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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!