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, December 14, 2015

Announcements, Late Start, CBE Task Force, Budget Priorities, Self-Evaluation, International Students, and more….

…at last week’s 12/8 School Committee meeting. Here’s a breakdown:

Announcements of the Superintendent
* Class of 2015 graduate Katherine Ilia has been selected by the College Board to receive the Massachusetts AP Scholar Award – one of two only recipients (one male and one female). * Mass Insight has designated eight MHS staff members as Partners in Excellence for their work to improve student outcomes on AP exams. * MHS students led, for the second year, the Hour of Code. (More info on this national movement here: https://hourofcode.com/us). * Thanks to the Melrose Cultural Council, Horace Mann students have created murals depicting a theme of friendship. Open house is on 12/15 from 2:30-4 with all welcome. * Demolition has begun on the MHS Resource Center as it begins transformation into the Learning Commons. All precautions are being taken to keep students and staff safe (e.g. post-school-day work, etc.).

Educational Programs and Personnel
* Late Start vote: after discussion, the Committee voted “To pursue community and staff input on the costs and implementation of a 20 minute shift in all school schedules, with a final decision to be made by June, 2016 for implementation for the 2017-2018 school year.” Members appreciated the value in the research around health and safety for students in starting school later, but noted concerns around equity for all students (including elementary and METCO) and financial implications - especially around rentals, Ed. Stations, etc. * The Committee voted to instruct the Supt. to assemble a Competency Based Education Task Force. (Please consider applying to participate! Details here: http://melroseschools.com/2015/12/competency-based-education-task-force/ and deadline to apply is 12/21.) * Slight changes were suggested for the 2016-2017 school calendar, one of which is an addition of the primary Muslim holiday, which is noted in addition to Jewish and Christian holidays.

Finance and Facilities
* FY17 Budget Guidelines and Priorities were presented and approved. They align the filters through which the Committee might consider expenditures for the coming year using Committee overarching goals and associated comments made during the year. * This agenda item was listed to reflect on a Committee goal, and it was noted that the Budget Timeline had addressed community involvement. * Maximum amounts were set on Student Activity Checking Accounts (of which there are two – MVMMS and MHS) for oversight purposes. These accounts are audited at least every three years by an external auditor and more frequently by an internal auditor. * The Committee had promised (by way of our goals) “to report on areas of the FY17 budget affected by the Technology Plan,” and it was noted that this item would be brought forward in the spring when we discussed the budget.

Policy and Planning
* A summary of members’ Committee self-evaluations was presented and approved, and it will be used as a guiding document for the Committee’s work next year. * Supt. Taymore updated the district Strategy Overview, and Ms. Thorp volunteered to link glossary words within it in order to improve understanding by the Committee and community. (More info here: http://melroseschools.com/school-committee/agendas-and-minutes/strategy-overview-links/.) * An updated policy on International Students was presented for informational review. It adds tuition-paying students to our population and addresses roles and responsibilities around their enrollment.

Announcements of the Chair
* The Committee conducted a preliminary vote for 2016 Chairman and Vice-Chairman (in keeping with our By-Laws, section 3.2), with a final vote scheduled for our 1/12 meeting. I, in partnership with Jessica Dugan, will be honored to serve as next year’s Chair and Vice-Chair respectively. * Work has been done on the School Committee Member Handbook, with much work to do next year prior to its completion. * Ms. Thorp completed the significant work she began on the types of data the Committee can expect to receive from Supt. Taymore in order to abide by our roles. *Members reported on experiences within their liaison roles.

The next Committee meeting will be held on January 12th at 7 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chamber and will be broadcast on MMTV. If you would like to receive e-mails pushed to your inbox with meeting agendas and packet document links, please go to the Committee web site, Meetings (IQM2 page), and subscribe to the RSS feed. If you’d like a preview of next year’s meeting agendas, check out our preliminary rolling agenda at http://d1868cr0a5jrv6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Rolling-Agenda-2016-First-Draft.pdf.

A more personal note: as this is the time when it’s especially meaningful to look back at the prior year and reflect on its many blessings, please know how grateful I am to all who find ways to support our students, whether it’s by being a PTO member, school council member, task force participant, Bridge member, member of a city board/commission/department, engaged parent, staff member, generous business owner, attendee of music and drama presentations, sports fan, or partner (like MAAV, MEF, the McLaughlin Foundation, Melrose Cultural Council, Rotary, Birth-to-Five, and so many others). While there are many challenges to be addressed, we have seen great strides in Melrose education because of you. As always, it takes a village to raise a child, and I feel so grateful to the people and organizations that make raising and educating children in our beautiful city both supportive and enriching.

