2020 Chester School Board Meetings

Chester School Board Superintendent Search to be Internal
By Penny Williams   12-22-20

The Chester School Board met Tuesday night, December 21, to discuss how the board would proceed with the search for a new part time superintendent. Superintendent Darrell Lockwood will be retiring as of the end June 2021.

The board listened to a presentation from Barrett Christina, NH School Board Association and Ross Morse, The Bryan Group. Their presentation on how they would conduct the search for the part time superintendent emphasized the process and that they would have greater reach for candidates. The cost for them to do the search was expected to be in the $15,000 range.

The board discussed the advantages and disadvantages of working through the Bryan Group as well as doing the search internally. It was noted that Maria Veale has agreed to work with the board although she is no longer a board member. However, she has been involved in such searches and would provide valuable leadership.

The board felt using the Bryan Group was a costly way to go. The thinking is the pool for part time superintendents is going to be fairly small to begin with and the board, working with a committee made up of school personnel as well as community personnel would be able to do the job and do it in a more cost effective manner without subjecting the search committee to any major downsides.

It was noted that the board has already been successful in searching for and finding principals and other top school administrators and that the board and the search committee are the better way to go. The board voted to go with the home based internal search.

The board will begin the formal search process in January 2021 with a goal of having a decision by mid-April. The Search Committee will be selected by the Chester School Board to identify the performance criteria for the position and to evaluate candidates. The board will also host a public forum to gather information from the community regarding the characteristics they hope to find in a new superintendent and that will take place the first week in February.

The board approved having Pre-school Special Education students be in the building for services during the Remote Learning period. These students would be allowed to come in small groups and would use only a single room in the building. Staff specific to the student needs would provide the needed services. This is a change to the board's previously approved plan so the board's approval was needed and they voted to approve this.

The budget was approved at the December 21, meeting and the final version  goes to the Chester Budget Committee the end of the month for their review and feedback.

Several budget challenges that were identified are: NH Retirement System mandated increased contributions by both employer and employees; there has been an increased demand for Special Education Services including out-of-district placement programs; Capital Improvement Plan projects for Chester Academy; and, scheduled increases in salary and benefits under the current collective bargaining agreement.

District Business Administrator Sheryl Rich told the board the current net savings to date is $362,581. The Trust Fund Market Value as of November 30, was Maintenance, $228, 065, Disabilities $150,625, and Boiler $21,610.

There was a brief discussion about where to and when to hold meetings and it was noted that there has been significant push back to the suggestion to hold such meetings out of town. The board will discuss this further and make some decisions at the January 6, meeting.


Chester Superintendent Darrell Lockwood to Retire
By Penny Williams   12-5-20

The Chester Academy School Board met on Wednesday, December 2, and the board learned that Superintendent Darrell Lockwood will not be returning for another year as Superintendent.

Lockwood's contract expires June 30, 2021, but he informed the board he will not be returning in September, 2021. He did tell the board he would provide continued leadership and guidance for the remainder of this school year.

The board will commence the formal search process for a new Superintendent in January 2021. Chair Royal Richardson said  the objective is to identify a candidate by April 2021. The process will get underway at the December 21, School Board meeting. At that time the board will make decisions regarding the search process as well as opportunities for input and participation in the process.

Chester Academy moved to Remote Learning for all students on Wednesday, November 18 that lasted through Tuesday November 24 after which Chester Academy returned to its Hybrid Learning model on Monday, November 30. Beginning Monday, December 7, all first grade students will be back in the building.

The board authorized the Superintendent to update the Chester Academy Calendar to reflect that the school will be in full Remote Learning Model for January 4 through January 15 following the Christmas holiday.

The board is working on developing the budget and plans are to present the final version of the Budget to the Chester Budget Committee in the final week of January.

The district during this COVOD-19 pandemic period has been handed a number of financial pressures to the budget. Among them is the increase contributions for employer and employees from the NH Retirement System; Increased demand for Special Education Services; scheduling of deferred Capital Improvement Plan projects; and, salary increases and benefits in the existing Collective Bargaining Agreements.

