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.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Announcements, Late Start, CBE Task Force, Budget Priorities, Self-Evaluation, International Students, and more….

…at last week’s 12/8 School Committee meeting. Here’s a breakdown:

Announcements of the Superintendent
* Class of 2015 graduate Katherine Ilia has been selected by the College Board to receive the Massachusetts AP Scholar Award – one of two only recipients (one male and one female). * Mass Insight has designated eight MHS staff members as Partners in Excellence for their work to improve student outcomes on AP exams. * MHS students led, for the second year, the Hour of Code. (More info on this national movement here: https://hourofcode.com/us). * Thanks to the Melrose Cultural Council, Horace Mann students have created murals depicting a theme of friendship. Open house is on 12/15 from 2:30-4 with all welcome. * Demolition has begun on the MHS Resource Center as it begins transformation into the Learning Commons. All precautions are being taken to keep students and staff safe (e.g. post-school-day work, etc.).

Educational Programs and Personnel
* Late Start vote: after discussion, the Committee voted “To pursue community and staff input on the costs and implementation of a 20 minute shift in all school schedules, with a final decision to be made by June, 2016 for implementation for the 2017-2018 school year.” Members appreciated the value in the research around health and safety for students in starting school later, but noted concerns around equity for all students (including elementary and METCO) and financial implications - especially around rentals, Ed. Stations, etc. * The Committee voted to instruct the Supt. to assemble a Competency Based Education Task Force. (Please consider applying to participate! Details here: http://melroseschools.com/2015/12/competency-based-education-task-force/ and deadline to apply is 12/21.) * Slight changes were suggested for the 2016-2017 school calendar, one of which is an addition of the primary Muslim holiday, which is noted in addition to Jewish and Christian holidays.

Finance and Facilities
* FY17 Budget Guidelines and Priorities were presented and approved. They align the filters through which the Committee might consider expenditures for the coming year using Committee overarching goals and associated comments made during the year. * This agenda item was listed to reflect on a Committee goal, and it was noted that the Budget Timeline had addressed community involvement. * Maximum amounts were set on Student Activity Checking Accounts (of which there are two – MVMMS and MHS) for oversight purposes. These accounts are audited at least every three years by an external auditor and more frequently by an internal auditor. * The Committee had promised (by way of our goals) “to report on areas of the FY17 budget affected by the Technology Plan,” and it was noted that this item would be brought forward in the spring when we discussed the budget.

Policy and Planning
* A summary of members’ Committee self-evaluations was presented and approved, and it will be used as a guiding document for the Committee’s work next year. * Supt. Taymore updated the district Strategy Overview, and Ms. Thorp volunteered to link glossary words within it in order to improve understanding by the Committee and community. (More info here: http://melroseschools.com/school-committee/agendas-and-minutes/strategy-overview-links/.) * An updated policy on International Students was presented for informational review. It adds tuition-paying students to our population and addresses roles and responsibilities around their enrollment.

Announcements of the Chair
* The Committee conducted a preliminary vote for 2016 Chairman and Vice-Chairman (in keeping with our By-Laws, section 3.2), with a final vote scheduled for our 1/12 meeting. I, in partnership with Jessica Dugan, will be honored to serve as next year’s Chair and Vice-Chair respectively. * Work has been done on the School Committee Member Handbook, with much work to do next year prior to its completion. * Ms. Thorp completed the significant work she began on the types of data the Committee can expect to receive from Supt. Taymore in order to abide by our roles. *Members reported on experiences within their liaison roles.

The next Committee meeting will be held on January 12th at 7 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chamber and will be broadcast on MMTV. If you would like to receive e-mails pushed to your inbox with meeting agendas and packet document links, please go to the Committee web site, Meetings (IQM2 page), and subscribe to the RSS feed. If you’d like a preview of next year’s meeting agendas, check out our preliminary rolling agenda at http://d1868cr0a5jrv6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Rolling-Agenda-2016-First-Draft.pdf.

A more personal note: as this is the time when it’s especially meaningful to look back at the prior year and reflect on its many blessings, please know how grateful I am to all who find ways to support our students, whether it’s by being a PTO member, school council member, task force participant, Bridge member, member of a city board/commission/department, engaged parent, staff member, generous business owner, attendee of music and drama presentations, sports fan, or partner (like MAAV, MEF, the McLaughlin Foundation, Melrose Cultural Council, Rotary, Birth-to-Five, and so many others). While there are many challenges to be addressed, we have seen great strides in Melrose education because of you. As always, it takes a village to raise a child, and I feel so grateful to the people and organizations that make raising and educating children in our beautiful city both supportive and enriching.

