HARVARD - The results are in. On Monday, the Harvard School Committee listened to a summary report of a Devens resident survey gauging satisfaction with the MassDevelopment contract to educate Devens children in the Harvard School District.
It's the third year such a survey has been conducted and the questions asked were largely the same in order to track satisfaction over time. However, Devens Education Advisory (DEAC) Committee Chair Maureen Babcock wondered if the survey should be shortened in order to spark a greater response rate, but also noted that some households may have disregarded the form if they did not have school-aged children.
Sixty-one Devens households began the survey. Only 54 residents completed the survey.
Of that number, 26 respondents had school-aged children (22 with students attending Hildreth Elementary School [HES] and 4 with children attending The Bromfield Middle/High School [TBS]). The survey was carried out between April 4 and May 7. Twenty percent of respondents said they school their children elsewhere.
School Committee member Kirsten Wright serves as a liaison to the DEAC and presented the findings. She said it was clear that a message must be sent to Devens residents stressing "how important that feedback is to us."
School Superintendent Joseph Connelly said that both school principals would be "more than happy" to send letters home in student backpacks next spring alerting them of the survey and asking that they
But the "big picture" is that 85 percent of respondents were "Happy with what's happening here with the schools," said Wright. The biggest strength, "loud and clear," was parents' satisfaction with bus driver Marianne Bemis (or "Mrs. B") who runs the Devens route.
Parents also praised the transition of new children into the district. For the five new HES families and 1 new Bromfield student, the marks were perfect 4.0 scores. Wright also noted increased satisfaction between teacher discipline and teacher/student relation questions.
A noted weakness was a dip in satisfaction with special education services at HES. Connelly said he was working with SPED Director Pam DeGregorio to narrow the issues there though there were only six respondents who stated their child received special education services at HES.
Connelly said he wanted Devens parents to know the district "acknowledged" the survey findings and said "it's a message." In return, Connelly said a letter to Devens residents would be drafted and sent indicating "we saw it [the survey results] and take it very seriously."
Also, new this year was a section of the form which solicited feedback about the effectiveness of the DEAC in representing Devens' interests. Liberally-sprinkled throughout the responses were negative comments about the $13,000 per child sum that MassDevelopment pays to Harvard to educate school children.
Connelly indicated he was meeting with MassDevelopment's Executive VP for Devens Operations George Ramirez on Wednesday as the two continue to work out a longer-term contract between the state agency and Harvard. Presently Devens children are educated in district on a year-to-year, automatically renewing basis. Connelly said he'd have a contract draft for school consideration by the board's June 25 meeting.
--CATV, OPEB, K STATUS, & NEW HIRES
A storage space on the lowest floor of the middle school could house Harvard Cable Access Television studios if and when it's displaced from the Old Library on Fairbank Street. School Committee member Keith Cheveralls said he's been exploring the idea with cable television coordinator Robert Fernandez in the event the Old Library is repurposed yet again into temporary town government office space while Town Hall undergoes renovations.
Cheveralls noted that the space has "a long way to go" including cabling, décor and accessibility issues. The space is currently used to store recyclables generated at the school, but School Superintendent Joseph Connelly said the recycling storage location could be moved.
On the financial front issue, Cheveralls said he and former selectman Leo Blair were heartened to see the Finance Committee talk earnestly last week about establishing a study subcommittee to plumb the depths of the town's looming OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) issue for its retired employees. The duo asked the committee to "really grab hold" of the task of charting a recommended course on budgeting for health and life insurance benefits for municipal retirees.
Cheveralls suggested the school committee meet with the firm that audited the town books to explain the Harvard's baseline OPEB liability.
The committee will decide in July whether there will be three or four kindergarten classes in the fall. There were 52 students enrolled as of Monday. Connelly indicated the ideal is 60 students, with 15 per class since the district policy is for kindergarten class sizes of between 15-18 students. Connelly suggested the K classes could proceed with fewer than 15 students, banking on hopes that more students move into district and enroll as the school year unfolds.
Kindergarten teacher Cindy Hanson was transferred into a second-grade teaching post, leaving three kindergarten teachers with a fourth to follow as needed. Connelly said Hanson's shift "in no way indicates that we've made a decision to go from 4 to 3 (kindergarten) classes" but allows teacher assignments to be made for all first- through fifth- grade students in early summer. Kindergarten class assignments are expected to follow in late June or early July.
Connelly announced new hires in time for the coming school year. Christopher Boyle of Turners Falls will serve as the new school district Information Technology Director. Boyle is presently the Technology Director in the Winchester, New Hampshire school district (Unit #94), and previously served as Technology Director in the Hinsdale, Monadnock and Winchester, NH (Unit #38) school district. Boyle majored in computer information systems with a minor in business management from Westfield State College, and a Master's Degree in Information Technology Management from Franklin Pierce University.
George Kendall of Boxford was hired to serve as the combined Bromfield English and Theater Arts teacher. Kendall is presently the English, Humanities and Theater Arts teacher for the Windham, New Hampshire school district. Previously Kendall held similar posts in the Concord-Carlisle and Dracut high schools, having led 30 different student productions atop his community theater experience. Kendall received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor for Theater and English Literature, and his Master's Degree in Shakespeare studies from the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham (UK).
Cricket Smith Segaloff of Harvard will serve as Library Assistant at Hildreth Elementary School. Segaloff holds a Master's Degree in Library Science from Simmons College and undergraduate degree in Anthropology from Kenyon College. Since 2008, Segaloff has volunteered to assist in the library, media lab, and as a reading volunteer at HES. Connelly said Segaloff will free lead librarian Mary Elizabeth Creegan to work with teachers on integration technology into the curriculum.
Heather Montalto of Jefferson, MA was hired earlier in the day on Monday as the district's Occupational Therapist. Montalto has been the occupational therapist for the Quabbin Regional School District in Barre for the last two years, and previously worked both at the Devereaux Foundation in Rutland and the Holy Trinity Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Worcester. Montalto received her Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy from Worcester College and has been a licensed occupational therapist since 1999.
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