2021 Chester School Board Meetings

Chester Academy Principal Lacroix Moving On at Year-end
By Penny Williams   12-6-21

The Chester School Board met on Wednesday, December 1, and board members learned that Chester Academy Principal Karen Lacroix will be leaving at the end of the school year.

Lacroix was appointed Principal of Chester Academy in 2017. She will be leaving as of the end of the present school year. Lacroix was a Teacher, Assistant Principal and Principal at the academy.

Board Chair Royal Richardson said Superintendent Sharon Locke will be starting a Search Committee in January to begin the process of finding the next Chester Academy Principal.

Chester Academy raised the rate of pay for substitute teachers at the November board meeting when the board approved the  Principal and Superintendent's suggestion. The pay increased to $120 day for certified and $100 a day for non certified applicants. Richardson noted there has been some additional interest since the increase in rates was approved.

Chester was presented a request for Special Meeting by resident Karen Bennett at the board's November meeting. The petition has sufficient verified signatures so the board referred the issue to their attorney. The petition sought to hold a Special Meeting to allow parents to make the decisions regarding mask usage in the school.

Richardson reported that Attorney Diane Gorrow informed the board there is no specific timeframe for a response and the board has the authority to but is not required to call for a Special Meeting. In addition, if a Special Meeting was called any decision would be advisory only. The cost of such a meeting would be an estimated $2,500 for a non-actionable decision.

 Gorrow recommended against setting a precedent by calling a Special Meeting. As an alternative, Gorrow suggested the petitioners put in  a Petition Warrant Article for the March School District Meeting.

The board voted to decline calling a Special School District Meeting for the purpose of considering and voting on the current Universal Mask Usage policy at Chester Academy.

Locke told the board there are two indicators being tracked for COVID-19 as they affect the School's Reopening Plan. She suggested a matrix and following the Town of Chester COVID cases over the last 14 days and the number of COVID cases in Chester Academy over the last 5 school days. She has the authority to make any changes she deems valid after evaluating the data each Thursday.

She reported that as of November 30, there were 38 cases in Chester over the past 14 days; Chester Academy had over the previous month 2 staff and 7 students cases; 57 students had reported to the nurses with symptoms; and, 16 students participated in Telepresence during November. Nurses at Chester Academy can administer rapid COVID antigen tests. Of the 57 presenting symptoms only one tested positive.

Locke also went over the criteria for availability of Telepresence participation. Students unable to attend in-person school for three or more consecutive school days because of COVID related health issues or other health related conditions that keep a student out of in-person school for more than five consecutive school days per medical advice.

Richardson reported Locke also suggested some changes regarding mask wearing at board meetings and when an external group is using the building.

The board went over her suggestions and expressed some concerns with Locke's suggested matrix for determining COVID issues as well as for the onsite face mask requirement for the board and external groups using the building.

Since the Reopening Plan is to be reviewed in January the board decided to table the recommendations and Richardson agreed to survey his board members for their specific concerns, the results to be brought back at a later date. As a result the Reopening Plan remains in place pending the review findings that will be provided at the February board meeting.

District Business Administrator Sheryl Rich told the board that three bids have been received for HVAC Maintenance Contract. There were three changes to the contract but Rich said there is no tax impact since the increased costs were budgeted under ESSER funds. There is presently a proposed $12,000 in the 2022-23 budget. She recommended approving the NH Mechanical 3 year bid with a total cost of $39,342 which was the low bidder and the board approved.

She also asked the board to allow her to sign the renewal with Benefit Strategists for an allowable contribution of $2,850 and a carryover of $570 for the faculty pretax flexible spending account. There is no tax impact as it is an employee plan funded through employee deductions. The board approved her request.

The board discussed at length the proposed budget whose bottom line at this point is $13,657,328, an increase of 3.99 percent or $524.353 over last year's budget. A budget workshop is scheduled for December 15 to try and find places where the proposed budget can be reduced. The final version of the budget will be presented to the Chester Budget Committee in January 2022.

The board also dealt with the Chester Education Association Collective Bargaining Agreement. A tentative agreement has been reached.

The agreement includes an 'at risk' component based on Performance Incentives tied to agreed-upon goals. This will provide an opportunity through the life of the agreement for teachers to receive a performance based incentive up to 2.5 percent of each individual teachers base salary payable in a lump sum at the last pay period of each year.

After going over the agreement the board voted to ratify the tentative agreement.
Lacroix reported that the Parent-Teacher conferences went well and were conducted via Google Meet. She noted there has been some increased interest in substitutes since the increase rate of pay went into effect. She indicated she is meeting with the Chester Emergency Responders about improvements for the emergency school evacuation plan. 


Chester Academy School Board Approves Symptomatic Testing Program
By Penny Williams    11-8-21

The Chester Academy School Board met on Wednesday, November 3, and the board approved implementing a Symptomatic Testing Program.

This program will give the school district another tool in its efforts to keep students in school during this pandemic. Once implemented, students who go to the school nurses with COVID-19 symptoms would be tested and those testing negative would be able to return to the classroom. Those testing positive would have their parents notified that the student needs attention.

Chester Academy Principal Karen Lacroix and Superintendent Sharon Locke with interested student parents evaluated this program that is supported by the NH Department of Public Health Services. The administration recommended the board approve implementing this program believing it will increase the effectiveness of Chester Academy efforts to keep students in school.

A letter will be sent home to parents regarding the program and forms to be completed for participation. Business Administrator Sheryl Rich was able to obtain testing kits with ESSR funds when the state, after proposing this plan, ran out of testing kits. The state expects more to arrive in the near future from the state.

The board approved the program after being assured that parents will be kept in the loop regarding the availability of testing kits. The plan is to get this program implemented as soon as possible.

The program will be managed by School Nurses Lora Howard, RN, and Lynda Cioli, RN. It will augment  and support the district's overall objective of Learning, Growing and Thriving, noted Chair Royal Richardson.

Richardson and the board discussed how to streamline and effectively shorten school board meetings that have been lasting past midnight. Board members didn't feel they had time at add a second meeting a month so the upshot was an effort will be made to make sure that reports are provided to members prior to meetings and that way only questions regarding those reports would need to be dealt with, not the entire report itself.

The board was told that cooperative efforts are being made regarding the maintenance of the athletic fields with the Town, Recreation, and the Baseball and Softball Association.

District IT Director Ben Kilar proposed hiring Brianna Demers, formally Cable Manager for PACT, as the Consultant to work on setting up the Social Media Communications Policy and Platform for the school. Initially this focus on Facebook and Instagram.

The board after being informed that substitute teachers and Para-Educators are still  difficult to find, approved providing an increase in pay to $100 for non-certified subs and $120 for certified subs. The board noted this is a temporary change in fees that will be looked at again next year so this increase will run through June 30, 2022.

Locke reported on the months COVID case data the school has been monitoring. She indicated there have been 11 new cases in Chester over the last two weeks with Chester being 51 percent vaccinated. Enrollment, she noted , has been slightly more than usual and 34 students presented at the Nurses' Office with symptoms and 89 students have been out with COVID related symptoms or exposures in October.

Given that information the board approved continuing the current Universal Mask Usage policy for Chester Academy and stating this will be reviewed again in December.

Rich said the bids for the parking lot work came in from Petra at $17,956; D & M Striping at $29.044; and, from NE Sealcoating at $20,604. She recommended going with Petra who has worked for the district before and the board approved an amount  not to exceed $18,000. The work will be done over April vacation and the decision as to whether to repaint the paw prints will be made later. That would add possibly $2,500 to $3,000 to the cost.

The board went over the information provided by Rich with respect to their Life/AD&D/Long Term Disability insurance vendor. The board approved staying with the current vendor School-Care who agreed to hold the proposed rates for 2 years.

The board discussed but made no decision regarding whether to continue to retain 2.5  percent for retained funds or whether to increase that amount to 5 percent.
Her overall estimated Unreserved Fund Balance is $285,431.

Lacroix discussed academics noting reports for grades 6-8 are available through PowerSchool. She said the 6th grade Science Camp is looking at nearly 90 percent participation. She indicated that winter sports tryouts will begin and the school plans to have a boys and girls basketball team. Parents who have stepped up to provide transportation for sports have agreed to continue.

