School Committee Hears Cost to Return Elementary Students to School Full Time ~ Public Hearing on Budget Set for Feb. 2

School Committee Hears Cost to Return Elementary Students to School Full Time; Public Hearing on Budget Set for Feb. 2

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad told the School Committee Tuesday that elementary school students could return en masse to their classrooms sometime in March for a cost of around $150,000. A decision is likely at the Feb. 23 School Committee meeting.

Conrad also noted that the principals of the middle and high school are evaluating how to integrate struggling students into classroom seats that are currently empty.

School Committee Hears Teacher Feedback

Jan. 19, 2021—The exigencies of being a Bedford teacher during the Covid-19 pandemic are taking their toll.

Principals of Bedford four schools told the School Committee last week that most teachers are hurting. But they are also models of “flexibility, adaptability, resiliency.”

“People are tired and frustrated – and we don’t blame them,” said John Glenn Middle School Principal Kevin Tracy. But he emphasized, “You would not be able to tell that if you were in our schools.” He added that appreciation for town support was clear from staff feedback.

Bedford High School Heather Galante said the feedback was acquired through several channels: surveys at the end of last school year and at the beginning of this one, school council meetings, faculty, and departmental meetings, and, less formally, emails, phone conversations, and principals’ walks through their buildings.

She said general themes emerged from the scores of comments: health and safety, self-care and wellness, expectations and workload, and teaching and learning.

The goal of the summary, Galante said, is to provide a perspective from pre-kindergarten through high school, based on feedback received this year.

Schools to Survey Families Regarding Full, In-Person Classes for the Current Academic Year

Bedford school principals soon will survey families to determine how many would send their children back to full in-person classes this academic year if there was that opportunity.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad told the School Committee on Jan. 12 that the results will help determine if “we can fill the capacity we have.” He emphasized that safety will not be compromised, and “we really want to partner with the parents and the teachers.”

School Committee Mulls “Recovery” Budget for In-Classroom Learning

School Committee members explored in detail at their meeting on Jan. 12 the educational implications of returning to school in the fall with smaller class sizes, particularly at Davis and Lane Schools.

One of the fiscal 2022 budget options the committee is considering incorporates additional personnel to allow for expanding the number of classrooms.

The so-called “recovery” budget option assumes that almost all students will be back in school, and the primary reason for the additional classrooms is to sustain physical distancing. The assumption is that the pandemic, while perhaps receding, will still be a consideration.

School Committee Budget Deliberations Move Forward

The Bedford School Committee is getting closer to decision time. Will it recommend a 3.75 percent budget increase for the coming year that reflects a return to pre-pandemic conditions? Or will it opt for a 7.1 budget increase that allows for a gradual recovery, including smaller class sizes across the elementary grades?

Some committee members say they need clarity on the advantages of a reduced classroom population before deciding

School Committee Explores Ways to Bring More Elementary School Students Back to In-Person Learning

Jan. 5, 2021—School Committee members Tuesday continued to push for exploring ways to bring more elementary school children back to in-person learning during the current academic year.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad agreed to prepare one or more scenarios for restoring full-time, in-person school for at least the youngest learners. He expects to present to the School Committee later this month.

The impetus was provided by the newest member of the committee, Brad Morrison, who asserted, “I believe we have time to make three or four more moves toward a phased return between now and the end of the year. I don’t think we can stop now.”

School Committee Reviews Interscholastic Winter Sports

“Athletics play such an important role in keeping our students engaged…. The big ‘pro’ here is that we are participating.”

That was the framework for a briefing on high school winter interscholastic sports delivered to the School Committee Tuesday by Keith Mangan, the schools’ director of athletics.

Mangan reviewed the policies and practices adopted by the 11 Dual County League schools and cited some of the modifications in individual sports designed to minimize the threat of spreading the coronavirus, as promulgated through the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

The abbreviated winter season ends on Feb. 20, ending with a cushion of a few days for weather-related postponements. Active winter sports will be Alpine skiing, basketball, boys’ hockey, rifle, and swim and dive.

Positive Feedback for Bedford School Committee and Administration

The School Committee and administration have absorbed criticism and second-guessing for much of the school year from parents who want to accelerate students’ physical return to classrooms.

Some parents have advocated relaxing the six-foot physical distancing in effect this year to three feet, which has been encouraged by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But at the most recent School Committee meeting on Dec. 22, several residents spoke in support of the status quo and expressed gratitude to professionals and volunteers.

School Committee Hears a Trio of Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Proposals

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad presented three versions of a fiscal 2022 education budget to the School Committee last Tuesday night.

One of the proposals, which presumes a return to a normal school format, is $43,606,93, representing a 3.75 percent increase over the current year. The Finance Committee guideline for the school and municipal budget is 3.5 percent.

