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, September 24, 2014

School Committee Meeting of 9/23/14

Supt. Taymore and Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Margaret Adams presented the district-wide MCAS results last evening, with every member of the Melrose Public Schools' Leadership Team in attendance (filling all seats on one side of the Aldermanic Chamber). The documents for review included an opening letter indicating the Leadership Team's expectations about the results going into the tests, a summary of results, implications, and next steps. The letter also noted the dates and times for individual school MCAS presentations. The powerpoint presentation covered essential questions, findings, and results in each content area (ELA, math, and science) by grade over time. Supt. Taymore also provided a Glossary of Terms and a review of Massachusetts Accountability Measures in the packets to help us interpret the language the state uses to report.

The main meeting provided a look into MHS athletic participation numbers for the fall compared to prior years, showing that 383 students were involved. (My note: using the projected enrollment number of 933 students from the 8/26 meeting, slightly over 41% of MHS students participated in school athletics this fall.) The district is working purposefully and intentionally in partnership with parents to decrease the incidence and consequences of student concussions. Statistics were provided showing that football concussions have decreased from 14 to 5 from last year, while girl's soccer, ice hockey, and track athletes have suffered three concussions each compared with zero in the prior year. Supt. Taymore noted that she is working with City of Melrose Recreation Director Frank Olivieri to support the Rec. Dept.'s adoption of parallel concussion protocols to those of the schools, including parent education/awareness, reporting, etc.

The School Wellness Advisory Committee Annual Report was provided as well as an updated Strategic Overview. Summer program financial results are in and we have come pretty close to break-even in the tutoring and Students Without Borders programs, and we more than covered expenses for Campus Kids.

We continue to consider updates to our Policy Manual. For information purposes only, last night's packet included proposals for a policy on Animals in Schools (for teaching and learning as well as for assistance) as well as a full review of personnel policies. They will be discussed at the October 14th meeting.

Please take a look at the documents from last night's meetings on the melroseschools.com website under School Committee and IQM2, and if you possibly can, please try to attend the MCAS results meeting at your child(ren)'s school(s). (All MCAS results meetings will be posted and open to the community-at-large.)

Hope you can enjoy these beautiful New England fall days with a stop into a school sporting event or band competition - keep an eye on the website for events that are great for families!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thoughtful and Thought-Provoking

Those words describe comments I received yesterday afternoon from a Melrose parent who was offended by the tone and lack of deeper fact-checking as reflected in my notes in the Citywide PTO post regarding a petition related to school starting before/after Labor Day. It was in no way my intention to offend - however, after this conversation it was clear to me that I did, and for that I sincerely apologize. In addition, I’m grateful to the caller for reaching out and sharing these concerns.

The Committee will begin discussion of the 2015-2016 school calendar in November. Please let us know any questions you may have around that issue (and any/all others) and provide your thoughts and recommendations – they are welcomed and appreciated!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Citywide PTO of September 9th

So much great information! Here are items that were discussed:

* A petition is circulating to begin school after Labor Day. (My thoughts as follows. Two issues here. First the topic -  there are legal, contractual, and practical issues related to starting school before Labor Day and while the Superintendent recommends, the Committee votes on the calendar. Second - the petition process. While it is admirable that parents advocate for what they think best, why not start with a conversation that can allow for shared understanding around why a decision was made? (And special thanks to any parents who did exactly that.) Please reach out to the school principal, Superintendent, and/or Committee and ask. Parents may still disagree with the decision and decide to challenge it - totally their right and privilege - but they will have facts, context, and the district's perspective from which to work.)

* Heard around town: teachers were told not to teach in the first week. Supt. Taymore explained that this is distilled version of what she actually said. The Supt. asked teachers to spend those three days getting to know students in order to teach each student beginning where they are and focusing on growing them academically throughout the year. She walked through every building and saw many "getting to know you" activities, etc. that she felt would lead to better teacher-student partnerships in the learning process resulting in better student outcomes.

* Communication: Supt. Taymore has shared her internal communication plan with all teachers. With respect to Aspen, elementary teachers will focus on attendance, the report card, and Aspen pages (homework, etc.). Secondary teachers will focus on attendance, the grade book, and Aspen pages. If teachers have their own web pages, they are to link them to Aspen. There will be Facebook pages for every school. (PTO Facebook pages are completely separate and not a responsibility of the district.) Twitter is coming next. The goal is to provide a variety of information delivery mechanisms to meet the preferences of all receivers.

