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, September 29, 2015

Career literacy: what is it and what's happening in Melrose?

Last Thursday, the Mass. Institute for Career and College Readiness (MICCR) hosted a webinar entitled ”Starting a National Conversation on Career Literacy.” Career literacy is defined as “preparing students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to thrive in a post-secondary setting” and the reason it’s relevant, according MICCR, is that “as the “skill gap” between students’ abilities and the expectations of colleges and employers continues to widen, the education system is being asked to respond. Career literacy offers a framework for supporting college and career readiness by ensuring that all youth establish and implement personal career and education plans.” Here are some notes from the webinar and comments on what Melrose is doing to address this issue:

The pathways challenge
·               Students need to pursue their goals to achieve the American Dream (i.e. a middle class job) and that pathway is not always college; college doesn’t work well for all, so there need to be multiple pathways to the American Dream.
·               40% of high school grads who start college don’t graduate and 50% who graduate will end up un- or under-employed.
·               The majority of US schoolchildren lives in poverty or low-income families and often cannot afford to attend college.
·               What we believe as a society: 4 year college is the only true pathway for success; high school is traditionally about prepping students for 4 year college so there is a narrowed view in that setting; community/technical colleges are a less prestigious option, and only appropriate for students who aren’t capable of 4 year college work.
·               We are failing many students because our high school approach is too narrow and reinforces elitism, and we can’t prepare students for the middle class if we steer them away from many middle class jobs.
·               One myth is that career literacy is just for special education students, but it is a pathway for all students.

Genesis of the idea of career literacy
·               Students and adults need to be equipped with the knowledge, tools, and support they need to make career decisions now and in the future; and K-12 school counselor departments are understaffed.
·               Disengagement: 76% of elementary students consider themselves disengaged, and 44% of high school students say the same thing.

How will career literacy be employed and what will the outcomes be?
·               Make career guidance a central focus of education by starting early in a K-12 system and make post-secondary completion purposeful.
·               Embed collaborative approaches, like work-based learning that is proven to promote engagement.
·               Students will develop key employable skills and it’s the gold standard of career experience. Employers say it’s the ideal method for identifying future employees.

Examples of student engagement and career literacy in Melrose
·               Differentiating instruction and continually grouping and re-grouping students based on their master of subject matter at the elementary level.
·               Development of new courses, pathways (Global Education, STEM, etc.), and sequences for content areas at the middle and high school to support and encourage student interests.
·               Online learning (including online courses), high school courses, project based learning, or outside activities approved for credit waiver engage students in alternative academic opportunities.
·               Senior internships in a wide variety of work arenas.
·               Clubs and activities that inspire students.
·               Some students attend the regional vocational technical high school, after family review of the student’s interests and in collaboration with the school counselor near the end of 8th grade.

Proposed immediate next steps for Melrose
·      Implementation of Personalized Learning Plans, “[a] student-directed, multi-year process that engages students in mapping their interests, academic plans, personal growth, and preparation for postsecondary goals.”
·      Competency-based learning: “when students work at their academic level, understanding what they are learning and what they need to do next.”
·      Recommended by Supt. Taymore at 9/15 School Committee meeting and for community discussion beginning at the 10/6 Committee meeting. For more on this initiative, read the introductory document at
and scroll down to 6.B.1.a.: MPS Education Opportunities.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Technology Improvements for Schools and City

      On Thursday, September 24th, the Appropriations Committee of the Melrose Board of Aldermen unanimously recommended to the full Board a $300,000 appropriation for technology investments in the City of Melrose and Melrose Public Schools. The Board is expected to consider this recommendation at its next full meeting. For details on technology plans, surveys, price quotes, product specification sheets, and deployment plans, click here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2701. To watch the meeting, click here: http://www.mmtv3.org/index.php?categoryid=28. 