Wishing you all the beauty of this season and a happy, healthy 2016!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

CBL, Common Core, and Other Notes from City Wide PTO

On December 8th, the group started with a thoughtful discussion around the competency based learning (CBL) model that Supt. Taymore is proposing. Her remarks, as summarized, are as follows:

·      CBL is a standards-based system. It’s a model of instruction, not curriculum or content.
·      Students proceed as they master standards. There is greater rigor and the model includes more project-based learning.
·      It requires teachers to think differently about pacing (how fast they move through each topic area) and sequencing (the order in which they move through topic areas).
·      We now use a factory-based model that no longer works in an information-based society so we have to teach differently.
·      Staff has already implemented Understanding by Design, a way of planning that identifies what students should get out of a content unit, then working backwards to achieve the meeting of standards to get there.
·      What would change? Students don’t pass with a “D,” rather, they must master standards to get to the next step.
·      There are questions, like how to include more project-based learning.
·      What learning experiences outside of school “count” (e.g. does a student who works at Dana Farber get credit for a Medical course?)? At MHS, soon high school students will be manning a tech help desk and by doing so will meet standards in science/tech/engineering and will get credit for it.
·      Superintendents around the state are talking about CBL; the issue in Massachusetts is that the Dept. of Elem. and Sec. Education doesn’t yet have a plan to support it.
·      Question to the Supt. – does this only support students who are struggling and students who need challenge (i.e. “fringe” students)? No – it is truly for all students. Also, students must not be labeled, they must be met where they are and be able to proceed at the right pace for them. It also addresses the contention by some Melrose families that “my regular child will be swallowed up at the high school level.”
·      Question to the Supt. – what about teachers? Staff is always concerned about failing, because they want to support students well. They need help to improve teaching and learning so they build confidence. The Supt. is working to “build capacity” in staff, meaning increasing training, coaching, and mentoring. The high school is moving well in this direction, the middle school has pockets that are developing quickly, and elementary is the largest challenge because classrooms are largely singular (although Hoover has some cross-class grouping, Roosevelt is doing some vertical grouping, and four of five buildings have science vs. social studies specialists).

The discussion morphed into a review of the Common Core and its status. Supt. Taymore spoke to the new federal education act, ESSA called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” (More info here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/11/esea_reauthorization_the_every.html.) In sum, it takes the federal government out of the school accountability business, making states responsible for developing tests (testing is still required but other types of assessment can also be used) and removes the feds from teacher evaluation. (Note: as of this writing, it’s on the President’s desk and expected to be signed post haste.) Those opposed to Common Core standards should find this Act supportive of their efforts and responsive to their interests in more localized control (although the states won’t do away with it, they’ll just call it something else).

Efforts continue to address cultural awareness and proficiency.

·      At the high school/middle school levels, Urban Improv, although not perfect, started a difficult conversation that is useful in developing understanding. Teachers did follow-up work in their classrooms. The challenge is that developmentally and from a learning standpoint, students need more work in understanding how to listen, how to have perspective, and how to craft thoughtful speech based on that work.
·      Prior to Urban Improv, the ADL had trained staff on microaggressions.
·      Last week, Supt. Taymore and METCO Director Doreen Ward brought six teachers to the METCO conference, which was excellent and they’ll share what they learned with staff.
·      The middle school is starting a Social Justice Club and the high school is starting a Do the Right Thing club. 
·      Parents have concerns around the high school mascot. After her arrival in the district, the Supt. asked cheerleaders to remove the feathers from their hair because it was disrespectful. Students are interested in talking about the mascot.
·      Supt. Taymore is working with Melrose Human Rights Commission Chairman Shawn MacMaster about city-wide efforts to address this issue since it’s really a city challenge, not just in the schools. Students want to have conversations about race, and adults need to have it too.

Other notes:

·      Collective bargaining agreements are being signed with secretaries, paraprofessionals, and department chairs. Interest-based bargaining will be the negotiating model used in partnership with teachers as bargaining begins in the spring.
·      The Melrose Master Plan is another effort in process in the city. Every municipality in the state is required to engage in this effort every ten years. There will be a public forum in February for the community-at-large.
·      The Permanent School Building Committee is reconvening to discuss capacity issues, needed upgrades to middle school’s Performing Arts Center, and other topics.
·      Work on the Learning Commons at the high school has begun earlier than anticipated, with the heavy demolition occurring from 3:00 into the evenings (in order to limit disruption to student learning).
*    A local donation form is being developed to help streamline requests from PTO’s to local businesses and respect their ability to support elementary organizations.

