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, February 29, 2016

Educator Evaluations, Campus Kids Fees, FY17 Budget Proposal, MVMMS School Choice, Legislative Resolutions, and More: 2/23 School Committee Meeting

(Reminder: official minutes of the Melrose School Committee can be found on the melroseschools.com web site following approval by the Committee. My notes are below, and edits and errors are mine alone.)

 At last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, the Superintendent began her report with an analysis of the Melrose piece of DESE’s annual Educator Evaluation Report. (308 Melrose educators were evaluated last year, including 24 administrators and 262 teachers. Of the teachers, 177 were professional status, and 85 were non-professional status. Her notes included the fact that districts can’t be compared with each other to determine whether one district has teachers who are more proficient; the evaluation cycle is one of “continuous self-reflection, goal-setting, and growth”; DESE’s regulations require an educator to be proficient in all four measurement standards to be considered proficient – if they are not proficient in even one standard (for which they potentially haven’t received training yet, e.g. data analysis) they would receive a needs improvement rating); 32% of teachers have taught in Melrose for three years or less, and many have recently graduated and are developing their skills; evaluation of long-term subs is required and 20-25 of evaluations could fall into that category; the union is a partner in the evaluation system; the bar is set high, but even exemplary educators receive the training and support they need to improve.) She also spoke to the fact that School Improvement Plans have been updated and posted to school web sites, and that there will be a 5th grade spelling bee held at Memorial Hall on Monday, March 7th at 7 p.m.

Campus Kids fees were approved with a 5% increase (in the interest of covering direct costs and at least the electricity portion of indirect costs).

Supt. Taymore presented her proposed FY17 budget:

·      Six new positions were proposed: an elementary art/music specialist to accommodate enrollment increases; a Special Education teacher and paraprofessional who specialize in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at Lincoln; a Grade 5 teacher at Winthrop; a Library Media Technology Specialist to oversee, facilitate, and support students in the MHS Learning Commons while the current Library Media/Academic Facilitator are teaching/co-teaching classes; .5 ELL teacher at Roosevelt; .2 Occupational Therapist at the ECC; and a Social Worker to address social/emotional/behavioral needs.
·      Contracted services proposed increases are for the high school’s Mass Insight program (for AP support) that is no longer funded by a grant; athletic transportation; Special Education services; legal fees for open cases; software licenses; professional development for teachers; and middle school subscriptions, funds for handbooks/agendas, etc.
·      Instructional Materials are requested for the elementary reading curriculum, secondary level textbooks, and athletics supplies.
·      Equipment and technology needs include a classroom Smartboard, consumable tech costs, Scantron/data analysis support, and portable projectors and bulbs at the secondary level.
·      The use of one-time monies (structural deficit) will continue, with the city’s total contribution expected to include initial monies available at the beginning of the fiscal year combined with monies expected to come to the city in the fall (and approved for transfer to the schools by the Board of Aldermen), as has been the practice in the past.

(Note: since the 2/23 meeting, Supt. Taymore has posted a revised draft budget. The document will continue to evolve throughout the budget process as more information becomes known.)

The Committee voted to approve School Choice at MVMMS for next year, allowing ten seats in 6th grade and ten seats in 7th grade. The Committee performed the Supt’s Mid-Cycle Goals Review, assessing progress on her goals, using the evidence she provided, and making a variety of suggestions for continuing to effectively execute those goals. (Her yearly evaluation is scheduled for late spring.)

A new Rolling Agenda was provided for the Committee and community to see what agenda items are coming up for the year.

In the area of advocacy, the Committee voted to approve the Suburban Coalition Resolution calling for “the Massachusetts Legislature and the Governor of Massachusetts to fully fund and adopt the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission in the immediate future.” In addition, the Committee voted to approve a letter requesting that the legislature maintain the cap on charter schools, noting: “Until charter schools are required to be as publicly accountable as traditional public schools, until they are required to meet the needs of all students, and until an equitable funding formula is created, there should be no lifting of the charter school cap.”

Before our next regularly scheduled meeting, we’ll hold a budget meeting on Saturday, March 5th at 8:00 a.m. in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall. At that time, administrators will provide overviews of their sections of the proposed FY17 budget. The meeting is anticipated to be taped (with live viewing TBD.)