District Business Manager Sheryl Rich asked the board to approve accepting the Cares Funding in the amount of $157,000. The board voted to approve accepting the money.

Chester Academy Principal Karen Lecroix shared some of the preschool creative lessons being taught during the Hybrid Remote period. She noted that teachers are using Google apps and that Grade four is doing group projects while Grade six is working on a Digital Notebook.  

Teachers are using Google Meet and Raise Hand features and Google continues to be the conduit for communication with students.

Lecroix said the Hybrid Remote Model will be extended through December. But she added staffing concerns continue and if substitutes aren't available there could be a full remote day for a specific grade level to address the issue.

Lecroix praised the work of Bea Donohue who completed her master's program in Curriculum and Instruction. She said teachers can access Donohue's work by going to Capstone Project - https://plymouthngsxproject.com, saying this is a great resource.

Parent Teacher conferences were done virtually and went well. Lecroix said school-wide safety drills continue and the Professional Development Committee, tasked with reviewing the current plan and making revisions as necessary based on staff input, will forward a new plan to the state for approval in the spring.

The board heard from Tamar Roberts, Roberts & Greene, the district's Audit firm  that their audit had been completed and that there were no issues.

The administration is going to look into whether there might be a space that could be used for LEAP program activities during the school day since the program received a waiver to provide some services during the school day.


Chester School Board Considers First Grade Return to In Person
By Penny Williams    11-6-20

 The Chester School Board met Wednesday evening, November 4, and Chester Academy Principal Karen Lecroix suggested first grade students need to be allowed to return to in-person learning.

Lecroix made the suggestion to the board based on that age groups need to have face to face interaction with their teachers as they learn to read. The first grade age student can't do the full day screen learning and learning to read isn't best suited to remote learning.

Lecroix recommends that starting on December 7, if the district is still in the Hybrid Remote, that all first graders be allowed back into the Chester Academy building. She indicated that would mean adding an additional 28 first graders to the 9 that are currently in the building. The first graders would attend class Monday through Friday just like the kindergarten students and the small group of students in grades 2 through 8 who were invited to attend classes in the building based on their needs.

She indicated that this is doable and that the risk analysis has been done.  If this is approved the parents would be individually notified. The option would be given to parents of all first graders and they will be able to choose between attending in-person or continuing with Telepresence.

Among the other things in her report Lecroix  reminded viewers and the board the Hybrid Remote Model is scheduled to remain in place until December 4. She noted that 75 different mini-courses are being offered and that students and teachers meet on a regular basis dependent on need and grade level. She said Remote Home Work help is offered to families of grades 1 through 4 on Monday and Wednesday between 4 and 5 p.m. Grades 5 through 8 get Remote Home Work help on Tuesday and Thursdays between 6 and 7 p.m.

She provided the board with an example of a schedule for grades 2 and 3 that begins at 8:35 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Between 1:35  and 2:55 p.m. there are four mini course periods.

Lecroix said a second school counselor has been added splitting the caseloads, which   allows for a quicker turnaround on the 504 paperwork as well as providing additional time to spend with students individually and in small groups. She noted the entire counseling department is undergoing revamping with goal setting, creating grade level curriculum aligned to standards and weekly meetings with Lauren Mercier,  Director of Student Affairs. The department is reviewing current Social and Emotional Learning resources with increased emphasis on providing resources and awareness of suicide support and prevention and trauma informed approaches.

Business Administrator for SAU 33, Sheryl  Rich, provided the Financial Report which showed a net savings to date of $381,869. It was noted that all students are eligible for free meals via the Food Services program through the end of the year. Any interested families can contact either Principal Lecroix or the Food Service Director to participate in this program.

Superintendent Darrell Longwood noted that the IDEA money that erroneously went from the sending towns to Pinkerton Academy to Derry School District instead of to the individual sending towns was being reimbursed. He said Chester will get some $40,640 back and the whole process is in review to try and avert the same thing from happening again.

