The Sanford School Committee met Monday, September 20, 2021. Chair Don Jamison was not present. Vice Chair Paula Cote led the meeting.
Tammy Hills spoke to complain that teachers at Sanford High School are not giving mask breaks to their classes. She asked the School Committee to direct Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson to mandate mask breaks. Mr. Nelson said he would address the issue during his update on the Safe Return Schools Plan.
Construction: Mr. Nelson said a problem with the flooring in the multipurpose room at Sanford Middle School could not be addressed over the summer due to the humidity. The contractor is scheduled to address it over the winter break when humidity should not be an issue. At Sanford High School, a meeting is scheduled for Friday with the contractors and architects to try and work out a solution for the mechanical systems that have had chronic problems.
SHS/SRTC Schedule Advisory Committee: Mr. Nelson reported that the Committee had its second meeting and learned about the history of scheduling at the school. Future meetings will look at the merits of Spartan Time, as well as study halls, graduation requirements, schedule structure and other factors. He said the Committee was taking a “long haul view” and meetings were very productive. Ms. Cote, who is also on the Committee, agreed. She said the importance of simplicity and consistency in scheduling has become apparent for both staff and students.
Safe Return to Schools Plan: Mr. Nelson provided the latest state, county and local Covid-19 statistics from the York County Emergency Management Agency. The entire state is still rated at high community transmission and the CDC recommends everyone wear masks in indoor public settings. There have been 39 cases of the virus among students and staff in Sanford schools, and three schools are in outbreak status: SHS, SMS and Carl J. Lamb. Administration is looking into whether any of the cases are as a result of school transmission.
Mr. Nelson reported that the School Department’s health consultants at York Hospital are looking at positivity rate as one of the main factors to use in deciding when to recommend ending the mask mandate in the schools. The current positivity rate is about 7%. Throughout most of the last school year, it was around 2%, and over the summer it was less than 1%. “We all can’t wait to take them off,” he said, “but right now it would be wise in the short term to stay the course.”
With regard to mask breaks, Mr. Nelson said that, following the discussion at the previous School Committee meeting, he decided not to mandate them, but was instead strongly encouraging them. He said he has seen increased mask breaks in the schools, but since it sounds like not all schools or all teachers are doing them, he will investigate further.
He also addressed the new federal rule requiring all employers of 100 or more people to require Covid vaccinations or weekly testing of employees. He said Maine is one of the 26 states that is required to adopt all of OSHA’s health and safety standards, and that it would apply to public sector employers including the Sanford School District. OSHA has not released the ruling yet and it is unknown when that will happen.
Enrollment Update: Mr. Nelson announced that the total school enrollment number this year is 3,151, an increase of 69 students over last September. Elementary school enrollment from Pre-K through grade 4 is 1,095. Carl J. Lamb and Margaret Chase Smith Schools have a slight decline in enrollment, while Sanford Pride Elementary is up 47 students from last year’s Willard School numbers. Sanford Middle School has 962 students, an increase of five from last year. Sanford High is up by 32 students to 1,094.
229 students transferred into the district this year, including 47 from out of state and 3 from out of the country. 168 students transferred out of the district. Mr. Nelson said increased enrollment is a positive thing as it increases the amount of subsidy the School Department receives. The enrollment numbers on October 15 will determine the amount of the subsidy. He encouraged all parents to fill out the socio-economic data form which helps the Department get the most funding.
Sanford Regional Technical Center: Director Kathy Sargent reported that SRTC has an enrollment of 594 students this year, including the new plumbing program. She said a lot of the school’s usual outreach has been limited due to Covid, but in spite of that, the enrollment continues to grow. About 200 people came to the open house on September 16. SRTC continues to help families with the transition to post-secondary options, including college, career and military. They offer assistance with filling out financial aid forms, either in person or virtually. She is excited about the school’s dual enrollment option, which is a partnership with local colleges to offer college credit on some classes. 131 students are enrolled in at least one of these classes. They will be offering the ASVAB test in October and February, which is a test that evaluates a student’s skills and aptitudes. A specialist goes over the results and interpretations with each student to help them explore future careers. Although it is sponsored by the US military, it can be used by any student and the scores are not shared with recruiters.
