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.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Enrollments, FY18 School Calendar, Ripley/Beebe Rentals, and More: November Melrose School Committee Meetings

Before the football was played and the turkey eaten, the School Committee met twice in November! Check the minutes for the official version, but here are my notes of the highlights:

November 15th
·      Supt. Taymore announced formation of an Elementary Music Working Group to provide recommendations regarding vision, status, structure, and plan. The group is expected to report back to her prior to the presentation of the budget to the Committee in case there are any fiscal suggestions.
·      The Dept. of Public Works (DPW) provided a report on completed work in the schools.
·      Interim Director of Finance and Administrative Affairs Ms. Farrell provided a summary of the End of Year Report, which is submitted to the state annually. Total school-related costs in FY16 were $54.4M, with the biggest line items being teacher salaries ($16.3M), insurance for active and retired school employees ($6.4M), payments on debt ($3.9M), and tuition to charter schools ($2.6M).
·      Ms. Farrell’s title was changed from Interim Director to Director of Finance and Administrative Affairs after Supt. Taymore confirmed Ms. Farrell’s licensure with the state.
·      Enrollments were presented with these highlights:
o   Enrollment continues to trend upward. We now enroll almost 38oo students.
o   149 English learners are now enrolled, up from 116 last year.
o   The minority population has increased from 18% to 20%.
o   The low income population continues to increase.
o   The homeless population is down from 23 in FY15 to 18 this past year.
o   We currently enroll 30 school choice students and four foreign exchange students.
o   Future implications:
§  Pre-fabricated classrooms will be added at two schools.
§  Additional elementary specialists (art, music, PE, etc.) are needed.
§  Increases in the number of student social/emotional/behavioral issues is challenging.
§  Additional high school and middle school staff is needed to address increased enrollments, academic requirements, and student interests.
·      The FY17-18 school calendar was approved. School will start on August 30th, 2017 and end on June 14, 2018 if there are no snow days.
·      School choice numbers were approved by opening ten seats each in Grades 7 and 8, and five seats in Grade 9.

November 22nd
·      The MHS Science Dept. has received a grant to participate in the Mystic River Watershed Association Herring Monitoring Project. Student work will occur from Fall 2016 – August 2018.
·      A new five-year agreement to rent the Ripley and Beebe buildings to the SEEM Collaborative was approved, with rental increases and more tenant responsibility for maintenance and repairs. It was noted that SEEM has been a good neighbor for many years and that there was agreement by both parties that the relationship was mutually beneficial.
·      A waiver was granted to the MHS girls hockey team to allow 8th graders to play in order to fill out an undersubscribed roster.
·      City Solicitor Van Campen presented an element of the recently passed Municipal Modernization Act that allows school districts to appoint one Committee member to sign warrants (school bills) on its behalf, and report afterwards. Both Mr. Van Campen and Melrose CFO Mr. Patrick Dello Russo (in conjunction with the outside auditors) recommended against adopting this practice and continuing with the current practice that requires a majority of Committee members to approve and sign the warrants. Their counsel was taken and no change was made to the process.

Last meeting of the calendar year coming up on December 13th at 7:00 at City Hall when we expect to take up dollar maximums for student checking accounts, Internet safety measures, the hiring of legal counsel, and annual data presentations that the Committee expects to see from the administration. We will also conduct our annual self-evaluation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Embedding Social Emotional Learning in the Melrose Public Schools

At the 11/15 City Wide PTO meeting, Supt. Taymore invited Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Dr. Adams, Hoover Principal Ms. Corduck, and MVMMS Principal Mr. Conway to provide an overview of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Melrose Public Schools. Some highlights:

·      It’s an expectation that all Melrose schools will have a Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS).
·      The Casel SEL framework includes five sets of skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making (http://www.washoeschools.net/Page/1840). Skills develop differently depending on age. All PBIS systems reflect this framework.
·      The Three-Tier Response to Intervention (RTI) Framework represents a system that supports the development of skills (http://images.slideplayer.com/15/4641200/slides/slide_35.jpg). Melrose staff held a daylong retreat in the summer. Each school is in a different place in its journey on the framework, but all have a PBIS in place. Staff members are meeting five-six times this year to develop relevant materials to support this work. Work is well underway with Tier I and is now moving to Tier II.
·      Whatever the pneumonic is, there are behavioral expectations agreed upon by all. The overarching definition of these expectations must be modeled to students: What does it look like in the classroom? In the lunchroom? On the playground? They need more reminding at certain times of the year (holidays, etc.). Foundational skills build over time, from Kindergarten up through the grades. Teaching the skills in isolation doesn’t work; teachers look for the teachable moment and explore what the PBIS says to do, what went wrong, what would we do next time, and then practice how to do it.
·      Massachusetts is working with Casel to develop standards and is a pilot state. The Rennie Center report is used as the basis for analyzing where we are and what we’ll do (http://www.renniecenter.org/topics/SEL_policy.html).
·      MPS has school-wide systems for recognition of positive behavior. Hoover has “habit tickets” to reward using skills that reflect one of the “7 Habits” (http://www.theleaderinme.org/the-7-habits-for-kids). Collecting monthly data from the tickets also helps target and support appropriate behaviors (i.e. if rewards aren’t often given in the cafeteria, why not? What could we do to improve behavior there? Are there students who don’t receive rewards and why not? Are there teachers who aren’t giving many and why not? – can then support with them about instructional strategies).
·      Sustainability is critical so the program isn’t introduced all at once; chipping away at the process can improve the ability to maintain the work.
·      When students demonstrate a particular behavior, they are sending a message; it’s a way of communicating. Administrators and teachers need to understand what the message is and focus on helping solve the problem being communicated rather than just punishing. This strategy changes classroom management.
·      All MPS teachers are required to read Carol Dweck’s mindset (http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/). Veteran staff have done book groups on it.
·      MPS has invested in a lot of academic and cultural responsiveness work with the idea that no one exists in isolation; everyone must work together for the system to work.
·      Challenges include time (training, discussion, data analysis); money (materials, training); staff receptiveness; demographics (shifting, like all states). The past 20 years of focus on accountability has left this issue out.
·      The state is re-thinking the definition of trauma. The older definition has expanded because some things adults think aren’t trauma present as trauma to children.
·      MPS loses some teachers over the implementation of this work – some don’t want to do it.
·      Supt. Taymore is partnering with colleges on this topic (e.g. Salem State), helping them understand that it should be taught to aspiring teachers in their schools of education.
·      Teacher interviews in MPS now include exploration of experience with SEL or a PBIS  “because that’s the business we’re now in.”
·      Families are critical to the support of this work. They should set expectations around behavior, acceptance, and empathy at home. Children want to do well in school. They don’t want to misbehave; it’s about teaching them skillsets. That’s why MPS didn’t buy a “curriculum in a box.” It’s why we have a system instead.
·      When students move from elementary to MS, they need to take more leadership roles. Two years ago, the MS initiated a Student Council. Now they also have a Social Justice Club and a state-praised GSA. This year they’ve added Project Impact, an Anti-Defamation League initiative, training 37 peer leaders.
·      The process is a little slower at MHS because of the need to involve students and include leadership opportunities. Staff has worked on a vision and mission asking what kind of school do they want to be and how do kids want to create their own school community. Principals Conway and Merrill have created Culture and Climate Councils, which support this work too.
·      There were very few suspensions in the MPS last year because staff has backed off of zero tolerance. Sometimes students must be suspended for safety reasons (if they present a threat or harm to others). What’s helped? Restorative justice. The dilemma comes around the OCR resolution: there are specific things the Supt. must do regarding harassment (like removing an alleged perpetrator), although sometimes they think it would be more useful to all involved to handle it informally.
·      Staff is working on bringing students from all (different) elementary schools to the MS. The value in PBIS is not what you call the program but employment of the corresponding values.
·      Teaching and revisiting is key. The MS changed its schedule to align with the HS and is using a “circles” format, which is an element of restorative justice.
·      One challenge: getting all adults to use the same language consistently so students learn it and then hear it from everyone. (Consistent communication important.) Paras are receiving training in this area for consistency.
*    PTO’s can help these efforts by learning more about the PBIS system at the schools, and supporting SEL efforts (speakers, embedding practices, etc.).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Melrose Schools in the Post-Election Dynamic

It’s doubtful there would be argument around the fact that this year’s Presidential election was long, emotionally charged, and exhausting. Its outcome has left some Americans relieved and satisfied while leaving others disappointed and afraid. All await what happens next and how we will come together as a true United States of America. As it has played out in society, so has it played out in our schools as students tried to make meaning from the speech making and media interpretations; personal histories, attributes, and flaws of the candidates; and now, the aftermath and path forward.