* Safety plans for each school and the district have been thoroughly vetted (referencing the Governors Commission on School Safety manual). There are strict protocols for evacuations, etc. Every school has a crisis team. Only one entrance to each building will be viable. All locks at MHS have been re-keyed and changed to a fob system that records who uses the key and when. New cameras have been installed at the high school, and middle school cameras are being updated. On 9/9, Supt. Taymore signed the state grant agreement allowing the district to proceed with removal of the bars on Hoover windows (expected to be completed by the start of school in 2015). Consistent with new state law, any employee with unmonitored contact with students will be fingerprinted to undergo a national background check (compared with the prior CORI process which was only statewide).

* The $2.5M high school HVAC project is winding down. Project managers have met every timeline. There is currently good air circulation (but of course when it was recently hot out, hot air was drawn into the building.) The DPW responded quickly by bringing fans into the building, cafeteria heat lamps were shut off as much as possible (although federal law requires a hot lunch be served daily so the lamps were required to some extent), and oven use was rescheduled to the early morning to reduce that impact on the building. The required order of installation is air circulation equip. (complete), heat equip. (9/30 deadline), and air conditioning equip. (10/15 deadline) which is why the a/c couldn't be installed in time to help mitigate the recent heat. The contract end-date is 10/30.

* A city-wide Technology Assessment and Plan agreement was signed last week and a steering committee is being formed to review planned surveys, focus group results, and inventory reports within a four-month window. Three parents will serve on the committee and interested parties can contact Supt. Taymore.

* PTO, Inc., a kind of holding company for all school PTO's that coordinates comprehensive tax reporting so that individual schools remain in compliance with their 501(c)3 tax exempt status, will hold a board meeting this fall. Tim Donnelly is president.

* The Melrose Education Foundation's (MEF) Summer Leadership Conference was very well received by attendees and a report will be issue shortly. Their 2nd Annual Beebe Fundraiser is scheduled for 9/20 and tickets are still available. They are also holding a meet-and-greet on 9/29 at 7:30 p.m. at Re/Max on Main St. If you'd like to learn more about MEF's purpose and plans, check out http://www.melroseeducationfoundation.org/.

* Melrose Grad Night is getting in gear for its second year of keeping students safe on graduation night. (More here: http://www.melrosegradnight.org/.) They'd love to include elementary parents as chaperones this year so they can get a preview of a high school students' experience and learn how the teen years are pretty special too!

* Melrose Cultural Council applications are available and due back on 10/15. Want to bring more of the arts to your organization? Start here: http://www.mass-culture.org/melrose#.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Late Spring and Summer School Committee Meetings

The summer really flew by this year, and the Committee was hard at work on a number of business items in support of our students. Here are some quick highlights from June, July, and August:

June 10th
* Voted on the administration of PARCC
* Approved the job description for the Director of Fine and Performing Arts

June 24th
* Listened as all School Improvement Plans were presented
* Voted to add one secondary school psychologist

July 8th
* Approved lump-sum raises for non-union personnel 
* Continued employment of our outside legal counsel, Hollender & Carey

July 22nd
* Voted to eliminate class rank beginning with the Class of 2016
* Performed the Superintendent's evaluation

August 8th
* Approved the School Committee action items (associated with our goals)
* Voted to increase Supt. Taymore's salary (based on performance and in accordance with previously agreed salary grid)

August 26th
* Reviewed the DPW's summer work in the schools
* Voted to extend Supt. Taymore's contract to 2018 and voted on her 2015 goals
* Reviewed the educator evaluation report from the Dept. of Elem. and Sec. Ed.

Remember that all documents attached to the items above, as well as for the other items we discussed at our meetings, can be found at melroseschools.com, School Committee, IQM2. We also officially changed e-mail addresses this summer, so please contact us using our new city addresses (e.g. mdriscoll@cityofmelrose.org). Due to today's elections, we'll meet again on September 23rd. Looking forward to a great fall!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Welcome Back!

The first full, five-day week in the Melrose Public Schools began today with anticipation and gusto, and I'm thinking about what good and challenging work our teachers do every day for our students. Reflecting on his own schooling, one of my favorite Globe editorialists, Carlo Rotella, wrote a wonderful piece for the August 29th paper entitled "Good teachers, memorable lessons." (You can find it in full here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/08/28/good-teachers-memorable-lessons/A3zypnzUez6LUbhrGMfuUP/story.html.) In it, he submits that "There are many good teachers out there, quietly tuning up their instruments as they prepare to go back to making beautiful music with their students. What they don in the classroom may look sorcerous, even miraculous, but, like good music, it's almost always the result of painstaking practice, rigorous self-examination, and deep attention to craft." His recollection of lessons learned from his own teachers is classic (like from teachers in grades K-3, "I learned that freedom and creativity grow from order and competence. If you first get things set up right, with routes established and structure in place, you can then improvise, explore, and invent with confidence."). I wish your children a year of order, competence, freedom, and creativity. And if you get a chance, please thank a teacher for making the beautiful music so necessary to develop our learners - from their first days in our schools through their last!