At their March 16 meeting, Vassalboro School Board members heard cautious optimism from three administrators. All three expect a gradual return to something closer to normalcy before the end of the school year.
For Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer, the state emphasis on vaccinating school staff is “a game-changer.” For Principal Megan Allen, the revised national CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guideline allowing students’ desks to be three feet apart, instead of six feet apart, will allow more in-school instruction.
Saying Vassalboro Community School (VCS) will “reopen” is the wrong wording, Pfeiffer said, because the school hasn’t closed completely, except for a few brief intervals. However, more students will spend more time in the same room with their classmates and teachers.
The CDC requires students and adults to be masked. The new rule does not apply where masking is impossible, as in lunchrooms, where six-foot separation is still required; and adults are expected to continue to stay six feet apart.
Allen said how many students return for how long will depend on class and classroom sizes. About 55 students have chosen to learn fully remotely, she said, and one of her goals is to make sure they do not lose out as classroom education is re-emphasized. She hopes there will be space for them to rejoin their classmates for the last few days of the school year, if they want to.
Assistant Principal Greg Hughes said winter sports, basketball and cheerleading, will continue through March. He expects to start baseball and softball indoors with students remaining in their cohorts, to mingle groups when play moves outdoors and perhaps to resume games against other schools.
Pfeiffer will not be surprised if there are more federal and state policy changes before the semester ends.
The superintendent expects more than $500,000 in new stimulus funds. Part of the money will be used for “learning recovery,” additional time and additional staff to help students make up for what they were unable to learn under pandemic conditions.
Looking to the 2021-22 school year, Allen said if there is enough interest, a second pre-kindergarten class will be added. The class would need a teacher and an aide, increasing personnel costs; but, Finance Director Paula Pooler added, the state subsidy would also increase.
School board members reviewed the regular education section of the proposed 2021-22 school budget, which is projected to increase as it does every year with salary increases, new equipment and program adjustments. They did not review the proposed special education budget. Because their budget review was unfinished, the planned March 23 meeting with the town budget committee was canceled.
The next regular Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13, a second Tuesday rather than the usual third Tuesday to avoid meeting during school vacation week.
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