Northampton School Committee approves $33M budget

  • John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2021 8:31:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After discussing options for supporting high school students coming back to school in person post-pandemic, the School Committee approved a $33 million budget at its meeting Thursday.

The committee did not vote on the budget at its last meeting in March which ended with a request for the school district to consider ways to provide additional social emotional support for high school students through the budget process, Superintendent John Provost said Thursday.

Provost pitched spending around $10,000 in COVID-19 relief funding for curriculum and training in social emotional learning support for everyone at the high school. Already, there is similar programming for all students in the elementary and middle schools, Provost said.

At one point before the pandemic, “there was a rising concern about culture in the high school,” Provost said. “There was a gap in the district’s continuum of social emotional supports at the high school.”

Provost and high school principal Lori Vaillancourt presented several types of programming as options and said they hadn’t yet made a decision on which one would be used.

“I think this is exactly the kind of direction I was hoping to see,” at-large member Susan Voss said.

“These seem like really great culture building, long-term programs to implement SEL (social emotional learning) programming over the course of four years,” Ward 5 committee member Dina Levi said. “Can you help me understand how they would help in the immediate short term — How would they be used to address the needs that students are bringing specifically due to COVID and their experiences over the last year?”

Provost replied, “this provides a net to catch students who present with what I would consider sort of subclinical levels of social emotional concerns which I think is going to be most of them, our data certainly supports it,” he said. “The thing that has been missing from students’ lives is relationships. The reason they are having so many emotional struggles right now is because at a time when human development requires close connection with peers, they’ve been totally cut off from that. All these programs are based on getting students to interact with each other and adults in ways that are effective and supportive and reinforcing and rewarding.”

A lack of routine has also been missing, Valliancourt added. “Also this idea that students are coming back without a lot of practice of regulating emotions. They can just kind of be whoever on their screen or behind the screen and not have to talk or respond to social cues. There’s a lot of coaching that has to happen just be able to be in school and with each other in these social ways.”

In talking to students and staff, Valliancourt commonly hears: “We love our school but the community feels divided. So this hope that we would be able to build a stronger schoolwide community and really be able to build some positive schoolwide morale.”

Voss encouraged Valliancourt to come back to the committee “if there’s ways that all this COVID relief money we’re getting can support the work we just talked about — even short-term parent teacher conferences or interactions with families. I really hope you come back and ask for money for what you need.”

Overall, the budget is 4% larger than the previous year’s budget.

Provost wrote in his budget message that the district has documented many adverse impacts of the extended school shutdown on students including reduced levels of reading and math achievement, particularly for our youngest learners; reduced interest in the post-secondary education application process; and increased course failure rates, particularly among historically under-served populations.

“Erasing the legacy of pandemic-related opportunity gaps will require us to direct additional resources to students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and to sustain these investments over time,” he wrote.

Some of those resources include summer programming, a middle school culture coordinator and more English and Second Language staffing.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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