Wishing you all the beauty of this season and a happy, healthy 2016!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

CBL, Common Core, and Other Notes from City Wide PTO

On December 8th, the group started with a thoughtful discussion around the competency based learning (CBL) model that Supt. Taymore is proposing. Her remarks, as summarized, are as follows:

·      CBL is a standards-based system. It’s a model of instruction, not curriculum or content.
·      Students proceed as they master standards. There is greater rigor and the model includes more project-based learning.
·      It requires teachers to think differently about pacing (how fast they move through each topic area) and sequencing (the order in which they move through topic areas).
·      We now use a factory-based model that no longer works in an information-based society so we have to teach differently.
·      Staff has already implemented Understanding by Design, a way of planning that identifies what students should get out of a content unit, then working backwards to achieve the meeting of standards to get there.
·      What would change? Students don’t pass with a “D,” rather, they must master standards to get to the next step.
·      There are questions, like how to include more project-based learning.
·      What learning experiences outside of school “count” (e.g. does a student who works at Dana Farber get credit for a Medical course?)? At MHS, soon high school students will be manning a tech help desk and by doing so will meet standards in science/tech/engineering and will get credit for it.
·      Superintendents around the state are talking about CBL; the issue in Massachusetts is that the Dept. of Elem. and Sec. Education doesn’t yet have a plan to support it.
·      Question to the Supt. – does this only support students who are struggling and students who need challenge (i.e. “fringe” students)? No – it is truly for all students. Also, students must not be labeled, they must be met where they are and be able to proceed at the right pace for them. It also addresses the contention by some Melrose families that “my regular child will be swallowed up at the high school level.”
·      Question to the Supt. – what about teachers? Staff is always concerned about failing, because they want to support students well. They need help to improve teaching and learning so they build confidence. The Supt. is working to “build capacity” in staff, meaning increasing training, coaching, and mentoring. The high school is moving well in this direction, the middle school has pockets that are developing quickly, and elementary is the largest challenge because classrooms are largely singular (although Hoover has some cross-class grouping, Roosevelt is doing some vertical grouping, and four of five buildings have science vs. social studies specialists).

The discussion morphed into a review of the Common Core and its status. Supt. Taymore spoke to the new federal education act, ESSA called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” (More info here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/11/esea_reauthorization_the_every.html.) In sum, it takes the federal government out of the school accountability business, making states responsible for developing tests (testing is still required but other types of assessment can also be used) and removes the feds from teacher evaluation. (Note: as of this writing, it’s on the President’s desk and expected to be signed post haste.) Those opposed to Common Core standards should find this Act supportive of their efforts and responsive to their interests in more localized control (although the states won’t do away with it, they’ll just call it something else).

Efforts continue to address cultural awareness and proficiency.

·      At the high school/middle school levels, Urban Improv, although not perfect, started a difficult conversation that is useful in developing understanding. Teachers did follow-up work in their classrooms. The challenge is that developmentally and from a learning standpoint, students need more work in understanding how to listen, how to have perspective, and how to craft thoughtful speech based on that work.
·      Prior to Urban Improv, the ADL had trained staff on microaggressions.
·      Last week, Supt. Taymore and METCO Director Doreen Ward brought six teachers to the METCO conference, which was excellent and they’ll share what they learned with staff.
·      The middle school is starting a Social Justice Club and the high school is starting a Do the Right Thing club. 
·      Parents have concerns around the high school mascot. After her arrival in the district, the Supt. asked cheerleaders to remove the feathers from their hair because it was disrespectful. Students are interested in talking about the mascot.
·      Supt. Taymore is working with Melrose Human Rights Commission Chairman Shawn MacMaster about city-wide efforts to address this issue since it’s really a city challenge, not just in the schools. Students want to have conversations about race, and adults need to have it too.

Other notes:

·      Collective bargaining agreements are being signed with secretaries, paraprofessionals, and department chairs. Interest-based bargaining will be the negotiating model used in partnership with teachers as bargaining begins in the spring.
·      The Melrose Master Plan is another effort in process in the city. Every municipality in the state is required to engage in this effort every ten years. There will be a public forum in February for the community-at-large.
·      The Permanent School Building Committee is reconvening to discuss capacity issues, needed upgrades to middle school’s Performing Arts Center, and other topics.
·      Work on the Learning Commons at the high school has begun earlier than anticipated, with the heavy demolition occurring from 3:00 into the evenings (in order to limit disruption to student learning).
*    A local donation form is being developed to help streamline requests from PTO’s to local businesses and respect their ability to support elementary organizations.

