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Speed support for shots and testing, board urges state

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Pilot testing program of students to begin at Thompson.

UPDATED, Jan. 18: Coping with Covid-19 by vaccinating educators and testing students were the chief concerns for the Arlington School Committee at the Thursday, Jan. 14, meeting.

The group directed Chair Jane Morgan to tell legislators and the committee’s counterparts in other towns that Arlington seeks support for logistics to enable campus-based staff to get shots in an expedited manner. This would include coordinating with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

It is important “to make it easy for it to happen,” said Paul Schlichtman, who made the motion. “It should be a higher priority” than it is at present, said Bill Hayner, who put the matter on the night’s agenda.

The Commonwealth places teachers as part of Phase Two in the vaccination schedule, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said, and it is not clear when vaccinations will be made available to them. The Boston Globe recently reported that this might begin in February or March.

Pilot to start Tuesday

Meanwhile, in addition to the ongoing weekly voluntary testing of on-site staffers, the Arlington Public Schools will start on Tuesday a pilot testing program of students, beginning at Thompson Elementary School. Their parents will need to give permission beforehand.

Such “pool testing” would be done via nasal swabs collected by each participating class and submitted as a group for examination. That is to say, each individual sample would be anonymous.

“We would tell [pupils] to do what we always tell them not to do -- which is to stick something up their nose,” said Cindy Sheridan-Curran, the schools' emergency-management coordinator. She noted that children will practice this before collecting the samples that will be submitted for testing.

Sample sizes of less than 25 generally provide greater accuracy, according to Nursing Director Dr. Susan Franchi, citing “the robust accuracy of this test.”

Any pool with even one positive result will require all students, teachers and aides in that pool to pivot to all-remote learning for 10 days. During that interval, all those students will be offered individual tests from the district, with their parents’ permission, Sheridan-Curran said. “Probably most people would want their child to be tested,” she added.

If things go well at Thompson, pool testing will be expanded to other Arlington campuses. “This is evolving as we think this through,” Bodie said. “There are some unknowns.”

Pool testing is strongly backed by Gov. Charlie Baker and will be paid for by the state for the first six weeks, according to the Globe article. Committee members commended Franchi and Sheridan-Curran for their efforts to institute the program.

Some classes to return to AHS next month

Classes for the general student body are scheduled to return in February on a limited basis to Arlington High School, where there is “a really high level of Covid protection,” Principal Matthew Janger said. The semester starts Feb. 8, with the first on-campus classes to begin Feb. 22.

Under the plan that the School Committee approved last month, each course will meet on campus an average of six times per semester or roughly once every other week. Therefore, for students who are enrolled in three courses, each student would come to campus a total of 18 times during the semester; it would be more often for those students enrolled in four or in five courses.

English, math, history and world-languages courses will occupy large indoor spaces, while science, art, performing arts, and family and consumer science classes will take place in laboratories and other specialized rooms. Performing arts will be situated primarily outdoors, with heaters provided. 

Any family who so wishes can continue to opt for all-remote instruction. As has also long been true, the district will keep providing on-campus instruction four days per week for higher-needs students whose parents wish this service.

Read Dr. Janger's presentation >>

Student Opportunity Act report OK'd

On a divided vote, the committee agreed to send its Student Opportunity Act plan to the state to meet today’s deadline. Under the SOA, districts must submit three-year evidence-based plans aimed at closing persistent disparities in achievement.

Schlichtman made the motion reluctantly. “The state really didn’t give us anything,” he said of the lower-than-expected funding but yet “makes us jump through all these hoops.”

Bodie said that the document can be amended later on if need be.

Five voted in favor, with Len Kardon voting no and Liz Exton abstaining.

More teachers sought in FY 2022 

Largely agreeing with requests from principals and teachers, committee members discussed budget priorities for next fiscal year without stating numbers; it would be premature to do so, as neither the town nor the state have announced their budgets.

Members generally backed small class sizes, which would mean hiring more teachers. Exton emphasized the need to “help those [students] struggling after the challenges we’ve had” because of the pandemic.

Schlichtman said more kindergarten teachers might be required if enrollment jumps after some parents may have held back their 5-year-olds because only hybrid classes were available. “We’re going to have a bubble coming through next year is my guess,” he said.

The committee was divided on the feasibility of hiring assistant principals at each elementary campus given budget realities, even though principals at those schools have lobbied hard for this.

“My main goal is to have a plan to make our schools the vibrant learning environments that we want them to be,” member Kirsi Allison-Ampe said. She suggested more aides and counselors -- and said the district should create a two-year plan to specifically address anticipated learning gaps due to the relative lack of on-campus classes since mid-March. Possible measures might include an extended school day, summer sessions and online resources, she said.

Synchronous learning

Bodie briefly addressed synchronous learning -- instruction delivered/received in real time either in-person or remotely -- at all grade levels. See the agenda document >> 

Grades 6 through 12 currently meet the state-set requirement of an average of 35 hours per two weeks. However, the elementary schools lag behind at an average of 31 hours per two weeks based on measures from early November 2020.

"We are going to meet the mandate. The plan is, we are going to increase an additional specialist class on the remote days," she said, starting Jan. 25. She said that this would provide an average of 12 minutes more per school day or one more hour per school week. Bodie noted that many local parents also have said that they desire more robust instruction on those three distance-learning days.

AHS construction update

The ongoing rebuild of AHS continues on schedule, Bodie reported, saying, “It’s going along very well and on time.” She said that from the district’s offices on the sixth floor of the current building, one “can see the steel going up.” 

She noted that details are frequently updated on the website devoted to this purpose and that residents also can request that direct notifications be sent to them via email. For all links to this effort, see www.ahsbuilding.org.

Union matters 

The committee went into executive session at 9:35 p.m. to discuss ongoing contract negotiations with the Arlington Education Association, which represents teachers throughout the district.

See the ACMi video of the Jan. 14 meeting:


Dec. 18, 2020: NEW SUPER: Homan's contract, transition working with Bodie approved
 


This news summary by YourArlington freelance journalist Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Jan. 15, 2021., and updated Jan. 18, to add ACMi video window.

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