The Elmwood School replacement project, school enrollment and attendance policy were among the topics discussed at the Hopkinton School Committee meeting on Thursday.
Elementary administrators also presented improvement plans for the board to consider.
Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said the Elmwood project – assuming it is funded – is expected to take 4.5 years: two years for design, two for construction and half a year to obtain city/state approvals. the state.
The first Community Forum will be held virtually next Monday at 6 p.m. The forums will continue monthly for the remainder of the year, with information available on the district website.
Cavanaugh said 40 sites are being considered, at this stage solely on the basis of having 10 acres or more.
In the future, criteria will include wetland location, parcel shape, water/sewer, geography, proximity to gas and other easements, site access and whether it is whether it is private or public land.
“By February 2023, we should have a good idea of where we’re going” with the project, Cavanaugh said.
Enrollment exceeds forecast
Regarding enrollment, Cavanaugh said as of Sept. 15, the district had 4,178 students, including 102 in kindergarten.
One consultant’s enrollment projection was 4,104 students at the end of this school year and 4,186 at the end of the school year in 2024.
The superintendent pointed out that the district has already exceeded projections “far from the end of the school year” and is eight students away from surpassing the 2024 figure.
She added that the district generally adds more students as the year progresses. As a “fun fact,” she noted that there are 41 new residency permits this year so far. This number compares to 106, 95 and 875 in previous years.
Attendance policy removes COVID language
In an effort to update the attendance policy, it was proposed that specific symptoms associated with COVID-19 be removed from language in the future. However, council members said parents should not send children to school who have fevers over 100, strep throat, etc., and should exercise discretion. Parents must provide an explanation in writing or by telephone to the nurse.
The district allows five full-day absences over a six-month period before a letter is sent home. General state law stipulates seven absences before the attendance attendant can file a lawsuit in court against the parent/guardian.
Cavanaugh said students don’t get an eighth absence very often, and if they do, there could be “academic avoidance issues” at play.
School committee member Holly Morand asked if a mental health day could be added to the policy. She described such a moment as a student feeling particularly anxious or overwhelmed or teenagers feeling stressed, knowing it wouldn’t be a “great day to partake in education.”
She suggested that one excused absence be allowed per semester, asking if the district has the “wiggle room” to institute such a measure.
Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey LaBroad said parents know best if their child is not ready to learn, whether for mental or physical health reasons. However, he stressed that the focus should be on doing everything possible to keep children in school and “promote a positive presence” in buildings.
He said a discussion could take place to think about ‘welfare’ with broader strokes, but was reluctant to factor it into policy, saying: ‘If you don’t need it, don’t take it .”
Cavanaugh said it was important to vote on the policy as soon as possible because there were 20 families who had yet to send their children to school, and principals were concerned.
When a student shows up a few weeks into the school year, they will have missed a lot and may feel like they are not part of the school community, the superintendent noted.
Although school committee members wanted to review the wording, they voted to accept the policy with the stipulation that it would be reviewed and revised again.
School improvement plans presented
In other business, Marathon School Principal Lauren Dubeau, Elmwood Principal Anne Carver, and Hopkins Principal Vanessa Bilello spoke about the social/emotional learning progress they are making in their buildings as well as professional development.
Strengthening the writing curriculum in the early years and using “differentiated instruction” at Hopkins were among the many other topics presented.
Carver talked about having “positive” office references and not just sending kids to the principal’s office for “mean behavior.”
The headmistress said the positive feedback was well received, although she acknowledged that some children feel embarrassed by the big screen and prefer recognition in a quieter and more discreet way.
Bilello talked about supporting flexible grouping of students to increase “opportunities for personalized learning.”
She said fourth and fifth graders run the gamut, from “dinosaurs and unicorn” to “texting.” [and] exploring relationships and crushes.
“It keeps the office busy and the advisers busy,” she said.