The next school year will start one day later than originally planned – Sept. 9 rather than Sept. 8 – and end June 29, 2022, the School Committee decided Thursday, Feb. 11.
In so doing, the committee accepted the administration’s recommendation for the one-day delay to accommodate the second and final day of the major Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Sept. 8 now will be a professional development day for Arlington Public Schools staff.
The quick switch came after some parents objected to the earlier start date, adopted in a 4-3 vote Jan. 28, which spurred a petition.
The school-year end date is intended to accommodate snow days, according to Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. The committee voted to ask the state to permit Arlington to have the ability to schedule remote learning on what would otherwise be snow days, at the discretion of the administration and decided on a case-by-case basis.
“It would give us an option to do something that we might want to do,” said committee member Paul Schlichtman. A statement about the matter will be sent to the governor and to pertinent legislators.
More money, more teachers in budget
The committee voted to accept the town’s appropriation of $80,104,634 for the upcoming 2021-'22 fiscal year, a 6-percent increase over last year’s appropriation.
The town contribution is approximately 75 percent of Arlington Public Schools’ total proposed budget -- $87,285,439 – which was presented at the meeting.
“It is a blueprint, as all budgets are,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason.
A more detailed APS budget proposal, or “budget book,” is due at the next committee meeting, Feb. 25. A public hearing is planned for March 11; the committee’s vote on the matter is set for March 25; and the final decision is scheduled during the annual Town Meeting, starting April 26.
The district budget includes funding to hire more teachers, special-education staff, reading and mathematics coaches, assistant principals, two social workers and a nurse, among other positions.
In response to a question from committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, MacNeal and Mason said they would provide more detail on plans for enhancing mathematics education at the next meeting.
Increased in-person instruction by late spring?
The committee voted to require the administration to provide within 30 days three separate reports about the feasibility of more on-campus learning before June.
One should generally describe options to expand overall in-person instruction. Another must address plans for implementing this at the elementary, middle-school and high-school levels assuming that the majority of staffers can be vaccinated before June. The third needs to give data on current class sizes district-wide, broken down by all-remote academy vs. the hybrid model, grade-by-grade and campus-by-campus. All reports are due by March 11.
The committee appeared to be reflecting community sentiment, including a new social-media presence, a Facebook page called Back to School Arlington MA, with 130 followers in its first week.
During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Julie Hall, parent of a second grader, said, “I hope we’re relying on science. I hope we’re not living by fear.” She was echoed by Brian Corcoran, parent of a local first grader, who said that “[the extant hybrid system] cannot possibly be the best that we can do.”
Committee members were more temperate. Allison-Ampe, a medical doctor, said the newest Covid-19 virus variant is 50-percent more infectious than the original, and, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, could become dominant in the U.S. by next month. Liz Exton asked, “Could we maintain six feet [between all persons in a classroom] and still bring back more of our younger students?”
More guidance on the matter may come soon from the Centers for Disease Control, which until now has espoused the six-foot rule. Some other area districts, including Cambridge, have long been in hybrid mode with only three feet between desks.
Ensuring well-being in the pandemic
A top district value is physical and mental health of everyone in the district, MacNeal said in introducing the Panorama Family Survey follow-up report. It contains narrative responses to the raw data of the initial Panorama report at the previous meeting.
Emotional/social learning was a growing concern long before the pandemic, said Sara Burd, director of counseling and social-emotional learning.
Chronic stress, anxiety and depression were on the upswing years ago, and coping skills need to be taught to all as a preventative measure, not merely addressed when things are approaching crisis. “It’s not a special-education problem, it is a general-education, everybody problem,” she said.
The latest Panorama report in addition describes tutoring programs including one funded by a recent community development block grant. The document also covers the status of equity training, enhancement of anti-racist practices, and integrating multicultural content and culturally responsive teaching practices.
No supporting Panorama documents were posted to the agenda >>
Update on high-school curriculum
The committee accepted as a “first read” the Program of Studies for grades 9-12.
Starting in September, astronomy and oceanography courses are back; a new class, “adulting and technology,” covers basics of grown-up life, such as budgeting, balancing checkbooks and responsible credit-card use; and plans are in process for another new course, “the power of protest,” on progressive social movements from the 1800s through the present.
Meanwhile, a few other courses, including state history, public speaking and Italian, are on hold for now.
This news summary by YourArlington freelance journalist Judith Pfeffer was published Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.
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