      Next meeting is January 12th. Community Reading Day is March 3rd. Trivia Bee is March 19th.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Week that Was: Master Plan, Curriculum, CBL, Inauguration, Holidays, Pigskin

The Melrose Master Plan Committee met on the morning of Thursday, 12/3 to begin review of the plan’s draft outline and discuss the next community engagement step. As noted by our City Planning Office, the “Master Plan is a document that reflects residents’ long-term vision for the community in the next 10 to 15 years. The Plan first takes a snapshot of the community today, covering the following topics: population, housing, economic development, transportation, energy, land use and zoning, open space and recreation, public facilities and services, and historic and cultural resources. This information on current conditions and trends is combined with input from the public to develop action steps on how to achieve that long-term vision. Once finalized, Melrose Forward: A Community Vision and Master Plan will be consulted in all future decisions on growth and preservation in the city until the next master plan update. Why are we updating the Master Plan? Think of it as drawing a roadmap to our future quality of life. A lot has changed in Melrose since the City’s last master plan in 2004, and things will continue to change. Clearly stating our values and aspirations as a community in an official policy document will give us more control over what happens here over the next decade…We need broad community input to make sure the plan is well-informed and reasonably represents the many voices of Melrose. If you have something to say about the city’s future, we want to hear it! During this process, we will be asking for community input online and at community events and public forums. There is a Facebook page you can “like” (http://www.facebook.com/melroseforward/) as well as a Twitter account you can follow (http://www.twitter.com/melroseforward/) to stay informed about project meetings and other ways to provide input. We will occasionally provide updates via the Mayor’s Blog as well. We kicked off this project at the Melrose Victorian Fair in September and will attend additional community events when possible to gather ideas. Please save the date for a public forum during the evening of Wednesday, February 10, 2016 to help identify goals and strategies for Melrose Forward. To sign up for the Melrose Forward mailing list or for any questions about the Master Plan, email Erin Zwirko, Assistant Planning Director in the Office of Planning and Community Development, at ezwirko@cityofmelrose.org or call her at (781) 979-4193."

Thursday afternoon, the Curriculum Materials Working Group held its monthly meeting, focusing on how STEM areas are employing elements of cultural awareness in their content. Science, Business, and Technology Department Chair Jon Morris spoke to the fact that staff is very cognizant of the fact that women are vastly underrepresented in the science fields, and are encouraging young women’s interest in this area. He also talked about linking engineering and social studies as one example of cross-curricular work they are doing, for example, incorporating a project on the impact of tool-making during WWII and afterwards. (Most factory workers were women during WWII, but when the men returned from war, the tools used were generally too small for mens’ hands, making re-tooling an important component of post-war activity.) Mathematics Department Chair Christina Cardella revealed that staff was looking thoughtfully at pairing math and social justice, e.g. in the content area of percentages, determine growth in rates of homeless people, people living in poverty, incarcerated people, etc. We also talked about curriculum guides and how they could be used in the district.

Thursday evening, Supt. Taymore held a public forum on Competency Based Learning, providing a slide presentation (http://tinyurl.com/j2hm7x2), and addressing questions from the audience. Most principals were in attendance. She noted that the School Committee would make a decision on 12/8 to recommend (or not) a task force to explore this educational model for Melrose. 

Friday, 12/4 included a meeting of the Inauguration Committee, headed by Memorial Hall Director Kathy Piggott-Brodeur. The celebration will be similar in format to prior years, with thoughtful non-denominational reflections, music, brief speeches, the swearing-in of newly elected (and re-elected) officials, and the Mayor’s State of the City Address. The date is January 11th at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall, and all are welcome.

Saturday’s (12/5) Home for the Holidays afforded me the great privilege of partnering with Ward 5 Alderman Gail Infurna for our annual hosting of a Home for the Holidays trolley. We spent two hours with families, school-aged children, and general revelers as the trolley stopped at various locations offering activities and special events, and Gail’s trumpeting of holiday carols engendered lots of singing and merriment. A school surprise: Lincoln Principal Allison Donovan duct taped to a wall as a fundraiser for environmental camp - now that's dedication to students! 

Saturday night was such a proud moment for our city, when the Red Raider football team put up a valiant effort against the Dartmouth Indians as the sun set over Gillette stadium. The band, color guard, and cheerleaders were just as impressive, and the community spirit in the stands was second to none. Melrose High School was the district’s shining star for the night, showcasing student effort, enthusiasm, and sportsmanship.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

MVMMS Incident, PARCC results, Ed. Stations, Committee Self-Evaluation, and More…

After a lively report from our wonderful student representatives, Supt. Taymore noted that the School Calendar was being pulled from the agenda since more work was needed on it in order to make it complete enough for a full discussion. She then read a joint statement from the Middle School and her office regarding the November 20th incident involving 7th grade students. (That statement can be found here: http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/2015/11/statement-from-mps-regarding-mvmms-incident-on-november-20-2015/.)