      Next meeting is January 12th. Community Reading Day is March 3rd. Trivia Bee is March 19th.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Week that Was: Master Plan, Curriculum, CBL, Inauguration, Holidays, Pigskin

The Melrose Master Plan Committee met on the morning of Thursday, 12/3 to begin review of the plan’s draft outline and discuss the next community engagement step. As noted by our City Planning Office, the “Master Plan is a document that reflects residents’ long-term vision for the community in the next 10 to 15 years. The Plan first takes a snapshot of the community today, covering the following topics: population, housing, economic development, transportation, energy, land use and zoning, open space and recreation, public facilities and services, and historic and cultural resources. This information on current conditions and trends is combined with input from the public to develop action steps on how to achieve that long-term vision. Once finalized, Melrose Forward: A Community Vision and Master Plan will be consulted in all future decisions on growth and preservation in the city until the next master plan update. Why are we updating the Master Plan? Think of it as drawing a roadmap to our future quality of life. A lot has changed in Melrose since the City’s last master plan in 2004, and things will continue to change. Clearly stating our values and aspirations as a community in an official policy document will give us more control over what happens here over the next decade…We need broad community input to make sure the plan is well-informed and reasonably represents the many voices of Melrose. If you have something to say about the city’s future, we want to hear it! During this process, we will be asking for community input online and at community events and public forums. There is a Facebook page you can “like” (http://www.facebook.com/melroseforward/) as well as a Twitter account you can follow (http://www.twitter.com/melroseforward/) to stay informed about project meetings and other ways to provide input. We will occasionally provide updates via the Mayor’s Blog as well. We kicked off this project at the Melrose Victorian Fair in September and will attend additional community events when possible to gather ideas. Please save the date for a public forum during the evening of Wednesday, February 10, 2016 to help identify goals and strategies for Melrose Forward. To sign up for the Melrose Forward mailing list or for any questions about the Master Plan, email Erin Zwirko, Assistant Planning Director in the Office of Planning and Community Development, at ezwirko@cityofmelrose.org or call her at (781) 979-4193."

Thursday afternoon, the Curriculum Materials Working Group held its monthly meeting, focusing on how STEM areas are employing elements of cultural awareness in their content. Science, Business, and Technology Department Chair Jon Morris spoke to the fact that staff is very cognizant of the fact that women are vastly underrepresented in the science fields, and are encouraging young women’s interest in this area. He also talked about linking engineering and social studies as one example of cross-curricular work they are doing, for example, incorporating a project on the impact of tool-making during WWII and afterwards. (Most factory workers were women during WWII, but when the men returned from war, the tools used were generally too small for mens’ hands, making re-tooling an important component of post-war activity.) Mathematics Department Chair Christina Cardella revealed that staff was looking thoughtfully at pairing math and social justice, e.g. in the content area of percentages, determine growth in rates of homeless people, people living in poverty, incarcerated people, etc. We also talked about curriculum guides and how they could be used in the district.

Thursday evening, Supt. Taymore held a public forum on Competency Based Learning, providing a slide presentation (http://tinyurl.com/j2hm7x2), and addressing questions from the audience. Most principals were in attendance. She noted that the School Committee would make a decision on 12/8 to recommend (or not) a task force to explore this educational model for Melrose. 

Friday, 12/4 included a meeting of the Inauguration Committee, headed by Memorial Hall Director Kathy Piggott-Brodeur. The celebration will be similar in format to prior years, with thoughtful non-denominational reflections, music, brief speeches, the swearing-in of newly elected (and re-elected) officials, and the Mayor’s State of the City Address. The date is January 11th at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall, and all are welcome.

Saturday’s (12/5) Home for the Holidays afforded me the great privilege of partnering with Ward 5 Alderman Gail Infurna for our annual hosting of a Home for the Holidays trolley. We spent two hours with families, school-aged children, and general revelers as the trolley stopped at various locations offering activities and special events, and Gail’s trumpeting of holiday carols engendered lots of singing and merriment. A school surprise: Lincoln Principal Allison Donovan duct taped to a wall as a fundraiser for environmental camp - now that's dedication to students! 

