Jenny's Recap of the September 23rd School Committee Meeting
Updated: Oct 7, 2019
The second School Committee meeting of the academic year was held Monday night. The Committee recognized Mr. Joseph Farah, a 2017 MHS graduate who worked on the Event Horizon Telescope project that captured the first photograph of a black hole ever taken. He was the only undergraduate on the team which won the Breakthrough Prize. Antonia Collins was recognized for her 2nd place scholarship based on her achievements in the Spanish Advanced Placement exam. The Committee also recognized Ron Morin who is retiring as the Executive Director of the Friend of the Fells. Among his many accomplishments, Ron was instrumental in saving the 90mm meadow from development.
The Superintendent reported a number of community events that happened over the last few weeks:
Marching Band Competition - the Mustangs placed second!
CCSR anti-bullying presentation for grades 5-8 at the McGlynn complex
McGlynn Middle School curriculum night
Kiwanis Jail Day
Mystic River Celebration
Tufts Community Day
Motorcycle Ride to benefit Krystle Campbell Scholarship fund
The Committee approved a $1,500 grant from PFLAG to CCSR to further support our LGBTQ+ populations. I’m looking forward to hearing more discussion about what CCSR will do with the grant.
The Committee also approved a one-day liquor license for the upcoming Taste of Italy and the World being held at the high school by the Kiwanis on October 29, 2019 at 6:30 pm.
Robert Maloney provided an update on our first few weeks as part of the Greater Boston League. There are more than 50 middle school students in the cross-country program, 35 in baseball, and 30 in softball in this first year!
Buildings and Grounds
The Buildings and Grounds committee provided a report of their 9/11/19 meeting. Check out my updates from that meeting here. The Committee corrected the count of DPW staff. The DPW has 50+ employees, rather than the 5-6 people reported in the minutes of the earlier meeting.
A motion was passed to create a subcommittee to begin discussions around the Medford High School Master plan. How exciting! The mayor asked that ideas be submitted at the next meeting so that a committee can be formed in a process similar to the one we used for the Superintendent Search.
Before the agenda moved forward, Member Ruseau provided an update based on his discussion with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). He spoke with the Authority regarding potential grant money to address our high school issues. When last inspected, Medford High School rated a 1 out of 4 (1 being the best) relative to all school buildings in Massachusetts. This ranking is critically important. The MSBA determines where grant money will be spent by focusing on lower-ranked buildings. Our reimbursement rate, if we were to get a grant, is set at 52.3%, meaning that Medford will be expected to pay 52.3% of all costs associated with a MSBA project. Finally, he noted that all grants are issued relative to the size of the current student population. Our current building capacity is ~4,000 students, while our actual student population is only ~1,500. This means that any grant we seek can only be relative to a building needed to support 1,500 students and would be a drastic reduction in size. The special committee will need to consider this and create a call to action for the larger community.
Middle School Math
Faiza Khan, the Supervisor of Mathematics, provided an update on the implementation of the new middle school math curriculum, Illustrative Math. She noted some challenges with implementation that the teachers and staff are working hard to overcome. The program is online-centric and the district has a limited number of physical textbooks available. It sounds like there is more demand than supply. Ms. Khan noted that she asked the teachers to keep her updated on the need as the first full month progresses. There were concerns raised about whether the online nature of the program requires us to have more copy paper and supplies on hand than we budget to provide. Ms. Khan is watching this closely. The Committee raised concerns about reports of not having the supplies needed to effectively execute the curriculum and asked for a full accounting of what is outstanding. The Superintendent noted that the missing items are easily procured (e.g., paper plates) and that there is nothing to prevent a skilled teacher from executing with substitutions.
Based on the conversation, I expect there is much more to consider here. In my professional life, I help clients make change. Often workforce training is central to the success of the change we are seeking. When you make change, the first thing you do is remove every possible barrier that could get in the way. You particularly remove the easy ones, because nobody wants a change to fail because of something very simple to avoid.
There were additional questions raised about the supports for the Special Education and English Language Learner (EL) communities with the new implementation. The EL program went through some changes this summer and has moved to a co-teaching model in Math. Ms. Khan also noted that she has some physical books in reserve that can be used in the event the Special Education community needs them. The Committee suggested that the Curriculum Subcommittee meet to review these issues. This is exciting since the Curriculum Subcommittee has not met since June 2017. I look forward to this discussion! During that meeting, I hope we will also address the efficacy of an online based program for students at MPS. This type of curriculum is where we need to be, but we are not there yet. As a district we are not at a 1 to 1 Chromebook to student ratio, and we aren’t using a student take-home Chromebook approach. We should also be asking how students without computer access at home will access the content for continued learning.
