Reading Public Schools Director of Finance Gail Dowd reported to the School Committee on April 30 that a bid for three modular classrooms to be installed at Birch Meadow Elementary School has been accepted. The winning bid, for just over $764,000, was sufficiently under what Town Meeting appropriated for the project and all three units have been ordered. The district asked for bids for two or three units, making a final choice based on pricing. Dowd was careful to point out that the bid does not include costs for desks and other equipment, but includes full installation.
School Committee chair Chuck Robinson asked what the price had been for just two units and if this option had been considered, given the potential difficult financial times ahead. Dowd responded that the bid for two units was $557,000, and that after conversations with Town Manager Robert LeLacheur it was decided that the price for three units was too good to pass on, as the project was of high priority.
Director of Facilities Joe Huggins reported that some of the design and utility work has already been completed and that the project will begin in earnest in July. Huggins stated that the classrooms will be ready for the beginning of school in September. “We anticipate [the project costs] being well below the appropriation,” Dowd concluded.
Dowd also shared that the district will save about $85,000 as a result of renegotiated transportation contracts. She stressed that continued payments to transportation vendors are for costs related to the readiness of operations for when they will be called upon and not for services not rendered to the district. It is possible that transportation services might be needed for some special education students during the summer and that those services need to be ready when required.
Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Christine Kelley reported that the “phase two” remote learning for students is continuing with students pre-K to grade eight using Google classroom and high school students using a combination of the high school portal and Google classroom. She stated that the continued goals for remote learning are to prioritize meaningful connections between students and teachers as well as continuing to strengthen skills. Kelley also highlighted opportunities for enrichment, exercise, and play for students. “This is not online teaching.” Kelley reminded the committee. Because of various limitations, synchronous teaching cannot occur at this time. “[Teachers are] using synchronous time for social and emotional issues. Kelley stated.
School Committee member Carla Nazzaro mentioned that several parents have reached out to her requesting more connections for students. “Children miss their teachers,” Nazzaro commented. Kelley responded that “phase three” with more teacher/student interaction is being planned for the coming weeks, though Superintendent of Schools John Doherty shared that this would require additional negotiations with the Reading Teachers Association. Looking ahead to the fall, Kelley also suggested that if schools are not able to open in September, that there would be a “phase four” plan for continued learning for students.
The School Committee also received training from Attorney Colby Brunt regarding the rules, roles, and responsibilities of the School Committee and its members. This training was originally scheduled for March but had been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis. School Committee members asked pointed questions about access to student records in regards to the committee’s name being on settlement agreements without the committee being privy to the specifics of the case, committee access to employee exit interviews, and whether a parent can choose to share regarding their own student during public comment.
As the final scheduled business, Doherty shared evidence with the committee that will allow members to begin the process of the superintendent’s annual evaluation. He started with evidence from the District Improvement Plan, including an expansion of data-driven systems to inform work, continued standards-based evaluation and refinement, and physical and emotional security.
Doherty then moved on to evidence regarding his specific goals including implementation of the District Improvement Plan, improvement of school facilities, and development of “The Vision of the Graduate.” Doherty stressed that several specifics in the goals were “placed on the back burner” once school buildings closed on March 13. Developing the remote learning plan and dealing with other COVID-19 issues has monopolized the time of the staff during the last six weeks according to Doherty. He especially lamented the lost momentum in the development of the “Vision of the Graduate” though he expects the team to get started again on the project in the coming weeks. The superintendent’s summative evaluation will be finalized and voted on June 11.
The School Committee adjourned at 10:30 pm.