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Easthampton’s Prevention Task Force hosts a town hall meeting on curbing teen drinking and drug use

The Easthampton Prevention Task Force is hosting a town hall meeting tonight on preventing underage drinking and marijuana use.

The free event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Easthampton High School cafeteria. Speakers will include Assistant District Attorney Yvonne Pesce, Easthampton Police School Resource Officer Alan Schadel and other experts. Dinner will be served at 5 and door prizes will be given to the first 50 attendees. Contact Heather Warner at the task force for details, 586-4998, ext. 15.

The high school’s Open House will be held afterward, beginning at 7.

School lunch changes

Daily offerings now include more fresh fruits and vegetables and more whole grains, according to Andrew Stratton, who directs the city schools’ food services program. Stratton said many of the changes were rolled out last year in anticipation of the new federal regulations.

While most of the menu alterations have been welcomed by students, Stratton heard some complaints relayed by School Committee member Lori Ingraham recently about smaller sandwiches being served at the high school.

“That’s because we now have a maximum we can serve for breads and grains,” he explained.

Stratton said so far, there has been “very little pushback” about a 25-cent price increase in school meals made at the start of the school year — also to comply with USDA rules.

He told School Committee members that Chartwells is hoping to increase participation in the school lunch program to make sure it pays for itself. Last year the program was $44,597 over budget, due to increases in food and labor costs and fewer meals served because of snow days, Stratton said.

This year, Chartwells anticipates the deficit will be reduced to about $400, he said. One reason is that Easthampton’s school meals program now qualifies for an additional per-meal subsidy from the USDA.

MCAS analysis

At a meeting last month, School Committee members took a crash course in state MCAS results.

Curriculum Director Shirley Gilfether described the scoring methods behind the state’s new five-level ranking system for schools and discussed how Easthampton is responding to the most recent round of MCAS scores released last month.

All three city elementary schools ranked at Level 1, the highest performing category, Gilfether reported. White Brook Middle School is a Level 2 because it did not hit certain performance targets, while Easthampton High School is a Level 3, among the lowest performing 20 percent of schools in the state.

The rankings don’t capture all aspects of student learning, Gilfether said. For example, EHS’s Progress and Performance Index, which measures how well the high school is closing scoring gaps among students, has risen by more than 103 percent since 2010.

The complex MCAS data the state collects does help identify challenge areas, Gilfether said. Chief among them are moving the high school out of Level 3 status, improving test scores at White Brook Middle School and sustaining positive growth in student achievement at the elementary schools, she said.

Among the strategies being used to hit those targets are more teacher training and new math software for struggling students at EHS, a new math curriculum at White Brook and a new districtwide data team that will help teachers use MCAS scores to improve instruction, Gilfether said.

Superintendent Nancy Follansbee emphasized that school leaders have been “looking at this data all along and putting in interventions” to help boost student learning.

She added that budget cuts have meant most of those are occurring in the elementary grades. “We’ve had to cut some of those support positions” at the high school, Follansbee said. “That’s one of the reasons we find ourselves struggling to make these gains.”

Ryan joins staff

Hampshire Regional School District has a new Director of Special Services. Irene Ryan, formerly the middle and high school special education supervisor for the Ludlow Public Schools, will begin work at Hampshire Regional on Oct. 15.

Ryan, who lives in Westhampton, began her career as a crisis counselor in Holyoke and also served as a member of the Westhampton School Committee. She replaces Laurie Farkas, who left the regional district in August to become director of special education for the Northampton schools.

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