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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Emerging Third Way: Hosted by Empower Schools

Why was this free, two-hour session at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art a useful take for a School Committee member in a high-performing, suburban district? Key players in education policy and practice hosted, moderated, commented, opined, and followed. The direction of education in our state was on display this morning; and the laws, regulations, and money that will attend school districts in the future were on the table.

In the house: public school districts, think tank folks, charter proponents, teacher’s union reps, Jt. Ed. Committee Co-chairs Chang-Diaz and Peisch, MASC, and others. People in the room acknowledged that the demographic of the audience was not reflective of the public school demographic.

ICA Director Jill Medvedow opened, referencing this morning’s NPR segment on refugees who had been shipwrecked due to overcrowding. She noted that students today don’t have the boats to carry them and they are traveling over large oceans. “Boats must be strong and the ocean must be navigable.”

A brief video showcased the intention of The Third Way, indicating that we should embrace the “and” and not the “or;” and that the Third Way is about synergy and progress, building schools, and bold steps.

Empower Schools Managing Partner Brendan Lessy thanked the sponsors (MassINC and The Boston Foundation), identified the intent around taking “the best” from charters to address systemic problems, and said that the Third Way is not a destination, but a mindset.

MASSInc’s Research Director Ben Forman spoke to “a rapidly changing economy,” that Gateway cities have enormously innovative leaders and teachers, and that charters and traditional publics should be linked together.

MA Secretary of Education Jim Peyser said that we think of him as the “charter guy,” said he is a staunch supporter of charter schools, and noted that schools, not districts, are units of change. He “doesn’t mean state agencies and the federal government don’t matter, but they establish the conditions in which locals can thrive.” To thrive, he says schools need world class assessments so they can measure student learning; quality data; a pipeline of effective leaders; transparent, predictable, sustainable finances; and the authority to act and accountability for results. Getting all conditions right is the challenge and authority and accountability is reason for charters. Empowering school leadership is critical because the opposite removes personal responsibility. To complement that criterion, we must empower parents (who should not be locked into a school option based on zip code). The traditional way typically disadvantages children of color. Charters are one solution, not necessarily the only solution. There are only 81 charter schools in the state and he “think[s] we can do better after the cap is lifted in November.” All students need equitable access to quality schools. Sharing services and reallocating resources is critical.

CEO of Empower Schools Chris Gabrieli spoke to the Third Way being additive, outside the comfort zone of charters. It includes universal access, accountability, and an empowerment culture. It has three prongs: convergence of powerful practices, alignment and integration of district and charter alignment (as in Denver), and Third Way zones (rules for clusters of schools that are different from district schools). Each zone is a particular cohort of schools. Zones are different in different places for innovation and efficiency. Each cohort has independent board (that includes a SC member) but the majority of the oversight board is independent. Two critical agreements come into play: a zone has an agreement with a district but authority to make decisions, and the union stays (collective bargaining with “crucial freedoms.”). Blazing the Third Way is collaborative and voluntary; builds on the best locally and beyond (i.e. not everyone must go since keeping the best and veteran district educators can play a key part); centers on personalization at every level; and has the potential for replication and scale. “The Third Way is broad river with large tributaries.”

Featured panels (“Charter School Leaders on the Move to District Schools,” “The Lawrence Experience,” “Innovations in Boston and Denver,” “Springfield’s Empowerment,” and “Principals Breaking Through”) related stories around the impact of Third Way work. Some comments:
·               The platform should be the same for all schools: health and safety, creating a sense of pride and belonging, and offering a broad set of extra-curriculars and opportunities for self-actualization (in the form of academic rigor).
·               Faces in the school building don’t always mirror those in the classroom so if we’re going to improve, we have to empower communities to help.
·               51% of American children are living at or near the poverty line. Lawrence is seeking invested and committed teachers and leaders to employ a culture that promotes education.
·               Keys to success are leadership, data, relationships with community organizations, and the courage to fight bitter battles.
·               The importance of governance in each school (as in many BPS now) reflects work and trust with the teacher’s union.
·               We are now in a long-term transition focused on choice, competition, accountability, and results.
·               Students who face abject poverty need to partner with caring adults and there need to be opportunities for the whole child.
·               Teachers and principals need to “own the work,” because “when someone else makes the decisions for you, it’s easier to blame someone else.”

Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester said that nationally there has been limited success on district turnaround but he is convinced that we can do better by students in challenged MA districts. The goals are to improve education for students and districts, and establish “proof points and practices that will inform district reforms” by identifying time, staffing, budget, collective bargaining (including compensation that is designed to give teachers at the building level to turn schools around). As the charter debate goes forward this fall, he would like to see more charters recruited to help open new schools and take on some turnaround schools.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz shared that in travel in the state and her own district, she has heard very little about this path and hears little about it on Beacon Hill. The 51% poverty rate is a huge issue and we “don’t have the luxury of civil war.” Parents in the divide don’t care what school their child attends, they just want quality options, asking “please do right by both my [traditional and charter school] children.” With the RISEAct, it is possible to do this.

