At a Wellesley School Committee conducted on Tues., Sept. 15 via Zoom, SC members and WPS administrators reviewed topics that have been at the forefront of the school re-opening process and issued a reminder that a virtual community forum on the Hardy/Upham project will take place on Thur., Sept, 17 at 7pm. Details below.
During Public Comment, Carrie Sullivan, who has a second grader at Schofield, expressed concerns about her child’s core academic skills. She pointed out that first graders lost 1/3 of the academic year. “Our kids don’t know how to use computers. They don’t know how to spell. They’re learning to read still.”
Sullivan said second-grade families are disappointed that they were not included as part of the Pre-K through grade 1 group who have been prioritized for in-person, 4-day per week learning. “It’s really important and critical for our kids also to get in more days,” she said.
Superintendent David Lussier said that he didn’t doubt anything said at Public Comment, however, “The degree to prioritize comes down to space within our schools. Unfortunately we can’t do as many grade levels as we’d like.”
Back to school jitters
Endless meetings, contingency plans, and family demands don’t seem to faze School Committee members and WPS administrators as a group. There’s only one thing that makes them blanche—the idea of having in-person education plans derailed by careless behavior. There was much “community partnership” talk, and it seemed obvious that recent delays of in-school learning in nearby towns weighted heavily on everybody’s minds. All Wellesley students are learning remotely now. The first students are expected to enter school buildings on October 1, as the town moves to a hybrid model.
SC member Catherine Mirick said, “I know lots of us have seen news reports about multiple school districts around us having to put off their hybrid re-openings. I just want to point out how dependent we are on families in the community continuing to follow social distancing and mask wearing and all those things we know we should be doing to make this plan work.”
Lincoln-Sudbury’s Superintendent Bella Wong (who held the top educational job in Wellesley from 2007 -2012) expressed her disappointment when that district had to abruptly switched their anticipated hybrid opening to remote learning only after police broke up a gathering of dozens of partying students.
Dedham, which has experienced a recent town-wide spike in COVID cases, putting it into the statewide “Red” category, started remotely on Sept. 16, and expected to begin in-person learning on Sept. 21. With the significant community spread, the in-person component of school has been delayed indefinitely. School officials say a return to in-classroom learning will depend on the trajectory of the virus in town.
Remote Learning School
Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Cindy Mahr as part of the re-opening update gave the most recent numbers on Remote Learning School (RSL), which is an option of all students. So far almost 500 have taken Wellesley up on the offer to study at home and forgo in-person learning for the year. Most of those students are at the elementary level.
Mahr said that 12 Pre-K students will take part in RLS; 288 elementary school kids; 125 at the middle-school level, and 71 high schoolers, for a total of 494.
To educate these students, Mahr says staff throughout the school system have been “repurposed” to cover both classroom and RLS openings. Some teachers have been reassigned, and some sections have been consolidated.
The total added costs of the RLS are just over $2 million, with potential health benefit costs of $547k. Funding of $1.8 million will be requested by the WPS at Wellesley’s Special Town Meeting, scheduled for Monday, October 26th. “That’s our deficit right now,” Mahr said.
The fall athletics plan has been approved and “It’s likely that spectators will not be allowed in the limited sports that were approved last week,” Lussier said.
Fall sports for high school will start on Sept. 21, and the season will go until the end of November.
Unfortunately, middle school sports will be a no-go.
At the high school level, football and cheerleading, as well as girls volleyball are also out for now, as they have been deemed “high-risk sports” based on the close contact required between participants.
That leaves cross-country running, soccer, field hockey, and girls swimming and diving as the sports that will make up the Sept. – Nov. season. That season won’t include any season-ending state tournaments, in an effort to minimize travel and interactions among many teams.
A winter season will run from the end of November until the end of February, and an additional season will be wedged in between Feb.22-April 25. That’s when football and cheerleading might be allowed.
Hunnewell School trees can’t get a break
In January, Hunnewell School’s iconic 200+-year-old iconic White Oak tree in the front courtyard was chopped down by the Department of Public Works. The beloved tree had been deemed high-risk by an arborist hired by the Natural Resources Commission. A 3’ vertical trunk crack, which apparently led to several additional cracks, sealed the tree’s fate, and it was removed.
Now Sharon Gray reports that the construction team wants to remove one or more trees from the Ruth Stiles Walter Garden, put in years ago to honor a former School Committee member. Gray said that the project team has concerns about contaminated soil under one of the areas in that garden, located in a small area adjacent to the gym.
Gray asked the team to provide a memo explaining what they wanted to do, along with a map of the garden and photos as needed. The long-term plan for the Asian-themed contemplative garden currently is undetermined.
No updates on Hardy/Upham, except that the School Building Committee agrees with the SC that the preference for swing space is to focus on a plan that will allow building a new school behind either Hardy or Upham. Such a plan would allow students to remain in either Hardy or Upham while the new school is being built, as did WHS students during construction of the present-day high school.
For more on the Hardy/Upham project, tune in to the virtual community forum on Thur., Sept, 17 at 7pm.
The webinar-style meeting is hosted by the School Building Committee (SBC) and will feature an update from the project team on the status of the feasibility study. The public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments.
The forum will be broadcast live by Wellesley Media on Comcast Channel 8 and Verizon Channel 40, and live streamed on the Wellesley Media Government Channel.
Residents who wish to participate in the webinar must use this form to register in advance and receive the Zoom link.
At its meeting on September 24, the SBC is expected to make a recommendation on whether to build at Hardy or Upham with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).
Wellesley higher education news: spring 2021 semester at MassBay to be mostly remote
MassBay Community College President Dr. David Podell announced that MassBay will offer its spring 2021 courses exclusively online or remote, except for a handful that involve laboratory work. This format mirrors how the fall semester courses are currently being delivered to students.
All fall semester courses at MassBay are being offered online or remotely except for a few Biotechnology, Health Sciences, and Automotive Technology courses that contain a required hands-on laboratory component.
Applications are now being accepted for MassBay’s spring semester, which starts on Tuesday, January 19, 2021. To learn more about MassBay, attend the virtual Fall Open House on Saturday, November 14, 9am – noon.