Extracurricular activities have seen clubs get underway with art, student council, chess and creative writing up and running. The Saturday hike to Mt. Tecumseh was a go. The Dental Program will be available on November 19 and 22 for students whose parents signed the forms for participation.

She and Richardson spoke about the school wide emergency evacuation that had taken place due to A HVAC incident in a classroom. She indicated it went better than anyone had anticipated  an emergency evacuation would go.  


Chester School Board Continues the Universal Mask Mandate at Chester Academy
By Penny Williams   10-9-21

Chester School Board met Wednesday, October 6, and one decision they made had to do with Universal Masking.

Chester Academy has not been subject to any Covid-19 clusters  but there have been a few positive cases in the student community and among staff. However none of the  incidents of infection resulted in further transmission or a cluster given the school's Layered Mitigation Strategy. After going over the data and monitoring information the Board agreed that the school's current Universal Mask Usage policy should remain in effect.

Parents and  families have chipped in to help support after school programs.  It was noted they have contributed help in getting students to and from athletic events.

However one issue that continues at Chester Academy as well as throughout the state is the difficulty of finding substitute teachers despite adjusting substitute pay. The academy has tried offering 'permanent' substitute positions, offering training, a consistent schedule and a higher rate of pay.

Principal Karen Lacroix reported that teachers in Professional Development are participating in a data drive with the NH SAS with iReady, DIBELS to identify Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 students. The teams discussed how to best support the students. Paraprofessionals are working with new behavior specialist, Heidi Baker and Special Education Services Director Jana Ruiz.

Lacroix reported that over 80 percent of eighth grade families have confirmed the Washington D.C. trip. She also noted that the Book Club and Drama Club are up and running. Student Council and  Creative Writing will be starting shortly. There will be a Halloween event at the Multi-Purpose-Room on October 29. The Little Free Store is up and the school held a mandatory bus evacuation last week.

Assistant Principal Jonathan Gilbert reported about testing results over the last decade. He talked about using the Eureka math program more effectively. He also reported teachers are excited about the new English Language Arts program and the Reading Horizon plan.

Ruiz said the next Child Find Program will be held on January 11. She said the new school behaviorist Baker will hold a workshop focusing on Paraprofessional Training for Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom. She indicated that all the Para-educator positions have been filled but special education teachers are still needed to cover maternity leave openings.

Business Administrator Sheryl Rich reported that State adequacy has increased over the budgeted amount  to $157,430. Coupled with the Kenogarten Kindergarten   funds received $87,156 the total additional revenue currently is $244,586. Current expenses have decreased due to an Out of District Placement change resulting in $216,402 saving. Overall estimated Expense Savings are $266,401. The school has also received $117,000 in Educational funding.

Rich suggested going for bids for projects: Underground Propane Tank Repairs at $30,000; Parking Lot Sealing and Restriping, $20,000; and, STEM Room rehab with bathroom, $30,000. The board approved Rich moving forward seeking bids for these projects.

After hearing Technology Director Ben Kilar's report the board voted to adopt and implement the Draft Technology Social Media Plan as presented and for Superintendent Sharon Locke to fill the part-time position of District Communication Assistant, effective immediately.

Locke reported on the Covid-19 issues relative to the academy and Universal Mask Usage will continue. It will be reviewed again next month. She went over the Inclement Weather Plan.  She pointed out the intent is to not extend the school year.

There is a need to add a Food Service Lead Kitchen Assistant. The board voted to authorize Locke to create and fill this position effective immediately. She also proposed some changes to the Chester School District Food Service Staff payroll that would increase the cost by $5,302.90 over the budgeted amount. The board approved Locke 's proposal.

There was a discussion on how to improve and implement communications. A series of public forums will be planned.

The board approved hiring Heidi Baker as Behaviorist. The board approved special service coverage for maternity leave for Leann Nelson at a cost of $4,986.


Chester Academy School Board Maintains the Mask Mandate
By Penny Williams   9-10-21

The Chester Academy School Board met Wednesday evening, September 8, and due to PACT equipment failure, the meeting was neither broadcast nor recorded. However, Chair Royal Richardson provided information on a number of issues that came before the board at that meeting.

First and foremost Superintendent Sharon Locke addressed the issue of the COVID-19 environment and the school's mask mandate based on the NH Department of Health and Human Services Department.

The school's reopening plan approved by the board in August decided in order to meet its goal of providing the safest in-person school experience, it was necessary to require universal mask usage.

However, in addition, the committee recommended that the administration track key COVID risk indicators and supply a monthly report to the School Board for review at the monthly School Board meetings. Superintendent Sharon Locke will present the board with key data points on the community transmission levels, town and county rates of positivity, and data from the school population.  

If the current level of Community Transmission risk has been reduced from a substantial level then, under the plan, the Chester Academy School Board has the ability to adjust the Chester Academy mitigation strategy that is in place, reducing the mask requirement.

 Richardson reported that Locke told the board Wednesday evening the risk level of community transmission in Rockingham County and the Southeast Public Health areas remain substantial and that the number of cases in Chester over the last two weeks continue to increase.

However, the good news is there haven't been any cases that have shown up in the school since the start of the school year. So there are no changes to the school's mask mandate at this time. Locke will report to the board at their October meeting regarding the community and school situation.

Sheryl Rich, Business Administrator, reported that impact fees have exceeded the budgeted amount of $54,000 by $14,729. The board approved using $25,000 of the oldest of the impact fees to avoid expiration. Unanticipated revenues, totaling $258,309, included the following, according to Rich:

* State Adequacy increase over budgeted $157,430

* Kenogarten: Kindergarten Funds received $87,156

* Primex: Holiday for Liability $5,575

* Premium Holiday for Worker's Compensation Insurance $8,148

Principal Karen Lacroix reported that school started well and classroom routines and expectations have been established. iReady Diagnostic tests are underway and while the Dibels material is delayed these will be administered shortly.

Lacroix told the board she is awaiting the results from a parental survey regarding the proposed eighth grade Washington D.C. trip. She noted that a refund protection guarantee that can be purchased by participants at a cheaper rate for all students. She suggested this might be part of the fundraising money. The cost of RPG is about 10 percent of the trip cost.

Richardson said the board indicated their support for proceeding with the plan for the trip if there is a supermajority (66 percent or more) of student participation.

She reminded the board that Open House will be on September 23 and 30 with plans to hold it in-house but modifying the structure with staggered starts and a teacher directed walking tour that will be  finalized next week.

According to Richardson, Zachary Champion, Director of Student Affairs, told the board about his work on the sixth grade transition activities for middle school.  This involved focusing on skills such as organization, time management, and use of their resources. He also told the board he plans to create a Social/Emotional Committee that will have a curriculum component and a Tier II support/intervention review.

Richardson noted Locke had discussed a draft of the academy's Five/Ten year facilities improvement plan. She went over new projects to be added such as renovation for Room 164 and the adjacent server room; HVAC equipment installation for 20 elementary classrooms; replacement of rooftop HVAC units for the cafeteria and gym; exterior seam caulking on the building; inclusion of the Copy Machine Lease Agreement: and, replacement of the current building phone system equipment.

Locke said the administration is working on a plan to flatten the impact of the Capital expenditures year-over-year. Two projects due for the year 2024-25 are already covered by existing  Capital Reserve Funds - the boiler replacement and the gym/cafeteria roof replacement. This updated plan will be provided to the Planning Board on September 20.

A draft  Budget Development Schedule for 2022-23 was presented to the board by Rich. Board member Dana Theokas will present the schedule to with the proposed date changes to the Budget Committee on Monday, September 13.

During Public Comment two Chester Academy students from the 5th and 6th grade presented their ideas about social distancing and universal mask usage. They were not in favor of the current implementation of the Return to School Plan, Richardson indicated.

Richardson noted that Resident Lawrence Yasande also spoke and expressed his support of Personal Choice for masks and asked the board to reconsider its reliance on the NH DHHS for guidance.

The next school board meeting will be October 6.