She also noted that this new curriculum does not replace our accelerated math curriculum for grades 7 and 8. That program will continue to use the Big Ideas curriculum/textbook. 15% of our middle school students are placed into this program which enables students to reach Calculus by Senior year. She noted that students who do not place into the accelerated curriculum in middle school can still reach Calculus if they double up on math courses in Sophomore year. The Committee asked for additional data around the math trajectory of students in the Advanced courses. They want to know:
Whether students stick with math
If there are demographic trends we need to look at based on that data. It is a well known fact that girls ‘exit’ rigorous math tracks at a higher rate than boys.
Dyslexia Screening Update
Diane Caldwell provided an update on Dyslexia screening after last week’s questions. She noted that since the last meeting, DESE has partnered with MPS to expand piloting in Medford. Joining the Columbus School as they pilot MAPS, McGlynn will pilot Lexia, and Brooks and Roberts will pilot Dibbles8. All assessments are online. Select McGlynn teachers are attending workshops offered by DESE after applying for the special program. Ms. Caldwell and others are attending a workshop at Harvard, and a Webinar is being offered on the Science of Reading. Overall, it was a much more comprehensive update on the screening/assessment plans for the school year. Questions were raised about what happens once we have identified children who struggle via the various assessments. The plans here are less clear, but the Curriculum Subcommittee plans to take up these questions in October. In the meanwhile, this article was published last week on Medford’s plans.
EL Department updates
Mr. Paul Texeira, the head of the English Language Learners department, provided a presentation of the current status of the EL program. He recognized a number of staff who are critical to the success of the program including Jessie who does ALL of the testing for the district. I was surprised to hear that one person could even accomplish all of the testing when he noted that each individual test could take up to 3 hours.
He also spoke about the offering of high school summer classes and two summer enrichment programs run by the department and funded by a Title 3 grant. One program was a five-week project-based class for middle school students that focused on social studies and science topics including Massachusetts History, bridge building, oceans and marine life and game play. He also talked about the StarBase Stem Lab at Hanscom Air Force Base where the group of 13 students designed crash test vehicles and robotic cars that could travel the surface of the moon to pick up trash. The Committee asked that we work to ensure these programs can continue annually and Mr. Texeira noted that one of the biggest constraints for the programs was in teacher availability. This year they were able to successfully work with multiple teachers in the five week middle school program.
He noted that testing for new EL students and the total number of EL students to the district increased this year. See the chart below for details.
He highlighted that the department is now executing co-teaching models in both Math and Science. He also noted that the department has welcomed a collaboration with interns from Lesley University in buildings across the city.
Climate Strike Response and Attendance Policy
Dr. Peter Cushing provides a report about the decision to not excuse absences for students who attended the climate strike in Boston on Friday, September 20th. He indicated that the administration hoped that by not excusing the absence that students would decide to make the sacrifice anyway. He said the administration stands with the science but they were concerned with setting a precedent that could imply agreement with future rallies that could be motivated by more nefarious purposes. Several residents spoke and expressed their disappointment in the administration. There was a robust conversation which included suggestions to amend policy, incorporate teacher-led field trips, and excuse absences retroactively. Ultimately, a motion was passed to send the policy to the Rules Subcommittee where the policy would be reviewed and amended to account for a more nuanced approach to dealing with absences in similar situations. No other motions were offered. I whole-heartedly agree that the Committee needs to issue a current policy that lays out the guidelines for situations like this and others. I was surprised that nobody had the policy available when a clear agenda item existed. Since the meeting, I’ve done my own digging and was surprised to find a policy on our MPS website in the student handbook that in fact says something quite different than the relayed policy in verbal comments, or is available in individual school handbooks. There is certainly a process issue we need to address rapidly. When the school administration believes the policy is something quite different than what is published on the website, we can’t possibly have a clear baseline from which to work. So there are 2 big things that need to happen.
Determine which of the two policies in play are in fact the policy approved by the school committee and immediately communicate this with clarity.
Re-evaluate the policy to make it relevant, easy to understand, and a robust reflection of the nuances that we are faced with daily. Only when we do this, can we move away from being reactive, issuing guidance hours before it matters, and causing community discontent with on the spot decision making.
On a related note, but not covered at the School Committee on Monday, is a letter that some students received this week from District Attorney Marian Ryan outlining the law regarding truancy. It is not the first time that I’ve seen or received this letter. It is not the way I would choose to communicate with our parent community. I plan to ask the Committee to reflect on the message this letter sends to our community and whether it is in alignment with our vision of parent and community engagement.
Your call to action: Look for a revised attendance policy in the near future, attend the subcommittee meeting where action plans for students identified through increased assessment is discussed, and begin thinking about your ideas for a master plan for Medford High School!