      Highlights from remarks made by Melrose Chief Information Officer Jorge Pazos:

*  This order requests an appropriation to fund the first year of a five-year technology capital lease that would allow the City to purchase equipment necessary to address long standing technology needs for the City of Melrose and the Melrose Public Schools.  We also seek the Board’s approval to enter into the five-year lease that would allow for this purchase. This expenditure is not a bond but a lease that is being supported within the City’s regular operating budget.

*  What will these improvements mean for the City?
       ~ Enable Public Safety personnel to access the critical systems they depend on.
       ~ Enable teachers to access the latest instructional tools and utilize the latest instructional methods.
       ~ Enable students to benefit from these tools and methods while preparing them for the next phase of their lives once they leave the Melrose Public Schools.
       ~ Address infrastructure needs such as networking improvements, City and school district wireless networking, data center needs such as storage, and next generation firewalls that protect and monitor our infrastructure investment.
       ~ Update the computing devices used by City and school staff and students. These computing devices, computers, Chromebooks, and iPads, are the gateways used by everyone that allows them to work and learn in a modern way.

*  We were able to negotiate approximately $624,000 savings over the standard state contract pricing.

*  The plan is to order and lease this equipment immediately. Working with the manufacturers we would determine actual shipping timelines for all of the equipment and build a deployment schedule based on that information.  The majority of this work will be completed by City and School staff.  There are some contractors being hired to complete work associated with wiring and deployment of wireless access points, mainly at Melrose High School.

*  The goal is to have this equipment up and running as soon as possible with substantial completion of the project by February, 2016.  

*  Why now? We desperately need it and we should have been doing it for years. This foundational plan, in part, aims to provide for our students to be 21st Century learners. Consider also that this plan concludes in 2020 - 20% of the way through the 21st Century. How much longer can we afford to put this off?

*  Consider that:

     ~  The City invests in areas such as energy efficiency, road improvements, water and sewer system improvements to name a few; yet we don't provide all of the necessary tools for our employees to manage, track and maintain these investments.  Tools such as modern computers to run GIS mapping to identify the location of underground infrastructure and computer aided drafting to allow our engineers to design and update plans of this infrastructure.  And computers that run management applications, used to manage and control our improved HVAC and lighting systems.
     ~  We insist that educators make data driven decisions but we do not provide the tools for them to collect, analyze and act on that data.

     ~  In the 15 years I've served in this role, the school department has budgeted barely over $150,000 for computer replacements in its budget.

There has been no responsible plan for the consistent replacement of technology equipment, in large part because there is never enough money and it is never a good time.  I am here to implore that you understand this is a necessary expenditure.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

PARCC, Autism Endorsement, Civics Learning, STEM Standards, and More...

The MA Board of Education met from 8:30-1:30 today in Malden, and highlights as they impact Melrose are below. Other topics were discussed and they can all be found on the BOE web site at http://www.doe.mass.edu/boe/.