Friday, February 26, 2016

Melrose School Committee Votes to Keep Charter School Cap

This past Tuesday, the Committee voted unanimously (with one absent) to send the following letter advocating keeping the charter school cap: 

Dear Senator Lewis, Representative Brodeur, Senator Chang-Diaz, Representative Peisch, and all Members of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education:

In keeping with the recent NAACP and Mass. Lawyers’ Committee charter cap lawsuit, the Melrose School Committee urges you to maintain the current cap on charter schools in Massachusetts.  According to a recent Boston Globe article, reporter Allison Pohle states: "charter schools divert millions of dollars from traditional public schools each year, but serve far fewer students with disabilities and who are English language learners, as well as impose harsher discipline on students of color." The inequity in the funding formula and the inequity in addressing the educational needs of students with disabilities and those who are English language learners need to be resolved fairly before any lifting of the cap.

While charter schools provide a valid educational alternative to families seeking a quality education for their children, they do so at the expense of funding for traditional public schools and in the absence of equal accountability and access for students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Until charter schools are required to be as publicly accountable as traditional public schools, until they are required to meet the needs of all students, and until an equitable funding formula is created, there should be no lifting of the charter school cap. Only when these inequities are resolved will charter school education be free of the devastating polarization it has caused communities.

In support of this plea, we attach the recent article by reporter Allison Pohl of the Boston Globe, and the 2012 NAACP Resolution on Charter Schools.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.


Margaret Driscoll, Chairman
Melrose School Committee

cc:       Melrose School Committee
            Superintendent Cyndy Taymore
            Melrose Board of Aldermen


The NAACP Resolution on Charter Schools: Segregation is Not Innovation

In a process established by the NAACP Constitution, this resolution was adopted by the delegates to the 101st Annual Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, during the legislative session in July, 2010. It was subsequently ratified by the NAACP National Board of Directors at its meeting on October 15, 2010. This resolution is now the policy of the Association, and is “binding on the Board of Directors, the Executive Committee, the Officers, and all units.”

WHEREAS, charter schools are public schools which were originally designed to explore new approaches to educate students; and

WHEREAS, in some cases, charter schools have become a school model that is used to segregate students; and

WHEREAS, charter schools have too seldom informed the education community regarding innovative instructional strategies that accelerate academic achievement in the general population of students; and

WHEREAS, the Center for Research in Educational Outcomes (CREDO) which examined charter school data in fifteen (15) states and the District of Columbia confirmed that only 17% of the charter school students in the study outperformed their peers, while 46% performed no better and 37% performed worse; and

WHEREAS, charter schools operate more autonomously than traditional public schools in the use of funds, adherence to state laws and school policies, selection and removal of students, and the selection and removal of staff, thus creating separate and unequal conditions for success; and

WHEREAS, charter schools draw funding away from already underfunded traditional public schools; and

WHEREAS, the NAACP recognizes that at best, quality charter schools serve only a small percentage of children of color and disadvantaged students for whom the NAACP advocates relative to said population left behind in failing schools; and

WHEREAS, the NAACP recognizes the urgent need to provide quality education for all children, not only those fortunate enough to win lotteries to attend existing quality charter schools; and

WHEREAS, the NAACP is committed to finding broad based, effective solutions for immediate implementation to improve the quality of public education for all children.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP will strongly advocate for immediate, overarching improvements to the existing public education system; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP rejects the emphasis on charter schools as the vanguard approach for the education of children, instead of focusing attention, funding, and policy advocacy on improving existing, low performing public schools and will work through local, state and federal legislative processes to ensure that all public schools are provided the necessary funding, support and autonomy necessary to educate all students; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NAACP will urge all of its Units to work to support public schools throughout the nation to educate all children to their highest potential.

Roslyn M. Brock                               Leon Russell                                   Benjamin Todd Jealous
Chairman                                           Chairman                                        President & CEO
National Board of Directors           Committee on Resolutions

Boston.com Staff | 01.28.16 | 3:21 PM

The New England Area Conference of the NAACP and the Massachusetts Lawyers’ Committee, as well as seven Boston Public School students, announced Thursday that they have moved to intervene with a pending lawsuit that looks to lift the state cap on the number of charter schools.

A motion to intervene is filed by a party other than the plaintiffs or defendants who has a vested interest in the subject matter of the case. In this scenario, the groups are getting involved because they say charter schools divert millions of dollars from traditional public schools each year, but serve far fewer students with disabilities and who are English language learners, as well as impose harsher discipline on students of color.

“We’re not anti-charter school at the Lawyers’ Committee,” said Matthew Cregor, education project director of the lawyers’ committee for civil rights and economic justice. “But we have to wonder what would happen to students of color, english language learners, and students with disabilities who are not being served by schools if the cap was lifted. We need to hear from students who attend traditional public schools in this case.”

The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in Suffolk Superior Court September 15, 2015, are five anonymous students who did not secure charter school seats during the school lottery. Instead, they were assigned to traditional Boston public schools that the state classified as “underperforming.” They are suing the state to lift the cap.

The lawyers in the case, William Lee, Michael Keating and Paul Ware, said in a statement that they filed the suit to lift the cap to ensure greater access to public charter schools, which have a proven record of providing quality education to students across Massachusetts, including students of color.

“This lawsuit has never suggested that lifting the charter cap will solve every problem facing the public education system,” they said. “Efforts to address other systemic issues, however, should not come at the expense of thousands of students who are being denied access to charter schools because of the state’s arbitrary cap. We should be promoting charter schools, not trying to limit them.”

Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP, said the organization wants to see students provided with the greatest education that our resources will allow.

“We firmly believe that setting up a separate system is destructive to the notion of providing the best education for all students,” he said.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation in October that would lift the current cap of 120 charter schools statewide. The bill would allow 12 new or expanded charter schools each year in districts that score in the bottom 25 percent on standardized tests, including Boston.

“The thing is, the plaintiffs’ goals are really not that different than the goals of the state’s Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, or other defendants,” Cregor said. “That’s why we think the court needs to hear from public school students who are affected by funds that are diverted away from public schools.”

When a student enrolls in a charter school, state law requires that the public school district in which they reside pay the student’s tuition costs. The state is then supposed to reimburse that cost.

But that doesn’t always happen. The lack of charter school reimbursements are a main cause of the $50 million Boston Public Schools budget gap for this coming school year, according to school officials. This year’s reimbursements covered less than half the cost of students who left the district, leaving a deficit of $18.6 million.

Baker proposed a new plan to reimburse districts for funding lost to charter schools, which would double the amount districts receive in the second year from 25 percent to 50 percent of the lost tuition.

“But that doesn’t cover the cost of lost tuition,” Cofield said. “Even if one hadn’t seen the numbers on discipline, the governor’s plan is evidence that this will continue to be a problem, and more charter schools would only make it worse.”

Last fall, Attorney General Maura Healy moved to dismiss the lawsuit to lift the charter cap. That motion is currently pending. If it fails, Cregor expects the next hearing will happen in the spring.


Monday, February 15, 2016

MVMMS School Choice, Campus Kids Fees, OCR Actions, Liaison Sharing, and More: 2/9 School Committee Meeting

(Reminder: official minutes of the Melrose School Committee can be found on the melroseschools.com web site following approval by the Committee. My notes are below, and edits and errors are mine alone.)
The meeting opened with a Public Hearing on the middle school’s proposal to welcome ten school choice students to 6th grade and ten to 7th grade in FY17. (The vote is scheduled for 2/23.) Following the Hearing, Roosevelt School students, along with Principal Maranto, presented an overview and Powerpoint of the things that make their school unique and special. Supt. Taymore provided updates on the technology roll-out (seven of eight schools completed, and Central Administration scheduled for next week meaning no computers or phone on Thursday and Friday 2/18-19); graduation and drop-out rates (noting that some of our students are not candidates for diplomas but instead receive certificates of attainment, and that the high school takes a variety of steps to encourage students who have dropped out to return and complete their schooling); the MPS teachers who have been accepted into selective training programs; using technology to improve Kindergarten placements; and internal decision-making processes around keeping or cancelling student foreign travel.
The Consent Agenda was approved and included meeting minutes from January 26th; E-camp field trip requests; a request to send an orchestra student to the All State Music Festival in Boston; the Cafeteria Report; the Personnel Report; the Monthly Budget Summary; and a number of bills.
 In the Finance and Facilities Subcommittee portion of our meeting, Campus Kids fees for this summer were considered. Fees were raised about 3%. There was discussion around the fact that only direct costs were considered in the equation and a motion to approve the fees was postponed until the next meeting when indirect fees are expected to be considered as well. Ms. Casatelli spoke to the Budget Timeline, re-confirming the timeline presented earlier. Legal fees were discussed, including the purpose for different charges, timeliness of bills, and how we expect attorneys to break out fees to ensure proper payment.
In the area of Educational Programs and Personnel, Supt. Taymore presented the Action Steps that will address the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) resolution, including who will be involved, the timing, third-party partners, etc. A discussion of the timeline, job description, and salary range in preparation of a search for a new School Business Official was also held. (It is anticipated that the Superintendent will present the name of a recommended candidate on April 12th.)
Announcements of the Chair included discussion around potential separate meetings of the Educational Programs and Personnel Subcommittee; approval of Committee norms (which will undergo annual review next January); Liaison Reports from members reflecting information from the MHS PTO, Melrose Human Rights Commission, Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, and City Wide PTO meetings; an invitation to review the Glossary of Educational Terms that is continuously updated on the web site; and a reminder that we will perform the Superintendent’s Mid-Cycle Review on 2/23.
Next meeting is Tuesday, February 23rd at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber of Melrose City Hall. All are welcome!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Deadline Approaching for College Scholarships Benefiting MHS Students!