The Melrose Public Schools, like so many in our nation, understand how impactful this dynamic can be on students, and our district has addressed it in a variety of ways. Below please find Superintendent Taymore’s review of the situation and how it’s been (and continues to be) addressed:

Schools across the country, including those in Melrose, have been responding and providing support to their communities throughout the past year of this divisive election campaign. It has been an ongoing effort at every grade level to assist students, families, and staff that have been distressed and even frightened by the campaign’s intolerable rhetoric. Supporting our students, day in and day out, is the primary mission of this district. My administrators and I are well aware of how this is playing out not only in our schools, but also in our Melrose community and across the state and country.  

Wednesday was a difficult day for all of us, but staff was prepared to work with students and their families as a result of efforts over the last 2 1/2 years. We started the day by providing them with additional information on how to talk to students about the results. I say this is "additional" because it follows up on the training we have been doing with all staff as recently as the day of the election. Moreover, I sent a personal note to staff emphasizing that our message to students is that we will always care for them, advocate for them, and provide them a safe space.  We do the work we do because of our commitment to children. Numerous staff members throughout the district worked with students in response to their needs. In fact, METCO Director Ms. Ward and I worked together with our METCO students. Lastly, MHS Principal Mr. Merrill has been very clear in his message to students, families, and staff that MHS will welcome and respect all members of our community. We will continue to reinforce that belief and work with students as individual situations arise. My staff and I are also aware that we have a long road ahead of us as this presidency unfolds over the next four years.  

The return to civility must start with the adults. As our wonderful speaker from the Tuskegee Airmen said to over 300 participants in last Monday night’s presentation at the MHS Learning Commons: "Act as though we are all members of one family--because we are."

A helpful resource from Wheelock Professor of Early Education Diane Levin, PhD, can be found here: http://blog.wheelock.edu/tips-for-helping-younger-children-cope-with-the-election/. (It contains additional resources that may be helpful for older children.) If you have questions about this topic as it relates to work being done in the schools, please contact your child(ren)’s teacher and/or principal. They are prepared to assist.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

ECC, PARCC/MCAS Results, SAT/AP Results, Budget Timeline, School Choice: October 25th School Committee

Spotlight was on the ECC at the start of this School Committee meeting! Staff has engaged in work with Dr. Nadja Reilly, a clinical psychologist and expert in anxiety and depression in children, exploring the causes and effects of anxiety in our youngest students. They have moved a number of classrooms to reduce the number of transitions that children make among before-care, school time, and after-care. They’ve also created a variety of visual aids that set expectations for the day’s agenda, etc. so, for example, children know the sequence of the day’s activities; and the Positive Behavior Intervention System provides consistency, teaching children how to take responsibility for their own behavior. Parent Mr. Greenberg noted that he could see the positive impact of these improvements, along with the ability of families to apply techniques at home for consistency.

The Spanish exchange was re-approved to include a tour of Barcelona for MHS students in February 2017.

Keynote: 2016 PARCC and MCAS scores provided by Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Dr. Margaret Adams, Humanities Director Ms. Angela Singer, and STEM Director Jon Morris. Supt. Taymore introduced the presentation with the following successes: Horace Mann has improved from a Level 3 to a Level 1 school in two years; Hoover is a Commended School for the third year in a row; MHS remains a Level 1 school; and at MVMMS, all Algebra 1 students scored proficient or advanced. Dr. Adams presented a summary of challenges: PARCC and MCAS results remain primarily the same with some decreases in specific areas; some disparity exists between different schools at the same grade; and a gap continues in subgroups for high needs, low income, and students with disabilities. District-wide and school reviews are in the packet and school-based presentations will be held.

(As part of that discussion, I added that the College Board Integrated Summary had recently been posted on the MHS website: http://melrosehigh.melroseschools.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2016/10/2015-2016-Integrated-Summary.pdf. While we clearly have challenges, some successes include:

SAT: compared with last year, mean Critical Reading up 5 pts.; Math up 11 pts.; Writing up 17 pts.
SAT Subject Tests: 14% jump in participation from last year; particular success in Literature and Math Level 1 with consistently high Math Level 2.
AP: 9.8% increase in participation (530-582 tests taken including much greater participation by non-white students, meaning the district is focusing on including all students in AP opportunities while improving scores); 95% of Calculus AB & BC students scored 3-5.
Notes: All MHS students who enroll in an AP course are required to take the exam, unlike many schools who hand-select students who take the test but whose scores figure into the overall average. There is work to be done in some subjects and Supt. Taymore has indicated that those areas have been identified and are being addressed. Actions taken beginning two years ago (realized by the Mass Insight grant) have clearly had a positive effect on results, and those practices are being replicated and continued for the benefit of students.)

Discussion began around next year’s school calendar. It will be brought back to the next meeting with additional religious holidays added by the Supt.

