Social media policy was a topic of considerable discussion at the December 12 School Committee meeting. Under the auspices of the first reading of a policy on the subject, concerns were expressed by several members of the committee. They ranged from what members can and cannot comment about on social media platforms to whether or not it would be advisable for the committee to host its own social media presence on various platforms.
The conversation began with a discussion regarding what school issues members can comment on social media forums. School Committee member Jeanne Borawski urged extreme caution when commenting on issues online, even if only to “correct” someone’s view of the facts of a situation. Chair Chuck Robinson expressed frustration that as an incumbent candidate for reelection he could not fully comment on some issues online when other candidates were free to do so. Member Linda Snow Dockser also indicated concern over individual commentary on issues by committee members, suggesting that even reading a comment by one of her colleagues could sway her opinion on an issue and could unintentionally constitute an open meeting law violation. Member Thomas Wise counseled the committee that individuals online should be directed to use the proper process for settling an issue. “You start with the teacher, then the principal, then the superintendent,” Wise commented. He also reminded the committee that the open meeting law was established to prevent “backroom deals” and corruption from occurring.
Snow Dockser continued, sharing a concern about what she referred to as the “toxic” nature of social media commentary. “Our thread can be hijacked by misinformation.” she declared. Member Jeanne Borawski echoed Snow Dockser’s sentiment, “I don’t want to call a person a liar publicly.” Robinson expressed his desire that the committee uses social media to share “only the facts,” which, according to Robinson, would be defined as those items which had already been discussed and decided upon in open session. School Committee member John Parks agreed, suggesting that, if the committee were to have a social media presence, it be used to link to committee agendas and minutes. Superintendent of School John Doherty informed the committee that the district social media pages already post these items. “I don’t think we need to duplicate our efforts.” Doherty opined. Finally, Robinson expressed the heart of the issue, “We need to establish what we want to use social media for.” He stated. The committee will have a second reading of the policy and continue its discussion at a future meeting.
Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) Director of Guidance Lynna Williams updated the committee on the activities of her office, including college admissions information. Eighty-seven percent of the class of 2019 are attending four-year colleges this year. Seven and a half percent are attending two-year colleges with nine-tenths of a percent are attending preparatory or trade schools. Almost four and a half percent have entered the workforce, the military, or are involved in other activities post-graduation. The class of 2019 is attending 103 different four-year colleges this year. Seventy-six percent of the class stayed in New England for college. Ninety-four percent of the class of 2019 took the SAT scoring an average of 587 in critical reading and 593 in math. Williams noted that the current format and scoring for the SAT began in 2017. RMHS’s scores on the test have remained consistent during that time. “Every year the number of [colleges] that are going ‘test-optional’ is increasing,” Williams commented. Two hundred and forty-four RMHS students took Advanced Placement (AP) classes last year, with 87 percent receiving a “3” or higher on the AP exam.
The guidance office has been involved in several activities designed to aid students in their college choice. These include increasing the number of colleges that visit the school to 100, up from 70 last year; moving the Cooperative College Fair to the spring; inviting the USA Gap Year Fair to RMHS in January, and increasing the number of AP offerings in disciplines other than math and science.
RMHS principal Kate Boynton continued the discussion, sharing about the new late start initiative at the high school. She reported that once the first few weeks was out of the way, drop-off seems to be moving smoothly. Tardies and absences are both down for the first quarter as well. Assistant Superintendent Christine Kelly commented, “The kids seem friendlier in the morning.” A survey will be distributed in January to assess how students feel about the change and if they are, in fact, getting more sleep. Boynton cautioned that some of the desired results from the change may not be evident for up to three years. “It takes that long for a shift in culture,” Boynton explained.
Boynton continued, describing both the continuing process for the updating of the RMHS student handbook and the plans for developing the district-wide “Portrait of the Graduate.” She also updated the committee on procedural changes that have been made in light of the fire emergency situation on Friday, December 6. These include enforcing that attendance is taken in every period; students who are out of class needing hall passes, and modeling to teachers how to approach students regarding passes in a positive manner. While unable to comment on the ongoing investigation into the incident, she did praise students and staff for moving with a “calm urgency” during the incident.
The School Committee also voted 5-0 to approve the 2020-21 school calendar and adjourned at 9:37 pm.