The two other iterations, both of which assume continuing some or all of the current pandemic safety protocols, are nowhere near the guideline. Indeed, he called one of them the “apocalyptic budget.”

Facilities Department Presents Detailed School Space Study

A detailed study of space in Bedford’s four schoolhouses has revealed that many more students could be accommodated without compromising the six feet of physical distancing deemed required for safe learning.

What remains to be determined is whether using available space to the maximum would be educationally wise.

Taissir Alani, Director of Facilities for the town and the schools, presented details of his department’s detailed space survey to the School Committee at its meeting Tuesday.

School Committee Established Parameters for Initial Discussion of FY22 Budget

Members of the School Committee on Tuesday established some parameters in anticipation of their initial discussion next Tuesday of the proposed budget for fiscal 2022.

Julie Kirrane, the school district’s finance director, said the document will feature several scenarios because of the uncertainty about the degree of the future impact of the pandemic.

Board of Health Urges Its Wider Role in Covid-19 Policy Decisions

The Board of Health unanimously approved a motion at its meeting on Monday night that it be “included in all communications and meetings that are being held in the town by town employees relative to Covid-19 and/or SARS-CoV-2.” The motion as finally passed also states that it will be reviewed in 30 days.

Editor’s Note: the Board of Health is a five-member elected board.  The Department of Health and Human Services – often referred to as “the Health Department” is a town department staffed by employees of the town.

Pushback came the next day, on December 15, with an 1,100-word “Statement to the Community,” signed by the leadership of the major town boards and read by School Committee Chair Dan Brosgol at the start of its meeting.  The statement said in part: “While we can always improve communication back and forth with residents, elected officials, and Town staff, we are comfortable as the leaders of this community with continuing under the structure we have in place….In this structure, staff are empowered by us to make decisions with input from a variety of sources, including the relevant boards and commissions that help guide major policy decisions for the town. We…are fully confident in our department heads and staff to make the day-to-day decisions in the operation of the Town and Schools.”  The statement was signed by Brosgol, Select Board Chair Ed Pierce, and Board of Health Chair Sarah Thompson who had voted for the motion calling for a different arrangement at her Board’s meeting on December 14. 

Returning another Cohort of Students to In-Person Classes

School Superintendent Philip Conrad is hammering out plans to bring another cohort of students back to full in-person learning, albeit a small group.

Conrad told the School Committee on Tuesday that Bedford High School seniors whose academic struggles could jeopardize fulfilling graduation requirements likely will be accommodated. The cohort, which he said will total “one or two dozen,” will also include other BHS and John Glenn Middle School students identified as falling seriously behind academically.

Might Thursday be the Season’s First Snow Day?

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad announced to the School Committee Tuesday that if school is postponed because of severe weather on Thursday, it will be a “traditional snow day.” He emphasized the word “IF.”

That would mean there would be no remote learning on Thursday, and students in Cohort B will come in on Friday, he said.

School Committee Chair Dan Brosgol endorsed the decision, at least for this month. “We should have a conversation moving forward, but for now: enjoy the snow,” he declared.

Enrollment Projections Inform School Budget for FY22

Enrollment projections are “a critical piece of budget development,” Bedford Schools Finance Director Julie Kirrane told the School Committee on Tuesday.

And even with all of the uncertainty engendered by the response to the pandemic, she said, “we have worked through a solid projection.”

“We looked at our exits to private schools, and moves out of state, in state. We looked at the past five years of cohort movement grade to grade and created a projection we feel comfortable with,” she outlined. “It is not overly influenced by the experience of this year. We anticipate some rebounding in the earlier grades. That’s the basis of our budget planning.”

Returning Kindergarten and Moderate Learning Needs Students to Classrooms in January

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad told the School Committee Monday that dozens of students with learning needs described as moderate should be back in classrooms four days a week at the beginning of January.

By the end of the month, he continued, all kindergarten students will return to four days a week in school. And research on capacity is underway that could even result in additional returns before the end of the school year.

The progress includes prospective teacher hires from within the system, thanks to emergency certification provisions that could elevate teaching assistants.

School Committee Briefed on BHS Interscholastic Winter Sports

“Athletics play such an important role in keeping our students engaged…. The big ‘pro’ here is that we are participating.”

That was the framework for a briefing on high school winter interscholastic sports delivered to the School Committee Tuesday by Keith Mangan, the schools’ director of athletics.

Mangan reviewed the policies and practices adopted by the 11 Dual County League schools and cited some of the modifications in individual sports designed to minimize the threat of spreading the coronavirus, as promulgated through the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

FINAL: School Committee Votes to Return Kindergarten and Youngest Learners with Moderate Learning Disabilities to Full-Day, In-Person Classes

The School Committee unanimously voted on November 23 to take steps needed for the return of all kindergarten students, as well as a cohort of 149 students with moderate learning disabilities, to full-day in-person learning.

