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SC Meeting: April 23, 2024

At the April 23 School Committee Meeting there was a discussion of the Eliot School Improvement Plan and a Portrait of a Needham Graduate Presentation: Grades 6-8 ELA.

Liz Lee was elected Chair and Michael O’Brien was elected Vice-Chair of the School Committee during Executive Session, which took place before the start of the public meeting. 

Liz Lee began by thanking previous Chair Andrea Longo-Carter for her leadership, and other members voiced their own appreciation and comments.  

Eliot School Improvement Plan

Eliot Presenters: Dr. Karen Bourn (Principal), Patrick Kerr (Grade 5 Teacher), Betsy Maxwell (Grade 2 Teacher), Natalie Ho (Eliot Parent Introductions), Melyssa Taylor (Eliot Parent), Prerna Saluja (Eliot Parent), Brian Weekes (Community Member), Laurie Blake (Community Member and Needham Housing Authority representative) 

Eliot School is a Title One, multinational, multicultural and multilingual school of 416 students. The presenters outlined six primary goals. 

Create Confident Mathematicians who possess a curiosity of how math is embedded in the world around us.

  • Eliot teachers are using the new Illustrative Math Curriculum with fidelity 

  • Students participate in incentives to boost usage of ST Math (Spatial Temporal Math) to strengthen foundational math skills 

  • Teachers participate in data meetings with Math coaches to analyze data and plan for instruction 

  • Data is used to strengthen Tier 1 instruction for all students as well as it creates a plan for Tier 2 intervention

Develop lifelong readers and writers who can engage in deep discussions about literacy, and can communicate clearly and effectively in both spoken and written form

  • On March 21, the Eliot Literacy coaches planned and organized a successful literacy night for students and families in grades K-2 

  • Students were provided with an opportunity to participate in several space themed activities to strengthen their early literacy skills 

  • The Needham public library provided on site library cards for our youngest learners and their families 

  • Parents were also provided with information about how they can support their child in their development of early literacy skills at home

Create and implement structures to support Tier 2 and Tier 3 intervention in Literacy and Math for students

  • Eagle block, a data driven intervention for all students is implemented in grades 1-5. It has been very successful and a great opportunity for all teachers to know all the students in their grade rather than just a small group.

  • Students have the opportunity to work with teachers and students from across their grade level 

  • Teachers analyze student data to identify targeted instruction for all students in the grade in either literacy or math. 

  • All students get the message that they are continuously growing and learning and that intervention is for all students not just a few.

Develop Eliot students to be responsible community members and empower them to make positive change 

  • Provide professional development on proactive approaches and interventions to student behavior 

  • All staff were provided with a copy of “Teaching with Love and Logic, Taking control of the classroom.” The book introduces the concept of being a “warm demander” - or holding high expectations for student behaviors while having a loving and caring approach. This a culturally responsive approach to dealing with student behaviors.  

  • Staff participated in several professional development opportunities using the text to strengthen their classroom management skills, build relationships with students and families and create classroom climates that are inclusive, culturally responsive and optimal for learning Classroom Management with Love and Logic Culturally Responsive Family Engagement Unmotivated Students. 

  • Students continue to receive consistent messaging about Eliot School values, Be kind, be safe, be curious, be responsible.

Create partnerships with families based on trust, strong communication and collaboration

  • Assess modes of communication with families school-wide to create a consistent approach. 

  • The app Talking Points was launched this year to create more accessible opportunities to communicate with families. 

  • School nurse Mary McCarthy uses this app to contact families when students are ill 

  • Office staff will use this app to communicate with families if students are absent or to clarify dismissal plans 

  • ⅔ Of classroom teachers are currently piloting the app to communicate with families

  • Messages in Talking Points are translated into many languages. 

  • The overarching theme is how much the school and staff value diversity. 

Embrace Eliot’s unique culturally diverse community and make every member feel welcomed and essential

  • Celebrate and educate the school community about non dominant holidays and traditions that represent different cultural groups at Eliot school.

  • In addition to professional development for staff to develop culturally responsible practices, we are beginning efforts to educate students about the diversity at Eliot. 

  • The PTC and Eliot families will host our 7th multicultural fair at Eliot in April 

  • Eliot is partnering with students at Needham High School as part of their Greater Boston Project to help educate students about our non-dominant holidays and traditions reflected in the revised NPS calendar

Create partnerships with families based on trust, strong communication and collaboration

  • Partner with the PTC to create inclusive experiences for our students.

  • In January Eliot held its second annual STEM festival for all Eliot students in collaboration with the Science center, Olin college and community organizations. Olin College provided every student with a kit to take home to get them excited about STEM 

  • Students were able to participate in many different activities to stimulate their curiosity about science and technology. Booths with different toys or activities related to STEM with different levels of complexity were available to participants. 

  • This event was attended by half of our student and family population. The event took place over the weekend and was free of charge to all families. 

  • Middle School and High School students volunteered to work with students. National Honor Society students also helped create activities to earn teaching and volunteer hours.

