School committee overview: services described for children with dyslexia; lunch prices will go up

More than half of Thursday night’s three-hour school committee meeting was devoted to the problem of dyslexia and the various programs offered by the district to address it, as well as other learning disabilities.

During the public comment period, several mothers spoke about their children’s reading problems and frustrations and called on schools to provide more in-depth teacher training and structured instruction.

Andrea Benson expressed her disappointment that her child had not been identified earlier as having dyslexia. During the pandemic and remote learning, she and her husband witnessed her child struggling, she noted.

Benson said she wants the committee to take a more “aggressive and progressive” approach to ensuring students get the proper education they need to learn to read.

Now a third grader diagnosed with dyslexia, Benson’s daughter is still learning to read, she added. She said she wished 1.5 years hadn’t been wasted. Benson said Hopkinton should “lead the wave of transformation” sweeping the country and state for “modern, science-based and structured” literacy programs.

“We have the knowledge, the will… nothing is holding us back,” she said.

Sabine St. Pierre said the “emotional toll” dyslexia takes on children needs to be acknowledged. She recounted incidents when her second-grader refused to go to school and spoke of being overwhelmed because he was surrounded by too many words.

She noted that it takes five times as much effort for a child with dyslexia to process language and stressed the importance of monitoring these children and ensuring they receive appropriate services.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh and a team of other administrators led a presentation where they highlighted the tools they use for children who have difficulty reading.

“Our hearts are in the same place as yours,” Cavanaugh told the parents.

She said every child’s goal of reading at their grade level is something educators do on a daily basis.

The superintendent defined dyslexia as a “language-based difference with a neurobiological basis”. She said it’s not tied to intelligence or motivation, it’s lifelong and “lives on a continuum.”

The presenters talked about the STAR Early Literacy tool they use as their entry-level screening tool and said they will be implementing a program called Early Bird next fall.

The new program would offer “a more nuanced look” at phonological awareness, sound-symbol matching, rapid automated naming (RAN) and oral language comprehension, according to Deborah Moriarty, director of English language acquisition.

Educators also presented lists of formal and informal literacy assessments they use as well as curriculum-based measures/assessments at different grade levels, noting that they focus on accuracy/decoding, fluency and understanding.

They noted that students are matched with intervention programs based on their profiles and specific needs based on assessments. Progress is tracked and if something isn’t working, students move on to a more restrictive model.

Although the pandemic has hampered some training efforts, they spoke of the number of specifically trained and certified educators at each school.

Cavanaugh encouraged parents to reach out to educators with questions and concerns and noted that there is “no overnight solution.” She emphasized that the district has “comprehensive, research-based” approaches to teaching all students, and “there is no one size fits all.”

The HOSA club will compete in Tennessee

The school committee took two actions regarding the secondary school’s Health Professions Student Association (HOSA) club. The board has agreed to pay the advisor an allowance of $800 for fiscal year 2022 and $1,500 for fiscal year 23.

Additionally, student Ishi Khurana, co-president of the club, appeared before the committee to speak about a request for 12 students to attend the HOSA International Leadership Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, June 21-26.

She noted that the club has 62 members and that a dozen of those students qualified for the event by placing in the top three at the state-level conference.

Furthermore, Khurana said that the competition has a number of categories that students can participate in individually or in teams. These areas include health education, public service announcements, medical terminology, and more.

The international conference also offers seminars, demonstrations, challenges and simulations.

The board approved the trip.

Lunch prices will go up

In other cases, the committee approved an increase in lunch prices to meet the requirements of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 that the average price must meet or exceed the difference between the federal reimbursement rate for one free lunch and one paid lunch.

The cost of elementary school meals will increase by 50 cents to $3.25. Prices for secondary and adults will increase by 25 cents to $3.50 and $4.00, respectively.

A comparison sheet showing prices at other schools had a low ranging from $2 to $2.50 in Milton to a high of $3.75 in Monson.