Wise to Chair School Committee

Reading, MA — By a 4-2 vote, the School Committee elected Thomas Wise as chair of the committee for the coming year. This was part of the committee’s annual reorganization process. Member Shawn Brandt was also nominated for the role. The decision was made despite some concern that Wise will be running for reelection this coming year in addition to serving as chair. Unlike the Select Board, the School Committee has no policy governing this issue. However, outgoing chair Chuck Robinson shared that the committee has always followed a “loose rule that we try not to [have a person serve as chair in a reelection year].” Robinson, whose vote was the deciding vote to appoint Wise, also stated that, in his opinion, Wise had “paid his dues as Vice Chair for the past two years” and that he was “willing not to live by that [loose rule].” Brandt and member Erin Gaffen, who had nominated Brandt, were the dissenting votes.

Gaffen said that while she supported the committee vote, she asked that discussion over creating a formal policy on the issue of a member serving as chair in a reelection year be considered during the coming year. Gaffen cited concerns around the time it takes to be chair and run simultaneously, the potential for conflicting interests, and the possibility that the chair might not get re-elected, thus creating a leadership vacuum, as reasons for concern. After being nominated by Robinson, Brandt was elected to the role of Vice Chair by a vote of 6-0.

STEM Coordinator Heather Leonard and Humanities Coordinator Alison Straker gave the committee a joint presentation on curriculum updates. Leonard was pleased to announce that the “Illustrative Math” curriculum was recommended for grades kindergarten through six. Leonard described what she referred to as the “robust” vetting process that involved evaluation, measurement to standards, classroom piloting, and teacher and student feedback used to choose the new tools. The new curriculum will be rolled out over two years, starting with grades three through six in the 2021-22 school year. The younger grades will be added in the following year.

Straker also shared two new tools that will be used for early literacy assessment, “Easy Bird” and “Acadience.” These tools will help align the district with the new dyslexia guidelines published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in April and will help in the early detection of student literacy concerns. Gaffen praised the two coordinators and their teams for the work they accomplished in the past year, “Your enthusiasm and passion for your subject matter shines through.” Gaffen affirmed.

After a presentation from Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) Principal Kate Boynton, the School Committee voted 6-0 to approve updates to the RMHS handbook for 2021-22. Included in the new handbook is updated language using wording from the “Portrait of the Graduate” and contact information for incoming principal Kevin Tracey.

Boynton also shared that the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) had completed its assessment of RMHS and determined that this school “meets NEASC standards for all foundational elements” and has earned reaccreditation. Boynton described the accreditation process as “validating” and that the final report will be “poised to set RMHS up for the next level of growth.” 

Boynton also shared that the 50-page final report, which contains commendations along with recommendations, will be shared with the community once the final draft is received. Several recommendations regarding diversity, equity, anti-racism, and enhancing school culture will be included in the final report.

The School Committee voted 6-0 to approve a new three-year bus contract with North Suburban Transportation. The contract includes a flat rate for the next three years and has the potential to be extended for two additional years once reevaluated. In addition, the committee voted 6-0 to declare certain equipment as surplus, including 30- to 50-year-old marching band uniforms and some furniture at Joshua Eaton Elementary School, which, according to Chief Financial Officer Gail Dowd, appear to have been purchased when the building opened. The School Committee also voted 6-0 to approve the second reading of the green vehicles policy.

A scheduled spring update from Superintendent John Doherty was postponed to June 24. The meeting concluded with a brief discussion over liaison assignments.

The School Committee adjourned at 10:05 pm.

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