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 29, 2017

School Committee/Supt. FY18 Budget Q & A on March 21st

Prior to our regularly scheduled business meeting on March 21st, Finance and Facilities Chairman Liz DeSelm facilitated an FY18 Budget Q & A with Supt. Taymore. My notes here; official minutes online once the Committee approves them.

Supt. Taymore's presentation:
·      Revised budget process started 3-4 years ago.
·      The budget is not an automatic rollover every year.
·      The Strategic Overview helps make a plan for the coming year; it builds upon itself; it’s an action plan. With input from stakeholders/data/teachers they keep building that.
·      The Committee has worked to make adaptations to non-staffing pieces.
·      Last year, the override loss resulted in a level-service budget but even in that attempt we lost 3 administrators.
·      This year the SC wanted to try something different based on self-reflection and assessment. One of the greatest shifts is the need to build capacity in other areas: SEL, inclusive practices (not just special ed but all kids and technology); shift their emphasis to 50-50 academic-social emotional, meaning we can take .5 step back on academics and 1.5 steps forward on SEL.
o   Added 4th priority after the original three were set: enrollment. We’ve gone from the typical 13 classes to 15 classes last year, and this year fully anticipate 15. Current K enrollment for next year=299. Current ECC enrollment for next year is 304. MHS is 995 this year. MVMMS has an enrollment “trough.” Doing renovations and modules to compensate at the elementary level.
o   9 new positions proposed this year, knowing they can’t all be funded.
o   Working to reallocate, reuse, think about programs (e.g. MVMMS students whose challenges were interfering with their ability to learn. Added 4th school psychologist and created the ACCESS program. This year, the program was added to the Lincoln School.)
o   Hard to understand what’s behind the numbers (PD, supervision & evaluation, etc.)
o   Slimmed down the document since it wasn’t necessarily as user-friendly to all. Always a work in progress. With more data, you see the trends. Now you don’t see the whole picture over time. Other difficulty, how grant programs are applied (Title I or Title III).
o   Conversations about how those monies are used take place twice/month at SC business meetings when principals and other administrators come and speak to programming, etc.
·      Three priorities
o   1. Why conversations about SEL now? As a country/district, swung too far toward accountability. Now better understand the effects of trauma; students can’t attend or learn if they aren’t ready to learn; it’s an uphill battle. Is it the role of the school? “Our job is to serve who’s in front of us.”
o   2. Inclusive practice: it’s our job to help students succeed. It’s like curb cuts originally designed for people with disabilities. Who’s using them? Kids on bikes, skateboards, etc. Education is now the same; it’s a way of thinking about education. A year ago, the state put out excellent guidelines and Melrose incorporated them into what we do, making sure that every teacher is seeking ways for kids to learn.
o   3. Instructional technology: never a substitute for good instruction. Key is still the teacher-student relationship, especially at the elementary level. If students are struggling and have the skill and expertise, find out why they aren’t learning. As much as we use technology, the teacher is still critical. Spend a lot of time on PD for skills to support kids. Other districts often surprised at the amount of progress we’ve made, but we invested the time to do it.
·      This budget: the dilemma is to close the delta to provide the best instruction possible. There will be losses as we struggle to close the gap.

