Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, May 25, 2022

School Shooting in Uvalde, Texas

We are devastated over the tragic events that took place at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday, May 24th.  We can’t understand or imagine the pain the families and members of the community of Uvalde must be experiencing at this time.  Mass shootings in our schools and in our society are happening all too frequently in the United States.  We need to continue to work to find solutions to the issues of hate and division in our society, the lack of available treatment for mental illness and too easy access to firearms that are the underlying causes of these tragic events.  The cost of our inaction is unfortunately the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society.

The health and safety of our staff and students continues to be our highest priority at Masconomet.  We enjoy a productive working relationship with the police and fire departments of Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield, and have worked with these public safety departments to develop comprehensive school crisis response plans which include regularly scheduled  A.L.I.C.E., active shooter, lockdown and fire drills.  These plans are frequently reviewed and practiced by our schools under the guidance of our public safety departments and school-based safety committees.  We are also grateful to have the support of dedicated school resource officers (SROs) from Boxford and Topsfield assigned to work in our schools every day.  In addition, we have full time District Security staff, closed-circuit video monitoring (CCTV), and visitor management systems in place to help ensure the safety of our school community.

At Masconomet, we are also committed to addressing the social-emotional needs of all our students.  Our school counseling staff has been trained in Mental Health First Aid and is available to support any member of our school community at any time.  If your child has questions about the tragedy in Texas, the National Association of School Psychologists has developed the resource document Talking to Children about Violence:  Tips for Parents and Teachers, that you may wish to consult. 

I know we all can agree that children and adults need to feel safe and supported in our schools.  We at Masconomet are all committed to this bedrock principle and will continue to do everything in our power to make this a reality.

Credit for Life Fair

Masconomet hosted the Credit for Life Fair on May 24th.  11th grade students from nine local high schools came to the Masconomet Field House to participate.  Here’s the description of the Credit for Life Fair from its Website:  “The intent of Credit for Life is to prepare students to survive financially in the everyday world BEFORE they leave high school. Students choose professions, assume the roles of 25-year old ‘professionals with paychecks’ and use their monthly ‘salaries’, ‘credit cards’ and ‘savings accounts’ to purchase everything they will need to live as adults. The goal of the day: to balance their budget and not overspend.”  The Credit for Life Fair is organized and underwritten by the Institution for Savings.  Special thanks to Director of Business, Technology and Computer Science Ben Hodges for his work in organizing this fantastic event!

Memorial Day Assemblies

On Friday, May 27th both the Middle and High Schools will be holding their annual Memorial Day Assemblies.  This is the first time in two years that the assemblies will be held in person.  As has been our practice pre-COVID, members of our local veterans’ organizations have been invited to participate in these assemblies.  Thanks to Middle School Faculty Members Marnie Butler and Nicko Tzortzis and High School Faculty Member Ben Hanchett for their efforts in organizing these events.

Senior Activities

We are beginning our series of events to celebrate the Class of 2022.  We have a full week of events planned:

  • Thursday 5/26
    • Senior Internship Fair.  Seniors who participated in the Senior Internship Program will return to school to present projects documenting their internship experience.
  • Tuesday 5/31
    • Senior Baccalaureate, 6:30 PM
  • Thursday 6/2 
    • Senior Awards Ceremony, 9:00 AM
  • Friday 6/3
    • Graduation Ceremony, 6:30 PM

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 4/27/22

Masconomet Operating Budget to be Considered at Annual Town Meetings

The final step in the approval process for Masconomet’s Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget will be a vote at each town’s Annual Town Meeting, which are scheduled for Tuesday, May 3rd at 7:00 PM in Topsfield and Tuesday, May 10th at 7:00 PM in Boxford and Middleton.  Topsfield and Boxford’s Town Meetings will be held in the Masconomet Auditorium. Middleton’s Town Meeting will be held in the Gymnasium at the Howe Manning School. In order for the Masconomet Budget to pass, at least two of the three Town Meetings must vote to approve the Masconomet Budget.

