Jenny's Recap of the February 24th School Committee Meeting
Updated: Mar 9
The eleventh School Committee meeting of the academic year was held on February 24th, 2020. This meeting was very long and, as a result, we tabled several items for future meetings.
Judy Lonergan was on hand to distribute checks from Medford's annual Jingle Bell Run. She noted that the run had raised over $200,000 since its inception for Medford schools.
Julie Matarese gave a short presentation about Rare Disease Day, which occurred on February 29th. The entire School Committee received ribbons from the Matarese family to honor Emily Matarese, a Medford High School student. Thank you to the Matarese family for joining us to raise awareness for this important day.
We approved a gift from Elizabeth Gomez, who is a Medford High School Spanish teacher. She is donating funds to allow our Speech and Language Therapists to attend the one-day National Stuttering Association Event. We also approved a letter of commitment to enable Medford to apply for a Strategic Prevention Framework - Partnerships for Success grant. The grant will improve and support our district's collaboration with the Medford Board of Health. If our application is successful, the grant spans five years, and Medford would receive between $300,000 and $1 million per year.
Congratulations are in order around the district.
Sophia Hernandes Ecorihuela and Jackson Olander gave a presentation on their day as part of Project 351. They were selected by their teachers and principals to represent Medford as excellent examples of the project's core values: kindness, compassion, humility, and gratitude. The project seeks to develop the next generation of community-first service leaders through customized service learning, hands-on community-building, and values-based leadership training.
The Boston Globe Scholastic Writing competition awarded Gold Keys to Sophia Hernandez and Nertha Richard. Katharine Schmidt and Kenza Belloula received Silver Keys awards. The Globe awarded Honorable Mentions to Rachel Myers and Katherine Schmidt. Gold Key winners will be entered into a national competition. The Humanities department is working to secure permission from students to share these works with the community.
Nicholas Yurasko was a top 5 finalist in the English Speaking Union's Shakespearean Monologue competition.
Medford High's Mock Trial team won two out of three trials in this year's competition. Former City Solicitor, Mark Rumley, was on hand to congratulate the team and teacher Dana McMahon. The team included: Abigail Czwakiel, Amishika Dhaurali, Emily Gaddy, Isabella Batti, Juliette Franks, Youssef Gehad, Bonnie Huang, Liza Lopes, Arthur Schlerman, Meicha Vertilus, and Christina Zheng.
Finally, speaking of remarkable students, two Medford High students presented to the City Council on Tuesday, February 25th to propose a city ordinance banning styrofoam. There was broad support for the students, and the Council will schedule a future Committee of the Whole to work on the ordinance.
Middle School Updates
The School Committee received a report of our middle school athletics program, which is in its first year. Our athletes had a successful fall and winter season, and we are turning our attention to the spring season of outdoor track. The program is on budget. Additionally, both middle schools sought approval for the 8th-grade field trip to New York City, and the McGlynn Middle School sought approval for the 7th-grade Environmental Camp Field trip. All trips were approved. The committee did note the significant disparity of attendance between the two schools for the New York City Field trip and the high cost of $650/student. Both schools emphasized the support of their PTOs and the community to offer partial to full scholarships to defray expenses. We also noted that the field trips needed to use the forms outlined in the policy adopted last year and that the school administration would provide those ASAP. I inquired about the expansion of the 7th grade trip to the Andrews in future years as we look to offer a comparable middle school experience across our schools. Finally, the committee asked that our parent communication be more clear, moving forward to address students who may need support to access these field trip opportunities.
