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.

Monday, October 29, 2012

On MHS Science Labs: October 24th, 2012

These were my takeaways:

* If we want our students to receive the kind of science, technology, and engineering education that will make them successful in whatever post-secondary experience they choose, top-notch science labs are fundamental to the inquiry-based teaching and learning required. That is why this project is so important for our students and families.

* Just a few of the improvements that students and staff will experience: natural and artificial lighting that is appropriate for lectures and/or experiments; a separate chemical storage room so teachers can remove only what will be needed for the day’s experiment; computers at lab stations so students can input data in real-time and teachers can gauge how the experiment is progressing; key safety provisions like in-room showers and warm-water eye-baths in case of chemical spillage (an extreme rarity!); handicap-accessible lab stations; flexibility to add furniture/fixtures that could be needed in the future but aren't even invented yet.

* Student safety during the demolition/rebuild is the top priority. There will be CORI checks for all on-site workers. There will be an air-quality clearance before students return to school after February vacation (when demolition will be complete). The sharing of space by middle- and high-schoolers will be coordinated appropriately (and the administration has experience in this area based on the prior middle school demo/rebuild).

The strength of the partnership among Superintendent Taymore, City Planner Denise Gaffey, Interim Principal Marianne Farrell, Science Department Chair Julie Shea, along with the project architect and project managers is clear. They are running under extremely tight deadlines and working with incredible focus and effort in order to improve science, technology, and engineering education at Melrose High School

Friday, October 26, 2012

School Committee Meeting Notes of October 23, 2012

A beautiful day today, and hoping that Sandy decides to skip our neck of the woods next week! Looking back to this past week, we had an information-filled School Committee meeting on Tuesday. Check the minutes for the official version, but below are the highlights from my perspective. (Remember – the page numbers in red are those associated with documents from the 10/23 agenda packet in the IQM2 portal on the School Committee page of our web site.)

Report of the Student Representatives
We said good-bye to our Italian students after a wonderful exchange! Dates to note: 10/28 – MAAV Walk and Candlelight Vigil (http://maav.org/home/maavs-17th-annual-walk-candlelight-vigil/information-on-maav-walk-2012/); 10/29 – Senior Halloween Dance at the KofC; 10/29 – “They Don’t Call it “Dating” Anymore: A Parent’s Guide to Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships” (http://www.melroseschools.com/mhs/pto.cfm); 10/30 – MHS delayed opening; 11/1 – 8th Grade Parent Info Night at MHS Resource Center; 11/1 – MCAS retakes; 11/2 – Q1 closes; 11/8 – MHS blood drive.

Announcements of the Superintendent
Supt. Taymore enthusiastically welcomed Winthrop School Interim Principal Cynthia Santosuosso, an experienced Lincoln School teacher and Head Teacher. With equal enthusiasm she welcomed our new Business Manager, Jay Piccone.

Announcements of the Chair: Ms. Thorp referred to the updated Rolling 3 Month Agenda (p. 3)

Consent Agenda
We ultimately approved the School Committee minutes of 10/9/12 (pp. 4-8), second votes required on Policy #4122: Non-Union Salary Schedules, Repeal of Policy #4213: Professional Staff Salary Schedules, Repeal of Policy #4305: Support Staff Salary Schedule, and Amendment and Renaming of Policy #4304: Support Staff Contracts and Compensation Plans (pp. 9-12); MHS Field Trip Requests to Costa Rica, Denmark, NY (for Spanish Exchange students), and Model UN in Providence (pp. 13-16); and warrants (pp. 17-70).

Policy and Planning
Lincoln Principal Brent Conway and Site Council Co-Chair (and PTO President) Annalise Conti presented their 2013 School Improvement Plan (SIP) (pp. 71-90) after which MVMMS Principal Tom Brow and Site Council Co-Chair Kristen Harvey presented the 2013 MVMMS SIP (pp. 91-117). *Enrollments for the district as of October 1st, as required to be reported to the state, were presented (p. 118). * The School Committee By Laws were changed to support the posting of meeting documents 24 hours in advance of meetings rather than the day of meetings (p. 119).

