Welcome!

Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

School Committee Listening: A One-Month Sampler

In a diversion from typical reporting mode, thought I’d address a question heard throughout my School Committee tenure, which (paraphrased) is “How do you learn about community opinion, education trends, individual school situations, and other information that help inform your decisions?” In order to answer, below please find a sampling from my March calendar. It doesn’t include Committee meetings (3/5, 3/8, and 3/22), phone calls, e-mails, school visits (for another blog post), or independent meetings that also lend questions and data (qualitative and/or quantitative) in order to craft opinion.

·               Collective Bargaining Sessions with teachers (three meetings): As noted by Superintendent Taymore, the Committee has begun negotiations, using the Interest Based Bargaining protocol, with our teachers whose contract ends on August 31, 2016. Hearing the challenges of elementary, middle, and high school teachers around supporting students and families' needs in a way that respect a professional workplace environment as well as respectful compensation within the city’s financial ability is an important window into the day-to-day world of teaching and learning.
·               Community Reading Day (3/3): Sponsored by The Bridge, 96 readers reported to their assigned schools and classrooms to experience the excitement of classroom learning. It was my privilege to read Alexis O’Neill’s Loud Emily, the story of a little girl with a big voice who finds out what many had deemed a handicap was in fact a gift, to an amazing 4th grade class at Lincoln School. The engagement of children was a very special gift on that day.
·               Joint Committee on Education (3/7): An all day affair, Beacon Hill saw many speakers from around the state speak to House and Senate bills on Common Core, charter schools, mental health, summer learning, and career planning. Hearing what Joint Committee members asked, commented on, and considered was helpful as our Committee continues to advocate for Melrose students.
·               City Wide PTO (3/8): Always informative, this group of representatives from each PTO brings thoughtful and important questions to Supt. Taymore around academics, scheduling, social emotional learning, recess, head lice, and everything in between. There is also much sharing of fundraising efforts and how they can be improved, brainstorming challenges like bringing more families into PTO meetings, etc. It’s a great way to hear about the activities in individual schools and the concerns of parents.
·               MelroseForward (3/10): Work on the city’s 10-year revisit of the Master Plan found the group reviewing results from its successful February forum and discussing the “Housing and Economic Development” draft section of the plan. The ability to put school facilities into the context of an overarching vision for the city invites new ways of thinking about programming and family needs as education and learning evolves.
·               Oath of Office by newest member Jaime McAllister-Grande (3/14): City Clerk Mary Rita O’Shea made Jaime's membership official in front of her family, friends, and many Committee members. She arrives in the middle of budget discussions with energy, intellect, and a desire to make a difference. Hearing a unique perspective in Committee deliberations – as happens every time a member is sworn in – provides a different lens through which to filter data and information.
·               School Business Official Search Committee meetings (twice): With Director of Finance Jay Picone leaving at the end of April, the Committee directed Supt. Taymore to employ a search committee to explore a replacement. In any search committee, it’s often the questions asked of us by candidates that apply most to the work for which we’re responsible. The need to respond to “In Melrose, how do you…?” forces articulation of our processes and sometimes invites consideration around why a task is done a certain way, or critical thinking about an improvement potentially unconsidered.
·               The Bridge’s Trivia Bee (3/19): Although we once again failed to bring home the brass ring, the S’Cool Bees gave it a good run. A relaxed and fun evening for a fantastic cause, it always builds relationships and a sense of community and is a great way for people to ask questions about school in a casual environment, and to listen to what many different folks are thinking. It’s also a reminder of the privilege it is to serve our wonderful city.
·               Family Math Night (3/24): Wow. Kids, parents, all elementary principals, both instructional coaches, Dr. Adams, Melrose Ed. Foundation facilitators filling every square inch of the MVMMS cafeteria and engaging in the joy and challenge of mathematics. The energy and laughter was an important reminder that learning should be stimulating and purposeful in an inclusive way.
·               Board of Aldermen (3/28): The Appropriations Committee considered and approved the transfer of $131K (from monies that weren’t needed for the science labs project as we were on time and under budget) to the Learning Commons project currently underway. This money had to be used for a like project and needed to be applied within a specific timeframe, and this was the perfect way to address a “first alternate” project within the scope of the city’s budget. The funding will support a state-of-the-art “maker space” (this document was sent to the Board: https://web.mail.comcast.net/service/home/~/?auth=co&loc=en_US&id=485958&part=2) that allows students to craft objects resulting from their inquiry and research. The city/district may even be able to fund the furniture and supplies if contingency funding is available at the end of the project, estimated to be by end of summer. Understanding the city side of financing school projects greatly assists in comprehending why and how operational and capital expenses are planned and applied at budget time.

