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.

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.