·      What is the district philosophy that drives our goals? Meet the needs of every student with the goal of producing a contributing member of society. One goal of SC is to rewrite the mission. Supt. doesn’t think the philosophy varies much among districts. Supt’s goal is to educate all without labels, to their ability. Education is one of the most highly regulated industries in this country. Within what we have, we can’t cut special education (must “maintain your effort”), Title I grants (must supplement vs. supplant), etc. There are restrictions in the state about what we have to do. Every child: PE, history, high school graduation courses. People surprised that schools can’t have studies/study halls anymore. We try to be as creative as we can be. Blended learning / advance by portfolio / combining high school classes for efficiencies / same schedule for MVMMS + MHS because can share resources. Other efficiencies: all PE teachers must be dual-certified in wellness and also encourages dual in science/math and English/history. Can we use some MS teachers to do one more block at MHS as population is low. Reorganized due to needs at Lincoln – created student support coordinator. Can’t really see these in numbers. May be disagreement with modules vs. 5-8, but redistribute to Winthrop and Hoover (efficiency).
·      Where can we see grant revenue associated with grant expenses? See it in MUNIS reports. Seeing negatives doesn’t necessarily mean we owe money, it’s a function of MUNIS. MAAV grant – on surface it’s on dating violence but additionally, let’s them talk about other things (paying for things like the Coffee House). Our grants are audited every year.
·      Synergies and cost efficiencies: speak to with respect to partnerships with other districts, etc. 1. Middlesex League: 3 years ago agreed they’d work together as a group. Were just awarded $40K as a group by Lahey to write/execute/analyze YRBS; 2. Another: state finally adopted state science standards. Now, 16 communities in consortium working to create curriculum and think about trainings; 3. In our city, joint purchasing with the city. Combined depts. with IT, DPW, attorney; 4. Meeting with Wakefield soon (with legislators). Thinking about on-line courses with them, etc. (Hard because we’re a city and they’re a town.)
·        District priorities of SEL/inclusive practices but narrative focuses on K-5. How will they be applied at MVMMS/MHS? Getting better at naming it and coming up with systems for it. Work started with best instructional practices, and many were inclusive practices. Best instructional practices: small group work, collaboration, etc. Good social emotional learning includes self-regulation, collaboration, responsibility, etc. NOT psychoanalyzing but teaching them to be successful in larger world. Every student has the opportunity to have his/her needs met. Doing the same practices at MVMMS and MHS. The District C Accommodation Plan. Every kid is connected to an adult, and there are many other things implemented. In ed, talk about Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III. Up the training in those areas and we’re beginning to see it play out across K-12.
·      Accountability of teachers? Every teacher, administrator, and the supt. evaluated 24/7. Evaluation rubric is in place. It’s a way of life. The formal system: 2 year cycle. Unannounced visits (biggest difference); no more dog and pony shows. 3 hours of walk-throughs today – doesn’t evaluate teachers but evaluates administrators (e.g. what did you see?). Teachers w>3 yrs experience: End of 1 year: formative / 2nd year: summative. Teachers’ goals are tied to district. New: multiple announced and unannounced visits + mentoring program. Staff has said most valuable for feedback. (Staff says feedback is the most important thing: how can I help you grow as a teacher? Conversations best.) Concerns around SEL and inclusive practices. Has been criticized because she runs about 20% of teachers at Needs Improvement, but new young teachers are developing. Our job is to help them get the supports/feedback they need to get better.
·      WRT increasing enrollment – how is budget impacted? At elementaries, 2 more classroom teachers and also need specials (like art, music, PE, etc.). Teachers need collaborative time (to talk about students and their progress + meet with principal). Strands of 15 classrooms increases by one for every incoming year. Need materials as the bubble rises. At HS, partially depends on student choices. A little bit of movement among teachers every year (some by choice and some not). Teachers are asked for their intent and sometimes that can be accommodated.