·      PARCC review (summary from last night’s special meeting and additional info today)
Bottom line: BOE plans to vote on PARCC vs. MCASII implementation at their November meeting. October meetings (10/19 and 10/20) expected to be long and comprehensive.
o    Released statewide MCAS and computer-based PARCC data last night; the rest    will be 9/24.   
o    Purpose of testing is to identify achievement gaps and help educators learn to teach better.
o    Exploring how ready districts are technologically to take on PARCC.
o    Average cost for PARCC exam (ELA & Math for all grades) = $32/student;  average cost for MCAS exam (ELA & Math for all grades) = $42/student; it’s unknown where costs will go in the future.
o    Amounts of standardized testing (DIBELS, etc.) vary significantly by district. Districts must have the capacity and knowledge to interpret and employ data from assessments as soon as possible in order to modify teaching and  learning for students – otherwise the testing is a waste.
o    We must learn from district case studies and research: schools that focus on intellectual quality and ambition don’t need test prep; no need for prep  assemblies either
o    Massachusetts Study on Assessment Practices in Districts found at       (http://www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/2015/08AssessmentPractices.pdf)
·      Regulations on Autism Endorsement for Educator Licensure (voted to approve)           
Bottom line: Special education teachers will have the opportunity to earn an endorsement (like a certification) that provides training in working with students with autism.
o   It will be voluntary, and the state won’t tie districts’ hands re: whom they can   hire.
o   Regular ed. teachers may have the opportunity to earn this in the future (and parents would like that since it could potentially allow more autistic students to access the general ed. curriculum), but right now, they don’t have the necessary foundational skills on which to build.
·      Response to Recommendations from Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement
Bottom line: Student groups and many other groups across the state, as well as legislators who consistently file bills in favor, are urging DESE to implement civics education in MA schools.
o    The Board says that all six recommendations previously presented were endorsed but DESE won’t implement.
o    DESE says there is no budget for this and there are also many competing priorities. They don’t want to create another unfunded mandate.
o    Budget Committee of BOE will take this on as part of their work, and the topic will be on next month’s BOE agenda.
·      Proposed Revised Science and Technology/Engineering Standards
Bottom line: The standards change will impact what is taught in this content area. Budget impacts include professional development, curriculum materials, etc. This effort has been in the works for a number of years.
o    Timeline: Oct/public comment and district support; Nov/final edits; Jan/BOE vote to adopt; Early 2016/DESE publishes frameworks.
o    Main changes since May: ensured every standard is performance-based; illustrated specific skills related to practices; clarified the importance of  vocabulary; checked content alignment of draft to current (confirmed, edited,  moved some content to maintain alignment); adjusted format and tone;  emphasized state assessment boundaries.
·      Update on Holyoke Public Schools and Update on Level 5 Schools
Bottom line: Good ideas are good ideas…schools that are most challenged are doing some excellent work around family/community engagement, setting a high bar for all learners, and offering quality professional development time (including collaboration) are proven strategies that support success.     
·      School Finance: Update on Foundation Budget
Bottom line: Areas in most immediate need of recalculation – employee health insurance, in-district and out-of-district special education. Final report expected from the Foundation Budget Review Commission expected by 11/30/15.
o   Calculating poverty is important because it helps determine rates/needs of free and reduced lunch (now 48 districts enrolling 200,000 students have all free lunch – no stigma and all students eat nutritious meal to improve learning).
o   Any increases in funding would have to be phased in and total cost of addressing just highest priorities is estimated at $800M.

More detail from Worcester School Committee member Tracy Novick here: http://who-cester.blogspot.com/

Saturday, September 19, 2015

High Stakes Testing Letter to MA Board of Education from School Committee

Last Tuesday night, September 15, the Committee voted to approve the following letter to the Board of Education re: high stakes testing.
In November 2013, the Massachusetts Board of Education agreed to a two-year trial of the PARCC assessments before a final determination would be made whether to make PARCC a mandated state assessment.

As the time for a final decision draws near, the Melrose School Committee respectfully urges the Massachusetts Board of Education to enter into a moratorium on PARCC testing until the following takes place:

            1)         School districts have more time to work with Massachusetts State Frameworks for English and mathematics
            2)        State funding is available to build the capacity around technology that PARCC requires    
            3)        PARCC is evaluated to determine its true validity and reliability as an assessment system

School districts want to do the best for their students. Unless the preceding issues of timing, funding and evaluation are addressed, school districts should be able to opt out of PARCC without penalty.

More time needed to incorporate frameworks
With relatively new Massachusetts State Frameworks in place for English and mathematics, teachers need more time to make important changes to their classroom practice so that their instruction and curriculum align with the standards. When the new Massachusetts State Frameworks for science are finally released, additional time will be required once again to incorporate those standards into the curriculum.

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents concurs that teachers must have sufficient time to make the necessary instructional changes to reflect the new frameworks. Until that happens, PARCC assessments will fail to authentically measure the required student learning and skills outlined in the Massachusetts State Frameworks.

