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.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

School Committee Meeting: 2/24/15

In addition to Student Representatives from MHS, two Student Reps from MVMMS (Cain Murphy and Mary Kate Mahoney) joined us and provided welcome updates on middle school happenings. Great job by all of our students!

Supt. Taymore’s Updates: * School Improvement Plan updates are now posted on school web sites. * There is a little over $60K left of the curriculum materials bond that will be held for necessary future purchases. * The two finalists in the Lincoln Principal search visited the district this past Monday and Tuesday, and Supt. Taymore intends to announce a decision by this Friday (although that will hinge on successful negotiations with the candidate). * Special thanks to the Melrose Education Foundation for grants totaling $27K to teachers, as well as to the Melrose Cultural Council for grants totaling $2400 for a variety of arts programming in the schools. * METCO grant cuts by the state are negatively impacting cities and towns in the Commonwealth, and Supt. Taymore brought forward a letter penned by the Superintendents’ Association to Gov. Baker advocating for full support, including funding, for the program . School committees were invited to sign on and the Committee voted to add its name to that letter of support. * MCAS and PARCC testing dates will move out a little bit due to this winter’s extreme winter and resulting school cancellations, so watch for more information from principals.

In the Finance and Facilities Subcommittee, Supt. Taymore and Director of Finance Picone presented a review and analysis of recent 9C cuts to the state (i.e. cuts to the in-force FY15 budget). Melrose will feel the effects of cuts in the areas of the Kindergarten grant (almost $33K); METCO (about $40K since November, 2014); Circuit Breaker special education reimbursement ($9K); and a 2016 cut of $20K for non-resident transportation. While not in the schools budget, the Melrose city budget will be affected by a cut in Charter School Reimbursement monies that could total $10-15K. The second item on the agenda was the Superintendent’s presentation of the proposed FY16 School Budget. This budget represents the programs and staffing that the Superintendent and her team believe continues to improve teaching and learning as well as student achievement. A member noted that this budget is likely more than the city is able to fund, and we must have serious discussions about each budget element and its importance; as such, it’s possible that we may need to remove many of those elements, but it’s only February so we will listen to what the community has to say as we move through the process. (Note about the Q&A section of upcoming budget meetings; if you have a budget question and would like to submit it for response by the Supt. during the budget process - 15 mins. during every budget meeting - please send it to: FY16schoolbudget@melroseschools.com. We'll get to as many as we can!)

The Policy and Planning Subcommittee brought forward policies on field trips/student travel, bidding requirements, and domestic violence leave and they were all approved as a first vote.

Chair Thorp facilitated Supt. Taymore’s mid-cycle performance evaluation, and the Committee voted her “On Target” in all four goal areas. Chair Thorp also noted that the State Senate leadership (about one third of the Senate), came to Melrose on a listening tour this week and met with the Mayor, members of the Board of Aldermen, School Committee members, and City of Melrose administrators and heads of boards/commissions, who shared concerns and recommendations regarding how the Senate might consider and support mechanisms by which a city like Melrose could continue to support ourselves without merely requesting additional monies.

Next meeting: 3/3 at 6 p.m. We start with a Budget 101 presentation - an opportunity for parents and community members to learn more about following the FY16 school budget process, and how to participate in a meaningful way. At 7 p.m. we begin our more formal meeting that will include a look at the city's intentions around improvements to the MHS Resource Center as well as a series of budget topics presented by Supt. Taymore. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

School Committee Meeting: 2/18/15

Lots of good discussion at last Wednesday’s Committee meeting. Here are some highlights:

In her announcements, Supt. Taymore explained:
1. “The Melrose Public Schools will be profiled by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as one of four districts in the state that are leaders in ensuring that their educators have access to high quality professional development through the thoughtful use of Educator Evaluation data or the Massachusetts Standards for High-quality Professional Development or both.”
2. The data dashboard is up! Find it here: (http://melroseschools.com/administration/districtdashboard/)
3. College/University partnerships (including UMass Boston, Bunker Hill, and Salem State) with the Melrose Schools are growing and changing to help support opportunities for student coursework, college students training in Melrose, and professional development. 

The SEEM Collaborative report was approved. SEEM rents two Melrose school buildings (Ripley and Beebe) and is a school home to a number of our special education students. Supt. Taymore sits on their board.

Campus Kids fees for this summer were approved with some small increases.

