge and Futures just a sample of the several dozen submitted.

In two weeks, the superintendent will return with more submissions, with a vote by the School Committee set for March 21.

Student travel reviewed

In other business, the board approved several requests for travel by school groups. These were: the high school robotics team to Bridgeport, Connecticut, from Feb. 25-27 to compete against 750 students from around New England; the high school robotics team to compete against 10,000 students from around the world at the VEX Worlds in Dallas from April 25-28; the high school Business Professionals Association to the state leadership conference in Norwood from March 2-3, featuring 400 student competitors, and from May 10-14, to the National Leadership Conference in Chicago, competing against 6,000 students and participating in a day of service and Special Olympics walk.

The committee also approved a request from the HHS varsity hockey team for the Martha’s Vineyard Fairleigh Dickinson Tournament from Feb. 17-18.

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