Margaret Chase Smith: Principal Tracie Hallissey said the Title 1 and Kindergarten jumpstart programs over the summer gave those students a chance to see the school early. Nicole Tibbetts, the new head custodian, started August 10 and helped get the school ready to open. The beginning enrollment was 377 students and about 70 staff, of whom 18 are new. About 80% of families attended the open house. Ms. Hallissey said in the first two weeks, teachers focused on building relationships with the students. Every class starts the day with a morning meeting and share session. They have a new social worker, and support and transition room. The school is piloting a new Character Strong curriculum in six classrooms. Assistant Principal Marc Bisson reconfigured the cafeteria so everyone could eat together, and 20 seats have been added outdoors for a fresh air lunch option. Each grade level will have club time once a week for thirty minutes this year, including 4th grade chorus, yoga, digital art club and sports. The theme for the year is “Keep going, keep growing,” and September’s focus is on responsibility.
Carl J. Lamb: Principal Sherri Baron said the average class size is 18 students this year. They have 22 regular education classrooms, 7 special education and 3 resource rooms. They also added a new school counselor and student support room, which helps students reset before returning to class. She praised the Department’s hiring process, which she said helped recruit and hire “the best of the best.” She said the new staff members are resourceful and enthusiastic, and have brought new energy into the 31-year-old building. She thanked the School Committee for their recognition of the importance of social/emotional learning. She said there is a regular mask break protocol at the school for students and staff, at recess, lunch and snack time. Weather permitting there is also a lot of school activity outside. A new keyless entry system and cameras outdoors make the school more secure. The school’s new sound system and transportation spreadsheet are helping drop-offs and pickups run smoothly. The Kindness Club that started last year will be continuing. 10 families met up with school staff to clean up the grounds and playground, and “even the moose looks like he has been to the salon.”
BRIDGE Program: Special Education Director Stacey Bissell said this is the tenth year for the program, which has a maximum of 24 students. They started the year with 20, two moved away, but there are two more referrals for new students coming in. She is very excited about being able to return to some hands-on programming, including a rustic furniture building program where students start with a tree and create pieces from start to finish. She said testing has shown that reading and math skills were largely maintained over the summer. Social/emotional learning has been very impactful for the students. This year the focus is on the brain’s executive functioning skills, and how they help you manage throughout the day. It is co-taught by social workers and teachers. She said there was no turnover among staff over the summer: “I can’t say enough about the staff and their patience, kindness and compassion,” she added. She also praised Food Service Director Holly Hartley and her team for the breakfast and lunch program.
Pooled Testing: Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere gave an update on the pooled testing program that is about to begin. He said the goals are to keep students and staff safe, to maintain in-person learning five days a week, and to limit the number of quarantine days for students and staff. He said pooled testing provides peace of mind and empowers everyone to feel like they are being part of the solution to the pandemic. He said the system is very simple, and will take less than 15 minutes per class each week. He played a YouTube video that shows the entire process. Information has been sent to families detailing the instructions for registering. Pooled testing is completely voluntary, and will only be done on students who have parental consent, or are 18 years old and can consent for themselves. Anyone who has tested positive for Covid should wait until 90 days after their last positive test to register. Vaccinated students and staff should participate, as they can still carry the virus.
Mr. Bussiere reiterated that one of the main reasons for pooled testing is to reduce quarantining. If a student does pooled testing every week, they will not have to quarantine if they are a close contact of a school-related positive case and don’t have any symptoms. He said some other York County school districts have already begun testing and the feedback has been very positive. The district is looking to hire additional staff to do the testing. If staff cannot be hired locally, the company who provides the tests will also provide staff.
Curriculum: Director Bethany Lambert gave a brief update on the NWEA testing, which is a reading and math assessment given to all K-10th grade students in fall and spring. This year 11th grade will be added as well, and a science assessment will be added to the spring test. Grades 3-8 and 11 will also have a language assessment. She said one of the biggest advantages with NWEA testing is the immediate feedback, which enables the school to customize instruction for individual students.
Financial: Business Manager Cheryl Fournier presented the May financial reports, which were unanimously accepted.
Resignations, Appointments and Transfers: Mr. Nelson announced that Gayle Fallon has been appointed as the new Social Work Grade Level Leader. A number of STEAM program teachers, Sophomore class advisors, Certification Committee members, Ed Tech Reauthorization Committee members, Mentors, SMS Department Chairs, and club and activity advisors were also appointed.
Future Agenda Items: There was some discussion of a new TikTok trend which encourages students to vandalize schools. Mr. Nelson said it has impacted restrooms at SHS and SMS. He said there are a lot of positive benefits to social media, but this isn’t one of them. Ms. Cote asked all parents to talk to their children about the issue. “We have spent so much money on these beautiful buildings…the last thing we need is to be spending time and resources on this.”
The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for October 4.