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School Committee roundup: Designer chosen for Hopkins addition; Marathon to have therapy dog

by | Jul 7, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

The School Committee on Thursday approved a designer contract with architectural firm Perkins Eastman for an addition to Hopkins School.

According to Susan Rothermich, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, the $2.1 million pact falls within the $3 million transferred from the school stabilization account with Town Meeting approval last fall.

She said $400,000 previously was approved to hire Vertex as the owner’s project manager.

Both Vertex and Perkins Eastman have been working on the Elmwood School replacement project as well.

Perkins Eastman was one of two firms that responded with bids, while 18 vendors initially expressed interest, Rothermich said.

Therapy dog approved at Marathon

The committee also approved a request to have Toby, a certified therapy dog, join the Marathon School community. Principal Lauren Dubeau read a request from new adjustment counselor Justin Lohwater to have the mixed-breed dog join him in support of students in various therapeutic capacities. They worked as a team at his previous place of employment, Lincoln School in Northborough, with great success, he shared.

Lohwater wrote that Toby became integrated into many different areas of the school experience at the K-5 Lincoln School.

The counselor adopted the dog in May 2020 and indicated Toby is fully trained, certified, insured and up to date on all required shots and vaccinations. Lohwater completed the program and bears the cost of insuring the dog, the principal explained.

Dubeau said therapy dogs have a calming effect and can be “miracle workers” for people of all ages experiencing trauma or other issues. She expressed hope that Toby could help to foster a positive school climate.

The principal differentiated Toby from a service dog, which would fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said there would be an “opt out” option for students who would rather not interact with the dog for health or other reasons.

Dubeau said that even the youngest of children have challenges with changes in family and home lives, and the dog could be a comforting presence for them.

School Committee member Adam Munroe, attending through Zoom, works in behavioral health care at a hospital and said therapeutic dogs have “an amazingly positive” impact on people in that setting.

School Committee member Susan Stephenson called the proposal “fabulous,” adding, “Every school should have one.”

Guidance report reveals trends

In other business, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh reviewed trends compiled by the high school guidance office.

Some of the key statistics showed that of the 292 graduating students, 94.5% will either attend a four-year or two-year college (with 94% of that figure going to a four-year school).

Less than 1% intend to join the military, go straight to full-time employment or attend a prep school, while 2% plan a gap year before pursuing higher education. Four international students are heading home.

A further breakdown shows 46.3% of students planning to attend a public college or university. Of that amount, 16.2% will do that in Massachusetts.

The numbers have remained steady over the last several years, with a notable dip in 2020 during the pandemic, Cavanaugh said.

On the test front, the average Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) score for reading and writing was 615, while the math average was 632 for a total of 1,247. A total of 215 students took SATs.

Students shine at HOSA conference

The superintendent outlined achievements by students at the HOSA International Leadership Conference in Dallas in June.

Running 50-minute workshops is not something that students typically do, but Hopkinton’s Srilakshmi Venkatesan and Nandita Roamesh presented “Investigating Somnipathy and the Influence of Adolescent Sleep” at the conference.

Additionally, Venkatesan conducted a workshop on “The Systemic Institutionalization Inequities of Neurological Care.”

Earning the Barbara James Award for Service were Renee Gowda for gold (300 hours) and Venkatesan with silver (200 hours).

Getting a top 20 award were Kaizar Rangwala, Jake Dold and Shaurya Patni for creating Echovue, a handheld device for home fetal monitoring.

Cost-cutting measures cited on school project

In other business, the superintendent talked about cost-saving decisions made so far by the Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC) to bring down the $174 million cost initially cited. That figure reflected a total comprised of top-end construction materials and other features, she said.

These measures included choices for less expensive interior and exterior building materials, elimination of a family resource room, use of a general contractor instead of a construction manager at risk, reduction of outdoor learning spaces and window-to-wall ratios, less pavement and tree clearing and simplified building spaces and efficiencies.

In a related matter, School Committee member Holly Morand said with small children to care for at home, she did not have the necessary time to serve as an alternate liaison to the ESBC.

“I can’t commit the attention and time it deserves. It’s essential,” Morand said.

Vice chair Amanda Fargiano offered to serve as the alternate “if no one else has the bandwidth for it.” Hearing no interest by other members, chair Nancy Cavanaugh, who is the liaison, explained that the alternate could follow along at home if necessary and attend meetings in her absence.

The next School Committee meeting is July 28.


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