Results from spring PARCC testing were presented by Asst. Supt. for Teaching and Learning Dr. Margaret Adams, and the leadership team was present to address questions. The presentation is on pp. 43-92 of http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2502&Inline=True with supplemental documents following and it’s worth the time to watch it at http://www.mmtv3.org/index.php?categoryid=28 (from 23:50-1:19:10). Some highlights:

·               PARCC was considered more difficult than MCAS. Students who took PARCC with paper and pencil performed better than students who took the on-line version.
·               ELA: 76%-87% of students achieved Level 4/5 (the two top categories). Growth percentile at 59.5th – 71st for all grades (60th-80th percentile = high growth). Students with disabilities experienced the greatest “gap to proficiency” of any subgroup. Next elementary steps: fully implement new reading materials and writing units; strengthen science and social studies writing; implement individual student success plans. Next middle schools steps: regular and special education teacher collaboration; and focus additional time on students with disabilities.
·               Math: 57%-77% of students achieved Level 4/5. Growth percentile at 50th-67th. All high needs students, particularly students with disabilities, experienced the greatest “gap to proficiency.” Next elementary steps: continue mathematical best practices; continue math projects for students who need more challenge; continue to align class assessments with evolving state assessments; use rubrics more often to review and evaluate student responses to math tasks. Middle school: more data analysis, alignment of assessments, and differentiated instruction.
·               PARCC will be given in 2016. The state Board of Education voted in November to develop a PARCC-MCAS hybrid assessment beginning in 2017 (now being called MCAS 2.0) in order to capture the most useful features of both assessment tools. More information to come from the Board as time goes on.
·               Comments from questions: Learned from the results: the positive impact from the amount of writing (including analysis) and “paired reading” (two-three different texts ->analyze ->write – it’s a matter of practice in English, but also social studies and beginning in science) which begins in Kindergarten and goes through high school. Changes to curriculum alignment have benefited students. Staff does not “teach to the test” and actually can’t since it’s a performance-based test; they just use quality curriculum and instruction. While Melrose only compares to itself, it’s a fact that the district performed better than a wide group of other districts around the state, including our neighbors and other high-performing districts.

Education Stations has grown from one school with a handful of students to eight schools with 700 students and is now at capacity. It is a $1.4M enterprise/year requiring immense attention to finances, staffing, and the continuation and building of quality programs (e.g. there is much interest in moving the model to the middle school.) The district needs a sustainable, cost-effective, and beneficial model so over the next few months, program director Dr. Josephson will be working with Executive Service Corps to build a long-term plan. She will step back from some day-to-day duties and her experienced assistants will be filling responsibilities allowing her to focus on this project.

Subcommittees of the full School Committee submitted end-of-year reports for consideration by the Committee as we prepared our annual self-evaluation. Each member provided comments as desired, which will be included in the meeting minutes and will also be aggregated by Ms. Dugan in a summary document prior to presentation at the next meeting. That information will help inform actions and activities next year.

As part of our commitment to financial transparency and accountability (and in conjunction with our action items for the year), finance policies have undergone a review and in some cases revision. Final votes are scheduled for 12/8.

The state’s Foundation Budget Review Commission has issued its final report. The next challenge for the state legislature will be to explore how recommendations can/will be funded.

A review of the Superintendent’s evaluation process was approved, with the next action being her mid-cycle review scheduled for February 23rd.

Don’t forget tomorrow night’s (12/3) public forum on competency-based learning (to be held from 6:00-7:30 in the MVMMS Auditorium). Our next regular business meeting (and last meeting of the year) will be held next Tuesday (12/8) at 7:00 on the Aldermanic Chamber.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Legislators, Hoover Students, Demographic Study, Tech Plan, Enrollments, and Start Times….

Last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting began with a round table discussion with State Representative Paul Brodeur and State Senator Jason Lewis. We touched on the following in our 45-minute session:

·               Foundation Budget Review Commission has published its final report (which is on the 11/24 Committee agenda). The report is designed to begin a discussion with the governor, although there are no guarantees that the recommendations will be implemented. The special education piece focused on out-of-district expenses and Supt. Taymore noted that those placements for Melrose are declining since we are working to keep more students in-district.
·               9C cuts (mid-year budget cuts sometimes implemented by the governor if revenues are lower than expected) are not being discussed at this time.
·               Charter schools (keeping the cap vs. lifting the cap) – if the legislature were to act, the Senate would take it up first, but that is unlikely and it will likely go to voters as a ballot initiative in 2016. The mayor noted that charter assessments are the only part of the budget that have no checks and balances (since elected reps don’t vote on it).  The money disproportionately goes to districts not at their levy limit; he contended that cities/towns should pay for themselves before asking others for money, and there should be rewards for quality fiscal management. He also asked whether there was discussion around unionizing charter teachers so they could participate in the pension system; there is not. There was also discussion about charging districts quarterly for charter student payments instead of a one-time payment; that would allow the district to save by not paying for an entire year if a student were to return to the district mid-year.
·               Kindergarten grant – the governor will likely put $0 in his budget but it is likely that the legislature will put some money back in. Supt. Taymore commented that our kindergartens are NAEYC certified which requires paraprofessionals in the classrooms but other cities’ K’s aren’t, so the cuts hit us particularly hard.
·               The Supt. is concerned about student data privacy, which will be discussed in the legislature.
·               The public records bill was reported favorably from Committee, which has been sensitive to costs by municipalities. The House will take up the bill next week.

