Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Year-End Activities and the School Budget: May 9th City Wide PTO Meeting

City Wide PTO held its May meeting this past Tuesday, with representatives from most schools in attendance and excited to talk about plans for their end-of-year activities as well as next year's planning. We also talked about the school budget for next year.

PTO Updates

·               The elementary, middle, and high school representatives talked about year-end events and celebrations, including elementary ice cream socials, plays, field days, and field trips. Lincoln Principal Donovan will be leaving the district as of July 1st, replaced by current Hoover Principal Corduck. Current Lincoln School Student Services Facilitator Carol Weldin has accepted the Interim Hoover School Principal position.
·               At MVMMS, incoming 6th grade parents are invited to Principal Conway’s introduction to the Middle School on Wednesday, May 31st from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.  (Students’ Step-Up Day is planned for June 14th.) The Veteran’s Memory Project fundraised throughout the year to host a trip Washington D.C. for Gulf War veterans and a guest (along with 20 accompanying middle school students). The annual Semi-Formal, 8th grade trip to NYC, and barbeque round out the school calendar.
·               This year’s final HS PTO meeting is targeted to parents of rising juniors.  ~75% of seniors are on internships now, AP exams are finishing up, and the school featured another amazing drama production: Thoroughly Modern Millie. Underclassmen have submitted requests for next year’s classes. The boys distance track relay is headed to Nationals. Senior Week begins Memorial Day week, culminating in Graduation on Friday, June 2nd at 6 p.m. at the Fred Green Field (all are welcome!) Fundraising has gone well for Melrose Grad Night and over 91% of seniors are registered to attend this safe and fun evening.

School Budget Update

·               The FY18 school budget was passed on April 4th and the Mayor formally presented the city budget to the Board of Aldermen on May 8th. The Committee will present the approved district budget to the Board of Aldermen on May 25th. In order to balance the budget from the original request in February, school and city monies were used to pre-pay materials, requests for additional positions were eliminated (.5 ELL, .5 social worker, an Instructional Technology Director, 1.5 secondary teachers, and 4 Title One tutors), and more money was taken from rainy-day type funds. The district was able to add 2 Kindergarten teachers, and 2 elementary special teachers (.5 art, .5 music, and 1 digital technology). Most significantly, the budget increases teacher salaries by $900,000 from the prior year. We continue to be grateful for donors in the district, like the Melrose Education Foundation, Victoria McLaughlin Foundation, PTO’s, booster clubs and many other groups and individuals, who subsidize one-time district needs.
·               State revenues this spring are coming in lower than anticipated and there may be some cuts but they are unlikely to be enormous. Next year’s state budget is a concern, and there will be much discussion before the required passage date of June 30th. There is hope that the Fair Share Amendment, a ballot question in 2018 that adds an additional 4% tax to personal income over $1M, will pass given that the monies are anticipated for education and transportation funding.
·               The federal education budget remains unknown.

Final meeting of the year is in June!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

DESE CPR, PD Plan, Elementary Staffing, Valedictorian, and More: 4/25 School Committee Meeting

At last week’s School Committee meeting, we shifted our focus from the budget to Educational Programs and Personnel, along with review of a policy related to student educational services. Highlights below are mine alone (along with any errors/edits!).

Field Trip
An MHS student trip to Poland is a new proposal and relates to the history associated with WWII, the fall of Communism, etc. 20-30 students are predicted to attend. MHS history teacher Mr. Pennacchio will come before the Committee at the next meeting to speak to the details of his request.

Coordinated Program Review
Dr. Adams and Ms. White-Lambright presented. This DESE review occurs once every six years and involves significant time, effort, many stakeholder groups, and a self-assessment period. It encompasses special education, English Language Learning, and civil rights. DESE staff visits for several days and focuses on 60 standard. It’s a thoughtful process. Melrose was found to be 100% compliant for special education; a very small number of school districts receive this rating. All credit to staff for this work and outcome. One form and one translation item will be changed. For ELL there are 22 elements and the district was found compliant for program and record-keeping, being cited for translation (report cards) in Haitian creole and Portuguese. Melrose also needs access to translation regarding extra-curricular activities. Aspen may be able to play a role in this area. As of April 7th, the district has 20 days to begin implementation with a year to comply. Title I was also reviewed and the district is in full compliance.

