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.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

FY17 Budget Message, Foreign Students, Business Manager, Communication, Committee Activities, and More…

The School Committee met Tuesday night and reviewed a wide variety of topics. Most importantly, we began with a moment of silence in memory of MHS student Rob Davey who tragically died last week. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and the MHS staff who cared so much about him.

In the Announcements of the Superintendent, we first reviewed the SEEM Annual Report. (Many of our special education students attend SEEM schools, and two former Melrose buildings are rented to them.) Supt. Taymore announced the resignation of Director of Finance and Administrative Affairs Jay Picone, effective in late April. She also noted that two Melrose educators, Tom Scudder and Josh Cristiano, have been asked to present at the Mass. Computer Using Educators conference. Finally, she indicated that a newly revised chain of command has been crafted and is on the web site under the student link, with the intention of “…guid[ing] anyone with a specific question to the correct source…[so that]…questions and concerns can be addressed promptly by the specific person who has direct responsibility…”

MHS Principal Farrell and Assistant Principal Fogarty shared that three students from Brazil are joining our student body until June. They are living with Melrose families and are very excited to be a part of our school family. Also in the area of Educational Programs and Personnel, Ms. Kourkoumelis offered the subcommittee’s beginning of year report.

In Finance and Facilities, the Mid-year Budget Update was provided, and Director of Finance Picone explained that he did not expect end-of-year budget overages as of this time. Legal bills that will come before the Committee in February for approval were summarized (as a point of information), broken down by type of expense and month. Supt. Taymore spoke to her interest in training staff on improving their communications, and has retained a consultant to perform that training, funding his work through some unexpected computer refunds from the state. (He has, and will continue to, help the district craft communications to the community that keep us informed in a more comprehensive and timely manner.) Finally, the Supt. provided her FY17 Budget Message, in which she outlined budget priorities in the areas of staffing, contractual obligations, curriculum resources, technology, professional development, transportation, and budget flexibility. She then outlined challenges in the areas of state and federal funding; city revenues; health insurance; enrollment changes; special education reimbursements from the state, programs, and services; English as a Second Language programming, training, and resources; state and federal mandates; anticipated curriculum changes (e.g. science and social-emotional learning); contractual obligations; and concerns about unknown possibilities (e.g. MCAS 2.0, data reporting requirements, etc.).

Two dates were added to the budget calendar: On Saturday, March 5th from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., administrators will present their budgets and explain their recommendations. On Tuesday, March 15th at 7:00, the Committee will convene a Budget Forum in which Supt. Taymore will address questions from the community about her recommended budget. Stay tuned for location info!

If you want to know the topics anticipated for future Committee meetings, please read the newly updated rolling agenda. Committee norms were discussed, and we expect to finalize them at our next meeting. Liaison assignments were announced, and reports were heard regarding the Competency Based Education Task Force, State Advocacy, and the Melrose Master Plan (Melrose Forward), which will hold a public forum on February 10th at 7:00 at the Milano Center (with all welcome!).

Next meeting is Tuesday, February 9th at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall. The agenda and packet documents will be posted on Friday, February 5th. Anticipated topics at this time include a public hearing on school choice at Melrose Middle School, Campus Kids fees, and a technology update. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2015 Melrose High School Graduation Rates

Graduation rates for the Commonwealth were released last week by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (info here: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/gradrates.aspxand Melrose students performed very well, with outstanding support from their families and Melrose High School staff. Here's how the numbers break out:

# in
% Grad.
% Still
% Non-
% HS
% Dropped
% Grad
in 4 yrs.
in School
in 4 Yrs. Adj.**
  *Students who attain in a different way or  SPED students who reach the age of 22
** Does not include transfers in

As noted in last year's post on the same topic, "there is always more to do of course. Male students consistently rank below female students in graduation rates as does our high needs population. The work that Superintendent Taymore talks about being done to ensure that all students have equal access to curriculum, and providing a variety of supports when students struggle is encouraging. As a society and community, we need to be thoughtful about the social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that cause our students to suffer academically, and address what we can in the context of school authority and ability."     

Supt. Taymore will be discussing this information at the School Committee meeting of February 9th.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

School Spotlight, MVMMS School Choice, Norms, AD Retirement, New Staff, MHS Class Funds, Subcommittee Assignments, MHS Coffee Invites and more!

Our first Committee meeting of the year was held this past Tuesday, January 12th. We were delighted to welcome new members Liz DeSelm and Ed O’Connell to the Committee.

