Highlights from the Northborough/Southborough School Committee meeting

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By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

Northborough/Southborough – The Regional School Committee (RSC) representing Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) met on Sept. 23. Updates on the return to school, athletics, and solar panels were shared, as well as a discussion surrounding the proposed distribution facility that abuts the school.

Principal’s report: ARHS Principal Sean Bevan, who is new to the role this year, said it has been an interesting time of transition, but credits the support and guidance of the staff and administration in assisting with the challenges.

ARHS started school fully remote on Sept. 16 and will switch to a hybrid model on Tuesday, Oct.  6.

On the first day of school, Bevan was able to virtually visit classrooms and see many different approaches of instruction.

He is encouraging teachers to explore and deepen their tool box and use as many different modalities and access as many different tools as possible to vary the classroom experience for students.

“My worry is that if teachers continually apply the same strategies in each class that the compounding effect on the students is that they will be spending 40 minutes over and over again on Zoom classrooms….that is not a really exciting or engaging way to spend time.”

Bevan said that steps are already underway to identify students who may be exhibiting some evidence that they are becoming disengaged. Student support teams are ready to develop interventions and to intervene for students who may be having a difficult time going back to school.

“Department heads and I are developing strategies to identify learning loss in each classroom and how to reconcile that,” he said.

Bevan also said the expectations for distance learning for students are different than the expectations were in the spring. One is that teachers may be teaching students, who are present in the classroom, at the same time as students are on Zoom from home on their remote days.

“We are ready to have the kids back,” he said.

Athletics Update: ARHS Athletic Director Michael Mocerino said that on Sept. 18, 360 exciting and smiling faces returned to high school athletics after a six-month absence due to the COVID-19 closings.

“While there is still a lot of uncertainty with the dynamic of the sports season, one thing that is for certain is this year will be an unusual year for all of us in athletics,” he said. “We will face many challenges along the way, but the main focus for athletics will be to get our student athletes back playing sports safely.”

This year, there will be four seasons instead of the typical three, and local leagues have formed pods based on location to limit exposure, reduce travel and minimize risk. ARHS’s pod includes Leominster, Westborough, Shrewsbury and Wachusett.

Thorough safety protocols are being followed and only two passes per athlete for spectators will be allowed for home games only.

The fall season includes cross country, soccer, golf and field hockey. The season started on September 21 and scheduled to end on November 20.

RSC member Paul Butka has had consistent concerns about concussion impact testing and would like to see an increase in athlete participation in this program.

Proposed distribution facility abutting ARHS: RSC member Karen Ares stated her concerns with the proposed distribution facility at 0 Bartlett Street, especially because it is next to the school and said that it would impact traffic and safety of students, staff and parents; as well as the Stirrup Brook trail that many students use.

RSC member Paul Desmond is also concerned of the cumulative effect of the increased construction in that area.

RSC member Daniel Kolenda questioned if this issue falls within the purview of the School Committee. He wanted to be mindful not to step out of the boundaries of what the Committee is charged to do.

Superintendent Greg Martineau reminded the Committee members that the question they should ask is “what material impact to the high school does this building have and if there is not an impact, than it is not under the purview of the Committee.”

It was agreed that more information would help make a more informed decision and this topic can be revisited.

Solar update: In April 2020, the RSC approved the proposal to move forward with a solar array on the roof of ARHS.  The equipment and materials are on site and the work is moving along steadily.

Director of Operations Keith Lavoie said that the construction is not expected to disrupt the start of in-person classes on October 6.

Select Energy is the contractor responsible for the project and are anticipating that the work should be done by the end of October and be fully on line by mid-November.

The proposal also had an educational component to it that the science department is eager to explore.

“We are really excited to partner with Principal Bevan and Mike Gorman the Facilities Manager to bring the students into the project, understand why we did it, what the impact will be and just how the engineering and everything works,” said Lavoie. “Everyone is excited about seeing it come to fruition, it’s been a long time coming but it is here.”