More funding needed to build technology capacity
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s own data reveals that technology gaps are common across many public schools in Massachusetts. According DESE’s Office of Digital Learning 2013-2014 Annual Report, a survey of 212 school districts, found that only:

                      64% of school districts in Massachusetts have the necessary infrastructure/bandwidth for next generation learning.
                      41% have the recommended devices for the same standard of learning.

As the data shows, technical requirements still continue to be a substantial stumbling block for full adoption of PARCC for many Massachusetts school districts that need more time and more funding to build capacity around technology.

Although school districts received guidance in the form of meetings, presentations and discussions, no substantial funding has been offered to help ease the financial burden of meeting PARCC's technical requirements for test-taking devices and bandwidth.

School districts that have participated in PARCC testing have witnessed the impact it has had on their budgets. With no technology grants earmarked in FY16 state budget to support PARCC testing, school districts will likely underfund critical items in their annual budgets in order to spend the money needed to make online testing possible.

Melrose Technology Plan sets five-year goals
A PARCC field test site, Melrose Public Schools requested that two of its five elementary schools be excluded from the trials because of inadequate devices and bandwidth. For the other schools in the district that did participate, extraordinary efforts were made to comply with all technical requirements.

Melrose Public Schools has struggled to provide the funding necessary to make technology a vital part of its teaching and learning environment. In 2015, Melrose Public Schools launched its Technology Planning Committee—made up of more than 25 educators, technology experts and community members —to provide strategic direction and action steps related to how instructional technology will be implemented in the schools.

The resulting Five-Year Strategic Instructional Technology Plan created a blueprint for upgrading wireless infrastructure, increasing funding for software subscription licensing and hiring more instructional technology staff to serve all the district’s schools. The city of Melrose capital fund will provide funding for the technology improvements but in increments over five years. The overall effect may be that Melrose Public Schools will still likely fall short in meeting PARCC’s stringent technology standards.

In DESE’s report titled Beyond PARCC: The Next Generation, districts are encouraged to leverage PARCC planning as an opportunity to expand access to digital tools to drive more instructional outcomes in every classroom. But the reality is that technology budgets are often underfunded and must be spent on the most basic technology needs. PARCC exacerbates an already dire budgeting problem.

More evaluation needed for PARCC
Changing Massachusetts State Frameworks and gaps in technology raise doubts about whether PARCC is truly an accurate measure of student achievement. Parents and educators alike are asking whether students are subjected to excessive testing under the current system and questioning how much testing is actually needed to determine individual student progress. Although the PARCC governing board voted in May to reduce overall testing time for students, more evaluation is still needed to shed light on PARCC’s validity and reliability as a tool for assessment.

Melrose Public Schools has worked hard to raise the academic standards for its students and has diligently built a local system of assessment, data collection and data analysis based on curriculum and instruction that is aligned with the Massachusetts State Frameworks. We believe the practices we have in place adequately reflect the state standards that are required and the outcomes that are expected.

We recognize the value of standardized student assessments to improve teaching and learning. At the same time, we understand that excessive testing takes away from valuable classroom time that can be spent on teaching and learning. We know well the financial constraints of running a school district and object to mandates that do not offer financial relief.

Because of these concerns, the Melrose School Committee recommends that the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to enter into a moratorium on PARCC testing until issues of timing, funding and evaluation can be adequately resolved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Financial Transparency, Horace Mann Improvements, Competency-Based Learning, and More!

Last night’s (9/15) School Committee meeting opened with MHS student representatives Maria Tramontozzi, Olivia Rittenburg, and Rachel Freed providing their first report of the year, including notes that the football team won their home opener against Masconomet Friday night, the A Capella Club will be holding auditions soon, Open House is Thursday, 9/17, German and French exchange students are visiting the US in October, and Junior/Senior Parent Breakfast is 10/8.