Educational Programs and Personnel
METCO Director Doreen Ward offered an update on student enrollment, successes, and challenges of the program in Melrose (pp. 120-125). * Athletic Director Pat Ruggiero presented a review of the athletics program, including participation numbers by sport and season, status of fields, and concussion statistics as reported to the state (pp. 126-128).

Finance and Facilities
City of Melrose Chief Information Officer Jorge Pazos reviewed his MPS Technology Overview, including staffing, projects, challenges (with recommendations), and a district computer inventory (pp. 129-137). * Ms. Casatelli announced that the School Committee would begin a Facebook page soon.

As the weather folks speculate on Sandy, hope you are able to get out and enjoy tomorrow’s fall beauty and spend some time with the special people in your life. And thanks (as always) for sharing your time and talents with some of the special people in our lives – our fantastic students.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

School Committee Meeting Notes of October 9, 2012

As we take a break from raking (while hoping the wind blows those leaves away so we can just store the rake?) we heard about some excellent work being done by Supt. Taymore and our administrative team. They are drilling down on MCAS data and determining how to employ high quality professional development and other resources to achieve improvement for all students. You’ll get extra credit (and a lot of knowledge!) by taking a look at the presentations to see what they’re doing. (Just an fyi…we’re hopping on the city bandwagon with respect to agendas and documents. To access them, click on the School Committee page of the schools’ web site and then click “IQM2 Meeting Portal”. Find and click on the appropriate meeting, then click “Agenda Packet”. You will have called up a PDF containing all the documents discussed at the meeting. Notes below will include the respective page number of the PDF in red.)


We recognized and expressed appreciation to Mr. Burt Buchman for his prior service to the Melrose School Committee. (He currently serves in Tyngsborough.) He is receiving the Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ (MASC) Lifetime Achievement Award next month.

Report of the Student Representatives

Students Madeleine Frasca and Amanda Sampson welcomed our Italian exchange students, invited the community to attend the annual MHS Scholarship Fund Pancake Breakfast on 10/20 sponsored by Johnnie's Foodmaster (link here: http://www.melroseschools.com/mhs/pdfs/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20MHS%20pancake%20breakfast%20flyer%202012.pdf), and also invited the community to attend a 10/29 workshop entitled “They Don’t Call it Dating Anymore: A Parent’s Guide to Healthy and Unhealthy Teen Dating Relationships” (link here: http://www.melroseschools.com/mhs/pto.cfm).

Announcements of the Superintendent

Supt. Taymore indicated that she had interviewed two candidates for the Winthrop Interim Principalship and hoped to have a decision prior to week’s end. * She was delighted to announce that the MA School Building Authority (SBA) approved Melrose’s request for a $3.1M grant to renovate/rebuild our science labs. She is hosting a forum on 10/24 to share more information (logistics and agenda here: http://www.melroseschools.com/mhs/pdfs/Agenda%20for%20Science%20Renovations%20Parent%20Mtg%20Oct%2024.pdf). * Don’t forget to check out Curriculum Director Dr. Adams’ blog posts on Melrose Patch!

Announcements of the School Committee Chair

Ms. Casatelli will represent the School Committee at the annual MASC conference in November (pp. 3-4). Resolutions under consideration are on pp. 5-7. * As noted above, Committee document delivery is changing and we voted to go all-electronic beginning in December. We also voted to post documents for the community’s review on Monday instead of Tuesday (p. 8). * Finally, we addressed documents provided to the Attorney General’s Office regarding an Open Meeting Law complaint filed by SC member Ms. Kourkoumelis (p. 9).