MHS is exploring enrolling a small number of foreign students in FY16 with the intention of bringing more diversity and revenue to the district. Administrators were granted initial approval to pursue this opportunity and will return to the Committee with more information before final approval is given.

The FY16 Budget Process and Timeline were approved. Budget information can be found on the Budget page of the Committee section of the MPS web site. A mid-year update of the FY15 budget was provided and we are expected to finish the year on target.

Programs of Studies: Principal Conway indicated that he is interested in producing a Middle School program of studies for the benefit of students and families. The MHS program of studies will include a variety of new courses this year, and also includes an important section on “Resources and Supports” that identifies ways that students get needed help for a variety of challenges.

Policies were approved in the areas of student attendance and discipline, student activity accounts, and gifts and contributions to schools. At the next meeting, we’ll take up field trips, bidding requirements, and domestic violence leave (for staff) policies.

Later start times for secondary students was presented as a topic for future discussion as the Committee has received a letter of recommendation from the Board of Health. Supt. Taymore indicated that while the evidence corroborating this recommendation is unquestioned, we must be cautious about ensuring that anything that is implemented doesn’t have unintended consequences, and that logistical issues are worked out to the best of our ability.

Next meeting (with FY16 Budget presentation and Superintendent Taymore’s Mid-Cycle Evaluation) scheduled for 2/24 at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

City Wide PTO: 2/12/15

Supt. Taymore started by speaking to calendar challenges given recent school cancellations. The principals and administrative team are working together to craft new end/start dates for trimesters and quarters. Last day of school currently stands at June 22nd (but it’s still only mid-February…..). Parents should reference the memo she sent last week for details.

Program changes in mathematics at MVMMS were noted. Supt. Taymore indicated that she has reached out to her superintendents’ listserv to find out how other districts are adapting to the changes issued by the state, and they’ve said they are also struggling with implementation. On 3/11, Principal Conway is conducting a follow-up to his 2/4 presentation, and parents can also listen to him speak about his proposed 2015-2016 MVMMS Program of Studies at Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting.

Re: the discussion around later start times for high school students; Supt. Taymore will propose her recommendation on how to proceed at School Committee on 2/18 (which will include forming a task force that has a short time frame). She said that while there is great merit in the idea, the district must perform due diligence since there are many considerations that go into this decision. Students came to her and asked whether they should do a petition and the Supt. suggested a survey would be better. At this point, there are at least twenty elements that must be addressed. No building exists in isolation – there are domino effects (and she noted things like lunch preparation, negotiating with at least five unions, the impact on elementary drop-off, the employment of high school students at Education Stations, the fact that AP exams must begin at 8:00, MIAA scheduling of athletics, impact on facility rentals like athletic fields and gyms, how the elementary Early Bird program might be affected, etc.). The Town of Ashland is implementing this initiative and it’s been a 10-month process. Info is here: http://ashlandhs.libguides.com/StartTimes.

The Melrose Community Gardens folks are hosting a meeting regarding school gardens on 2/24 at 7 p.m. in the YMCA Conference Room. Topics will include curriculum/programs, resources, needs, and future vision. More info on the group and their work (including the seed library at the Melrose Public Library) at https://www.facebook.com/MelroseGardenCommunity.

We talked about the FY16 Budget Process and Timeline proposals that are up for discussion at School Committee on 2/18. Documents here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2289 at 5.A.3. a. and b. There is a Budget page on the site that will be kept updated so parents can follow along: http://melroseschools.com/school-committee/budget/. Supt. Taymore will present the FY16 Draft Budget on 2/24 and the Committee will hear presentations and question/discuss all budget elements prior to voting in April.

Elementary science fairs: they began when it was felt that the science curriculum was inadequate, and that the fairs would add a critical inquiry-based element. Now that the curriculum is quickly evolving, there is discussion around more intentionally embedding the inquiry piece in the school day, and now it’s useful to think about what the science goals are and whether/how science fairs fit into them. In the spring, PTO reps, principals, and the Melrose Education Foundation will meet to discuss this topic and make a plan for next year. For this year, there is concern about the cost of custodial coverage, especially for schools that host two fair nights. Schools fund this cost differently and there was discussion around how best to tackle that challenge.

If you’re looking for an easy dinner on a busy night, come to Friendly’s on Rte. 1 in Saugus on March 5th from 5-9 – it’s a fundraiser to support Melrose Grad Night. And don’t forget – Bridge Trivia Bee on March 28th. Teams are still forming (three people/team) but even if you’re not playing, it’s great family fun for a super cause!