The School Committee’s adopted FY23 Masconomet General Operating Expense (after Offsets) Budget is $37,574,382, which is an increase of $853,893 (2.3%) over the current year’s budget.  The adopted budget includes funding for “level services” or a continuation of all current programming, plus an increase in staffing to bring our current part-time drama teaching position to full time.  The School Committee’s adopted budget also includes the funding necessary to implement an across the board 25% reduction in student athletic and extra-curricular fees.  Please come to your Annual Town Meeting to support the FY23 Masconomet Budget.

For more information about the FY23 Masconomet Budget, please go to: https://www.masconomet.org/Page/845

In addition to the FY23 Masconomet Budget, all three Town Meetings will also be considering the approval of several Warrant Articles containing Amendments to the Masconomet Regional Agreement. These Amendments were recommended after a review of the Masconomet Regional Agreement by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and seek to ensure the Masconomet Regional Agreement reflects current state statutes and regulations for the operation of a regional school district. Amendments to the Masconomet Regional Agreement require the approval of all three Town Meetings in order to be passed. For more information about these Warrant Articles, please refer to your town’s Annual Town Meeting Warrant Book.

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, April 6, 2022

Senior Citizens’ Concert a Success

Thanks to Masconomet faculty members, Ben Hanchett, Brian Ocock, and Randy O’ Keefe as well as School Committee members Bill Hodges and Joe Ciampa for their efforts in support in our Senior Citizen St. Patrick’s Day Concert, which was held on Tuesday, March 29th.  Approximately 50 senior citizens from Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield were treated to great performances by our instrumental and choral groups.  The afternoon also included a raffle for gift baskets that were prepared by our student council representatives.  Thanks to all of our faculty and students who had a part in putting this show together.

Staff Development Presentation by Tom Guskey, PhD.

On Monday, April 4th, the Masconomet Faculty participated in a staff development training by Dr. Thomas Guskey, a nationally recognized expert on the topic of student grading and assessment.  Dr. Guskey’s remarks centered on how we could change our practices around grading in order to better document a student’s progress towards mastering our curriculum and communicate this progress with families.  A first step in this process is to develop a shared “purpose statement” as to why we grade students.  This purpose statement is then used to guide decisions around how student progress is reported.  In his remarks, Dr. Guskey also explored many common practices in grading, such as the use of percentage grades, “plus” and “minus” grades, and a single grade that combines academic achievement and study habits and explained the drawbacks associated with each of them.  Ultimately, Dr. Guskey advocated for a grade reporting system that separately reports a student’s progress on meeting academic standards and their progress on essential “workplace readiness” skills.  After the presentation to the entire faculty, Dr. Guskey spent an hour with our department heads discussing ideas on how to implement the type of grading system he favors.  This presentation gave us a lot to consider.  We will be continuing the discussion of Dr. Guskey’s ideas beginning with our middle and high school faculty meetings next week.

School Choice Application Available for Entering Grade 9 Students

The Masconomet School Committee has voted to participate in the Massachusetts School Choice Program for incoming grade 9 students at Masconomet Regional High School for the 2022-2023 school year. The School Choice Program allows students who are not residents of Boxford, Middleton, or Topsfield to apply to attend school at Masconomet. The School Committee has voted to accept up to 10 new students to 9th grade under this program. Interested applicants can apply by filling out the form at the following link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScBLFsTFvCo6xMHn-Xi5BYYarZsIGxftVerzPiiP8LG8fZGpQ/viewform?usp=sf_link. Completing this application does not guarantee acceptance in the Masconomet Regional District. If there are more applicants than spaces available, a lottery will be held on May 20, 2022.
Students will be notified if they have been accepted or placed on a wait list by May 23, 2022. If you know someone who is not a resident of Boxford, Middleton or Topsfield who has an incoming 9th grader who would like to attend Masconomet next year, please pass this info along.

