School Committee roundup: Enrollment numbers updated; HHS addition still not finished; additional food staff requested

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The School Committee met on Thursday night to discuss several issues, including progress on the high school addition, the need for more staff to prepare school lunches, and the implementation of the test and stay program at the district’s schools.

In her superintendent’s report, Carol Cavanaugh updated the committee on the district’s enrollment numbers. The bulk of enrollments occurred for students in kindergarten, with 266 currently registered out of 397 new students overall. She noted that there are 18 students who are being home-schooled, which is the same number as in the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.

“What I think is that we’ve kind of found our equilibrium,” she said, noting that last year was an anomaly. “I think that we are status quo, where we would typically be in a typical school year.”

The addition to the high school is in its final stages, with the windows and electrical systems having been installed. A site contractor is being sought to work on the landscaping and planting.

The superintendent added that she did not have the official date for occupancy yet because it is dependent upon the completion of the site work. Rain has delayed the progress on the external work, such as the planting of grass and pouring of concrete.

Since the start of school, there have been three cases of COVID-19. One case was at the middle school, while two were at Marathon School. There were no cases of in-school transmission.

“All three of those cases have involved unvaccinated students because all three of them are under 12 years old,” Cavanaugh explained, noting that they are ineligible to receive the vaccine.

The teachers and administrators have been enforcing the mask policy, working to make sure that students are wearing masks correctly.

She added that the school nurses currently are in training for the test and stay program. If a student has been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and is enrolled in pool testing, that student can receive a rapid COVID-19 test at school. If the test is negative, that child will be allowed to remain in school, with testing done each day for at least five days.

A close contact is someone who has been exposed during class within 3 feet of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 while both individuals were masked, for at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period.

Once the program is up and running, tests will be administered at the beginning of the day. If a student tests positive, that person will have to go home and be tested by a physician.

Vaccinated students do not need to participate in the test and stay program, although they are welcome to do so.

Member Joe Markey asked about program enrollment numbers. Cavanaugh said that 900 students are participating.

She added that she has not heard any new information from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) about if the mask use policy will be extended. DESE previously said that the mask policy will be reviewed in October.

DFC grant awarded

Member Amanda Fargiano announced that the town has received a grant under the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) program.

“It provides three years of funding,” she said. “And it’s designed to help us put in place the mechanisms and programs to really create a culture of substance abuse prevention.”

Created in 1997, the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program funds community-based coalitions that engage multiple sectors of the community to prevent youth substance use, according to information on the White House’s website.

“It’s exciting for the town,” Fargiano continued. “The coalition is a real cross-section of public safety personnel, people in various leadership positions, parents and people who have been affected by overdoses.”

Additional food staff requested

The committee unanimously approved a request to add an additional cook at each of four schools because of the overwhelming demand for school lunches.

Susan Rothermich, the director of finance and operations, said a request had been made to hire an additional cook for Marathon, Elmwood, the middle school and the high school. All have expressed a need for additional food service staff because of the tremendous increase of lunches that are being served, she said.

Rothermich gave an example that, on one day, the middle school saw an increase of 148 lunches served, while Elmwood saw an increase of 138 lunches served. She said part of this could be attributed to the fact that the federal government has made school lunches free for this school year nationwide.

“The increase on the kitchen staff has been through the roof, shall we say,” she added. “They are close to running out of food on some days – it’s that high.”

Markey asked if this increase was in comparison to pre-COVID-19 levels, which Rothermich confirmed.

“This is where you start to see the common areas being way too small,” Rothermich added. She noted the long lines and cramped space. The superintendent noted that those at the beginning of the line can have 20 minutes to eat, whereas someone at the end may only have seven or eight.

Misc.: Superintendent’s goals approved

The committee voted unanimously to approve the goals that Cavanaugh submitted for the year. Some of her goals include an increased focus on social-emotional learning, diversity in hiring, fiscal responsibility and community outreach. …

The committee unanimously approved a three-year contract for heating, air conditioning and ventilation maintenance with Cooling & Heating Specialists in Newton for $115,200.

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