October 6, 2021 By Carol Britton Meyer
Interim Supt. of Schools Gary Maestas shared his top goals for the current school year with the School Committee this week.
"I'll be working with my team on a daily basis to accomplish these goals and what's needed to run the school system," he said. "I'm grateful to be here to support you all."
Of high priority is completing the Hingham Public Schools strategic plan framework -- hopefully by next May -- with "the finished document to lead our district ready by May or June," is the goal, according to Maestas.
The plan will likely be for three years, rather than the initially planned five years, which he considers to be the best approach in the current uncertain environment.
Completing the strategic plan is a "monumental" task. "We're looking for input through surveys and from the community to incorporate into the [document]," Maestas said.
Creating a budget for the schools for the next fiscal year will be particularly challenging. "Last year's budget increase needs to be sustained" to avoid potential cuts. "We may need to ask for an operational override to fund the budget for next year," he explained.
Another goal is assisting in the search for a permanent superintendent and helping him or her transition into the position.
School Committee Chair Kerry Ni reported that the superintendent position has been posted on all the appropriate websites. A salary and negotiations subcommittee workshop this week -- with full School Committee participation -- will include discussion about the "ideal candidate profile," she shared.
Bringing the Foster School building proposal to completion is another goal. "This project has been on the radar screen for some time, "Maestas said. "We're in the pipeline for [potential] Massachusetts School Building Authority funding, and we're diligently working toward that [goal]."
Whether, if approved, the project will involve a complete renovation or a new building has yet to be determined. "This project involves a great deal of work, but it's exciting," Maestas said.
Enhancing communication is also a top priority. "We are looking at appointing a coordinator of communications for the district [for that purpose]," he said.
In other business, Ni told the Hingham Anchor in response to an email that the HPS mask mandate will be discussed at a future meeting.
The public schools mandate issued by Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley last August -- requiring all K-12 public schools students ages five and older, educators, staff, and visitors to wear face masks until at least Oct. 1 in order to provide time to increase the vaccination rate in school buildings -- has been extended until Nov. 1 or later, at Riley's discretion.
There are certain exceptions to the mask requirement for those who have a medical, behavioral, or other challenge that makes it unsafe for them to wear a face mask or covering.
The commissioner’s initial policy called for allowing middle and high schools to potentially lift the mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff only after Oct. 1 if they reached a certain vaccination threshold – that at least 80 percent of students and staff, combined, in a school building are vaccinated.
"The [HPS] administration is still working through some logistics regarding vaccination data collection, so this may be on the Oct. 18 School Committee agenda," Ni said.
Maestas reported that one East School student and two faculty members and two Hingham High School students tested positive for COVID last week and that the usual safety and contact tracing protocols are in place.