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, March 23, 2022

Welcome to Lynne Bennett as Masconomet’s New Assistant Superintendent for Student Services

Last night the School Committee unanimously approved my recommendation to appoint Lynne Bennett to the position of Assistant Superintendent for Student Services for the Masconomet Regional School District, effective July 1, 2022.  Ms. Bennett is currently the Administrator for Special Education at Arlington High School in Arlington, MA, a position she has held since 2014.  Prior to working in Arlington, Ms. Bennett has been an Evaluation Team Chair in the Haverhill Public Schools, the Principal of Wayside Academy in Framingham, MA, the Director of the Family and Student Support Team at the Boston Renaissance Charter School, and the Director of Student Services in the Danvers Public Schools.  She is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).  Ms. Bennett holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Bridgewater State University, a Master of Social Work Degree from Simmons University and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Educational Leadership and Special Education Administration from Cambridge College.  

Through the interview process, Ms. Bennett made two visits to Masconomet, one in January and one in February.  At the beginning of March, the members of the Executive Leadership Team and I also traveled to Arlington High School to speak with Ms. Bennett’s colleagues regarding their experiences working with her.  Through this interview process, several themes emerged regarding Ms. Bennett.  She is a competent program administrator, who understands the legal complexities of the special education system in Massachusetts and is able to develop and implement systems and processes that ensure compliance with state laws and regulations.  She is also a strategic thinker, who looks to develop a complementary portfolio of programs that meet the needs of her students.  She is a team player who fully understands that change is a process, that new initiatives need constant monitoring and fine-tuning and that faculty need her support in order to be successful.  She is also fully committed to developing the social-emotional needs of all students.  I look forward to Lynne joining our leadership team and bringing her skills and her passion for serving the needs of all students to Masconomet.   

Congratulations to the Cast and Crew of Grease

Congratulations to the cast and crew of the high school’s production of Grease.  Congratulations also to Mr. Brian Periera, Mr. Brian Ocock, and Ms. Marcia Kilgallen for their work with our students on the production.  I had the pleasure of attending on the opening night last Thursday.  It was great to see a full house enjoying the amazing work of our students.

Masconomet Certified Operating Budget Transmitted to Town Treasurers

On Monday, March 14th Assistant Superintendent Jeff Sands and District Treasurer Jeannie Gioioso delivered the School Committee’s Adopted FY23 Operating and Debt Service Budget to the treasurers of Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield.  The FY23 Masconomet General Operating Expense (after Offsets) Budget is $37,574,382, which is an increase of $853,893 (2.3%) over the current year’s budget.  The adopted budget includes funding for “level services” or a continuation of all current programming, plus an increase in staffing to bring our current part-time drama teaching position to full time.  The adopted budget also includes the funding necessary to implement an across the board 25% reduction in student athletic and extra-curricular fees.  The final step in the approval process for Masconomet’s FY23 budget will be approval of the voters at Annual Town Meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, May 3rd in Topsfield and Tuesday, May 10th in Boxford and Middleton.  For more information about the FY23 Masconomet Budget, please go to: https://www.masconomet.org/Page/845

Masconomet to Host Concert for Senior Citizens on March 29th

Thanks to School Committee Member Bill Hodges, Student Government Advisor Ben Hanchett and Music Department Head Randy O’Keefe for organizing a St. Patrick’s Day Concert for senior citizens in Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield on Tuesday, March 29th.  Seniors will be treated to performances from our Masconomet High School Band and Chorus and a boxed lunch.  Thanks also to School Committee Member Joe Ciampa for his generous donation to support the lunches for the seniors.

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 3/9/22

COVID Case Report

The Masconomet Regional School District has had a total of two reported COVID cases since February 28, 2022.  Both of these reported cases were staff members.