Chester Academy School Board Goes with Mask Mandate
By Penny Williams   8-27-21

The Chester Academy School Board met on Wednesday, August 25, but the meeting was not broadcast live due to an overflow crowd that meant the meeting moved to the cafeteria.

However, Chair Royal Richardson reported that at the Board’s August 25  meeting, the primary item on the Agenda was the review and approval of the 2021 – 2022 Return to School Plan that was recommended by the Chester Academy Reopening Committee.

After reviewing the data locally from the NH DHHS as well other data and research and after examining the current conditions in both Chester and Rockingham County, it was noted that there have been increases in the Community Transmission rate for Rockingham County and the Town of Chester. As a result, 
the board decided in order to meet its goal of providing the safest in-person school experience, it was necessary to require universal mask usage.

However, in addition, the committee recommended that the administration track key COVID risk indicators and supply a monthly report to the School Board for review at the monthly School Board meetings. Superintendent Sharon Locke will present the board with key data points on the community transmission levels, town and county rates of positivity, and data from the school population.  

If the current level of Community Transmission risk has been reduced from a substantial level then, under the plan, the Chester Academy School Board has the ability to adjust the Chester Academy mitigation strategy that is in place, reducing the mask requirement.

There was a large crowd of interested parties at the August 25 board meeting and many took advantage of Public Comment to express their view - pro and con - on mask usage in the school. Demand for comment was such that a second period of public comment was allowed.
At the  end of a second period of public comments the board entered its discussion of the issue. reaching the afore mentioned decision that universal mask usage would be required. The Board voted unanimously, 5-0 to adopt the revised plan, as recommended.

Locke reported hiring Madeline Cox as a first grade teacher.

School opens on August 30, while it was noted that Pinkerton Academy does not start school until September 7.

The next scheduled Chester Academy School Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 8.               


Chester School Superintendent Locke Suggests New Position to Address Substitute Teacher Issues
By Penny Williams  8-14-21

The Chester School Board met on Wednesday, August 11, and the Superintendent proposed a new teaching position to address the continuing difficulties with finding and hiring substitute teachers.

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Locke proposed hiring two Permanent Substitute Teachers. These permanent subs would have a four day week at the rate of $100 per hour for certified teachers and $85 for non-certified teachers. She noted this would provide reliable and informed Chester  school and classroom ready coverage when a substitute teacher is needed as well as providing additional help with other school needs and activities. After a discussion the board approved this proposal.

Locke also addressed enrollment, noting that the current enrollment would be in excess of the class size of 18 students per class in K-3rd grade, specifically the first grade. She offered two options: one would be to waive the class size policy and allow for 22.3 students per class; the second option would be to add an additional first grade to address the 67 first grade student enrollment.

Given COVID-19 distancing issues and other requirements to maintain the three classrooms, the board, acknowledging there could be additional first graders by the start of the school year, approved adding a fourth first grade.

Principal Karen Lacroix said she was already on it looking for a first grade teacher as well as figuring out adjustments needed in rooms to accommodate a fourth first grade classroom. The board approved adding an additional first grade teacher and whatever else was needed to have a fully staffed additional first grade classroom.

SAU 33 Business Administrator Sheryl Rich announced that Chester had received Kindergarten Retro-active Funding in the amount of $87,156.33.  The state shortfall in 2019 is rectified by this. Rich recommended the board approve putting $49,500 into the yearend Unreserved Fund balance. This will allow the return of this amount to the taxpayers who had to picked up the shortfall in 2019-2020 year. The board was in favor of this and Rich said she would take care of it.

Rich reported that action has been taken or is at least in the process regarding the planned projects. Included are: Library A/C upgrade, Special Education  additional A/C, SAU awning to the library, new cafe tiles, new Library carpet, A/C for second floor rooms, new heater for the SAU, architectural review of front office, water sprinkler tank rehab, and, arsenic remediation of the system. The total for these projects, she indicated, was $218,388. The unreserved fund balance as of now, she told the board, is $403,700 when $380,869 was reported in the Town Report.

Special Education Services Director Jana Ruiz reported that the Extended School Year programs had gone very well and had serviced 100 students, more than twice the usual number. It was noted that while some students wore masks during the school programs the majority did not but there were no reported cases of COVID.

The board went over the reopening plan and noted the adjustments and changes made. None were significantly different and the plan is to open for a normal in-person school program with the first day being August 30.

Mask wearing remains optional but encouraged and the board will continue to monitor the state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for any updates and make adjustments as deemed practical and necessary.

Masks will be worn on buses by staff and students. A revised Return to School plan can be accessed on the school district web site and parents will be notified of any further changes. There will be a review at the board's August 25 meeting and any adjustments deemed necessary will be made after input of community response, HHS recommendations and the status of the current COVID-19 situation.

Lacroix noted teacher training is scheduled for a full day on August 26 with training for the Reading Horizons Elevate, a reading interventionist program, is scheduled for August 23. Teacher work days will be August 23 through August 27. The PTA Welcome Back to School event will be August 26 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. with an ice cream social.

Lacroix said the building and ground improvements and repairs have gone well. The nurse's space has a new sliding window and countertop behind it which makes the space more efficient. The bus routes will be sent to parents on August 16 and the schedules, as well as staff changes, will be in PowerSchool.

A Return to School Information Session for families is planned for August 17, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Locke reported on summer hires. These include: For the Enrichment Teacher position. fifth grade teacher Rebekah Bergeron was chosen and Amanda Tanguay was hired to replace Bergeron as fifth grade teacher; for the SAU Executive Assistant position, Kimberly Galipeau was chosen, and, for the Technology Specialist position, Glen Savoies was hired.

Board member Dana Theokas told the board about Pinkerton Academy plans to redo the Social Studies wing. Rebuilding and adding on will be more cost effective than continuing to try and repair and upgrade within the existing structure.


Chester Academy School Board Discuss Summertime Academic Programs
By Penny Williams   7-11-21

On  Wednesday, July 7, the Chester Academy School Board met and new Superintendent Dr. Sharon Locke discussed Summertime Academic programs.

The Extended School Year program will run from July 13 to August 12, Tuesday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 except students in grade 8 will remain until 2:30 p.m.. It will offer academic, social and emotional support and some fun components. The program is fully staffed and ready to begin. In addition, since there is sufficient interest this year, so Band and Chorus will be running a program.

Another program will be provided for 24 identified students that is designed to address lost learning due to circumstances driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. These students from grades 1 through 8 have been identified by their teachers and invited to participate in the program. Michele Belanger is coordinating this program which will also run from July 13 to August 12.

Adventurelor will be providing a mini-camp with roughly 8 students in grades 6 through 8 planning on participating. This will take place on July 27 and July 28 from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Adventurelor in Danville. The students will be accompanied there by a Chester Academy staff member.

School Board Chair Royal Richardson reminded the board and residents that Chester Academy opens for the fall on August 30. He noted that the first day for Pinkerton Academy students will be September 7.

The re-opening plan for a traditional in-person return to school plan was posted on June 1. The committee continues to meet to review plans and monitor local and state guidelines as well as reviewing resident and family feedback. The plan was revised and approved by the board in June. The final plan after any further revisions or changes are approved will be sent to parents on August 15.

Danielle Finigan, Grade 6 Case Manager is working on an Action Research Project for her Master's Degree in Instruction and Leadership through Granite State College. The project involves providing professional development on executive functioning skills to the grade 6 teachers. This will involve instructional rounds, reflective learning and the latest research. Finigan will also be completing the Train the Trainer 3 day workshop.

Principal Karen Lacroix's report noted that the summer facilities and grounds projects are underway at the school. The AC split unit in the library is completed and new carpeting has been installed in the library. The second floor AC is being updated and the tiles in the cafeteria are being done.

Locke, who gave Lacroix's report, said an architect visited the school to discuss efficiency and safety concerns. These were specifically related to administrative and front office space, the special education space, and the nurse's office. Going forward the necessary isolation area will probably be in the Nurse's office. The architect has provided a bid for their proposed improvements.

Finally, Lacroix's report reminded folks that August 10 is Freshman Field Day at Pinkerton Academy.

