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SC Meeting: April 23, 2019

Discussion items at the 4/23/19 meeting included NEF Spring Grant awards, The Mitchell School Improvement Plan, and discussion of Portrait of a Needham Graduate.

School Committee Updates

  • SC Officers were elected for the upcoming year: Michael Greis will serve as Chair and Andrea Longo Carter as Vice-Chair.

  • The Mitchell Modular project is on schedule with site preparation underway.

Superintendent’s Comments

  • Superintendent Gutekanst highlighted international trips by students and staff over the April break to Quebec, Spain, China, Puerto Rico. Trip Advisor was recognized for their funding of scholarships for which allow students to participate white might not otherwise be able to.

  • On April 24th, 6-8pm, NPS will host an interactive forum on Equity led by the REAL (Race Equity Access and Leadership) Coalition.

Needham Education Foundation (NEF) Spring Grant Awards

NEF Board members presented 10 grants for approval. The grants are diverse, written by teachers, specialists, parents and administrators, and representing six schools in Needham. This cycle NEF issued 10 grants for $31,000, which brings the total grant funding for this school year (over three cycles) to $127,885.32. Many recent grants cover the design and cost of flexible seating and learning spaces to support variety of learning needs of students. Four of the 10 grants are for professional development. The NEF has a history of funding projects that leave a lasting impact on the public schools in Needham. All of this could not be made possible without the generosity of the Needham Community.

NEF Spring Grants:

  • Smithsonian American Art Museum Summer Institute 2019 (Needham High)

  • Audiobooks and Digital Books to Support Differentiation in the ELA Classroom (Pollard)

  • Exploring Robotics (High Rock)

  • Hispanic Literary Expansion (High Rock)

  • Cultural Conversations Through Community Book Studies (Newman)

  • How Many Elephants? Engaging Kindergartners and Their Families in Engineering Design Challenges (Hillside)

  • Professional Development in Mindfulness and Resiliency Training (Hillside)

  • A Twenty-First Century Bookroom (Hillside)

  • Modeling the 21st Century Elementary Media Center (Mitchell)

  • Understanding Student Differences Through Film and Speaker Series (Community)

Mitchell School Improvement Plan

Principal Gregory Bayse, dined by parents, teachers, and students, presented the Mitchell School Improvement Plan (available in the SC packet). The focus of their presentation was on the Inclusive Practice Academy:

  • 3-year endeavor, 10 participants meeting monthly, developing needs assessment derived from MCAS, other assessments, and softer markers such as rate of psychosomatic complaints at nurse’s office.

  • Key findings: academic performance of boys tends to lag behind girls. Girls perform above average when compared to other girls in Needham elementary schools, while boys perform average. They hope to examine that gender gap and address it through professional development and structural change in coming years.

  • Academic and social-emotional performance of students of colors lags behind white counterparts (not uncommon, corresponds to a national achievement gap.) The same is true for students who have been determined to be “high needs” by the state. IPA is particularly interested in social-emotional gap, believing that addressing that gap will cause academic improvement to follow.

  • Second year the bulk of professional development will be focused on “universal design learning” which has not been commonly used at Mitchell to meet academic and culturally responsive needs of students. This means that teachers will tailor their lessons and classrooms based on the students in the classroom rather than the structures that they have been familiar with over time. [See Dr. Zaretta Hammond’s book, “Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain”]

  • Third year focus will be on structural change at Mitchell. Specifically they will address the lack of clarity around entrance and exit to additional services (aka referrals.)

Mitchell 5th grade students reported on (and demonstrated!) their yoga project (funded by NEF grant).

Mitchell Review of Homework Policy

Last year the school spent a fair amount of time reviewing the variety of ways in which homework was given to students at Mitchell. Mitchell chose to emphasize reading as homework in kindergarten – 4th grade which came out of much research and involvement with the school community. Traditional homework at Mitchell now begins in 5th grade. In addition, 5th grade workload was reduced by at least two thirds. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The change increased the amount of time students have to read at home. Teachers found they now have more time to provide fuller feedback on writing lessons.

Heidi Black commented on physical aspect of Mitchell School: School Committee is aware that Mitchell is due for some kind of renovation, not immediately but at some point in the future. And it’s important to note that ongoing improvements have been happening in order to ensure that Mitchell is the best building it can be for learning until such time that a more comprehensive renovation can take place.

