NSBORO Roundup: Free Lunch; District Welcomes Input on spending, calendar, & policies; Questions about Mascot input; Superintendent Goals

I have lots of news to share about Northborough-Southborough schools. Some comes from updates by the administration and others from recent media stories.

Free lunches extended

Last Friday’s Weekly Update from Superintendent Gregory Martineau  notified parents that all NSBORO students will again be entitled to free “first lunches” this school year. (That means that second serving of a “double lunch” and optional snack/a la carte options must still be paid for through MySchoolBucks accounts.) The lunches are paid for by the USDA’s Covid 19 support.

For those frustrated by the offerings this fall, they also included an explanation:

You may have noticed some menu changes and a lack of variety this September. This is due to a nationwide delay in food production and distribution. In fact, many of our distributors have warned us of this shortage and it is playing out with menu items simply not available. Our Food Services Managers have been collaborating with vendors, kitchen staff, and school administrators as this challenge unfolds. We appreciate your patience as we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic on our everyday operations.

Public Input Welcomed

The Update also “Welcomed” community members to weigh in on multiple issues:

Using ARPA Funds

The message invited public comment on how the districts should spend emergency relief funds they received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Feedback is solicited through Tuesday, September 28th. 

To comment on Southborough public schools, click here. For Algonquin (the Northborough-Southborough Regional School District), click here.

2022-2023 Student Calendar

The community has longer notice to answer a survey on next school year’s calendar. Participants are asked if they have any suggested changes to the calendar. The results will be shared with school committees’ prior to their vote. Click here to participate before October 29th. 

No draft is provided of next year’s calendar. Instead participants are referred to this year’s. Before weighing in, you may want an idea of what next year might look like using that traditional model. Scroll down for my breakdown of what to expect if no significant changes are made.*

School Committee Policies

In the committee’s meetings, there is a tendency to not actually read aloud (or post on screen) the policies during the required public readings before they are adopted. Instead, the public has to look for links in agendas posted between the first and second readings. But this time around, the administration is drawing the public’s attention to the policies in time to weigh in with a feedback form.

Currently, Southborough, Northborough, and Regional committees are all reviewing new/revised policies on Recruiting and Hiring Personnel, Staff Responsible Use, Employee Social Media, Jury Duty, and Overtime Pay. In addition, the Regional Committee is considering revisions to the policy for Staff Transportation of Students in a Private Vehicle. To read the redlined drafts, and comment on them before October 29th, click here.

Questions about ARHS Mascot Process

Ironically, an article by the Community Advocate published a day after the update focuses on whether recently collected public feedback is being properly considered by NSBORO administration. This time, the focus was the controversial decision and process for replacing Algonquin Regional’s mascot. 

Last spring, the Regional Committee voted to support the administration’s recommendation to “retire” the Tomahawk as the high school’s mascot. A Study Group was formed to recommend choices for the Committee to consider. In July, the administration solicited public feedback on what to adopt as the new symbol.

In mid-August, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Keith Lavoie issued an email updating the public on the process. According to his message, Jake Messier from Heard Strategies and Storytelling presented survey results to the Mascot Renaming Study Group. He also provided his opinions.

The message included a link to a spreadsheet showing that 99 respondents voted to keep the original mascot. Of the over 600 votes cast for replacements, the top two out of 285 choices/suggestions were Thunderhawks (67 votes) and Hawks (44 votes). The spreadsheet indicated that Messier had recommended not to use either of those options.

In fact, 10 of 18 top choices were described as “OUT” under “Heard’s Opinion”. The consultant’s recommendations were listed as “non-binding”, but no rationale was included in the message or spreadsheet.

I reached out to Lavoie. He explained that Messier’s advised against both Thunderhawks and Hawks due to their strong Native American connections. He also opined that Hawks was too close to Tomahawk. (I hadn’t asked about the lower ranked choices.) At that time, the Study Group hadn’t had a chance to analyze and discuss the recommendations.

It appears that I wasn’t the only one asking questions about Heard’s recommendations. According to CA’s article, the issue was raised in last week’s Regional School Committee meeting.

The CA writes that Vice Chair Dan Kolenda (of Southborough), raised concerns he heard from upset constituents:

“There are folks that believe they weren’t heard before,” Kolenda said. “They had an opportunity to vote, and they believe they’re not being heard again.” . . .

He said some of the community members then saw HEARD’s spreadsheet and its suggestions. They wondered, if the community said one thing, who is HEARD to say no?

“Part of this is, people are upset that they didn’t believe they were heard in the first place,” Kolenda said. “Now, they see that they have an opportunity to be heard and they’re voting, and their vote doesn’t matter. They might as well just put ‘none of the above.’”

Bevan said HEARD’s role was to provide the committee with guidance on the process. The recommendation was simply a recommendation, he said.

You can read the full story here. (According to the story, the Study Group was scheduled to reconvene earlier this week.)

Superintendent’s Goals

The CA also covered part of the Combined School Committees’ meeting last week. It included a discussion on Superintendent Martineau’s Goals:

Martineau’s evaluation began with a self-assessment examining how he is performing based on feedback from his evaluation in the spring. Martineau then identified his goals to propose to the school committees.

Southborough School Committee Chair Roger Challen asked Martineau how he knows whether a goal is too much to bite off.

“Because there’s the old jack of all trades syndrome that sort of exists everywhere,” Challen said.

Martineau said his goals are the district’s goals. The district’s curriculum directors have parallel goals.

“It’s really the thinking that we’re all working toward this work,” he said.

The story included an overview of topics including instruction, collaboration, equity, finance, and operations. You can read it here.

*To help readers decide how they feel about following the current school year model next year, I’m sharing when significant dates/holidays/breaks would traditionally fall in 2022-2023:

  • School start: August 31 (the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend)
  • Fall Holidays: Monday, September 5 (Labor Day), Monday; September 26 (Rosh Hashana); Wednesday, October 5 (Yom Kippur); Monday, October 10 (Columbus Day/Heritage Day); Friday, November 11 (Veterans Day)
  • Extended Breaks: Thanksgiving (early dismissal Wednesday, November 23 – Friday, November 25), Winter (early dismissal Friday, December 23 – Monday, January 2); February Break (February 20 – 24); Spring Break (April 17 – 21)
  • Winter/Spring Holidays: Monday, January 16 (MLK Jr Day); Friday, April 7 (Good Friday); Monday, May 29 (Memorial Day); Monday, June 19 (Juneteenth)

Professional Development Days tend to change year to year. This year, there are only two mid-school year, both on Mondays. One in the fall (November 1) and the other in March (21). Given how similarly holidays are observed this year and next, I’d expect school to end around the same time next year. (This year, the first possible last day is Friday, June 17th, if there are no cancellations.)

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