At-Home COVID Testing Program

Masconomet continues to participate in DESE’s At-Home Testing Program.  In this program, any student or staff member who opts into the program will be provided one at-home rapid COVID test kit every other week for as long as DESE continues the program.  We currently have 622 students and staff who have signed up for the program.  Parents and faculty members may still opt into the program at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSceWxzZKEwUeuOCzGM2aOPdAw8gN0hxxOHKNJqTIoGOFhAPxQ/viewform?usp=sf_link  Our next test kit distribution will be during the week of March 14th

2022-2023 School Year Calendar

The School Committee has approved the calendar for the 2022-2023 school year.  The full calendar can be viewed at: https://www.masconomet.org/Page/2#calendar1/20220310/month

In 2022-2023, teachers will return to work from summer vacation on Monday, August 29, 2022.  Orientation for students in grades 7 and 9 will be held on Tuesday, August 30th.  The first day of school for all students in grades 7-12 will be on Wednesday, August 31st and regular classes will be held on Thursday, September 1st.  There will be no school on Friday, September 2nd and Monday, September 5th in observance of Labor Day. 

Starting the school year before Labor Day will allow us to end earlier in June.  The last day of the 2022-2023 school year with no added snow days will be Tuesday, June 13th, 2023.  The last day including five make up days for snow cancellations will be Wednesday, June 21st, 2023.

The current calendar does not identify any delayed opening or early dismissal days for professional development.  These days are still under consideration and will be added to the calendar later this year.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Search Update

I am moving forward in the process of making a final choice for the position of Assistant Superintendent of Student Services.  Our two finalists, Lynne Bennett and Brad Denton, both had onsite interviews during the week of February 7th.  Last week, the Masconomet Executive Leadership Team visited the Arlington, Massachusetts Public Schools to conduct a site visit for Ms. Bennett.  Later this week, we will be conducting an in-house “site visit” to meet with members of the Masconomet faculty and administration regarding Mr. Denton.  I want to thank everyone who has taken part in this process through serving on the screening committee, attending the candidates interviews and submitting feedback on the two candidates.  I plan on making a recommendation to the School Committee of a preferred candidate on March 23rd

Presentation by Tom Guskey on April 4

On Monday, April 4th, 2022, Masconomet will be hosting Thomas Guskey, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Kentucky.  Dr. Guskey is the author/editor of over twenty books and numerous articles on educational measurement, evaluation, assessment and grading.  Dr. Guskey will be speaking to our faculty during the scheduled delayed opening on April 4th and then will be meeting with members of the District Leadership Team.  In anticipation of Dr. Guskey’s remarks, we have provided all faculty with a copy of his book, On Your Mark; Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting (2015).  In this book, Dr. Guskey explores the current practices of student grading and grade reporting, explores the underlying flaws in these practices and challenges educators to develop more authentic and relevant grading practices that truly reflect what students are learning in the classroom. 

Middle and High School Schedule Committee

One of the agreements reached between the Masconomet Teachers Association and the School Committee in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was approved by the School Committee on February 16, 2022 creates more flexibility in our daily schedule.  I am currently in the process of assembling a team of faculty and administration, including representatives from the Masconomet Teachers Association, to consider new daily schedule options for the Middle and High Schools that reflects these changes that were agreed on in the CBA.  I anticipate that I will be presenting our recommended new schedule at a School Committee Meeting in June. 

Masks Optional at Masconomet Beginning February 28, 2022

Dear Masconomet Community,

Effective Monday, February 28th, masks will be optional for all students and staff in the Masconomet Regional School District. 

Wearing masks will still be required in the following situations:

  • An individual who tests positive for COVID-19 returns to school following the 5-day isolation period, when around others, other than when eating, drinking, or outside, through day 10 of exposure (aligned with DESE/DPH guidelines).
  • An asymptomatic, unvaccinated individual (close contact) returns to school following a 5-day quarantine period, when around others, other than when eating, drinking or outside, through day 10 of exposure (aligned with DESE/DPH guidelines).
  • Individuals riding on school transportation vehicles (in compliance with the ongoing federal order).
  • Any staff or student must wear a mask while in our school health offices and isolation rooms.
  • We reserve the right to add to this list as other situations that require masking present themselves.

As we move to this latest phase in our response to the pandemic, I am asking that families partner with us to reinforce our district’s commitment to respecting each other’s differences.  Continuing to wear a mask, or not, at Masconomet is a personal choice that we expect will be honored and accepted by everyone.  We must understand that we are not all in the same place relative to our comfort level with easing pandemic restrictions.  For some, the decision to continue to wear a mask may be due to a specific personal or family health concern.  For others, moving away from specific mitigation strategies may be uncomfortable and take some time for adjustment.  I ask that you speak with your children about the need to be respectful of all choices about personal health and safety at this time. 