The changes from the current hybrid model, which will necessitate the hiring of nine teachers and assistants for about a half-year, will cost less than $400,000, including approximately $220,000 for personnel. As much as $178,000 in possible additional expenses for equipment and materials for students and teachers was also authorized.

Most of the money will come from available funds, including a reserve fund transfer. No town meeting action will be needed.

* Editor’s Note: A preliminary edition of this article was posted at 9 pm on Tuesday, November 24

Breaking News: School Committee Votes to Return Kindergarten, Moderate Special-Needs Students to Four-Day Model

Bedford’s School Committee on Tuesday unanimously voted to return all kindergarten students, as well as a cohort of 149 students with moderate learning disabilities, to four-day, in-person earning.

The changes from the hybrid model, which will necessitate the hiring of eight teachers and assistants for about a half-year, will cost approximately $240,000 for personnel. As much as $180,000 in possible additional expenses for equipment and materials was also authorized.

Most of the money will come from available funds. A reserve fund transfer will probably be processed in the spring. No town meeting action will be needed.

There was no exact timetable attached to the votes, but implementation will take several weeks. Besides hiring, there will be several physical changes that will involve desk replacement and changing some current student configurations in classrooms.

BHS Student Advisory Program Receiving High Marks

A new, accelerated student advisory program at Bedford High School is receiving high marks from students, teachers, and other members of the staff.

BHS Principal Heather Galante, backed by Assistant Principals Dan Hudder and Tom Casey, and a delegation of students, presented details on the program at last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.

Student advisory is a 25-minute weekly bloc during which groups of 8 to 12 students meet with an adult – everyone, not just teachers. “Every person in our school natters,” the principal said. The larger groups are virtual.

School Committee Grapples with Economic Realities of Full In-Person Elementary School Classrooms

The School Committee, despite daunting financial and logistical challenges, is continuing to pursue information that could lead to full-week kindergarten classes and inclusion of an additional 149 students into the special-needs cohort in January.

However, a pivot from hybrid to in-person classes for first and second graders remains on the drawing board.

The committee spent two hours at its meeting Tuesday grappling with the details of Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad’s report on what it would take to return the youngest learners to Davis School and expand so-called Cohort C, comprising students with learning disabilities who are in school every day.

Committee Chair Dan Brosgol asked Conrad to provide “hard numbers” to the committee at its Nov. 24 meeting for full-time kindergarten and the expanded cohort. He also requested information on how surrounding towns are dealing with these issues. “We need a breakdown of how much this costs,” Brosgol said. Financial impact has to be shared with relevant town committees, adding that he still hopes January is a realistic target.

“We need to be comfortable asking for those funds,” Brosgol continued, noting, “It is our job to advocate for our children. I think it is critical for Cohort C to come back and for kindergarten to come back. I am committing to nothing except continuing this process faithfully.”

A parent group, calling itself Bring Bedford Back Safely, has been advocating for the return to full-time classes, primarily for Davis School.  Two weeks earlier the School Committee asked Conrad for details on whether and how that could take place.

Bedford School Department ~ Proposed FY22 Capital Projects

If you’re looking for major school undertakings on the fiscal year 2022 proposed capital projects list, there aren’t any.

The School Committee last week reviewed a short roster of routine capital projects for technology and preventive maintenance. The items are expected to be reviewed by the Capital Expenditure Committee on Wednesday.

School Committee Affirms Commitment to Explore Ways to Restore Classroom Learning

The School Committee and the superintendent of schools Tuesday affirmed a commitment to a serious exploration of ways to restore classroom learning – particularly at Davis School and for students with special needs – as soon as January, barring a reignition of Covid-19 in the community.

Superintendent Philip Conrad said he expects to be able to present some specific information at the committee’s meeting on November 10.

School Committee Chair Dan Brosgol was passionate about addressing the community. “Now is the time to ask questions about what’s possible for our younger kids to go back more,” he asserted. “That should be our mandate: how can we do better. What resources do we need?”

Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter to the Bedford School Committee and Superintendent Conrad

Thank you to the teachers, administration, committee members, and volunteers for the hard work and many hours it’s taken to develop our reopening plans and safely enable some form of in-person learning this fall. This letter’s intent is to share the dialogue that many concerned parents have had privately with various members of the school administration, School Committee members, and Town staff. There is a growing group of Bedford School District parents (the Facebook group Bring Bedford Back Safely currently has almost 70 members) who find remote instruction unworkable despite everyone’s best efforts. We are asking the collective decision makers in Bedford to prioritize the development of a data-driven, metrics-based plan to safely enable a return to full in-person learning.