Board of Education meets for the first time in the 2021 school year

On Thursday September 9, the North Salem Board of Education (BOE) held their first meeting of the 2021-2022 school year. This meeting had all the typical components of a Board meeting with some twists and highlighted commentary.

BOE president Deb D’Agostino explained that the Board was exploring new rules around public commentary that included traditional rules like individuals had to state their names and address and they had to limit comment to three minutes. There are two public commentary periods. However, individuals in the first public comment period are now expected to comment on business directly related to the agenda. Furthermore, there can no longer be any public commentary on issues related to contract negotiation, litigation, or specific students, teachers, or staff members.

Two community members and parents shared commentary during the first public commentary period, but D’Agostino reminded those watching the meeting and attending that the Board was in “listening mode” and would not have a back and forth with the public during the meeting. In a follow up email, D’Agostino explained that this is a business meeting. D’Agostino expressed that the Board would try to “do better” about following up via email on any public commentary expressed. To engage with the public in conversation, D’Agostino suggests emails and reinstituting community conversations.

In other committee news, Climate Smart is a new committee being launched by newly elected Board member Brian Lange. Lange’s climate committee will work in cooperation with North Salem’s newly launched town level committee with the same name. In follow-up questions, D’Agostino explained that “Our school district has an obligation to preserve and protect the natural environment for years and generations to come. We will explore opportunities for green energy subsidies, waste reductions, curriculum enrichment, and more.” During the meeting Lange explained, “we have an obligation to our children to preserve and protect the environment” and welcomed anyone from the community to join the committee. Interested community members can contact Lange at langeboe@northsalemschools.org or boe@northsalemschools.org.

The administration's reports varied, with emphasis on the joy around the opening of school and a somewhat return to semi-normal. Superintendent of North Salem schools, Dr. Freeston remarked on the fact that this was the third year of schooling impacted by COVID, but that seeing the children return on Thursday was a welcome site. He commented on robust enrollment for PQ, including a kindergarten grade with over 80 students. In follow up, Freeston explained that despite larger enrollments for Kindergarten, “we will not be adding a fifth section under any circumstances once the school year begins.” Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services, Dr. VanDerStuyf discussed various grants that have been applied for, as well as the district’s COVID reopening plans. VanderStuyf invited families to view the website to see any changes in COVID related news. VanDerStuyf also introduced North Salem’s new communications specialist, Sara Divi, who is collecting pictures of the students and their first day. Freeston remarked that Divi was “literally on the ground” taking pictures of the children at eye level as they walked into school on the first day.

In exciting news, homecoming returns to North Salem the weekend of September 25. Denise. Kiernan, Director of Physical Education and Athletics, expanded after the meeting, commenting that she was working with both the Booster Club and HS administration to offer the best opportunity “within the parameters of Covid.” She recommended those interested in coming to the games, check out the sports calendar. All games will continue to be aired on Local Live for those who cannot attend in person.

Lastly, John Sieverding, Director of Buildings, Grounds, and Transportation for North Salem, mentioned new bus routes. Routing maps were updated based on contracted support with Transfinder. This allowed the school district to eliminate an entire route; rather than having 14 different buses, NS was able to do all the runs with 13 buses for both the PQ and MS/HS runs. Sieverding also feels that the timing of the routes was better. Sieverding explained that he and Joe Senatore, who manages the buses for NS schools, traveled the routes prior to launching the new patterns. Sieverding explained that some of the roads in North Salem were eye opening: “I thought I needed a horse to get down some of the roads in North Salem.”

As the meeting closed, commentary was made on the school calendars which arrived just in time for the start of the school year. Unfortunately, due to a mistake at the printers, the pages are glossy, which according to Freeston could be problematic for people to write on. BOE member, Andy Brown, reflected on the “refreshing” joy on the teachers and the parents' faces at drop off and remarked “So off we go. 179 days left to go.”

For a recording of the Board meeting, please view the board docs. The next Board of Education meeting will be Wednesday September 29 at 7:30PM.

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