Over the past two years, our students and our faculty have overcome many challenges in continuing to learn and work through the pandemic.  While I’m hopeful that we have reached the beginning of the end of the pandemic, I would caution anyone from letting their guard down too soon.  If we’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that COVID isn’t truly going to go away, and we will have to continue to adapt the ways we live, work and learn as this disease moves from pandemic to endemic.  While we are making mask-wearing an optional mitigation strategy, we are also now offering the strategy of increased COVID testing through the regular distribution of at-home COVID test kits to any staff or student who opts to receive one and plan to continue offering symptomatic COVID testing for students and staff here on campus.  Faculty and students who signed up for test kits by this past Monday will receive them by today, February 17th.  It is still possible now to opt-in to begin receiving test kits during the week of February 28th.  For more information, including the sign up link, please go to: At-Home COVID Testing Program. 

I hope everyone has a safe, enjoyable and healthy February Vacation Week!

Sincerely,

Michael M. Harvey, Ed.D.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Public Interviews

Both of our finalists for Assistant Superintendent for Student Services, Brad Denton and Lynne Bennett, completed their visits to Masconomet this week. During their visits, each candidate met with representative groups at Masconomet, including the Executive Leadership Team, Student Services Department Personnel, and Department Heads. The candidates also had an open forum with members of the faculty at the end of their visits. The visits concluded with an evening session held via Zoom for parents, and community members. Everyone who met with the candidates was asked to complete a feed back form that I will use to inform my decision.

Both evening sessions were recorded so anyone who was unable to attend may view the sessions below and submit written feedback on their impressions. I plan on recommending a preferred candidate to the School Committee on March 23, 2022. The feedback form can be accessed at: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfK2Y9jSONEa_yEW9-XWx1HKx0A4wQcYSHztTPxo2a872q9QQ/viewform?usp=sf_link

Brad Denton’s Public Interview Recording:

Lynne Bennett’s Public Interview Recording:

Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 2/2/22

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Finalists

I’m pleased to announce the two finalists for the position of Assistant Superintendent for Student Services for the Masconomet Regional School District, Lynne Bennett and Brad Denton.  Both candidates will be available for evening interview sessions for interested members of the community at the dates and times below.  Interview sessions will be recorded and posted to the Masconomet website for later viewing.  For the full announcement, including the bios for each finalist, please go to: https://mascosuper.school.blog/2022/01/31/assistant-superintendent-for-student-services-finalists/

New COVID Testing Program

As I wrote to the Masconomet Community on February 1st, in accordance with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Department of Public Health (DPH), we are updating our COVID-19 Testing Program, effective February 14, 2022.  We are opting into an at-home testing program that will increase testing of our participating students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Through this program, we will be distributing one COVID-19 rapid test kit containing two tests every other week to any student or staff member who opts to receive one.  Participating individuals will be expected to administer one test at home each week on Sunday and to report any positive test results to their school.  For more information about this update to the statewide testing program, please click here

We will begin distribution of test kits in school during the week of February 14, 2022. This will allow all students and staff who opt into the program to take a test on February 27th before returning to school from February Break.  In addition to this new at-home antigen test option, we will continue with symptomatic testing during the week.  As part of this shift in the program, we are discontinuing Test and Stay and contact tracing for in-school close contacts as of February 18, 2022. This means that if your child is a potential close contact in school, they may continue to come to school and do not have to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic.  Out of school close contacts will still be subject to current quarantine guidelines.  2This new at-home testing opportunity is voluntary and only those who opt-in will receive tests.  Opt-in forms will be sent out electronically later this week.