A brief discussion around equity followed the presentation, as currently there is no support for transportation for students from Boston who want to participate in new Mitchell afterschool “clubs” such as the Homework Club or Crazy Eights Math Club. Students must rely on parent transportation if they want to participate. Newman Elementary is currently piloting before-the-day transportation for Boston students to enable them to participate in the music ensembles that occur before the school day. With Mitchell, the school committee would like to address this going forward to support equity (equal access).

Portrait of a Needham Graduate

Dan Gutenkanst presented the vision of the Portrait of Needham Graduate, including a video overview. Portrait of a Needham Graduate is a shared vision for the future of our students, and was the culmination of a year’s work of meetings, research and feedback. In addition to the future and student-focused vision, are four key priorities that will enable Needham to make the vision a reality for all children. The portrait will enable the community and the schools to align work in a way that will strengthen education and education outcomes for all children.

The kindergarteners next year will graduate in 2032. What do we know about what the world will be like in 2032 and how can we prepare them for that future? The Portrait of a Needham Graduate working group developed a framework to help us think about what we care about and how the schools can deliver on the promise of educating our children and preparing them best in a way that is relevant to what the future holds.

53 people participated in the group, facilitated by Diane Simmons. In addition, 430 Faculty and Staff representing all schools contributed. Synthesis of the data collected throughout the process informed a draft that was then refined through survey feedback.

The group conducted research, interviews and determined about 200 competencies which were narrowed down to five themes:

  1. Creative Thinkers and Problem Solvers — that raise questions driven by curiosity

  2. Communicators and Collaborators — that listen effectively, interact productively and respectfully

  3. Socially and Culturally Responsive Contributors — that understand and respect diversity and act with empathy and courage to ensure equity to all the students around them

  4. Responsible and Resilient Individuals — that make healthy choices to achieve physical and emotional wellbeing, and are able to self-advocate

  5. Empowered Learners — that engage in self-directed learning

The group used a data collection process known as a past-present-future model (McKinsey) that encouraged stakeholders to reflect across three time horizons. Below are just a few examples/highlights that were born from the time horizon framework:

Valuing the PRESENT: current work that supports the portrait

  • Student- driven: growth-mindset, clubs, leadership

  • Learning Experiences: co-teaching, interdisciplinary and project-based learning

  • Environment: collaboration spaces, buddy classes, outside-the-classroom

  • Infrastructure: caring staff, diverse talent

Abandoning the PAST: what interferes with or detracts from our vision?

  • Student- driven: limits to student choice, not connecting learning w/real world, life skills, singular focus on college-grad path

  • Learning Experiences: prioritizing breadth over depth, learning in silos, focus on memorizing over applying.

  • Environment: rows of desks, large class sizes, need for more unstructured time, limits of software designed on historical modes of education (Pearson Powerschool) encourages parents to focus on grades rather than encouraging students to self-assess and self-reflect on personal growth.

  • Infrastructure: lack of diversity, sub shortfall, implicit bias, building issues, etc.

Envisioning the FUTURE: New practices/programs needed

  • Student- driven: more career exploration, opportunities for student-voice/activism, students in their own IEP meetings.

  • Learning Experiences: extend breadth and depth of project-based learning

  • Environment: An innovation hub, maker spaces within the schools, flex seating/walls, learning outside, internships for credit, more travel opportunities for kids

  • Infrastructure: Hiring more diverse staff, professional development

New Version of District Vision:

Preparing ALL Needham Public School students to be: creative thinkers and problem solvers; communicators and collaborators; socially and culturally responsive contributors; responsible and resilient individuals; and empowered learners.

New District Priorities (which will replace current District Goals):

1. All students are drivers of their own learning

2. All students experience integrative teaching & learning

3. All students learn and grow within adaptable environments

4. Infrastructure supports needs of all students

For each priority, there are multiple strategic objectives over the next five years. For each strategic objective there are actions items developed annually to drive the achievement of these new goals.

Next Steps:

  • The full and final report will be presented for School Committee vote in May 7.

  • Action steps for the next school year will be presented with annual district plan at the June school committee meaning.

  • Over the next year, principals will align school improvement plans to align around the portrait.

  • Comprehensive training plan for all staff.

Action Items

  • Approved 2019-2020 Elementary, Middle School, and Needham High School Handbook Changes

  • Awarded Early Childcare Program Lease Contract to Congregational Church for one year 2019-2020, may be extended through 2022.

  • Awarded Contract for Washington DC Student Trip to EF Explore America


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