Chairman Thorp took a moment to clarify information on postings in the warrants (school district bills) from the last meeting (9/8) that she said was unclear.  At the end of the fiscal year (June 30th), when processing occurs for bills from the prior year, transfers can’t be done because MUNIS (the City’s accounting and reporting system) doesn’t allow it. The last few bills must show initially in the wrong categories because of MUNIS limitations, but they get moved into correct categories before the required October 1st DESE (end-of-year) report and before we do actuals for next year’s budget. Anyone who has questions can find out further information from Central Administration.

Supterintendent Taymore reported: * We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the MHS German exchange program (GAPP) with festivities planned for 10/20. * She also issued some follow-up comments to her Office for Civil Rights (OCR) statement from the 9/8 meeting, noting that some parents have asked questions about the proper chain of communication if they or students wish to express a concern. The teacher is the first person to whom to relay a concern, but if families aren’t comfortable with that, they are always welcome to call the principal or guidance counselor. At the secondary level, there is a built in system of support so students know who their guidance counselor and school psychologist are, and the guidance counselor is the person who steps in when students have had a negative experience and need someone to talk to. Whenever students need support or need questions answered, they can look to the guidance counselor who will also walk parents through next steps, and all principals and guidance counselors have been trained in next steps. Supt. Taymore urged families to reach out to the teacher first because they are the people who know the child best, but if they feel they can’t, to please contact the principal or guidance counselor. All information to this effect is in the Student Handbooks.

This week’s Consent Agenda included meeting minutes from last week (both sets), warrants, and the MHS trip to Costa Rica, which were all ultimately approved.

Policy and Planning
Ms. Dugan led the Committee in a brief discussion of policies related to Internet safety measures, which we are required (by our own policy) to review annually. No changes were suggested. Supt. Taymore spoke to updates in the Strategy Overview.

Educational Programming and Personnel
Horace Mann Accelerated Improvement Plan: Principal Mary Ellen Cobbs, along with teacher Kim Barbagallo and parent Bill Keefe presented the school’s Accelerated Improvement Plan (AIP). School Site Council members were also in attendance as were a number of teachers. She indicated that her presentation would provide insight into the AIP process, explain how this endeavor reflected the collected input of HM educators, and outline how the plan would impact student achievement. The team volunteered to participate in the AIP process (it was not required), was led by a state liaison, and was an opportunity to get outside coaching to accelerate the learning of Horace Mann students. The plan was reviewed, revised, and edited by staff prior to being sent to Supt. Taymore for her review. As a Level III school, the staff took advantage of professional development, instructional coaching, and came together as a team to develop the plan. They spent time talking about what went well in the past year and where challenges remained. (Principal Cobbs referenced the HM Data Dashboard for individuals to see the growth in student learning.) The AIP protocol required identifying two to three problems, brainstorming causes, and developing strategic objectives to address areas of need. As a team, the group identified three problems regarding closing the achievement gap: first, the achievement gap itself (the difference between academic achievement by high needs students and general education students); second, the split between general ed and special ed staff and programming; and third, that the Horace Mann, albeit well-intentioned, lacked a professional climate and shared vision. She said that conversations around these issues were difficult, but they did it, and agreed that if they didn’t address problems, they wouldn’t sustain the work that had been done, and couldn’t continue to improve.  Ms. Barbagallo spoke to staff participation, experiences, and product; and Mr. Keefe spoke to parent efforts around supporting student learning. Action steps in the plan consistently reflect improvement (e.g. tiered instruction). Practices around using data to inform staff work and accelerate and extend learning were explored, implemented, and shared with the other schools (who are now implementing them). How did the team they share what they had learned? By employing efforts like learning walk-throughs (all HM staff have been or are being trained). Research shows that four elements make for the most effective learning communities: providing the correct conditions, aligning with school and district priorities, focusing on learning rooted in data, and sharing the work. Horace Mann focused on including all of those elements in the document. (Video times 24:42-57:39)

