WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — With a Monday holiday this week and a Friday off for students to make time for professional development, the prospect of more four-day weekends was contemplated by a districtwide survey recently conducted at Mount Greylock Regional's three schools.
Mount Greylock's director of academic technology reported on results of a survey to gauge support for revising the school calendar to consolidate the February and April vacation weeks into a single week off in March. Eileen Belastock said 457 parents and 95 teachers and staff responded to the survey, which was conducted online and in hard copies that were available at all three schools' start-of-year open houses.
School committees in the district for years have toyed with the idea of eliminating one of the two vacation weeks in order to lessen the need to extend the school year later into June because of snow days. Grady pointed out Friday that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's "Blizzard Bag" initiative, which was intended to allow students to complete school work at home on snow days, is off the table since the commonwealth has abandoned a short-lived initiative that was discussed but never tried at Mount Greylock's three schools.
This fall's regional survey found a split within the community, with 59 percent of the district's parents favoring a new approach to the calendar and 53 percent of the faculty and staff opposed. School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego noted that faculty and staff members may have children going to school in other districts and, therefore, would face hardship if the Mount Greylock schedule was radically out of line with other schools in the area.
Another consideration: the hardship on families who currently rely on school vacation week programs offered in places like PIttsfield that would not be available during a March vacation week to accommodate a single "outlier" school district.
School Committee member Dan Caplinger said that given the close survey numbers both for and against a new calendar, any changes would require more explanation and education by the committee if it decided at some point to go down that road.
In other business last week, the School Committee also heard reports from the principals at all three of its schools, who discussed steps being taken to implement their school improvement plans.
• The panel acted on the request from the sixth-grade faculty at Willilamstown Elementary to approve the annual end-of-year class trip to Cape Cod and associated fund-raising activities. The teachers explained the academic and social/emotional learning benefits of the annual trip. The School Committee voted to approve the trip, 5-0, with members Steven Miller and Al Terranova absent.
• The School Committee approved the superintendent's goals for the 2019-20 academic year and had a lengthy discussion about the process by which committee members will evaluate her progress on those goals under a rubric established by DES.
• The panel began a conversation about remote participation by School Committee members. The committee earlier this year adopted a policy but did so under the mistaken impression that the state enabling legislation was the same as when the commonwealth first allowed for remote participation. The statewide law has, in fact changed, removing a list a permissible reasons for committee members to call into meetings rather than being physically present.
"If you want to list [reasons], you have to have a policy," DiLego said. "When we adopted [remote participation], we believed these were the things we were adopting along with it."
The committee directed Christina Conry, who serves on its policy subcommittee, to develop a draft policy for it to consider.
• Finally, as the meeting wound through its fourth hour and headed to a fifth, the committee — down to four members at this point — discussed the issue that has created the most public comment in the district for the last five months: a proposed artificial turf playing field at the middle/high school.
As expected, the short-handed committee took no action on the issue, but Caplinger, who serves on the district's Phase 2 subcommittee developing plans to address Mount Greylock's playing fields, solicited input from the remaining committee members to inform the subcommittee's work of developing new bid documents.
Conry asked that the committee explore how the campus' rain runoff from impervious surfaces could be captured and used to irrigate a natural grass playing surface. Jamie Art asked whether there were any design differences that would impact the installation of either an organically or conventionally maintained grass field.
Four hours earlier, at 6 p.m., the School Committee heard from five residents — each identifying as the parents of current or former Mount Greylock students — who asked that the committee abandon the idea of an artificial turf field.
The strongest worded comment came from Williamstown architect Thomas Bartels, a former member of the district's School Building Committee, who referred the committee to a 75-page scientific paper he provided the panel in September.
Bartels said the risk posed by eight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in artificial turf's crumb rubber infill are unacceptable and referred it to a proposal from the Dutch National Institute of Public Health to restrict the use of PAHs in new synthetic fields.
"Considering the health hazard to our students, I believe it is important that each School Committee member is on record on the question: 'Is it OK to use these eight polycyclic hydrocarbons with carcinogenic properties in our athletic field, or is it not?' " Bartels asked. "I hope you do not ignore my appeal to vote. Inaction will speak for itself. This is not a problem your consultant can solve for you."