Representative Alice Peisch said that there is “no question that the top priority from the legislature is to close the achievement gap. Both districts and charters have been successful. Acrimonious debate is not particularly helpful.” The challenge on Beacon Hill is to shift the debate to showcase successes that they’ve seen. She’s an optimist who believes that the debate should be focused on what produces results, and constantly hears in the legislature about flexibilities and autonomies, and they’ve passed bills that contain them. She’s concerned about the best interest of students and what guarantees access to very high quality education.

US Secretary of Education John B. King (speaking with Chris Gabrieli) explained that we need wide curriculum, good school culture, and a whole community vested in outcomes. Having more time is critical (longer school day, summer, etc.). From personal experience, he’s noted that accountability must be real. In some places there is a proliferation of low performing charters. Kids just want a good school. It’s powerful to hear about schools that are safe, structured, and engaging.  School was a place he could be a kid when home wasn’t that place. School is a place of possibility. Students who get a strong well-rounded education are better readers. (Reading not just about vocabulary but is more about knowledge of the world.) Science, social studies, etc. are worthy pursuits on their own allowing students to be good citizens in a demographic society, pursue careers, and have an appreciation for beauty. High quality education is a right. In NCLB, there was so much emphasis on ELA and math; they are necessary but not sufficient. ESSE gives a new set of tools to do more. It broadens the definition of educational excellence. Acknowledging reading and math is important, but what about absenteeism? (The state could factor that into accountability.) What about access to AP and IB and early college? (The state could factor that in.) ESSA provides the possibility to factor in different measures and indicators of college and career readiness. Another opportunity for states is the room to provide different interventions (e.g. create dual language context). A lot of progress has been made. The US now has the highest graduation rate in its history. There has been a reduction in dropout rates. More black and Latino students are going to college. Investments have been made in early childhood education, and there is a new bipartisan law, ESSA. At the same time, we have to maintain an incredible sense of urgency around outcomes. The US is now 13th in the world in college completion. MA still has a 30-40% achievement gap. We need to keep working.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Re-Schedule of 5/31 Public Inquiry Session, Summer School Work, Elementary Handbooks, Secondary Activity Fees, Field Trips, Overarching Goals: 5/24 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.)

With the FY17 budget approved, the Committee moved on to additional regular business and began discussions around goal setting and planning. Two MHS student representatives joined us to provide updates on exams, athletic milestones, and other happenings at the high school, as well as their re-election as representatives to the Committee next year. Graduation will be held on the evening of June 3rd.

Announcements of the Superintendent
Supt. Taymore provided an in-depth look at expectations around summer work for students. Based on Committee questions, she noted that the purpose of summer work is to reinforce skills (not punish), addressed Title I summer services, agreed to bring back to administrators the suggestion that assignments are explicit in their expectations in order for students to take them seriously, and offered that students who take more challenging classes know that summer work will be assigned. * She then invited Bridge Director Jennifer McAllister to present her annual review of Bridge activities and events. Ms. McAllister noted the significant increase in Bridge registrations this year and that she is now using Google docs to share registration and other information with appropriate parties. She was asked whether Melrose Grad Night could share CORI information with the Bridge and Supt. Taymore agreed to explore that possibility. Ms. McAllister was commended for supporting equity across the district relative to providing volunteers for libraries, enrichment activities, etc. She closed by noting that next year’s Trivia Bee will be held on March 26th, 2017.

Educational Programs and Personnel
Regarding the FY16-17 Elementary School Handbook, Supt. Taymore welcomed Hoover Principal Jenny Corduck, Roosevelt Principal Mary Ann Maranto, and Winthrop Principal John Maynard, indicating that principals from our other two elementary schools had personal situations that precluded their attendance and that they apologized for their absence. Ms. Corduck indicated that their work was a significant undertaking, beginning with reorganizing it to move items most likely to be referenced by families to the front and also aligning the organization to the Secondary Handbook so that families would be accustomed to the format as they moved through the system. There were some language changes consistent with attorney recommendations, the homework policy was removed (since it had not been revised in some time and a homework committee was being organized to review it), Google was explained more completely, more links were added, and an Arabic translation statement was included, among other changes noted in the “Changes and Edits” document preceding the revised handbook in the packet. Questions and responses addressed sharing this information with PTO’s at the first fall meeting, potentially maintaining the handbook in one web site location for all elementary schools, the fact that high school students can’t provide translation services, student access to buildings earlier than the normal time during foul weather, and the fact that the ECC handbook is not identical to the Elementary Handbook but is referenced when being updated each year.

Finance and Facilities
A number of weeks ago, and in order to balance the budget, the Committee agreed to approve activity fees at the secondary level. Supt. Taymore subsequently recommended stepping back from that recommendation so that the new Director of Co-Curricular Activities and parents could explore amounts and fee structures more thoroughly. The $15 activity fee for middle school students and a $35 activity fee for high school students expected for FY17 were rescinded.

