Jenny's Recap of the June 1st, 2020 School Committee Meeting
The eighteenth School Committee meeting of the academic year was held on June 1st, 2020.
Superintendent Edouard-Vincent’s Updates
Dr. Edouard-Vincent addressed the community in response to the death of George Floyd and the protests that are happening in cities across our nation. I won’t even attempt to summarize her thoughts, because you should hear them from her here. Her comments start at 38:35.
Dr. Edouard-Vincent introduced Tom Milaschewski, who will be joining us as a fellow from Harvard University’s Educational Leadership Program. Fellows from the program are in high demand, and we are honored to be selected. Mr. Milaschewski will be here learning and working. The fellowship lasts one year and represents a substantial gift from Harvard to Medford Public Schools. Welcome, Tom!
We approved a three-year contract (with two-year options) for our yellow bus vendor. The price increases were a concern for the committee. However, long contracts, such as our five-year contract, can reasonably be expected to see more significant jumps at contract renewal. The agreement also saw increases in the cost of ‘charter buses’ used for athletics and field trips. I expressed concern about this climb in charter costs making field trips more and more expensive and unrealistic for our students. You can see the excerpts of the contract rates here. The committee expressed concern that the contract does not provide us any additional service that we may need next year pending regulations on how we return to school. While I am comfortable that the agreement does not address this, I am certainly concerned about what it will cost to get our children to school next year.
The after school program provided a report that compared our rates to other cities and towns considered like Medford demographically. The comparison was available if the city or town managed their own program. Many do not. I requested that the comparison be expanded to include private options in Medford as well. Ms. Fiddler-Carey did share that our rates are set to match the reimbursement we receive from the state voucher program. Medford currently only receives vouchers from a small number of families and each year the voucher system gets more complicated. We also asked that she investigate creating different fee structures that would allow us to move away from vouchers, and better provide for families in Medford using some kind of sliding scale. The report laid out some contingency scenarios to think about when we consider returning to school next year in various possible scenarios (½ day, partial week, etc).
COVID-19 Related Updates
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We authorized the Assistant Superintendent of Finance to negotiate with our special education and out-of-district transportation providers to determine how to pay for this time of school closure in the current year. We did a similar exercise with our primary bus provider several weeks ago. The state has asked cities and towns to ensure partial payments to these organizations so that we can ensure our needed transportation is available to us in the fall. Without partial payment, we risk destabilizing these carriers in various ways. They are critical to our operation when we resume activity at our school buildings.
We discussed CARES act funding allocated to Medford Public Schools as part of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. Medford received $668,052. We are obligated to give money from the grant to local private schools as well. Our remaining allocation is $600,639. The current thinking is to spend 80% of this allocation on Chromebooks and a small number of hotspots but to reserve the remaining 20%. This funding can broadly be used on educational expenses attributed to COVID and the related school closures. It cannot be used for things we were already planning to buy, to replace lost revenue, or to pay for already existing staff. The leadership team also presented some additional options for spending, which included:
Online learning resources like Lexia Core 5, TeachTown, Maxscholar reading program
Additional staff including counselors, behavior specialists, and art therapists,
Personal protective equipment for special education and teachers who may be unable to social distance
Remote learning courses for parents and guardians
Items to retrofit buildings to promote social distancing
Middle School Math
We heard from the Supervisor of Mathematics, Ms. Faiza Khan, regarding middle school math. Currently, we use a new curriculum called Illustrative Math in middle school EXCEPT for students in accelerated Math (Grade 7 and 8). Those students in accelerated math use the Big Ideas curriculum. The committee adopted Ms. Khan’s recommendation to address learning gaps caused by school closure. Current grade 6 students will continue to use Illustrative Math next year, and no 6th-grade students will use the Big Ideas accelerated math curriculum. Grade 7 families may choose to keep moving through accelerated math for Grade 8 or to move to the regular math track. We do not want any students to be unsuccessful in the steep challenge of accelerated math (2 years of math in one really), ever. But with all the school closure impacts and the potential for these closures to continue, this risk is higher than normal.
This conversation also brought up the challenges with math tracking in general. There is a ton of research out there about the link between accelerated math in middle school and students, particularly girls, opting out of math permanently in just a few years. Ms. Khan speaks highly of the new curriculum and the differentiation that is possible for all students in math under the program. I have heard the same in my own research. I put forward a motion that was accepted by the committee to do an in-depth review of our math progression in the Curriculum subcommittee. During that review, I will advocate that we look at the research, how other cities and towns approach this same progression, whether reaching Calculus is the ‘goal’ for a student who wishes to study beyond high school in various fields, how to authentically and effectively bring differentiated learning to mathematics, and most importantly how we communicate our approach, our strategy, and our execution to all families in this district.
Other Agenda Items
We adopted an agenda change to allow for a standing agenda item that affords members a space to offer comments and observation about the work of the committee. We also agreed to revisit our discussion from our December Orientation to create operating protocols and goals and to evaluate our progress toward goals. I believe that the goals piece is critical, and they are not in place at this time.
We heard and tabled a motion to review our recess policy. I agreed to table this motion to afford our Superintendent and our incoming Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools an opportunity to receive feedback on the recess issues before this item moves to the Rules, Policy, and Equity subcommittee. I have provided my comments directly, and encourage you to do the same if you have concerns about recess that you feel have not been adequately addressed.
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Jenny Graham is a member of the Medford School Committee. This blog represents her thoughts on issues of interest and does not reflect any official position of the City of Medford or the Medford School Committee. Meeting minutes, which are the public record of all meetings can be found here. Full recordings of meetings of the School Committee can be found here.