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, January 20, 2017

Tech Plan Update, Personnel Appointments, Campus Kids, and More: January 10th School Committee

We kicked off the first meeting of the year with Lincoln School Principal Allison Donovan and PTO Co-President Becky Fuentes, as they talked about social emotional learning (including proactively teaching expectations) and the contributions that the PTO has made in this area. They also host a number of annual events, focusing on affordable family fun for their school community. Their next event will be an international night that celebrates culture and diversity. The parent English language training has been very popular (and includes many grandparents).

Supt. Taymore spoke to progress made on the Technology Plan. She noted that:
·               She thought there would be slow growth in tech use, but it was very fast.
·               The goal was a 3:1 student/device ratio, but it’s fast approaching 2:1. MHS is almost 1:1 because most students have smartphones.
·               The most important tech issue now is ensuring that h/w, bandwidth, etc. are up to speed for testing in the spring. (All districts face this challenge.) Students are doing online test practice now, but when it’s actually being given, tests will be cached and downloaded.
·               Tech needs to be used purposefully, and that’s happening in the MPS.
·               We are in a better place than a year ago on bandwidth.
·               MHS has a Helpdesk that is an actual class, and when students aren’t troubleshooting, they do projects like instructional videos.
·               DESE released their Digital Literacy and Computer Science standards in June, and this content is embedded in all courses (not silo’d in a class because it needs to be “fluid” for students).

Other Supt’s updates:
·               A second district school resource officer has been appointed (middle school).
·               Interim MHS Principal Jason Merrill has been officially appointed to the Principal position.

Dr. Heather Josephson provided an overview of Ed Stations and Campus Kids recommending that Campus Kids be eliminated beginning this summer. (No other programs are under discussion for change or elimination.) The Committee asked for more information and will continue the discussion on January 24th.

The Committee reviewed the summary of our self-evaluations and will work to incorporate recommended elements over the next year in order to improve our practice. We also reaffirmed our Norms and Protocols document (an annual practice).

Next meeting is Tuesday, January 24th at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Task Time vs. Free Time; School Start Time; Elementary Assemblies; and More: Jan. 10th City Wide PTO

First City Wide PTO of 2017 and Supt. Taymore was on hand to address topics of interest to parents. Here are some notes:

Task time vs. free time
·               History:
o   There has been a shift in discussions around task time and social emotional learning (SEL). SEL started with stress discussions at the HS, now being talked about at MS too. It comes from a focus on standardized testing.
o   As the definition of trauma expands, higher incidents are identified and accompanying need for SEL expands.
o   In the past, Asst. Supt. Patti White-Lambright and MAAV Director Rebecca Mooney wrote and received a $440K STEP grant to help with the Mentors In Violence Protection Program, etc. They just wrote and received another grant ($660K grant over the next three years, with roll-out expected by September 1, 2017) to bring the work down to the elementary level. They don’t have all the details yet but Ms. Mooney is attending a conference to prepare. The previous grant was for training, etc. and they are hoping the new grant may allow funding of a staff member. The grant will help w/PBIS, restorative justice, anxiety, etc. It won’t include bullying prevention.
o   The STEP grant has spilled over into a lot of other efforts, e.g. allowing the district to do work around LGBTQ and transgender (especially at Roosevelt and the HS.) The older kids came to “Speak Out” sessions with younger kids in order to mentor. They’ve also done the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program (about positive bystander actions) where Northeastern mentors come in to train; it’s now class at the HS. HS kids do a group scenario and they are modifying for middle school.
·               Ultimately, there is a shift in education (more toward SEL) but no state back-off of time on learning (task time). All districts undergo a state Coordinated Program Review (CPR) every six months where they must account for 900 student hours of task time at elementary and 990 hours at secondary.
·               MA is one of four states piloting with the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning (CASEL), but there is concern among superintendents that the Commissioner will want accountability on SEL.
·               In Melrose, there is a K-2 movement break, which is structured for SEL. Typical recess is when kids “play” and teachers watch but the movement break allows for a different, useful structure of play.
·               Some schools have “buddy benches” like Winthrop, but it’s hard to force kids to engage with them. They are working on this at Roosevelt. (Responsible, respectful, helpful, etc.) [Parent idea: next year at the K summer welcome, could this be introduced, since when the concept is started at K, then it becomes ingrained?]
·               The “kids can be kids” philosophy remains (establishing identity and “pecking order”). Developmentally, it’s the “gang mentality.”  When there are incidents, they are now discussed (i.e. what did we as staff miss?). The district would love more time during the day to do PBIS training, etc. The Supt. doesn’t know when they can greater realize implementation of the SEL process.
·               Parents are concerned about combined lunch/recess and snack/school task. Challenge: kids not eating. It’s a tough choice for kids between eating and recess. A longer day would be great but to add 15 minutes/day = $1.8M. Some schools have a state ELT (Extended Learning Time) grant but do kids melt down by the end of the extended day?
·               There are close to 800 kids in Education Stations with some kids in buildings from 7:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. (At the ECC, an interior designer recommended moving the youngest children to first floor so there is less transition.) The district is trying to build in supports during the day while meeting the regulatory requirements. Superintendents are exchanging info on how to meet the requirements while supporting kids.
·               MHS is currently at 992 hours of task time, so there is no room for “incidents” since we have to make up the time on another day. Task time for HS students means there can’t be study halls, which came from an advisory issued following the NEASC Accreditation. Now NEASC is backing off of that but we had already instituted an Advisory block, which actually helps because every student is connected with an adult. We need to balance things that must get done.
·               Important to remember that most regulations are primarily protections for kids in underperforming districts, and the solution from DESE is “all [districts] or none.”