Policy and Planning
A proposed Field Trip Policy was presented for informational review. Mr. O’Connell indicated that it speaks to the types, duration, and location of field trips. It doesn’t include some language in the current policy around parity or financial impact on students (which we may want to add back in) but does speak to authority for approvals. The goal is to update the policy in accordance with state laws and Supt. Taymore’s previously adopted guidelines. The Supt. noted that current policy negatively affects the approval of some field trips now, she wants to update the current practices, and there are challenges around timing of approval that should balance staff/students’ needs and the Committee’s schedule. She was asked whether changes to the guidelines would include permission slips and she responded in the affirmative. A change log/mark-up document was requested in order to review changes. It was noted that policy should guide the Supt.’s procedures, and the policy classification system is an alpha system for reference.

Announcements of the Chair
A June 4th iRaiders field trip called “Mayhem in Merrimack (NH)” requiring Committee approval was unexpectedly identified yesterday. Supt. Taymore requested that the Committee provide an initial approval for which paperwork and information would be provided at the June 14th meeting for final (retroactive) approval. Comments centered on the excellent integrity of the iRaiders organization, liability issues (none were identified), and that field trip permission slips would be required by Supt. Taymore prior to departure. * The 2017 School Committee calendar was presented and approved. * The Committee’s Overarching Goals were introduced in the context of a goal and action item development timeline. Discussion included an interest (in future years potentially) to have conversations around goals in a less business-oriented/more conversational meeting, encouragement to think about SMART goals as broad and aligned with our role as a Committee, and the potential for revisiting the overarching goals within this year’s process. The Committee approved the overarching goals as re-affirmed on May 12, 2015. * The rolling agenda was presented and is updated frequently based on the amount and depth of work being done in the district. <The updated version is now posted here: http://d1868cr0a5jrv6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Rolling-Agenda-2016-Sheet1-1.pdf.> * Finally, the Committee was reminded that on May 10th we added a Public Inquiry Session on Configuration of Instructional Programs for May 31st but this morning, the Permanent School Building Committee explained that the complexities around the space needs/configuration exploration and process made it premature for the Committee to meet with the community on that date. They were unanimous and adamant that the meeting be rescheduled to a later date. In order to inform the community as quickly as possible of a reschedule, a vote was requested for this evening. Members supported a meeting that we could all attend, but the importance of community attendance was highlighted. A thorough packet document with virtually all options listed was noted to be valuable and important and there was concern that the community feels that the decision has already been made. Supt. Taymore noted that the primary reason for postponing is precisely because no decision has been made, and at the Permanent School Building Committee meeting, it became clear that there are so many options that they want more detail around all of them in order to provide a solid presentation. Members commented that nighttime is often more difficult to attend than Saturday mornings, that the venue should be the right size for the community, that the 18th is the weekend prior to the last (half day) of school on June 20th and families might already be shifting to summer mode, that if the meeting is held on the 11th there are still two more Committee meetings in June for the community to comment before any initial decisions, and that the Committee would not make any decisive/permanent votes without a full vetting by the Committee and the community (expected after the summer). The decision was made to reschedule the May 31st meeting to June 11th at 9 a.m. Further discussion centered on the community understanding how the process will develop over the next few months with the intention of keeping everyone informed as thoroughly as possible. * One Liaison Report was presented: Ms. DeSelm, on behalf of the Human Rights Commission, invited the Committee and community to attend a workshop on cultural proficiency in the Aldermanic Chamber on June 7th at 7 p.m. with Susan Naimark, which they hope to have televised.

Post-Executive Session
Announcements were made regarding approval of prior Executive Session’s meeting minutes, and agreements with the administrators’ union (Teamsters) and teachers’ union (MEA) regarding the recently approved administrative reorganization.

Meeting packet documents can be found here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=2621&Inline=True and the meeting can be watched at http://www.mmtv3.org/index.php?categoryid=28.

The next meeting is the presentation and public inquiry session on Configuration of Instructional programs (related to challenges around the space challenges relative to increasing enrollments). It will be held Saturday, June 11th at 9:00 a.m. (location to be determined). The next regular meeting will be held Tuesday, June 14th at 7:00 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

FY17 Budget Approved by School Committee and Appropriations Committee

This past Tuesday, May 17th, the School Committee unanimously approved the FY17 school budget and presented it to the Appropriations Committee of the Board of Aldermen on Thursday, May 19th where it was unanimously recommended to the full Board. We are tremendously grateful for the Board's support of the Melrose Public Schools.

Finance Subcommittee Chairman Christine Casatelli and I appeared before the Appropriations Committee, with Committee Members Jessica Dugan and Jaime McAllister-Grande in attendance. My comments as follows:

Thank you Appropriations Chairman Mortimer, President Conn, and members of the Board of Aldermen for inviting us to speak to the FY17 Melrose Public Schools budget as approved by the Committee this past Tuesday, May 17th.

