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Committee hears Covid update, gets initial budget memo

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As to masking, 'we created our own metric.'

-- Elizabeth Homan

UPDATED Dec. 23: Apart from the one-day TikTok concern, Superintendent Elizabeth Homan described a longer-term issue her report to the Dec. 16 School Committee meeting -- the pandemic.

She presented charts indicating that the number of known Covid cases in Arlington Public Schools is down recently from the highest they have been since classes began more than three months ago. 

Numbers are made public every Friday. Cases are listed at 21 on both Dec. 3 and on Dec. 10 -- but are down to 10 as of Dec. 16. Town health department figures, also available online, show that the incidence of infection also has been higher throughout Arlington for the past few weeks.

On the other hand, vaccination rates among public-school students are relatively high. Homan showed figures indicating that for ages 12 and up, students who have received at least one shot are at 83.1 percent at Gibbs School (sixth grade), 88.6 percent at Ottoson Middle School (seventh and eighth grades) and 89.7 percent at Arlington High School (grades 9-12). She said that in coming weeks she hopes to have revised figures that will indicate percentages of students who are fully vaccinated. 

School Committee member Jeff Thielman asked when the masking mandate might be dropped. The state is requiring universal on-campus masking through January at least.

Homan said that in the earlier absence of a Commonwealth-wide standard, Arlington had been leaning toward requiring 90 percent of all on-campus people be fully vaccinated before masking could discontinue.  At that time, she said, “We created our own metric.” However, the state later set the threshold at 80 percent for full vaccination in order to apply for a waiver from masking.

She noted, however, that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is the most transmissible yet seen, and, with all classes now meeting indoors with windows closed because of cold weather, “We need to take safety into consideration.” School Committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, a medical doctor, echoed this same thought. “Winter plus Omicron – it gives us pause.”

Initial budget presentation made

The committee discussed but took no action on a lengthy document that represents “very preliminary” monetary requests for the next district budget. A revised version is expected by February. Homan described the current draft as containing “thoughtful budget requests” with supporting rationales and data, including major requests for supplies and equipment. 

See Homan's budget memo >> 

New positions sought include a second registrar at the district office, a part-time intern coordinator at the high school and more coaches, learning specialists and interventionists in such broad subject areas as reading, math, science and social studies.

Director of Special Education Alison Elmer mentioned a desire for another type of expert. “Inclusion specialists are something that we are considering,” she said, saying that such posts already exist in nearby communities, such as Belmont and Newton.

School-improvement plans for Peirce, Brackett OK'd

Peirce School is the smallest of the seven K-5 campuses, with some 330 students and approximately 55 staffers. It is a “tight-knit community” with a “very strong PTO” and a culture that is cohesive and collaborative, said Principal Andrew Ahmadi. He is proud of the recent gains in science made by fifth graders. 

He now is prioritizing improvement in math scores for third through fifth grade and also boosting early literacy achievement in kindergarten through third grade. As well, the school is working on increasing family engagement, with more outreach in multiple languages and in multiple modes, honoring the diversity of different cultures.

He said the campus population is steadily growing and is “using all space now,” with some staffers in shared offices. This situation “is on our radar,” Homan said.

See the Peirce plan >> 

Brackett School, with its 442 students and about 70 staff members, is “such a happy place to visit,” Homan said, with officials greeting students as they arrive each school day.

“I have the best job in the world,” said Principal Stephanie Zerchykov. As at Peirce, the goal is to do better with literacy, including phonics instruction and mathematics. She is asking for an additional reading specialist, a part-time social worker and a part-time special-education teacher.

Zerchykov and Assistant Principal Nicole Schwartz, until relatively recently a teacher at the school, also perceive an increased need for social-emotional learning and intend to incorporate this into lessons throughout the school day in accordance with district wishes.

See the Brackett plan >> 

The committee voted 7-0 to accept both school-improvement plans.

Watch the Dec. 16 meeting broadcast by ACMi:

Dec. 3, 2021: Committee grapples with staffing issues -- old and new

In other business

  • The district seeks to fill 34 positions. An elementary school math coach and a districtwide social worker were just hired Dec. 16. Vacancies are a statewide problem. “We are all in the same boat,” said Human Resources Director Robert Spiegel. The head of the teacher union said that another issue is the difficulty finding substitute teachers. “Please, please, please sign up and be a sub,” said Julianna Keyes, president of the Arlington Education Association.
  • The district recently got two grants. A strategic planning grant from the Arlington Education Foundation is for $117,400. And a teacher-diversification pilot program will provide $42,821 to help paraprofessionals who are people of color become licensed teachers if they so desire.
  • Arlington Public Schools this winter will have “real” snow days, with no classes either in-person or remotely when the weather is particularly bad. “Go outside, play in the snow and do not be on the computer” if and when this occurs, Homan advised.
  • The winter concert held Wednesday, Dec. 15, was “a smashing success,” Homan said. The next major student performing arts event open to the public will be a “battle of the bands” on Jan. 28, at the Regent Theater, said Megan Carmody, student representative to the School Committee.
  • The committee heard the first reading of the proposed committee meeting dates for the 2022-23 school year.
  • The committee unanimously approved the consent agenda.
  • The committee went into closed session at 8:45 p.m., with no public report expected.

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. It was updated Dec. 20 and turned into a separate report, as well as on Dec. 23, to add a video window.

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