For the first time since March 13, public school students in the Monadnock Region will be back in classrooms Tuesday.
Schools statewide finished the 2019-2020 academic year fully remotely due to concern over the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, school leaders have been planning for how — and when — students and teachers could safely return to some level of in-person instruction.
Districts surveyed parents, students and staff on their preferences and concerns. Superintendents convened planning teams, developing new protocols and precautions, and calculating reduced classroom capacities that allow for physical distancing. School boards spent hours deliberating, and ultimately voting on, final reopening plans.
These plans, most of which call for a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, will go into action starting this week. Students in the ConVal Regional School District, Fall Mountain Regional School District and Hinsdale School District return to class Tuesday, making them the first public schools in the Monadnock Region to reopen.
But not all students in the ConVal District — which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple — will begin in-person classes Tuesday. The district’s reopening plan, which calls for tents to be installed on school grounds to be used as outdoor classrooms, is delayed because the tent installation process is taking longer than expected, according to a news release from the district last Thursday.
So, most ConVal students in 7th through 12th grade will begin the year fully remotely, according to the release. Some middle and high school students will be allowed to start in-person learning based on certain factors, such as whether they need Internet access or school-based services. Students in preschool through 6th grade will return to school Tuesday, according to the release.
ConVal did not provide a specific timeline for when the remaining tents would be set up, but the district said it will keep families updated as more outdoor classrooms become available.
In the Fall Mountain District — which covers Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Langdon and Walpole — the first day of school comes less than a week after a district staff member tested positive for COVID-19. But Superintendent Lori Landry said in a statement last week that the district feels comfortable reopening schools Tuesday because the employee did not have close contact with any other employee within the district 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms.
More local public schools will begin welcoming students back later this week. On Thursday, students in N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — and the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District begin in-person instruction. And their respective superintendents say they’re eager to get back to school.
“While this school year will certainly be different than anything we have seen before, we are excited to have all of your children to return, whether in-person or remote,” Jaffrey-Rindge Superintendent Reuben Duncan wrote in a message to school families last Thursday.
Most local school districts are reopening with a mix of in-person and online classes, but all area public schools are giving families the option to start the new academic year fully remotely if they are not comfortable sending their children to any in-person classes.
SAU 29 Superintendent Robert Malay added that everyone from teachers to paraeducators, tutors and office assistants are excited to see students in school again.
“I think everyone misses them. It’s been nearly six months,” Malay said in a video update posted last week on the SAU 29 website. “... I think, at the same time, people are nervous and people are scared. And that’s OK, too. But if we all work together … we’ll be OK.”
He added that SAU 29 administrators will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases in the community and make changes to the schools’ plans if necessary.
“Will we need to shift once in a while? Quite possibly. Quite probably. And we will,” Malay said. “We’ll do it logically, we’ll communicate that, we’ll share that with you, and we’ll keep working to provide a quality education for our students and maintaining that level of safety we all expect.”
Meanwhile, the Monadnock Regional School District — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — is holding a “soft opening” at its schools this week. Schools are open by appointment Tuesday through Friday for students and their families to familiarize themselves with new COVID-19 protocols, such as screening children for COVID-19 symptoms before arriving, wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing in school.
“Think of this as a personalized open house experience, allowing you and your child(ren) to explore the new school environment and ask questions,” Monadnock Superintendent Lisa Witte wrote in a letter to families last week.
Students in the Monadnock District will begin returning to in-person classes following a hybrid model on Monday, Sept. 14. Winchester School, which is also reopening with a mix of in-person and remote learning, is scheduled to reopen Monday, as well.
Public schools will be able to continue providing free meals to all students, regardless of need, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week extended waivers that took effect at the end of the last academic year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has prolonged programs that provide funding for schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to any student. These programs will continue through the end of 2020, or until funding runs out, according to a news release from the N.H. Department of Education.
The state education department says these waivers from the USDA “ensure meal options for children continue to be available so children can access meals under all circumstances.”
“These waivers will allow New Hampshire schools to provide nutritious meals to any student at no charge as funds allow, both in school and remotely,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a prepared statement. “As schools work to overcome the disruption of COVID-19, this flexibility has been an important tool for them.”
In N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — these extensions mean each student can receive a free breakfast and lunch per school day, just as they did at the end of last school year, Carolyn Paris, SAU 29’s director of food services, wrote Friday in an email to parents and guardians.
N.H. Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut issued a statement saying schools statewide can keep doing the same as a result of the USDA’s actions.
“From the beginning of this crisis, USDA has given our schools tremendous flexibility to provide meals to students,” Edelblut said. “Working together at the federal, state, and local levels, we are all committed to the health and well-being of New Hampshire students.”
CONCORD — A public memorial service for former N.H. Gov. Stephen E. Merrill will be held outdoors at the State House Plaza in Concord on Friday, Sept. 11 at 12:30 p.m., the governor’s office announced Monday.
Merrill died at his home in Manchester Saturday. He was 74.
The cause of death was undisclosed.
A Republican known for fiscal conservatism, Merrill served two terms as governor of New Hampshire, from 1993 to 1997.
In announcing Merrill’s death Saturday, Gov. Chris Sununu ordered flags to be flown at half staff in public spaces throughout the state.
Through the governor’s office, the Merrill family issued a statement saying the former governor “passed away peacefully” at home surrounded by family, noting, “Additional information about remembrance services will be forthcoming. We ask that you please respect the privacy of our family at this difficult time.”