As you can see, Committee members have many ways to listen and learn from the Melrose community and around the state, whether in our liaison roles, attending events, or engaging in advocacy. It never seems like enough, and knowing more is always better than knowing less. So thanks to the people in this city who say what they like and what they don’t; to those who offer concerns (with bonus points if you can suggest a solution); to those with children in the schools and for those without children in the schools, both of whom want to live in a great city with great schools. Please keep the comments, information, opinions, and questions coming. It is much appreciated!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Late Start, Science Standards, ECC Fees, Music/Activity/Athletic Fees, OCR Policies, and More: 3/22 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 public session of our meeting kicked off with a ceremonial oath-taking of our newest member Jaime McAllister-Grande by Mayor Dolan. Welcome Jaime!

Supt. Taymore spoke to the recommendation of Middlesex League cities and towns to move start times for high school students to sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. in the FY18-19 school year. For Melrose, she recommended moving the secondary (both middle and high school) start time to 8:15 a.m. and the elementary start time to 8:03 a.m. beginning in the FY17-18 school year, and the Committee approved that recommendation. (Note: this item will appear on the 4/12 agenda for a vote of re-affirmation in order for the community to provide any additional comment.) Supt. Taymore provided two additional announcements; first, that the MVMMS and MHS PTO’s are partnering to bring a mental health expert to the district on Monday, April 4th at 6:30 p.m. at MVMMS to talk about “the impact of stress and the importance of emotional well-being” in the context of supporting our teens and their friends; and second, that based on Kindergarten enrollments, she recommends adding classrooms this year at Hoover and Horace Mann schools which means that with the current 15 K’s becoming 15 Grade One classes, instead of housing a fourth K at Lincoln and Roosevelt as this year, those two buildings would return to three K classrooms, but a third K (compared with two this year) would be housed at Hoover and Horace Mann.

Asst. Supt. of Teaching and Learning Margaret Adams along with Science, Technology, and Engineering Director Jon Morris presented the state’s new science frameworks for Kindergarten-Gr. 12. The presenters provided a lengthy chart detailing “disciplinary core ideas by grade,” along with a Powerpoint summarizing essential questions, background information, recommendations, and examples of student work.

Budget deliberations continued with a lengthy discussion of ECC fees (continued from the 3/8 meeting) with ECC Director Donna Rosso responding to queries. After significant discussion and debate, the Committee agreed to an 8% increase in annual tuition for ECC students. There was also substantive discussion around elementary music fees with Fine and Performing Arts Director Deb DiFruschia. Supt. Taymore introduced discussion of secondary activity fees, providing a chart listing practices of other local districts.  Athletic Director Pat Ruggiero reviewed proposed athletic fees, commenting that the increase in transportation, football/lacrosse helmet reconditioning, and venue expenses led to her recommendations. Supt. Taymore suggested that guidance, transcript, and photo class fees remain the same for next year.

The Policy and Planning agenda included a report from Supt. Taymore regarding OCR policies. She provided a chart relative to activities needed to meet the requirements along with the completion status of those requirements. The policies were submitted to OCR for their review and revisions/approval by 1/15 (on-time) but she did not receive a response. Another request for response was sent with no guidance forthcoming. Since there are competing deadlines and trainings must be held, OCR has given permission to use the old protocols in order to continue the district’s work. (Once the new policies are received, future trainings will be held to those standards.)

New subcommittee and liaison positions were announced, and a revised Rolling Agenda was presented (with legislators now scheduled for 6/28 from the original date of 4/26).

Finally, a formal announcement was made regarding the MA Association of School Superintendents’ conferring of the 2016 Women’s Educational Leadership Network Bobbie D’Alessandro Leadership Award to Supt. Taymore. Members provided praise and support for her work in the district.