Consent Agenda

We ultimately approved the School Committee minutes of 9/27/12 (pp. 10-15), Monthly Budget Summary (pp. 16-21), Personnel Report (p. 22), Cafeteria Report (p. 23), and Warrants (pp. 24-69).

Educational Programs and Personnel

Dr. Margaret Adams presented the 2012-2013 Professional Development Plan (pp. 70-73). After the introduction, it addresses the focus of professional development (also known as training for teachers and all staff members), how it will be implemented, and the “Connections to Melrose Public Schools Strategic Plan”. In order to determine the effectiveness of professional development, administrators will use a variety of assessments (surveys, seeing how the training is put into action in classrooms, etc.) so necessary modifications can be made to enact a continuous system of improving training opportunities. * Spring, 2012 MCAS results (pp. 74-134 or here: http://www.melroseschools.com/administration/pdfs/MCAS%20Spring%202012%20Results%20October%209th%20Presentation.pdf) were carefully analyzed by the leadership team and findings by content area and grade were presented, including strengths and challenges. Action plans were also presented which will reveal themselves in continuing professional development choices, future budget recommendations, MVMMS and MHS course development and sequencing proposals, etc. * Updated, standards-based Grade 1-5 report cards were presented that clearly describe how students’ skills will be assessed (pp. 135-144). Note particularly the purpose of assessing students in this way, how the report cards will change, and what process was used to inform the changes (pp. 145-146).

Policy and Planning

ECC and Kindergarten enrollments were presented (p. 147). Supt. Taymore noted that the number of kindergarten classrooms is appropriate for the number of students (up from 245 last year to 272 this year). * In order to set appropriate salary expectations for staff, we added Policy #4122: Salary Schedules (p. 148), repealed Policy #4213: Professional Staff Salary Schedules (p. 149) and #4305: Support Staff Salary Schedules (p. 150), and amended/renamed Policy #4304: Support Staff Contracts and Compensation Plans (p. 151).

Well, apparently the leaves remain and the rake must reappear, so as we all carry on, please know how much we value the time you take from your busy lives to help a child. Although the leaves will soon be gone, your impact will last a lifetime………

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Did You See the 10/4/12 Common Core Presentation?


Some thoughts on why this presentation is so informative and useful:

1.  It reminds us as parents that schooling today has significantly evolved since our school days. (The workplace of today sure has evolved from the workplace back-in-the-day, right? Has your child ever actually seen a floppy disk?)

2. It makes clear the need for students to be able to do and show specific skills and abilities in order to perform increasingly challenging work - it's not just about getting a grade anymore....

3. It ties school- and home-based learning to real-world activities and accomplishment. (Challenge: can you answer the questions posed in the presentation?)

4. It provides concrete and specific examples of how we can support learning at home. (We're all in this together!)

Great presentation by Melrose Administrators and wonderful partnership among the schools, city, and the Melrose Education Coalition. Thanks to you all!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

School Committee Meeting Notes of September 27, 2012

We’re well into October and the month is flying by! So many great things happening – sports, band, and of course academics. Our School Committee meeting of September 27th covered a lot of great things too – a very substantive session.  For the official version, please check the meeting minutes, but here are the highlights from my perspective. (Remember that the items in red are documents located on the Agendas page on the SC section of the MPS web site.)

Senator Katherine Clark (joined by Representative Paul Brodeur and bill supporter Amy O’Leary of Strategies for Children)

Senator Clark, co-sponsor of H. 4243: “An Act Relative to Third-Grade Reading Proficiency”, announced that the bill had been signed by Gov. Patrick the previous day. She indicated that 39% of MA third graders read below grade level, and that 50% of third-grade students in 100 communities read below grade level. The bill establishes an early literacy panel to support improvement in this area. For more information, click here: http://www.mass.gov/governor/pressoffice/pressreleases/2012/2012926-close-achievement-gap.html.

Report of the Student Representatives
MHS students welcomed Spanish exchange students, and indicated that the Guidance Dept. was hosting a College Fair on October 9th (with 50 colleges expected to participate).