Supt. Taymore and her staff began this process in October, 2015 and she presented her initial budget to the Committee on February 23rd as a level-service budget. There was a $1M+ difference between the bottom line for that budget and what the city could responsibly provide the schools, and we still needed to provide teachers and materials for two additional Kindergarten classrooms and a part-time music teacher, fund our higher-than-anticipated transportation contract, and address stipends for co-curricular activities.

So the Supt. sharpened her pencil and took a wide variety of actions to close the gap, including:
·               Reconfiguring content administrators by cutting 3 of 7 Gr. 6-12 Director positions and adding content facilitators in those areas to perform elements of the work
·               Pre-paying some materials this year and cutting materials in other areas
·               Freezing her salary and reducing administrator salary increases to 1%
·               Removing requests for an elementary specialist in order to reduce current class sizes of 35 students in many art and music classes, and a technology position that would allow the new Learning Commons to remain open longer after school
·               Pulling more money from reserve accounts that represent rainy day monies
·               Raising fees for Education Stations, high school athletics, and elementary music lessons, and increasing Early Childhood Center tuitions.
·               Reducing the salary increases we are able to offer teachers in the collective bargaining agreement that is currently being negotiated.
·               Reducing the recommended increase in substitute teacher pay, even as we continue to struggle to hire subs given the low rate.

By this past Tuesday, a balanced budget was presented to the Committee and unanimously approved. Although unified in our vote, we articulated that this budget is no longer a level-service budget, but one that provides the basic services needed to provide students a quality education. Our district is high-performing; but we share the Superintendent’s vision of a school system where “…[we] meet the needs of every child without labeling them…[and our] staff…[has]…the capacity and resources they need to be flexible, adaptive, and proactive for children…” This budget will support improvement thanks to our outstanding students and families, dedicated and hard-working staff, and the financial support of the city, but we know needs remain, like curriculum materials, additional staff members, increased staff training, and higher pay for educators.

The Committee is made up of Melrose citizens and we recognize and appreciate your responsibility to provide for all city departments, and we respect the inability of the city to provide all the funds needed to realize our educational vision at the pace we’d like in the interest of student achievement. We vow to continue our advocacy at the state level to improve increased education funding for Melrose, and we ask for your support tonight of the FY17 budget for the Melrose Public Schools.

Thank you for all the work you do for the schools and for the city, and with that, we invite Supt. Taymore to respond to your questions.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

MHS Students, Summer, ECC/K Placement, Construction, Financial Audit, Budget, New Meetings, and More: 5/10 School Committee

(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.)

Melrose High School students and staff were featured in the Committee’s monthly School Spotlight meeting segment, and two groups came forward. First, representatives from National Honor Society spoke to individual and group service projects, including the significant investment in community service time these projects required. Second, Library Media Specialist Tom Scudder, Academic Facilitator Josh Cristiano (find him at @mpsflipped), Teacher Susan McBride, and student Brian Mercer presented their project based learning work around starting a food truck business. The project was a blended learning effort, meaning time in class as well as time on-line outside of the classroom. It used a “Shark Tank” TV show-type model. The educators reported that this kind of teaching is a “pretty drastic change” for teachers and that more planning is needed compared with teaching a more traditional unit. Brian noted that he and his classmates liked the real-world aspect of the project, which for his group became a breakfast food truck based on one of his favorite breakfast spots, requiring learning about start-up financing, permitting, menu planning, etc. (The MHS portion of the meeting is from 6:20-40:50 on the video.)

As last year, MHS will not run summer recovery courses as they are too costly, but they are providing sources for students to find what they need. Middle school students who fail an ELA or math class are eligible for the MVMMS Skill Building class, offered for six weeks, an hour per day, from 6/27-8/4 for $250. Students looking for a camp experience close to home can opt for the Students Without Borders enrichment program (more here: http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/2016/05/students-without-borders-summer-program/#sthash.OxrwwiUT.dpbs).

Kindergarten class sizes were presented for all elementary schools, with 99% of parents receiving their first choice of school. ECC enrollments were also presented, and there will be some variation in programming this year based on parent requests. Those changes will require some movement of classrooms, and DPW is “ready to go,” while a parent who is an interior designer will be offering teachers professional development around using classroom space more effectively. There are currently 41 tuition based and seven IEP openings. ECC educators have collaborated to publish an article around one element of their teaching and learning, and it can be found at http://rightquestion.org/blog/blogthree-and-four-year-old-students-learning-to-ask-their-own-questions/.

Language that is easier to read and understand for the Secondary School Code of Conduct was presented and approved.

