#schoolsafety | The Recorder – Greenfield mayor, School Committee chair discuss their time in office amid pandemic

GREENFIELD — Speaking during the city’s first virtual town hall-style discussion Tuesday evening, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner and School Committee Chair Amy Proietti discussed the city and school district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and answered submitted questions.

In her opening remarks, Wedegartner, who was elected in November, joked she felt she had been in the position for “two centuries.” But she noted that “something good happened every day, most days, even though we’re in a pandemic.”

Proietti, who works as the financial aid coordinator at Greenfield Community College, was also elected to her position on the School Committee last year.

“This is my first elected position,” she said. “Mayor Wedegartner and I have been neighbors since about 2006, before we ever either thought we would be in this position. Now it’s actually comforting to have a partner in managing all of this be someone who I have known for longer than just the nine or 10 months we’ve been in these positions.”

Proietti said they were less than three months into working with a newly elected School Committee when they had to start managing the COVID-19 shutdown. She said the committee has tried to provide support for school administrators and protect the health of students.

“We’re not there to manage anything like curriculum or day-to-day operations,” Proietti said. “We’re there to be a check and a balance on what’s happening with funding, with what’s happening with school safety, and we’ve tried to focus on the priorities of managing the schools, which is our students.”

The biggest accomplishment since March, Proietti said, has been the district’s food distribution program. This was put into place the week the schools closed, and recently surpassed 200,000 meals served. She added there is a newfound awareness of school as a place for students to be fed.

Proietti acknowledged it has not been an entirely “easy” or “graceful” process as the School Committee sought the best path for navigating through the pandemic. Wedegartner added that while city officials try to maintain transparency, there were times at the start of the pandemic when decisions needed to be made quickly and shared with the public after the fact.

Speaking to the development of the Greenfield School Department’s learning plan, Proietti said School Committee members tried to be accessible and address concerns raised by families.  School Committee members have been connecting with families through various social media platforms.

“That has its pros and its cons, but that’s our reality right now and that’s a safe way to communicate,” Proietti noted.

Wedegartner said a possible pandemic was the furthest thing from her mind when she took office. She thanked Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr., Fire Chief Robert Strahan and other department heads who were quickly aware of the danger of the pandemic and helped guide health safety decisions.

At the onset of the pandemic, Wedegartner began every day at the Emergency Operations Center set up at the John Zon Community Center. She said officials were planning for the unknown, including a possible plan to use the local ice rink as a morgue if needed, as well as using the middle school next to the hospital for medical care if there was extreme overflow.

“Call it overkill,” Wedegartner said. “Thank God it was.”

Proietti said schools across the United States have received no funding from the federal government, and they do not yet know what their budget will be from the state.

“We need support from the government, and they have failed us since basically January,” she said.

As School Committee chair, Proietti said she had tried not to share her personal experience, but wanted to do so because she realized it could be relatable for many families. Her second-grader is a special needs student who doesn’t yet read or write, and who needs guidance throughout the day. She said she is grateful to be in a union and be able to use the protections around her job, and accrued time, to stay home and help with his remote learning.

Now in the second week of school, she said her troubles navigating the remote learning schedule and remote Individualized Education Plan (IEP) are likely similar to the challenges — and elevated levels of stress — faced by other families.

Proietti also answered a question related to the pending search for a new superintendent, after Jordana Harper announced she will not seek to renew her contract, which ends in June. Proietti said the School Committee has not started the search process, but the topic is on the committee’s agenda for Oct. 1.

Wedegartner spoke to a question about what is being done to help restaurants as winter approaches. She noted that limited indoor dining is now allowed by the state, and that the city has used grant funding to buy outdoor heaters to extend restaurants’ outdoor dining ability into the fall.

Tuesday’s full town hall discussion can be viewed on the GCTV YouTube page at youtu.be/LM27JHvz_qg.

Proietti said residents are welcome to reach out to her at amypro1@gpsk12.org. Wedegartner’s office can be reached at mayor@greenfield-ma.gov.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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