WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington School Committee held an emergency 45-minute meeting on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
The Committee utilized Zoom, a web video conferencing tool that allowed each member — along with the Superintendent, the Superintendent’s Executive Secretary, and the Assistant Superintendents — to participate remotely from their homes.
Superintendent Updates School Committee On First Six Days Of School Closures
“It’s not an understatement that these are completely uncharted times,” said Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand in his introductory remarks. “There’s uncertainty growing by the day as educational institutions attempt to navigate all of this.”
Brand briefly updated the Committee on the district’s response to schools closing.
“The district leadership team has been working countless hours in coordination with me and other agencies to figure out our best course forward,” said Brand. “We’ve participated in a half dozen conference calls since Monday… There’s another conference call tomorrow with the Education Commissioner and the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, which will focus on the business side of school operations.”
Brand noted the leadership team worked out a plan on Monday to provide access to families whose students may have left something valuable behind in the schools before they closed. On Tuesday, Brand met with representatives from the Wilmington Teachers Association to discuss some pressing matters as it relates to the shutdown. On Wednesday, a plan was developed to provide grab & go meals to students for breakfast and lunch on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays.
Brand also noted the district was expanding its web presence in an attempt to improve its communication with families. The district created a webpage for all of its Coronavirus-related updates at www.wpsk12.com/coronavirus.
Brand noted he’s been on a handful of calls with the town’s emergency teams, including one on Thursday morning when it was decided that all of the town’s recreational spaces would be closed.
Brand shared that he sent an extensive update to all Wilmington Public Schools staff on Wednesday night, that covered a long range of areas, including MCAS and report cards.
What Will Students Be Learning During This Unexpected Break?
“These days are NOT instruction days,” clarified Brand, who likened them more to “snow days” or planned vacation weeks in the eyes of the state. “The Department of Elementary & Secondary Education and the Education Commissioner have established that regular teaching and instruction cannot occur during this time period. In effect, and we’re really still coming to terms with all this, but we’re frozen in time right now.”
Brand noted that there’s been a lot of talk from other districts surrounding “online learning” and “virtual learning.” Brand finds these terms confusing and anxiety-endusing. He noted that there are equity and access issues if all students are expected to engage in such learning during this break. Brand says the district, instead, will be focused on enrichment.
“Some districts scrambled and quickly put out a list of educational activities for students,” acknowledged Brand. “Quite frankly, some of those lists weren’t all that well formulated. Our list will be. And it will be extensive.”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brian Reagan has formulated a “terrific” list with a range of enrichment activities for each grade. The list will be emailed to families on Friday morning.
Questions & Comments From School Committee Members
In response to a question from School Committee member Jay Samaha, Brand clarified that the expectation is Wilmington Public Schools school year will not extend past June 19, 2020, regardless of how long the current shutdown lasts.
In response to a question from School Committee member David Ragsdale, Brand could not yet say with certainty what role teachers will play in student enrichment during the break.
“There’s still an awful lot we’re trying to figure out. We’re working closely with our Wilmington Teachers Association. Things are changing and evolving,” said Brand. “Many of our staff has begun their outreach to families and students. We’re looking to keep the youth meaningfully engaged.”
In response to a follow-up question from School Committee member Jo Newhouse, Brand added that conversations were ongoing with the teachers union on what their professional responsibilities will be during these unprecedented times. Brand noted that he expects district committees and task forces to continue to meet virtually during the shutdown, pointing out that the West Principal Search Committee is currently trying to arrange candidate interviews.
In response to a question from School Committee Chair Jennifer Bryson, there is an ongoing discussion regarding professional development expectations for students during the shutdown.
In response to comments and questions from School Committee members Steve Bjork and MJ Byrnes, Superintendent Brand acknowledged that students were having difficulty getting refunds from the travel agency that organized a European field trip for high school students during April vacation. Brand said the high school and district administration was engaged in discussions with the company.
School Committee Votes To Pay Employees During Shutdown
The meeting concluded with a unanimous vote from the School Committee to approve paying salaried and hourly employees on active status at the time of the school closures their regular compensation and benefits for the three weeks that school is closed.
School Committee Chair Jennifer Bryson thanked Superintendent Brand and his team for their leadership.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping us moving forward,” said Bryson, who praised the new web page, the grab and go lunch program, and the at-home enrichment opportunities that will be offered to students, in addition to lots of “behind-the-scenes” work. “We’re all very grateful.”
A video recording of the meeting is expected to be posted on Wilmington Public Schools website at some point on Friday.
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