UPDATED, Dec. 15: The School Committee made three key decisions at a nearly five-hour meeting Thursday night intended to improve conditions for students of Arlington High School.
The first was returning some students to Arlington High School in the second semester. Out of the four possible “hybrid” options detailed last month, committee members chose the one recommended by Principal Matthew Janger -- termed “the departmental shift” option -- on a motion by Jeff Thielman.
That means, for instance, those students enrolled in laboratory science will attend that class on campus roughly once per week in early 2021. For most other courses, a student will be brought to campus closer to once every two weeks. On average, any given student would attend class in person for 40 minutes per week in an average week. Otherwise, those in grades nine through 12 will continue to study remotely.
Families can instead choose to stay with all-remote instruction if they prefer.
This hybrid option differs markedly from what is used in prekindergarten through grade eight, in which students come to campus two days out of five. However, unlike the high school, none of those nine campuses is undergoing a complete overhaul, rendering many rooms temporarily unusable, especially under pandemic health-and-safety protocols requiring desks six feet apart.
'Departmental shift' option
The “departmental shift” option keeps all course offerings intact while not requiring hiring of more staffers, something administrators have consistently said would be difficult-to-impossible to accomplish before the next semester starts, Feb. 8. This option, according to Janger, is also the easiest one of the four to “back up” to all-remote should the pandemic worsen.
The vote was 6-1, Len Kardon dissenting.
In a second key step, Kardon succeeded in passing a separate motion directing Superintendent Kathleen Bodie to research options to help cope with apparent unmet needs of a significant minority of AHS students.
“Students are struggling socially,” Kardon said, and it would be best “to find out who they are and what we can build for them.” That vote was 5-2, as Paul Schlichtman and Kirsi Allison-Ampe dissented.
In a third, Allison-Ampe got her colleagues to vote unanimously for her motion that, like Kardon’s, was aimed at improving the social-emotional situation for teens. This allocated $75,000 for use at the high school. Of that amount, $50,000 was for noise-canceling headphones and other equipment to enhance the learning center and other study-hall facilities. Students already come to campus in small, socially distanced numbers for that purpose. The remaining $25,000 was to augment social activities to be held safely on campus especially for but not exclusively for seniors, including possible payment for a staffer to plan those activities.
'Menotomy Hunter' image to be discontinued
The committee voted unanimously on a motion by Bill Hayner to accept the recommendation of a student-based group led by AHS senior Louisa Baldwin to swiftly discontinue all use of the “Menotomy Hunter” image throughout Arlington Public Schools.
A sole exception was made for the image on the high school football field, only because it will require much time and money to erase. It was suggested that community-based fund-raising might expedite that process.
Allison-Ampe noted that the image – based on the Cyrus Dallin statue between Town Hall and Robbins Library – had existed for decades and that some alumni might be disappointed at the change, so “We need good messaging about why it was done.”
Baldwin also asked that the committee institute use of “land acknowledgment” text stating that public buildings exist “on stolen land,” that descendants of the original population “are still here today” and that their ancestors suffered “harm by colonizers.” On Schlichtman’s motion, the committee voted unanimously to send the matter to the committee’s policy subcommittee for detailed review.
Budget requests for more social workers, others
Janger, two other principals and a teacher union representative presented their initial requests for the budget to be adopted in mid-2021.
Gibbs Principal Fabienne Pierre-Maxwell asked for a Spanish teacher, a math coach-interventionist, a social worker and additional office staff.
Ottoson Principal Brian Meringer asked for more teachers including in reading and math support, and instructional support specialists to work as tutors in study halls. He echoed Pierre-Maxwell’s concerns about inadequate counseling /social-work services. “Kids need more regular counseling. I’m worried about next year,” he said, adding that “a real gap” had existed even before the pandemic.
Janger presented “a very truncated version” of what he said was a larger written report including requests for a speech-language pathologist assistant, at least two classroom teachers for core classes, an attendance/ reception person, a building substitute and other needs.
Representing the Arlington Education Association, Jenna Fernandes said that a salary increase is indicated to make Arlington comparable to surrounding towns. “We don’t want to be the training ground for great teachers in other districts,” Fernandes said. She agreed with Pierre-Maxwell and Meringer that more counseling was needed to address social-emotional needs of students. “We are stretched very thin.”
These remarks were sympathetically received, especially by Schlichtman and Morgan, who said that addressing social-emotional needs is “really critical,” especially with the “excruciating issue” of scarcity of child mental-health practitioners in the wider community.
CFO gets raise, contract extension
After having last month discussed the matter in closed session, the committee voted unanimously to approve Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason for a raise for the balance of the current school year and to extend his contract another three years. Committee Chair Jane Morgan was among those praising his work, describing him as “kind and funny and humble” and “a joy to work with.”
Parents speak about superintendent, classroom time
Nine people spoke briefly at the start of the meeting. Three criticized the committee’s Nov. 24 selection of Dr. Elizabeth Homan as successor to Superintendent Bodie who is set to retire in June, and asked that the committee reconsider competitor Dr. Victoria Greer.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Committee has a public statement and petition about the matter >>
Three other speakers demanded that the committee find a way to increase the amount of time students spend on campus. Two local high-school teachers said that the current remote-instruction system works well and that teachers should not be asked to radically change their lesson plans for a second time before June.
In other business, Mason presented enrollment projects. See the agenda document >>
See the ACMi video of the Dec. 10 meeting:
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This news summaery by YourArlington freelance journalist Judth Pfeffer was published Friday, Dec. 11, 2020, and updated Dec. 15, to adjust copy and add an ACMi video window.
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