He said the budget is the largest increase in his time at the academy driven by Special Education costs and Special Services, extra staff and extra insurance in the event the district should move to a full time superintendent. The increase is close to a million dollars.

Winter sports will not be played at Chester Academy this winter due to COVID-19 issues and the board approved that decision.

There was a discussion about moving to Hybrid Remote in November, including November 18, 19, 20, 23 and 24, because of staff and students traveling during this time of increasing corona virus cases. Longwood asked the board to consider also going to remote for the two first weeks in January for the same reason.

Lecroix and board member Jonathan Eckerman agreed to work out details for a visual staff Meet and Greet for January and will bring their suggestions back to the board next month.

It was noted that a CIP meeting had been held with the Planning Board but the Planning Board doesn't appear to have any idea of what the School District does with its CIP. The School District uses the CIP as a Planning tool. The Planning Board brought up the need for the district to spend its impact fees and Longwood said they do spend the impact fees and it isn't an issue.

School Board Chair Royal Richardson said, "It is important that the community understand the process that the Chester School District will follow to provide information to the community in the event of a school community positive test for COVID-19." He said the process is spelled out on the School District's Website and information regarding the Reopening Plan can also be found there. He noted that all Chester School Board meetings are broadcast and can be viewed on the Chester Cable Video on Demand.


Chester Academy to Reopen with Adapted In Person Model
By Penny Williams   8-22-20

The Chester Academy Reopening Plan approved at the Chester School Board meeting on August 5th includes provisions for three Instruction Models:

1.) Adapted In Person, which is our aspirational solution as it provides a seat for every student for classroom instruction coupled with a Telepresence solution for students / families who choose to take part remotely. This is predicated on the current Covid-19 conditions (ie; infection rate in Rockingham County and across the State) and the use of Social Distancing and Personal Protective Equipment protocols while on the C-A campus.

2.) Hybrid Remote, which will be invoked if the criteria is met that will require us to limit classroom participation. In this model, classroom instruction would continue to be offered for Pre-K, Kindergarten and those students that require specific services or support.

3.) Full Remote, which would be implemented based on if criteria is met indicating deteriorated Covid-19 conditions or an Emergency Order from the State.

The Chester Academy Administration and School Board believe the Adapted In Person re-opening of school model meets the goal of providing an opportunity for all students and staff to return to school while implementing a number of safety procedures. The first day of classes will be Tuesday, September 8. Masks will be worn and social distancing adhered to the extent possible. However, the board and administration continues to monitor the data from the NH Department of Health and Human Services on a daily basis. Of note, we will also continue to assess the selected data-set criteria that we have chosen to ensure that it is an effective indicator for the community and the surrounding area.                    

In the Adapted In Person  model Chester Academy has a seat for every child whose family chooses to send the child to school in the building. Spacing and mobility restrictions imposed in this model will heavily impact the school day. IEP team meetings will be scheduled to determine the most appropriate way to deliver IEP services and supports.

In order to limit crossing between cohort groups of students, there are several key differences in the school day as compared to a traditional school day:

*  K-5 Students will work in one classroom "all day" with their homeroom teacher. All core subjects will be taught by this teacher.

*  6-8 Students will work in one classroom “all day” and their subject area teachers will move between classrooms.

*  Students at all grade levels will maintain a physical distance of 3-6 feet with effort made to maximize this distance to the extent possible.

* Students will have an IA class daily. Daily IA will be taught by the same teacher each day and will include a combination of activities in the IA teacher's specialty area and of other designated activities.

*  Students will complete and turn in work via Google Classroom or other online tools.

* School lunch will be served in each classroom.

Students unable to attend classes in person will be permitted to join classes via telepresence. Each classroom will be equipped with a computer able to view and broadcast certain classroom happenings. Teachers will be equipped with a wireless microphone to ensure clear audio.

