Jenny's Recap of the November 18th School Committee Meeting
The fifth School Committee meeting of the academic year was held on November 18, 2019. Superintendent Edouard-Vincent provided a brief report of notable happenings across the district.
The biggest news of the prior few weeks was the Medford High Boys Soccer team and the decisions made by the MIAA to forfeit the team’s season. The entire city worked together to plead the case to the MIAA and then ultimately to a judge who granted an injunction that allowed the team to play. While the team did not win the game, they certainly set an example of sportsmanship and determination. Mayor Burke noted that she is appalled at the decision of the MIAA and the actions of the league. Mr. D’Alleva read letters from the Superintendent of Schools in Malden and the Greater Boston League. The Mayor also noted the support Medford received from Somerville and Cambridge during this incident.
The school district is alerting families to the school bus pickups impacted by the closure of South St. by Eversource.
Middle school winter sports will include boys and girls basketball.
SEPAC co-hosted a presentation supporting food allergies in school. Read about the presentation here.
The Columbus School participated in Jumpstart Read for the Record which highlights the importance of building literacy and language skills.
Connor McFarlane, who graduated from Medford High this past June, received 1st prize and Audience Place awards at the UMass Innovation Challenge. He presented an improved insulin delivery (IID) that reduces pain, plastic waste, supplies, and the amount of time spent managing disease.
Thanks to a grant from the Attorney General’s office, the McGlynn and Andrews middle Schools and Medford High received an in-school presentation from Sandy Hook Promise called Start with Hello. The presentation focuses on empathy, ending social isolation, and violence prevention. It aims to train both educators and students to identify, assess, and intervene.
The fine arts department has posted the winter concert schedule. See all upcoming dates here.
The High School Band Parents Organization will be selling Christmas trees and wreaths at Medford High beginning on 11/29. Proceeds will help fund the upcoming 2020 band appearance in Hawaii to commemorate the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor.
Medford Family Network is hosting a winter coat drive.
Dr. Jan Hollenback was chosen to receive the American Occupational Therapy Association Roster of Fellows Award. The award recognizes those who have made a significant impact on the profession with a measured impact on consumers of occupational services.
Technology glitches at high school are impacting WiFi service throughout the building. The Superintendent noted that meetings are in progress to address this issue. Since then, Peter Cushing provided an update via email on Monday, November 25, that updates to the technology will occur on Wednesday, November 27th, starting at noon. His email outlined protocols that will be in place for after-school communications on that day.
Marc Alenn Jean-Mary and Isabella DeSouza were named this year’s student representatives to the School Committee. I heard folks express a desire for a student voice on the School Committee during the election cycle, and it was clear to me that few knew that we DO have this voice on our team, or that it is required by state law. Beyond that voice and the legal requirement, I am always impressed at the contribution of our students who serve in this capacity. I am looking forward to working with Marc Alenn and Isabella!
Math learning walks are continuing for a second year. The Superintendent showed a brief video capturing the activity across the district. The goal of these learning walks is to improve math instruction across the district and see these improvements in Math MCAS outcomes.
The School Committee accepted three grant/donation requests during this meeting.
$100,000 from the Hoff family to enable the Vocational school to move the cosmetology program to the main level of the building. The space is currently located on the lower level of the building, which presents some accessibility challenges. A partial groundbreaking occurred to kick off the work, which will be completed in the Spring of 2020. The effort includes work by multiple vocational students to make this move a reality and is a fantastic learning opportunity for students. Cosmetology services will not be interrupted during construction
$10,000 from Verizon to create a maker space in the High School Library. Molly Laden applied for and received the grant. The grant will fund a shared STEAM/Maker space at the high school, which Ms. Laden hopes will be the first of many in libraries across the district. The grant covers $5,000 in supplies as wells as stipends, training, and professional development. The maker space has also received furniture donations. She is looking at tools, including die cutters, 3D printers, and possibly a green screen.
$38,502 from Safer Schools to update and modernize district communications system. The competitive grant provided a maximum award of $80,000. The money will be used to upgrade radio communications between and within school buildings and improving repeaters at the high school and McGlynn complex. The improvements will allow for improved connectivity between and within the schools, central administration, and the police and fire departments.
Center for Citizenship and Social Responsibility (CCSR)
The CCSR presented an update report. The CCSR has been grant-funded since its inception. Rich Trotta and Michael Skorker gave an update. The district has applied for a $250,000 sustaining grant from the Cummings Foundation, and we’ve received word that we’ve passed the first round. The district will learn the outcome of the award in the spring. Mr. Skorker is always working on grant funding to ensure that the program can continue forward.
The program started three years ago with 18 students in grades 9-12 and has grown to over 500 students district-wide. There are 80 projects this year at the high school alone. “The mission of the CCSR is to develop responsible global leaders/citizens who will be positive contributors to society and will work to combat important social issues such as global warming, addiction, prejudice, racism, pollution, gender bias, poverty, public education, healthcare, etc.” The program teaches students via project-based learning where the students do everything from coming up with the idea, to raising money, to completing the project. The program helps students understand that, indeed, anybody can make an impact on the world around them.
The team provided portfolio updates to the Committee. We had a brief update on the Haitian Flag Day project and the Common Ground project to promote inclusivity for our students with significant disabilities in the Access Program. I was particularly impressed by Emily McDaid and Jaqueline Madigan, who are the CCSR Portfolio Manager as Seniors. They help coordinate and report out across the entire portfolio of projects to the district and the Cummings Foundation, our donor. When we talk about preparedness for the real world, I can’t say enough positive things about teaching project and program management skills to students.