Next meeting is Tuesday, April 12th at 7:00 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chamber of Melrose City Hall. The agenda is expected to include the following topics: proposed FY17 MS & HS Code of Conduct, proposed FY17 MS Program of Studies, re-affirmation of start time changes for FY18, and budget discussions including proposed FY17 Education Stations fees and school lunch prices.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Q & A with Supt. Taymore on the Budget

This past Tuesday, March 15th, Finance Subcommittee Chairman Chris Casatelli facilitated the Committee's second annual Public Information Session in which the Superintendent addressed questions e-mailed in advance, followed by questions from the audience. She noted in her remarks that:

*   The budget is a living document that changes frequently as we get more information.
*   The budget process is interactive and dynamic until the Mayor sends his budget to the Board of Aldermen (projected to be early May). 
*   Budget deliberations will begin with the Supt. talking about fees (next Tuesday). 
*   The Committee must send to the Aldermen a budget that falls within the city’s means. 
*   The state budget is not finalized. 
*   Legislators are pressing to raise per pupil payment to cities and towns to $50/student from $20/student, which would greatly support our budget. 
*   The House isn’t taking up the Governor’s budget until mid-April and then the Senate will take it up; then they’ll have to come to compromise (and it's possible that firm numbers from the state won't be determined until July).

Supt. Taymore addressed a wide variety of questions including issues surrounding level-service vs. level-funded budgets; ECC and/or Ed. Stations tuition potentially being higher for non-Melrose attendees; Kindergarten enrollment, class size, and paraprofessionals; the possibility of Assistant Principals for selected elementary schools; middle school team structure, library materials, and Performing Arts Center; MHS guidance needs, teaching area for a prospective new teacher, pathways, and tuitioned students; on-line and blended learning at the secondary level; long-term plan for facilities and the possible restructuring of grades into a model like middle = gr. 5-7 and high = gr. 8-12 after exploration by the Permanent School Building Committee (given that, after study, the Beebe is not a viable option although the potential for using modular classrooms is also a possibility). She also addressed questions on individualized learning, Competency Based Education and Project Based Learning; substitute pay and the potential to use parent volunteers as subs; athletics (including the budget impact of concussion safety); retention of teachers and the related importance of delivering the professional development that helps them advance by lane; the impact of previously enacted legislation (like sterilizing school-owned musical instruments), new legislation (like the Opioid Law signed this week for which districts await state regulations), and the possibility of new laws/regulations (like potential for state-mandated socials studies/history testing); needs for additional certifications for teachers and how that reduces available time for teachers to learn other things the district feels important; the continued need for print materials in addition to electronic materials since research shows that students prefer print; the potential for more vocational classes; educator evaluation; current partnerships with other cities/towns to realize efficiencies and improve services; grant funding and grant writing; English Language Learning challenges; the Supt’s budget priorities; and the impact of charter school funding on the district. Regarding making budget choices, Supt. Taymore concluded by saying “Your willingness to sacrifice is someone else’s need” so we can’t pit departments or groups against each other.

Ms. Casatelli thanked everyone who sent questions and came to the session, and also thanked the Supt. for her frank answers about the budget situation noting that it’s a challenge. She encouraged people to let us know their priorities for the budget and concluded by thanking everyone for doing their best for students. 

Next meeting: Tuesday, March 22nd at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Kindergarten, MHS Program of Studies, ECC Fees, FY17 Budget, and More: 3/8 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.)

Here’s a quick summary:

·               Middle School and High School representatives shared news-you-can-use information from their schools.
·               Supt. Taymore provided information on this year’s Kindergarten enrollment projections (at about 295 with registrations, continuing through the summer, and with five students requesting early entry to K). Classroom availability is being explored in earnest, with consideration being given to Hoover and/or Horace Mann schools rather than Lincoln and Roosevelt (since the latter two already have enrollments of over 400 students). Average regular ed class sizes in K may increase from 22 students to closer to 25. Costs include teacher(s), para(s), space, furniture, and potentially curriculum materials (if classrooms don’t already have them). Supt. Taymore doesn’t expect to announce school assignments until sometime in May. 
·               Winthrop School students along with Principal John Maynard talked about the interesting work they are doing, and shared with the audience (by way of a video) their new school song.
·               MHS Principal Marianne Farrell presented next year’s course offerings proposed in the Program of Studies. In English, they include African American Studies, Thinking About Thinking: An Introduction to Philosophy, Shakespeare Studies, and Screenwriting. Social Studies offers AP US History in different configurations as well as AP US Government and Politics. In Foreign Language, a higher-level Spanish course offered completely in the Spanish language is new, and is a dual enrollment opportunity with Salem State. In Science, students can elect AP Computer Science, Robotics, or Furniture Construction (the last thanks to alignment of the HS and MS schedules allowing access to certified staff and MS Tech Ed space). Visual Arts is offering Advanced Painting. By virtue of being named an AP Capstone School (similar to International Baccalaureate (IB)), MHS can offer an AP path for students that grants them an AP diploma (expected to add appeal to transcripts for college and certification programs). <Note: proposed elective classes and currently offered elective classes may or may not run depending on the enrollment; if class sizes are too small they are too costly to run, and they change from year to year depending on student interest as reflected in enrollments numbers.> In the course of discussion, Supt. Taymore indicated that construction of the Maker Space on the first floor (in the art wing) is two months ahead of schedule and they are starting work there in two weeks. The district can’t afford to outfit the space, so they are applying for grants, including one for a 3D printer.
·               ECC fees were discussed with a proposed increase of 5% (which includes absorption of utility costs in addition to direct costs). Concerns were raised about the other indirect costs, and discussion ensued around covering more of the costs without making increases exorbitant. The Committee agreed to revisit the discussion on 3/22.
·               Mayor Dolan provided information on the FY17 budget from a city perspective, noting that Melrose receives only 30% of its budget from the state. He discussed concerns around health insurance for employees and a wide variety of other challenges faced by the city. Ms. Casatelli invited the community to follow the budget process and weigh in.
·               Committee members provided liaison reports. The Competency Based Task Force met and includes a wide variety of very knowledgeable and dedicated people who are diligently working to explore this issue. Citywide PTO met the morning of 3/8 and Supt. Taymore spoke to the budget as well as the current photo protocol designed to protect children. (She advised PTO’s to request a separate sign-off by parents on-site at PTO events since the school day policy doesn’t apply.) The Joint Committee on Education met on 3/7 to hear testimony on a variety of education bills, including possible repeal of Common Core standards and raising the cap on Charter Schools.

Note: The FY17 budget process continues with the 3/15 Public Information Session, budget deliberations at coming meetings, the Public Hearing on 4/26, and anticipated vote on 5/10.

3/5 Saturday Budget Session: Special Education, Technology, and Administration

(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.)

Asst. Supt. of Pupil Personnel Services Patti White-Lambright, City of Melrose Director of Information Technology Jorge Pazos, and Supt. Taymore presented the final three topics.



Special Education: begins on p. 42

Asst. Supt. White-Lambright: is involved in more general education issues than people might think. Her work incorporates Accommodation Plans (also known as 504’s), school counseling services, Civil Rights, homeless students, and services to teachers (workplace issues, etc.) so in a way, she interacts with all students and teachers in the district. Special education involves children from age 3 through 22 and is a legal mandate (incorporating student needs and district philosophy). Melrose uses an inclusion model embracing school/community as a whole. It encourages adults to be positive role models, incorporate compassion and understanding, and allow access to education for all. Teacher licensure requires fifteen hours of special education training. Budget choices incorporate the shifting of resources, including the need to support Tier II students (which decreases the reactive and increases the proactive approach to improving learning). It allows for planning, including early intervention and helping Kindergartners who come from a learning experience other than the ECC. Evaluations of students allow opportunities to close the achievement gap. (My notes:* achievement gap is the gap between the performance of regular education students compared with students in groups deemed by the state to have higher needs; * a one-pager on “Tiers”  - also known as Massachusetts Tiered System of Support (MTSS) which is used in Melrose - is here: http://www.mass.gov/edu/docs/ese/accountability/mtss/blueprint-chapter-2.pdf.)