* Teachers with telepresent students will establish a schedule and will broadcast classroom content at specified times via Google Meet. Meets will not be recorded by the district or by parents due to privacy and legal requirements.

*  Students will be able to interact with their teachers and classmates during the meet/broadcast.
*  Students may be given independent work to do after a video session.

* Telepresent students are expected to be supervised by a parent or other appropriate caregiver.

*  Students will complete and turn in work via Google Classroom or other online tools. 

* Telepresence is limited to synchronous activities.

Students will arrive at school either by bus or as a commuter and enter the building at 8:20 a.m. when the doors open. Prior to entering the building, confirmation of the daily questions and confirmations relating to health status will take place. Once admitted, students will walk to their designated classrooms. A breakfast cart will be available as students enter the building.

Our school building will be closed to any member of the public from 2:30 - 3:30 p.m. daily so that school personnel can focus on the safe dismissal of students. The parking lot will be closed during these times as well. If parents wish to dismiss their child(ren) early, they must do so before 2:30 p.m. or wait until the dismissal process begins at 3:00 p.m. and pick their child up as a commuter.

In terms of significant changes, and there are a lot, of course, said Board Chair Royal Richardson,  perhaps the most significant  is the school entered into an agreement to install an upgrade to our Building HVAC system. The Reopening Committee's Facilities Workgroup recommended a solution from “iWave”, an air purifying device that installs in any duct air conditioning system.  This would be a systemic solution that would treat the air throughout the entire building. Once installed, it would require no maintenance of the iWave components. When air passes over the iWave, ions produced by the device reduce pathogens, allergens, particles, smoke and odors in the air, creating a healthy environment without producing any harmful byproducts and the  system doesn’t generate ozone as a byproduct. Per the manufacturer, when the ions come in contact with viruses, bacteria or mold, they remove the hydrogen molecules –without them, the live pathogens have no source of energy and will die. The ions also attach to allergens like pollen and other particles, causing them to band together until they are large enough to be caught by your ventilation system’s upgraded air filters.

The School Board met Wednesday evening, August 19. It was noted that as per the plan, Chester Academy would automatically shift from the Adapted-In-Person instruction delivery model to the Hybrid Remote instruction delivery model if it is determined that:

*NH DHHS reports that Rockingham county has a case rate of over 40 cases per 100,000 people (5 school day average); or

*If the state has a greater than 5 % positivity rate Note: The case count is based on the estimated Rockingham County total population of 310,258 meaning that the threshold is 129 active cases. 

*The NH DHHS case count date will be obtained / monitored on a daily basis by school staff from The DHHS-managed Covid-19 Current Active Cases dashboard.

Richardson said at this time, there are still details being worked out related to both instruction and logistics. Any significant changes will be included as updates to the published, Chester School District Reopening Plan after review and approval by the Chester School Board. 

The Chester School Board has also put together a document addressing some frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) regarding COVID-19 and how it affects the upcoming school year.  You can access these by the FAQ’s link, which is also provided on the Chester Academy News tab, to view the document. The FAQ document will also be regularly updated to reflect recent questions or concerns.

It is the position of the Chester School District that the use of masks by staff and students is required as a condition of participation in K - Grade 8 direct classroom instruction at Chester Academy during the current Executive Order 2020-04 (An order declaring a state of emergency due to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)) and in accordance with the provisions of NH RSA 200:39. Masks are proven tools for preventing spread of the virus. 

The YMCA of Greater Londonderry will again be offering an on-site After School Care Program at Chester Academy this year. In addition, they are asking for parent input on the need for a Before School program (in addition to the current After School program).  The Before School Care Program would run 7 a.m. through 8:30 a.m. and the students would be dismissed directly to their school day.

The PACT Committee has finalized their plans for the upgrade of Chester Academy School Transmission System, which will integrate these components into the upgraded Chester Public Access Cable TV and Video on Demand systems. This will provide both improved access for the viewers and improved audio and video quality for programming related to the school district. Richardson noted that the actual implementation plan for this upgrade will be developed taking into account that public access to Chester Academy is restricted due to concerns about COVID-19. All Chester School Board meeting broadcasts can be viewed on their Chester Cable Video on Demand (VOD) page. 