A budget timeline was approved, having been discussed extensively in the October 15th retreat. The intent is “…to focus more on district priorities, make it more understandable to the community, and embed efficiencies of time and effort while creating a superior product aligned with the needs of Melrose students.” (ref: School Committee goals approved on 10/18).

Supt. Taymore proposed school choice openings as ten seats in Gr. 7, ten seats in Gr. 8, and five seats in Gr. 9. The public hearing on this topic is scheduled for the next meeting at 7:00 and the Committee is expected to vote later in the meeting.

Packet documents from the meeting can be found here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2673&Inline=True

Next meeting: Tuesday, November 15th at 7:00 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall. Topics: current enrollment numbers, FY18 school calendar, etc. Packet documents are here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2683&Inline=True

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

ELL Grant, French Exchange, Wellness, Technology, FY17 Goals, and More!

Lots happening in the month of October in the Melrose Public Schools! The School Committee met for the first time on October 18th. Check the minutes for the official account, but here are my notes:

The district was awarded a Title III (federal) grant that will be used to develop and conduct an English as a Second Language class for parents and caregivers of ELL students. The classes will be held at Lincoln, once a week, for two hours. Supt. Taymore noted: “Efforts will also be made to integrate parents into other opportunities available at the individual schools and at the district level.”

The MHS French exchange will allow our Saint-Witz partners to visit in October 2017 and for our students to travel in February 2018.

The food service program, run by Chartwells and managed by Mr. Ken Dolce, continues to generate a profit (unusual for school lunch programs given their many state and federal requirements).

Asst. Supt. of Pupil Personnel Services Ms. White-Lambright and Athletic Director Mr. Fogarty presented on how Youth Risk Behavior Survey results are impacting wellness teaching. Topics included drug prevention, using prescription drugs, and opioids. Survey results indicated that parents want more training. Next steps include a closer read and review by the School Wellness Advisory Council (SWAC) and implementation of the Adolescent Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) tool by staff to “…detect risk for substance-use related problems and to address them at an early age in adolescents.”

Surplus equipment, including tables, chairs, filing cabinets, etc., was approved for sale.

Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Dr. Adams, along with City IT Director Neal Ellis, reported the latest work of the District Technology Committee. They addressed curriculum initiatives (including the state’s new Digital Technology Standards); using technology in a personalized learning environment; and teacher goals related to employing technology within national curriculum frameworks and using technology “…to collaborate and communicate with students, parents and fellow teachers on a consistent and on-going basis.”

Supt. Taymore updated the district’s Strategy Overview for 2016-17, identifying the district’s three main foci as: improving social emotional learning and behavioral intervention and supports; building capacity for inclusive practices; and increasing digital literacy and technology skills for students and staff.

The School Committee voted three goals for ourselves in the coming year: framing roles/responsibilities around communication to improve sharing; crafting a revised vision statement; and re-working the FY18 budget process.

The Committee voted four goals for Supt. Taymore: supporting diverse learners’ needs, addressing student behavior issues; working with the Committee to identify resources for student academic, social, emotional, and behavioral well-being; and provide training for teachers to increase capacity to provide more effective instruction.

Notes from October 25th coming soon!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Collaborative PTO's and Great School Partners: 10/18 Citywide PTO

Quick visit with Supt. Taymore since she had another obligation, so the focus was on calendar sharing and our guest, Melrose Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lauren Grymeck.

Chamber Info
·               The Chamber wants to work more closely with the schools and recognizes how hard the PTO’s work. They know that the schools don’t always want to ask for support, but are doing good work and need their support. Perhaps another subset of City Wide PTO representatives and business owners could collaborate to partner as they did in the past. The schools should have a sense of what level of interest/capability different businesses have in terms of donations.
·               Reflection on and evolution of Victorian Fair: working towards more family-friendly environment.
·               Upcoming Chamber events: Trick or Treat on Main Street (10/28) and Home for the Holidays (12/2-3).

Birth to Five
In collaboration with Supt. Taymore, they are working with realtors to provide some highlights of our schools. We brainstormed ideas: “most improved” designation; five foreign languages at middle and high school plus immersion trips; Advanced Placement offerings and success; music and arts programming; elementary after school programming; free full-day K; before/after care; ECC; equity across all the elementary schools; Competency Based Education initiative; Melrose Education Foundation; Melrose Grad Night; Late Start initiative; high school learning pathways.

