By Ashley McCarty
The Manchester Local School District Board of Education met on March 10 to discuss the Extended Learning Plan and teacher concerns.
“We received some Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars. We plan on buying two Clorox 360 electrostatic sprayers; one for each building. We intend to have Summer School for grades K-4 for summer 2021, 2022 and 2023. Three summers, four hours a day for 20 days. For the next two school years, for 2021-2022 and 2022-23, we plan on hiring two reading remediation teachers. They will work Monday through Thursday,” said Superintendent Brian Rau.
Those remediation teachers will work through the next school year and then the subsequent school year.
”We do have — it depends on when we get funds approved — have a classroom monitor in the Junior High right now to lessen the numbers since we came back. Junior High and High School will do their Summer Schools again 2021, 2022, 2023. Tentatively, we will have two High School teachers, one Junior High teacher. That will be eight hours a day for 20 days. Depending on the need in the Junior High, we could have two teachers in the Summer School,” said Rau.
The School Recourse Officer will be present during Summer School.
“In Junior High, we will be adding an English Language Arts teacher, a Social Emotional Counselor and not next school year, but the year after, another Intervention Specialist,” said Rau.
Rau said he met with both principals, and they feel this is a very good start to get the students back on track.
“At the last board meeting, I did attempt to address publicly the issue of the four day versus five day and explain the calendar situation. Apparently, that wasn’t clarified, and I’ve been notified today by a couple [of people] and asked to make sure that the board understands where the staff stands and why we stand where we are. At no point have teachers said we refuse to go back five days. That has never been the fight or the argument. Last summer when the Restart Team met — and there was several teachers, staff members, a superintendent, I think even Dr. [William] Hablitzel even attended one day — during that planning process there was a plan developed. There were revisions done to the calendar at that time. That did go back to the associations for a vote, that did come back to the board for your adoption. The confusion of teachers not wanting to come back needs to be clarified,” said MES Teacher Caroline Grooms-Lowe.
The community is under the assumption that they are not, she said.
“The plan at that time was to create — we created a Blue Group and we created a Gold Group. Blue Groups were Monday and Tuesday with three days remote, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Gold Group, Thursday, Friday, with the remote being Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Wednesday’s were set aside for the deep cleaning days. Teachers agreed to help with that; they cleaned their rooms and they did things to help make sure that their rooms were safe. We applauded the efforts of the whole team to make sure that we were doing the right thing. COVID-19 was in full bloom, it was exploding, so yes, safety for the staff and the students was top priority, and we credited Superintendent Rau for that. We understand that students have not been engaged daily as we would hope for them to be, but we felt at that time it was the best decision that could be made for safety reasons. The next step was to blend those two groups,” said Grooms-Lowe.
The Blue and Gold Group would come Monday/Tuesday as well as Thursday/Friday.
“That was the discussion that was had, and that was the assumption and understanding that the staff had. That it would be a process. Wednesdays would remain as the deep cleaning day. For whatever reason, decisions were made and we understand that management has the right to make those decisions, we just ask that we be at the table or represented to listen, understand and try to, I guess, get those decisions before the public gets them so we understand what’s going on. I think that’s a fair thing to ask. So, I want to make sure and make it very clear. If there’s any questions, there’s multiple teachers here. There was a meeting last Wednesday. The association met, and I think it was very clearly discussed in that meeting; at no point in that meeting did anyone say we don’t want to come back. So, we want to make that clear and understood to the board that that is not the argument,” said Grooms-Lowe.
They just wanted to be a part of that process, understand the changes and why they were happening, she said.
“The next item, the extended learning plan. At the last board meeting, it was mentioned that there would be discussion and planning stages for that to happen. In conversation with Superintendent Rau, I understood that the month of March, we would have March to work on this and come up with that plan. I will credit Mr. Roberts as principal of the elementary, I can’t speak to Dr. Pollock, I haven’t talked to anyone at the High School. I don’t know how that was handled. I know that he did talk with BLT members in the building actually one-on-one and went to rooms to talk with teachers to maybe get some ideas, and he expressed his ideas of what he thought might be best for our building. So, that discussion did happen. But, I can honestly tell you — because I got phone calls and I was met on the playground with ‘have you seen the extended learning plan’ — I hadn’t, and I had to say that because I had not seen it. I didn’t realize it was even going to be presented tonight—” said Grooms-Lowe.