You can watch any meeting at any time on their VOD site here: vod.chesterctv.com


Chester School Board Address School Reopening Questions
 By Penny Williams    6-15-20

The Chester Academy School Board met Wednesday night, June 10, and among other things discussed what re-opening of school might be like in the fall.

The board recognized that the 51 days of  remote learning that ended the 2019-2020 school year had a major impact on all participants. The board and administration are working together to implement plans necessary for the reopening of school for the 2020-2021 school year.

Board Chair Royal Richardson noted that, "Just as we've seen over the last several months, we anticipate the situation will continue to evolve throughout the summer...The initial feedback and input that we have received have been instructive and will help us figure out what it is we need to do to figure out in order be successful." He added this gives the board and administration an opportunity to redefine how learning and education will be delivered.

 Looking ahead the district is trying to finalize decisions regarding the Extended School Year summer program as well as the reopening for the new school year. The plans are not finalized but the administration and staff are committed to providing an effective education for students while ensuring the safety of students, staff and community. Work will continue to work with the New Hampshire Department of Education School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce which will take into account the recent survey that sought input and suggestions from teachers, administrators and parents.

 Richardson and Superintendent Darrell Longwood both pointed out that things change both rapidly and often and more survey responses and input are anticipated from the Pinkerton Academy Survey that will be sent out to the Pinkerton Academy
community including the sending school communities. The Governor's Guidelines will also be forthcoming and likely to undergo changes as the summer progresses. It may not be until July that the board will have a firm grip on the reopening picture but students will return to school but the how remains unknown at this point in time. However, each school district will play an important role in what that will look like for their students, staff and administrators.

Special Education Director Jana Ruiz noted that the Case Managers and Related Services Providers have completed their final paperwork for IEP progress reports and recommendations for the Extended School Year. These recommendations are for support services for students who were unable to make the progress wanted and/or needed to meet their goals due to remote learning. After reviewing the recommendations these will play a role in the decisions regarding the Extended School Year programming. She indicated the survey responses and Guidelines from the Governor will be driving the decisions. These decisions will be coming in the near future.

District Business Manager Sheryl Rich said the net Unreserved Balance to date remains unchanged at $695,821,  with $381,834 as the projected Unreserved Fund Balance as reported at the School District Meeting in March. The $695,821 figure includes that and $313,987 of additional Overage Revenue and Expense amounts. When already approved expenditures are subtracted the projected Unreserved Fund Balance is $602,668.

Chester Academy Principal Karen Lacroix told the board Trimester 3 report cards will be mailed home and reminded the board that it would be a pass/fail for grades 6 through 8. She reviewed personnel saying that Katie Foley has resigned and will be replaced by Michele Belanger who had requested to be a case manager. These changes provide the district with the opportunity to rethink the Behavior Specialist position, she said. She proposed hiring a contracted service, Behavior Coach, for the upcoming school year noting it would remove uncertainty about what next year would look like, be a cost savings to the district and the individual would work with all students, not just Special Education students.

Lacroix, Longwood and Richardson all remarked on the success of the year end activities including the Drive By Parades and the Grade 8 Promotion event. Looking ahead Lacroix said the drop-off and pick-up activities would end on Friday, June 12 and she plans to survey teachers about how Remote Learning went and what changes they suggest for the future. She also noted that she was reviewing plans for suicide training for the upcoming school year.

The board discussed the upcoming board meeting dates recommended by Longwood and approved holding  a meeting on July 8,  and probably scheduling 2 more meetings for August due to all the questions, changes and unknowns that will need to be dealt with resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Other than those changes the meetings would be held as usual monthly on the second Wednesday of the month.