The meeting kicked off with our School Spotlight segment, featuring national Blue Ribbon winner Lincoln School. Staff members Ed Keenan, Jessica Patti, and Michael Oginski spoke to the award’s lengthy and substantive application process, the dedication of staff members who employed many evening and weekend hours to complete it, the reaction of staff upon learning of the award, and its presentation in Washington, D.C. Principal Allison Donovan noted that Lincoln is a school of 405 students speaking 24 languages, of whom 40% are designated by the state as “high needs.” Less than 1% of the nation’s schools earn this prestigious award.

Announcements of the Superintendent: Supt. Taymore announced an interest by MVMMS Principal Conway in exploring school choice in FY17, and the Committee voted to hold a public hearing on the matter on 2/9. The Supt. announced the significant work done by Horace Mann staff that resulted in improvement of their state academic standing from a Level 3 to a Level 2 school. She spoke to the district’s hosting of colleagues from England for their study of our high-quality science practices; the Museum of Science Gateway Partnership (that provides the district with enhancements in science teaching and learning); the rollout of technology purchased in the fall to support infrastructure, staff needs, and student work; receipt of an $8K grant from the state to continue quality work for high needs students being done at Horace Mann; and the addition to the Competency Based Education Task Force of early childhood representatives. Supt. Taymore also announced an MHS pilot program to address the teaching/learning and cost concerns around substitute coverage, where two experienced Melrose subs (who are known to students and staff and understand our academic expectations) will be consistently stationed in the cafeteria vs. classroom coverage.

Guest presenter Dorothy Presser from the Mass. Assoc. of School Committees (MASC) walked us through some basics on the importance, design, and implementation of norms. We then discussed our current document with members expressing an interest in simplifying them and making them more concise. It was also suggested that members sign them (a best practice according to Ms. Presser) in order for us to show our commitment to them. Proposals will be available for consideration at the next meeting.

Consent Agenda: Field trips coming up: 8th grade to NYC again in June; Italian exchange next year; small number of track team members to Providence for a meet on Friday. Many maintenance projects were completed by DPW; the Personnel Report noted that the Athletic Director/Director of Health and Wellness Pat Ruggiero plans to retire at year-end (with other personnel issues all related to staff leaves of absence); bills were approved for payment; and the budget summary was reviewed and approved.

Subcommittees: A new staff member will be hired in the area of Special Education at Lincoln School. The Classes of 2011-2013 are being contacted and offered the opportunity to close out their accounts by April, 2016 (necessary based on state regulation); otherwise the funds will be used in the district.  An International Students Policy was presented for review and approval. (It recognizes the difference between cultural exchange students sponsored by an approved organization like Rotary, cultural exchange students here as part of an MHS program, and tuition-paying students sponsored by an international education organization.)

Announcements of the Chair: Committee subcommittee assignments were noted as well as a new seating chart. Ms. Dugan reported that MHS is very excited to host an upcoming series of coffees for parents. She also noted that staff is currently working very thoughtfully on planning the best possible academic transition from 8th-9th grade possible for students. I noted that City Wide PTO was held Tuesday morning. (Notes in a previous blog post.)

Next meeting is January 26th in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall at 7:00 p.m. We will hear Supt. Taymore’s 2017 Budget Message, learn about tuition-paying foreign students at MHS, wrap up discussions around our norms, and address other responsibilities. Hope you can tune in!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Budget Timeline, Business Donations, Events, and more: City Wide PTO

Supt. Taymore was unable to attend this monthly meeting yesterday due to a prior commitment.

The group reviewed the School Committee/district 2017 budget timeline and process. (The relevant document can be found in the Committee’s meeting packet of December 8, 2015.) The Supt.’s Budget Message will be presented on 1/26 with the full Budget recommendation presented on 2/23. March will include a six hour Saturday session where administrators will present and speak to their budgets. The Committee will also host a Public Information Session on the budget in which the Supt. will answer community questions (sent in and/or presented that evening). Ed. Stations, ECC, and Campus Kids fees are usually discussed in early March, although that is not on the timeline yet. Segments of the budget will be discussed at each of the March and April meetings until all are complete. Voting on the final budget and associated fees is scheduled for early May. Presentation to the Board of Aldermen will be in late May or early June.

