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School Committee Meeting Summary: December 6

The Sanford School Committee met Monday, December 6, 2021. All members were present except Vice Chair Paula Cote. The minutes of the November 15 meeting were approved.

There were no public comments. The only communication was an email from a parent questioning the length of quarantining after a student has been exposed to a positive case of Covid-19. Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson said the parent’s concerns were very valid, and that bad luck and timing were causing people to miss more school than they would like. He said the School Department has to follow the Standard Operating Procedures developed by Maine CDC and endorsed by the Maine Department of Education. He has been pushing for a change to allow for a way to test out of quarantine, but that is not an option at this point.

Committee Reports

Construction: Mr. Nelson said there was an issue with a sewer line backup in the seventh grade wing at Sanford Middle School last week, found to be caused by paper towels and sanitary products that had been flushed. At Sanford High School, some progress has been made on the ongoing HVAC system tripping issue. It was found that some sensors were installed in an outside wall, instead of in the airflow where they should have been. Also, some covers were only insulated to R4 instead of the recommended R13. The School Department is working on getting the rights to reprogram the system so that a subcontractor doesn’t always have to be called in. Arbitration with one subcontractor is scheduled for mid-December, but settlement discussions are still ongoing.

Scheduling: At its most recent meeting the Scheduling Advisory Committee looked into Advanced Placement courses and their impact on the SHS schedule. Sanford offers as many, or more, AP classes than other area schools. They are open enrollment, and they last the full school year. All of these things impact the schedule. SHS also requires 25 credits to graduate, which is high compared to other York County schools. The next meeting will focus on the “skinny block.” After all fact-finding is complete, surveys will be sent out to all stakeholders for input. At some point the Committee will make recommendations on schedule changes, but Mr. Nelson stressed that this is a long process, and he doesn’t see any changes taking effect for the next school year.

Performing Arts: Chair Don Jamison reminded everyone of upcoming shows at SPAC. He said the matinee performance of The Nutcracker is almost sold out, but there are still tickets left for the evening performance.

Superintendent’s Report

Mr. Nelson presented a video of the SHS Chorus performing a medley of “Don’t Worry Be Happy/Winter Wonderland,” which was wonderful despite the poor audio quality on Zoom. The chorus and band will be performing at the Winter Concert on December 8. Limited tickets are available for the public, and they are free.

Student Representative: Grace Davie said auditions for the SHS spring musical production of “Mamma Mia” will be happening on Monday after school. The Sanford Backpack Program’s Boxes of Joy will be delivered starting this week.

Field Trips: Mr. Nelson reported that the SHS representative to the Skills USA state meeting went to Augusta last week on an overnight (with chaperones).

Safe Return to Schools: Mr. Nelson reported on some of the statistics and trends around the current Covid surge. He noted that the current positivity rate in Maine is over 11 percent, while in July it was near 1 percent. The Department is still waiting for the final ruling on whether vaccinations will be mandated for staff. The first round of vaccine clinics at Sanford’s elementary schools was held, and the second doses will be administered before the Christmas break. Committee member Amy Sevigny said vaccinations for all ages 5 and up are available without an appointment at the Vaccine Clinic at the former Marshall’s store in South Sanford.

Mr. Nelson continues to strongly encourage vaccination and pooled testing, and reminded people that if a student is vaccinated or is taking part in pooled testing, they do not have to quarantine when they are a close contact of a positive case, as long as they have no symptoms. He thanked the staff for all their hard work to cover each other during absences. That day, the Department needed fifty substitutes but only had twenty, but they made it work.

He went over the Covid guidelines for winter athletics. Spectators will be allowed at home games and there will be no limits on the number of spectators, but social distancing will be required. Games will be streamed on YouTube by WSSR-TV as well. There will be some concessions available, no outside food or drink will be allowed.

Positive News: see separate story.

Directors’ Reports

NWEA Data: Curriculum Director Beth Lambert gave an update on the fall NWEA testing. The state of Maine requires the test for grades 3-8 and 11, but Sanford does them for all students in K-11th grade. The tests are conducted in reading, language and math. They are multiple choice, if a question is answered correctly, then the next question is more challenging. The point of the test is to measure academic progress, compared to students across the country. She said teachers use the information to plan interventions for individual students.

Overall, the scores showed regression, which Ms. Lambert said was expected. The Department put a priority on building relationships between teachers and students at the beginning of this school year, rather than having them dive right in to academics. Mr. Nelson said the spring round of testing will be the key to see what growth is happening during the school year. Committee member Jonathan Mapes asked if teachers were disheartened to see the regression in scores. Mr. Nelson said he reminds them that the data is a spotlight, not a hammer. It is there to shine a light on the areas that need focus. Ms. Lambert added that it took 18 months (of the pandemic) to get us to this point, it will take longer than 8-10 weeks to bounce back.

New Business

New Student Representative: Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere announced that the candidate to fill the empty seat on the Committee is John-Paul Alexandre, a junior. He is on the soccer team, is involved in Key Club and skiing, and is on the Scheduling Advisory Committee, among other activities. The Committee approved his appointment unanimously.

October Financials: Business Manager Cheryl Fournier presented the October financial statements.

Employee Retention Initiative: The Committee approved the reallocation of some ESSER transportation funds, to recognize employees for their hard work in keeping students in school five days a week despite serious staffing challenges.

Legacy Naming Rights: The Committee voted 3-1 to grant lifetime naming rights for the Automotive Collision Repair Lab at Sanford Regional Technical Center to Weirs Collision Center, in exchange for a $25,000 donation. Mr. Mapes, who is opposed to lifetime naming rights in general, was the opposing vote.

Resignations, Appointments, Transfers and Nominations: Mr. Nelson read through the list of staff changes, and the Committee approved them.

Policies and Procedures: Mr. Bussiere gave the first readings on updates to the following policies: Nondiscrimination/Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action; Harassment and Sexual Harassment of School Employees, Employee Discrimination/Harassment and Title IX Sexual Harassment Complaint Procedure, and Recruiting and Hiring Administrative Staff. The policies have been updated to include familial status as a protected category, as it was recently added to the Maine Human Rights Act. The Recruiting policy was also updated to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity, ancestry, color, sexual orientation and genetic information. The other policies had already been updated for these categories. There will be a second reading before the updates are adopted.

Future Agenda Items: Mr. Mapes asked about the status of the contract with the Acton School District. Mr. Nelson said no progress has been made, a subcommittee needs to be formed to work on it. Ms. Sevigny mentioned the Restorative Practices info session for parents that was scheduled for the following night on Zoom.

Calendar: The next regular School Committee meeting is scheduled for December 20.

The full School Committee meeting video can be viewed here.

The meeting agenda, which includes more information on the financial reports and other items, can be downloaded here.

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