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, October 21, 2015

School Committee Support for Override

Below please find the letter submitted to the press by Committee Chairman Kristin Thorp following the Committee's vote on 9/8 to recommend. This letter is also posted on the School Committee page of the melroseschools web site. 

Melrose School Committee Support for Override                             September 14, 2015

On Tuesday, September 8th, the Melrose School Committee overwhelmingly voted (six in favor and one against) to support the City of Melrose Proposition 2 ½ Tax Override scheduled for placement on the November 3rd ballot. This recommendation was not made lightly; it was explored in the utmost detail and with meticulous review, supported by research and recommendations from a variety of separate working groups and committees, including the Budget Working Group, the Curriculum Materials Working Group, the Technology Working Group, the Professional Development Committee, and Department teams that review all elements of teaching and learning in a content area (for example, Social Studies). As taxpayers ourselves, we recognize and appreciate that we are recommending an action that requires sacrifice, but we believe very strongly that it is an investment in educational quality that will allow Melrose children greater opportunities that we can barely imagine today.

In our roles as an oversight board for the schools, we have the privilege of hearing the community’s educational questions and concerns, like:

·      How do we hire and retain excellent teachers?
·      How do we ensure that teachers can teach to every student in a classroom, including those with learning differences and limited knowledge of the English language, high achieving/gifted students, and students who face unique and personal challenges that may compromise their ability to adequately advance academically?
·      How do we ensure that students have recent, relevant, and high-quality curriculum materials including textbooks and library media resources; on-line learning tools; and laboratory, engineering and design, art, and music supplies?
·      How do we ensure that students entering college, the military, or the workforce, learn and use technology that they will be expected to understand when they arrive?
·      How do we ensure that students, who in today’s era are expected to become global citizens (whether by Internet access, formal study, or travel), have the support and opportunities to do so?
·      How do we ensure that students have built a solid foundation for their future lives with key skills valued by employers, like critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity?
·      How do we ensure that yearly school funding isn’t always at risk of being cut based on what the federal and state governments can supply and/or whether the City has $700,000 in free cash each October to put toward a school budget that law requires we approve by the previous June?

Over the past three years, the Superintendent and her staff have employed district budgets to address the above-mentioned challenges and have made marked progress, including reorganizing staff positions and hiring new staff in order to focus efforts on specific educational goals, implementing union contracts that respect the professionalism and hard work of the staff combined with meaningful accountability, developing a broad and deep training system for teachers, raising rigor and expectations in all core subject areas while expanding the breadth of course offerings at the middle and high schools, and purchasing new and engaging curriculum materials that feature elements designed to teach all students with an eye toward the student as a citizen of the world. In addition, the City’s Board of Aldermen have voted to invest in building improvements, like the high school’s HVAC overhaul, state-of-the-art science labs, and the Learning Commons/Administrative Office renovation, along with the Hoover entry/window revamp project; and they have supported the purchase of curriculum materials that had been long neglected in the face of more pressing needs. They have also voted each year to move free cash to the school budget in October to cover the portion that was not in the general City budget. The district has sought out federal, state, and independent grants, while parents, community organizations have helped by raising money. Each and every school and team/club/activity deeply is grateful for the support from the community. Have these efforts resulted in improved academic results for students? While there is always room for improvement, we think they have, and the district’s Data Dashboard on the melroseschools.com web site details assessment results so you can decide for yourself.

Superintendent Taymore spoke to addressing teaching and learning challenges in her growth budget at the beginning of 2015 and we believe that her recommendations, which have evolved into the override request for the schools, puts the district in a position to achieve greater learning growth and financial stability. Strategic staffing at all levels, including both classroom teachers and support/coaching staff, will engage more students in discrete subjects, while helping teachers to teach more effectively and students to learn in ways that will better inform their post-secondary lives. Curriculum materials will be implemented and then put into a viable review and purchase cycle so we don’t have to play catch-up in the future. Teachers will be trained to use these increasingly complex and diverse materials. The special education budget can begin stabilization by setting aside money to cover the potentially significant and expensive services a new student may by law require when moving into Melrose. And we will remove the need to risk teachers’ jobs and student services, every single year, because while we build an appropriate budget, we have to keep our fingers crossed that some of the monies will become available later in the year.   

Why are we confident that these funds will be managed responsibly and not just as a one-year investment that gets lost in future City budgets? Because the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen have shown repeatedly over the years that they value the schools, and that the public’s trust in them is well founded. Quality leadership is key, and the collaboration between the City and the district is strong and focused on the growth and improvement of the Melrose Public Schools. We’ve watched the Superintendent and her staff develop the district’s vision by way of a series of high-quality operating plans and documents, including the Strategy Overview, that are reviewed by the Committee on a consistent basis. We evaluate the Superintendent using an agreed-upon process grounded in the state’s educator evaluation system and have found her efforts, attitude, work, and collaboration to be effective and in the interest of all students. The Superintendent’s philosophy of constant self-reflection and continuous improvement is embedding itself in the school community, and the Committee expects that to persist for many years to come.

The workplaces of all Americans are changing at a rapid pace. The ways we apply for jobs and interview for them are different; professional training has evolved (for example, employers cannot expect you to change the way you work if they have not taught you how); the use of electronic devices and tools complement relevant traditional print materials in workplace research, creation, and collaboration; we interact with colleagues from around the country and around the world; and we are always keeping a watchful eye on the bottom line given fluctuating revenue pipelines and waves of political change that affect how employers are funded. Equally, the classrooms of early childhood and K-12 education are changing to meet the requirements set by colleges and universities, the military, and ultimately, the evolving workplace. Our students deserve the opportunity to reach their full academic potential within the constraints of a responsible and accountable framework.

We believe that this override is necessary to continue the educational progress that the citizens of Melrose have envisioned; and we believe that our students deserve the best we can give them. Please stand with us to support this override so we can give them our best.

Thank you,
Kristin Thorp

Melrose School Committee