District task force set for first meeting

Wide-ranging group to provide feedback on education during pandemic, future needs

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A new Rome school district committee that includes parents from all grade levels will seek feedback about education during the COVID-19 pandemic plus the long-term needs going forward.

The group, being referred to as an educational task force, is scheduled to have its first meeting on March 10 at 6 p.m. using a virtual online format.

Board of Education member Karen Fontana, chairing the task force, said Monday the initial session will not be open to the public. She observed “this is a new process and I do not want the parents who are volunteering to feel outside pressure if the meeting is open.” A summary of the meeting will be shared with the public, and names of the participating parents would be made public after the meeting, she said.

Among those included in the group, said Fontana, will be one or two parents from each of the district’s seven elementary school buildings and two to three parents from each of the two secondary-grade buildings which are Strough Middle School and Rome Free Academy. There would be consideration for the secondary-grade levels to include a parent whose child is opting to learn on an all-remote basis instead of the district’s hybrid format during the pandemic that has combined in-person and remote learning. Fontana also said “it is likely a ‘remote-only’ parent will volunteer at the elementary level” as well.

Interest in serving on the task force is being sought initially by the board through school building principals, said Fontana. Some student representatives also will be part of the forum, she added, as was mentioned when the new group was discussed at the Board of Education meeting last week.

“The main purpose behind the formation of the task force was to give stakeholders, who are dealing with the impact of the pandemic on children’s education, a voice so their thoughts can be shared and in doing so, provide the district with guidance on future educational needs of our students,” Fontana observed.

District Superintendent Peter C. Blake said at last week’s board meeting that the task force would be “really about what’s working, what needs improvement and what don’t we know that we need to know....” It is “not necessarily something that will help us for the current situation. It will help us for the future...long-term.”

The task force meeting format will include seeking input on “talking-point questions regarding education at this time,” along with an option for additional comments, explained Fontana. Participants will break into sub-groups, she said, such as perhaps two with elementary parents, one each with Strough parents and one with RFA parents. Their answers then would be shared with the overall group. She added “there will be time for discussion, feedback and next steps.”

Any board member can attend the virtual meeting, said Fontana, adding that board Vice President Tanya Davis has volunteered to assist with the meeting logistics. In addition, Blake will be present and actively involved as superintendent, Fontana commented.

During last week’s board meeting, board members praised Fontana’s efforts in compiling a proposal for the task force and agreed to proceed with it. The structure and purpose for the concept had been debated at some prior recent meetings, including different approaches that had been suggested by some other board members.

Board President Paul Hagerty thanked Fontana for a “fine job of putting that together and making a suggestion on the way forward,” regarding her proposal. Among other board members’ comments, Leigh Loughran said Fontana’s suggestions were “well-outlined and good,” while Paul Fitzpatrick thanked Fontana for providing “a more clear focus...a more limited and achievable goal.” Joseph Mellace said her proposal was “very different in scope from the last one and that’s why I’m very supportive of it this time around.”

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