The five main takeaways from the 5/18 school committee meeting

May 19, 2020

%22WA%22+on+the+side+of+Westford+Academy

John Vassiliou

“WA” on the side of Westford Academy

On Monday, May 18, the Westford School Committee addressed their plan, on a Zoom call broadcasted by the Westford CAT, for the upcoming school year as well as residents’ uncertainties and concerns.  With the school year ending in four weeks, many aspects of the future remain uncertain, especially with COVID-19 our society. Here are the five main takeaways from last night’s school committee meeting.

1. School Choice Program

The School Choice Program, or Massachusetts Reform Law, is a state program that allows children from other communities to move from their own school district to one more preferable through a process known as open-enrollment.  Whether or not a student is accepted partially depends on the number of children already in a particular grade in proportion to the number of students that can fit in a class, and due to the increasing enrollment in Westford middle schools and high schools, School Choice students have previously been accepted at the elementary level.  Over the past few years, the growing number of incoming Westford Public School students has caused classes to accommodate for 20-22 students at a time, rather than the expected 19-20 student limit.

After a discussion with elementary school principals, Superintendent Bill Olsen has decided not to allow enrollment of additional School Choice students for the next school year, due to the already large number of current Westford Public School students.

Current School Choice students, who are already enrolled in the Westford Public Schools system, will still be considered Westford students and are allowed to continue their education in the school system as normal.

“If your child is enrolled in the school system, they will continue to be enrolled, and I want to make sure that [parents] understand that,” Olsen said.

2. Preparations for the Next School Year

With only four weeks left of the current school year and a three month period before the next school year begins, there is some uncertainty as to what a regular school day will look like during the 2020-2021 school year.  Due to COVID-19 concerns, the School Committee has taken additional precautions for the upcoming school year to ensure the health and safety of Westford Public School students.

The Committee has overseen general hygiene practices and building cleaning techniques to guarantee a healthy learning environment when students return to school in September. Additionally, they have continued to observe issues with teaching and learning facilities online to ensure that students are still able to learn remotely throughout the remainder of the school year.

“Whether we’re [teaching] remotely or in a regular school setting, [the school system] will be prepared for either option.  We’re also involved in transportation food services, the health department, and mental health specialists to help us understand all of the issues [the Committee] needs to consider in order to better ensure a safe learning environment, and one where children can focus online,” Olsen said.

3. School Calendar

Many changes have been made to not only the 2020-2021 school calendar itself but the development process as a whole, in order to accommodate COVID-19 concerns.

One change on the calendar marks future voting days as days when students do not have school, to prevent potential spreading of the disease from voters to students.  Another revision now acknowledges major cultural holidays and religious observances that school is not closed on, such as Rosh Hashanah, so that teachers and students can make adjustments to their schedules for testing or family matters, and to avoid any major school events from being scheduled on those dates.

Additionally, an advisory calendar committee will be proposed to aid the superintendent in the development of the school calendar.  This committee would help formalize the framework and address any issues that would affect its creation.

4. Refunds/Dee Bus Service Contract

Since the school year ended earlier than was originally planned, full or partial refunds will be sent to parents and guardians for certain activities and monthly payments.  

For parents or guardians whose children are in either full-day or extended-day kindergarten, only partial refunds will be given since teachers still need to be paid.  A full refund will be given to parents and guardians whose children are in integrated preschool.  

As for student activities like clubs and the 3-5 strings program, no refunds will be given as these activities have been able to continue in some form digitally since distance learning began.

As for bus transportation services, the Committee is currently negotiating with Dee Bus Services so that buses can be paid for at a lower rate next year.  Currently, 40% of the bus services fee covers the per-student cost of riding, and Westford Public Schools wants to ensure that buses will be available for all students who are taking it in the upcoming school year.  Because of this ongoing negotiation, parents and guardians will also not be given a refund for bus transportation services.

5. Course Adjustments

Due to a low number of student enrollment in certain courses, some classes have been cut for next year, particularly classes in the theater and social studies departments.

Last year, the theater department went through some reductions due to a lack of student interest.  However, this year the Acting 2 course has a potential for enrollment increase, as eight students have enrolled in the class so far.

Compared to previous years, the social studies department also has a lower class enrollment for next year.  After reviewing with coordinators, Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli decided to take a reduction in the social studies department due to the lower-than-average number of students in some of the social studies electives. 

“[The coordinators and I] felt as though we could take a reduction in social studies.  We only had a couple of outliers but if you look at the end result, it’s pretty balanced for the number of students teachers have in their caseload,” Antonelli said.

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