In our regular meeting, the Hoover School was our School Committee Spotlight guest, and three students spoke to the benefits of their Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) system 7 Habits and how it has helped students and the school culture.

Supt. Taymore reported that evacuation drills have gone very well, Melrose Rotary is sponsoring a city-wide 5th grade spelling bee in the spring, the Human Rights Commission will sponsor an essay-writing contest to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a contract has been signed for the Learning Commons project (the renovated library and technology space at MHS) with construction beginning after Thanksgiving.

The city’s demographic study was presented, showing that average home prices in 2014 were $475.5K and demand far exceeds supply. The number of students in the schools is predicted to grow by about 40 students/year between now and 2026 (from 3726 students to 4171), and will be concentrated in K-8. There are currently 450 students who attend private/parochial schools from K-12, with 17 students home-schooled, 280 students in charter schools, 40 students in out-of-district special education placements, and 23 students choiced-in/tuitioned-in/non-residents. 30% of Melrose households contain individuals under age 18. The percentage of non-white and Hispanic residents between 2000 and 2010 doubled from 6% to 12%.

We are in the process of reviewing all financial policies of the schools, and those recommended for change will be brought forward for a first vote on 11/24.

In the Technology Plan update, Supt. Taymore noted that there is much “back-end” work needed to get all technology up and running effectively (infrastructure, etc.). This work is expected to be complete by 2/1/16. The schools do not have a Director of Instructional Technology, which may handicap our ability to implement the education goals of the technology as well as possible.

Enrollments and class sizes were reported. 2016 race/ethnicity enrollments: 82% white, 6% African American, 4% Asian/Pacific Islander, 0% Native American, 4% Multi-Race, and 4% Hispanic. Other student statistics: 18 homeless, 23 school choice, 1 tuitioned-in special education, 40 out-of-district special education, and 1 foreign exchange student(s). Over 18% of students are considered low income (an increase of 32 students from last year), 33 students are from immigrant families, and 6 students are from military families. 116 students are considered Limited English Proficient (LEP) – the same as last year but greatly increased from the year before. Two elementary schools have over 400 students with only one principal. Some high school classes have over 30 students, but there are many more approaching that number (in the 26-29 student range). The Committee could set a maximum student limit, but that would have financial consequences. Some high school classes have ten or fewer students, but failing to run them could have negative consequences for students. At the elementary level, a 5th grade will need to be added at Winthrop. At Lincoln and Roosevelt, we may need to take the music rooms for classrooms. Discussion was held around re-opening the Beebe and employing modular classrooms. Supt. Taymore said that another way to explore this concept is to look at educational configurations; for example, Billerica is building a high school for grades 8-12, with a grade 5-7 middle school. Supt. Taymore recommended that we consider revitalizing the School Building Committee in order to consider how to address increases in school population. Demographics must be considered in concert with educational intentions (like Competency-Based Learning if we go in that direction). Athletics participation ran between 297-383 students per season in 2015 (31-40% of the student body).

It is a given that later start times favor student health and wellness but the Committee is cognizant of the challenge posed by shifting the time. We voted to recommend that the Start Time Task Force focus next step exploration on the 35 minute time shift, and particularly consider impacts to athletics, METCO, contractual obligations, etc.

The Committee continues to consider what data we need to make decisions and in what format. Ms. Thorp presented a tentative rolling agenda for calendar 2016 for planning and presentation purposes.

Much more detail can be found in the meeting materials (packet documents) that can be found, as always, on the melroseschools.com web site, under School Committee, under Meetings: IQM2 Portal.

Next meeting is Tuesday, 11/24 at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber at City Hall.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Crazy 8’s, Override Impact, Policy Implementation, Parent University, and More…

This week’s City Wide PTO covered some pretty wide-ranging topics!

