Published March 26, 2020


NORTH READING — North Reading High School senior Bridget Grew dialed into the School Committee’s virtual meeting Monday evening to provide student perspective regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and school closure.

“Distance learning is a little unique, but I think both teachers and students alike are really making the best of it,” Grew said. “I’m really enjoying the different opportunities that are being presented to me.”

Grew stated that teachers are sharing resources primarily through Google Classroom, but also through email.

“One of the best parts of the teachers in North Reading, and teachers in general really, is the unique passion they have for their subject and how much they work to educate themselves on it, and how much it’s changing outside of school,” Grew said. “It’s been really wonderful to be able to see that unique passion that each teacher has, and how they’ve been able to share it with all the students.”

According to Grew, history teacher Matt Oosting loves podcasts and has been recommending Advanced Placement (AP) Government-based podcasts to his students.

“Usually that doesn’t necessarily fall into the AP curriculum, so it’s been really enjoyable to listen to (podcasts) he’s curated for us,” Grew said.

Other examples Grew cited included philosophical and ethical articles related to current events presented by philosophy teacher Peter Kane, genetics documentaries shared by science teacher Katelyn Jolibert, and English teacher Gregory Putnam’s literature recommendations, which go beyond the AP Literature suggested reading.

“Overall, it’s been a very unique time, and I think the thing I’m taking away the most is just how much the teachers care about us as people and not just as students in their class,” Grew said. “You can see, just outside of the classroom, how genuine their concern for you is, and it’s really lovely.”

School Committee Vice Chairman Janene Imbriano stated that she was curious to hear how learning was taking place during the school closure, and was happy to learn that the teachers, as well as the administration, were pushing content out to students.

“I can’t give enough credit to the teachers and the entire administration,” Grew said. “We’re getting such a wonderful opportunity to see learning outside of the classroom.”

Committee Chairman Scott Buckley asked Grew how the closures were impacting college applications and acceptances.

Grew noted that accepted students days have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, however many colleges and universities are providing virtual tours and information to aid students in making their final choice.

“We all feel for seniors,” Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly said. “This is an emotional year anyway, and I think this is not what anyone expected or planned…It will be a little different, but you will have great memories and great celebrations.”

Schools have been closed since March 12, and Daly reported that April 7 remains the intended return date.

Is an extended closure on horizon?

“At this time, there’s nothing beyond the April 7 date, but there are some indicators that we should be thinking about what it would look like if we were to be closed any longer,” Daly said. “We’re starting to plant some of those seeds and think about what teaching and learning could look like if we have an extended closure.”

Educational parity a concern

Daly reiterated that the reason the current closure was considered non-school time was due to the need for equitable education.

“We want to have as much equity as possible, and we don’t just want some districts that have the broadband capabilities and the technology capabilities to move way ahead. There are parts of the state that don’t have those capabilities. The other piece is with special education,” Daly said. “We’re not looking to blame anyone or to talk about it in that sense that any population is challenging us in that way, but it is important to recognize that every single student deserves access to education when there is a school day.”

Daly said that he continues to meet regularly with the Merrimack Valley Superintendents Association to discuss next steps.

“We’re starting to see some information from the government where we might be getting more guidance about moving to some kind of instruction rather than no instruction, so there might be some changes and we’re making some preparations for that,” Daly said. “As much as we want all the answers and we want to move forward, we still need to take this day by day because so much is changing so quickly.”

Chromebooks on loan

Daly stated that district Chromebooks were sent out to families who indicated a need on March 23 and 24 for student use at home. He noted that the devices were 2:1 in some cases, however families with more than two students enrolled in the school system received more than one Chromebook.

“I put out a survey a few days ago to get a sense of folks in town that have students in the building that maybe had some needs for devices at home,” Daly said.

PPE drive led by district

According to Daly, Science Curriculum Leader Kerianne Verdonck and High School nurse Tracy Nicholas led a district-wide effort to donate personal protective equipment (PPE) from the schools to the police and fire departments on Monday.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Michael Connelly added that the custodial staff has completed a deep cleaning of all school buildings.

“I want to thank Wayne Hardacker and his custodial staff for their hard work over the last two weeks completing the deep cleaning of all the schools in the district,” Connelly said.

Connelly stated that beginning this past Monday morning grab-n-go breakfasts and lunches were prepared by Food Service staff and delivered by district bus drivers to families in need.

Efforts by all appreciated

School Committee members continued to express their appreciation of the hard work by the administration, teachers, and staff.

“I would just like to thank (Connelly and Daly) as well,” Buckley said. “I like hearing that if it does continue that we will potentially have a little more structure in learning.”