Notes based on questions to Ms. White-Lambright: Tier II services can be special ed. or not, and are not only beneficial to students but also more cost-effective. If students aren’t making progress, there is concern by the state that there is “lack of consistent instruction” and that can have negative consequences. Tier II services have been instrumental in closing the achievement gap. Tutors and other supports are used to help students close gaps, and sometimes they are only needed for short periods of time to get students on track. (There can be a point where students get too far behind and that results in other challenging issues, like seeing themselves as unsuccessful.) Implications of a level-service budget mean we sacrifice some Tier II for other Tier II services (e.g. choices around what work is done by a school psychologist – evaluations? direct support?). In theory, more Tier II services would decrease legal fees for special ed. cases, right? (Not necessarily because the overall population of special ed. students comes into play – the more special ed. students, the greater potential for a parent’s legal challenge around a student’s services (with appreciation for the fact that it is a parent’s right and duty to advocate for their child(ren)). There is an increase in the number of students on the autism spectrum and this is known because ECC Director Donna Rosso keeps administrators informed about her population. Do we start more sub-separate classrooms to help? (That sometimes doesn’t help since students need to be around general ed. students too, and it’s also expensive.) The District Curriculum and Accommodation Plan (DCAP) is a living document that is truly used in Melrose (unlike some communities where it gets “kind of dusty”). Melrose is doing a very good job maximizing it effectively, getting better every year after starting to “push” it four years ago. Melrose Education Team Facilitators (ETF’s) say they see its positive impact. Administrators and staff have had “deep conversations” about how teachers can use their best judgment to best benefit students. DCAP is “situational” (about individual students) and teachers talk about things like “What if a student hits the wall educationally?” “Does a student have too many accommodations” which is holding him/her back? How much student growth is developmental?. Regular ed. children don’t have federal mandates or legal requirements on class size; the special ed. class size laws came from Civil Rights vs. education legislation. Melrose does a very good job keeping students in-district (only 50 students placed out-of-district). There are costs no matter where a child received education; our philosophy is that all students should be able to access as many school offerings as possible, and some special ed. students may need accommodations (like a supportive adult paid by the school) to participate in an extra-curricular activity. The more involvement, the more cost.

Technology: Interspersed on pp. 49-50

Director of IT Jorge Pazos: Deployment of the new technology on carts went very smoothly. The city and schools each employ three people. Hardware expenses reside in the city budget and the schools take on software expenses. The two main budget line items are $25K in supplies (replacement keyboards, projector bulbs, cables, etc.) and $100K in licenses (Aspen, Survey Monkey, Soto Anti-Virus, IXL, etc.).

Notes based on questions to Mr. Pazos: As the world becomes more digital, the cost of licenses will increase. The HS Learning Commons will house 8000 books. When textbooks are purchased (note: curriculum materials expense, not tech.) we always buy the license, which helps backpacks weigh less since kids aren’t bringing the books home. Students say they prefer print materials though (ref:
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/bookmarks/2016/03/students_prefer_print_schools_pushing_digital_textbooks.html?intc=bs&cmp=SOC-SHR-GEN). Bandwidth is a difficult challenge and has been sufficient, but now there are even more Chromebooks, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), etc. Bandwidth has been raised from 30 mbps to 100 mbps and last year we doubled the bandwidth for only $200-300/year. We’re starting to look at costs for next year. With blended and on-line learning, is the only cost Virtual High School (VHS)? (No – need someone to vet the course, etc. which is a staffing concern.) Can we do software collaboration with other schools? (Possibly but since pricing is on a per-student basis, vendors aren’t incented to give discounts.) The HS is starting a student-run help desk, which is done in a few other districts; it will be housed in the Learning Commons and students will receive course credit for that work.

Administration: Interspersed on pp. 49-50

Supt. Taymore: There are minor increases in staff lines for salary raises. METCO is in expenses but they are somewhat offset by the state grant. METCO Director Doreen Ward would say that buses are a challenge and there is a late bus for HS students partially supported by the Rec. Dept., the school dept. and the boosters.

Notes based on questions to the Supt.: There are no requests for additional leadership support even though needed. More secretarial support would be helpful to take some work from principals. Space issues are a concern at the elementary schools and continue to be reconfigured to support needs. The older buildings were built using an educational model not used today (e.g. not built for special ed. and used to be a “6x6 model” of desks since students didn’t move around the room). But buildings can’t be replaced. Ideally need to base the building on delivery of service. The Supt. has asked City Planner Denise Gaffey to reconvene the Permanent School Building Committee to discuss space options. Enrollments look like a wave vs. a long-term trend, so how do we manage that? (Long-term forecasts show MA population declining.) It could not have been predicted that Melrose would become such a desirable city. Demographics have also shifted markedly: 40% of population was age 60 or higher and is now 12%. Re-opening the Beebe does not seem feasible. We also have to consider the needs of other municipal buildings like the police and fire stations.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

3/5 Saturday Budget Session: Secondary and Athletics

(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.)

