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, 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.