Published in the August 23, 2018 edition


NORTH READING — It pays to do your homework. Literally. Just ask Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard.

Thanks to an idea initiated last fall by School Committee member Mel Webster, who wanted learn more about the state budgetary process for school expenditures, and a subsequent meeting Bernard arranged between State Rep. Brad Jones, Webster and himself, the town will receive $250,000 in the FY19 budget for two specific initiatives.

The entire process took about 10 months, but it was worth it.

One special appropriation will provide the schools with a $75,000 infusion of cash to help accelerate the one-to-one Chromebook initiative. This program aims to get the devices into the hands of an entire grade at one time to enhance digital learning opportunities.

APPROPRIATIONS passed in the state budget totaling $250,000 to be used to fund additional school security upgrades and student Chromebooks were the direct result of a combined effort by Superintendent Jon Bernard (at left), State Rep. Brad Jones Jr. (at right) as well as (missing from photo) S.C. Chairman Mel Webster and State Sen. Bruce Tarr.  (Maureen Doherty Photo)

The other appropriation of $175,000 will be earmarked for additional safety upgrades at all five of the town’s schools.

“We left the meeting with a couple of ideas,” Jones said, who explained that the budget starts in the House and once it passed there he’d work with his counterpart, State Sen. Bruce Tarr, to advance it in that chamber.

After their initial meeting last fall, Bernard got to work. “I put things down on paper and sent them to Brad and asked ‘Does this fit the framework?’” he said.

“I shared with him the one-to-one initiative for Chromebooks. To advance that more quickly and get more devices in the hands of more students, I asked for consideration of one additional grade level of devices for grade 9,” Bernard recalled in an interview at his office on Monday attended by Jones.

In the 2017-18 school year, all seventh graders received their Chromebooks.

“We had been slated to introduce them to grade 8 this 2018-19 school year. Knowing that was a project we ask the Capital Improvements Planning Committee (CIPC) to consider and that gets funded through the town budget, I thought that might stand a greater chance of getting funded (by the state) because the town has been on record as supporting that program, knowing it is a multi-year program,” Bernard said.

It typically costs between $60,000 to $75,000 to fully integrate the devices into an entire grade, Bernard said. This means that the special appropriation will ensure the devices get into the hands of the ninth graders almost a full year early.

Bernard said they are looking to now introduce the Chromebooks to the ninth-graders in the second semester of the 2018-19 school year. During the first semester, they will need to conduct professional development with staff members to migrate class lessons from paper to tablet.

School security upgrades

“All five schools; all four buildings, are going to receive review and attention for implementing what is determined to be necessary by the School Safety Committee,” Bernard said of the $175,000 appropriation for school security enhancements.

Both Jones and Bernard stressed that the discussion around school security upgrades had been ongoing prior to any of the school shootings during the past school year.

Bernard agreed that the schools have been proactive, not reactive, in this regard. The School Safety Committee is comprised of himself along with NRHS Assistant Principal Michael Downs, NRMS Assistant Principal Michael Maloney, Batchelder School Principal Sean Killeen, Police Chief Michael Murphy, Fire Chief Don Stats, Officer Sean O’Leary and School Resource Officer Det. Paul Lucci.

Naturally, due to the nature of the security measures to be implemented, he would not discuss specifics, but stressed all five schools in all four buildings would benefit from this earmark.

Bernard was thankful for the support both Jones and Tarr provided throughout this 10-month process. “Brad kept me posted as to where things were, which was helpful because it channeled my energies toward being ready to go if this does happen,” he said, adding that he also received communication on the progress from Tarr.

Jones is no stranger to the needs of the local schools as he lives in town and also has two children who attend North Reading Middle/High School, so he is also frequently in the building as well and knows Bernard.

Jones explained that the funds will be released in phases to the town. “We get a point of contact with a particular agency and they usually execute a contract with the community,” he said.

While the money is part of the current state budget that fact “does not mean that all the money is available in the first month. It’s cash flow,” Jones added.