·      ECC: 8 % raise: why? 1. 4.4 FTE increase in staffing as opposed to .6; 2. Staff at ECC scheduled differently (some FTE are .9 and other variances); 3. 1 extra position for a special education placement. (FTE’s can be fractions of teachers because ECC doesn’t have full time programs; those teachers generally don’t want to work FT.)
·      To what extent is budget funded by schools vs. city? Schools fund special education for children ages 3-22. It is both cost-effective and cost-avoidant and those students learn with typically developing learners. They come to elementary with much better skills.
·      Itinerants? Staff that travels. Two categories: art, music, PE assigned to 2 schools. Second group in that list are SPED support services (OT, PT, speech) captured in SPED services because they’ll change during the year based on students. They are sometimes not assigned to buildings until June or July. Made sense for budget purposes to have on one page.
·      Teaching & Learning: 4 content directors, etc.? They flow in between MVMMS and MHS. Last year, cut 3 content directors.
·      Expand on instructional materials: increase fro $20K to $140K? One piece: more students. Buy “consumable” books in K-2 so need to be replaced. Pearson books purchased and spread over multiple years. $80K that was a pre-pay (in change log from last year) and may come off if we can pre-pay this year which would bring the line close to what we had last year. Froze the budget last December/January (stopped discretionary spending). In next month, look to see what funds are remaining and will buy against next year – sacrificing during the year in order to plan ahead.
·      Talk about freezing of salaries. Only person being frozen is Cyndy.
·      Why SC line increase? More members are participating in PD plus increase in MASC dues. Victorian Fair booth also comes out of this line.
·      Current document: cut to ELL staff? 150 students now. Recently found not at fault for ELL services so have some flexibility in that line item. Our services are fine.
·      In document: no discussion of sub pay. Proposed to be raised $20K this coming year. No easy answer. Not convinced that we’d get more subs if we paid even $100/day. Constant struggle. Tried advertising / explored working with agency (but that costs). Choices to be made. At HS: 2 permanent subs who can take up to 2 classes each. Teachers required to leave work for students. Piloting same sub program at MVMMS to see if it works. Distinguish: day-to-day subs vs. Long Term Subs. (LTS gets different pay: Bachelor 1 lane in salary schedule and they must be licensed). Why LT absences?: young staff having children, older staff with elderly family members.
·      With 2 new K’s will there be additional paras? Para grant is gone and nothing will bring it back. (This is not unusual; state grants designed to get you started assuming that city/town will absorb the cost later.) Larger Q: what do paras do and how do we use them? This is difficult budget that will reach into personnel.
·      Best practice for PD? PD increased b/c we now do in-house  - learning walk-throughs, mentoring, etc. Pull teachers during the day and review data (who’s doing well? Who’s not? Why?) Teachers learning from teachers is the most effective form of PD. Today’s PD was based on behavioral health challenges to about 40 district  “pioneers.” State changed licensure regulations around SEI/RETELL and students with disabilities. For other PD, the PD Committee  (teachers, SC member, admins) survey teachers: what do they need?). Teacher-requested PD also affects what PD is delivered.
·      MUNIS reports only visible when reported out but public information is in meeting packets under consent agendas. Spirit of question: private grants are not reported in budget; they are small but help teachers and are reported on MEF”s website. They are in quarterly donations report. PTO grants are in donations report. Major grants (Title grants, SPED, Safe and Supportive Schools). 94-142 pays tuitions. Title I only ESL. Title II only PD. Not a lot of leeway on grants. Federal grant review in the fall. Outside auditing in the spring.
·      ECC: is there a way to differentiate teachers at ECC? Schedules change from year to year. ECC registration (3 options): 3 year old, multi-age, pre-K so parents choose. In response to final numbers, Donna Rosso decides on staffing needs. (Efficiency in performance: 3 day people also work 2 day program.)