Melrose Education Foundation
Parent University is scheduled for November 19th. For more information click on http://melroseedfoundation.org/communityforums/. There will be three workshop sessions (a larger first session followed by two to three smaller sessions). Check-in will be from 8:00-8:30 a.m. and speakers will continue through noon with the event ending at 12:30. There will be childcare for elementary-aged children and they are working on arranging childcare for pre-K. Location is the MHS Learning Commons. Registration coming soon.

City Wide Band Night
…was held on October 19th. It’s an annual event and a way to generate interest in band for younger students. The kids bring their instruments, and are then grouped and matched with a high school facilitator who helps them learn a musical piece and march together under the lights – all in one hour!

News from the Middle School
·               MVMMS is “copying” MHS with a parent coffee on November 17th from 7:45-8:30.
·               MHS Interim Principal Jason Merrill will be meeting soon with 7th and 8th grade parents so they can learn more about MHS.
·               Tarzan is coming the week before Thanksgiving – another great musical production from our talented students and staff. More info here: https://melrosedrama.wordpress.com/shows/tarzan/. It’s helpful to buy tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line.

Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC)
The first general meeting is Thursday, October 27th at the ECC at 6:30. All are welcome! For more information, click on http://melrosesepac.weebly.com/.

Election Info
·               Bake sales will be held in many schools, and volunteers should be aware that they must not wear political paraphernalia as it is against election laws.
·               The MHS AP Government class is organizing a school wide mock election coordinated by teacher Mr. Daly on Monday, November 7th.

Bridge Volunteers
…are over 1000 strong with registrations coming in every day. At the next City Wide meeting, we’ll hear about the K volunteer training sessions for those volunteers who will help support K classrooms in the absence of five of the original 15 para positions.

Next meeting: Tuesday, November 15th at 8:45 a.m. in the Supt’s Conference Room

Monday, October 17, 2016

Energy Efficiency and the Melrose Public Schools

The topic of the day was energy at last week’s Melrose Master Plan meeting, and ultimately “…the ramification it has on budgets, public health and global climate.” While utility and capital improvement costs don’t fall into the Melrose Public Schools’ budget, energy use in schools ultimately impacts our students and staff, since the more efficiently energy is used, the more city expenses are lowered and school services are improved.

News you can use:
·               Of the top ten energy consuming municipal buildings in FY15, school buildings take the top eight spots.  The high school and middle school complex consumes almost 50% of total building energy in Melrose.
·               Between 2009 and 2016, school building energy use decreased by 3% while
o   adding significant technology;
o   increasing building use to accommodate before and after school programs; early-late weekend use for sports, etc.; and vacation and summer programming; and
o   making dramatic improvements to ventilation and fresh air exchange in all schools which benefits occupants but requires much more energy.
·               Many energy conservation measures have been completed in schools, often with Green Community Grant and utility incentive funding
o   MHS white roof and R30 insulation ($156K provided): 2011
o   Winthrop School EMS & ventilation upgrades: 2012
o   Six elementary schools: interior and exterior lighting upgrades ($233K provided): 2012
o   MHS science wing renovation ($11K provided): 2013
o   MVMMS gym light replacement ($12K provided): 2013
o   MHS HVAC upgrade ($345K provided): 2014
o   All schools: classroom lighting, LED parking lot lighting, insulation and air sealing, energy controls, comprehensive heating and ventilation system fixes, IT and vending machine controls ($315K provided): 2014
o   MHS Learning Commons renovations ($26K provided): 2016
·               The solar panels on top of the MHS and MVMMS roofs supply about 10% of the buildings’ energy.
·               DPW staffing and their training and technology has evolved
o   Melrose now employs a Building Systems Supervisor to manage the city’s increasingly sophisticated HVAC systems (no more “set-it-and-forget-it”).
o   Building temperatures can be managed by a DPW staff member from a device, making it unnecessary, for example, to travel to school buildings in dangerous weather to turn down the heat on snow days to save energy.
·               The concerted focus on energy in the city led to employment of an Energy Efficiency Manager in 2011, who has written grants and developed partnerships that have resulted in funding deferred maintenance challenges that would otherwise remain stalled.
·               Future challenges include managing increasing space (e.g. modular classrooms at Hoover and Winthrop) and adapting to climate change.
·               Future priorities include targeting the largest energy users (MHS, MVMMS, Lincoln, and Roosevelt), including retrofitting lighting, replacing outdated energy management controls at Lincoln, converting MHS cafeteria kitchen appliances to energy efficiency models, etc.

Infrastructure isn’t always headline-making or glamorous (and many of them we can’t even see), but improvements can significantly affect the health, safety, and learning environment for students. Thank you to the taxpayers, who through your tax dollars invest in and support positive changes like these!