Monday, February 9, 2015

What’s Happening at the Next School Committee Meeting?

The next Committee meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, February 10th (weather permitting as usual). There is a very full agenda, especially given that the last two meetings were cancelled due to weather. To see the agenda and review the packet documents, go to http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/calendar.aspx. Here are some key agenda items along with the page numbers from the packet:

·      Campus Kids Fees for 2015. Charts comparing 2014 vs. 2015 expenses on p. 161
·      Tuition-Based Foreign Students at MHS. Review narrative on p. 162
·      FY16 Budget Process and Timeline. Review and chart on pp. 163-164
·      FY15 Mid-Year Budget Update. Report by Supt. – no packet document
·      FY16 MHS Program of Studies discussion. New courses and “Resources and Support for Students” review on pp. 165-173
·      Policies on Student Attendance; Student Activity Accounts; Student Discipline; Gifts and Contributions to Schools; and Field Trips and Student Travel for a first vote on pp. 174-191
·      Policies on Bidding Requirements and Domestic Violence Leave (for school employees) for informational purposes on pp. 192-199
·      Later start times topic introduction with recommendation from Board of Health on pp. 200-204
·      Mid-Cycle Superintendent’s Review notification and presentation of evidence on pp. 205-268

      The meeting starts at 7:00 and is held at the Aldermanic Chamber in City Hall. You can come on down, watch on government access TV, or catch it on MMTV’s website at a time that fits your schedule. Comments and questions welcome!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

How Does the School Committee Set Agendas?

Thought it might be helpful for folks who may want to know more about School Committee work to get a peek into Committee agendas, so here’s a quick guide:

Policy BEDB: Agendas and Relevant Materials dictates how our meetings are crafted (http://tinyurl.com/l25lw6v). As the policy states, “The conduct of public business should proceed with order and efficiency with the hearing of reports, action upon the recommendations of the Superintendent, and adoption of resolutions or formal policies as proposed by the members themselves.” The Committee By-Laws, which can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/kew6uks, explain in what order agenda items appear and other useful information about our operations.

The goal for each and every meeting is to be intentional, and one key way to accomplish that goal is to focus all meeting agendas on items that are required and/or lead to actions designed to improve student outcomes. The Committee Chair prepares a Rolling Agenda on a regular basis that includes items traditionally requiring votes and/or presentation/discussion. (They are posted on our “Agendas” page.) State law dictates some votes that Committees must take (e.g. whether or not to participate in School Choice), and many other votes are taken as part of regular business in order to approve, disapprove, or change the Supt.’s actions (e.g. we vote the Monthly Budget Summary as confirmation of our belief that school monies are, given the report provided, within keeping of our approved budget and budget process; if we don’t agree, we vote not to approve). Items for presentation and potential discussion include things like MCAS results or an update on summer programming. Most of these items appear each year on our agendas, and the Chair assigns them to the appropriate agenda category or subcommittee, at the appropriate time, which starts to build out a framework for each meeting.

Separately, for each meeting, subcommittee chairmen may recommend additional agenda items, along with the amount of time they estimate each agenda item to take, to the Chair. The Chair also asks the Supt. to determine how long she will need for her Announcements, and estimates how much time she expects to be needed for the Consent Agenda, the Chair’s Announcements, the Report of the Student Representatives, and Public Comment. Then she assembles all items and slots them in, trying to balance the agendas such that required approvals are completed on a timely basis, meetings don’t last too late at night, presenters don’t have to come too frequently (out of respect for their time), etc. She may delay some items if they aren’t urgent or slot new items in as they come up (e.g. if a law is enacted that requires a new policy implementation). 

Executive Sessions are a separate part of a meeting that is not held in public, and our Committee usually holds them after a regularly scheduled meeting. There are ten reasons for adjourning to Executive Session and any item discussed therein must pertain to one of those reasons (like negotiations with one of our unions). The Chair organizes the agendas for Executive Sessions.

Our agendas and materials are posted on the School Committee portion of the melroseschools.com website under “IQM2 Meeting Portal” by the Committee Assistant, Mrs. Hogan. After meeting minutes are approved, she posts those next to each respective meeting. 

We look forward to many informative and thoughtful meetings this year and hope you will let us know if you have questions about them. Thanks for following the work of the schools and the Committee!