Literacy Screening and Intervention Update
The district provided an update on work across the district to change early literacy screening and intervention procedures. For those who are newer to this discussion, I want to give a bit of context. On October 19th, 2018, Governor Baker signed into law a bill to direct DESE to issue guidelines to assist school districts in developing screening procedures for Dyslexia. Medford received grants from DESE to be part of their pilot screenings at 2 of our elementary schools, and our administrative team was able to expand that work to all four elementary schools. DESE is testing programs that are valid and reliable, scientifically based, brief, administered three times a year and had an inclusion of Code and Meaning based and/or Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN) assessments. They will issue guidelines in the Fall of 2020, which does mean that for the next school year, for Medford to continue screening, we could be required to make a program change once DESE implements its guidelines. It is important to note that the screeners we are discussing identify the risk of reading difficulty, rather than a medical diagnosis of Dyslexia. Risk of reading difficulty looks at the following:
Encoding (spelling) for 2nd grade
Columbus Elementary is piloting the MAP screener, and all other schools are piloting the Lexia screener. Both of these assessments are computer-based and administered three times per year. All of the professional development associated with both screeners can be used by teachers to apply toward re-licensure requirements. Lexia Academy provides additional online professional development as well. Teachers have received professional development on the science of reading, on administering the tool, and on interpreting the results. The data interpretation professional development is incremental and occurs after each screening period.
Intervention and Core Instruction
We are also piloting Lexia's Core-5 product with our K-2 staff at no cost for this pilot year. Core-5 is a robust computer-based intervention tool. If we choose to purchase the program, the Core-5 is approximately $40/student, and this cost is separate from the assessment tool. The software does a placement exercise the first time a student logs in and then drives content to the student based on the student-specific profile. Customized learning paths are especially useful to ensure that we aren't stigmatizing our struggling readers when working in a classroom setting. The team in all schools is using the WIN block (What I Need) to implement interventions that are often quite different across students in a classroom. The March 3rd professional in-service day is scheduled to include training on a new instructional tool to supplement our curriculum called Enhanced Core Reading Instruction (ECRI), as the first part of a series with that module. See my update on ECRI from our last Curriculum Subcommittee meeting here .
There was considerable discussion about the timing of notifications to parents. Namely, with our kindergarten families, screening completed in October was not shared with parents until teacher conferences in February. We discussed looking at the process as we round out our screenings this year to implement a more clear communication path for next year. The update also didn't address our grade 3-12 students who are not part of this early screening effort. During our Budget meetings earlier in the evening, some essential requests were made that will directly affect our 3-12 students (and all students for that matter). These requests include 2 elementary literacy coaches to support our teachers and Tier 1 instruction and 2 reading specialists at the high school level to support students who may be struggling in this area that are not on IEPs. Reading specialists at all levels support our Tier 2 students. Our students receiving special education services around literacy are serviced by a different team. This team trained to support Tier 3 students. They report to the Special Education department. The School Committee will hold a budget meeting with the Special Education and English Learners department on Monday, April 13th, at 5:30 pm.
The work that our administrators and educators have been doing this year to implement and execute these pilots is considerable, and I'd like to thank them. It's not easy to implement new things, but it's even harder to run two pilots simultaneously. In our case, the pilots provide a level of objective data early that is important and game-changing. The data tells which readers are struggling earlier than ever before. My hope is that we can leverage the data to help students and teachers. Together we can ensure that all students can access meaningful literacy instruction and that we identify challenges early. In all of this, I believe that we also need to have similar conversations about our 3-12 students so that we can put the right resources in place to address our students who won't be helped by our early intervention work.
Fundraising Organizations Update
Emily Lazzaro presented an update of fundraising organizations affiliated with Medford Public Schools. In the 2017-2018 school year, the School Committee enacted a policy to require organizations who fundraise on behalf of our schools to provide some organizational information to the Superintendent's office annually. If you are part of an organization that has not yet provided this information please do so. Also in the policy is a commitment from the district to provide some basic support to organizations through training. This training from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Office of the Attorney General is an excellent resource for any/all board members of a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. There is additional ongoing discussion regarding support for our treasurers to help ensure compliance across the many volunteers working hard to support our students. A very special thank you to our PTOs, our athletics boosters clubs, community groups, and others who fill considerable gaps and provide the necessary support to the Medford Public Schools experience.
Your call to action: Join me at my next office hours at Salvatores on 3/22 at 7 pm. I welcome your input in general, and as we get ready for our budget hearings on 3/23. The 3/23 budget hearings will be dedicated to Art, Physical Education, Library/Media, Health Services, and Athletics. Please also share this blog with friends and neighbors who want to be informed about our schools. Subscribing to the newsletter will ensure you receive these updates as I post them.