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 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).