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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

School Committee Meeting of 3/24

Very comprehensive meeting last Tuesday! Here are the highlights from my perspective:

-       Director of Guidance John Buxton and Director of English Angela Singer spoke to the format and timeline of changes to the PSAT and SAT exams. PSAT: * starting in October 2015; * no more Saturdays - schools can now choose between one of two Wednesday offerings; * unknown as to whether the College Board (who produces the exam) will continue to produce the AP Potential Report (designed to predict success in AP classes and can help administrators recommend qualified students). SAT: * starting in Spring 2016; * losing market share to ACT which is seen as being closer to what’s taught in classrooms; * question for high schools is “will implementation of PARCC basically accomplish the same goal as SAT" (i.e. providing standardized test for comparison cross-country)?; * will return to scoring of 400-1600 by making essay separate (and grading that on a 2-8 scale with some colleges declining the use of the essay since it’s not reflective of performance and therefore already not in use); * College Board will offer more on-line prep tools (some in association with Khan Academy) so independent tutoring might be less necessary for success.
-       Middle School Principal Brent Conway and Director of Mathematics Christina Cardella presented their final recommendation for re-alignment of math sequencing from middle school through high school. The goal is improving instruction across the board in math. More substantial training will be provided to middle school teachers on flexible grouping, 6th grade teachers have visited 5th grade classes to experience their process, teachers who’ve experience what they call “live professional development” (co-teaching) is the “best PD they’ve ever gotten,” and teachers in general are excited to learn about this model.  There will be accelerated classes in 7th and 8th grades that will accommodate 20-25% of the grade. Beginning-of-the-year assessments will help determine whether/if any students are misplaced so they can be placed in the correct level. Changes in the scope and sequence should provide a stronger foundation for PARCC success and should also better accommodate changes to the SAT. The Committee approved the recommendation.
-       Principal Conway presented the Middle School Program of Studies that is formatted by grade and lists academic resources and supports. Highlights include: * art is offered at each grade level and there is a complementary art offering of a different medium (e.g. painting) at each grade; * the often overlapping classes of health/wellness and PE/fitness have been eliminated, and in 8th grade, all students will get health and PE similar to the scheduling model used at the high school; * five languages will be offered in middle school (varying to some extent by grade) which is extremely unusual in today’s public schools; * “Exploration” is going away, replaced by organizational skills class or challenge classes that build on core content (e.g. 7th physics for one trimester and civics for 8th graders); * it’s beneficial to give students the opportunity to take a course that’s out of their comfort zone (without risk of low grade that is more difficult in high school) that may surprise students in a positive and rewarding way; * Computer/Digital Literacy classes are sequential and embed the policy and practice of “digital citizenship” (encouraging students’ responsibility for their actions) vs. “acceptable use” (an overseer expecting and enforcing behaviors). Mr. Conway says that the heart of middle schools is finding and participating in things that interest a student.
-       The Superintendent is forming a task force on secondary school start times. The task force is large in order to include as many stakeholder groups as possible. The principals will most likely lead the group and the goal is to come up with recommendations and an action plan (starting with the list of considerations provided by Supt. Taymore) in June. She is reaching out to stakeholder groups for representative members.
-       A revised Student Transportation in Private Vehicles Policy was presented and approved (for the first time). It provides for increased awareness and responsibility on the part of parents and community members who drive students in school-approved programs, and oversight of same by school administrators and faculty advisors. Second vote is expected in April.
-       Changes that have been made to the FY16 budget since the beginning of the process were listed, and the budget calendar was changed to incorporate an April 7th meeting that includes enrollments, athletics, and fine & performing arts.
-       Changes were recommended and approved to the Committee’s norms on how we relate to one another, communicate with the public, govern, conduct meetings, and improve.
-       A letter was sent to the state Board of Education in opposition to Commissioner Chester’s recommendation to increase enrollments at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School by 400 seats. The Board ultimately voted to approve the increase upon MVRCS meeting governance and ELL conditions.

Next meeting is on March 31st and is devoted to the FY16 budget, including middle and high school programs, curriculum and instruction, professional development, English as a Second Language (ESL), and Title I. If you have questions you would like answered by Supt. Taymore, please e-mail fy16schoolbudget@meloseschools.com!