The liveliest discussion at the Nov. 16 Vassalboro School Board meeting was over the administration’s request for additional early release days, when students are sent home for the afternoon so teachers can work together.
Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer and Assistant Principal Greg Hughes explained that teachers at Vassalboro Community School (VCS), dealing with Covid-related changes and requirements in addition to their pre-Covid responsibilities, need more group time. They use it to plan dealing with issues like curriculum adjustments and implementing new Department of Education directives; to share information on common problems and useful techniques; and to provide mutual support.
The 2021-22 calendar approved in 2020 included three early release days. One has been used; the other two are scheduled in January and May 2022, Pfeiffer said.
He and Hughes recommended two early release days each month, starting in December 2021.
School board members reacted immediately: sending kids home that often will be really hard on parents.
Audience members, mostly parents, replied promptly: we can take care of our kids, give teachers the time they need.
Some suggested changing proposed dates from Wednesdays – chosen to break up the week, Pfeiffer said – to Fridays, when some people might find it easier to leave work early, if teachers were okay with Fridays.
Using a whole day, instead of an afternoon, wouldn’t be possible, Pfeiffer said, because the state requires 175 “seat days” a year, and half-days count as seat days.
School board members unanimously approved two early release days a month beginning in December, with dates to be considered again at the Dec. 21 board meeting.
As at previous meetings this fall, several of the dozen audience members had questions about pandemic-related procedures. Answers from Pfeiffer, school nurse MaryAnn Fortin or both, included:
- There are no plans to host a vaccination clinic at VCS, because parents have enough other options.
- There have been positive results from some of the pool testing, and yes, classmates outside a pool in which at least one student tested positive do need to be quarantined.
One parent expressed support for the testing, masking and distancing measures being taken to prioritize health and safety at VCS and thanked board members, administrators, staff and students for their efforts to make it possible for students to stay in school.
Board and audience members heard presentations from three staff members, School Counselor Meg Swanson, Social Worker Tabitha Sagner and new Jobs for Maine’s Graduates (JMG) Master Specialist Delaney Wood.
Swanson’s and Sagner’s main jobs are to assist students with social, emotional, behavioral and other non-academic difficulties that can affect their academic performance. Both spoke – but did not complain – about how much more difficult Covid has made this type of work, not just at VCS but state-wide and probably nation-wide.
More students experience stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Many express their insecurity through disruptive behavior in the classroom. More than the usual number need extra counseling, in small groups or individually.
Teachers, too, are stressed and overwhelmed. A shortage of staff makes their situation more difficult. The staff shortage is not just in schools, Swanson added; the outside agencies on which teachers have relied are also short-staffed and putting would-be clients on waiting lists.
Swanson sees no quick fix for the interrelated problems. Despite ongoing efforts to adapt and despite increased federal funding for multiple aspects of education, she expects the impact on “student response, learning and behavior” will last “at least a decade.”
Wood’s presentation on JMG was more upbeat. A graduate of Winslow High School and Wesleyan University, she is in her first year of full-time teaching, following Victor Esposito, “Mr. E,” who retired at the end of last year.
JMG’s website says it is a nonprofit corporation that partners with Maine schools, from middle school through college or university, to give students “the guidance, skills and opportunities they need to succeed in their careers.”
The emphasis is on hands-on, adventure-based learning, Wood said – for example, the garden Mr. E started. Students told her they would like to go on local field trips, like a visit to the fire station. To raise money for use of a bus, they plan a wreath sale, Wood said.
In other business Nov. 16, Assistant Principal Hughes said he was pleased by the number of parents who came to VCS for parent-teacher conferences. He thanked the PTO for the refreshments members supplied.
Hughes said the homework club has started and the drama club and explorers club are scheduled to start in December. With construction work nearly finished, classroom rearrangements are under way.
Construction work was responsible for the unplanned early dismissal on Nov. 3, Superintendent Pfeiffer said. A workman accidentally cut a cable, activating the fire alarm system, and no one could make it turn off.
Finance Director Paula Pooler reported the budget is still on track, including the school lunch budget that has lost money in past years. She again reminded parents to fill out the application form for free lunch, even though it is free anyway, so that VCS can get the state subsidies to which it is entitled.
A link to the form is on the front page of the school’s website, vcsvikings.org.
The next regular Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21.