This November SAU-39 board meeting was quite interesting from a student’s perspective; from discussing race and diversity in the school system to a strong debate over later start times, this meeting certainly kept me on my toes.
After board members deliberated about the SAU budget, including insurance benefits for teachers and other staff, members of the public were invited to speak on issues of concern. This early portion of the meeting quickly became overwhelmed by passionate parents and student advocates arguing the scientific and social importance of later start times. One public attendee noted that “this is for the health of our community”, while another agreed that if we are to trust the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and their health guidelines for COVID-19, we must be able to trust their sleep recommendations too (especially for the brains of maturing students). While no opposition came right away, a different approach to the question of later start times was addressed further in the meeting. Board members brought up the fact that later start times would mean that student athletes would not only miss nearly an hour and a half more of school than they already do (for game dismissals), they would also be practicing in the dark the majority of the year, and the school lighting system is not equipped to cover all outdoor fall and spring sport practices at once. The final start time consensus was that the board needs to “do the most good for the most students”, a statement clearly up for interpretation. A plan will need to be submitted by February 2021, so be sure to reach out to SHS faculty, administration and board members if you have any questions, concerns or want to give your own input; your voice matters!
Next came the Superintendent’s report, where Adam Steel highlighted a presentation by Souhegan High School alumnus Sarah Hurd through which she voiced her concern for the lack of diversity education and awareness in the Souhegan, Amherst and Mont Vernon school districts. She cited her transition to college as a prime example of where the schools can most broadly improve, as once she was in university, the scope of diversity was mind blowing and a serious “wake up call” for her. Sarah, a graduate of Cornell University, also added that in order to be prepared for the real world that we are working towards in high school, our education must include social and cultural diversity too. Adam Steel continued the conversation by highlighting that it was his job to diversify the districts’ faculty by incorporating this lens in the hiring process. I was not expecting this topic of discussion and was thankful to hear that the diversity deficit of our school system is being actively addressed.
(Souhegan High School diversity chart 2020-2021)
Regarding COVID-19, Adam Steel along with the principles of each school are dedicated to keeping schools in dual modality for as long as possible while following scientific data and health guidelines to ensure school remains a safe learning environment for all. However, with peaking cases now nearing 200,000 per day nationally, and Hillsborough County rounding 8,300 total infections, the board has already decided that the first two weeks of January 2021 will be remote for all, after which the board will reconvene and decide if in-person learning is still safe. As many Souhegan students also know, in-person school will begin to look a little different in the coming segments: a strengthening of COVID rules, more mask wearing and an increased remote faculty.
Additionally, the Wednesday flex day at SHS this year will soon be looking more structured and organized to ensure students are getting enough educational support, and teachers are available to assist. The board recognized that Wednesdays are becoming increasingly important for remote students to make valuable connections with their teachers and fellow online classmates. Although several parents, teachers and administrators have deemed Wednesdays as ineffective, the board seems to want to keep Wednesdays as independent study days while renaming them ‘personalized learning days’ to make sure they are being utilized as efficiently as possible. Further, any club meetings or teacher check-ins that would take place after school hours under normal circumstances will no longer be permitted to take place during normal school hours on Wednesdays. These meetings will need to take place after 2:25 p.m. in order to ensure Wednesdays remain school days where students can get academic help and work on class assignments.
On a final note, our last school day of 2020 will be Friday, December 18, giving both staff and students a well deserved 16 day break from classes. Though this may seem like a glorious relief, concerns were raised about having too much time off. Several SAU board members remarked that though rest and time off is beneficial for both teachers and students, a drastically increased amount of vacation time is actually causing a heavier workload for students, especially those following the AP curriculum, dual-enrollment programs, or other ambitious academic goals this year. Especially in such uncertain times, when learning and the education system are being tested time and time again, board members are concerned that students are not getting enough in-class instruction, leading to more homework and self-directed learning, and a sharp increase in stress and everyone, including students, teachers, and parents, feeling more than a bit overwhelmed. Once again, 2020 is throwing us unprecedented challenges and pushing the limits of our education system; now we’ve got to figure out what’s most important and how to implement those necessary changes.
If you want to attend the next live school board meeting, visit https://www.sau39.org/Page/1. As of right now, the December meeting has not yet been put on the SAU calendar, but you may access the zoom meeting from the like provided above.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving!