Jenny's Recap of the March 30th School Committee Meeting
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
The thirteenth School Committee meeting of the academic year was held on March 30th, 2020. It was the first meeting since Medford Public Schools closed all buildings effective March 13th, 2020.
Nurse Toni Wray shared a brief update of the evolving COVID-19 situation in Medford and across Massachusetts. She reiterated the importance of social distancing. Please stay home as much as you possibly can!
We voted unanimously to cancel the 8th grade New York field trip scheduled for June 2020. New York has the highest COVID-19 numbers in the entire country at this time. Families will receive a refund of all but $20. The $20 was part of our non-refundable deposit to the tour company. To issue these refunds, though, our finance staff needs to be in the office to cut checks, so this will take some time. If you have an urgent need or question on timing, please reach out to your principal.
We changed our upcoming meeting schedule. We will not meet on April 13th, 2020, as initially scheduled. We will instead meet on April 20th, 2020.
Assistant Superintendent Kirsteen Patterson and the City of Medford’s finance director Aleesha Nunley provided a financial update. Both shared that the budget impacts are widely unknown at this time. For MPS, Ms. Patterson reviewed the state of our revolving accounts. These accounts operate differently by law than our general fund. Revolving accounts exist where MPS takes in revenue for a given program AND spends for that same program. Examples include vocational school services where fees are collected (like the cosmetology program that sees customers from the community and the graphic arts that produces print materials for the public among others), the lost books account for our school library, Kids Corner, the Before and After School Program, School Lunch, and various Athletics programs including the pool, the field, and Lo Conte rink. As we’ve discussed before, MPS’s general fund spending RELIES on income surpluses to a number of these revolving accounts to pay for items that the City’s appropriation of funds does not cover. This gap in funding has shrunk some over the years but still stands at $1.8 million. This evolving issue is significant. If I had to boil it down, I’d do so as follows:
Our revenue sources into these revolving accounts have stopped. Since our buildings aren’t open and the Governor issued a stay at home order, no building rentals are occurring at this time, and accordingly, no revenue coming in.
We are still spending out of these accounts. While we are spending less in some areas, we are spending to pay staff who are paid from the foodservice, before and after school, kids corner, and other programs.
In addition to our revolving accounts, our regular budget pays for things that we are not consuming right now. In some cases, this means that we are spending less. But the general fund budget also includes school buses and many special education programs. By law, schools are not allowed to pay for services that have not been delivered. So the law would prevent us from paying the bus company right now, and it also prevents our collaboratives who provide special education programming to some of our students from billing us if they are not providing services. There is a lot of discussion unfolding about this across the state. It’s too simple to not pay for ALL things we are not consuming. In the case of the buses, if we don’t pay the bus company, they will surely be unable to afford to pay their staff. That staff may file for unemployment and await the start of school, but they may also seek employment elsewhere. They hold Commercial Driver’s Licenses, and individuals with these credentials are in high demand always. Even if we pay the bus company, we cannot be certain that their employees are paid since we do not control our vendor’s business decisions. In the end, it is critically important that we have buses to drive our students when school returns. How we ensure that, and frankly, how we ensure all staff can return when school returns to normal, is a work in progress.
Superintendent Edouard-Vincent provided an update and highlighted that since the closure of MPS, a major priority has been to address the needs of our students who rely on school for food. We quickly worked in conjunction with Medford’s Food Security Task Force to scale up services and are offering grab and go breakfast and lunch at several locations across the City. This is an excellent example of how our community was ahead of the curve with established structures, in this case, the Food Security Task Force, that allowed us to move quickly and meet an unexpected need. The team has also now completed two deployments of Chromebooks to families who need them. If you find that your family needs a Chromebook, please reach out to your principal. The district rolled out a survey to better understand the experiences of our families in the first few weeks of this new endeavor to help fine-tune our plans as we move forward. Our English Learner and Special Education departments provided updates of work since school closure:
Our English Learner department has reached all but 30 students through individual outreach. They have identified families who may not have requested Chromebooks but will need them as determined by the department. The department is meeting regularly to collaborate across grades and the department. They are in coordination with general education teachers as well.
The Special Education staff have focused on establishing office hours, virtual lunch groups, and modifying academic activities for students.
At the Curtis Tufts school, students went home before the school closure with work in core classes, and the staff has worked to establish google classrooms to use moving forward.
Speech therapists have focused on providing recommendations for regular activities and are not licensed to provide teletherapy under current DESE guidance.
Our Occupational and Physical Therapy teams have focused on establishing regular communications.
Our Vision Services team is working with our provider, Perkins School for the Blind, to establish a system that is uniform across districts who rely on Perkins.
Dr. Bernadette Ricciardelli presented the official District Learning Plan that we developed in conjunction with the Medford Teachers Association. You may have heard from friends in other communities about how they are proceeding and what other schools are doing. This plan provides some guidance and updates on the work here in Medford. A few notable highlights:
Inequity abounds. We are very sensitive to the fact that not all of our students can access distance learning equally. Issues range from the availability of technology to students who need professional support to access the curriculum that is not available right now as they would be during the typical school day.
We are concerned about the well-being of our entire school community. These are uncertain times, and the stress on families is significant. We are finding ways to stay connected. We will continue to focus on our most vulnerable students and ensure that, where we can, we identify their needs and help find resources and answers to assist.
Our plan follows DESE guidance that “the focus of instruction should be on reinforcing skills already taught this school year and applying and deepening these skills.” This strong recommendation from DESE is an essential principle that Medford is following. While it does not prohibit new material from being delivered, it is incredibly important when you consider the equity concerns within the district and across the state.
Instruction/work will take up approximately ½ the length of a regular school day.
Grades for the final semester will follow DESE guidelines and be a pass/fail designation for the remainder of the school year.
There are many unanswered questions. There are lots of items where answers simply don’t exist yet. For example, MCAS has not officially been canceled. The federal government has issued a waiver, but our state legislature needs to act as well. As I write this, the legislature plans to grant this authority to make decisions about MCAS to DESE rather than canceling them. I am entirely opposed to this approach and have been in contact with my legislator. If you’d like to do the same, follow the instructions on this link.
During this discussion, I requested that the district take this opportunity to formally capture information regarding whether our families have computers/technology at home and whether internet access is available in each home. We don’t capture this information today, and we should. As we focus on this information, I believe it will help us quantify the needs of our school community to navigate through this crisis. As importantly, though, this is information we should always know about our families. My goal is that through this, we find a way to make this data systematically captured and updated. By looking at this from a systems thinking approach, we will be able to leverage the information we need to navigate our current crisis in a more repeatable way, moving forward. I also received numerous questions from the community regarding the plan presented. I consolidated all the feedback I received and provided it to Superintendent Edouard-Vincent a few days after the meeting. I see this plan and the entire situation as a work in progress. Things will change, and we’ll need to be prepared to adapt to the change.
Your call to action: Stay home, and wash your hands! Reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have questions or an issue you’d like to discuss. 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.