  • The event was free and accessible. It was about making people feel welcoming and making the day fun. 

Dr. Bourn said that they are moving toward a model of adapting to the needs of the students they have in front of them rather than the older philosophy of expecting all kids to follow strictly the rules set out.  

Based on evidence that having the most qualified staff work with the most vulnerable students is beneficial, Eliot has hired additional professional staff, with one special education liaison and one dedicated TA per grade (with K and 1 sharing the resources). The goal was to make special education more accessible to students. These teachers are part of the grade-level team. She said they wanted teachers to think differently and for staff to understand inclusion better. This new model allows for fewer “pull-outs” for special education, which closes the achievement gap, supports students and gives them a higher academic self esteem. 

Portrait of a Needham Graduate Presentation: Grades 6-8 ELA

Literacy for Learning Presenters: Jodi Prosek (Literacy Teacher)  Liz Welburn (ELA Department Chair) and students Nora, Kaylee, Vera, & Sophia

  • All students take this one-trimester class (usually 30 total classes). 

  • This is a project-based learning model that teaches students to work and contribute the end result throughout the course rather than having one final project at the end. 

  • The students create candy companies, beginning by individually brainstorming candy ideas, and then being grouped with other students whose candies have similar attributes. They then come up with an origin story and study branding, sales data, strategic plans, scientific research about candy and scientific valuations of companies. They create and present a pitch in the style of Shark Tank to pretend potential investors.

  • This project has a high degree of engagement with the core competencies of students as drivers of their own learning. This is evaluated by the extent to which they go above and beyond the expectation of the class with no expectation of reward or extra credit. 

  • This project also taps into the competence of students as creative thinkers and problem solvers. They have to think about brainstorming and coming up with ideas, not just searching for the “right” answer. They have to think beyond the classroom to how their ideas extend into real life. 

  • Students have to think about the concrete data and apply it to marketing. They have to think through and use the research to help solve problems, and possibly make changes to their product and pitch based on what they learn. 

  • Students learn how to be good communicators and collaborators, which can be challenging. They are thought partners committed to a shared vision. They learn to as followup questions and reflect on strategies. They use a lot of divide and conquer techniques. 

  • Students learn to be socially and culturally responsive contributors by asking how their company is embedded in the community. Is it local? Regional? National? Sometimes it is diverse, including flavors that reflect flavors from a student's origin and background. The also learn to think about what it means to have charitable endeavors related to their candy. 

  • Students learn to be responsible and resilient individuals. They learn how to do many revisions - in some cases based on the will of the majority and not their own preference. They learn to compromise, accept when their ideas aren’t chosen, put emotions aside and come back to the conversations later. They are self motivated to make corrections and improve their projects, not for the sake of the grade but because they want the best possible end result for their company. They learn to work on the emotional and academic together. 

  • Students become empowered learners. They work on an entrepreneurial and innovative project full of ambiguity and creative thinking. And while there are models and exemplars, there is no answer key or one correct answer. They have to think about all the work they’ve done throughout the semester to decide what they want to put forward.   

  • Students take ownership and pride in their work 

  • The class teaches different ways of reading based on perspective and what information they are looking for. 

Town Meeting Preparation

There are four articles of interest to the schools being presented at the upcoming Town Meeting beginning on May 6. 

  • The overall budget

  • Article 55: Appropriate for Auditorium Upgrades and Improvements

  • Article 12: Town and School IT Consolidation 

  • Article 26: Appropriate for Feasibility Study for Pollard Middle School

There is also one article that affects school properties not being put forth by School Committee, which is the renovation and expansion of the high school tennis courts. (Since this meeting, this article has been withdrawn) The reason for adding more courts is to allow the high school team to host matches at the school and not have to go to other courts - in Varsity matches, three singles and two doubles games are played. 

Action Items 

Appoint Stephanie Wyman as Executive Director of Special Education 

  • Dr. Gutekanst presented Stephanie Wyman and asked for the support of the School Committee to vote on her hiring 

  • Stephanie was selected as the interim director of special education prior to a rigorous search for the full time position.

  • She has 17 years of experience in special education 

  • She served as the out-of-district coordinator for students who needed to be outside of Needham Public Schools based on their IEPs 

  • After a full search was conducted and two candidates rose to the top, Stephanie became the clear choice for the position.  

Approve Information Technology Consolidation Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

  • Dr. Gutekanst recommended the MOU to the School Committee

  • Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick and Dr. Gutekanst worked to develop a mutual understanding of how merging the two IT departments into one that supports both the town and the schools can be done in the best way to serve the community. This MOU addresses these points. 

  • This item will be discussed by the Select Board once the School Committee discusses and if it supports it.  

  • The Select Board will vote on what the School Committee approves. 

  • Although not an item that will come before Town Meeting, it will complement the discussion around the consolidation. Dr. Gutekanst recommends. 

Both action items were approved unanimously by the School Committee. 

The next School Committee Meeting will be May 14 at 6:30pm.


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