Following Dr. Adams and the elementary principals, secondary principals Brent Conway and Marianne Farrell spoke to the proposed Middle School and High School budgets. Director of Health, Wellness and PE as well as Athletic Director Pat Ruggiero was up next with her Athletics budget.



Secondary: begins on p. 31

Principals: The high school and middle school aligned some blocks this year and the goal for next year is to align all blocks. An additional four ELL students enrolled in the MS the previous week and two in the HS; they share an ELL teacher. Civics is being taught to almost all 8th graders and physics is being taught to almost all 7th graders. Almost 95% of students take a foreign language allowing them to enroll in year two of the language in HS, but many students don’t get their first choice of language due to staffing limitations. Hope to add Robotics class at the HS this year. HS has added Individual Learning Plans (ILP’s) this year to provide goal-setting opportunities for students. They also had their first STEM Career Fair, which was very well attended and Ms. Farrell thanked all volunteers. It’s important for students to push schools to help support what they need and people are needed to facilitate those programs. Budget shortfalls will slow the pace that creates these kinds of opportunities.

Notes based on questions to the principals: With the populations that are coming up, we may need to reconfigure the MS/HS models. Every MS classroom is used every day so there’s no extra space there to add a grade. The MS is incorporating ILP’s too and this year there is a course request process in Aspen making it easier to build course schedules. Course requests are not available to the extent they are in the HS, but are more toward student interests than in the past. The minimum class enrollment cap has been increased to 15 students given the budget situation. Students with a unique talent/interest may be able to do on-line/blended learning. The prevailing education model is now educator-as-facilitator. The secondary position proposed in the budget isn’t a para or teacher. ILP’s put more pressure on school counselors (formerly called guidance counselors); looping 8th/9th gr. counselors is helpful. School Choice money has been used for staff but that’s fiscally risky because it’s technically one-time money. In the area of Health & Wellness, five staff members are also PE certified and staff is shared between the MS and HS. There is concern that no one is “leading the charge” for the investment in technology/Learning Commons/on-line and blended learning. The staff has worked hard in this area. Chromebooks are used at about a 95% rate in the MS. With the new Learning Commons, students will want to spend even more time there and we need someone to oversee it (not a teacher/not a para). At the MS, there are 50-60 students/day in the library until 4:00 and that model (and more) needs to apply to the HS. The Supt. has done learning walk-throughs and the technology is constantly in use; she explores the thought process around enhancing lessons using technology with teachers. A Director of Tech. can enhance, not replace teachers’ work. Content Directors do walk-throughs and assess the impact/consequences of technology use.

Athletics: begins on p. 38

Ms. Ruggiero: Increases in cost relate in great part to health and safety of students. Football helmets have a ten-year shelf life, but they must be reconditioned every year. Lacrosse players used to purchase their own helmets but that’s not safe since the school should confirm that all helmets meet standards, so this year the school took that on and those helmets have to be reconditioned too. Indoor track has grown and they do more travel (to the Reggie Lewis Center and to Harvard). Facilities rental fees are up because they also provide equipment needed for the sport.

Notes based on questions to Ms. Ruggiero: Athletics budgets are variable and we try to build in contingencies for playoffs (refs, buses), etc. Athletics and the arts support social emotional learning (SEL) by students; other ways we include SEL is in classrooms (positive behavior systems, etc.). Training of teachers on SEL (or anything else) is the challenge; it costs $115K for one added day of training. SEL is not specifically called out in the budget, but we’re working on it regardless. Across communities we see much more opioid abuse, suicide, and trauma, and social workers help with “wrap-around services.” The Melrose Emergency Fund has been very helpful. Mayor Dolan asked if an MSW or LICSW would be useful in the Director of the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition position and the answer is yes. Regarding gate receipts, we currently charge for football, basketball (one ticket for girls/boys combined), girls hockey, and the first round of volleyball playoffs. (Boys hockey receipts are kept by Kasabuski where they play.) Once police details, team doctor, gate officials, and chain officials are paid (for football), there is little revenue left (maybe 10%). Tickets are now $7 for adults, $5 for students (and were recently raised from $6 and $4 respectively). The Lions have been partners on concessions for football and boys/girls basketball; they split the profits with us 50-50. Transportation increases (even with declining gas prices) are due to labor and health insurance escalation. Re: hockey, the DCR has put out a bid to privatize rinks without the option to prioritize school use. DCR can’t maintain them (e.g. the Flynn needs a new $2M chiller), but privatizing will result in less public use and school issues. Ms. Ruggiero is retiring at the end of the school year and replacing her at full salary will be a challenge. We need a Health/Wellness program that continues to align with state standards and we are a model program; we need SEL curriculum from K-12; we need to continue quality Health/Wellness electives. A replacement for Ms. Ruggiero needs to be Health/Wellness certified and also have supervisor certification (since the job requires evaluation of staff).

