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 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#.