Wrap up and thank you by Ms. DeSelm.

Friday, March 10, 2017

FY18 MVMMS and MHS Programs of Study, Budget Presentation, and Decisions on Fees

The Committee held a meeting this past Tuesday, March 7th to hear about and decide on approving the FY18 Middle School and High School Programs of Study (POS), receive the proposed FY18 budget from Supt. Taymore in order to begin deliberations, and vote FY18 fees. Here’s the rundown (and don’t forget to check the minutes for the official version):

Program of Study: Middle School (Principal Conway and Assistant Principal Parsons) http://mvmms.melroseschools.com/our-school/course-descriptions/#sthash.yzSCcmW5.dpbs

§   Most changes center around A Block, addressing issues around writing, introduction to band and orchestra, and challenge science classes (which students will still select, but labs will now be based on all three major science topics. One teacher will take one particular domain and focus on that).
§   There were updates to English course descriptions (especially challenge classes).
§   Special education instruction includes focusing on writing for students on IEP’s.
§   Classes were selected in Aspen last year using the POS as a guide, and it’s important that students choose classes that interest them when they make selections.
§   In the past, the MS has clustered students identified as gifted in specific challenge classes, but this year will give them options based on their interests.
§   There may be more sharing of staff with MHS this year (currently at 8 teachers).
§   The course selection process is in late May/early June, but information will go out to families in April.
§   They’ve developed a possible 8th grade 2D art class with a competency based learning approach for 1-2 trimesters. (It would potentially allow students to test out of Art I as a freshman at MHS (so they ultimately have more art opportunities in later grades).
§   The POS can’t say how many sections will or will not run. They can’t always run as many sections as students might like.
§   We have the “Cadillac” of foreign language programs and some students may even be able to take two languages during some portion of their time at MVMMS.

Program of Study: High School (Principal Merrill and Assistant Principal Corrigan) http://melrosehigh.melroseschools.com/2016/03/mhs-2016-2017-program-studies/#sthash.pKdtzScj.dpbs

§   Very few changes this year.
§   Considerations: Competency Based Education (CBE), Project Based Learning (PBL), Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and class size.
§   Students can advance more quickly in Fine Arts if they successfully complete a portfolio review (with standards developed by the art teachers).
§   Dual enrollment: outstanding feedback from students, this year expanded offerings.
§   More personalized learning for 12th grade students is expected
§   AP Capstone Diploma program (2nd year) and AP Research new.
§   Honors Stats in new; AP computer science is a new math course.
§   There are revised requirements around Wellness.
§   New student options: later start for 12th grade students by skipping A block to work on college/career planning; and early release for an exploration opportunity (career planning and/or training).
§   Starting scheduling process a little earlier, hoping to have 1st run before April vacation, which should help MVMMS and support best assignment of staff.
§   Rare now to have course conflicts (due to the new scheduling protocol).
§   Minimum regular ed class size is around 15.

Budget priorities and impact on the budget (Supt. Taymore and  Director of Finance and Administrative Affairs Marianne Farrell)

§   Last year’s priorities were different with a level service budget and a goal of maintaining direct services to students. There were some reductions to balance the budget (e.g. three administrators).
§   This year: SEL, inclusive practices, instructional technology, and enrollments are the priorities. As of today, enrollment totals 3818 (with K at 304). Professional development is very important and is being employed across the district in a variety of ways taking time, money, and other resources.
§   Standard challenges: loss of state and federal funding, increasing costs for transportation, health insurance, special ed. programs and services, English Language students (enrollment of 150) and the translation services required, unknown curriculum changes (e.g. history, etc.).
§   Document is shorter than previous budget documents; less information at the beginning and more throughout. Offsets are now combined at the front of the document.
§   Four categories are detailed: salaries, materials and supplies, technology, and contracted services. There was a review of each section (individual schools, itinerants, music, athletics, pupil personnel services, teaching and learning, administration, and system-wide).
§   Committee discussion: excellent formatting, be careful in terminology (we do not have a deficit but instead the Supt. has presented a budget that differs from what the City can afford); Melrose is a minimum aid community in the Governor’s budget with assessments for charter schools increased (even with 19 fewer students); vocational school assessments are based on average income per household which doesn’t make sense; slightly lower structural deficit in the school budget; we look at any spending we can make prior to the end of this year; this is one of the richest teacher contracts in the city’s history; “shocking” youth of our staff has impact on budget; House budget coming next and is unknown; usability and accessibility of the document aligns with recommendations from MASC/MASBO/MASS workshop this past weekend; review of curriculum materials included assessment of their duration and necessary replacement; METCO reimbursements are a state question; possibility of negotiating library materials’ costs in conjunction with other districts (but many materials are charged per pupil and there are state regulations around purchasing)?; concerns around transportation costs; translation services require efforts around district-specific documents and other districts struggle with this also; solving problems like substitute teaching and the shortage of administrators.