COVID Case Update

As I report the latest COVID cases at Masconomet, I want to repeat that the numbers I report represent only the cases that have been reported to the District through our local public health agencies.  These cases are identified either through the administration of a PCR test outside of school, a rapid antigen test at school through our Test and Stay and Symptomatic Programs, or have been reported by a physician to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  Because they do not contain results from rapid antigen tests that are administered at home and not reported to a physician, they are likely to underrepresent the actual number of cases that exist in our community.  The numbers I have presented in the past do seem to reflect the general prevalence of COVID in our community, but they are by no means meant to be comprehensive.

The reported COVID cases at Masconomet for the last two weeks are continuing to trend in a positive direction.  For the two-week period from  January 20th through February 2nd, we’ve had fourteen reported COVID cases at Masconomet.  That’s down from 39 cases for the period from January 6th through January 19th.

Our average daily student attendance has also returned to more normal rates from their highs in early January.

Masconomet Average Daily Attendance, January 2022

Masconomet High SchoolMasconomet Middle School
Dates:Avg. Daily Absences/Total StudentsAverage Daily % AbsentAvg. Daily Absences/Total StudentsAverage Daily % Absent
1/3/22-1/10/22167/104216%66/59511%
1/25/22-1/31/2262/10426%30/5955%

For the sake of comparison, the Middle and High Schools both averaged around 5% student absences during the same weeks in January of 2020.

The month of January 2022 had a total of 84 reported COVID cases, which is almost twice as many cases as the other 5 months of the 2021-2022 school year combined (44 total cases in Sept., Oct., Nov., and Feb.).  In January, there were 49 reported high school student cases, 18 reported middle school student cases and 17 reported faculty cases.

Test and Stay and Symptomatic Testing Programs also saw their highest usage during January 2022.  We administered a combined 161 rapid tests through these two programs in January 2022.  There were 15 positive results from these 161 tests, which is a 9% positivity rate.  Our positivity rate for all other months in the 2021-2022 school year is 2%.  Since September 21, 2021, we have administered 381 total tests and had a total of 19 positive results, which is an overall 5% positivity rate.

Masconomet Test and Stay and Symptomatic Testing ResultsTests AdministeredPositive Results% Positivity
Month of January 2022161159%
All Other Months in 2021-202222042%
Totals for 2021-2022 School Year381195%

Mask Waiver Update

As I explained in my last update to the School Committee, Masconomet reached the 80% vaccination threshold set by DESE for allowing vaccinated students and staff the option of removing their masks on December 7, 2021.  Masconomet received the waiver from DESE on December 17, 2021.  The Town of Boxford still maintains a face covering order that applies to Masconomet.  Ultimately, this local public health order prevails over any other state requirement.

In October of 2021, the Boxford Board of Health communicated to me that they would be open to considering a waiver for Masconomet from the face covering order under two conditions. The first condition was meeting the 80% vaccination threshold and receiving the waiver from DESE. The second condition was:

“That, as made clear in the DESE Communication of 27 September 2021, unvaccinated students and staff shall continue to be required to wear masks.  We will require your confirmation that this will be done and how you will enforce this requirement.”

Letter from Boxford Board of Health dated October 4, 2021

As we’ve discussed at several School Committee Meetings since October, this provision from DESE and the Boxford Board of Health that unvaccinated students and staff be required to wear masks presented a challenge that did not have a practical solution.  As I explained in my last School Committee report and in more detail in this report, our positive case numbers in January did not support the removal of masks from anyone at the school.  On January 16th, I also explained that we were in the process of implementing DESE’s new testing program that I referenced earlier in this report and that this would require the focus of our Executive Leadership Team for the near future. 

Since my last report on this topic to the School Committee on January 19th, there have been some new developments.  Last Friday, January 28th, Rob Curtin, Associate Commissioner at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education held a conference call with superintendents who have a school that has reached the 80% vaccination threshold and received the DESE waiver. Waivers from the DESE mask requirement are done on an individual school basis.  There are approximately 30 schools out of well over 1,000 public schools in the State of Massachusetts that have received this waiver.  Because of our building layout and our shared spaces, we requested and were approved to have Masconomet Middle and High School viewed as one “school” by DESE for the purpose of the waiver. 

