AYER -- As Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee welcomed a new athletic director to the district, members also reviewed the new teacher evaluation system and adjusted some unsafe bus routes.

ASRHS Principal Brian Haas introduced Athletic Director Jon Sweeney as someone with considerable experience with athletics and special education.

"He is working for us full-time with dual capacity as support personnel for one of our therapeutic programs and as the athletic director," Haas said. "He's doing a great job maintaining the athletic program, bringing everybody in line with MIAA rules and the new concussion policies. ... It's a big job, and he's doing a great job."

Sweeney comes to ASRSD with a background coaching high school- and college-level sports. He has personal experience playing football, baseball and wrestling.

"Right out of college, I started working at Fitchburg State as a football coach and as an assistant to the sports information director, which is where I was introduced to the complexities of being an athletic director," Sweeney said. "From there I served as defensive coordinator. I took a job from the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, and after my first year there, I was promoted to program director."

In answer to a question, he said, "My philosophy includes the community, the coaches and, most importantly, the students. One of the most important things for me is getting more involvement in our youth programs and really going out and getting an outreach in our community. Coaches must not only be knowledgeable about their sport, but they must be mentors, role models and they have to be advocates for the kids."

Superintendent of schools Carl Mock asked Sweeney about his goals for the year.

"I'm very impressed with the staff we have now, and I think the biggest thing for me is to gain more interest in the student body. I think that's really our first big hurdle," Sweeney said.

He suggested hosting more events that incorporate younger children, Pop Warner teams and other members of the community into the sporting events.

"Maybe if the Pop Warner kids wear their jerseys to the Friday night games, they can get in for free," he said. "Little things like that." He also suggested better communication with the community and student body about try-out and practice times to get more students involved.

"We are so glad we have found the funding to get him in the building full-time," Mock said.

Fiscal 2013 closeout

Mock went on to discuss closeout of the fiscal 2013 budget and to review the recertified fiscal 2014 budget.

"We continue to work on (closing out fiscal 2013)," Mock said. "We thought we may have a significant chunk left over. We are confident at this point that we will stay at that figure and may have some carry-over."

"There isn't any dramatic change from June 2013 in the recertification for September, but we had to recertify because of two things." Mock said. "One, because we now have the state's actual required local contributions, and two, we made a recalculation of the capital debt."

The changes resulted in an overall savings of about $10,000 for Ayer and Shirley.

"This is much better than we thought at various points last year," Mock said.

"That is very good news for the towns," Chairman Pat Kelly said.

Educator evals

The committee reviewed the state-initiated educator evaluation system and the group's role in participation.

The system allows educators and administration to set goals and track progress throughout the academic school year. The School Committee must be knowledgeable of the system to ensure a progressive learning environment.

Per their comments, committee members seemed overwhelmed by the complexity of the system. Mock and Assistant Superintendent Mary Beth Hamel assured the members that this system is still very new, and everyone is in the learning stages.

"I know there's going to be a lot of discussion of how this is all going to unfold this year," Mock said.

Hamel explained the committee is required to attend training sessions on the system.

Through the plan, educators will be ranked on several factors, including student growth, by four different standards; exemplary, proficient, satisfactory or unsatisfactory. 

"From a public perspective, reading the results, parents may ask 'how many teachers are proficient in my kid's school,'" Kelly said. "It will be interesting to see what happens in the state when that data starts to come out and what impact it has."

Change in bus routes

Mock introduced a modification to the district's bus transportation routes because a parent contacted him with a few issues regarding pick-up and drop-off locations.

"One concern was where they are being picked up and what roads they would have to cross," Mock said. "We then became aware that where this child was being picked up wasn't compliant with the contract that we signed with the bus company."

According to Shirley's contract, no child should cross routes 225, 2A, 210 or 111. According to Ayer's contract, only routes 210 and 111 were included. After reviewing the stops for both Ayer and Shirley routes, it came to Mock's attention that there were 10 stops in Shirley and four stops in Ayer that did not comply with the requirements.

"We thought about a complete and major reorganization of the bus routes, but that has its downsides," Mock said.

In the meantime, they have done some rearranging to eliminate all of the problematic bus stops except for three in Ayer. The exceptions are stops for middle school or high school students.

"For now, this seems like the most practical solution," Mock said. The committee agreed and approved the changes.

Mock said it is important for students and parents to know that children should not wait for a bus on the opposite side of the street from where they live. If a child must cross the street to get on a bus, they should wait for the bus to arrive and for the driver to give a signal that it is okay to cross the street before doing so.

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