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.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Year-End Activities and the School Budget: May 9th City Wide PTO Meeting

City Wide PTO held its May meeting this past Tuesday, with representatives from most schools in attendance and excited to talk about plans for their end-of-year activities as well as next year's planning. We also talked about the school budget for next year.

PTO Updates

·               The elementary, middle, and high school representatives talked about year-end events and celebrations, including elementary ice cream socials, plays, field days, and field trips. Lincoln Principal Donovan will be leaving the district as of July 1st, replaced by current Hoover Principal Corduck. Current Lincoln School Student Services Facilitator Carol Weldin has accepted the Interim Hoover School Principal position.
·               At MVMMS, incoming 6th grade parents are invited to Principal Conway’s introduction to the Middle School on Wednesday, May 31st from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.  (Students’ Step-Up Day is planned for June 14th.) The Veteran’s Memory Project fundraised throughout the year to host a trip Washington D.C. for Gulf War veterans and a guest (along with 20 accompanying middle school students). The annual Semi-Formal, 8th grade trip to NYC, and barbeque round out the school calendar.
·               This year’s final HS PTO meeting is targeted to parents of rising juniors.  ~75% of seniors are on internships now, AP exams are finishing up, and the school featured another amazing drama production: Thoroughly Modern Millie. Underclassmen have submitted requests for next year’s classes. The boys distance track relay is headed to Nationals. Senior Week begins Memorial Day week, culminating in Graduation on Friday, June 2nd at 6 p.m. at the Fred Green Field (all are welcome!) Fundraising has gone well for Melrose Grad Night and over 91% of seniors are registered to attend this safe and fun evening.

School Budget Update

·               The FY18 school budget was passed on April 4th and the Mayor formally presented the city budget to the Board of Aldermen on May 8th. The Committee will present the approved district budget to the Board of Aldermen on May 25th. In order to balance the budget from the original request in February, school and city monies were used to pre-pay materials, requests for additional positions were eliminated (.5 ELL, .5 social worker, an Instructional Technology Director, 1.5 secondary teachers, and 4 Title One tutors), and more money was taken from rainy-day type funds. The district was able to add 2 Kindergarten teachers, and 2 elementary special teachers (.5 art, .5 music, and 1 digital technology). Most significantly, the budget increases teacher salaries by $900,000 from the prior year. We continue to be grateful for donors in the district, like the Melrose Education Foundation, Victoria McLaughlin Foundation, PTO’s, booster clubs and many other groups and individuals, who subsidize one-time district needs.
·               State revenues this spring are coming in lower than anticipated and there may be some cuts but they are unlikely to be enormous. Next year’s state budget is a concern, and there will be much discussion before the required passage date of June 30th. There is hope that the Fair Share Amendment, a ballot question in 2018 that adds an additional 4% tax to personal income over $1M, will pass given that the monies are anticipated for education and transportation funding.
·               The federal education budget remains unknown.

Final meeting of the year is in June!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

DESE CPR, PD Plan, Elementary Staffing, Valedictorian, and More: 4/25 School Committee Meeting

At last week’s School Committee meeting, we shifted our focus from the budget to Educational Programs and Personnel, along with review of a policy related to student educational services. Highlights below are mine alone (along with any errors/edits!).

Field Trip
An MHS student trip to Poland is a new proposal and relates to the history associated with WWII, the fall of Communism, etc. 20-30 students are predicted to attend. MHS history teacher Mr. Pennacchio will come before the Committee at the next meeting to speak to the details of his request.

Coordinated Program Review
Dr. Adams and Ms. White-Lambright presented. This DESE review occurs once every six years and involves significant time, effort, many stakeholder groups, and a self-assessment period. It encompasses special education, English Language Learning, and civil rights. DESE staff visits for several days and focuses on 60 standard. It’s a thoughtful process. Melrose was found to be 100% compliant for special education; a very small number of school districts receive this rating. All credit to staff for this work and outcome. One form and one translation item will be changed. For ELL there are 22 elements and the district was found compliant for program and record-keeping, being cited for translation (report cards) in Haitian creole and Portuguese. Melrose also needs access to translation regarding extra-curricular activities. Aspen may be able to play a role in this area. As of April 7th, the district has 20 days to begin implementation with a year to comply. Title I was also reviewed and the district is in full compliance.

FY18 Professional Development Plan
Next year’s summer program seeks to continue the work done on social emotional learning and PBIS. The district has been working in Tier II and Tier III to embody core values (extra support). This year, they did training-the-trainers and need to build from Tier I to support these efforts at every school level. There has also been a successful implementation of technology, and they are now looking at integration within the curriculum. The most precious commodity is time and the district is looking at creative ways to capture more time for teachers, like book studies and engaging in an on-line platform (read and reflect and embed in classroom practice, with a product at the end to show how it’s employed in classroom, e.g. reading Anxiety and Depression in Young Children. 45 teachers participated last summer.) Microcredentialing is another method of PD:  do a task/do your own learning. Perform a task that’s job-embedded and implement it and earn an electronic badge as well as Professional Development Points [required for re-licensure] for it. The DESE document on inclusive practices is the basis of this theme in PD and aligns with the Supt’s budget priorities.

Secondary Code of Conduct
There are changes around absences (appeals, etc.). There is a focus on unreported absences (unexcused). Violation of parking code results in possible suspension (but only after multiple conversations with offenders).

Reinstating MHS Valedictorian
MHS Principal Merrill was approached by students who sought reinstatement of the Valedictorian. He polled students and staff who strongly supported the move. The Committee deliberated the impact of stress on students, other social/emotional concerns and mitigations that have been implemented, the history of the vote taken in 2014 around this issue, etc. The Committee voted to reinstate the Valedictorian effective immediately.

Elementary Staffing
The district will proceed with two extra K classrooms as budgeted. With respect to itinerant positions, Supt. Taymore is currently planning to incorporate an additional. .5 art, .5 music. and 1.0 digital literacy teacher. There is work not yet completed around re-thinking the elementary wellness model. (All PE teachers are dual certified in PE and Health/Wellness.) The new digital literacy teacher will have collaborated with classroom teachers to embed digital literacy in classroom work. By adding these teachers, the overcrowding of itinerant classes is being addressed.

Melrose has some students who are elite athletes and performers in the fine arts. It’s difficult to keep them at MHS due to graduation requirements and the district is losing students to the online high school in Greenfield. The Supt. began to think about how to keep students here. With certain students, the district could provide a vendor, courses would align with our standards, and we could then issue an MHS diploma. If students participate in Greenfield’s program, they can’t participate in Melrose activities and this policy would allow that. There is a cost but it is less than what it would cost to choice a student out ($3500 vs. $5000). It requires check-ins with teachers but that’s the only cost. The program would also support 5th year students who don’t want to be in Melrose High. Other districts are doing what we’re doing now, but this option is more planful; others are piecing together with face-to-face and on-line combo. This program is starting small and students must have extenuating circumstances that would apply to its purpose; it’s about students who need to earn a degree and need a program that accommodates them. Melrose currently doesn’t have control of curriculum for students at other schools and this program allows that. The policy will come up for a first vote at the next meeting.

Legislative Themes
Following our joint legislative meeting with Wakefield on April 5th, we agreed to draft some common themes from which a joint advocacy letter could be proposed and signed by both communities. The themes discussed were: 1. full funding of the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations; 2. charter school reimbursement funding at 100%; 3. full funding of Circuit Breaker [special education reimbursements]; and 4. funding of other budget line items that impact student learning (like poverty, food insecurity, an unstable home environment, and homelessness).

Next meeting is Tuesday, May 9th at 7:00 in the Aldermanic Chamber!