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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, June 9, 2015

School Construction Preparations, Food at Elementary Events, and PTO Engagement...

Citywide PTO was held this morning (6/9) with good comments and questions around a variety of topics. Supt. Taymore led with some current events: 5th graders from the elementary schools do their annual Middle School tours today, 8th graders will head to NYC on Friday for the first big trip in many years by middle schoolers, and high school exams begin a week from today.

Supt. Taymore reports that she is spending a lot of time working on upcoming school construction projects. At Winthrop, classrooms will be added which will necessitate adjustment of administrative space, and the front entrance will be returned to its former location. At Roosevelt, the computer lab will be renovated to accommodate a Kindergarten classroom. At Lincoln, a plan is in place should the School Committee approve a 15th Kindergarten class, but she is looking for enrollment of 15 students and currently has seven. (This is usually a quiet time for enrollments; things start to change in the summer when she will make a final decision about recommending.) Administrative office restructuring and transition from the MHS Resource Center to the Learning Commons will begin next week when packing of the RC starts. Construction drawings and bid requests go out in September. Abatement is planned for winter break.  From Jan.-Aug., 2016 the Learning Commons and classrooms will be built while the administrator section on the first floor will be built from June-Aug., 2016. As a first bid alternate on the project (i.e. if there is unused money remaining from the original project), Supt. Taymore is looking to build a “maker” space (more on that here: http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/) and then the high school could build programs around it. Music programs will be temporarily moved, and this effort demanded a comprehensive analysis of music programs and scheduling across the district that will ultimately result in department improvements. Scheduling will now operate more cohesively (i.e. all schools will centrally schedule vs. doing it independently so more elementary students will have access to lessons since teachers will travel less); contracts are being re-reviewed to ensure that both staff and administration are fully and uniformly honoring their obligations; and a very large middle school closet was identified (formerly used by the DPW) that is temperature-appropriate, and will be used to house musical instruments. Beginning instrument lessons will now be offered at the 6th grade. The high school will be able to offer half-year band and orchestra options. There will be a more opportunities for symphony practice. Mr. Repucci and Mr. Miller are very supportive of the transition plans.

Compliance in the area of food at elementary events was raised as an issue. For foods served during the school day and within 30 minutes before and after school, items must comply with federal regulations. (A vending checklist is here: http://www.johnstalkerinstitute.org/alist/alist.pdf.) Students can bring in foods that are individually wrapped. Since PTO’s are entities separate from the schools, if they are serving food outside the +/- 30 minute and school day window they needn’t comply with these regulations. All organizations are asked to be sensitive to students and families with allergies and those who might prefer lower-calorie options. A good option is to work through our Chartwells Food Service Director Ken Dolce at kdolce@melroseschools.com or 781-462-3219.

Discussion was held around the significant fundraising work that PTO’s do, and how best the schools can focus their efforts on supporting individual school needs without overtaxing our generous donors and sponsors. Parents are encouraged to understand that one school isn’t “better” than another since there is significant equity with respect to curriculum and instruction; schools are different based on their culture. Supt. Taymore recommended organizing a PTO training that would include how to align spending with School Improvement Plans, district goals, and the individual school’s culture. As a district, we need to differentiate between what the schools fund and what PTO’s raise and fund (e.g. elementary school clubs vary by school because they are not district-sponsored). It might be useful for all PTO’s to review their By-Laws soon and together so they have a common understanding and potentially common approaches to their governance and their work. It might also be useful for PTO's to have guidance around legal issues (teacher gifts, etc.) provided by an expert like the Melrose City Solicitor. Bridge Director Jennifer McAllister will explore organizing a training event for the fall.

Last meeting of the school year, and best wishes to City Wide members who move on to middle school from their elementary schools!