City planner Denise Gaffey offered an update on construction at the MHS Learning Commons and entryway/window installation work at Hoover. She noted that work on the Learning Commons project is currently ahead of schedule and walls are up so that the different spaces can now be visualized. The project has benefited from quality collaboration between staff and the construction folks. Furniture delivery is schedule for August 1st and technology will be installed following furniture placement. Completion is scheduled for August 19th. Phase II of the project (the Student Services suite) will be able to begin a month earlier than expected. At Hoover, the pre-construction phase is expected to begin on May 20th and after school is out, DPW will be prepared to shift the contents of classrooms to make way for construction work. The timeline is very tight but completion is expected prior to the start of school.

Supt. Taymore presented her final balanced budget, noting that there are concerns around potential state mandates that may require funding, professional development is “stretched” now, but that she has tried to present a level-service budget. The Committee voted to approve two categories of expenses: salaries and non-salaries.

The Committee approved transferring Class of 2013 monies to them following their request and in conjunction with state regulations around Student Activity Accounts.

The District Financial Audit for FY15 was presented, and there were no negative findings.

The Committee voted to add a session on May 31st (time and location TBD) to hear from the community about the anticipated May 24th presentation by Supt. Taymore regarding how to address increasing enrollments and resulting space challenges for the coming years. Regular meetings were also added on Tuesday, August 30th and Tuesday, October 18th given that only one meeting had been scheduled for those months as calendars were explored and more fully developed.

Remember that all packet documents are online at http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/calendar.aspx and meeting video is at mmtv3.org under “Government Meetings.”

Next meeting is Tuesday, May 17th at 7:00 when we will hear from Supt. Taymore about her updated Strategy Overview, and also anticipate voting on the FY17 budget in preparation for presentation to the Board of Aldermen on May 19th.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Translations, Secondary Department Changes, FY17 Budget, Business Office, and More: 5/10 City Wide PTO

The community of PTO representatives brought their usual excellent questions and information to the May City Wide PTO meeting, and Supt. Taymore provided clarity and details as requested. Here are the highlights:

Translation Services
A question was raised about translation of school documents for students. Supt. Taymore reported that every six years, districts engage in a Coordinated Program Review of services as mandated by the state, and Melrose is participating in that process now. (More info here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/pqa/review/cpr/.) It is designed to determine compliance with paperwork requirements around special education, civil rights, and English language learning. Translation is one element of the process and is an issue for all districts, because as they become more diverse, accessing translation services becomes more challenging. Melrose has four dominant languages and there is a note at the bottom of district documents requesting that families who need translation services notify administration. (Supt. Taymore asked PTO’s to include this language on their own notices in the future.) Some languages are more challenging to translate because of the way the language is designed, e.g. a translation could essentially provide an answer to a test question. Another challenge is that some languages include a variety of dialects. Translation has a cost because it should be done by a 3rd party, not by a student for the parent. Some foreign language teachers and principals help in translation efforts. Volunteers in the community or schools could help in this effort, needing to sign a confidentiality agreement (just contact Bridge Coordinator Jennifer McAllister). A back-up service is translation by phone if/when possible.

Secondary Department Changes
Directors (formerly known as Department Chairs) are consolidating from seven staff members (Science, Technology, and Engineering; Math; Social Studies/History; ELA; Performing Arts; Global Language; and Athletics/Health/Wellness/PE) to four staff members (STEM; Humanities, including ELA and Social Studies/History; Global Learning, including Global Language, Art, and Music; and Co-Curricular/Health/Wellness/PE). There will be nine Content Facilitators who report to the Directors; they are teachers who will perform additional duties (e.g. instructional coaching along with other tasks both inside and outside a teacher’s work day) that had been executed by Directors. Many other districts are moving to this model (e.g. North Reading, N. Andover, Fairhaven, Hamilton-Wenham, Waltham, etc.) and the effort solves a few problems. It saves $266K in Director salaries and adds $100K for Content Facilitator stipends, resulting in a net savings of $166K. The model also creates a “back-bench,” a way to “grow” future administrators for the district while giving teachers more say in how education evolves in their content area, and may provide additional opportunities for interdisciplinary connections. It is expected to be challenging to Directors because they will need to delegate more work and help the Content Facilitators achieve success in that work. The work as a body will likely slow down. Supt. Taymore noted that she has a very talented team and that her goal is to “hold onto every team member to the extent possible.”

FY17 Budget
The budget is balanced as of today and Supt. Taymore indicated: “we had to do a lot of things we don’t want to do” like increasing fees, reorganizing and reducing staff, etc. The unions are working with the district in efforts related to staffing. Questions were raised around use and collection of activity fees (Note: voted at $15/middle school student and $35/high school student on 4/26), and Supt. Taymore noted that fees would help pay for stipend costs (paid to club facilitators). There is a payment schedule devoted to clubs and activities in the teachers’ Collective Bargaining Agreement that lists the stipends, and discussion around it is included in the current contract negotiations. There are current club facilitator positions not yet included in the contract so the financial commitment is expected to increase. Clubs sometimes charge dues and that would not continue with employment of the fee. Principals currently oversee clubs and activities and all stipended positions are posted and then selected by the principal. If there is competition for a position (most often occurring in performing arts), a three-member group (principal, staff member, and community member) makes the selection. In the new org. chart, the Director of Co-Curricular/ Health/ Wellness/ PE will assume the oversight role at the secondary level, including compliance with new state financial regulations regarding Student Activity Accounts. (Q: will there be a search committee for this position since it will include Athletic Director activities? Supt. Taymore says no – it is her responsibility to fill this slot.)

