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.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Enrollments, Question 2, Special Ed. Funding, SDM Foundation & More at City Wide PTO

The first City Wide PTO meeting of the year (September 13th) was very well attended, including representatives from every school in the district.

If a registered Kindergarten student doesn’t come to school after 15 days, the district may enroll a registered student who was on a waiting list for the absent student’s school. In the same manner, the district could release an absent secondary student’s schedule to offer a seat in a highly desired class to an attending student. There is still a K first-choice waiting list but it’s very small. Parents are generally registering in a much more timely fashion than in the past. Districts often see a return of students to traditional public districts from charter schools after October 1st, when enrollment counts are required by DESE and on which per student dollars are calculated. Charters often counsel out students with more substantial needs so they do not have to educate them.

Learning Commons tours on September 10th were very well attended and visitors were delighted with the outcome of the newly renovated spaces.

Ballot Question #2: Lifting the cap on charter schools: Charter schools are funded differently from traditional public schools, with the differences very negatively impacting the City of Melrose which trickles down to the schools. Charter schools are not held to the same standards as traditional public schools, like for teacher licensure, their ability to hold 25% of their funds for capital improvements (while traditional publics can’t keep any), less reporting, and less oversight. Charters also have no representative oversight body (i.e. they don’t have an elected school board, instead they have a board of directors). The charter cap has not been met for Melrose.

Educator Retention
Retaining teachers is problem in Melrose often due to the unavailability of affordable housing combined with our inability to pay a salary that can support the housing. New teachers must not only support themselves but the state requires they earn a Master’s degree within five years of the start of teaching, so they must fund that too.

Pre-fabricated Classrooms
The plan isn’t finalized yet, with remaining concerns including the siting of the classrooms on property, adherence to laws around which municipal entity owns parts of property, parking; etc. Construction could be phased in. Enrollment numbers fall between those predicted by MSBA (which are usually lower) and NESDEC (which are usually higher). There are 992 students enrolled at MHS and the increase includes both students who have moved to the district and those who have returned from private/parochial schools which is challenging because they may have no experience taking MCAS and must do so to graduate.

SDM Foundation
“…is a nonprofit providing free lessons designed to help people learn how to use computers. We have been approached by parents who would like some extra help understanding the programs that their children will be using in school. In particular, the Melrose Public Schools are utilizing the Google suite, and some parents would like to become more familiar with those programs. We will be able to provide both small group and one-on-one help to people in this area. If you are interested, please let us know which days and times are generally best for you, and we will try to accommodate people in small groups. As always, all of our services are provided free of charge.” SDM’s Executive Director is Kristin Thorp, former School Committee Chairman and long-time Committee member. The fully equipped shop is located at 465 Main Street and can be reached at 781.606.2621 or info@sdmfoundation.net.

Summer Work
This year, homework wasn’t graded at the elementary or middle school levels except for 8th grade math (which had some bearing on placements). AP students had prep work that must be completed over the summer in order to start the school year well prepared.

Special Education Funding: More or Less Than Other Districts?
It’s been said that special education comprises 33% of our budget and that it’s so much higher than other districts. The fact is that many districts have a much higher overall total budget because they include insurance, transportation, utilities, building maintenance, and construction, but those costs fall on the City of Melrose side of the ledger, not the schools’. (The Melrose funding philosophy is that the schools should focus on educational programming and be relieved of peripheral services.) If those costs were moved from the city’s budget to the school budget to equalize the comparison, our special ed. funding percentage would be near or less than other districts (e.g. if the special ed. percentage is 33% of $28M then it would be less than 20% of $47M which is closer to what our total costs might be; these are rough figures vs. exact amounts). Every district’s budget includes different things, depending on how a city and its schools divide expenses and making random comparisons is not meaningful. Melrose has created many in-house special ed. programs (like our hard of hearing program, Social Emotional Learning Program at Lincoln, Access, and others); and we send very few students out of district (50-52 in a district of over 3800 students which can cost between from $40K - $350K per year). Keeping students in house is expensive too and Supt. Taymore has a break point equation that evaluates whether building a program or sending students out of district for services is more cost effective. It’s hard to build more new programs now with the space shortage. We are an inclusion district because we believe that every student has the right to a standards-based education. Good special education teachers say “our job is to put ourselves out of business” and Supt. Taymore said that a student doesn’t “have to be on a 504 or IEP” to have student needs addressed – all student needs should be addressed appropriately.

Update on Competency Based Education
With the Barr Foundation’s $150K grant, Supt. Taymore and her team have committed to the next step in exploring this model, including teacher training, public outreach, and building general understanding. There is a “pyramid of competencies” that starts with defining what graduation requirements need to be met. Some pilot programs have begun and Melrose is ahead of many districts with our data teams, exam-based exemptions, blended learning, etc. Teachers want to employ “habits of work” (like putting a name on a paper) that are uncoupled from grading. Soon, the 4th Grade report card will be standards based, followed the next year by the 5th grade report card.

Media and Reporting
This year the school web site will be re-designed for improved communication to families and the community at large. John Guilfoil is helping high school staff understand the types of information that should be communicated and the (ever-evolving) platforms that are best, depending on the information.

Victorian Fair
In the past, all schools had booths, but this year only the Lincoln and Winthrop had booths. The problem is that they cost money and don’t make money. In the future, maybe consider having one double booth for all the schools?

High School Suspensions
The school is working hard in this area. Out of 900 students last year, there were only five suspensions.

Upcoming Dates
- Melrose Education Foundation’s Annual Night out at the Beebe Estate is September 24th
- Parent University, co-sponsored by the Melrose Education Foundation and the Melrose Public Schools, will be held on Saturday, November 19th
- Melrose Energy Challenge is still an opportunity for families. More here: http://www.cityofmelrose.org/2016/03/22/the-energy-challenge-is-on/
- Next City Wide meeting is in October