·               Instructional Coach Paula Jones talked about a free program for elementary students called Crazy 8’s Club that she’s supporting. According to the web site (bedtimemath.org) it is “…not a serious, competitive-worksheet club, but a club where you explore numbers by building things, making music, and making a mess.” Volunteers run the clubs, setting the day/time (before or after school). Prep is user-friendly with lesson planning taking about 30 minutes for a total commitment of about 1.5 hours/week. The cost for the program is free to students, with a $50 materials fee that is covered in principals’ budgets. The Horace Mann club is up and running, with Roosevelt starting this week. Volunteers are needed at Lincoln and Hoover. If you are interested, please talk to your principal!
·               Given that voters did not approve the override, there are negative consequences to the schools. Here are a few we talked about:
o   There will remain 35+ students in many art/music classes at the elementary level.
o   Some high school classes will continue to contain 30+ students (especially challenging in art classes where materials take up significant space).
o   A great deal of technology has been purchased to support teaching and learning but there is no administrator (Director of Instructional Technology) to help teachers use it in the classroom, support its use in library media centers, or manage the networking/systems.
o   The average life of textbooks and materials is five-six years but we don’t have a continuous replacement cycle, so we’ll have to find that money in the budget or extend the life of materials.
o   The School Committee builds a budget each year for which $750K is not yet guaranteed to the City, and the Aldermen approve that practice and the budget. We know by October whether the money will come (and in past years, it has come). Elected officials know that not including that amount would decimate school staffing (since 86% of the budget is salaries), so the practice continues although it’s agreed that it is not fiscally sound. The override would have allowed the budget to guarantee the $750K when the budget is passed, and then when funding comes in October, it could be used for other city services, like maintenance to municipals buildings, etc. (Now, those projects are left undone and other city services receive less support.)
·               A question was posed around how policies are determined and communicated, in general, and as related to the lice policy. Discussion centered around policy being a function of the School Committee and the fact that there are three ways that policy gets determined: changes to state/federal law; challenges brought to the attention of the Committee by the Superintendent or the community where policy can guide the Supt., or as part of a regular policy review. The Superintendent develops administrative guidelines and/or procedures either as a response to policy or as a best practice. (All policies and administrative guidelines are on the school web site.) In the case of the lice protocols, the applicable policy relates to wellness (ADF) as well as the Student Handbook. (Since the Committee approves the Handbook, it’s considered policy.) This year a page of changes to the Handbook was not developed and presented at the time of the Handbook’s approval and the Committee agreed that it should be presented next year. City Wide PTO members also recommended bolding changes in the Handbook for easy designation by parents. It’s the responsibility of the parent to read the Handbook and understand it prior to signing the form indicating such, but the district should ensure that changes are easy to find. Regarding lice, the protocols are based on new regulations from the state (“no-nit policy”) and are now consistent among elementary schools, with notification going to parents if three cases are detected in the same grade at a school.
·               Parent University is November 14th from 8-12 at MVMMS and features a wide variety of sessions, free to parents and community members. More info at http://melroseedfoundation.org/2015/10/12/save-the-date-melrose-parent-university-sat-nov-14-2015/. (….submitting a shameless plug for the Inside MHS session, where I get to sit on the panel and hear what you think about MHS and you get to be a student-for-an-hour while learning more about MHS offerings. )
·               An MHS career fair is in the organization stage. It will be designed to help primarily 10th and 11th graders learn about careers so they will have more information as they begin the college search process. Bridge Director Jenn McAlister will get involved to help find residents in different fields and request their participation in this event. For more information, contact Jenn at the Bridge office in Melrose Public Schools.
·               The iRaiders Annual Kitchen Tour is scheduled for this Sunday, November 15th. To learn more about the iRaiders, check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/IRaiders-124984927631595/timeline. More info on the Kitchen Tour here: http://www.cityofmelrose.org/2015/11/12/check-out-the-iraiders-kitchen-tour-on-november-15/.
·               Mark your calendars for November 20th-22nd and plan to catch our talented middle schoolers perform Elf Jr.! More info here: https://melrosedrama.wordpress.com/shows/mvmms-fall-musical-15/
·               Thinking spring already? Graduation is planned for June 3rd, 2016.
·               Next meeting is December 8th at 8:45 a.m.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Secrets of School Governance from MASC (#MASCconf2015)

Such a privilege to sit on the District Governance Program panel with Tari Thomas, Superintendent of Ralph Mahar Regional and presenter Dorothy Presser, MASC Field Director. 

From the web site: “The District Governance Program [DGP] is designed to focus on continuous improvement and to help school committees and superintendents develop new strategies for teamwork and collaboration that will enhance student achievement. [It] helps build a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the school committee and those of the superintendent.” 