Business Administrator Sheryl Rich reported that the expected loss on the Food Services program was just over $18,000 which is much less that the anticipated $50,000 loss. Rich also noted that the annual fiscal Audit is scheduled for the last week in August.

Locke went over her Entry Plan noting her focus will be on building a relationship with the board, the District and the community. She will review goals for the board and district looking for opportunities for improvements. She would like to synchronize the board and district goals to achieve better outcomes. She will organize a Board Workshop in August.

Locke provided the board with a copy of the ESSER 111 Fund Program Assurances which she reviewed and signed.

The board discussed briefly the proposed Town of Chester Solar Project. It was determined that the roofs on the Chester Academy school building are not appropriate or feasible for the location of solar panels having already outlived their expected lifecycle. The board will continue to work with the committee regarding this project.

Locke requested the board consider the implications of the new Juneteenth Federal Holiday for the school calendar. In 2022 it would fall after the last day of school. However, the board discussed this and approved adding Monday June 20, to the school calendar as a no-school day in the event the school year gets extended. This led to Locke noting she plans to meet with staff and survey parents regarding snow-days, blizzard bag days, and remote learning with respect to how these relate to the coming school year.

Sofia Camillieri, who received the School Board scholarship award, visited the board to thank them for their support. She will be attending  St. Lawrence University in the fall.

The board appointed Dana Theokas as the Chester Academy representative on Pinkerton Academy Construction Planning Committee.

\During public comment a parent challenged the board over appropriate staffing for the coming year. He contended that appropriate staffing needs should be immediately addressed. He was told the school is fully staffed with the exception of one vacancy that is in the process. He was informed that the staffing levels of the school are determined by what the residents of Chester are willing to fund.

John Gregsak during public comment asked permission to park cars in the school parking lot overnight August 21 related to his wedding reception. He was given permission and asked to make sure he notified the police and fire departments. He said the cars would all be gone by the end of the morning on August 22.


Chester School Board Approves Re-Opening Plan
By Penny Williams  6-11-21

The Chester School Board held a marathon meeting, Wednesday June 9, lasting more than 5 hours but made some much needed decisions including approving the Re-Opening Plan required by the Department of Education.

The Re-Opening Plan, which Superintendent Darrell Longwood made clear is not the final version but is where it appears things stand now based on input from the community, and administration.  It was noted that 90 people responded when asked for input on the re-opening plan.

Among the things in the plan foremost is that the intent of the school is to return to pre-pandemic conditions with the traditional in-person model of instruction. Vaccinations are not required but encouraged and recommended. Masks will not be required but will be optional. The plan, which contains contingency plans, is a stepped process  and is a draft plan that is expected to be amended over the summer.

The board discussed the proposed draft and approved it and the executive summary. Going forward the plan will be reviewed and amended as needed at the July and August board meetings with a letter containing the finalized Re-Opening Plan delivered to parents on Friday, August 13.

The board reorganized and reassigned liaison assignments. Royal Richardson was reappointed Chair and Jonathan Eckerman is the Vice Chair and liaison to the Board of Selectmen. Dana Theokas and Richardson are liaisons to the Budget Committee, and for Negotiations it is Richardson and Eckerman. Brennan Holmes and Theokas have Administrative Compensation and Holmes has the Health Care Committee, Health and Wellness, Sick Bank and is a Manifest Approvers along with Theokas. Theokas also has Professional Development and PTA as well as Monthly Minutes Review with Richardson. Eckerman has Professional Incentive Committee, and is the Meet and Greet Coordinator.

Parent Dave Gagne spoke saying the mask requirements should be lifted as they are not needed and are detrimental to students' well being. He claimed kids are not and have not been at risk and he believes the school board should lift the COVID-19 restrictions. Kristen Couture told the board she agreed with him.

Special Services Director Jana Ruis told the board the Extended School Year  will run from July 13 to August 12 and in addition to academic offerings will provide social and emotional support and band and chorus. A second summer program to specifically to address learning loss for students in grade 1 through 8 who have been identified will be invited to attend and it will run July 13 through August 12.

Sheryl Rich updated the board on revenue and expenses and said there is still money going to be returned to the town.

There was a discussion regarding implementing air conditioning improvements to the second floor classrooms. The School Board approved going forward in getting bids to put split a/c units in at least the upstairs classrooms. The bids will need to be approved by June 30. Board members Dana Theokas and Brennan Holmes were appointed to review and determine the bid selection on behalf of the board.

Rich also said Wal-Mart had donated several pallets full of hand sanitizer. She also said the library has over the past few years purchased new tables and chairs and the school has 20 of the small wooden chairs. A Chester resident who owns Day Care would take them and free up the space if the board approves and it did.

The board also approved accepting the bid from Northeast for the library carpet that she recommended at a cost of $13,205.

Principal Karen Lacroix reported testing has finished and reports will be sent to parents during the summer.

The board approved the Girl Scout Little Free Store subject to relinquishing ownership to the School Board. She asked and the board approved increasing the curriculum work hourly rate of pay up from $25 to $30.

Lacroix said if the board approved the library circulation desk would be donated to Somersworth High School and the board approved it.

Lacroix presented the updated School Emergency Operation Plan and the written Safety Plan and the board approved these.

The English Language Arts /Reading Committee recommended the purchase and implementation of EL Education's English Language Arts program as well purchasing and implementing the Reading Horizons Elevate program. The board agreed.

Technology Director Ben Kilar gave the board the annual review of the Data Governance Plan updates and the board approved the plan's adoption.

Superintendent Lockwood presented the board with the General Assurances Requirements and Definitions for Participation in Federal Programs. The board voted to authorize Richardson to sign off as representative of the school board. Lockwood also provided the board with an updated version of the School District Capital Improvement Plan.

Zachary Champion was introduced as the new Director of Student Affairs to replace Lauren Mercier.  The board fully supported the hiring of Champion who is extremely well equipped for the position and the board is excited to be working with him going forward..

The board discussed, accepted and authorized the administration to pay the incentives for performance as part of the Chester Educational Association Goals report.

Chester Academy School Board Reviewed the April 21 School Openings
By Penny Williams   5-9-21

The Chester Academy School Board met Wednesday, May 5, and reviewed the reopening of schools that started on April 21.

The return to in person learning was welcomed and has gone well. The students are dismissed on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. in order for meetings, planning,  special help and other related activities to take place.

Parents were given the option to continue their students remotely but they had to choose by May 3, and make it a commitment through the end of the school year. Telepresence will no longer be an option except to address COVID isolation or quarantine. All the school's mitigation strategies such as mask wearing, social distancing, remain in effect.

It was noted that the second Chester Academy vaccination day has been held. At this point in time the majority of the staff have received both vaccinations.

Principal Karen Lacroix told the board the ELA programs for grades K-5 under consideration have been reduced to two. The next step is to contact schools using these two finalist programs to see how they are working out. Ann Gaffney Assistant Principal said it is important to look at these programs carefully to ensure that they address the K-2 and 4-5 grade appropriately as these are significantly different learning levels, especially for reading.

Lacroix noted that the telepresence student number is down to 21.

Testing has already started for iReady and DIBELs and the testing window for the NH SAS for grades 3-4 in Reading and Writing and in Math  and Science for grades 5 and 8 only, will be between May 17 and May 27.  There will be an Early Release on May 28 to allow teachers, administrators and staff to analyze spring data from the iReady, DIBELS and NH SAS tests.

She added that work is underway to develop the summer learning loss recovery programs. Invitations will be sent to students identified as needing to participate in these educational learning recovery programs.
She went over the planned end of year events for Grade 8 with promotion to take place at Pinkerton Academy's  Stockbridge Theater at 6 p.m. on June 22. Promotion practice, pictures, and the BBQ will be held the day before Promotion, on June 21. There will be only four family members allowed per student for the Promotion event.
The last day of school will be June 23 with students dismissed at 1:30 p.m.

Special Services Director Jana Ruiz said the next Child Find will be held  May 21. She indicated that the  4 year old program  is full with a waiting list and the  3 year old program is in good shape.  She added that Extended Learning will run from July 13, through August 12, from 9  to 11:30 a.m.