Supt. Taymore spoke to her vision that every child educationally receive what he/she needs without being labeled, and presented a review of the efforts the district has taken over the past three years to provide various and challenging educational opportunities for all students. Structurally, those efforts include capacity building, use of best practices, developing common assessments, and using strong data practices. Based on this work, she feels that the district is ready to take the next step in teaching and learning in the form of competency-based (or mastery-based or performance-based) learning. The Strategy Overview includes priorities that set the stage for a discussion around this topic. The Committee has scheduled a meeting on October 6th at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber to begin an in-depth study of this fundamental change in our approach to educating Melrose students.

Finance and Facilities
Director of Finance Jay Picone prepared and presented a new report: the Report of Grant and Revolving Account Activity. It was compiled to provide additional transparency around the monies actually used to fund the Melrose Public Schools, including federal and state grants (like special ed and METCO), applied fund accounts (like athletics and elementary music), and district and school accounts (like ECC  tuitions, individual school accounts, etc.). The report will be provided 3-4 times / year.

Dr. Heather Josephson provided a review of the Campus Kids program, indicating that it was very well received by families, with enrollment up by 10% (to almost 200 students/day). She credited the staff for making the program excellent. Space became a concern and that challenge will be explored next year (as the Lincoln and Roosevelt normally trade years in order for comprehensive cleaning). Financially, the program experienced a profit. Separately, the Middle School’s Students Without Borders program was also successful, but barely broke even, so Supt. Taymore will explore whether rates should increase next year in order for the program to sustain financial health.

Announcements of the Chair
The Committee will embark on a plan to produce a School Committee handbook to help the community understand the internal workings of the Committee. A proposed Table of Contents was provided to kick off the effort with the final version tentatively scheduled for 12/8. * The Committee approved sending an opinion statement regarding high stakes testing indicating that “…the Melrose School Committee recommends that the Massachusetts Board of Education enter into a moratorium on PARCC testing until issues of timing, funding and evaluation can be adequately resolved.”; * Ms. Thorp has begun preparation of a list of data information/reports normally sent to the Committee for review so that we can determine whether additional information/data is needed and then to decide its format and timing; * I commented on the MelroseForward initiative, the reboot of the Melrose Master Plan, and its first effort at exploring Melrose opinions around community attributes (based on efforts at last weekend’s Victorian Fair). Top 3 to date: 1. Ability to get around by rail, bus, bicycle, walking & driving; 2. Many local options for shopping, dining, and services; 3. Focus on environmental preservation and energy efficiency. Find them at @melroseforward or on Facebook.

Please check the melroseschools.com web site for the packet documents and/or the MMTV3.org web site for the Vimeo. And remember, next meeting is October 6th at 7:00 and focuses on Supt. Taymore’s review of competency-based learning and what it could look like in the Melrose Public Schools.

Monday, September 14, 2015

School Committee Meeting of 9/8/15

Our first meeting following the start of school was a busy and productive one. Here are the highlights (from my perspective as always):

Supt. Taymore’s announcements included the following: * A kindergarten update; * notification of an increase to the district in Title I grant funds which will be used for a tutor at Lincoln (with those funds by law only applying to Title I support), and some Title III grant funds (for professional development and assessment analysis), and she reminded us that these funds must not supplant, they can only supplement teaching and learning expenses; * congrats to MHS for being recognized by the MIAA as having no disqualifications in any sport at any level last year, which is unusual for schools; * a statement regarding an Office for Civil Rights investigation (as provided in my OCR post); * an upcoming recommendation regarding a proposed shift in educating students which she will describe in greater detail in 9/15’s meeting as part of the Strategy Overview.

Summary educator evaluation ratings were provided (as opposed to individual educator ratings). There are four standards and 288 staff members, meaning that there were 1152 (4 x 288) ratings. The report details what percentage of the ratings were exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory. Individual evaluation reports are considered personnel records and are by law confidential.

