2 TRSU schools to participate in state Covid testing program Senior prom to be held; TRSU joins SU consortium

Correction: In the story below The Telegraph reported that Green Mountain High School would hold a prom this year open to both juniors and seniors. This was a misunderstanding and in fact there will be a seniors only
prom and the junior class will wait until next year to hold its prom. We regret any confusion this may have caused.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Two Rivers Supervisory Union will be taking part in a state pilot program to test students for Covid-19, Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the SU board on Thursday evening.

The Two Rivers Supervisory Union board meeting last Thursday with chairman Paul Orzechowski at Ludlow Elementary. Zoom images courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

The program – which will be voluntary – would administer testing to students 8 years of age and up at Mount Holly Elementary and Green Mountain High School each week for the remainder of the school year and during the summer for those participating in summer programs.

Fierman said that if the program goes well it may be put into all schools in the fall.

Agency of Education Secretary Dan French announced the program the following day at the governor’s press conference saying that the pilot program had the potential to test 6,300 students each week which will likely identify students who are infected. “This is good,” said French, “it will help us in our efforts to stop the virus from spreading.”

State guidance on spring sports, proms, graduations

Fierman also told the board the schools have received Covid guidance from the state about spring sports. She said those playing baseball and softball need not wear masks on the field, but must wear them in the dugout. Likewise, spectators within a family group and at least 6 feet from others can forgo masks, but must wear them nearer other groups.

Superintendent Lauren Fierman told the board the schools were planning a prom as well as normal graduation and ‘step up’ celebrations

The schools are expecting further guidance on proms and graduations and Fierman said the school is planning on holding a prom for juniors and seniors, noting that this year’s seniors did not have a prom in 2020. The prom will be in the first week of June and will follow all the Covid rules including mask wearing and maintaining a 3 foot distance with the exception of dancing.

“Don’t ask me for the logic of that,” said Fierman. “Apparently if you touch each other and sway you’re not in danger anymore.”

According to Fierman, there will be an outdoor graduation on Friday, June 18 and “step-up” ceremonies for students finishing sixth grade. She said there would be more details closer to the dates but there won’t be a problem with the number of people who can attend since by June 1 there can be 900 unvaccinated and an unlimited number of vaccinated people in the space.

Return to in-person classes this fall

While the state guidance is still being worked on, Fierman said the AOE is looking for schools to be fully in-person when they resume this fall. She said it is uncertain the degree to which the state will allow districts to continue providing remote learning although the Vermont Virtual Learning Collaborative will continue to operate. The online Two Rivers Virtual Learning Academy, which provided full-time remote learning this school year, will not be operating in the fall.

Curriculum Director Anne Gardner outlined the work on recovery plans. File photo

Curriculum Director Anne Gardner told the board that she has been working on the “recovery plan.” Having completed a “needs assessment” for the AOE and received an approval for it, she and the SU’s “recovery team” are now working toward a program that has an academic component but “is not specifically and only academic,” according to Gardner. Also included in the program are social and emotional functioning, mental health and well being and student/family engagement, which Gardner defined as the student’s connection to the school.

Gardner said the recovery planning sets the stage for work that will be going on through 2024 with revisions along the way as the needs change and the plan is due to the AOE on June 1. The academic plan, according to Gardner, will focus on math and literacy.

Regional collaborative in the works

The superintendents in the southeastern part of Vermont have been working to develop a collaborative group to realize some economies of scale for several smaller supervisory unions. According to Fierman, these might include additional support for a special education program, enhanced professional development and sharing of positions among several districts.

Fierman said she had worked with a collaborative in Connecticut, calling it a “godsend.” The group is about to hire a “research assistant/consultant” to look into the appropriate ways to set up the collaborative group and the districts are pooling some funds to do this. TRSU will contribute $35,000 from its Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief funds while other districts and SUs that are larger are contributing more.

Among the other members of the collaborative are the Windham Central, Winham Southeast, Windham Southwest, Windham, Windham Northeast, Windsor Central and Windsor Southeast Supervisory Unions and the Springfield Supervisory District.

Parent/staff survey brings higher response

Fierman also told the board that the SU’s second “climate survey” would be coming to a close the following day. The survey was first sent out in March 2020 but got a lukewarm response as the pandemic began. The second survey received a much stronger response and Fierman said that would be the baseline for understanding how parents and staff feel about the school system.

This year staff members submitted 116 surveys – up from 80 last year – while parent responses jumped from 100 to 170.

In response to the statement “Overall, the school performs well academically,” 35 parents “strongly agreed,” while 88 agreed and 36 were neutral. Only 8 disagreed with the statement and 3 “strongly disagreed.”

Among staff members responding to the statement “My school is welcoming and inclusive for all students,” 43 strongly agreed while 57 agreed. Twelve respondents were neutral while 4 disagreed and no one strongly disagreed.

In an email to The Telegraph on Sunday, Fierman said it would take a week or two to disaggregate the data. This survey – using the same questions – will be repeated each year with this year’s responses as a baseline against which the SU will gauge changes in parent and staff sentiment.

SU board votes for raises

Two very brief executive sessions yielded three actions. The board extended Fierman’s contract by one year with a 3 percent raise. It also raised business office employee Angie Martin’s pay to $20/hour and gave non-bargaining TRSU employees a 4 percent raise. Non-bargaining employees are administrators and others who are not part of a union that negotiates a contract on their behalf.

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