Superintendent Darrell Lockwood said the Director of Student Affairs, Lauren Mercier, has given her notice and will not be returning.

Business Manager Sheryl Rich reported on the revenues and expenditures and noted at this point the net savings are $518, 710 where the amount reported in the Annual Report was $380,869.

She told the board three bids had been received for the work needed on the Arsenic Water System and she recommended accepting the bid , which was also the low bid, from vendor, McBrides Water, for $14,400. The board approved this.

Rich also said she had bids from several companies for the Air Conditioning work needing to be done. She recommended going with NH Mechanical for both the Air Conditioning areas of work. The Split A/C for the Library and Hub Room at $11,092 and for the SPED area $13,474. The board approved accepting the bids from NH Mechanical.

She then discussed a proposal regarding Electrical contracts and recommended the board approve the proposal to extend the UMGW-Constellation contract for the years 2024-2026 holing the .0718 amount. The board did so.

The board also approved year end projects including new UHF radios at $7,884; Mats for relaxation $800; Soundproofing the Relaxation Station $1,400; Cafe Tiles $15,000; Library Carpet $17,000; Heater for SAU $2,500; Awning for walkway between Library and SAU $5,000; and Architectural Consult for safety and efficiency for the front office, SPED/Nurse area, $10,000. The total cost of the projects is $59,764 and the board approved not to exceed $60,000.

Rich also told the board that Staples had donated 900 to 1,000 #2 pencils to the school. The board approved accepting the donation.

The school has appointed Jonathan Gilbert as Assistant Principal to replace the retiring Ann Gaffney. He and new Superintendent Sharon Locke will begin July 1.

Lacroix commented that, “Mr. Gilbert's experience as a Reading Specialist will be instrumental as we look to implement a new reading program in the upcoming school year. He brings a wealth of knowledge to support teachers and students with learning.”

The appointment of  Gilbert is the result of a comprehensive search conducted by an eleven-member committee, with representatives from the school board, PTA, administration and staff.  The search produced thirty-nine (39) qualified applicants. Chair Royal Richardson commented, “The depth and breadth of experience with this group of candidates speaks to the reputation of our school community throughout the state and region as candidates came forward from across New England.  We expect Mr. Gilbert’s addition will add to this reputation of excellence.  We are all looking forward to working with Jonathan as our new Assistant Principal and to take advantage of his innovative and data-driven approach to education.”

School Board Chair Richardson is running for re-election. "I am standing for re-election to the Chester School Board for a three year term and I am asking for your support. This year marks my sixteenth year serving on the Chester School Board and I have served as the Board Chairman throughout this last three year term.
As a result, you have had ample opportunities over the years to analyze the objectives of this Board and assess the results that the Chester School Board has achieved over that period of time and under my leadership. I believe that I can continue to provide sound financial stewardship for the Chester School District while also advocating for innovative change that will provide the best educational opportunities for the children of our community. I am committed to continue in this role with an honest and practical approach to meet the needs of our constituents. The coming year will begin the tenure of a new Superintendent for the Chester School District, Dr. Sharon Locke. I believe that it is important to maintain consistency in the leadership of SAU 82 to ensure that the long-term goals and objectives of the District are met as efficiently as possible. I am asking that you provide me with the opportunity to work with Dr. Locke on the leadership transition during the 2021 – 2022 school year and, then, going forward."      

The town election will be held Tuesday, May 11, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Multi Purpose Room. The rescheduled Town Meeting will be held at  9 a.m. in the Chester Academy parking lot on Saturday, May 15.

The board reviewed and approved for the coming year the YMCA Afterschool Program contract.

Technology Director Ben Kilar said he has been in contact with the company providing the computers purchased and the hope is that they will all be delivered in July. However, if they are not, arrangements have been made for the school to continue using the current computers the new ones are expected to replace.


Chester School Board Vote for Chester Academy to Return to Five Day Schedule
By Penny Williams    4-9-21

The Chester School Board met on Wednesday, April 7, and approved returning to a five day in school schedule, effective April 19.

The board voted to approve the change to the reopening plan that had previously signified this model change to become effective as of May 3, following the April vacation. But the board voted to make the date change in conjunction with the Governor's order for the return of schools to full five day schedules. This schedule adopted by Chester Academy is complimentary to the schedule that has been adopted by Pinkerton Academy.

The board was comfortable with this given that most teachers will be vaccinated and the social distancing had been reduced from 6-feet to 3-feet. It was noted that there will be some 27 students who will remain remote but the board said a parental decision to be remote has to be made and is final as of May 3. This is necessary in order to plan for proper staffing requirements.  It will be half day on Wednesday in order to provide in school time for teachers' meetings, IEP work, and special help.

Principal Karen Lacroix noted that the alternative to the Science Camp is an in school program on May 24 and as of April 8, the  4 and 5 grade after school Book Club will start. She also noted that for spring sports away games the school has had to use Londonderry Bus Company. In addition, she said the tents are going back up to provide additional outdoor learning and teaching space.

Jana Ruiz, Director of Special Education   reported that the March 30 Child Find had identified two students and that on May 21 there will another Child Find.

Parents with children 3 to 5 years of age who have concerns about their child's development can call Jane Grimm at the special education office, 603-887-3621 x 146 to schedule an appointment.

A multidisciplinary team including an Early Childhood Educator, Speech and Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, and School Nurse, will screen  referred children and provide results and recommendations. This is an important local resource and parents should take advantage of this service if they have any concerns or questions about their children.

Ruiz indicated the preschool program has one spot open for a 4 year old but there is more space for three year olds. She also indicated that staff is being recruited for Extended Learning Program that will run from July 13 to August 12 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday through Thursday.

Business Manager Sheryl Rich went over the revenue and expenditures. She reported receiving a New Hampshire Retirement System  refund she has been chasing for several years. She indicated the NHRS returned $3,578 to the district for fiscal years 2011/12 and 2015/16 and the refund will include a separate refund for both current and former employees who were impacted.

Rich noted that the net savings to date is $416,268, which is $36,000 more than reported to the Town in the Annual Report.

She asked the board to waive the requirement for three bids for the work to be done on the Underground Tank. Initially she was only able to locate one company but she said she found a local company whose bid was less than the original single bid from Pittsburg Tank and Tower because the Pittsburg bid also included cathodic protection.

The bid from Amtech Coatings indicated the cathodic protection is not needed and their bid was lower than Pittsburg Tank and Tower. The board voted to waive the requirement for a third bid and approved going with Amtech Coatings for the underground tank work with their $23,890 bid. The work will be done during April vacation.

Rich also asked the board to approve repair and upgrade work on the Intercom system for security purposes. There were three bids but the preferred bid was the middle bidder at $5,760. The reason given was this company does the majority of the school's security work. The board voted to approve the Total Security bid.

Technology Director Ben Kilar reviewed for the board the fiscal year 2022 plan for replacement of computers. The board approved Kilar's proposal as the deal he proposed cost $1,789.48 when $18,000 had been budgeted. The lease agreement with Lenovo will cover 95 Chromebooks.

The board appointed member Brennan Holmes as their representative to the town's 300 Anniversary Committee. Jonathan Eckerman was appointed to represent the board on the Professional Development Plan for July 1, 2021  through June 30, 2026.

At the April 7 meeting the Board interviewed the remaining finalist candidate for the position of Assistant Principal, effective July 1, 2021.

The Chester School Board announced the appointment of Mr. Jonathan Gilbert, as the Assistant Principal for Chester Academy. He will begin his work in Chester on July 1, 2021. Mr. Gilbert will succeed Dr. Ann Gaffney, who will be leaving her position at the end of the school year.

Principal Lacroix commented that, "Mr. Gilbert's experience as a Reading Specialist will be instrumental as we look to implement a new reading program in the upcoming school year. He brings a wealth of knowledge to support teachers and students with learning."