Policy KF: Community Use of Facilities was provided for review with no edits recommended. Reviewing this policy complemented the presentation by Director of Finance Jay Picone regarding facility rental rates. The presentation highlighted what facilities are rented, who uses them, what we do with the revenue, and recommended fee increases. Changes for this coming year include slight increases to the fees, and the elimination of the rental fee for PTO’s and Booster Clubs (although custodian rates still apply). Supt. Taymore and members expressed interest in developing a fund for facility repairs and maintenance, especially for areas like the MVMMS Auditorium given its high usage.

Ms. Thorp presented a proposed summative evaluation of the Superintendent which was approved, as was an increase in salary consistent with a step increase on the approved salary grid.

The Committee voted to support the override question on the 11/3 ballot and gave Ms. Thorp permission to draft and send a letter to the press stating that.  The delegate to the Mass. Assoc. of School Committees conference is Ms. Casatelli. Ms. Dugan reported on the Birth-to-Five group and referenced their recommended Kindergarten transition and registration changes and enhancements, after which I reported on City Wide PTO (as noted in my earlier blog post). The concussion report noted 11 concussions reported in the ’15 school year. (There were 21 in ’14 and 19 in ’13 – Supt. Taymore spoke to coaches being much more vigilant about student safety in this area.)

Remember that you can access all packet documents on the School Committee portion of the melroseschools.com web site, or watch the meetings on mmtv3.org. Next meeting is tomorrow, 9/15 at 7:30 (note time change due to Rosh Hashanah) in the Aldermanic Chamber.

School Committee Roles and Responsibilities Session

A special Committee meeting was held at 6:00 last Tuesday (prior to the regular 7:00 business meeting), where the Committee participated in “refresher course” on our roles and responsibilities. A panel came before us as guides: Atty. David Jenkins of Kopelman & Paige, Atty. Tom Nuttall of Nuttall, McAvoy and Joyce, Melrose City Solicitor Robert Van Campen, and Mass. Assoc. of School Committees Field Director Dorothy Presser.

Atty. Jenkins led off, speaking to how Committee roles changed dramatically after the Ed. Reform Law of 1993, when the day-to-day running of the School Department changed hands from school committees to administrators. There are state statutes regarding Committee responsibilities; there are also clauses in the Melrose City Charter (find it here: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2005/Chapter105). In general terms, school committees determine the selection, term, and contract of a superintendent, review and approve school budgets, and set policy. They perform other selected duties like setting performance standards for teachers (by approving the collective bargaining agreement).

Regarding more specific tasks and items gathered from his experience with schools, Atty. Jenkins noted that regarding collective bargaining, as the bargaining agent (under MGL Ch. 150E), committees must provide for confidentiality, for example, bargaining sessions can’t be recorded for an individual member to view later, nor can a member participate in a grievance discussion as that would likely be considered an unfair labor practice. Regarding student discipline, the role of a committee is to adopt policies. Regarding teacher discipline, authority is primarily vested in the superintendent and principals. Regarding special education and individual assessments (potentially asked when the budget is in question), committee members are not entitled to any information that could potentially reveal the identity of a student.

Atty. Jenkins spoke to information to which individual members are entitled, and in most cases, an individual member is entitled to no more information than a member of the public. As such, members can’t meet with district personnel without clear policies by the committee as a whole. If a committee member asks for specific analyses to be prepared, protocol consistent with a citizen request is followed. Regarding asking for more specificity on invoices from attorneys, invoices don’t have to be recreated with more specificity since the district is not required to create documents that don’t exist. Individual staff personnel files are confidential and would not be provided. Student information would not be provided. The superintendent’s evaluation must be public, but the document associated with the evaluation is part of his/her personnel file and can be private.