FY18 Professional Development Plan
Next year’s summer program seeks to continue the work done on social emotional learning and PBIS. The district has been working in Tier II and Tier III to embody core values (extra support). This year, they did training-the-trainers and need to build from Tier I to support these efforts at every school level. There has also been a successful implementation of technology, and they are now looking at integration within the curriculum. The most precious commodity is time and the district is looking at creative ways to capture more time for teachers, like book studies and engaging in an on-line platform (read and reflect and embed in classroom practice, with a product at the end to show how it’s employed in classroom, e.g. reading Anxiety and Depression in Young Children. 45 teachers participated last summer.) Microcredentialing is another method of PD:  do a task/do your own learning. Perform a task that’s job-embedded and implement it and earn an electronic badge as well as Professional Development Points [required for re-licensure] for it. The DESE document on inclusive practices is the basis of this theme in PD and aligns with the Supt’s budget priorities.

Secondary Code of Conduct
There are changes around absences (appeals, etc.). There is a focus on unreported absences (unexcused). Violation of parking code results in possible suspension (but only after multiple conversations with offenders).

Reinstating MHS Valedictorian
MHS Principal Merrill was approached by students who sought reinstatement of the Valedictorian. He polled students and staff who strongly supported the move. The Committee deliberated the impact of stress on students, other social/emotional concerns and mitigations that have been implemented, the history of the vote taken in 2014 around this issue, etc. The Committee voted to reinstate the Valedictorian effective immediately.

Elementary Staffing
The district will proceed with two extra K classrooms as budgeted. With respect to itinerant positions, Supt. Taymore is currently planning to incorporate an additional. .5 art, .5 music. and 1.0 digital literacy teacher. There is work not yet completed around re-thinking the elementary wellness model. (All PE teachers are dual certified in PE and Health/Wellness.) The new digital literacy teacher will have collaborated with classroom teachers to embed digital literacy in classroom work. By adding these teachers, the overcrowding of itinerant classes is being addressed.

Melrose has some students who are elite athletes and performers in the fine arts. It’s difficult to keep them at MHS due to graduation requirements and the district is losing students to the online high school in Greenfield. The Supt. began to think about how to keep students here. With certain students, the district could provide a vendor, courses would align with our standards, and we could then issue an MHS diploma. If students participate in Greenfield’s program, they can’t participate in Melrose activities and this policy would allow that. There is a cost but it is less than what it would cost to choice a student out ($3500 vs. $5000). It requires check-ins with teachers but that’s the only cost. The program would also support 5th year students who don’t want to be in Melrose High. Other districts are doing what we’re doing now, but this option is more planful; others are piecing together with face-to-face and on-line combo. This program is starting small and students must have extenuating circumstances that would apply to its purpose; it’s about students who need to earn a degree and need a program that accommodates them. Melrose currently doesn’t have control of curriculum for students at other schools and this program allows that. The policy will come up for a first vote at the next meeting.

Legislative Themes
Following our joint legislative meeting with Wakefield on April 5th, we agreed to draft some common themes from which a joint advocacy letter could be proposed and signed by both communities. The themes discussed were: 1. full funding of the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations; 2. charter school reimbursement funding at 100%; 3. full funding of Circuit Breaker [special education reimbursements]; and 4. funding of other budget line items that impact student learning (like poverty, food insecurity, an unstable home environment, and homelessness).

Next meeting is Tuesday, May 9th at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Annual MASC Day on the Hill

From Boston’s Grand Lodge of Masons in Boston, today’s annual Day on the Hill was an opportunity for school committee members, student guests, and others to hear from legislators about budget/policy plans that affect public school children in the Commonwealth. Notes from legislators and MASC legislative priorities as follows:

Rep. Jay Kaufman, Chair of Joint Committee on Revenue

·               A fundamental lie is that we don’t have the money. We just don’t have the will to raise the money.
·               Data shows the poorest pay about 10% of income for taxes and wealthiest pay under 5%.
·               The Fair Share Amendment on the 2018 state ballot provides that the tax rate on the 2nd million dollars of an individual’s income would be 4% ($40K).
·               Would raise $2B/year to be used only for education and transportation.