 Richardson told the board the School Board Scholarship of $1,000, that is  awarded to the highest ranking resident in the Pinkerton Academy senior class, went to Mikayla Emerson, who was the Pinkerton Academy Salutatorian. Four  Chester students were in the top ten ranking at Pinkerton Academy: Mikayla ranked second; Derek Hiscox ranked fifth; Miranda Eckerman, ranked ninth; and, Jamie Thompson, ranked tenth.

The board discussed School Funding issue and noted without question it needs to be changed. The Chester School Board will participate in the NH Education Focus Group on behalf of the NH Commission to Study School Funding. Chester board members will take part on one of the focus groups meeting in June and information will be reported back to the community in September.

The board discussed the District Suicide Prevention Plan and it was noted that in May the board had approved adoption of Policy JLDBB - Suicide Prevention Policy.  Wednesday evening the board approved the minor changes made to that plan. The board thanked Lockwood and Lauren Mercier, Director of Student Affairs, for their work on this.

 The board approved of the hiring of 6th Grade Science Teacher Heather Bell; 6th Grade Science Teacher Melissa Houston; Part-Time Art Teacher Suzanne Thibodeau; and,  Reading Specialist Kimberly Katie. The board accepted the resignation of Katie Foley and approved the hire of Summer Technology Intern Leana Collier. It also approved the non-represented staff performance recognition awards that amounted to $25,000. Longwood signed off on the board's Superintendent's Evaluation saying that much of the credit he received was really the work of his administrative associates and school staff.

In Other Business:

* The board reviewed the School District Goals.
* The board approved the Chester Academy Education Association Incentive Goals Report.
* The board signed the General and Program Assurances and the Data Governance Plan.


Chester Academy School Board Reorganizes
By Penny Williams  5-8-20

The Chester Academy School Board met Wednesday evening, May 6, and reorganized.

Current Chair Royal Richardson was reappointed as Chair while Jonathan
Eckerman was appointed as Vice Chair and he will also continue as the representative to the Board of Selectmen. New board member Dana Theokas will be the liaison to the Chester Budget Committee backed up by Brennan Holmes.  The board went on an filled all committee assignments.

Sheryl Rich, Business Manager, reported that the District would return $381,834 as the result of the projected excess Revenue and reduced expenditures, the largest of which is the non-payment for bus service amounting to $196,000. Chester was fortunate to have in its bus contracts non-payment when buses not used. Rich noted anticipated overages related to revenue and reduced expense of $313,987 for a revised projected total of $695,821 and the amount of available unencumbered funds and identified planned expenditures that could be addressed which the board approved.

* Pre-purchase of Supplies/Workbooks not to exceed $50,000 that will trigger a decrease to the 2020-2021  budgeted expenses.

* Infrastructure projects- HSEM Door Locks - $4,000 because only responsible for  20 percent of cost  because of a grant;  replace exterior Door Lock Cylinders $3,000; refresh softball field -$8,000.

* Fund new Capital Reserve Fund approved 2020 for replacement of Boilers $20,000.

* Chester Unreserved Fund Balance Retained Fund is fully funded - increase of $6,000.

According to Rich, it is anticipated the Unreserved Fund Balance to be transferred to Town's General Fund will be nearly $580,000. The Trust Fund Balances are Maintenance $206,859 and Disabilities, $136,611.

Chester Academy Principal Karen Lacroix reported that the decision was made not send home trimester 3 progress reports and that the last day for remote learning would be May 29. Between June 2 and 5 has been designated as Intervention Camp and the teachers are working on which students need to be invited. The decision was made to move forward with New World Language series for 2021. She felt this was the right choice and the board approved the cost of $5,600.

Lacroix said interviewing has taken place for the opening for the Reading Specialist and the interviews would begin shortly for the 6th grade math teacher opening. Another opening is 6th grade science. Superintendent Darrel Longwood said there were several resignations and the board approved these while approving the hiring of nominations for Speech Assistant, Occupational Therapist, a Guidance Counselor, and an Enrichment Teacher.