How is it structured? Like a school house…
·      Building the Foundation (Operating Protocols)
·      Raising the Frame (Vision and Goals)
·      Installing the Infrastructure (Monitoring Progress)
·      Setting the Walls (Effective Meetings)
·      Laying the Roof (Sustaining Progress)

How does it work? Districts contact Dorothy and indicate the desire for assistance in improving their governance. Dorothy meets with the Superintendent and Board Chair to determine the district’s current governance status, evaluate its unique needs, and create a plan for tackling challenges. (Tari found this process particularly insightful and useful.)

In the interest of student achievement, districts should seek:
·      a vision of high expectations
·      accountability
·      strong relationships
·      data to monitor progress
·      to lead as a united team

Practices that support success:
·      varied and purposeful meetings (try for 1/quarter that is not a business meeting)
·      strong self-governance
·      having a board professional development plan
·      strong Superintendent/Committee collaboration (MASC has info on this)

High-functioning governance teams (administration and Committee):
·      abide by their unique roles
·      agree on how to operate and communicate
·      devote time to the work
·      plan and execute efficient business meetings
·      have frequent, informal conversations
·      share trust and mutual respect

These are things we talked about as being useful in Melrose (and apologies to Tari as I don’t have specifics for hers – am sure she’d be happy to talk with you about them):
·      Adopting norms and protocols that reflect the behaviors of the Committee. (We used the DGP’s headings: “Who we represent; How we conduct business; How we’ll treat each other; How we’ll communicate; How we’ll improve; Limits of power; What happens when things go wrong.” You can find them here: http://tinyurl.com/q6c8zpq. We put a copy into a clear notebook sleeve and have one at every Committee member’s desk for each meeting.
·      Determining and employing overarching goals, SMART goals, and action items http://tinyurl.com/neyxbmz).
·      Use of a rolling agenda (pp 241-244 here: http://tinyurl.com/nl8s3zk.)
·      Use of a consent agenda for common and regular reports (like monthly budget summaries, field trips, warrants, meeting minutes, personnel reports, cafeteria reports, maintenance reports, etc.) that generally don’t generate much dialogue among Committee members since they are posted in packets the Friday prior to Tuesday meetings and members can contact the Supt. with questions in advance. In the introduction to the Consent Agenda in a meeting, the Chair always asks if anyone wants to remove and item from the Consent Agenda, and if so, the Chair determines where on the agenda that item will be discussed and voted.
·      Using By-Laws and policy (“B” section of most policy manuals) to codify intentions around how meetings will be run (http://melroseschools.com/school-committee/district-policy-manual/).
·      Employing data dashboards (here: http://melroseschools.com/administration/district-dashboard/ and is a work in progress!).
·      Performing a yearly self-evaluation that can lead to formation of goals for the following year. (Our 2015 process was approved last night and can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/nl8s3zk on pp. 162-170.) Virtually the same process was used last year at this time, so you can see how members responded on the evaluation and the ensuing report that led to goal formation early this year.)

Using a continuous cycle of goal setting, performance monitoring, and self-reflection can support Committee accomplishment of the work that improves student learning in a thoughtful, collaborative way.

Cultural Proficiency (#MASCconf2015)

In this standing-room only session, featured presenter Ron Walker, Executive Director, Coalition of Essential Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) addressed the challenges around understanding and embedding cultural proficiency in our schools.

·      How are school policies supportive of cultural proficiency?
o   Is there full inclusion and awareness? We think and say there is, but there is not.
o   Do you have a cultural proficiency policy? Every policy that comes to the table needs the lens of cultural proficiency.
·      How are we as a state and country re-examining discipline?
o   The right approach is restorative justice including the culturally responsible approach of a Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) protocol.
·      Panel member Kharis McLaughlin, Director of Diversity in the Cambridge Public Schools, spoke to the language “all children.” The state says we can’t disaggregate data down to individual students but she disagrees. Even if there is one student of color, what if that student isn’t doing well? It’s not racist to look at each child because the goal should be to lead students to rigor and high standards. We shouldn’t use the term “sub-group.” If a student is doing well, we can’t replicate that to help others. We can’t support underperformance or replicate success without data analysis.
·      We can measure ourselves using the “Cultural Proficiency Continuum,” also known as the “Cultural Competence Continuum.” It looks like this:
o   Cultural destruction: destroys groups due to their culture (e.g. Holocaust, slavery, Trail of Tears).
o   Cultural incapacity: doesn’t destroy, but doesn’t improve.
o   Cultural blindness: fails to recognize, disregards, or ignores cultures.
o   Cultural pre-competence: good intentions and emerging, but need to learn more.
o   Cultural competence: appreciate all children and all communities.
o   Cultural proficiency: no one really meets this standard since it involves policy, practice, attitudes, and behaviors. We all aspire to this.
·      Do a cultural scan. Be conscious. Notice and respect people at all times in all places (e.g. at Market Basket, the man packing grocery bags was from a different culture. Asking “how do you pronounce your name?” shows respect.) Ask yourself “Where am I and where do I want to be?”
·      Is poverty an overlay question? The data of poor white boys is not that different from poor black and Latino boys.
·      The parent piece is not about bake sales. Parents are allies. They inform policy and act as liaisons.
·      Reflect on what all students should be able to know, understand, and do.
·      Nothing supersedes teacher quality and a teacher’s belief that all students can learn. High expectations for all is the key.


