GROTON — Ten years in the making, the long-running story of the Biggest Book on World Peace may finally be nearing the end of its story.
That news came from Betsy Sawyer, the elementary school teacher and club adviser behind the project.
Appearing before the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee Jan. 14, Sawyer said she and her students, some of whom have been involved in the project since the beginning, will meet personally with the United Nations Secretary General in February to discuss issues involved with putting the book on display at the UN building.
“It will be a fact-finding trip to the UN,” was how Sawyer described the meeting.
The event would mark a climax of sorts for the Biggest Book project which began in 2004.
The book itself, a record-setting 12-foot-high by 10-foot-wide book consisting of hundreds of pages and weighing almost 2,000 pounds, was the brainchild of students at Groton-Dunstable’s Florence Roche Elementary School who have been working on the project since 2004.
For much of that time, students have been canvassing the world stage for celebrities and political figures to contribute messages of hope and encouragement to be included in the book. Personages such as the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Sens. John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan, the King of Belgium, the rock group Green Day, Princes William and Harry, and veterans from all of America’s wars have responded.
But as the years passed, and the book grew bigger and bigger, it was found that the pages could not be turned the way those in an ordinary book could. So engineering students from the University of Lowell were recruited to design an automatic page turner to do that.
In addition, the book being too large to handle for transportation, binding has been designed in a kind of loose-leaf format so that each page can be removed individually, rolled up and stored in tubes for easy movement between stops.
Last year, Sawyer and her students celebrated the official completion of the Biggest Book project with a gala event held at the JFK Library in Boston.
Now, after visiting the UN a number of times over the last several years, the students are ready to put their book on display there.
Combining business with pleasure, Sawyer told School Committee members that 40 students plus chaperones plans to travel to New York City over Feb. 11-13 to meet with the Secretary General as well as visit a number of other venues from Columbia University to an aerospace museum.
Always supportive of the group in the past, committee members had little trouble voting to approve the February trip.
Also at its Jan. 14 meeting, the School Committee was reminded of budget considerations even though the fiscal 2016 budget was not on the agenda for that night.
The reminder came in the form of eighth-grade teacher Emma Blydenburgh who urged school officials to move forward on talks with the Groton-Dunstable Education Association and come to agreement over a new contract with the group.
The union’s old contract expired last August and the teachers have continued working on an extension that is set to expire in February.
Negotiations are currently in mediation.
Meanwhile, hoping to put pressure on the administration, union members picketed school grounds on Jan. 13-14, braving cold temperatures and sporting signs demanding a “fair contract” for teachers.
“It’s hard to believe that after over 14 months of negotiations, we are working without a contract,” said association president Adam Snodgrass in a press release. “It is imperative that the GDRSD School Committee provide leadership and invest in the future of public education by working with the GDEA to negotiate a fair contract.
“This action is to let the community know that its teachers value the quality of education in our schools,” said Snodgrass of the picket line. “We must not continue to be asked to work without a fair contract. Our students deserve better.”
“There’s no question in my mind that we will find a solution that suits everyone,” said committee Chairman Allison Manugian in response to Blydenburgh’s appeal.
As for the fiscal 2016 budget front, the district’s director of business and finance Jared Stanton said that the formulation process is “looking good” and the books are balanced.
Finally, committee members were briefed about ongoing efforts to update the district’s curriculum and human resources including revision of the personnel manual and accompanying job descriptions.
As for curriculum, the administration is in the process of creating a five-year strategic planning vision covering core subjects such as science, mathematics and social sciences. Up next: foreign languages, fine arts, education technology and behavioral health.
Also on the agenda was improved delivery of professional development for faculty and an action plan to prepare for PARCC testing (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).
PARCC is a multi-state initiative concentrating on measuring student progress in mathematics and English Language Arts as they relate to college and career readiness.
In testing last year that began with third graders, students at Florence Roche, the Middle School and High School were tested using PARCC standards rather than the MCAS testing that has predominated in Massachusetts in the years since passage of Education Reform.
The goal of the new testing is to “assess students’ ability to think critically and apply knowledge, as opposed to assessing the memorization of facts,” which was MCAS’ “greatest shortcoming” as stated in a handout provided by the district.