GROTON -- Realizing that adding new holidays to the school calendar would entail unforeseen policy changes, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee settled for simply identifying such days for 2014 and making changes later, if needed.
At issue was a question of adding a number of Jewish holy days to the district's 2014 school calendar including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover.
The matter was raised by resident Rosa Shan who appeared before the committee Jan. 23.
Shan asked that the three holy days be at least recognized on the school calendar. It's difficult, she said, for Jewish families to observe those that might begin at sundown when children have homework to do.
Committee member James Frey moved that the three holy days be recognized on the calendar.
But immediately questions were raised. What would be done for holy days observed over several days and should the district note their start on the evening of the day before the holy day.
Although having a day off from school was not being requested, as they are for Good Friday/Easter and Christmas, it was suggested that when the days are noted on the calendar, they be designated as "no homework" days.
Committee member Leslie Lathrop said the no homework rule should apply to all students, not just Jewish students.
It was suggested that the district check with other schools to see how they handle the subject. Member John Giger said he had conducted some research on his own and found that solutions other schools use run the gamut from eliminating all religious holidays to listing every holy day from every religion.
For his efforts and for questioning the policy complications raised by the addition of the Jewish holy days to the calendar, Giger said he has been accused of being "pro-Christian."
Frey altered his motion to one recognizing the Jewish holidays to one that simply identifies them without any concomitant responsibilities on the part of the district.
In the meantime, a possible change in district policy regarding homework and when exactly recognition of the days should begin is to be studied further.
Members were briefed by math specialist Susan Wynn on how the district is working toward aligning its mathematics curriculum with those of the federal government's Common Core standards.
According to Wynn, the Common Core standards will "up the ante" for students who will be expected to learn principles of mathematics at earlier grade levels than before.
Calling 2013 a transition year, Wynn said alignment will be concentrating on students in the district's pre-K through grade 8 with special focus on integrating technology with classroom instruction.
Wynn described such efforts as "dynamic" and "exciting" and said for students used to Ipads, Smartphones and tablets, working on computers and Smartboards is like "playing a video game." In others words, such instruments make learning more fun ... even math.
The end result, said Wynn, is to give students more of a "conceptual understanding" of a subject rather than ply them with data, making it easier for them to adapt to other classroom settings no matter where they end up.
But in the end, cautioned Wynn, technology can only enhance instruction not replace it.
"This model," concluded Wynn, "is the best of both worlds."
She said the district is required to complete the transition to the Common Core standards by 2014.
Assistant principal Ann Russo is working on a wellness program mandated by the state. Covering nutrition, physical fitness, safety and "well being," the state requires that the district establish workable policies in all those areas for the benefit of students. To that end, a committee was formed and has already surveyed administrators and heads of town services in an attempt to identify areas of "strength and needs" in the community. In the immediate future, the committee expects to reach out next to parents, the School Committee and students for help in moving the agenda forward.
Building and grounds director Steve Byrne explained savings the district has made through energy conservation. He cited conversion from oil to gas heat at the Prescott School building with a savings of $21,000; conversion from oil to gas at Swallow Union School for a savings of $31,000; continued installation of hand dryers, expected to save on the cost of paper towels; the Middle School North building, which has won a free upgrade to its lighting system expected to cut energy use there by 12 percent; a program to cut use of electricity during the summer months, which yielded a check for $5,800 from Groton Electric Light Department.