School start times
·               We are working with teachers re: the dynamics of start times.
·               Principal Jason Merrill is meeting with admins and teachers to talk about the HS schedule in more fluid way. There will be no impact on athletic activities and no morning practices due to a later start time.
·               The impact on elementary students is minor. Concern at Roosevelt is HS students picking up kids and that will be later. At ECC nothing changes now.
·               The science is real and you can’t make everyone happy, but we have to work around a lot of issues.
·               The Middlesex League districts meet 3-4 times/year to solve common problems, share resources, etc. For all of them, the start time window is 8-8:30 for at the secondary level. A mini-conference for Middlesex Supts. was held and Dr. Judy Owen (the primary author of the American Academy of Pediatrics paper on this issue) presented. Brain science shows the “magic hours” and how a child’s circadian rhythms shift. 11:30 is the “magic hour” to go to sleep and Dr. Owen says the closer you can get to an 8:30 school start time, the better. She understands reality. The evidence presents itself in reduced tardies, dismissals, and discipline as well as improved test scores.
·               We have to consider the fiscal realities of district in all of this. To accommodate HS students’ later pick up of younger siblings in elementary school, we may have to have kids wait in a common room (and potentially charge for that). We are now problem-solving to the best of our ability. We may explore shifting ECC times as time goes on.

Staff presence at elementary assemblies
·               Staff must be present at assemblies that include part of the school (e.g. a grade, group of grades, etc.).
·               All staff are not required to attend an all-school assembly but there is language in the contract that defines the protocol that must be in place in order to ensure enough staff for student safety.
·               Parent idea: parent volunteer training for each school, done by the principal.

Invitations to the Supt. to appear at PTO meetings
Supt. Taymore is happy to attend a meeting to speak with parents and answer questions. Roosevelt stopped doing speakers. Q: is everyone bringing speakers to PTO? (HM hasn’t had great turnouts. Roosevelt – teachers come in occasionally and talk for 15 mins. or so. ECC is doing.)

PTO Rep/Bridge Info
·               MAAV vent for parents on Monday, Feb 6th at 7:00 p.m. in the MHS Learning  Commons called “Talking with Teens about Healthy Relationships.” (The senior class will all see it together on February 9th.) MHS students will facilitate the discussion portion of the program. (http://maav.org/home/)
·               MAAV is hiring an Admin Asst./Bookkeeper – 8-10 hours/week. More info on the web site.
·               ECC needs substitutes so if interested, please call Director Donna Rosso.
·               Community Reading Day: March 2nd from 8:30-9:30 a.m.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

E-camp, Food Service, Legal Counsel, Data Requests, and More: December 13th Committee Meeting

Wrapping up 2016 now that 2017 is well underway! The final School Committee meeting of the year was held on December 13th. Here’s a quick look at the highlights; check the minutes for the official account!

·               The Horace Mann Huskies came and brought their Husky Pride, explaining their school-wide philosophy of respect, responsibility and safety. Great job students and staff!
·               E-camp field trip requests were approved. This is the first time that all elementary students will attend e-camp at the same time (April 26th-28th), for the same duration (three days), and engage in essentially the same curriculum (applying the philosophy of equity across the district).
·               Appreciation to our MPS donors was expressed for their kindness and generosity.
·               Chartwells continues to run our food service program ahead of budget.
·               Caps were re-affirmed for the middle school and high school checking accounts (which allows principals flexibility to run programs, but provides a check-and-balance by the Committee).
·               Internet safety policies were re-affirmed (which is an annual practice).
·               All subcommittee chairmen provided end of year reports.
·               The Committee engaged in its annual self-evaluation in order to continue to improve our practice in 2017.
·               20+ year counsel Atty. Mary Jo Hollender is retiring and we agreed to seek an individual to work three days/week in-house to provide labor and negotiation services as well as act as the Title IX, bullying/harassment officer. We expressed great appreciation to Atty. Hollender for her excellent service to the Committee and the district.
·               We elected the 2017 Chair (me) and Vice-Chair (Chris Casatelli) for 2017. (It’s been a privilege to serve and I greatly look forward to carrying on this work!)
·               We agreed on the data requests we would make from Supt. Taymore in the coming year, so that she can work with her team to prepare the information that supports our decision-making in a comprehensive and timely manner. We also noted that there is a great deal of information provided on the DESE web site (and listed some of those items.)

We are so grateful to our community at large as well as the staff for sharing their time, talent, and treasure with our school family!

Next meeting: January 10th at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall.