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School District to Host Community Conversations on Diversity

LONGMEADOW, MA – Longmeadow Public Schools will host two sessions of community conversation regarding the diverse populations in the schools.

“Essentially the focus is around equity and diversity,” Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea explained at the School Committee’s April 23 meeting. “My hope is that we can really ramp up the conversation in this community about what are the practices and the initiatives that are underway that help us serve the diverse needs of all kids and hopefully get some feedback from parents on how we can improve – how can we better serve the diverse needs of our students?”

Both sessions will take place May 15 in the Central Office conference room A-15. The first session will be at 10 a.m. and the second at 7 p.m., and each will run for no longer than 90 minutes. Attendance will be limited to the first 25 parents who register at http://lpsconversation-equitydiversity.eventbrite.com/?s=94409005.

Speaking on the recent discussions by the administrative team, he told the School Committee the district has laid a foundation upon which it can “strengthen our commitment to cultural competency.” He added the district has been utilizing data to analyze and assess the success of all students. “Certainly, in the aggregate, there’s a lot to be proud of, but when you break apart the scores, are there populations of students that we could better serve? [Assistant Superintendent for Learning Sue Bertrand] has done a nice job of bringing that increasingly to the attention of our administrative team,” O’Shea said.

Addressing curriculum, he said he felt teachers were culturally conscious when selecting literary works, musical selections and topics discussed in history classes, among others. “All those things matter in terms of giving kids a sense of comfort in a classroom, feeling they belong, and engage as learners,” he said.

He continued to say next year he is interested in creating an equity and diversity steering committee consisting of educators, School Committee members, administrators, parents, and students to discuss these issues and develop new methods through which the district can become more open and accommodating to students from different cultures or with various needs.

“I think it is that important to the experience for kids in Longmeadow schools,” he said.

He went on to say he felt the district could do more to address data analysis, recruitment of diverse staff, and additional staff training. In other district news, custodians recently underwent asbestos awareness training, but officials stressed it was a proactive and educational safety measure for employees and there is no danger to students. O’Shea noted that a letter would go out to parents and district employees this month explaining the district’s asbestos management practices and how to go about obtaining more information.

“[It’s] not unusual to have buildings with asbestos and as long as it’s contained and sealed and not disrupted, it doesn’t pose a hazard to kids,” O’Shea said. “It’s a highly, highly regulated area and our new facilities director, Nick Georgantas, has really taken it by the horns. He’s done a nice job of ensuring that we’re compliant with the piles of regulations on this.”

Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Thomas Mazza explained the district was required to offer the training to remain in compliance with regulations regarding the building material. He said there is still some asbestos in the town’s two middle schools, but not in the high school or the elementary schools as all of those have been built or renovated within the last 20 years.

He said a mandatory inspection occurs every three years and a plan outlining the areas containing asbestos is kept at each of the buildings and the procedures to follow if any work is performed in those areas.

O’Shea and School Committee Chair Armand Wray also reported they, along with Kathleen Rosado of the Longmeadow Education Association, met with state Sens. Eric Lesser and Jason Lewis as well as representatives of various districts throughout Western Massachusetts to discuss possible changes to the Chapter 70 local aid formula for school districts. Lewis is the Senate chairman for the Joint Committee on Public Education. Wray explained the stagnant property values and wealth and income tax were major factors impacting Longmeadow in the current formula calculations. He said concerns about reaching the tax ceiling were also raised in the discussion.

“Every district has its own unique experience with Chapter 70, but Armand did a nice job of saying that we’re all in the same economic boat,” O’Shea said. “As long as property valuations remain stagnant or flat in Western Mass., we’re all in a difficult place in terms of Chapter 70 aid and school funding … It was a great opportunity for us to hear from other communities and talk about the challenges we’re facing fiscally.”