Born in Norwich, Conn., and reared in Hampton, Merrill graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1969 and earned his law degree from Georgetown University in 1972. He served as a lawyer in the U.S. Air Force before establishing a private practice in Manchester in 1976.
Merrill served as the state’s attorney general from 1985 to 1989 under Gov. John Sununu, Chris Sununu’s father.
As New Hampshire’s 77th governor, Merrill was recognized for his opposition to broad-based taxes and was credited with coining the phrase, “the New Hampshire advantage,” referring to the state’s tax structure.
“Governor Steve Merrill was a dear friend who had an incredibly positive impact on the citizens of our state,” Sununu said Saturday in a prepared statement. “He will be missed by everyone who knew him.”
Others who knew Merrill took to Twitter to praise him.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who succeeded Merrill as governor, said, “I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Steve when I served in the State Senate and he was Governor. When I succeeded him, Steve was a reliable confidant who offered insight and advice — one Governor to another.”
Kelly Ayotte, who served as the state’s first woman attorney general and later as a Republican U.S. senator, called Merrill “a friend and mentor.” She tweeted, “NH has lost one of our best, a great leader and an extraordinary person. I will miss Steve’s brilliance, his way with words and wonderful sense of humor.”
Ray Buckley, chairman of the N.H. Democratic Party, tweeted, “As a legislator, I worked closely with him on several issues, he was always fair and kept his word. And nobody had a better smile than Steve Merrill.”
JAFFREY — MilliporeSigma is in the process of adding 160 jobs at its Jaffrey facility as the global life sciences company ramps up production of components used to develop potential COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
The company began hiring in Jaffrey in June and will continue through the end of the year, said David Poggi, the plant’s director of operations. So far, MilliporeSigma has added about 80 new employees.
The job openings range from entry-level manufacturing positions to engineering, technician and leadership roles. By the end of the hiring push, the Jaffrey facility will employ more than 1,200 people and will operate 24/7, Poggi added. All of the roles the company is looking to fill are important, Poggi said, but MilliporeSigma is especially focused on adding manufacturing jobs.
“And we’re really thinking differently about these roles than we have in the past,” Poggi said. “Historically, we’ve looked for manufacturing experience, in some cases even regulated manufacturing experience. But given the scale of this ramp-up, we’re reconsidering that, and we’re looking for folks with a good work history — not necessarily in manufacturing — and folks that have the ability to learn and are curious to learn and are looking to expand their career over the next five years with us.”
For these job openings, MilliporeSigma will consider candidates with a wide range of experience, including restaurant, retail and/or previous manufacturing experience.
“First and foremost what we’re looking for is a strong work ethic, strong work history and the curiosity and ambition to grow with us,” Poggi said.
Anyone interested in applying should visit www.Milliporesigmajaffrey.com.
The hiring process started slowly in June, Poggi said, when the federal government was subsidizing unemployment insurance as part of its coronavirus relief efforts, but has since accelerated.
“So, in many cases, it appeared that a lot of the folks that were unemployed were actually opting to stay home and wait things out on unemployment,” Poggi said. “We’ve seen a change in that over the course of the last month, if you will, where we see more and more people re-entering the job market, which is good to see.
“... So, I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to ramp up as planned,” he continued. “I wasn’t that hopeful a couple of months ago, when we were seeing a lot of folks kind of staying out of the hiring pool.”
The new round of hiring is necessary because MilliporeSigma has experienced a surge in demand for its products since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had a very high growth rate to begin with,” Poggi said. “As we entered the year, and the pandemic hit, our growth rate was compounded because of all of the efforts right now to develop and produce COVID-related treatments and therapies, which our products are used in the standard template for vaccine manufacturing.”
MilliporeSigma’s Jaffrey facility primarily makes filtration devices that are used to produce biopharmaceuticals, such as immunotherapies for cancer treatment. These sorts of products are also part of the standard process for making vaccines, Poggi said. The company’s customers are mainly pharmaceutical corporations, and MiliporeSigma is currently supplying more than 45 companies that are working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, spokeswoman Karen Tiano said.
MilliporeSigma is part of the German company Merck KGaA and has U.S. corporate offices in Burlington, Mass., and St. Louis, Mo. The company employs more than 22,000 people worldwide. MiliporeSigma’s Jaffrey facility at 11 Prescott Road opened in 1972.
The hiring ramp-up comes as MilliporeSigma’s Jaffrey facility is physically expanding, too. The company is adding additional lab and manufacturing space, including a 24,200-square-foot single-story addition and a separate 11,600-square-foot two-story building. The Jaffrey Planning Board approved plans for the expansion in June 2019, and the project should be complete within the next 18 months, Poggi said.
The addition of more space and more employees go hand-in-hand, he added.
“They’re all part of our growth strategy to supply the products required to support the effort for COVID vaccine and therapies,” Poggi said.
The hiring push and physical expansion at MilliporeSigma, one of the area’s largest employers, also provide a boon to the local economy, according to Matt McCarthy, president of the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce.
“Obviously adding jobs during the pandemic, when unemployment is at the highest rate that we’ve seen in the past decade, is a huge advantage for our area, and crucial to our economy,” McCarthy said. “So it’s nothing but a benefit for the local area.”
McCarthy added that MilliporeSigma’s work in Jaffrey should make the entire community proud of its role in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re fortunate that not only do they create products that assist in medical applications for the current pandemic,” he said, “but that we are proud that our community can help fill the needs of those jobs that are making that possible.”