Budget cut proposals were designed to have the least impact on students. Daily pay for substitute teachers was initially proposed to increase from $55 to $70 but is now proposed at $60, and obtaining substitute coverage is expected to remain a challenge because of that. Supt. Taymore needs a technology position for the new MHS Learning Commons (budgeted at $30K) that would keep the space open and fully accessible until 5 p.m., but there was no room in the final budget for it (although she’s still exploring a way to make this happen). She thanked city and school Human Resources personnel who went to every school building and talked with staff members about the potential to opt-out or reduce coverage for health insurance, which resulted in reduced district costs and more money coming to the schools. In the past, the district had not used school choice monies for the budget because they are considered one-time funding, but some reserves were applied in a fiscally responsible way to support this year’s needs. Potential raises for teachers were decreased and the Supt. has elected to freeze her own pay in order to check salary growth. More monies are being spent from rentals, Ed. Stations, and ECC revolving accounts. Next year may see less pressure on the budget given that this year required an extra payroll ($400K) because of the way the calendar cycles, but we may receive less money from the state so the future remains uncertain.

Business Office
Since the resignation of the Director of Finance and Administrative Affairs in late April, the district has employed a consultant two days/week to oversee the most pressing business, and that will continue through the end of the school year. (During the search process, the Supt. found the candidates to be relatively inexperienced noting that our district doesn’t have “the luxury [to provide] substantial training.”) Further research indicated that we should expect to pay an annual salary of approx. $125K for the skills/abilities required, and she is considering how to approach next steps for filling the position. (Note: the Committee had initially approved a salary of $105K-$115K.)

Reports from City Wide Attendees
·               The Melrose Energy Challenge has commenced (more info here: http://www.melroseenergy.org/Energy-Challenge-2016.html) and notices will be circulated to parents. If the city performs 511 assessments by 12/31/16, $34K will be grant-funded for city energy efficiency programming. For every energy assessment performed for PTO members, $15 will be donated to PTO, Inc.
·               PTO, Inc. is seeking a President and a Bookkeeper. The position would ideally be filled by a volunteer, as it would lessen the financial impact on PTO’s (who pay for membership). If not, an hourly rate of $25-$50 would be paid to the bookkeeper and if no one is hired at this rate, PTO payments would increase even further as a professional accountant would need to be hired.
·               Last summer's PTO Summit was seen as two well-spent hours, with the sharing of information and ideas among City Wide representatives. Director Jennifer McAllister is planning a 2nd Annual Summit for this August and hopes for an equally valuable session.

Last meeting of the year is in June!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Melrose Middle School Parent Welcome Night: May 5th

Lots to learn about the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School captured in 68 minutes! Principal Conway introduced himself and some of his team who would stay after the presentation to answer questions.


Personal Qualities: Honesty, responsibility, respect, self-management, pride, and perseverance. Students who are caught exhibiting these qualities receive positive recognition (e.g. photo op, name over loudspeaker, etc.).

Quick facts: 260+ students; three teams per grade (6A, 6B, and 6C) for a total of 90ish students/team.

Scheduling:  [Definitions: class = the content area and block = the 57 minute period/length of time that a class meets.] There are four core team classes (ELA, math, science, history) every day (meaning students are in classes with others from their 6th grade team but not necessarily the same students in each class), two off-team classes every other day (meaning students are in classes with others from any 6th grade team), and one class in A block (first block of the day and the only one that’s at the same time every day with students from any team and possibly other grades, like band/orchestra/chorus). There are no free blocks – students have an assignment for every block. Six classes meet per day making for a 7 day modified waterfall schedule (and if you want to know more about that, you can look here: http://melrosecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1466 and read Slide 8, right hand column, along with the following document showing research regarding best practices in middle school scheduling from the 2/4/14 School Committee presentation).

More scheduling details: Students get a schedule with the detail (block, class, teacher, and room) for all seven days. Core classes meet every day. Off team classes meet three times in a cycle. Some electives meet all year (PE, chorus, etc.) while others don’t. The A block has five days in a cycle because one day is used as “extended team time” where students stay in homeroom or may get together to do things like take a team test (so they don’t lose day of instruction), or participate in an assembly, or engage in individual class teaching like social emotional learning that they wouldn’t otherwise receive. The overall schedule (Day 1, Day 2, etc.) is posted around the building so students don’t have to memorize the order of different blocks, and it’s announced on loudspeaker in the morning. If it snows, the day gets “lost” since the plan is prepared at the beginning of the year.