The appointment of Mr. Gilbert is the result of a comprehensive search conducted by an eleven-member committee, with representatives from the school board, PTA, administration and staff. The search produced thirty-nine (39) qualified applicants. Chair Richardson commented, "The depth and breadth of experience with this group of candidates speaks to the reputation of our school community throughout the state and region as candidates came forward from across New England. We expect Mr. Gilbert's addition will add to this reputation of excellence. We are all looking forward to working with Jonathan as our new Assistant Principal and to take advantage of his innovative and data-driven approach to education."

When notified of his selection, Mr. Gilbert said, "I am truly honored to have been selected for this role, and I look forward to working with the students, families, and staff of Chester Academy. It is my hope to integrate quickly into the culture of the school and the surrounding community. I look forward to starting and meeting everyone soon. Thank you again for this tremendous opportunity."

Mr. Gilbert currently serves as a Reading Specialist for the Fall Mountain Regional School District in Langdon, NH. In addition to his Reading Specialist role, he has managed student data for the district including analysis and interpretation of assessment data. When the pandemic took hold, he was tapped by his school administration to lead their online elementary remote academy. He participated in the Teacher Technology Leader program and has lead and guided a variety of Professional Development activities for his district colleagues. Prior to his current role he taught elementary grades in both public and private schools.

Free school meals, breakfast and lunch, at home or in school, will continue until June 30. Due to this the Chester Academy Food Service program is running at a deficit for this fiscal year. However, parents are encouraged to take advantage of this program.



Chester School District Names Dr. Sharon Locke, Ed.D. as New Superintendent
By Penny Williams   3-16-21

Chester School District Superintendent Darrell Lockwood announced that the Chester School Board has named Dr. Sharon Locke, Ed.D., as the next superintendent of schools for the Chester School District starting July 1st, 2021. The superintendent position in Chester is a part time position and will remain so.

 Lockwood is retiring at the end of the school year.  Locke recently transitioned from six successful years as the Superintendent of the Naugatuck Public Schools in Naugatuck, Connecticut to being  an Assistant Director of the Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) in North Haven, Connecticut. Since 2020 she has also served as an Adjunct Professor at both New England College in Henniker, NH and at the University of Connecticut. 

Lockwood said that Locke, in the end,  clearly proved to  be the best fit to carry forward the vision of the Chester School District and to provide the leadership for our educational community to explore the limitless opportunities available to us all.

Under her leadership in Naugatuck, that district achieved a Smarter Balanced Assessments improvement rate for Naugatuck students that ranked the district in the top 5 percent in the state of Connecticut. Her focus resulted in a school system that strove to become an inclusive, equity-minded learning community with high expectations for both students and staff.

Locke completed her doctoral program in Education at New England College and completed her Superintendent Certification Program at Central Connecticut State University. Prior to obtaining her superintendent licensure, she earned a Sixth Year Degree in Administration from Southern Connecticut State University, a Master of Science in Education in School Counseling from Central Connecticut State University, and a Bachelor of Science in Family Studies from the University of New Hampshire.

“The Chester School Board is excited that Dr. Sharon Locke will be the new leader for the Chester School District. In our conversations with Dr. Locke we came away firmly believing that she will be a collaborative leader that will engage our staff and build a community that will unlock the potential of each of our students.” Chairman Royal Richardson said of the new Superintendent.  “The Chester School District has always felt energized to accomplish more and, for this to happen, we need experienced leadership willing to put the energy and enthusiasm into their work to show the students how important their education is. I’m excited to begin this next era with Sharon as she puts her imprint on the District with a focus on teamwork, and a commitment to our students and their families.”

Vice Chairman Jonathan Eckerman commented that the Chester School District is in great hands, saying. “Dr. Locke’s focus on student growth is supported by her interest in a collaborative model of leadership that emphasizes accountability at all levels.  I am confident that Chester will appreciate her desire to create strong relationships within our community. Our teachers and staff will find her to be extremely relatable and supportive while challenging each person to grow alongside our children. The students and families will find renewed confidence in the amazing abilities our students possess. I look forward to welcoming Dr. Locke and being a part of the focused and deliberate work to provide the very best learning environment for our students and staff.” 

Locke provided the following statement: “I am excited and honored to have been selected to serve as Chester’s new superintendent of schools. I am looking forward to getting to know our students, their families, and our staff and to work together to ensure each and every child is thriving at Chester Academy and throughout their high school experience.  I am also eager to partner with the School Board to continue providing the resources and supports necessary to operate our district in service of a healthy, happy, and collaborative community.”

It should be noted that the Chester School Board received the  2020 New Hampshire School Board of the Year award. Richardson said  at the board's March 3, 2021 meeting, the School Board Association presented the Chester School Board with a letter and plaque commemorating the Board as the 2020 NHSBA School Board of the Year. Like most things in 2020, that was deferred due to the Covid-19 epidemic in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire School Board Association had notified the Board that the Chester School Board had been chosen as the 2020 NHSBA School Board of the Year on April  10th, 2020.

Richardson went on to say, "Over the years, the Chester School Board traditionally carried ourselves as 'the little engine that could', taking on the challenges facing all Districts with innovative solutions for Chester, which resulted in a very good rate of success. That approach and attitude historically carried across our SAU, Administrators and staff. The Board, over the years, has been very successful in hiring very effective leaders at all positions and they, in turn, have delivered a highly qualified and effective staff.

"The Board is happy to accept the recognition from our peers but we would be remiss if we didn’t express our gratitude to our Superintendent, Darrell Longwood, our school Administrators and all of the Chester Academy staff for embracing and implementing our vision for the Chester School District."


Chester School District Warrant Approved Without Comment
By Penny Williams   3-3-21

The Chester School District Meeting was held at Chester Academy on Tuesday evening, March 2, and given the biting cold, only roughly three dozen people showed up but the two  main Warrant Articles were approved without a single comment.

The only drama occurred at the close of the meeting when an unnamed man shouted out point of order and complained that there were three unregistered people at the meeting making it illegal. Moderator David Scott responded that he would check with Attorney General's Office but Dianna Charron, Director of the Supervisors of the Checklist said unregistered people could be present but not vote.

School Board Chairman Royal Richardson spoke about Article 3, the Operating Budget. He said, the Proposed Budget for 2021 – 2022 as presented to the Budget Committee is $13,483,256 which is an increase over the prior year of $663,339 or 5.17 percent and was approved by the Budget Committee as well.

He added, that this year the Chester School Board utilized a Tax Rate Impact Mitigation Strategy to offset the impact of the year-over-year increase. The impact of just two of the items, Special Education Services and the NH Retirement System, total $426,779 or 63 percent of the increase. The increased NHRS contributions at 21 percent and new Special Education Services Out of District Placement requirements at 42 percent.

On the other hand, scheduled increases in Salary and Benefits this year for all staff members amount to $158,060 representing 23 percent of the total increase. And while the cost of Pinkerton Academy tuition per student increased, the requirement for Regular Education Tuition actually decreased due to lower enrollment at Pinkerton Academy in the amount of -$139,800.

He spoke about the current Unreserved Fund Balance noting that at this time the projected total for the Unreserved Fund Balance is $442,662. He indicated that the Chester School Board plans to utilize $54,000 in accumulated Impact Fees to lower the School District tax impact to the community.

In order to address and offset the significant demand for Special Education Services in the coming year, the Chester School Board will utilize funds from the expendable trust fund known as the Educating Disabled Children Fund. The Board will withdraw the sum of up-to $100,000 from the fund. That amount represents approximately 66 percent of the current balance of this expendable trust fund.  

In addition, he noted the Chester School Board plans to withdraw up to $100,000 from the Chester School District Unreserved Fund Balance Retained Fund. While this had been considered previously, this is the first time that the Chester School Board will use this facility to lower the School District tax impact to the community, he said. That amount represents approximately 44 percent of the current balance of the Retained Fund balance.  

The projected Tax Impact associated with the appropriation of $13,483,256 to support the Proposed 2021 – 2022 Budget is 1.097 per thousand dollars of assessment. For a home assessed at $450,000  dollars this would result in an impact of $493.65 per year, or $9.49 per week.

The Article was passed on a voice vote.