Announcements of the Superintendent
Supt. Taymore offered a progress report on her 100 Day Plan (100 Day Plan Sept 29). <If you want to know what your superintendent has been doing every day, it’s right here!> She also introduced her New Superintendent Induction Coach, Rosemary DiTullio. * Supt. Taymore announced that Winthrop Interim Principal Bob Arsenault is stepping down for personal reasons and that the position will be posted internally. (Parents were notified immediately.) * She indicated that she is searching for a new Business Manager and that the Committee would be considering a contract in Executive Session. (We reported out that we had approved a contract.) * School, subject, and proficiency gap/growth MCAS results were presented (MCAS Data), indicating whether schools were above target, on target, no change, improved below target, or declined.

Announcements of the Chair
Ms. Thorp presented the tentative School Committee meeting schedule for 2013 (2013 SC Calendar), which was approved with the understanding that we may revisit it if Thursdays seem like they may be a better fit later next year. * Open Meeting Law Training was recorded and DVD’s have been made and forwarded to principals. Supt. Taymore has a copy available should anyone like to view it.

Consent Agenda
Ultimately approved were the School Committee Minutes of 9/11/12, a second vote on Committee By Laws (By Laws Amendment), and Warrants.

Educational Programs and Personnel
Guidance Dept. Chair John Buxton presented a three-fold review including the Class of 2012 Update, Standardized Test Review, and Middle School to High School Retention (MHS Update).  He stressed the importance of finding the best post-secondary match for graduating students. * Responding to a prior Committee request, Mr. Zammuto presented an FY12 vs. FY13 comparison of staff attrition. With start dates on or after 7/1/11 (FY12), the district had 47 new hires compared with 51 in FY13, an increase of four new hires this year. (A full list of those changes along with a listing of most MPS personnel can be found at Administrative and Teaching Staffing).

Policy and Planning
Asst. Supt. of PPS Patti White-Lambright presented an update to our Strategic Plan (Strategic Plan – Year 3 – 2012).

Finance and Facilities
Ms. Casatelli distributed a School Committee blog proposal for consideration later in October.  * We voted in favor (and with appreciation), gifts and donations by generous members of our community (Acceptance of Donations Memo). * A memo was presented that reviewed financial details of the newly purchased health curriculum as well as monies incurred for the Victorian Fair School Dept. booth manned by Committee members (Health Curriculum and Victorian Fair).

Stay tuned – I’m catching up on Committee updates! While that’s happening, thank you - thank you (as always!) for all the time and energy you devote to our students. Together we really can make a difference!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

5th Annual Window Art Walk!

Looking for one more reason to enjoy our beautiful downtown? Starting yesterday, October 13th through Saturday, October 27th, a variety of participating Melrose merchants are displaying original works by local artists including our terrific Melrose High School art students. For more information click here: http://www.melrosearts.com/2012_window_art_walk.html and remember to take an extra minute to experience a living museum right in our own backyard!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Open Meeting Law Presentation of September 24, 2012

Last Monday, members of all boards and commissions in the City of Melrose were invited to attend an Open Meeting Law presentation provided by Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ Field Representative Jim Hardy. (For a list of Melrose Boards and Commissions, click here: http://www.cityofmelrose.org/boards_commissions.cfm.) Jim focused on the definitions of Open Meeting Law terms, and what should and should not happen before, during, and after an open meeting. He then reviewed what should and should not happen in an Executive Session, and how the Attorney General’s Office enforces violations of Open Meeting Law. The information was an excellent reminder about how our public groups need to appropriately convene, discuss respective topics, and record/issue minutes. For more information on this topic, you may want to check out http://www.mass.gov/ago/government-resources/open-meeting-law/. To view the presentation click here: http://www.melroseschools.com/administration/pdfs/2012-2013%20OML%20Presentation.pdf.