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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Last Night's School Committee Meeting

We reviewed two primary topics at last night's meeting. First, our district physician, Dr. Alan Wolfe, presented results from the biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Although Melrose students were polled because they are a captive audience, Dr. Wolfe was clear that the results represent teenagers in all of Melrose, whether they are public, private, or charter students. The Melrose Education Foundation, in conjunction with the Health Dept. and others will present more information at a forum on May 8th so stay tuned!

Our 2015 budget discussion began in earnest, and we agreed on line items that the Committee will officially approve at the end of the budget review in April (including revolving accounts; staffing and contracted services; supplies, materials, and technology; special education; and curriculum and instruction including professional development). We then talked about next year's ECC tuitions (proposed to increase 5% in order to keep the school self-sustaining) and athletics fees (with some re-tiering and increases proposed to keep fees at approximately 44% of total athletics expenses), along with a brief overview of Education Stations financials. We will vote on those fees at our next meeting.

If you want more information on the topics above, please take a look at our meeting packet on melroseschools.com in the School Committee pull-down menu under IQM2. And don't forget - because of the State Senate primary on Tuesday, March 4th (for you lovers of language, the only date that is a command!), we are meeting on Wednesday, March 5th. Hope you will stay connected with the budget process and send along your thoughts. And of course, thanks so very much for all you do for our students!!!! 

Monday, February 24, 2014

College Entrance Exams - Do They Predict College Success?

"Virtually No Difference" is the title of an article by Scott Jaschik posted on February 19th on Inside Higher Ed. (Check it out here: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/02/19/study-finds-little-difference-academic-success-students-who-do-and-dont-submit-sat.) A study of 123,000 students at 33 different colleges/universities that don't require ACT/SAT scores found that "...there is "virtually no difference" in the academic performance (measured in grades or graduation rates) of those who do and don't submit scores." Jaschik notes "...those students with low high school grades but high test scores generally receive low college grades, while those with high grades in high school, but low test scores, generally receive high grades in college." He also points to the fact that more schools - some quite rigorous and others less so - are becoming test optional. (Here is a list: http://fairtest.org/university/optional.)

Using a test as one method of evaluation is fast and easy. It's hard data in an environment that is difficult to measure - and of course no school will use it as the only selection criteria. But it is big business, supported unwittingly and/or unwillingly, by families and students who have plenty of financial stresses with respect to college admission and attendance without adding test-taking and prep course expenses. Hopefully colleges and universities will soon get to critical mass on this issue and focus on evidence-based indicators in the area of candidate selection. If entrance exams are truly not effective predictors of students' higher ed success, let's save students and families the time, effort, and money required to be one-and-done test-takers and focus on areas that improve real learning and clearly point to future achievement.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

MPS Commended in National Education Newsletter

Featuring thoughtful quotes from Asst. Supt. Margaret Adams, the Ed.gov blog from the US Department of Education (posted January 30, 2014) highlighted the Melrose Public Schools as one of the first adopters of MassCore which requires more instruction in math, English, science, social studies, and foreign language. This federal validation not only speaks to Supt. Taymore's mantra of more rigor in our schools, but is clear evidence that Melrose is leading the charge to prepare students as effectively as possible for their post-secondary plans.

Read more here: http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/progress/2014/01/massachusetts-districts-adopt-rigorous-masscore-course-requirements-for-high-school-graduates/

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 11th School Committee Meeting

Hoping you are all shovelled out - this was a tough one! 

We held a very useful School Committee meeting on Tuesday and here are some of the highlights...........

* Thanks to the hard work of Food Service Manager Ken Dolce and our wonderful cafeteria crews, food service financials are in the black which is such a help for our bottom line (and a struggle for all school districts since the federal requirements are very stringent). Best of all, I'm thinking that students find the food tasty and satisfying so they can focus on their school work.

* Melrose High School is once again fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Quality partnering between the schools and the Department of Public Works resulted in a systematic tackling of facility issues (like dealing with worn rugs, strict oversight of the cleaning company, making plans for capital improvements like the HVAC system, and opening the beautiful new science wing). All other standards were previously deemed appropriate with many commendations.

* Supt. Taymore introduced the draft FY15 Budget, sharing her goals and challenges for the coming year. We will not have a good handle on state revenues until May or June, so no bottom-line information was provided - just some rough estimates. Mayor Dolan registered some concern by indicating that the city does not "have a sustainable economic model to fund the schools." The Committee will hear about different expense categories from the end of February through the beginning of April so stay tuned and send along your thoughts on the tough choices we must make. (The presentation along with the budget timeline is on IQM2.)

* Our collective bargaining agreements with the 284 Melrose teachers were combined into one document, marrying the compensation and work environment pieces with accountability expectations. Having sat on the bargaining committee, I truly feel that we all worked together to support student learning. Neither "side" (although I don't really like to think of it that way) received everything they had hoped for, but both sides clearly heard the most important issues from the other, and worked to find solutions that ultimately support learning. I think the agreement helps us all focus more on rigor and professional culture - two areas proven to improve student outcomes.

Ok - back to spreading kitty litter on the stairs. Thanks for getting out - rain or snow or sleet - to help support our students!!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Melrose High a "BioTeach" School!


Melrose High School has been selected as a "BioTeach School," and will receive $15,000 in grant funding for lab equipment and supplies, three days of teacher training, and opportunities for students to participate is science exploratory experiences.