I put this update under my Grants/Donations section because the program runs entirely on a grant. It is mostly used to pay staff and provides speakers and supplies. As I was writing this update, it felt natural to make this a separate section in my update. It is astounding just how many grants and donations our district receives. I often hear people talk about the community stepping up to help, and I’m here to tell you that THEY DO! Our district has optimized the support of the community for years, and the CCSR is a perfect example. Going forward, I will remember to separate all the ways our community contributes to the district in these updates.
The Rules Subcommittee met before the main School Committee meeting that evening. The subcommittee reviewed several policy options to address the attendance policy. The revision modeled a Massachusetts Association of School Committees template and is used in several districts. Some updates were made to insert the word caregivers where the template only reflected parents. They also added versioning information. All building principals have reviewed the policy, as well. The revised policy passed unanimously.
After School Program
Megan Fidler-Cary, the director of the after school program, presented an update. She noted that the waitlists across the district continue to be a significant struggle. She co-chairs the network of extended day directors and shared that the challenges Medford is facing are typical across the state. When the economy is as good as it is right now, many things happen that impact before and after school care:
More families need services because employment is high. When employment rates are high, so are childcare needs.
The needs of families in periods of high employment is not discretionary or long-range. It is necessary and immediate. Many families who are not being served by the district find other alternatives who would much rather be in our programs.
Staff turnover is high, and interest is low in part-time jobs. Those seeking full-time employment are very likely to be able to find that kind of arrangement.
She expressed concern about how to appropriately display the data that she shares. Essentially, a ‘spot’ in the program assumes a student needs care five days a week. Not all students who participate in the after school program require 5-day care so effectively a spot could serve more than one student. Also, there was a lot of discussion about how inaccurate these numbers are when talking about actual needs. In many cases, families who would be placed on the waitlist do not take the time, understandably, to fill out paperwork when the chance of getting a spot is virtually nonexistent. With all these caveats about the numbers, here is where the programs stand. These numbers reflect students, regardless of how many days of care they require. Some of the waitlist students are partially enrolled but still have additional care needs.
The Committee noted that high school students are welcomed to work in the program and that the program believes that they are students first. Megan staffs students with flexibility so that studying for tests and completing school work comes first. The Committee asked whether she has pursued candidates who may be interested in tax abatement from the city, and she has, but with no results. Megan has tried to recruit retirees with little success. She talked about all the creative ways she builds teams to take advantage of the strengths of the staff she has available. She also noted that when students with disabilities or high needs such as English Language Learners want to participate in the program, she works with building leaders to understand the needs of the students. They request families to share details of the in-place plans with the after school team so they can plan accommodations. The Committee asked whether there is full budget transparency for the program yet. They deferred the question to the Asst. Superintendent of Finance. A motion to receive a complete financial report of the program was unanimously approved.
Megan also noted plans to hold signups at the individual schools this year rather than centrally as an idea. The Committee asked about a potential lottery as well, citing that any in-person process will be problematic for some families. Megan noted that across her network of extended day leaders, there are lots of horror stories regarding attempts at lottery enrollment. Still, she agreed to pull together some options from her colleagues.
Finally, she noted that she has started putting together plans for the future and is engaging her staff in the process of thinking about ways to expand the program. The Committee unanimously passed a motion to request a financial analysis for a program that provides enrollment for all students. Creating this report will be time-consuming for the administration, but I look forward to the report!
Superintendent Edouard-Vincent presented a report of her proposed goals for this academic year. There are three components.
Member Ruseau commented that the approach for Superintendent evaluation has changed since the spring at the state level. These goals will be the only measure by which the Superintendent is evaluated going forward, so it is essential that the goals are clear, measurable, and in alignment with district priorities. He indicated that moving forward, the School Committee will be convening conversations about Superintendent goals in the spring for the upcoming year and that the current practice around how goals are developed needs to change. I am in complete agreement. Come Spring, I will work with my fellow committee members to ensure we establish a collaborative process to create the goals rather than expect the Superintendent to develop and present them. I see this as a significant step forward in our district and one that is long overdue. For this current school year, the goals presented passed unanimously.
This update is really long. I’m not quite sure why. The meeting was not longer than many, but I will say that the topics are relevant to so many people I talk to about our schools. So bear with me just a few more minutes.
Strategic Planning, in its most simple definition, means that we are planning for the future. But beyond that simplicity, I find that people often mean many different things when they think of strategic planning. The lack of and need for strategic planning was a central theme during this election. It feels like overnight, we suddenly have a lot of ‘strategic plans.’ This often happens when an organization (or community) reaches the proverbial tipping point, where we all recognize that we can’t continue without a strategic plan. I can think of several strategic plans being discussed in Medford right now:
Mystic Ave Rezoning
Medford High School Vision Committee
Mayor-Elect Lungo-Koehn’s Transition Committee work
Strategic Plan referenced in Dr. Edouard-Vincent’s goals
All of these plans are components of the broader strategic plan we need for our city. None of them is entirely independent of the others (and likely a few more should be added to the list).
When I think of a solid strategic plan, it follows these basic principles:
With that said, I look forward to hearing more about the components of the plan the Superintendent is building. I am hopeful that it will fit nicely with a comprehensive strategic plan that considers broad stakeholder input to outline the vision. We are certainly lucky for the expertise of our educational (and financial) experts, because that content knowledge will be critical in steps 2 and 3!
Your call to action: The after school director talked about a focus on gratitude in November across the after school program. Focus on the good news in this update. Enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday and remember the community that continuously supports our district via grants, gifts, and donations!