School Committee Meeting Summary: March 1, 2021

Students in the Sanford Regional Technical Center's firefighting program. (Pre-pandemic photo).

Under public comments, former School Committee member Emily Sheffield asked the Committee to be mindful of the mental health of students, even after the schools have fully reopened. “There will be a segment of our children who will flourish and resume normalcy, but some will still be suffering,” she said.

In his update on school construction, Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson said the contractor working on the elementary school reports that they are now a couple of weeks behind schedule.

Committee Chair Don Jamison gave an update on WSSR-TV. He said views and subscribers on the YouTube channel are increasing, and the streamed basketball games are getting hundreds of views. Sarah Schnell who runs WSSR is also working with the Maine Principal’s Association on compiling a state cheering competition video.

Jonathan Mapes, the School Committee’s representative to Sanford Community Adult Education, said he has been thinking that SCAE should be rebranded with a new name. He would like to see it be a future agenda item.

In his Superintendent’s report, Mr. Nelson read the list of all the Sanford teachers who were nominated for York County Teacher of the Year. They were Lauren Swift, Amy Turgeon and Adam Soule from Sanford High School; Luba Greene and Samantha Hilt-Coleman from Sanford Middle School; Deb Smith and Holly Gillis from Carl J. Lamb; Christen Suratt and Laurie Flannery from Willard; and Heather Morrison and Trish Hussey from Margaret Chase Smith. The York County winner will go on to the state competition.

He gave a lengthy update on the progress toward bringing students back to in-person learning four days a week. MCS and Willard Schools have sufficient space to accommodate all students who are currently attending two days a week to increase to four days, but some grade levels do not have room to bring back those who are currently doing full remote or homeschooling. Space is tighter at CJL, particularly in K, 3rd and 4th grades. SMS also faces challenges accommodating all the current in-person students who want to do four days. Mr. Nelson said that, while the new Middle School itself is significantly larger than the old Jr. High, the individual classrooms are smaller, making it difficult to meet the guidelines for physical distancing. At SHS, they are looking into establishing overflow rooms for students to allow all students to be together in the building, but some following along with class virtually.

He said transportation and meals are two other areas that will require a lot of planning and juggling to make them work.

The Committee members were all strongly in favor of starting the transition to four in-person days as soon as possible, even if it is just with one grade at one school at a time. Several suggestions were offered and discussed. Mr. Nelson invited the Committee members to come and tour the buildings while school is in session, to get a better idea of the spacing issues. The tour was scheduled for Thursday, March 4.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere gave an update on the federal title grant allocations the school district receives. He reported on the annual Safety Committee meeting. He said he is also interviewing several more candidates for substitute teaching positions thanks to media coverage of the need (see last week’s story).

Curriculum Director Beth Lambert went over the RIT scores from last year compared to this year, and compared to the national average. RIT scores result from standardized tests that measure student knowledge and progress. Most grades had lower scores than the previous year, but all grade levels made progress from fall to winter. The data showed that all grades are at or above the national average in reading proficiency. Grades K-2 were also at or above the national average in math skills, while grades 3-8 are slightly below the national average in math.

Mr. Nelson gave a recap of the final budget being presented to the Budget Committee, which is the result of many hours of review by the School Committee at workshops. Initially the budget was expected to increase by 14.4%. The planned expansion of the Pre-K program was then eliminated, saving over $900,000. Health insurance costs went down, a few positions were changed, a vehicle lease eliminated and other miscellaneous adjustments made to bring the total down further. Tuition revenue from Acton will increase along with some funding for Adult Education. The final budget is $56,615,424, a 3.2% increase over the previous year. Most of this is the bond payment, which includes a principal payment for the first time.

The School Department Budget can be viewed online at http://sanfordme.apptegy.us/o/sanford-school-department/browse/195383. The Budget Committee will review it at their meeting on March 11.

The Committee approved an agreement between the Sanford Schools Legacy Foundation and the Sanford Call Firefighters for naming rights to the SRTC’s Firefighting program and classrooms. In exchange for a $25,000 donation, the firefighting classrooms and labs will be named for the Sanford Springvale Call Firefighters. For three additional $1,000 donations, classrooms will be named for Reverend Nelson Elliott, Richard Levesque, and Assistant Chief Keith Goodrich. They will also fund a commercial flag pole and granite plaque outside the apparatus bay to be dedicated to all members, past and present, of the Sanford Springvale Call Firefighters and Ladies Auxiliary. Other funds will be used at the instructor’s discretion for items that are not already covered by the school budget or by other donations. The firefighters are continuing to raise funds to name the apparatus bay for Assistant Chief Steve Cutter, who passed away last year after a long illness.

The Committee voted to rename the old Junior High School. See separate story.

Mr. Nelson announced the staff resignations, appointments and transfers. Jason Dudley, formerly head custodian at the Willard School, has been promoted to Assistant Facilities Director.

Under future agenda items, Committee member Amy Sevigny suggested having a short summary of positive things happening in the schools at each meeting. All agreed it was a good idea.

The full School Committee meeting can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXJoSM_sNlQ.

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