Article 4, To see if the school district will raise and appropriate $20,000 for the Boiler Capital Reserve Fund, was explained by Richardson. He said the replacement of the Chester Academy boilers is currently projected to be necessary during the 2024 – 2025 school year at a cost of approximately one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).

Each year, $20,000  contribution is proposed to be raised and appropriated from that year’s Unreserved Fund Balance at the end of the fiscal year.  As a result, through the use of dollars from the prior year’s Unreserved Fund Balance there would be no additional tax impact for fiscal year 2021 -2022 associated with investing additional funds in this Capital Reserve Fund.
The  article was approved by voice vote as was Article 5, Other Business that may come before the meeting legally.

The meeting was adjourned after 32 minutes, which in itself may well be a record.


Chester Academy Changes School Reopening Plans
By Penny Williams  2-19-21

The Chester Academy School Board met on Wednesday, February 17, and made some changes to its school reopening plans based on the Reopening Committee research and recommendations.

Those changes include the following:

* The adoption of an A/B In Person Instruction Model. This is in place of the previous Hybrid-Remote Instruction Model: during the pandemic,  we will operate under one of these non-traditional Instruction Models.

* An updated Chester Academy Risk Assessment Rubric which determines the Instruction Model to utilize taking into account both Community Level Indicators and School Level Indicators.

* A Parent / Family survey conducted regarding student participation in on-site classroom instruction under the updated Plan.

*  The ability to transition to a more restrictive model for a minimum of one (1) week and the ability to transition from a more restrictive model to a less restrictive model at least five (5) school days after conditions had been determined to have subsided to an appropriate level and only if those conditions remain within the thresholds for that model.

* And the ability to move a classroom or grade level into the Full Remote Instruction Model for a period of time: however, such a move would not necessarily lead to a change in model: a move under this situation would be in effect until the situation was either resolved or mitigated.

According to board Chair Royal Richardson, "These changes will be finalized, incorporated into the amended plan (to be posted on the https://ca.sau82.org/ website) and then implemented by the Chester Academy Administration effective Monday, March 8th. Please look for upcoming communications from the Superintendent and Principal detailing the next steps in implementing these changes."

He went on to emphasize that the next fully remote weeks were determined at the February 3 board meeting when Superintendent Darrel Longwood recommended a school calendar change to the Board regarding the February School Vacation.  At that time it was agreed that it would be preferable if the schedule be adjusted so that the week of Fully Remote Instruction planned in February be moved to the week following the vacation week.  The board agreed and all Classes at Chester Academy are now scheduled to be held remotely from March 1st through March 5th as a post-vacation-break precaution for the safety of our staff, our students and their families.

At the February 3rd School Board meeting Assistant Principal Dr. Ann Gaffney notified the Board that she would not be returning to Chester Academy for the 2021 – 2022 school year.

The Proposed Budget for the coming School Year was approved at a Public Hearing conducted by the Chester Budget Committee on Monday, February 8th at 7:00 PM. The Chester School Board will be presenting two Warrant articles at the annual School District Meeting on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2021.

Warrant Article 3 - Proposed Operating Budget:

* The Proposed Budget for 2021 – 2022 as presented and approved by the Chester Budget Committee is $13,483,256 which is an increase over the prior year of $663,339 or 5.17%.  The projected Tax Impact associated with the appropriation of $13,483,256 to support the Proposed 2021 – 2022 Budget is $1.097 per thousand dollars of assessment. For a home assessed at $450,000 dollars this would result in an impact of $493.65 per year, or $9.49 per week.

The Board plans to utilize fifty-four thousand dollars ($54,000) in accumulated Impact Fees;  withdraw the sum of up-to one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) from the expendable trust fund known as the Educating Disabled Children Fund; and withdraw up to one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) from the Chester School

* Warrant Article 4: Boiler Replacement Capital Reserve Fund

This article represents a request to contribute to the existing Boiler Replacement Capital Reserve Fund under the provisions of RSA 35:1 and to raise and appropriate the sum of $20,000 to be placed in this fund.  This supports the replacement of the Chester Academy Boilers. This is currently projected to be necessary during the 2024 – 2025 school year at an estimated cost of approximately one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000).
The twenty thousand dollar contribution each year would be raised and appropriated from each year’s Unreserved Fund Balance at the end of the fiscal year.
As a result, through the use of dollars from the prior year’s Unreserved Fund Balance there would be no additional tax impact for fiscal year 2021- 2022 associated with the funding of this Capital Reserve Fund.

At the February 17th School Board meeting the Board discussed and finalized the process for the Assistant Principal Search. The Assistant Principal Search Screening Committee members will be selected by the Chester School Board on March 3, 2021. The Board is seeking screening committee volunteers from the following

* Two (2) School Board members

* The Superintendent

* The Principal and Director of Special Services

* Two (2) teachers (if possible representation from both elementary and middle level)

* Two (2) parent representatives (at least 1 should be a member of the PTA)

* One (1) Para-educator

* One (1) Support Staff Member

Interested individuals should submit a letter of interest to serve on the committee.  These are due in the Superintendent’s Office by the end of the business day on Monday, March 1, 2021.

Town Administrator Debra Doda sent a request to the School District for permission to use the school parking lot for the Town Meeting as they did last year. The use would be for Friday, May 14 and Saturday, May 15. About 250 people would be expected. There were no issues last year and the board approved the request.

The school nurse, Rebecca Leone, has tendered a letter of resignation effective March 12. She has been offered a position which she feels she can't afford not to take. The loss of the school nurse during this difficult period worried the board and they approved her resignation with regret subject to a discussion with the Superintendent regarding protecting the welfare of the school, students and staff.

The Traditional School District Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 2, at Chester Academy at 7 p.m. and will follow the safe distancing guidelines and masks will be required. The library will be used for those unable to wear a mask and a large screen will be there so they will see everything taking place.


Parents Push Chester School Board for In Person Schooling
By Penny Williams   2-7-21

The Chester School Board met on Wednesday, February 3, and the meeting began with a group of concerned parents presenting their views and reasons for wanting to return to in person school. Because of the expected number of people who wished to speak the meeting was moved from the Library to the school cafeteria.

The parents made the point that not having students in school in person is hurting the quality of the educational product and having a negative social and emotional impact on the students. The parents referred to COVID-19 guidelines and reports and insisted that they feel it is safe for students to return to in person learning.

The board pointed out that Superintendent Darrel Longwood continues to monitor all the state and federal information concerning COVID-19 as it relates to schools and in particular as it relates to Chester and Rockingham County.

At this point the school is still in the Hybrid Remote Instruction Model rather than the Adapted In Person Instruction Model the year began with. The board remains committed to getting students back to in person learning but only when it is safe to do so. Having sufficient faculty and staff is an additional factor that plays a role in these decisions.

The board discussed the plan to review and reassess the schools decisions regarding the model for students at Chester Academy. There was discussion about what the plan is following the February vacation. Right now the plan is to adjust the school calendar to have Chester Academy in Remote Learning after the vacation for the week of March1 through March 5. However, the board will be reviewing its hybrid model to see if there are changes that need to be made to its original hybrid model that better meets current needs and circumstances.

A parent group addressed the board asking for support for their plan to provide Chester seniors at Pinkerton Academy with $10 gifts monthly  until May as incentive, motivation, and out of appreciation for what they have had to deal with during the pandemic. The board voted to authorize providing some funding to help the parents fund their plan. The vote was 3-1-1.

The board accepted with regret the resignation of Assistant Principal Ann Gaffney in June.

The board appointed the Superintendent Search Committee that has former board member Maria Veale as Chair. Members include: Board members Royal Richardson and Jonathan Eckerman, parents Martha Scott, Annie Kelly, Rebecca Noyes-Kozura; teachers Lee Ann Dalton, Amanda Gage, Tracey Farrenkopf, Para Gillian Gould, Administrators Sheryl Rich Business Administrator, Karen Lacroix Principal, Jana Ruiz Special Education Director and Benjamin Kilar, Technology Director.

The screening committee will conduct interviews the week of February 15, and will select three final candidates to move forward to the School Board for consideration in March with the goal of having a finalist in April.