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

3/5 Saturday Budget Session: Curriculum/Instruction & Elementary

(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 sunny morning of March 5th found Melrose education leaders at City Hall’s Aldermanic Chamber before the Committee speaking to their budget requests for FY17. It was an opportunity for the community to hear directly from our leaders about their needs and requests related to improving student achievement.



Curriculum and Instruction: begins on p. 45

Dr. Adams: Difficult choices need to be made in the area of curriculum materials. Melrose will meet its second payment (of three) of $88K for the elementary reading materials called Reading Street. However, no social studies materials (recommended by the Social Studies Program Review), or science materials that would begin to align the district with the new science frameworks are included. There is also no line item to set us on a cyclical path for replacement materials in all content areas. (Previous comment from Supt. Taymore: curriculum materials should be replaced about every seven years.) A needed Scantron data collection machine and testing materials are added to the budget this year.  Course reimbursements for teachers (who are contractually able to access and increase their knowledge) continue as do mentoring memberships. A .5 teacher for ELL (since we currently have 120 ELL students including 64 students at Lincoln and 24+ at Roosevelt) is added. We would likely be cited by DESE if we don’t employ this new teacher.

Notes based on questions to Dr. Adams: * Partnerships with Salem State allow for low cost or free professional development (PD); * staff is still developing technology skills but the use of technology is increasing; * memberships allow teachers the opportunity to bring what they’ve learned back to the district and share it; * Melrose has done a huge amount of PD and has opened that option up to other districts (and it’s good for teachers to hear another voice); * the ten SEEM districts are using Election Day for PD, and teachers can travel to different sites where different learning options will be offered; * our pay scale is not the most competitive, but many opportunities for PD allow teachers to move based on the contract’s lane schedule providing a financial benefit.

Elementary: begins on p. 14

Elementary Principals: The goal is to maintain what we have and meet our financial obligations. Curriculum materials that are consumables must be replaced and a new cohort of K students will need materials. One question is how to fully reap the benefits of the new technology without Library Media or Academic Facilitator services. The Instructional Coaches have done 70 sessions of PD, just at the elementary level. In terms of staffing, we’ll need to add a 5th grade at Winthrop (housed in the computer lab which is a smaller space). At Lincoln this year there are 19 classrooms so classes need to be divided and recombined into 27-30 students in PE/art/music since there aren’t enough teachers for a smaller class size (and paras are very helpful in the buildings because they can accompany classes to the specials during teachers’ Common Planning Time).
ELL services continue to be a challenge.

Notes based on questions to the Principals: If possible, the district tries to buy curriculum materials ahead (for the coming year); * additional administrative help is needed in buildings – especially Roosevelt and Lincoln which both house 400+ students; * if K’s are added, they may have to go to HM or Hoover, moving art/music; * NAEYC Accreditation is held for K’s at all the elementary schools and is needed to qualify for the K grant so it’s a good investment; * consumables are purchased by the district and not parents (as often happened in the past); * K tours were very popular this year, often with over 60 people per tour; * one way teachers support Social Emotional Learning is by employing classroom routines that the students know and use, and building the independence of students is a challenge at the beginning of the year but once employed effectively, also helps classroom workability; * there is one Integrated K in each building with 18 students vs. 25; * there is no social worker for elementary built into the budget; * as a country, schools are seeing more students enter with behavioral health needs like anxiety, trauma, and refugee situations and ultimately without a social worker, there may come a time when we have to outplace some students.

Coming up: More on the 3/5 session including Secondary, Athletics, Special Education, Technology, and Administration!