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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

School Committee Meeting of 3/31

We started last week’s meeting with discussion and approval of Chair Thorp confirming that a posting of Executive Session from a prior meeting didn’t have the detail that the Attorney General’s Office requires, and she apologized. The Committee voted to revise and release the posting and minutes consistent with those requirements.

Middle School Principal Brent Conway and Assistant Principal Jamie Parsons addressed questions relative to the FY16 Middle School budget. Mr. Conway spoke to the need to maintain the building, which is now eight years old, and associated general equipment needs (science lab and performing arts items specifically). Department Directors worked with administrators to reflect true needs for the school in this budget. He also spoke to requested positions, including the fact that we want to provide as many opportunities as possible for students (e.g. we have two beautiful art rooms but only one art teacher). In scheduling at the secondary level, course selection drives staffing so we try to adapt, sometimes using a part-time staff member and/or sharing a staff member with the high school. In the area of ELA, we need materials outside of what the PTO has been generous enough to offer. There have been shifts of some line items and also implementation of some items that weren't reflected in prior-year subscriptions lines (like BrainPop).

High School Principal Marianne Farrell and Assistant Principals Stephen Fogarty and Jason Merrill spoke to the FY16 High School budget. Offerings in the fine arts are reflected in staffing and materials needs. The Dues line increased due to Melrose taking over the Mass Insight grant. The Pathways were reviewed, and Principal Farrell noted that they are evolving, with the newer Pathways seeing additional interest and administrators working to add course opportunities (e.g. in Business and Fine Arts) that support greater success in completing them. Facility improvements (like the proposed Learning Commons) can support increased excitement around, and employment of, technology and 21st century learning. We want to move from a very traditional learning environment to a broader base of opportunity for students. Supt. Taymore indicated that we have to stop thinking that the typical high school student takes five core subjects and two electives and on and on. High school staff want to hear the phrase “bust down the walls” more often, employing on-line and blended learning, partnerships with UMass Boston and Bunker Hill, and other program ideas. You can now test out of French I and instead enter French II – so we’re looking at more course acceleration. We’re looking at different kinds of scheduling to eliminate many restrictions so students can create more personalized planning. The administration will learn as they go to try to improve opportunities for students. (Ms. Dugan opined that dollars are maximized by doing this kind of thing, but we need to have a real conversation beyond maximizing dollars and what is needed to do what we value in a way that is responsive and responsible.) Continuing to participate in the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation process was raised as a question, specifically around the expense ($3600 when out-of-cycle and $25K when in-cycle) without the value that may have been seen in the past. (Administrators are expected to come back with more information prior to the end of the budget cycle.) It was recommended that fees for transcripts and the photography course remain stable next year.

The Committee approved a pilot program to enroll up to ten students (combined) from Educatius and Vermont Academy in the Fy16 year. Melrose High is an attractive school to these students since the quality of education is high, Boston is in close proximity and public transportation is abundant, and students may have an interest in attending Boston-based colleges and universities in the future.

Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Dr. Margaret Adams spoke to English Language Learning, Title I, Curriculum, and Professional Development. In the area of English learning, our population has increased to 111 students and we need three full-time teachers, but we could use the same staffing levels as we have now (two full-time teachers) and till approach full compliance re: servicing all students in all grades (which is common in many districts given the challenges that we all face). Sometimes state guides and compliance measurements are in conflict, so we focus on providing the best possible education in the areas of reading, writing, and thinking in order to reach true fluency.

Regarding Title I, Horace Mann no longer qualifies for a Title I tutor, so an Academic Interventionist is included in the Horace Mann budget.

In Curriculum, three Instructional Coaches are recommended (increased from two) to support new teachers, enhance the teaching of veteran educators, map curriculum, etc. The Coaches need to support more work in the areas of Science  and Social Studies. Curriculum materials have been addressed significantly by the bond, but we need an aggressive line item for remaining needs as well as for an on-going replacement cycle. ELA has alignment needs around Common Core, particularly in that the materials need to be more rigorous. The current price tag is around $236K and may be able to be paid over time with a boost from the little money left from the bond. We need to ensure that all elementary schools have commonality around curriculum and associated materials. To paraphrase Supt. Taymore, we are in the learning business and we can never get out of the hole of providing new materials. A best practice is a curriculum review process, and Dr. Adams is now leading that effort for Social Studies in partnership with Social Studies Director Bryan Corrigan, with a report due to the Committee in late June. The teachers have worked hard to develop scope and sequence since that subject had no framework from the state. The Social Studies Dept. has doubled electives at MHS in the past two years. Melrose staff members are contributing to all these efforts, and there is so much work that they could be in meetings six days a week according to Supt. Taymore, including doing things like contributing to data teams, interview committees, curriculum study groups, etc.

A Professional Development (PD) plan will be presented at the end of the month for approval by the Committee, and a Tech Plan will be presented on April 14th. Needs continue around the new science curriculum standards with a two-year phase-in plan and requisite training. Mentor funding is included in the PD plan. Teachers are rating PD as better than in the past, and what they want most is more PD. Dr. Adams spoke to how quickly the field of education is changing and how we need to keep up.

A revised budget timeline was presented, and Supt. Taymore addressed a question regarding fees and how they work within the context of the budget.

Next meeting is April 7th and includes presentation from Athletics and Fine & Performing Arts Departments as well as an Enrollment Update.