Saturday night was such a proud moment for our city, when the Red Raider football team put up a valiant effort against the Dartmouth Indians as the sun set over Gillette stadium. The band, color guard, and cheerleaders were just as impressive, and the community spirit in the stands was second to none. Melrose High School was the district’s shining star for the night, showcasing student effort, enthusiasm, and sportsmanship.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

MVMMS Incident, PARCC results, Ed. Stations, Committee Self-Evaluation, and More…

After a lively report from our wonderful student representatives, Supt. Taymore noted that the School Calendar was being pulled from the agenda since more work was needed on it in order to make it complete enough for a full discussion. She then read a joint statement from the Middle School and her office regarding the November 20th incident involving 7th grade students. (That statement can be found here: http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/2015/11/statement-from-mps-regarding-mvmms-incident-on-november-20-2015/.)

Results from spring PARCC testing were presented by Asst. Supt. for Teaching and Learning Dr. Margaret Adams, and the leadership team was present to address questions. The presentation is on pp. 43-92 of http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2502&Inline=True with supplemental documents following and it’s worth the time to watch it at http://www.mmtv3.org/index.php?categoryid=28 (from 23:50-1:19:10). Some highlights:

·               PARCC was considered more difficult than MCAS. Students who took PARCC with paper and pencil performed better than students who took the on-line version.
·               ELA: 76%-87% of students achieved Level 4/5 (the two top categories). Growth percentile at 59.5th – 71st for all grades (60th-80th percentile = high growth). Students with disabilities experienced the greatest “gap to proficiency” of any subgroup. Next elementary steps: fully implement new reading materials and writing units; strengthen science and social studies writing; implement individual student success plans. Next middle schools steps: regular and special education teacher collaboration; and focus additional time on students with disabilities.
·               Math: 57%-77% of students achieved Level 4/5. Growth percentile at 50th-67th. All high needs students, particularly students with disabilities, experienced the greatest “gap to proficiency.” Next elementary steps: continue mathematical best practices; continue math projects for students who need more challenge; continue to align class assessments with evolving state assessments; use rubrics more often to review and evaluate student responses to math tasks. Middle school: more data analysis, alignment of assessments, and differentiated instruction.
·               PARCC will be given in 2016. The state Board of Education voted in November to develop a PARCC-MCAS hybrid assessment beginning in 2017 (now being called MCAS 2.0) in order to capture the most useful features of both assessment tools. More information to come from the Board as time goes on.
·               Comments from questions: Learned from the results: the positive impact from the amount of writing (including analysis) and “paired reading” (two-three different texts ->analyze ->write – it’s a matter of practice in English, but also social studies and beginning in science) which begins in Kindergarten and goes through high school. Changes to curriculum alignment have benefited students. Staff does not “teach to the test” and actually can’t since it’s a performance-based test; they just use quality curriculum and instruction. While Melrose only compares to itself, it’s a fact that the district performed better than a wide group of other districts around the state, including our neighbors and other high-performing districts.

Education Stations has grown from one school with a handful of students to eight schools with 700 students and is now at capacity. It is a $1.4M enterprise/year requiring immense attention to finances, staffing, and the continuation and building of quality programs (e.g. there is much interest in moving the model to the middle school.) The district needs a sustainable, cost-effective, and beneficial model so over the next few months, program director Dr. Josephson will be working with Executive Service Corps to build a long-term plan. She will step back from some day-to-day duties and her experienced assistants will be filling responsibilities allowing her to focus on this project.

Subcommittees of the full School Committee submitted end-of-year reports for consideration by the Committee as we prepared our annual self-evaluation. Each member provided comments as desired, which will be included in the meeting minutes and will also be aggregated by Ms. Dugan in a summary document prior to presentation at the next meeting. That information will help inform actions and activities next year.

As part of our commitment to financial transparency and accountability (and in conjunction with our action items for the year), finance policies have undergone a review and in some cases revision. Final votes are scheduled for 12/8.

The state’s Foundation Budget Review Commission has issued its final report. The next challenge for the state legislature will be to explore how recommendations can/will be funded.

A review of the Superintendent’s evaluation process was approved, with the next action being her mid-cycle review scheduled for February 23rd.

Don’t forget tomorrow night’s (12/3) public forum on competency-based learning (to be held from 6:00-7:30 in the MVMMS Auditorium). Our next regular business meeting (and last meeting of the year) will be held next Tuesday (12/8) at 7:00 on the Aldermanic Chamber.