Rau said he could answer some of that.
“When Mrs. Grooms-Lowe and I met, the deal was going to be that she was going to go ask her union association and solicit ideas and give those ideas back to Mr. Roberts. That’s what we agreed upon. I told her I had a timeline of when I had to have this done, because it must be submitted to the state on April 1. Unfortunately, our board meeting is very early in March, March 10. Other school districts have until another couple of weeks to get this in. This is the only board meeting we have in March. This is when the board has to approve the plan, because it’s due April 1. That’s the only time I have,” said Rau.
That’s why he was asking to solicit that information and get it to Mr. Roberts, he said.
“But did you not say to me it would be presented at the April meeting?” said Grooms-Lowe.
Rau said he did not recall that, because the plan has to be approved by the board before April.
“I saw that in writing from the state, I did see that, but in our conversation—” said Grooms-Lowe.
Board member Dave McFarland said it didn’t matter what the conversation was, errors can be made.
“Then would you not just from discussion, say, hey, we need to get this in, we need to get this together for the March meeting,” said Grooms-Lowe.
Rau said they did.
“That’s all we’re asking, and I’m not saying we don’t agree with a lot that’s in there,” said Grooms-Lowe.
McFarland said he didn’t want to get into a he said/she said.
“That’s where you wanted to go and it’s in writing that it’s going to be April 1. Yeah, you’re going to make technical errors, and yeah, he’s going to make technical errors. That happens. It’s how we manage life,” said McFarland.
Grooms-Lowe said that he knew as well she she that if the topic wasn’t discussed in the open it wouldn’t be discussed in executive session.
“So, that’s the only reason we wanted to share. That’s all we wanted to do,” said Grooms-Lowe.
MHS Teacher Brandi Thomas stood up and addressed the board.
“Can I talk for just a second? I know I didn’t fill out the form, I apologize. This summer I was informed by Dr. Rau that the library would be closed, and I would be moved to Junior High. Since then, the elementary library has been closed. So today, I did read the learning recovery and extended learning plan that you just heard, and it does not include putting a teacher back into the library. Actually, it didn’t mention the library at all. So, I’m just confused, because at the time that you closed it, you stressed that you really didn’t want to, and that you really wanted to get it back. So, we now have the funds. We’re very concerned about our students’ reading. Why is the library not one of those things that we need to work on?” said Thomas.
Rau said they only have a finite amount of money.
“When I met with the principals, this is the ideas that we had. I’m not saying that — and you and I have spoken — that is still a priority, but I have to see where the funding is before I allocateit to that,” said Rau.
Rau said she and him had spoken about it.
“We did. The funding, I thought you meant, was the one you told me about in June or July. Right? You told me about funding we might get in June or July,” said Thomas.
Rau said yes, but that it wasn’t a given yet. He can’t put it in the plan if it’s not allocated.
“I didn’t fully know about this funding, is what I’m saying. So, I don’t know why it wasn’t put in there, in this particular plan. I’d like to hear why,” said Thomas.
Rau said he wouldn’t have a reason that anybody is going to agree with.
“Mr. Roberts and I have spoken two or three times; he knows how I feel about the library. Whether anybody else wants to believe it or not, he knows how I feel about it. He and I spoke again today about the exact same thing, and I explained to him that once we make the moves with the plan that I have to submit to the state — it’s a fluid plan, but it has to be submitted to the state — I’m going to go back — in fact, I had that conversation with Mrs. Elliot as well — I need to see where we are with that. The next thing on my list to do is bring back the library. That is a priority. I just have to see, once we get this down, to see exactly where the funding lies what I’ve got left,” said Rau.
Thomas asked if the library was the next step if they have funding.
Rau said he had to look at the funding first.
“But you can’t tell me why it wasn’t included already?” said Thomas.
Rau said he didn’t think that it mattered what he was going to say.
“Nobody is going to like it or agree with it. The plan that I took forth was the ideas that were submitted to me by folks — including the principals — and that was their initial plan for closing the achievement gaps. You’re right, it was not in the initial conversation. I’m the one that brought it up. I brought that to the table. That’s why it’s not in the initial plan that the state is approving,” said Rau.
As the board returned from executive session, Rau announced he would include Grooms-Lowe and Kimberly Skaggs in future plan reviews.
With no more business before the board, the board adjourned. Meeting minutes will be approved by the board at the next meeting, subject to revisions.