General 6th grade academics: Includes cross-curricular experiences (like history/geography with English and library); use of technology; whole/small group instruction; hands-on science with labs; math that continues the same curriculum as elementary grades; lots of student talk to improve understanding of content; and varied subjects in off team classes. There is project based learning (e.g. Ms. Ciampa’s math class was studying proportions and explored correlations between runner height and race time asking “are races fair for all or should they be redesigned?” Their research was combined with active data and analysis like measuring heights/running competitive races/etc.). Class options include challenge classes that are open to any student and enhance content experiences with project based learning, research, speaking/listening while intervention classes are based on need and current performance (e.g. math lab).

Foreign language: Students don’t choose a language to study for the full year in 6th grade but choose a language for a trimester (German, Italian, or French). Some students may request two languages during the 6th grade year. In 7th grade students choose one language to study from five offerings (adding Spanish and Latin). 93% of students enroll in foreign language in 7th grade. If they successfully complete two years in the same language, they enter HS at Level II. If students choose German or Italian in 7th grade, they must choose German or Italian as 8th graders because those aren’t offered at Level I at the high school (a staffing issue). Spanish is the highest enrolled language so staffing limits make it unavailable in 6th grade. Very few middle schools offer five languages (we have the “Cadillac version” of language offerings).

Accelerated learning: There is a Grade 7/8 compacted math class (25% of grade) for 7th graders to prepare for the HS model Algebra I class and HS math if a student completes Algebra I prior to 8th Grade. There is Accelerated ELA in Grade 8 (featuring advanced content). There are challenge classes with a focus on project based learning. Challenge classes contain a gifted and talented (G&T) cluster where students take the same challenge classes as other students, but together and in the same sequence.

Supported learning: For students who need academic support, there are intervention classes (including math, math lab, ELA, and organization/study skills); inclusion support for ELA and math, social skill groups, related services like speech and language/OT/PT, and other help.

General supports for students: there many which include intervention classes in math and ELA; summer tours to help with transition; after school tutoring hours for all teachers; regular posting of homework, grades, and assignments on Aspen; many after school activities; open library until 4:00 each day; and team teacher meetings to share information that will help student learning.

Coming soon: The A block classes (for those not in performance arts) will be an intervention or lab class and change every trimester; there will be a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system (PBIS) with common expectations for how students should act and treat each other; the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Peer Trainer model will be incorporated so the 30 7th and 8th grade trainers can then train other students in biases and prejudices; the MS and HS schedules will be aligned allowing for the sharing of resources (like selected teachers) and students taking HS courses.

Requesting classes (new this year): planning forms will go home next week from the elementary schools for parents to complete with their child (using the http://d1868cr0a5jrv6.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2014/08/MVMMS-Program-of-Studies-16-17.pdf). Principal Conway and administrators will visit elementary schools in the 1st week of June bringing logins, and if student forms are filled out, it will take < 10 minutes for students to input class requests (not a registration or guarantee). If classes are overenrolled other classes will be randomly assigned to fit. Some specific classes schedule first (like band since there is only one block).

Communication tool: The Daily Bulletin is posted in the building. Students film the Bulletin’s announcements in the school’s TV studio where they are shown on Smartboards during homeroom, and they are posted on the website for parents the afternoon prior. (Here’s this Monday’s edition: http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/our-school/compass-school-report/#sthash.0l3znvkh.dpbs.)

Getting involved: There are many clubs and activities (including drama where students not only perform, but manage sound, lighting, etc.). Students have earned awards for contributions like this year’s Black History essay winner who was recognized by the Boston Celtics. Community events include the long-standing and powerful student-run Veteran’s Day assembly. There is a student-funded no-cost-to-veteran’s trip (this year with 16 students with 25 veterans heading to Washington, D.C., and including a different theme each year with this year’s theme being Women in Service). There is ADL Youth Congress as well as a science, technology & engineering opportunity (building and programming electric cars). Last year, the school hosted an after school activities and events fair to inform students of the many opportunities (more here: http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/2015/09/mvmms-after-school-activities-and-clubs-information-fair/#sthash.a1ys2Yw8.dpbs).

To look forward to: This year is the 2nd annual 8th grade trip to NYC, with six Coach buses taking all eligible 8th graders as part of their Global Education in Melrose (GEM) experience. They’ll visit Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and more.

Question and Answer (in order of asking….)

Q: When requesting classes, should students choose the trimester in which they want the classes? No, the school needs to arrange the scheduling but students will be assigned their choices somewhere during the year if at all possible.

Q: What if students sign-up for a yearlong class (except PE which is required for the full year) like performing arts and don’t like it? They can drop it although that’s discouraged. The school has a conversation with the family asking about the motivation. If it’s for a curious reason, like “my friend dropped it,” the switch might be questioned but school counselors try to work with families to place students appropriately.