Associate Commissioner Curtin began the January 28th call by polling to see which districts had a school that was mask-optional on January 28.  Only one school, Cohasset High School, indicated that it was.  Two other schools, King Phillip Regional and Norwell High School, indicated they were returning to “mask optional” status on Monday, January 31st.  These schools had implemented optional masks in November and then returned to mandatory masks after Thanksgiving because of the surge.  A few other superintendents indicated their schools were moving in the direction or removing masks in the next few weeks.  To my knowledge, only one other school district on the north shore, Essex Northshore Agricultural and Technical School has even received a waiver.  The notion that Masconomet is somehow “behind” on moving to a mask optional environment is entirely false.

After providing the context on schools that are “mask optional” for the group, Associate Commissioner Curtin informed the superintendents on the call that the purpose of the meeting was for DESE to notify districts that DESE had enacted a policy change in the January 10th extension of the mask mandate that until this meeting had not been explicitly communicated to school districts.  In the January 10th extension, DESE changed from a “requirement” that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks in schools that had received the DESE waiver to a “recommendation” that unvaccinated individuals wear masks.  Associate Commissioner Curtin explained that this change was made because schools that had enacted the DESE waiver had found it nearly impossible to enforce mask-wearing for unvaccinated individuals.

In effect, implementing the mask waiver under the new DESE policy means that masks will be optional for all students and staff at Masconomet, including the 19%, or roughly 400 members of our school community, that are unvaccinated.  Earlier this week, I emailed Dr. Dick Taylor, the Chair of the Boxford Board of Health and set a time to speak with him this week to inform him of these changes to the DESE policy.  During this meeting, I will ask him to have the Boxford Board of Health at its next meeting on February 16th consider voting to exempt Masconomet from the Town of Boxford’s face covering requirement under the new DESE policy.  I plan to propose for the Boxford Board of Health’s consideration that Masconomet would implement a “mask optional” environment beginning on March 14, 2022.  Ultimately, I believe that it is important that we move towards a more “normal” world, but we also need to make sure the current downward trend in case numbers continues and we do not have another surge in cases after February vacation before we make a change.  Waiting until mid-March will also allow us the time to work towards solutions to any concerns that the Boxford Board of Health may have before they grant a waiver from their face covering order.

Masconomet At-Home Testing Program

Dear Masconomet Community,

Over the past two years, we’ve implemented several layers of strategies designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and keep all members of our community safe.  We began the 2020-2021 school year with masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and the development of an extensive contact tracing process where we identified and quarantined anyone who was a close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual.  As we moved into the 2021-2022 school year, the development of effective vaccines for COVID-19 allowed us to limit close contacts subject to quarantine to unvaccinated individuals who were exposed outside of school and to implement a “Test and Stay” Program that allowed unvaccinated individuals who were identified as in-school close contacts to remain in school as long as they participated in daily COVID testing.  

These mitigation strategies have proven to be effective. In-school transmission of COVID-19 is a relatively rare occurrence.  DESE has reported that unvaccinated students and staff identified as in-school close contacts who are tested through the test and stay program test negative over 90% of the time. (https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop/2022-0118new-testing-program.pdf).  At Masconomet, our data is similar to that seen on the state level.  Of the 363 rapid COVID tests administered at Masconomet since late September of 2021 to both in-school close contacts and to individuals exhibiting COVID symptoms, only 19, or 5%, have come back positive.

Because of the low incidence of COVID-19 spread in schools, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is recommending a change in our focus around testing to the identification of symptomatic individuals.  This shift in testing strategy will entail the regular distribution of at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits to all students and staff who opt into this program.  The expectation is that those who choose to participate will administer one rapid test each week on Sunday.  If this test is positive, the individual will observe the mandated isolation period for COVID-positive individuals (currently 5 days after symptom onset or positive test result), and report their positive result to their school.  Individuals are also highly recommended to report a positive test result to their physician.  Along with this shift in focus to identifying symptomatic individuals, Masconomet will continue its symptomatic testing program for students and staff who develop symptoms during the school day.  Along with this new testing plan, we will be discontinuing regular contact tracing and mandating isolation for asymptomatic close contacts and will be ending our Test and Stay Program on February 18th. 