Lacroix told the board there will be a teacher parade around the school the afternoon of May 29, between 1:45 and 3:15 p.m. On June 4 the Grade Promotion Night will take place at 8:30 p.m.  There will be a huge screen in the parking lot and parents and their 8th grade students will attend in their cars for a video being prepared by an 8th grade parent, Mrs. Archer. There will be police to assist with traffic. At the end, the cars will drive by and each student will receive their diploma. There are 142 parking slots so she felt this would accommodate the 54 8th grade students needs.

Specific times will sent to parents between June 8 and 12 for them to come by to return school supplies such a books and chromebooks. There will a table where students can pick up their belongings left at the school and any medications. Assistant Principal Ann Gaffney has planned this and it should go smoothly.

Jana Ruis, Special Services said they have been providing additional services to students needing it and training teachers on some special services programs. They have also been working on student IEPs. There will be ten 4-year olds and seven 3-year olds in the pre-school and there are some referrals still to review. The Extended Year Program maybe a more hybrid program dealing with compensatory education and looking at who needs additional support.

The board approved the proposed 3-year Chromebook Lease Proposal with CDW and Hewlett Packard Financial Services for 270 chromebooks and accessories proposed by Technology Director Ben Kilar.  There was $36,000 budgeted for this 3 year lease of chromebooks but the cost came in under budget at $32,006.24.  In addition the board approved the YMCA Afterschool Program contract for 2020-2021 and the proposed Chester Education Association Incentive Goals Revision.

In Other Business:

* Longwood reported that some of the IDEA money would be refunded and possibly more and that Derry has been cooperative but this will continue to happen. They're trying to work out some way Derry can use the money to pay some of the sending school charges with the incorrectly allocated money.

* It was noted that Meet and Greet event would probably not happen this year but something might be planned for August.

* Re-opening is up in the air although alternative plans are under discussion.

* The Chester Academy School Board was chosen School Board of the Year by the New Hampshire School Board Association.


Chester School Board Holds Emergency Meeting
By Penny Williams    4-3-20

The Chester School Board met on Wednesday, April 1, at the unusual time of 4 p.m.. It was stated that the meeting was being conducted under the conditions of it being declared an Emergency Meeting.

The Board utilized the secure Google Meeting platform for this electronic meeting. All members of the Board and the Public have the ability to communicate contemporaneously during the meeting through this platform. The Public was afforded the opportunity to provide Public Input via email to the meeting-specific mailbox publiccomment4.1@sau82.org along with the author’s full name and address in the email comments.

The following members participated remotely: Brennan Holmes, Valerie Weider and Dana Theokas. Board Member Jonathan Eckerman was absent at the start of the meeting due to personal requirements that prevented participation at the planned start-time but he joined them at 5 p.m. Chairman Royal Richardson and Superintendent Darrell Lockwood conducted the meeting today onsite here at Chester Academy. In addition, the SAU 82 Business Manager, Sheryl Rich, was also onsite at Chester Academy.

School Board Chair Royal Richardson spoke quietly about the situation existing at the moment noting that typically in April people are all looking forward to shaking off the last vestiges of winter and looking ahead to spring and summer. That is especially so this year as we have been teased by summer-like weather in both February and March.

Unfortunately," he said, "all of those familiar rhythms and expectations have been upended as we deal with a public health crisis that has had an unprecedented impact our town, our state and our nation. While the Board and the Chester School District have been considering the potential of disruption as a result of the Novel Coronavirus nothing could have prepared us for the rapid and dramatic onset that began on March 13th. That Friday completed like any other school day at Chester Academy but by that evening our Superintendent was regularly conversing with State officials as we developed a plan that changed several times over the weekend which resulted in the Governor issuing a directive to close all of the schools in New Hampshire and to implement a remote-learning plan for our students.

While our teaching staff and administration had been considering how to do this, the actual implementation plan had to be developed and put into place, literally, overnight. Thankfully, the District’s investment in technology over the last several years positioned Chester Academy to ensure that all students were on an equal footing and that we could quickly leverage the capabilities of the Google platform to effectively bring students and teachers together in this shared experience."