Q: Can students take three trimesters of art? No, but there are two types of art offered so they could request both of those classes. If they were to take a third, it would repeat one of the two already taken since the curriculum is the same.

Q: What happens for students on an IEP or need ELL services? Some services may be built in like learning strategies, which fills three blocks all year (of six). Team Facilitators have planning forms and families will discuss services with them. Needing those services doesn’t prevent options, it just means that planning will be done differently. Transitional meetings are held in the 2nd week of June and its ok that scheduling forms will be done first as they can be revised.

Q: Must students take a language to graduate from high school? Yes

Q: Are classes leveled in 6th grade? No, but they are heterogeneously grouped. Individual dynamics are considered. There are flexible groups within classes (doing project based learning, etc.).

Q: Can 8th Graders take Latin as a 2nd language? Yes

Q: How does scheduling for performing arts students work? Students are placed in their performing arts classes first and are other classes are built around them.

Q: Are 6th Graders required to take a language? No, and it’s especially hard if they are taking band, chorus, or orchestra.

Q: How does lunch work? Lunchtime is 25 minutes including 5-10 minutes to go outside. There are three lunches, one per grade, so all 6th graders eat together, etc. At one grade in middle school, students will have a split-block lunch meaning that they attend the first half of a block, then eat, then return to that class to finish the block. First lunch is at 10:45 (and yes, there are kids who are hungry at that time).

Q: Can all students take challenge class? Yes - all students will have an opportunity to take them.

Q: What is happening with late start? In Fall 2017 MVMMS will shift start time to 8:15 and will start and end at the same time as the HS.

Q: What happens after school now? The school day ends at 2:05; teachers are usually there for 30 minutes; open library from 4:00 (40-70 students/day) where students can use Chromebooks, etc.; many after school options – drama may stay later during rehearsals but length of after school activities vary depending on the activity.

Q: Can parents apply to have their child identified as gifted? If the parent previously had the student identified, that would be known by info in Aspen but if not, parents can request the testing. Those students are in challenge classes together but in their own group. Others take the same class but in a different trimester. Placement criteria are in the Program of Studies for entry into advanced classes.

Q: When will students see the school? Very near the end of the school year in June, all students walk to middle school and visit (step up day). There is also an August open house when kids give tours.

Friday, May 6, 2016

RISEAct Advocacy: Testimony to House Ways and Means

On April 26th, the Committee voted to send the following letter in support of consideration of the RISEAct.

Dear Members of House Ways and Means:

As you know, on Thursday, April 7th, the Massachusetts Senate discussed S. 2203: an Act Enhancing Reform, Innovation and Success in Education (also known as the RISE Act) which was passed to be engrossed, now read as S. 2220. As the bill now rests with House Ways and Means, the Melrose School Committee urges you to consider its merits, and vote its passage.

While we don’t disagree that parents should have educational options for their children, we believe that charter schools should be held to the same high standards to which traditional public schools are held. We also believe that all public schools should be funded in a manner that rewards student success regardless of the building in which the student learns. The City of Melrose loses well over $2M per year to the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, leading to our examination and assessment of this bill. Although it’s not perfect, there are many reasons we believe it to be fair and thoughtful legislation. Those reasons include the following:

·               It requires development of an implementation schedule for the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations, which are critical to providing resources to students as mandated by state law and regulation.
·               It addresses significant concerns around lack of transparency into charter school practices, including lack of posted meeting minutes, public release of contracts, etc. The public deserves to see how its monies are being discussed and spent.
·               It incorporates local elected officials into a variety of charter governance areas on behalf of their sending district students. In addition, it adds a step in future charter application processes requiring local approval (with an overridden provision by the board), and subsequently requires that charters disallowed locally but approved by the board will be funded at the state level (with corresponding reductions in Ch. 70 funding). These elements of the bill speak to taxation without representation concerns.
·               It applies provisions of the State Ethics Code to Charter Boards of Trustees/immediate family and prohibits nepotism in hiring. This requirement is consistent with standards placed on local municipal employees who are also funded by taxpayer dollars.
·               It supports an opt-out process, which addresses the concern that only parents with the opportunity and resources to know and understand the opt-in process may apply for a seat (i.e. self-selection of one demographic over another in a public school).
·               It requires recording of the reasons for student attrition, broken down by demographic subgroups, allowing for aggregation and comparison and made public on the DESE web site. This component provides transparency around why students leave the schools and why, which allows a window into the potential for unacceptable dismissal (while traditional publics enroll and educate all students).
·               It requires that charter schools provide “an analysis of student and subgroup achievement gaps, including English language learners and students receiving special education.” This requirement allows parents a greater comparison mechanism in order to make an educated school choice for their child(ren).

We appreciate the difficult work you do to improve the education of students in the Commonwealth, and urge to you to take up this bill and approve it.


Margaret Driscoll, Chairman
On behalf of the Melrose School Committee (as approved on 4/26/16)

cc: Cyndy Taymore, Superintendent