This past week, the Melrose High PTO hosted board members from the Melrose High School Permanent Scholarship Fund (http://www.mhsfund.org/index.html). The Fund began in 1960 and remains a recognized 501©3 in service to college-bound MHS students. With the blessing of the PTO, I’m sharing notes from a PTO member that includes highlights of the Scholarship Fund Board’s presentation. (Edits and errors mine.)
Ø  In 2015, the Board distributed $260K in scholarships (up from $150k several years ago).
Ø  The money for last year’s distribution came from several sources, the two largest being dividends from investments and donations. 
Ø  The Board is hoping to disperse a similar amount this year. After fundraising efforts are complete, Treasurer Jeff Pitcher will determine how much money will be allocated to this year’s program.
Ø  The #1 thing our kids can do to help sustain this program for future years is to write a thank you note to the people who fund the scholarship they receive, letting them know where they are going to school, what they hope to study, and their appreciation.  Including a senior picture is a nice touch that is valued by donors.
Ø  There are many scholarships and some of them, but not all, have stipulations (e.g., must have attended Horace Mann, must be going to Holyoke College, must be a baseball player, must be a Protestant girl).
Ø  Each student is provided with a generic application packet to fill out. Students do not apply for specific scholarships but do provide a lot of information that will be used to match them with scholarships that have stipulations.  Some scholarships are based on need, some are based on merit, and some have no specific criteria.
Ø  MHS teacher Suzanne Fogarty and eight teachers divide up the applications and interview students. They then regroup to determine the scholarship awards.
Ø  Scholarships are awarded the week of graduation and are printed in the graduation program.
Ø  One student may be listed as receiving only one scholarship and another may be listed as receiving four or five, but it’s likely that the one scholarship contains much more money than the amount in each of the individual scholarships.
Ø  The application asks for annual income of the parents and some parents will not provide this information, which makes them ineligible for need-based scholarships. Only Ms. Fogarty and the eight teachers see this financial information and then it is shredded. 
Ø  The student receives a voucher for the scholarship and can turn it in when he/she wants the funds to be sent to the college. Students have a multi-year window (stated in the award letter) to use this one-time voucher. Money is always sent directly to the school and never to the student.
Ø  Ms. Fogarty told of a student who was getting a “free ride” to college who received a scholarship, and then asked to be removed from the program so there was more money for other students.
Ø  Packets are due Feb 24th.  No late packets will be accepted.
Ø  For a full list of scholarships, click here http://www.mhsfund.org/pdfs/mhspsfpermanentfunds.pdf.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cool (and Slightly Wonky) Education Discussion (2/9 Citywide PTO): Part 3 of 3

Third, this part is less wonky, more social/emotional/behavioral:

Social emotional learning (SEL) is a topic that is gaining more attention and focus as districts are asked to increase work around supporting the “whole child,” with research showing that it supports improved academic outcomes for students. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the definition of social emotional learning is: …”the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Their work is here: http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/

The last segment of Tuesday’s Citywide PTO included a thoughtful discussion of SEL, its history (in broad terms and in Melrose), implementation, examples, and more. Supt. Taymore spoke to the district’s employment of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) model that is currently used in the elementary schools. It originated from Special Education Law about 40 years ago and “took off” around seven to eight years ago. The first application in Melrose was at the Lincoln School where Mr. Conway implemented the CARES system. Because it needs to be organic, each school has their own PBIS. The programs have grown significantly over the last three years, with schools having their own mascots as well as common language and expectations. In many cases, families are using this language in their homes to partner with the schools. The ECC is doing focused work in this area too. Kindergartens use the “Incredible, Flexible You” curriculum (more here: http://www.theincredibleflexibleyou.com/). Many administrators spent time last summer working with the Educator Effectiveness Guidebook for Inclusive Practice, a DESE resource “to create a place for all students to thrive in general education settings. (More here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/edeval/guidebook/Guidebook.pdf.) There is never enough money for what the Supt. refers to as research and development, but the Melrose Education Foundation (MEF) has been very generous in their support of R&D in the schools. Supt. Taymore is evolving the district’s Strategy Overview (http://d1868cr0a5jrv6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/MelroseStrategyOverviewFY16Decupdate.pdf) to present social emotional learning more overtly (see especially p. 4). More professional development is planned in this area. A next step is to build on this mapping using the recently released report from the Rennie Center (http://www.renniecenter.org/topics/SEL_policy.html).  