Chester Academy Principal Karen Lacroix provided an abbreviated report, focusing on an update on the planned student overnight trips (to Washington DC and the annual Science Camp). She reported that after negotiating with the service providers, both organizations had agreed to refund the fees paid by the families for the cancelled trips. The process for determining and distributing the refunds is underway and she will be updating the individual families on when they can expect their refunds.

Lacroix also provided a summary of recent Remote Learning survey. Overall the results were quite favorable and she noted that several parents had provided specific feedback regarding how pleased they were with individual teachers.

Special Services Coordinator Jana Ruiz provided an update on the District’s Child Find and Referrals process. She also provided a report on the current status of Special Education Services, noting that she has found that her staff  has more knowledge about engaging students through technology than we knew.  She said that they  are able to be flexible in ways we never imagined, and our students are rising up to the expectations put in place.

She reported that there are a variety of ways special education is providing educational supports and services to students.  This includes virtual work live with individuals or small groups,  recorded activities, phone calls,  participating in classroom morning meetings or other classroom presentations, taking class notes, creating notes to fill in the blank, or being available to answer questions.

   Rich provided an updated report for April 1st that showed a Net Unreserved Balance To Date of $406,502, which exceeded the projection by a surplus of  $24,668. She noted that, due to the transition to Remote Learning, there are several line items that are in transition and under evaluation.

Rich also presented the results of a bid process for a replacement floor scrubber for the Maintenance Department. There were four pieces of equipment under consideration. As a result of the bid, Facilities Director Martin McFarland recommended that the Board select the Clean-O-Rama 28 inch Scrubber at a cost of $7,995. After some brief discussion related to warranty and extended-warranty options, the Board voted unanimously to authorize the purchase of the replacement Scrubber.  

   Lockwood provided an update on School Disruption and Remote Learning implementation, focusing on both the successes and challenges. He described the process that the teaching staff is using to deliver educational services. The availability of technology for our students as a result of the investment in a 1-to-1 device-to-student program really paid dividends both from the standpoint of ensuring equal access and opportunity for our students and familiarity with the devices that they would be using from home while the facility was closed.

The Superintendent noted that it is important to recognize that while the Chester Academy facility is closed and access to the building is restricted that the school is not “closed”. Chester Academy is actively involved in remote-learning and all of the staff are actively engaged in supporting the students every single day. A limited number of essential personnel continue to work onsite at Chester Academy each day and the SAU office while the rest of the staff are working remotely.

   He  announced that they would be instituting a day each week, on Wednesday, of Individual Learning for students. The consensus was this would allow flexibility for students, and families, to either ensure that they are current on their assigned work or to take on approved projects tied to the curriculum that they are worked on, similar to the What I Need (WIN) program that was part of the Middle School curriculum. In addition, that the Teachers would be establishing specific time each day for interaction with students and parents, likening it to “office hours” for professors in a college environment.

There was also  some discussion regarding the scheduled April vacation week and the pro’s and con’s of cancelling this vacation week in order to continue with instruction.

 He  presented with the Board with the Teacher Resignations for 2020-21 School year. Two long time staff members that had taken a leave of absence this year have submitted their resignations. The Board voted unanimously to regretfully accepts the resignations of Ms. Heidi Milardo and Ms. Katie Fuccillo and to thank them for their years of service to the children of the Chester School District.

He also provided the Board with Teacher Nominations for the 2020-21 School year. After some discussion regarding the candidates and the currently open positions the Board voted unanimously to authorize the Superintendent to initiate contracts for each of the individuals and to move forward with the hiring process for the open positions. 

The Superintendent provided the Board with a list of proposed Administrator and Support Staff salary/wages and benefits for the 2020-21 School year. These positions and the associated wages and benefits were all approved in the 2020-21 School District Budget.  After some discussion related to the Food Services department and the format of their contracts, the Board voted unanimously to authorize the Superintendent to initiate contracts for each of the individuals.
































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