Reading, MA — By a vote of 6-0, the School Committee chose to accept an administration-organized reading and literacy working committee instead of an advisory committee overseen by the School Committee. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milachewski generated this idea to balance all the needs and concerns of the community on the topic. The committee will report findings and suggestions back to the School Committee. Concerns had been raised at prior meetings that a proposed advisory committee on the topic was beyond the purview of the School Committee.
Milachewski’s proposal recognizes the level of urgency in the community and suggests a group whose work will be grounded in research and best practices. Milachewski will seek to build the group out of educators, parents, and other specialists to create a sense of inclusivity and collaboration amongst stakeholders. He plans to utilize sub-committees to increase participation further and allow for deeper research and discussion of challenging issues. “We are excited about the partnership ahead,” Milachewski commented.
Milachewski suggested that the work is already aligned with this year’s district goals and would help build trust with families and educators. According to Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jennifer Stys, the outcome will “help all students across all settings.” The work is expected to begin in late November or early December.
School Committee chair Thomas Wise counseled that the work needs to be open and transparent to the community. He also expressed acknowledgment of the budget implications for any suggestions that are reported. Member Chuck Robinson suggested that the inclusive nature of the group could satisfy that aspect of concern. Member Sarah McLaughlin shared that the new idea would give district staff more ownership of the project while minimizing the role the School Committee and any support it could offer.
Wise also suggested clear goals with clear timelines to reflect the urgency of the work. Resident Alicia Willams spoke, emphasizing this point. “We do not want this to get kicked down the road again.” Williams declared. School Committee member Shawn Brandt agreed, “[This group should be] more intentional, more direct, and more specific with its goals.” After accepting the proposal, the School Committee voted 6-0 to table the Reading in Reading Advisory Committee proposal indefinitely.
Wise shared data regarding local COVID statistics with Milachewski reporting that 90% of the staff reported being vaccinated for the virus in each of the district’s schools. Milachewski also shared that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) mask mandate had been extended through January 15. He continued to report an “off-ramp” for schools with a greater than 80% vaccination rate of their combined student and staff population, though unvaccinated students and staff would still need to wear masks. Milachewski shared that, though RMHS falls into this category, he does not feel it is fair to enact a policy where some students and staff would have to wear masks while others do not. He also questioned how to police such a policy.
School Committee member Carla Nazzaro made a motion for the committee to advocate with DESE to remove the continued mask wearing for unvaccinated persons portion of its mandate. The committee voted 2-4 against the motion, most wishing to wait until DESE issues further guidance after the winter holidays.
The School Committee also continued its discussion on strategies to move forward with full-day kindergarten in the district next year, given that the Select Board and Finance Committee’s timeline for the use of the American Rescue Plan Act funds will not be completed in time for the 2022-23 fiscal year budget.
The committee voted 6-0 to amend policy IKF, graduation requirements. Member Erin Gaffen explained that the current policy only requires three years of math, whereas Massachusetts frameworks require four years. There were also some minor updates to some language in the policy, and language about early graduation was removed. The committee postponed its agenda item on using hybrid technology as the information on the topic is not yet ready to discuss. The committee also had a brief discussion on the role of the policy sub-committee.
The School Committee adjourned to executive session at 10:40 pm.