Fee Decisions

§   Photography class at MHS: eliminated the fee.
§   Transcripts: eliminated the fee.  
§   HS Athletics: no change to fees.
§   Elementary Music: $5 increase.
§   Ed Stations: 2% increase based on the 2:22 release time.
§   ECC:
§  Stay and Play (summer): 2% increase.
§  Stay and Play (school year): 2% increase.
§  Tuition: 2% increase.

Public Q&A Session on the budget will be held on March 14th from 6-7:30 in the Aldermanic Chamber of City Hall. It will be open to the public and televised. In order for Subcommittee Chairman Liz DeSelm to combine questions and facilitate efficiently, please send your questions to her in advance at ldeselm@cityofmelrose.org. If time remains, questions will be taken from the audience. Our regular business meeting will follow.

3 School Committee Meetings: 1 Post

The School Committee met on January 24th, February 14th, and February 28th and well, wow, that time flew! So here’s a quick update on each before a more substantive post on this past Tuesday’s meeting. As always, edits / errors / opinions mine so check meeting minutes for the official synopsis.

January 24th
·               The MPS received a $10K grant for Safe and Supportive Schools that will be used by MVMMS staff to develop an action plan related to student behavioral health.
·               The Middlesex Supts. group (twelve districts) received a one-time, $40K grant from Lahey to underwrite a new version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey allowing for sharing and comparing among districts, and asking some questions specific to each district.
·               An MPS app is in the works that will allow submission of anonymous tips, and access to school calendars as well as FB and Twitter pages.
·               An elementary summer program will be offered but likely not by the schools.
·               Subcommittee Chairmen presented their intentions for the year within Education Programs and Personnel, Finance and Facilities, and Policy and Planning.
·               The Supt. presented her Budget Narrative, speaking to priorities social emotional learning, inclusive practices, instructional technology, and enrollments.

February 14th
·               Kindergarten online pre-registration counted 272 enrollments.
·               The Supt. was authorized to begin the process for procuring a vendor for elementary summer programming.
·               The Elementary Instrumental Music Working Group presented their final report.
·               FY18 fees were proposed by Supt. Taymore, including a proposal to form a working group on athletic fees.
·               Two policies: Drug and Alcohol Use by Students and Teaching About Drugs, Alcohol, and Tobacco, were reviewed.
·               Jess Dugan and Jaime McAllister-Grande spoke to their intentions around a School Committee Communication Plan and asked for ideas from Committee members for discussion at a later date.

February 28th
·               Two teams of Roosevelt School students presented their STEM Scope projects, sharing division of duties, providing a demonstration, and addressing Committee questions.
·               Student Rep Conlan Cesar reported on the D3-winning MHS Wrestling Team, and the state record breaking performance of Kevin Wheelock in the 1 mile and 2 mile.
·               Hiring of the new Assistant City Solicitor for Schools and Labor, Amy Lindquist, was announced. Her office will be in Central Administration and she will focus on collective bargaining, civil rights and other investigations, open meeting/public records law, etc.
·               ECC registration enrollments are at 304 (a high for this time of year).
·               Supt. Taymore will attend the invitation-only National Summit on K-12 Competency Education as their invited guest.
·               School Improvement Plan updates are now posted on school web sites.
·               Athletic and co-curricular enrollments were presented by sport, and level (Freshman, JV, Varsity). There were 51 more total participants in FY16 vs. FY15 with 1076 total (not unique) participants in FY16.
·               The Committee authorized the Supt. to finalize a contract with AlphaBest for an FY17 K-Grade 4 summer program. AlphaBest will provide an information session for parents on Monday, March 13th from 7-8 p.m. at MVMMS.
·               Fee discussions continued with intent to vote on March 7th.