Marlborough superintendent discusses migrant families, school space

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Marlborough superintendent discusses migrant families, school space
Shannon George, right, of Teamsters Local 170 halts a bus bound for Marlborough during the strike. Marlborough Public Schools is about to enter the final year of its contract with provider NRT. (Photo by Maureen Sullivan)

MARLBOROUGH – Between welcoming families sent by the state to stay in Marlborough hotels to making $850,000 in budget cuts, it’s been an interesting year for Marlborough Public Schools.

On June 17, as the minutes ticked away toward the end of the 2023-24 school year, Superintendent Mary Murphy provided updates to some of the top issues that the district faced this year.

Migrant Families 

As the school year began, MPS welcomed students from families sent by the state to stay at two hotels in the city. Since then, families at the Extended Stay have been sent to Framingham. According to Murphy, the move was done so that the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, the agency overseeing these families, could provide better service.

Murphy said there are 68 students living at the Holiday Inn, most of them attending Kane Elementary School. She added that the state sent along enough funds to continue providing the necessary staff, including a paraprofessional, wraparound services and translator.

In addition, the Holiday Inn is converting a space into a library for the students.

The number of migrant families is not expected to decrease; Murphy said that as families move out of the hotel and into more permanent housing, other families will be moving in.

School space  

MPS remains “bursting at the seams,” said Murphy. 

“Every building is completely full,” she said.

In each school, the library/media center has been converted into student space.

As for Richer Elementary School, Murphy said a request for proposals for a project manager will be going out in mid-July. The goal will be to have a report for the Massachusetts School Building Authority in October.

Bus drivers 

MPS is about to enter its final year of its bus contract with NRT.

According to Murphy, the lack of drivers was “pretty consistent.” The district was four drivers short through the entire school year.

A lack of drivers over the winter caused MPS to cancel classes three times.

Murphy said she will be in touch with the parent-teacher organizations within MPS to “have a series of conversations” toward the bus contract in fiscal 2026.

Several school systems, including Hudson, had significant cost increases in their bus contracts. To that end, MPS may consider some changes, including the expansion of walking zones.

“We have a year to work with multiple stakeholders,” she said.

Absenteeism  

At one point, more than 30% of students within Marlborough Public Schools were absent at least 18 days (or 10% of the school year).

To deal with this problem, MPS started attendance academies during February and April school vacations. These academies were open to students wanting to reduce their absenteeism.

In an effort to better engage with families, MPS purchased a Talking Points app. This interactive tool, which can translate communications in more than 100 languages, helps families keep in touch with teachers, and vice versa.

According to Murphy, the app has fielded more than 800,000 messages this school year.

Fiscal 2025 school budget 

MPS recently had to cut nearly $850,000 from its budget for fiscal 2025. Several administrative positions were cut, along with the fifth-grade band and orchestra program.

“It had to be done,” said Murphy, citing a combination of higher costs and lower state aid.

For the coming school year, Murphy said, “We need to make sure we’re very conservative” when it comes to the budget.

Other items 

For the 2024-25 school year, students will have longer class times in art, music and physical education.

On the contract front, Murphy said MPS has reached a settlement with the Marlborough Educators Association, and it is negotiating with four other units.

Whitcomb Middle School will once again use Yondr pouches to keep cell phones out of use during the school day. Each student is issued a pouch, which includes a lock. Students place their phones in their pouches; staff members lock the pouches at the start of the day and unlock them at the end of the day.

Murphy said the difference has been striking.

“Students are talking to one another” instead of using their phones, she said.

The school year for 2024-25 will begin on Monday, Aug. 26, with staff opening day. The first day for grades 1-12 will be on Wednesday, Aug. 28.

For information, visit www.mps-edu.org.

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