Jenny’s Reflections on June 24th’s Regular School Committee Meeting
The final School Committee meeting of the fiscal year was held Monday night. The Committee thanked the Kiwanis for their support of our students all year, and particularly in the area of literacy with their Summer Reading program for first and third graders. The Committee also considered a study on the use of cannabis at the high school, which also will cover vaping and a handful of other topics. After discussion and an amendment offered by School Committee Member Paul Ruseau to expand the study to include the middle schools, the study was approved. And lastly, the Committee voted that Medford will continue to be a no-choice school district, meaning that Medford does not accept out-of-district children into our district under the state’s school choice program.
There were several subcommittee reports presented.
Special Education Subcommittee met on May 28 to discuss two ongoing items related to disability awareness programming and out-of-school time. The first item reported was a new professional development program provided by the district related to disability awareness. 45 teachers attended the inaugural program this spring. The second item involved out-of-school time. Out-of-school time includes before- and after- school programs, and Medford’s Summer Fun camp. The group updated language in the various program handbooks to more clearly reflect our goals to be both inclusive and welcoming.
The Rules Subcommittee met twice in June to review Chapters 1 - 10 of the School Committee policies. The policies were last reviewed in 2004. Updates to the policy include the use of gender-neutral language, rather than gender-specific language (e.g, chairman). The Subcommittee introduced a new policy aimed at improving tracking of all policies and ensuring more timely review of all policies. These updates were approved by the School Committee.
The budget was approved based on the Committee of the Whole Budget Hearing held immediately before the regular School Committee meeting.
Earlier in the evening, there was also a Committee of the Whole meeting to review the Superintendent's Evaluation. The School Committee voted to rate her Proficient and will be filing that report with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
The most significant topic of the regular School Committee meeting was related to the implementation of a free breakfast program at ALL district schools. Asst. Superintendent Patterson reported on a mechanism called Provision 2 which can be used to expand our universal free breakfast program to all schools. This program could enable us to provide breakfast FREE for ALL Medford public school children. This is different than the “breakfast after the bell” program which currently runs at the Columbus. Under the Provision 2 program, the school district can be reimbursed. Asst. Superintendent Patterson proposed a pilot of Provision 2 for the first few months of the school year to determine the financial feasibility of the program in Medford. There was a lot of conversation among the committee, but the recommendation was ultimately approved. When I listened to the conversation, it struck me that the discussion really focused around a host of IMPLEMENTATION issues, even though they weren’t framed as such.
The notion that all schools need the same thing is flawed. All our schools need the same OUTCOME. The outcome we are seeking: we NEED and WANT all our students to have breakfast so they can be focused on learning rather than their hunger. The way we get there, though, may be different. For example, free breakfast “before the bell” may work well at a high school level where students are regularly in the building with enough time to take advantage. At the elementary level, we may need to provide breakfast “after the bell” to meet our outcome.
Programmatic changes such as this require advance PLANNING to ensure a successful rollout. We should not be working on implementation matters in our last meeting of the school year. In this case, breakfast “after the bell” simply can’t be executed before the start of school because it will take thoughtful planning, shifting of classroom schedules, training of staff, and engaging outside supports to make the delivery process work. It is all doable, but it cannot be done WELL without the right implementation timeframe. I’ll be keeping an eye on this process throughout the summer as it rolls out.
The FINANCIAL IMPACTS of such programming are important and we can’t ignore them as a community. Provision 2 can potentially be a self-funding option for us, but ONLY IF our participation levels reach a critical level. If levels aren’t high enough, the School Committee will be faced with a choice to end the program (which nobody wants) or to find the money elsewhere to cover the costs. These costs include additional staffing at breakfast in every building.
Today’s call to action: Look for communications about this free breakfast option this summer and consider taking advantage. Participation numbers are KEY to a successful pilot of Provision 2 that reaches self-funding levels.
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