The board appointed Brendan Holmes to represent the board for the review of COVID Related Memorandum of Understanding with the Chester Education Association and the Chester Educational Support Personnel Association.

The board voted to approve the request from a family who have moved from Chester to allow their student to remain a student at Chester Academy. The board also approved, but asked for a timeframe and a snow date, the use of the parking lot for the Food and Clothing Drive by a Pinkerton Academy student. The board noted the Chief of Police should be notified that permission for this event has been given.

The was a brief discussion about the upcoming District March Meeting.

Principal Karen Lacroix reported that the mid-year assessments and Dibels will be finishing up and the data was analyzed during early release day February 5. The process in underway to select a new ELA program for grades K-5. She noted there have been two hires for substitute teachers but that the school has lost 2 others.

Lacroix congratulated Audra Souliotis for winning the Annual Spelling Bee and Caleb Hobden (grade 7) as runner up. School counselors are meeting with students and communicating information to families regarding the transition to Pinkerton.

She reminded the board and listeners that there are free meals ( breakfast and lunch) for all students at home or in person through June 30. Due to the current rate of participation even with Federal reimbursement the school Food Service program is running a deficit for the fiscal year.  Nevertheless, the school is offering expanded options for meal services and the board encourages all families to participate.

She noted the Winter vacation runs from February 22 to February 26 and the next school board meeting is scheduled for March 3.

Business Director Sheryl Rich said the net savings to date is $406,792. She told the board she had received just two bids for auditor, the current company Roberts and Green and Vachon and Clukey. Roberts and Green came in with the low bid and the board voted to sign the three year contract with them.

There will be a Chester Budget Committee Hearing on Monday night, February 15, at 7 p.m. and it will be on Zoom.


Chester School Board Told Part Time Superintendent Search Is Underway
By Penny Williams   1-10-21

The Chester School Board met Wednesday, January 6, and the board was informed that the advertisement for the search for a Part Time Superintendent has been posted.

A portion of the advertisement that  can be found on the Chester Academy web site states: " Qualified candidates must have successful school administrative experience combined with a background in teaching. The ideal candidate will have experience in educational administration, personnel management and a strong understanding of school finance and budgets. An advanced graduate degree is preferred and a master’s degree is required. A New Hampshire Superintendent license or eligibility for license is necessary.

"The Chester School Board will offer a competitive contract with a regionally competitive salary, commensurate with qualifications and experience, along with a generous benefits package.

The deadline for submitting applications is January 29, 2021. Preliminary interviews are planned to begin by the middle of February 2021. The start date for this position is July 1, 2021. Interested candidates should send a cover letter, application, and at least 3 current reference letters to:
Superintendent Search Committee 22 Murphy Drive Chester, NH 03036."

Board Chair Royal Richardson reviewed the discussions leading up to this point. The Board decided back in December to do  the search in-house, using our their own personnel to conduct and manage the process. A search committee would be formed following past practices and utilizing existing experience from past searches for leadership positions. Superintendent Darrel Lockwood had informed the board former long time school board member Maria Veale was willing to volunteer to lead this effort on behalf of the Board. and he  recommended Veale lead the Screening Committee to be selected by the Chester School Board to identify the performance criteria for the position and evaluate candidates. The board approved this.

The Board will be requesting participation on the Screening Committee of volunteers from multiple categories: School Board members; members of Chester Academy Administration; SAU staff; Teachers and Para-educators; Support Staff Members; and up to two (2) parent representatives. The committee will reach out to members of the municipal government that frequently interact with the Superintendent for their feedback and input as well.  The formal search process for a new Superintendent will begin  this month.

Interested individuals should plan to submit a letter of interest to serve on the committee. These shall be due in the Superintendent’s Office clearly marked “Superintendent Search Committee” by the end of the business day on Friday, January 29th, 2021.
Contact information /Mailing Addresses:
e-mail: contact@sau82.org or US Mail: SAU 82 / 22 Murphy Drive / Chester NH, 03036

Richardson noted that in addition, the Chester School Board will host a public forum to gather information from the community regarding the characteristics they hope to find in a new Superintendent. This is planned to take place in the first week of February and information on that session will be provided in the next few weeks.

At the meeting Wednesday evening Lockwood said the advertisement has been posted on the web site and the advertisements sent out  to Educational Jobs, Indeed, and the School Board Association which will send out queries to New Hampshire and New England boards.

The  school is currently in Remote but the plan is to return to hybrid as of January 19. However, the Pre-school, Kindergarten, and first grade along with certain special needs students will have access to in-person instruction.

Principal Karen Lacroix reported that finding substitutes remains difficult but there are some possible hires. She told the board the Annual Spelling Bee continues virtually and she will give them the Chester Academy winner and runner up at the next meeting. The Annual PTA Reflection Contest  had a handful of participants and she announced congratulations to Joe Gustavson who won first place in the Intermediate Music Category. The MathCounts Competition will take place February 5 and 6 and she named this year's participants. The Jazz Club has started remotely with 14 plus students and a staff member is considering getting the Stock Market Club going once the school is back in Hybrid-Remote model.

Lacroix told the board the kindergarten enrollment continues to increase. The 56 they have enrolled increased by 2 new January entrants to 58 and she said there is likely to be 2 more during the 2021-22 school year that are already known. While there are less than 18 per class due to the telepresence she anticipates there will need to be some creative attention paid to this next year.

Richardson said the Superintendent continues to monitor the metrics and daily events and has recommended that the students return to school on January 19th in the Hybrid Remote Instruction Model rather than the Adapted-In-Person Instruction

The Chester School Board believes that it should have students back in the classroom as soon as is possible and practical. On January 5th the State of New Hampshire published the COVID-19 Vaccination Allocation Plan Summary. Under Phase 2a of this plan K-12 School and Childcare staff will be eligible for vaccination. This is slated to begin in March of this year, Richardson explained. 

The USDA has extended free meals, breakfast and lunch, to all students until June 30, 2021. This includes all students, taking part in both our in-school and remote learning programs. Due to the current rate of participation, even with Federal reimbursement, the Chester Academy Food Service program is running in deficit for this fiscal year.

With the hybrid-remote school model continuing to be in effect, the District is offering expanded options for the meal services. For students that are learning remote the Food Services program is offering two options for meal pick-up: daily or bulk. Anyone interested in meal pick up should complete the available survey

The Board would like to encourage all of our eligible parents and families to take advantage of this program. For further information or questions, please contact the Chester Academy Food Services Director at sullivanl@chesteracademy.org.

The Proposed Budget for the coming School Year was delivered to the Chester Budget Committee prior to the end of December for their review and feedback. On January 4th, representatives of the School District attended the Chester Budget Committee Meeting where Superintendent Lockwood provided an initial overview and summary of the Proposed Budget for the Budget Committee members.

The Proposed Budget for 2021 – 2022 as presented to the Budget Committee is $13,503,823 which is an increase over the prior year of $683,906 or 5.33 percent. The Board was presented with several significant upward pressures when developing the budget. The impact of just two items (increased NHRS contributions and new Special Education Services requirements) total $412,249 or 60% of the increase.

In addition are the following pressures to the budget:

* The impact of COVID-19.

* Scheduling of approved Capital Improvement Plan projects - the Board made the decision to adjust the plan by addressing two projects this year and deferring the other projects into subsequent years, and removing those costs from the Budget. 

* The New Hampshire Retirement System mandated increased contributions

* A significantly increased demand for Special Education Services for our students, including necessary placement in Out-of-District programs.

* Scheduled increases in salary and benefits for staff members as per terms of existing Collective Bargaining Agreements.

The board plans to hold a virtual meeting on January 18, for work on the Warrant and the budget with the next regular meeting to take place on Wednesday, February 3.

The board discussed the Deliberative and noted there are several options for holding the meeting but many questions remain. At present a date of March 2 has been tentatively set for the meeting to take place.

How the meeting will be structured was discussed with several options said to be  available such as moving out of town and using Pinkerton Academy facilities; changing the date of the meeting and pushing it out some;  and, using the Chester Academy gym and cafeteria. This discussion will be continued before a final decision is made.

Principal Karen Lecroix indicated that finding substitutes is difficult.





























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