Rep. Alice Peisch, Co-Chair of Joint Committee on Education

·               The newly released House budget contains a Ch. 70 increase that’s a little higher than the Governor’s ($105M over last year); starts to implement the healthcare benefit recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC); $500K increase in METCO over FY17; $20M reserves for early ed staff (and anticipate doing more in early ed).
·               Has worked on re-files of bills that were reported out favorably last year. Her priorities are those that (1) give districts more flexibility and autonomy before they get to Level 4 status and build on opportunity to create [empowerment] zones; (2) improves teacher prep and creates career ladders; (3) new emphasis (not new concept) expanding early access to college in a more systemic way.
·               Please resist the rollback of state sales tax (to 5%).
·               Educate yourselves on ballot questions and advocate for those bills that support the tax revenues that fund our schools and state. (Legislators really listen to informed constituents.)

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Co-Chair of Joint Committee on Education

·               Need to “keep being tremendous” re: advocacy around Ch. 70 funding. (Everything comes back to “it’s the Foundation Budget stupid.” Will take long, sustained, high level of activism.)
·               Gov. Baker’s Executive Order to recommend streamlining of regulations is being addressed by DESE in the area of education.
·               Advocates need to move strongly on all recommendations of FBRC because coalition is important (if not, “student groups will be splintered”).
·               1993 ed funding was successful because there were benchmarks. If we don’t start implementing, it will be time for FBRC review again (every 5 years). They recognize that you can’t “flip a switch” but could do it over 5 or 7 years.
·               FBRC gave a “hot list” of things that are known to improve student outcomes and that improve achievement gaps. Must do more than one intervention at one time (e.g. looking at data at school level vs. just district level to provide more tools to help make useful decisions).
·               Federal education direction unknown but whatever it turns out to be, it’s unlikely to impact FBRC.
·               What is standing in the way of students in poverty? It’s FBRC. 1993 started process to get everyone to a “quality floor;” that floor has eroded and districts who can afford it are spending it but for communities who don’t have local means, they are falling at or below Foundation Budget.

Sen. Pat Jehlen, Vice Chair of Joint Committee on Education 
·               People really value their local public schools and local democratic control.
·               House increase of FBRC is really not much and it would take 100 years (with no inflation) at this rate to get us to adequacy.
·               What about our legal obligations for circuit breaker, regional transportation, and charter reimbursements? We aren’t keeping our promise. Even Foundation Budget doesn’t recognize state requirements around technology.
·               MA is 42nd in equity across the country (lowest vs. highest spending schools). Taxing high, spending low, low achievement scores (accountability measures) are districts with most challenges (poverty).
·               Heard on FBRC listening tour: how can you judge a district with 27 Kindergartners in a class with no aide, 1/3 special needs and 1/2 in poverty, and hold them accountable? (Test scores mostly measure income.)
·               Accountability works two ways – if the state doesn’t provide money to districts that need it, they can’t hold them accountable for student outcomes.

MASC’s 2017 legislative priorities include:
·               support for early education programs (increasing program access; improving affordability; funding to support transition to full day K; and guaranteeing high quality programs/staff);
·               strengthening the children’s services safety net (encouraging cooperation between agencies serving families; funding and expanding promising social services programs and adding a Ch. 70 calculation for migrant, transient, mobile students);
·               funding the revision of Ch. 70 (increasing funding; ensuring realistic/accurate inflation factor; and ensuring a $100 per pupil increase for all districts to ameliorate under-funding);
·               full funding for Circuit Breaker;
·               charter school funding reform (require local approval; fully fund reimbursement account; and continue the enrollment cap);
·               restore funding for regional transportation;
·               full funding for METCO;
·               mandate and regulatory relief (freeze any new regs; prohibit DESE from issuing regs that don’t directly apply to public ed students, teachers, administrators; require that any proposed regs undergo impact study);
·               charter school operational reform (enroll cross sections of student population; require charters to meet sub-groups representative of sending communities; require pre-approval for new charters; require that charter trustees include approval and representation by sending communities; require charters demonstrate and share any innovative practices);
·               support rural school districts (encourage sharing of resources; ensure no authority will be authorized to consolidate, dissolve, or restructure without legislative approval);
·               retain Medicaid-covered services;
·               cover medically insured services in schools.

Marching orders: talk to legislators. Have students talk about their vision. Change happens slowly! Legislators have many issues to review and they need expertise of local leaders.