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SC Meeting: March 15, 2022

At the March 15 School Committee Meeting there was a Discussion of the School Facilities Master Plan, an Emery Grover Project Update, and an Update on Health & Safety.

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates:

  • Next year Needham will have 38 students at Minuteman High School

  • The overall mood at high school is happier since going mask-friendly, with lots of positive energy from both students and teachers.

Superintendent’s Comments:

Dr. Gutekanst thanked the NEF for sponsoring the Trivia Bee, which was in person for the first time in 3 years, and was a fun and successful event.

Consent Items

  • Establish NHS Class of 1980 Erik Brinkhause Hockey Scholarships

  • FY23 Budget Transfers

  • Donations

All consent items were adopted by unanimous consent.

School Facilities Master Plan Discussion

  • There was a review of the possible options for the School Master Plan, see the SC Packet for a detailed summary of the 4 options, A, E, C, and D.

  • Members from Dore and Whittier reviewed the goals of the projects and how each option fulfilled those goals. Specifically they want to address the physical space needs at Mitchell and Pollard, address overcrowding throughout the elementary and middle schools, and minimize the impact of construction across generations.

  • Architects reviewed the site plan for Mitchell and how various size options would be laid out on the site; It would be difficult to meet parking requirements for 5 section school, there would be very little green space remaining, and it would have a large impact on the neighborhood. A 4 section building would allow for a bit more green space and more parking, and would still have room for growth.

  • The cost estimates provided do not include MSBA funding but the timelines provided are based on a MSBA model. MSBA would likely not reimburse any temporary options (i.e. the modulars needed in Options A and E). There is concern about the extended timeline required for options A and E, and what kind of maintenance needs and costs would be incurred by continuing to use the current Mitchell and Pollard buildings for so long.

  • Upgrades have been made at Pollard, but Dr. Gutekanst commented on how renovations are needed for Programmatic space (science, the arts, special ed). Mitchell’s needs include both Programmatic space as well as infrastructure needs.

  • The longer the projects are drawn out, the more other buildings have aged and will need maintenance, and costs will likely continue to rise.

  • There was discussion among the School Committee members and Dr. Gutekanst about the idea to eliminate options A and E, based both on time and financial constraints. A vote will be considered for the next meeting about whether to eliminate any options prior to sending their recommendations forward to the town.

Emery Grover Project Update

  • Timeline for Hillside Project (swing space for Emery Grover): the town will soon accept bids, with a plan to complete construction by December, 2022. Staff could then transition into the space over winter break, and construction on the Emery Grover building can begin in January 2023 with anticipated completion August, 2024.

  • Blueprints were provided with floor plans for the renovated Emery Grover building. Each level will have a conference room and restrooms. Student learning and Student Services are planned to be together on the Garden level, Transportation, Nutrition, HR, and Community Education will be on the first floor, the Superintendent’s offices, IT, and Finance will be on the 2nd level, and the 3rd floor will have a large conference area with capacity of almost 100 people. All levels will be handicapped accessible with an elevator contained within the building and ramp access from the parking lot.

Update on Health & Safety

  • Updates were provided by the Superintendent as well as the student representative, Dilin Meloni. It’s estimated that about 75-80% of students and staff are choosing to be mask-free for at least a portion of the day, and there has been a significant morale boost among students. There is an anticipated improvement in some literacy learning as now younger students are able to see teachers' mouths move when they speak, and an expected benefit for both ELL students as well as World Language classes. Teachers have noticed that students are louder now that they are speaking without masks, so the hallways are noisier. Staff and administrators will continue to keep a close eye on mental health and behavior as they transition away from mask wearing.

  • The Joint Committee for Health and Safety will continue to meet throughout the spring. Dr. Gutekanst encouraged families to continue with at-home testing on Sunday and Wednesday, and the daily attestation will continue for now. As of March 15 the COVID-19 Dashboard will include positive results from both lab and at-home tests, and will be updated weekly instead of daily.

Action Item

  • FY22 Nutrition Services Retention Plan: As a sign of appreciation for all their hard work throughout the pandemic and continuing into the future, the School Committee approved a one-time retention payment of $750 to each Nutrition Services staff member, with the money coming from Non-operational funds. It is anticipated that there will continue to be challenges to retain and hire Nutrition Services staff members for some time.

  • Vote on School Committee Policies: due to the need to change some language in Policy BG it was not considered for approval, but the main motion to approve the revisions and rescissions for the School Committee Policies were approved 6-0-0.

School Committee Comments

This weekend is the high school musical, “Newsies,” to take place at Newman Elementary. A Capella Go is Friday, March 25 at the High School. The High School Dance Team placed 3rd in states and 3rd in New England at recent competitions.

The next School Committee Meeting is April 5, 2022.

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