Atty. Nuttall, specialist in special education, civil rights, and discipline, and the district’s attorney on these issues, referenced federal privacy laws (FERPA) and state privacy laws (Regulation 603 CMR 23: Student Records). He offered a “cautionary tale” about a district that accidentally posted comments about parents of special education students on the district web site prior to its being noticed and removed, and explained that in even presenting information with student names deleted, there may still be enough information provided to identify the student which is unlawful.

MASC Field Representative Dorothy Presser spoke to leadership roles of committees and superintendents, explaining that committees are the “what” of governance (recommending and deliberating) while superintendents are the “how” (implementing). She recommends that committees adopt group norms, have each member sign, and then strictly enforce them.

School Opening, Kindergarten, Standardized Testing, and More….

Last Tuesday’s Citywide PTO meeting was the first of the year, and Supt. Taymore spent an hour with the group commenting on the following:

·      Off to a great start but it’s hot! Principals were getting the word out to parents regarding mitigation for students, like rotating them through air conditioned rooms at the middle school and bringing in fans for some elementary schools. Staff members were prepared to assist students as needed.
·      There are still a few unfilled teaching spots in the schools. Most difficult to fill: special ed., math, and science. There is also substantial poaching by other districts so that teachers may accept a position and then be immediately recruited away. Melrose employs a rigorous hiring process that begins with an interview and demonstration lesson (including students and staff). Only then are candidates considered for a position.
·      The district calendar is out. (Find it here: http://melroseschools.com/calendar/.)
·      Kindergarten: 15 rooms containing 318 students with 165 transitioning from the ECC, and we are out of space. 8-9 families are waiting to get their preferred school. Most impacted are Horace Mann and Winthrop. All regular ed. classrooms have one paraprofessional.
·      SAT/ACT: The SAT is losing ground with more students taking the ACT, which used to be the preferred test in the southern vs. northern US. About 60% of students take the SAT and ACT. The revised SAT will be introduced in spring, 2016 and is expected to look more like the PARCC exam, i.e. more authentic assessment. SAT scores across the country are declining and Supt. Taymore indicated that there are three reasons: more students are taking the test, not just the high performers; the writing piece was a requirement, and will now be an option; and the test doesn’t measure what’s taught. (For another read on this: http://tinyurl.com/pp2ahp9.)
·      There is movement at the State House for a one-year moratorium on state standardized testing
·      The Start School Later Working Group will reconvene this fall for another year of work.
·      A bond for technology is expected to go before the Board of Aldermen on 9/21. It would be used to lease hardware (mostly ChromeBooks for students and a more robust device for teachers) with an expected life of five years. The longer term goal is a 3:1 ratio for ChromeBooks.
·      Teachers using Aspen: teachers can create and use their own web sites and don’t need to post info in both places, but they’ve been directed to be explicit on syllabi to re: where things are so that students/parents can find them.
·      Students will soon be issued a Google ID and parents will be notified.

After Supt. Taymore departed, the group discussed the following:

·      PTO, Inc. President Tim Donnelly reviewed the mission of the organization: as a holding company for all PTO’s except the ECC. They consolidate individual PTO reports, submit statements to the accounting firm, file taxes/relevant state forms, and carry liability and directors’ insurance. Each PTO Treasurer should expect a request for their annual budget. The Healthy Melrose Run raised $4000 for PTO, Inc. which was greatly appreciated. Individual PTO assessments will be issued soon and are less this year thanks to this fundraising. This year both Tim and Treasurer Anne Berte plan to retire and will need to be replaced.
·      The summer PTO Summit was a successful forum for PTO reps to get ideas and share challenges and wishes regarding the year ahead.
·      Melrose Cultural Council grants are in the submission process so if PTO’s want to submit, now is the time. There is $9200 available to be issued and schools often apply for things like field trips, for which admin. fees are paid but not buses.
·      A detailed grant chart was prepared by Christina Gagliano, indicating local granting agencies and how to access the grants.

Next meeting is October 13th at 8:45 a.m. in the Supt’s Conference Room.