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School Committee roundup: Members seek to ‘strengthen the dialogue’ with help from consultant; security camera policy debated

by | Mar 3, 2022 | Education, Featured: Education

Following recent issues of divisiveness, the School Committee had a midyear check-in of its norms and beliefs, part of its protocols and best practices for effective meetings.

While at recent meetings some members expressed frustration with how meetings were run and a lack of support for each other, Thursday’s discussion was more low key.

“Even though there have been times when we have been intense in our opinions, I think it is a strength that we represent our community with not always having all the same views,” Chair Nancy Cavanaugh said.

Member Joe Markey concurred, saying “I still think in our public meetings we’ve been a model for civil discussion.”

However, Lya Batlle-Rafferty questioned that assessment.

“I would actually disagree with that,” she said. “And I really appreciated the offer of a consultant to come and speak with us individually and come up with general tasks that we can do as a School Committee to strengthen the dialogue, because yes, I believe there have been moments where civility has not really reigned, so I would like to get us back to the point where that is a standard thing.”

Added Batlle-Rafferty: “I think airing emotions is good, but it doesn’t lead us to resolution. So having somebody who can help us come up with steps and ways to get to kind of more of a resolved state would be great.”

Amanda Fargiano supported the hiring of a consultant, noting that it would have been a good idea even before the issues that recently arose.

“I’m a thousand percent behind it,” she said. “I really wanted to do team-building last year. I think it’s always good. Given the pressures that we’ve been under — last year we welcomed two new members in the middle of a pandemic. We met so much. There was a lot of pressure.

“Last year I thought we couldn’t get any more pressure. And this year we had more pressure. Not only is there pandemic fatigue, but we’re also trying to support the superintendent and our staff and our students and recovering and sort of re-emerging, and it’s just been difficult. So I thought we needed it last year, and this year I think any team would need it.”

Added Batlle-Rafferty: “Not only is there a pandemic, but then you also take into account that we’ve all worked a full day, and we come here already tired and already kind of worn out, and then we’re dealing with very stressful topics.”

Markey, who with Meg Tyler was accused by a resident of an open meeting law violation but cleared after an investigation by Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh, supported bringing in a consultant who would talk to members individually and as a group.

“The biggest challenge school committees have is the restrictions that we have as a public body,” he said. “I think this is a way to achieve it while adhering to the requirements of public open meetings and things like that. That’s really what this is about, so I just want to make sure people understand it’s really a technical issue of how you get a team to be able to talk to each other given that there’s restrictions on School Committee members talking to each other between meetings, so I think it’s a good way to do it.”

Security camera policy debated

The committee discussed a proposed policy regarding the use of security cameras in schools, with Superintendent Cavanaugh explaining that the policy would in part serve to make families aware that the cameras are there.

“We do have them and we are using them,” she said.

Cavanaugh explained that administrators do not constantly monitor them but will go back and review footage if an incident has occurred — such as theft from a hallway locker or vandalism on athletic fields.

Markey expressed concern about the role the cameras and video play in day-to-day issues.

“I’m not sure I’m in favor of them increasingly being used,” he said. “And I would hate for us to create a set of justifications to that fact that we are increasingly using them rather than stop and inspect what are we doing here.”

Markey said he would prefer not relying on the video to solve every issue and said there should be more clarification regarding the usage in the policy rather than leaving it open-ended.

“I would like to take the least invasive approach to resolving issues and conflicts in the school rather than let cameras because they’re so convenient be the first go-to,” he said.

He also expressed concern about the expense to the district “versus the value gained.”

Added Markey: “I think it’s worthy of a bigger community discussion.”

The superintendent stressed that the policy is designed to spread awareness more than anything else.

“We’ve been using these cameras for years and years,” she said, “and the only reason we brought this forward was that we thought this was more transparent for families to say that we are using them.”

Director discusses social emotional learning

Carla Burley, the district’s new director of social emotional learning, checked in to discuss the plan to implement a program in the schools.

Social emotional learning is defined as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Said Burley: “Our priority is to ensure students are supported academically, socially, emotionally and physically, and that educators have the ability to connect and deepen relationships with all of the students and each other.”

Misc.: Additional positions approved

The committee unanimously approved three new positions, all of which are to be funded — at least temporarily — by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) grants.

One position is a .9 FTE (full-time equivalent) B paraprofessional for preschool. The second is a full-time moderate learning specialist at Hopkins. The third is a request for an additional .4 FTE to upgrade a moderate learning specialist at the high school into a full-time position. …

The committee voted to accept a donation of music instruments and supplies from the English family totaling over $500. …

Two travel requests were approved for Hopkinton High School organizations. An HHS robotics team plans to travel to Dallas on May 4-8 for the VEX Robotics World Championship, and a group will head to the Business Professionals of America (BPA) National Leadership Conference in Dallas from May 5-8.

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