Creative, Entrepreneurial, and Global: 21st Century Education (#MASCconf2015)

Educator and prolific author Yong Zhao delivered Friday’s keynote address. His work focuses on the implications of globalization and technology on education. His slides can be found at http://zhaolearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/WorldClass.pdf, and here are some highlights from his speech:

·      School boards are uniquely American but have lost power over the past 20 years.
·      It’s not how hard you work, but what you are working on. In the outcome of education, what matters?
·      Over time, we’ve been building “statues” that don’t accomplish things (ref: Easter Island).
·      “Catching up or leading the way?” Americans are seduced by the wrong measure as enticed by Singapore, China, and Korea (2008). If NCLB had been fully funded, there would have been more damage. All assumptions were based on the predication that American schools were bad and couldn’t compete, but there was no evidence to say American education was bad.
·      American education is not getting worse. It’s always been bad as measured by test scores. (If our education is so bad, why are we still here?)
·      So why is America still here?
·      The data would say that top scoring countries are the “chop stick” countries. “Spoon and fork” countries don’t do so well J
·      Asian countries have a lack of confidence. They score well but don’t want to read – they don’t have the interest.
·      Counting what Counts is Zhao’s new book, available in two weeks. A lot of numbers lie about education. The side effects of education are like those on a medication bottle – may cure _______ but can cause ______. What do you give up to get something?
·      What used to matter may not matter in the future. We think too linearly – tomorrow may be the past.
·      College and career readiness is considered “out of the basement readiness” yet college grads continue to have problems finding jobs in their field (employment or underemployment). They become boomerang children (i.e. coming home to live in your basement).
·      “Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon?” The Chinese were good at homogenous education, which was necessary because past jobs included assembly line jobs. They needed to squash creativity. We have employee-oriented education. Schools are employers – they measure kids. Kindergartners aren’t ready so we’ll fix it; we’re always looking at the deficits, looking to homogenize. Kindergarten readiness standards are like job interviews. We impose on children the content and skills we think will be valuable in the future because it was valuable in the past.
·      That’s not true anymore – robotics does those jobs now. We are in the second machine age. More jobs are being replaced (e.g. Turbotax, divorces are done on line, Google car with no driver). As such, we need fewer tax accountants, lawyers, human drivers, DMV, car insurance agents, traffic lights, etc.) Look at The World is Flat by Friedman.
·      The US spends more $ than most countries and MA more $ than most states. That money is wasted if other countries provide the same education for less $.
·      Two questions:
o   Are we prepping kids to do things machines can’t do?
o   Are we prepping kids to do things that can’t be outsourced?
·      Multiple intelligences – everyone is good at something/no one is good at everything = POTENTIAL. Nurture – can you trigger potential? You may be a genius, but you need teaching, coaching, mentoring. As a school are you allowing 10,000 hours on what helps kids? It doesn’t make sense to try to improve things we’ll never be good at.
·      Not everyone wants the same things. What is one’s motivator / object of desire (e.g. power? influence)? People are driven by different things and have different passions. Not all were valuable before.
·      Today there is hope. There is the creation of new jobs. (Rudolph’s nose was red and he was put in special education J. One Christmas Eve, Santa needed GPS and having non-blackness was a benefit.) Today, how will car interiors be re-invented for driverless cars - should they contain hot tubs – again J?
·      This is the age of abundance and leisure (psychological, intellectual, and emotional products). Most consumables are wants, not desires. Values have changed. Creating choice is important since a machine can manufacture a product (e.g. shampoo bottles are art, etc.)
·      The foggy Christmas Eve has arrived. Traditionally useless people are now useful.
·      New education jobs must enhance individual talents. Students now become disengaged – it’s the new paradigm. We must prepare students to create jobs, not take jobs, and support every strength. We need an entrepreneurial mindset and use our talents to serve others.
·      What is student autonomy? Personalized education. We need to hold standards accountable for mattering. Global technology is needed.
·      We must be “world class learners.”
·      We face the cliff of the middle class. Now entrepreneurs are in a global market. 2400 on the SAT is not useful – that’s existing structure.
·      Help students to become great in their own way – then they will not live in your basement.