The “Request for Local Business Donation” form is complete, and is a collaborative document between the Chamber and PTO members as a way to communicate the year’s major PTO events to the business community so that businesses can plan when they might wish to donate, and to what events.

Elementary school PTO members continued to discuss how to involve more teachers in PTO meetings. PTO’s raise money for a wide variety of efforts, including teacher grants for various classroom and student needs, and hope to see the money fully accessed and employed in classrooms. Teacher input and feedback is valuable in these efforts. Various strategies were suggested, and PTO’s will continue to work with principals and staff to engage in two-way conversations for the benefit of students.

The Middle School PTO needs a President next year! Parents indicated that the fundraising work is substantially more limited than elementary fundraising, and that more effort is invested in providing information to parents about content areas and other academic issues. Interested parents can contact current PTO Board Members. More info here: https://sites.google.com/site/melrosevmmspto/.

Fundraising was touched on, with members talking about whether there is the will to join all elementary PTO fundraising efforts together (maybe under the PTO, Inc. umbrella). Some members felt that parents would rather contribute to their own schools rather than a large, city-wide group. Large vs. small fundraisers were discussed (golf tournaments vs. bake sales), with commenters noting that fundraisers can cycle, and budget priorities can dictate the type and amount of fundraising employed.

Coming up:
·               2/10: Melrose Forward, the City’s next iteration of its 10-year Master Plan, will hold a community forum at the Milano Center to hear from citizens about their vision for Melrose. Areas of study include transportation, sustainable energy, education, business, green space, etc. Many (if not most) of the City’s capital and space plans have come from this effort in the past, and is expected for this plan as well. Find them on Facebook.
·               3/3: Community Reading Day (when folks from around the community volunteer to read a book to an ECC/elementary class). It’s scheduled as closely as possible to Dr. Seuss’ birthday, and is a wonderful event for readers and students.

·               3/19: The Bridge’s main fundraising event, the annual Trivia Bee, will feature teams of three facing off against each other to claim this year’s title. It’s not just a competition, but also a community event, and is open to all. Registration is beginning and the entrance fee is $250.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

City of Melrose Inauguration: 2016

Last evening's Inauguration of Mayor Dolan, the Board of Aldermen, and the School Committee was a wonderful evening of commitment to the community, beautiful music, and thoughts for the coming year. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you in the interest of serving students, and here are my remarks from last night:

Good Evening Governor Baker, Mayor Dolan, Board Members, Department Heads, and Invited Guests,

It is an immense privilege for our School Committee to sit before you this evening as we commit ourselves to serving you and the children of the Melrose Public Schools in 2016.

The citizens of Melrose are the lifeblood of our schools. You are students, families, staff members, business partners, community partners, and volunteers. You are our inspiration and our aspiration. You are our school family and it’s you - the people in our lives - who matter and who make a difference.

Together, our school family achieved many successes in 2015:

·               Melrose was the only district in MA with three “commended” schools based on results of the PARCC test
·               The Lincoln School was named a national Blue Ribbon School
·               In a quick turn-around and out of five levels, the Horace Mann School moved from a Level 3 to a Level 2 school, so that we now have five Level I schools and only two Level 2 schools
·               Eight members of our HS staff were named Partners in Excellence by Mass Insight as a result of their work to improve student outcomes on recent AP exams; and MHS was named an AP Capstone Diploma school which supports equipping students with additional research, communication, and teamwork skills valued by colleges
·               We began implementation of over a million dollars of technology to improve district infrastructure, staff workstations, and student computing
·               Melrose High School is undergoing a complete revamping of its library into a state-of-the-art research, technology, and presentation center

But we have challenges to address in 2016 and beyond:

·               Like working harder at thoughtfully and consistently understanding and accepting all people, regardless of demographics
·               Ensuring we have enough quality classroom space for our burgeoning student population
·               And continuing to recruit, hire, train, and retain the best possible staff, because each student only gets one year in the 1st grade, the 12th grade, and every grade in-between.

This is a time of incredibly fast-paced change – technologically, politically, and of course, educationally. But we, as a state, a city, and a school family can come together and face challenges and change with a sense of purpose, honesty, and compassion. So I ask you to join the School Committee and our administration to build on the many achievements of our school district. We ask for your support and like-mindedness in being purposeful in our actions, honest in our communications, and compassionate in our thoughts and in our deeds. That’s what families do and what our school family must do to capitalize on change and provide our children with the high-quality education they so richly deserve. Thank you.