The Winchendon Courier
Serving the community since 1878 ~ A By Light Unseen Media publication
Week of July 9 to July 16, 2020

Winchendon School District Begins Working on Re-opening Plan for Fall, 2020

In response to the guideline document released by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) last month, Winchendon Public Schools has begun the daunting task of preparing to reopen schools for classes in a way that meets both the education and safety needs of all students. On July 1, some 60 school staff members, parents and other concerned persons met for an initial meeting to discuss implementing the state guidelines and plan the structure for the committees which will focus on specific areas to be addressed.

In their meeting on Thursday, July 2, the Winchendon School Committee discussed the extent of the challenge presented for the schools, especially in light of the fact that no one can be sure what the situation will be with regard to the pandemic by September, two months in the future.

"I want to know, realistically speaking, how much flexibility is there in terms of the district developing its guidelines for opening, as opposed to what the state is going to mandate?" asked School Committee Chair Greg Vine.

Winchendon Schools Superintendant Joan Landers responded, "The Commission is very clear in their guard rails, so we have to work within those guard rails. There's certain things that every district has to you implement it, there can be some variations. How we implement it in Winchendon is going to be different than how it's implemented in a larger school district."

Ms. Landers stated that every staff person is looking at every aspect of the plan "every minute of the day." For example, she had just met with the director of Food Service around questions of serving meals. "We don't want [the children] to have bagged lunch every day, and not have hot meals," Ms. Landers said. There may have to be more lunch periods to spread out students going to pick up lunch and bring it back to the classroom. Students won't be able to punch in their lunch code on a keypad, so a safe method for lunch payment will have to be worked out.

School Committee member Larry Murphy pointed out that the guidelines allow a great deal of flexibility for school districts to meet them in ways that best serve their individual needs. Each school building in Winchendon will need a plan "and it could look different from building to building." He added, "parents should understand the state was wise enough to leave the details to each community, so they could structure them for the students' needs and the parents' needs and the staffing needs. So that's a great thing."

School Committee member Karen Kast expanded on the challenges presented to the district immediately. She pointed out that five different plans need to be turned into the state. Along with the plans for full re-opening, all-remote learning, and a "hybrid" mix of partial re-opening and remote learning, districts must develop plans for special needs students and English Language Learners (ELL) students.

Ms. Kast added that she did "an informal poll" of teachers she knew, asking whether they, as staff, felt safe returning to school. She asked if Winchendon Schools planned to poll its teachers and staff and gather their feedback. Ms. Landers affirmed that this will be done. "This is about all our students," Ms. Kast said, "this is about whether we can send them back, and send them back safely, and make sure that they're being effectively educated."

"These guidelines weren't written in the best interests of our students or our communities," Ms. Kast went on. "These were written in the best interests of business and corporations...schools are treated like day cares. The schools are being re-opened in order to make sure that parents can go back to work, which god knows is very important, but I want to make sure that we're doing what's right for our students, our staff, our community...I don't want our staff members or our students going into a situation that's going to be detrimental to them."

Ms. Kast questioned the assumptions about low virus transmission among children in the guidelines, stating that they're based on flimsy evidence. She pointed out that some parents are stating that they won't tolerate their child wearing a mask all day, asking what is the district's legal obligation in that case? Does the school not admit a child without a mask? Some children can't wear a mask; some staff members may not be able to wear a mask.

Murdock Middle School Principal Jessica Vezina reported that the curriculum plans being developed have multiple levels of complexity in order to include all the different needs of students at all grade levels in each school.

Director of Pupil Services Suzanne Michel described the complications around the face mask requirement--for example, the need for teachers to wear clear face coverings to accommodate deaf/hard of hearing or special needs students who need to see the teacher's face and mouth. She affirmed that the focus groups help the district grapple with these complexities because with so many people contributing, many issues are brought up that might otherwise be missed. "I think by the end of July, we'll have a much better and much more comprehensive system," she said.

Ms. Landers described the importance of the students' health, suggesting that the school might team up with health care professionals who would be able to handle any incidents of a child testing positive or getting sick while in school.

"I totally, totally agree," Ms. Landers said, "that it's really, really important, to the leadership team, and to me, that the students get the best education. It isn't just about going back to school. It isn't about doing just remote learning. We need to make sure they get a quality education, because this is a time in their life that is important. And we don't know when this is going to end."

Winchendon School Committee Passes MASC Resolutions for COVID-19 Funding and Anti-Racism Measures

At the July 2, 2020 meeting of the Winchendon School Committee, Chairperson Greg Vine told the Committee that Deborah Davis, the President of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC), sent a request out to local School Committees requesting that they pass two resolutions. The first concerns expenses related to COVID-19, including supplies and equipment needed to help schools re-open safely. The second is a response to issues of racism, equity and diversity that have moved to center stage in recent weeks.

The first resolution, related to COVID-19 funding, passed unanimously without discussion.

After the anti-racism resolution was read, School Committee member Felicia Nurmsen commented, "I think that's great, what we've said, but there's no action, there aren't really any actionable items that are included in that. I do think that as a district there are things that we could do to be more diverse, particularly in our hiring practices, and ensuring that we have our own goals, as far as percentage of teaching staff, and percentage of staff in general, and administrative staff. I don't think that we do that now, but that is something that again, it's actionable, and it shows that we do have a commitment to that."