The science department is increasingly employing ways to support science, technology, engineering, math education for students, with new science labs, more course offerings at MHS for 2014-2015, and a growing STEM Pathway.

For more information on courses and the pathway, check out the MHS Program of Studies in the 2/4/14 School Committee agenda packet. To volunteer in support of STEM education in the Melrose Public Schools, contact Bridge Director Jennifer McAllister at jmcallister@melrose.mec.edu or 781-979-2299.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Are We Placing Students at the Right Course Level?

Yesterday's snowstorm provided a great opportunity to catch up on a little reading. This article was called to my attention and I found it really interesting: 


How many of us hear (or make?) statements like "s/he can't <fill in skill/ability/occupation here> because s/he is <fill in race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, etc. here>?" that assert that an individual is less capable than a potential alternative with the opposite trait(s). This article considers the opposite side of the coin, referencing "the privilege of implicit endorsement." What if you were considered more capable because of your personal profile? 

In keeping with this theme, to what extent do schools rely on stereotypes to place students in courses? Do we put the "bad kids" in certain classes? What about the "dumb" kids? Back in the day that's just the way it was but we've come a very long way since then. At Tuesday night's School Committee meeting there was a great deal of discussion around placing students in the best course level for their unique skills and abilities based on quality criteria, as well as encouraging them  to challenge themselves. If a high school student is doing well but not excelling in mathematics, perhaps the most appropriate level is CP. That's where they have the best chance of being successful without drowning. But if that same student is excelling in English, perhaps an AP course is the right fit. Our schools do not (and will not) put students on an academic track - those days are gone. Supt. Taymore talks constantly about upping the rigor for all students, and I like what I'm hearing from middle school and high school administrators about carefully placing each and every student in the right class at the right level. If you have questions about the right placement for your child, please reach out to the school's guidance department or principal and talk with them about it - when parents and schools are on the same page regarding a child's placement, the student gains not only the right skills, but greater confidence and self-esteem - something we all want for our adults-in-training!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

School Committee Meeting of February 4th, 2014

A special School Committee meeting was held last night for administrators to present a recommended 2014-2015 Middle School schedule and 2014-2015 High School Program of Studies (along with a couple other items of note). Please check out the IQM2 portion of the School Committee section on the melroseschools website for full presentations and back-up material but here are some of my take-aways:

* E-Camp: As promised by Supt. Taymore, the elementary schools have a much more consistent and aligned approach to 5th grade environmental camp this year, with all students attending in early April (prior to the Science MCAS), similar curricula, and appropriate opportunities for science immersion in the school if a student chooses not to attend. There are still some kinks to work out, but much progress has been made.

* A Statement of Interest will be submitted to the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) to request approval and 50% funding to replace all windows at the Hoover School (since the windows are original to the 1965 building, are single pane, and are covered with metal cages making egress very difficult in case of emergency). Rough estimates show that the city might incur a $250K expense and the project, if approved, could be complete 18 months after approval.

* The Middle School will be taking on a new schedule that increases time-on-learning, allows alignment to the HS schedule so students who need more challenge could take a course there, adds two minutes to the lunch period, removes school assemblies from core class time, aligns to the School Improvement Plan, allows for more in-depth and rigorous coursework, incurs fewer transitions from class-to-class during the school day, and allows for vertical teaming (i.e. teachers from different grades in the same subject can meet for planning purposes). Latin can now be offered to interested 8th grade students at MHS. Homework might change by having fewer assignments that have greater depth (requiring the same amount of homework time but in a more meaningful way).

* The High School plans to offer a number of new courses, like Intro to Piano and Guitar, Public Speaking, AP Bio and AP European History (both for freshman), Forensics, and a wide variety of others. (As a rule, electives are offered but enrollment determines whether they are implemented.) Several new pathways are offered too, which allow students who have a specific interest to pursue greater depth of study in that topic. Presenters highlighted the fact that we as a school community often need to push students a little past their comfort zone, so when recognizing excellence in a subject area, students should receive encouragement and support to pursue a course with a higher level of challenge. By the same token, we as parents need to be thoughtful about using override authority in courses where our children may truly struggle. The key is finding the best placement for each student in each subject area so that when they graduate, they are college and/or career-ready.

Special thanks to our MHS Student Representatives who provided candid and thoughtful insight about both the Middle School and High School proposals. In addition, warm thanks to the administrators and teachers who spent a great deal of time researching, surveying staff and students, and grappling with the opportunities and challenges of providing high-quality scheduling in the interest of supporting students. Please contact the building principal if you have questions about any of the information presented, and as always, thanks for your commitment to our wonderful school community! 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

PARCC Pushback

One of the major challenges of piloting and potential implementation of PARCC (a computer-based assessment tool that aligns with Common Core standards) is the cost and logistics of implementing the requisite technology. It looks like the PARCC pilots (including those in Melrose) are still on for spring and that the two-year evaluation plan remains as is; but it's clear that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as well as its boss, the Board of Education, is getting significant push-back from not only superintendents, but legislators as well. Masslive.com has reported that State Senator Brewer from Barre has heard from many superintendents who are struggling with this issue, and suggests that funding could be addressed by setting up a bond fund similar to the one used to build new school facilities (the Mass. School Building Authority, aka the MSBA). Check out the article here: http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/01/secretary_malone.html.