Our plan is to implement this shift to regular at-home COVID testing during the week of February 14th.  During this week, all students and staff who opt into the new at-home program will be issued a rapid COVID-19 test kit with the expectation that one of the two tests in the kit will be used on Sunday, February 27th, the day before we return to school from February vacation week.  Over the next two weeks, we will be sending out more information on this new program, including a link to sign up to receive the test kits.  

Thanks for your continued support as we learn and adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the COVID pandemic.  

Sincerely,

Michael M. Harvey, Ed.D.

Superintendent 

Upcoming Vaccine Clinics in the Tri-Towns

Here are links for upcoming COVID clinics for staff where they can get first, second and booster doses:

Standing clinics in Topsfield and Middleton on Thursdays for ages 12+ (5+ starting on Feb 3rd) 

  • Thursday Feb  3, 1-3pm Town Hall Topsfield
  • Thursday Feb  10, 1-3pm Flint Library Middleton
  • Thursday Feb  17, 1-3pm Town Hall Topsfield
  • Thursday Feb  24, 1-3pm Flint Library Middleton
  • Go to https://home.color.com/vaccine/register/capeann  to register

Vaccine clinic at Masconomet:

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Finalists

It gives me great pleasure to announce the finalists for the position of Assistant Superintendent of Student Services for the Masconomet Regional School District.  This position was advertised in early December, with a closing date of January 5th.  Selected applicants were interviewed by a screening committee composed of representatives from district administration, faculty, Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC) and students last week.  I would like to thank the members of the screening committee for lending their time and expertise to the initial interviews.

The two finalists have been selected to participate in a second round of interviews, which will be held on February 7th, and February 10th.  During these interviews, the candidates will meet with representatives from the Masconomet staff during the school day.  Additionally, candidates will participate in sessions with parents and interested members of the community via Zoom teleconference at 7:00 PM.  Links to the Zoom sessions are provided in the finalists’ bios below.  Everyone who participates in either the in-person meetings at school, or the Zoom sessions will have the opportunity to provide written feedback regarding their impressions of the candidate.  I will be using this feedback as part of my deliberations in deciding which candidate to recommend for the position.

After this round of interviews is completed, the final step in the search process will entail site visits to the candidates’ current districts and reference checks.  This step will be completed after we return from February Vacation.  I anticipate recommending my choice of candidate for the position to the School Committee at its March 23rd meeting.

Brad Denton – Candidate Visit on Monday, February 7th

Brad Denton is currently the Assistant Director of Special Education for the Masconomet Regional School District, a position he has held since 2009.  Mr. Denton joined the Masconomet District in 2006 as a Special Education Program Coordinator.  He also worked as a Special Education Teacher at Peabody High School for three years.  Mr. Denton holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from St. Lawrence University, an M.Ed. in Moderate Special Needs from Lesley University and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Educational Leadership from Salem State University.  Mr. Denton’s resume is available here.   Mr. Denton will have his public interview on February 7th at 7:00 PM via Zoom at this link:   https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84199607172?pwd=Z0VNakxJeERDbS9CTjJ3dk1SYVpMdz09

Lynne Bennett – Candidate Visit on Thursday, February 10th

Lynne Bennett has been employed as the Special Education Administrator for Arlington High School in Arlington, MA since 2014.  Prior to her work in Arlington, Ms. Bennett has served in several roles in special education administration, including Evaluation Team Facilitator with the Haverhill Public Schools, the Head of School at Wayside Academy, and the Director of Student Services for the Danvers Public Schools.  Ms. Bennett is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and actively maintains a private practice.  She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Bridgewater State University, a Master of Social Work Degree from Simmons University and a Certificate in Educational Leadership and Special Education Administration from Cambridge College.  Ms. Bennett’s resume is available here.  Her public interview will be on February 10th at 7:00 PM and available through this link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82051562322?pwd=TzBEMGNlQjFDYk5mY0cwQzJ5YnVWdz09