School Committee Meeting Summary

The Sanford School Committee met Monday, May 24. All members were present.

During public comments, Sanford High School sophomore John-Paul Alexandre thanked the School Committee for beginning the process of reexamining the school schedule and putting a focus on it.

Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson gave an update on construction issues. At Sanford High School, it appears the contractor has figured out the issue with the malfunctioning rooftop HVAC units. There will be a meeting to get everyone together to sort out a solution. At Pride Elementary, progress is moving along, but the schedule for completion is slipping somewhat due to manpower issues with the electrical contractor.

Vice Chair Paula Cote gave an update on the Sanford Performing Arts Center. Chair Don Jamison gave an update on WSSR-TV. The YouTube channel continues to grow and there is a lot of new programming. Committee member Jonathan Mapes gave an update on Sanford Community Adult Education. Graduation is scheduled for June 2, and registration for the summer session begins July 5.

Student Representative Bella Farrington spoke about the This Is Us event coming up Friday. Grace Davie reported that summer sports will start the first week of June.

The Committee had planned to honor Student Representative Juliana Levesque for her years of service, but she was unable to attend. It will be done at an upcoming meeting instead.

The positive “News from Sanford Schools” was presented. See separate story.

Superintendent Nelson gave an update on Covid precautions at the schools. Masks are still required outdoors as well as indoors. If a student has been fully vaccinated, they will not need to quarantine if they are a close contact of someone who tests positive for the virus. The Maine CDC is still recommending students be distanced three feet apart. Parents and visitors are now allowed into school buildings. Students participating in music programs are now being spaced six feet apart, instead of the previous 14 feet. Mr. Nelson said the schools are taking every precaution with Covid, so that no students have to miss graduation or any end-of-year activities.

The Maine Department of Education is implementing pooled PCR testing for Covid beginning this month and continuing through the next school year. In pooled testing, swabs from a small group of students are collected weekly, combined (pooled) and sent in for testing. If the pool comes back positive, the individuals in the pool are retested with the BinaxNOW rapid test. Mr. Nelson said the biggest advantage to doing the pooled testing will be that if 30% of students participate, the state will drop physical distancing guidelines. “Anything we can do to reduce spacing challenges is in our best interest,” he said. Also, if the pool comes back positive, but an individual student then tests negative and is asymptomatic, they will not be required to quarantine. There will be more information at an upcoming meeting before a decision is made to go ahead with pooled testing, which will be strictly voluntary.

Curriculum Director Beth Lambert updated the Committee on state educational assessment testing. Grades 5, 8 and 11 had math, literacy and science testing last week. The math and literacy scores will be in soon, but the science scores will not be received until fall.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere gave a report from the Dropout Prevention Committee, which has met twice this spring. The Committee’s purpose is to review dropout data for the current year, as well as long-term trends, to report back and provide recommendations. He talked about the many risk factors for dropping out of school, which include early adult responsibilities such as work and taking care of younger siblings, learning disabilities and family attitude toward education. He presented historical data on dropout rates, but said the graduation rate is more informative. Of the 255 students who began the 2016-17 school year in 9th grade, 87.17% graduated in four years or less; when those graduating in five years are included, the percentage rises to 87.82. A chart showed Sanford’s graduation rates compared to other area communities. “You can look at a community’s demographics and sort of predict what their graduation rate will be,” he said. Sanford’s rate is almost identical to Portland’s, significantly higher than Lewiston’s, and much lower than York’s and Kennebunk’s.

Mr. Bussiere gave an overview of strategies that are in place or in the works to prevent dropouts, including early literacy development, mentoring, after school activities and increasing the number of elementary school counselors. He also reported on the Committee’s recommendations for additional measures that can be taken, including expanding the Jobs for Maine Graduates program; strengthening transitions from grade 4 to 5 and from grade 8 to 9; reinstating the co-op program at SHS; and increasing parent support and training. He stressed that dropouts are not just a high school problem, that the issues that result in a student not finishing school begin much earlier, and said a K-12 systematic effort is needed.

School Committee members had a number of comments and questions on the presentation, particularly about the role and administration of school counselors, and how student assessments travel from grade to grade and school to school.

Mr. Bussiere reported on the plans for summer meals distribution. The food services department will provide free breakfast and lunch for all Sanford students from birth to age 18 through the summer. Students who are participating in summer camp and other programs will have their meals provided at those locations. The open sites for Sanford/Springvale will be the high school and at Carpentier Park. Beginning in September, breakfast and lunch will still be free for all, but parents will need to fill out the income validation form which determines the funding the School Department gets from the federal government.

SRTC Principal Kathy Sargent and SHS Principal Matt Petermann talked about end of year activities. Mr. Petermann said that for Graduation on June 9, plans have changed. Bleachers on both sides of the field will be utilized. The home side will have no social distancing, and the visitors side will be set up with socially distanced pods. Guests can sit wherever they are most comfortable. They will ask those who are not vaccinated to wear masks, but there will be no enforcement. Each student will be allowed six tickets for bleacher seats. Additional guests may attend and stand along the fence. Graduates will be distanced on the field, but can take their masks off for the ceremony and as they receive their diplomas. At the end of the ceremony, the graduates will put on a surprise performance.

Mr. Nelson announced the district’s resignations, appointments and transfers. He noted that Elaine Blanchard, administrative assistant at Sanford Middle School will be retiring after 30 years with the district.

The Committee has a number of issues to discuss in their upcoming final two meetings of the school year, including the agreement with SAD 60 for adult education, the immunization policy, a financial report and a report on summer athletics.

The full video of the School Committee meeting may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAWvHaiul7A.