Supt. Taymore chairs the professional development committee of the Mass. Assoc. of School Supt’s (MASS), and they have done an entire conference on SEL. They spent time talking about the rise in student trauma, anxiety, depression, etc. and are working with experts from the Dept. of Public Health (DPH) and Dept. of Mental Health (DMH) on this issue. The emerging thought is that there must be a shift away from student accountability. The new federal education law, ESSA, includes “soft” measures of achievement (as noted in my previous blog post) because there has been so much pushback on traditional accountability (like testing) from teachers, parents, and health professionals. In Melrose, she is trying to build a sustainable SEL system.

The Supt. contends that at this time, it is tougher being a teacher than it was 30 years ago. It’s tougher to be a student too. Some community members and parents say things like “we don’t get enough students into Harvard,” and at the same time say “our kids are stressed.” Higher ed is starting to see this dichotomy and are hopefully shifting the paradigm. Supt. Taymore doesn’t want to lose the advances made in curriculum and instruction; she sees that students need skills to find and use information because there is so much content now. Teaching in this era means one can’t be a “filing cabinet teacher” (one who uses the same lessons for each class every year forever), or a “sardine can teacher” (one who opens the sardine can of the classroom and pours the content into the tin of students). Staff members like social workers can be supportive to teachers and students in this work.

One challenge: how will parents react to SEL? Some parents think this work should be done exclusively in the home and schools should stay out of it, while other parents feel it is critical in schools. There are students who are stressed when navigating the use of SEL strategies, e.g. what if it’s used at school but not valued at home? What if it’s used at a custodial parent’s house but not at a non-custodial parent’s house (or vice-versa)?

[A Citywide parent asked about the use of restorative justice as a practice in the schools. (More on the concept here: http://restorativejustice.org/.) MVMMS has a team attending a grant-sponsored event regarding this topic with other local educators.]

SEL is not a “silo’d” approach. Research is showing mixed results for a “canned” curriculum because it doesn’t build a culture, so Supt. Taymore feels that embedding it into all areas of the schools’ work is the best approach. (Also, it’s expensive to train new staff members on specific curriculum every time there is a new hire so embedding it is more fiscally responsible.) Another Citywide parent mentioned that one thing MVMMS principal Mr. Conway is doing is beginning the practice of not bringing dates to the traditional 8th grade semi-formal, and one way she thought parents could support that kind of change would be to have a mandated parent information night like the high school’s mandated parent prom info nights. Supt. Taymore indicated that parents must understand that we teach all students, and some have extreme behaviors; there are stresses in classrooms for the students with the behaviors and the students who witness and experience those behaviors. (SEL learning can help with that.) Reflecting back on the curriculum piece, the Supt. is very concerned about asking a teacher to take it on (for example, a 3rd grade teacher), since they aren’t clinicians. The state is talking about mandating alcohol/drug screening for 7th and 10th graders (ref: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/09/24/bill-would-mandate-school-drug-screenings/nNB5B5BGKpBeRbIDgIzsfI/story.html) and she worries that teachers will need to decide whether a student needs intervention services.

At the elementary level, students are employing devices like “accountable talk.” At the high school, when the Urban Improv program caused concern among some participants and parents, it was determined that students need more skills around how to listen, take perspective, and develop a two-way dialogue. This realization gave teachers an “aha!” moment: they asked themselves whether they were modeling those practices in their own classrooms. Supt. Taymore is working with teachers in so many academic areas now – new elementary reading social studies texts, etc. and struggles to ask them to do even more. If we work on the culture piece, it will build capacity to embed SEL in the content work being done. One implementation of this work is found in using the first three days of the school year for three specific purposes: build relationships between and among teachers and students; build routines; and set class expectations. Supt. Taymore will continue to follow this topic closely and work with staff to embed quality SEL practices for the benefit of students.