Shiva Nathan on Sept. 8, 2014

Residents Concerned With STEM Facilities, Fire Drills, School Lunches, Dress Codes

The following is part of a recap from the Sept. 8, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other portions of the recap, click here.

 

7:30 p.m. – The meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance; there was no comment in the public forum.

Shiva Nathan on Sept. 8, 2014

Shiva Nathan on Sept. 8, 2014

7:31 p.m. – Superintendent Bill Olsen praised Westford Academy sophomore Shiva Nathan, who Olsen said “had accomplished more than he could in twenty lifetimes” while sharing his vast list of accomplishments.

School Committee member Margaret Murray asked Nathan how he had gotten so far.

Nathan said he was in fact a junior and that his projects were a mixture of focus, knowledge and being in the right place at the right time; specifically, he said he had found the resources for these projects and found support from people who could help him.

He did not want to self-promote himself, but said it takes focus and passion and plenty of unobstructed time.

Murray asked what Westford could do to improve; Nathan said that more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Centers would help, and that Westford was not as helpful as Nashoba Tech in starting one.

Olsen said that there was currently no room at Westford’s public schools, and that the Blanchard School might have room for one in two years, saying that currently the vocational schools are better equipped.

Olsen then praised Shiva’s brother Vishwa, a freshman at Westford Academy, who has developed a system to help people with arthritis open cabinets, built a 3D printer and has achieved several other awards.

School Committee chairman Tom Clay, School Committee member David Keele and Murray also asked Vishwa questions.

7:43 p.m. – Clay offered newcomers to the room share their concerns. Sheldon LeBlanc of 41 Maple Rd. came to the microphone.

A substitute teacher, he had concerns about fire drill procedures.

LeBlanc said that the fire drills are different in all schools in terms of protocols.

While School Department policies indicated what students should do, LeBlanc said there was nothing indicating what teachers should do during fire drills, and that the absence of emphasis regarding taking attendance during a fire drill was concerning.

He also indicated that ultimately, it should be standardized nationally.

Clay said that security would be discussed soon and this issue would be discussed then.

LeBlanc then advocated for the school lunch program, saying that every child should get a meal, saying that after a $10 limit of money owed by a student from their parents, students are given a cheese sandwich as a substitute.

He said that students are the victims here, saying it is mental anguish for the child.

Clay asked for the sake of clarification if he was talking about a debt limit, which LeBlanc said he was.

LeBlanc said that after that limit, the cheese sandwich was charged at full price to the child and it did not teach a lesson, but was rather harmful.

LeBlanc then talked about dress code violation issues at Westford Academy and that it impacted learning, specifically inappropriate attire.

However, he thought it was hypocritical that the school’s no-hat policy was always enforced while other code violations were not enforced.

LeBlanc said there were fewer issues at the elementary level.

Murray then said there was a chain of command regarding addressing issues and asked if LeBlanc had brought these concerns to more immediate avenues, such as teachers and administrators, LeBlanc said he had not.

Clay clarified the issues and he then asked Olsen’s opinion.

Olsen said the school department never denies a child a meal to eat and the current policy is controversial.

He then said that the fire drill point was an excellent point and it would be brought up with administrators and he would talk to administrators regarding the dress code issue as well.

Olsen said that it had been an issue particularly at the Middle School level.

There were more comments from Murray and Olsen, School Committee member Arthur Benoit then asked when the last time the $10 limit was changed, Olsen was unsure.

Benoit thought that might be part of the problem, as once the lunches were 75 cents. LeBlanc now said that average lunches were around $3.50.

Then Anita Bala, the mother of Shiva and Vishwa, came to the microphone and asked how Westford could be comparative to other places in Massachusetts and said one key thing would be more collaboration with Nashoba Tech. She went on to say STEM programs should be given as electives, which would help in terms of college applications.

Shiva returned to the microphone and said that Westford Academy is sorely lacking compared to Nashoba Tech, saying that the storage room is as big as the engineering room at Westford Academy.

Olsen then said that vocational high schools were developing into centers of research and innovation although they had high cost-per-student issues building that infrastructure. He wondered if it would be possible to work with Nashoba Tech to have Westford Academy students take some classes at Nashoba Tech part time.