Winchendon Schools Superintendant Joan Landers said that the district, along with others, is working with Boston College's Lynch Leadership Academy on issues of diversity in hiring. The principals attended a three-day training, and central office staff will also be getting training. Other districts in the region are all working toward that goal, Ms. Landers stated.

Ms. Nurmsen argued that "It's not actionable, though. There's no goal's not like saying that a certain percentage of our staff will be diverse, that we would use diverse build our pipeline of diverse candidates. I would love to see us incorporate something like that."

School Committee member Larry Murphy suggested that this would be good topic for the School Committee's retreat in August, and Ms. Nurmsen agreed. "I do think we need to have some real goals as relates to diversity, and how we go about attaining those goals," she added.

"It's all about recruiting," Mr. Murphy said. "We don't have a great resource of diverse candidates. The trick is going to be to market ourselves to teachers of color, and administrators of color, and get them to come here."

"We also need to address how we're going to address this in the student population in school," School Committee member Karen Kast said. "The resolution says we're going to discuss authors, and so on...not only address it in that regard, but also in regard to, how are we addressing racial [issues]."

The anti-racism resolution passed unanimously. The text of both resolutions appears below.

Resolution: COVID-19 State Funding

WHEREAS, if schools are to re-open this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the responsibility of each school district to do so safely and responsibly; and

WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that each school district is able to pay for the enormous additional staffing, transportation and material expenses required to do this; and

WHEREAS, the state cannot expect mandatory COVID-19 safety guidelines to be followed without also ensuring that each school district has the funds required to implement these guidelines; therefore, let it be

RESOLVED: that the state must guarantee every school district full reimbursement for whatever COVID-19 expenses are required to follow state mandates.

We must ensure a statewide school re-opening that is safe, responsible and equitable.

There can be no unfunded mandates for COVID-19.

School Committee Anti-Racism Resolution

WHEREAS, as schools have responsibility to equip students with their civil right of obtaining a free and appropriate public education, it's the responsibility of each school to ensure we create a welcoming community for all students; and

WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of every district to provide to all district staff including school committee members annual professional development on diversity, equity and inclusion; and

WHEREAS, every district will commit to recruiting and retaining a diverse and culturally responsive teacher work force; and

WHEREAS, every district will examine their policies for institutional and systemic racialized practices, and implement change with sustainable policies that are evidence-based; and

WHEREAS, every district will incorporate into their curriculum the history of racial oppression in works by Black authors and works from diverse perspectives; and

WHEREAS, we as school district leaders can no longer remain silent to the issues of racism that continue to plague our public and private institutions;

RESOLVED: that the Winchendon Public School District, and all the school districts in the Commonwealth must guarantee that racist practices are eradicated, and diversity, equity and inclusion is embedded and practiced for our students, families, faculty and staff.

We must ensure our own school culture and that of every district in the Commonwealth is anti-racist, that acknowledges that all lives cannot matter until black lives matter.

Over 950 Students Named to Spring Semester 2020 Dean's List at Western New England University

SPRINGFIELD, MA (07/07/2020)-- Western New England University congratulates over 950 students named to the Spring Semester 2020 Dean's List.

The following students are named to the Dean's List for achieving a semester grade point average of 3.30 or higher.

Zachary French of Phillipston, MA, is pursuing a BSE in Mechanical Engineering.

Ashley Signa of Winchendon, MA, is pursuing a BS in Forensic Chemistry.

Having just celebrated its Centennial, Western New England University is a private, independent, coeducational institution. Located on an attractive 215-acre suburban campus in Springfield, Massachusetts, Western New England serves 3,825 students, including 2,580 full-time undergraduate students. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs are offered through Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the School of Law.

Sizer School welcomes Paranto as new Executive Director

Michelle Paranto
While so much of the 2020-2021 school year remains uncertain for schools throughout the Commonwealth due to COVID-19 restructuring, Sizer School’s new Executive Director says she’s looking forward to the year ahead and to leading Sizer into this new world of possibilities.

“While the pandemic is presenting new and different challenges, I am very excited about what's to come and by the opportunity to play a crucial team role in actualizing the mission and vision of the school,” said Michelle Paranto, Ed.D.

Paranto was named Sizer’s new Executive Director last month and officially began at the school July 1.

“From living and working in central Massachusetts, I had always heard great things about Sizer,” she said. “Going through the hiring process, I knew that I very much wanted to be the Executive Director because I was drawn to wanting to work with such a committed and talented group of people.”

Paranto has been an educator for 30 years. She has taught K-12, undergraduate and graduate courses in literature, writing, and teacher education. She earned her Master’s in Comparative Literature at San Diego State University and her doctorate in Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her areas of interest include transformative literacy practices, professional learning communities, and social justice issues in education.

Paranto’s extensive experience in educational administration, academic program development and assessment, accreditation, curriculum design and teacher professional development will help reinforce Sizer School’s foundational commitment to providing equity, accessibility and excellence in education.

Most recently, Paranto was the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Mount Wachusett Community College. According to Michelle Brennan, President of the Board of Trustees at Sizer School, “The Board of Trustees is delighted to have Michelle Paranto lead Sizer School through this unprecedented time in education. We are extremely confident she will meet the challenges ahead.”

Paranto has lived in Central Massachusetts for 15 years and is deeply committed to serving the students, families and communities in the region. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking through forests, swimming in the ocean, reading great books, and spending time with family and friends.

For more about Sizer School, visit