School Committee race needs candidates

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 5:30pm

Come Tuesday, November 3, the School Committee will have four open seats, but, so far, only two declared candidates.

Current committee members Annie Hall and Jessica Willi are running for additional three-year terms, but longtime Chair Bill Padien’s retirement from the board, and member Kara Stinnett’s resignation, leaves two seats without candidates.

There are two ways for those seats to be filled. A resident can declare themselves a write-in candidate, or an individual can submit a letter to the Town Council expressing an interest in serving on the board. That person can be appointed to the committee without having to run.

According to Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick, the seat now held by Padien can only be filled by a write-in candidate, because that is an elected position. The seat vacated by Stinnett can only be filled by the Town Council because Stinnett was not up for re-election this year. The preferred method to fill that non-elected seat is for someone to write a letter to the council declaring their interest, but if no one steps forward, the council could appoint someone on its own.

There are no deadlines for when either the write-in candidate or the appointed committee member must declare their interest, but the appointed seat does have to be publicly posted for 30 days, according to Fitzpatrick.

The current committee, comprising Padien, Hall, Willi and Persephone Brown — who is not up for re-election — heard how the first week of school went at their meeting on Monday, Sept. 21. The members met at the Block Island School, which was the first time they had met in person in months.

“I think overall we had a very good first week of school,” said Supt. Mike Convery. Grades kindergarten through eight were the first to return, which they did on Monday, Sept. 14. “I think they did an amazing job, along with the staff. Every day was a little calmer — even for myself,” said Convery.

Convery said meetings with the incoming high school grades, who were expected to return on Tuesday, Sept. 22, also went well. But both Convery and Principal Kristine Monje said there were still kinks to be worked out. Monje noted that having the upper grades come in a week later worked to the school’s advantage. “I don’t think we could have handled everything at one time,” she said.

“I think we did a great job. The teachers were well prepared. They spent a lot of time going over logistics,” said Monje.

Monje said one of the reasons the first week went so well was due to the presence of recently-hired school nurse Liz Dyer. With students coming in with allergies and runny noses, two students had to be tested, said Monje, noting that “everybody came out fine in the end.” A space in the ceramics room has been designated as the school’s sick room, where anyone who becomes symptomatic during the school day will be taken immediately. The parents of any student exhibiting symptoms will be contacted by Dyer, who will also follow up with a phone call “because we’ll want to know the nature of the sickness,” said Monje.

Dyer has also coordinated with the Medical Center to secure a slot in the mornings to test any student who may have a probable case of Covid-19 to minimize any wait time. Monje said that any student with two or more symptoms would be tested and would have to stay home for at least another day if the symptoms did not disappear.

Committee member Annie Hall asked why there would be any wait time for testing a student.

“Because the Medical Center is busy,” said Monje. “That’s why we tried to get a dedicated slot any time during the day. We were trying to say to the Medical Center that we need to have the testing quicker and they accommodated us. As long as the test happened the same day they were sick, that would determine if they could come in the next day.”

“We have 160 people in this building every day and to keep everybody calm, I think that would do everybody a lot of good,” said Hall.

“I totally agree,” said Monje. “We advocated for ourselves and they have been good enough to squeeze us in. They realize the urgency of our needs and we’re off to a good start with them,” adding “anybody who comes in sick will have a test.”

Another reason the first week went so well was because the weather cooperated, said Monje. The students were outside “a lot” and lunch was eaten mostly outside. Convery noted that the school had enough fulltime and part-time custodians to keep high-touch surfaces and the bathrooms clean according to the state Department of Health guidelines. Monje said that Convery did a fair amount of cleaning himself.

“We’ve learned a lot about bathroom logistics,” said Monje.

Another challenge facing the teachers is how to accommodate those students who have opted to continue distance learning, said Monje. “We’re trying to make that workable,” said Monje. There are also some logistics to work out with the afternoon bus rides due to the number of students that need transportation.

In other news, the School Committee approved spending up to $10,000 to replace 14 fans and motors on the school’s roof to improve air quality and flow. A study done back in March indicated the fans were not working properly, but plans to replace them were put on hold when the lockdown was put in place.