Reading, MA — By a vote of 6-0, the School Committee set the last day of school for the current school year as Monday, June 21. Superintendent John Doherty informed the committee that this would be a half-day for students and a full-day for teachers and staff. Doherty also shared that due to the two snow days taken this year, the only way to have the school year-end on a Friday and still maintain the mandated 170-day schedule was to come to school during a day of April vacation.
Doherty also informed the committee that the district is ready for elementary students to begin full-time in-person learning on Monday, April 5. The district will maintain all mitigation strategies, including pool testing, which will continue to be funded by the state through the end of the school year. Middle and high school students will resume full-time in-person learning on April 26, with most of the work to ready those school buildings being done during vacation.
“The light is becoming very bright at the end of the tunnel,” Doherty declared.
Doherty also reported that 94.1 percent of the staff was in some stage of vaccination, with 37.5 percent being fully vaccinated. “This is high in comparison to other districts,” Doherty affirmed.
The committee also voted 6-0 to approve an inter-municipal agreement with Wakefield to continue the Providing Opportunities for Successful Transition (POST) program. This is a post-secondary program for students with special education needs between the ages of 18 and 22 years old. This will be the third three-year agreement with Wakefield to use the program. Due to this being an inter-municipal agreement, it also requires the approval of the Select Board.
A 6-0 vote approved the Birch Meadow principal search process after the current principal, Julia Hendrix, submitted her resignation last week. Doherty praised Hendrix, referring to her as a “leader in the community and beyond equity and social justice work.” He expects to announce a finalist by May 17.
Mark Novak, design architect from Activtas, gave the committee an overview of the master plans for the Birch Meadow complex. This presentation was similar to the one provided to the Select Board, with this version highlighting areas of the complex under School Committee control. These include a proposed multi-purpose turf field behind Coolidge Middle School and expansion of the RISE parking lot. Member Thomas Wise expressed concern over whether the proposed new parking lot near the Birch Meadow Elementary School would impede the school’s playground area. Novak responded that the plan was conceptual and that specific placement of parking and other amenities would occur as the projects were fully designed and funded.
The School Committee also voted 6-0 to approve Doherty’s summative evaluation. Chair Chuck Robinson remarked that “COVID presented challenges in the evaluation process” while thanking Doherty for his years of service to the Reading Public Schools.
Robinson summarized the evaluation in which Doherty received the ranking of “proficient” in all four major performance standards. Written comments from committee members included praise for Doherty’s management of the budget and his handling of distance learning. Collaboration with municipal leaders was also highlighted as a positive for the superintendent. Members praised Doherty for his regular and quality communications with the community and staff during the year. “We did not always hear what we wanted, but it was always well explained,” member Carla Nazzaro commented.
Concern was expressed in the evaluation about the amount of time it took to hire a human resources director and the impact that this delay had on staffing issues. He was also critiqued on the amount of time it took to get grades 3-5 into hybrid models and for how the high school hybrid situation was handled.
“It has been impressive to watch you this year in a time where no one had a blueprint,” Nazzaro stated. She also praised Doherty for the care he has shown for the most vulnerable students and staff. “We paid you to do the job of one person; you often did the job of two or more,” Nazzaro concluded.
The School Committee adjourned at 9:00 pm.