Doherty Updates School Committee

Superintendent John Doherty

Reading, MA — After an executive session on Thursday, October 15, during which the School Committee was advised regarding security policies at the schools, Superintendent of Schools John Doherty updated the schools’ reopening committee. Doherty began by praising the staff of the schools, “Everybody is making changes, everybody is making sacrifices, everybody has been as flexible as they possibly can.”

Doherty reported that there are still eleven tutor and para educator vacancies and two long-term teacher vacancies in the elementary schools. There are also four para educator and two long-term teacher vacancies at the high school. “I am concerned about our staffing levels.” Doherty shared. He also reported that principals are currently covering classes when there are absences. “We don’t have substitute teachers right now; they don’t exist,” Doherty confirmed. He highlighted that the issue is not unique to Reading and that many school districts are having similar problems. “The people aren’t out there, they don’t want to go into these jobs right now.” Doherty continued.

Several School Committee members asked about parent volunteers use to fill the gaps to get students back into the buildings. Doherty expressed concerns regarding liability issues, logistics, and sustainability of the plan. Doherty committed to exploring options with building principals after continued suggestions from members regarding the use of volunteers. “Every community is struggling with implementing the hybrid model.” Doherty shared.

Cohort ‘B’ of grades 1,2,6,7 and 8 returned to live instruction on October 13, with cohort ‘A’ returning on October 19. Grades 11 and 12 will return on October 26, with grades 9 and 10 scheduled to return on November 2. At this time, there is no planned return date for grades 3 through 5. To accommodate the class size requirements of COVID, high school students will spend half of the “in-school” days in a live-streaming environment and half with the teacher.

Members of the committee praised the “robust” nature of the remote learning plan. “I feel that Reading’s plan is one of the best and really [has] benefitted staff and students.” Member Carla Nazzaro indicated. Students who are in remote learning receive live synchronous instruction throughout the school day. “Remote learning is going exceptionally well for the majority of students.” Member Erin Gaffen agreed.

Emails from parents have asked why the district is maintaining six-foot distancing in class instead of the three-foot distancing allowed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Doherty responded that both the CDC and the WHO still recommends six-foot distancing. He also shared that more staff would request leave if the smaller distancing were implemented.

Reading Memorial High School Principal Kate Boynton reported on plans to update the high school handbook. Boynton shared that a “significant dive” into the handbook began last year but was put on hold due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The school council and the faculty will collaborate on significant changes that will revise language, update academic concerns, and edit the handbook for clarity. The new handbook will also reflect updates based on work done on the “Portrait of the Graduate.” The result is expected to be completed during the next year. The committee voted 6-0 to approve the handbook for the 2020-2021 school year.

The committee voted 6-0 to approve the first readings of an updated immunization policy, an introductory non-discrimination and harassment policy, and a new security camera policy. It also voted 6-0 to appoint Doherty to the boards of the North Shore Education Consortium and of the SEAM Collaborative.

Chief Financial Officer Gail Dowd reported that the occupancy certificate had been issued for the new modular classrooms at Birch Meadow Elementary School. She also shared that the meals program has been extended by DESE and by the USDA through June 2021.

The School Committee adjourned at 10:30 pm.

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