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SC Meeting: December 15, 2020

The December 15, 2020, School Committee meeting included discussions about 2020-21 support services budget, health and safety in Needham and the schools, and the K-5 Hybrid Exploratory Team.

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates

Chair Andrea Longo Carter shared holiday wishes and hopes for the new year, and thanked teachers and school support staff for hard work during these difficult times.

Superintendent's Comments

Dr. Gutekanst reminded the community about items in his recent email, including holiday travel and weather cancelations.

  • Travel: He asked families to minimize the risk of travel during the holidays and to follow protocols.

  • Weather: He stated that whenever it is safe to do so, school will be held in person. If school is canceled, will likely turn traditional “snow day” to a remote-learning opportunity

FY22 Support Services Budget Discussion

This was the second of several discussions about the FY22 budget and highlighted the student support services program. Ms. Mary Lammi, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services, led the overview.

Overview of Student Support Services:

  • All students are general education students first, Regardless of background.

  • The District Curriculum Accommodation Plan (DCAP) ensures all efforts have been made to meet student’s needs in general education through supports that address learner variability.

  • Multi-tiered system of support is a framework endorsed by the Every Student Succeeds Act that is designed to assist schools in integrating the systems, practices and supports needed to ensure equitable access to high quality education for all students.

  • Plays an important role to ensure equity, access and inclusion of all students by providing comprehensive programs and services.

NPS rate of special education:

  • 18% of NPS students receive special education services. NPS ranks in the middle of neighboring towns.

  • 11 primary disability categories in Massachusetts. Health and Specific Learning Disability (SLD) are most prevalent in Needham. Health is made up largely by students with ADHD and ADD.

FY22 Budget Drivers:

  • Increasing number of students requiring special services.

  • Strengthening in-district capacity to meet students’ needs.

  • Continuing work to address caseload/workload barriers to equitable inclusive education.

  • Planning for possible continuation of the Remote Learning Academy due to COVID-19 and additional staffing needs related to health and safety.

Staffing Requests:

  • .5 FTE School Psychologist (Sunita Williams)

  • .6 FTE Speech and Language Pathologist (Pollard)

  • .1 Connections Clinician (Broadmeadow)

  • .2 Adapted PE Teacher (District-wide)

Additional staffing may be necessary if remote and/or hybrid learning continues:

  • Remote Academy: 3 Special Education Liaisons and 5 Teaching Assistants

  • Green Cohort: 1 ELC Program Specialist and 4 Teaching Assistants

Update on Student Learning: Health and Safety

Dr. Gutekanst invited Thomas Denton, Director of Guidance for PreK -12; Timothy McDonald, Town of Needham Director of Public Health; and Alan Stern, M.D., School Physician, to provide update.

COVID data in the town of Needham:

  • Seeing transmission from household and small gatherings.

  • Have not seen cluster of cases in schools. Schools are one of the safest places.

  • Growth of cases in 19-34 age brackets.

  • Dr. Stern remarked that mask use has been great at school, but the problem has been before and after school.

Tom Denton provided an update on guidance in schools. His focus has been on students’ social and emotional wellbeing. An anonymous student survey was administered in September, with additional surveys coming in January and again in the spring. Finding included:

  • Elementary: Uncomfortable wearing masks all day. “My schoolwork doesn’t feel right to me.”

  • Middle school: Difficult to maintain good grades. Worry about family members contracting COVID.

  • High School: Worry about family. 50% concerned about racial issues at NHS. 77% have an adult at NHS to go to. Worried about falling behind.

Feedback from counselors:

  • Increase in guidance referrals

  • Students not on radar are on radar

  • More referrals for 504 plans and IEPs due to anxiety

  • Transitions difficult

  • Separation anxiety

  • Building relationships is more difficult

  • School work especially during home is overwhelming

Responding to social emotional needs:

  • Using survey data to focus supports, including developing classroom lesson, providing individual and small group support and providing resources

  • Reaching out to parents to provide guidance

  • Riverside Trauma Center is providing consultation to schools through the school year


  • Connection over content

  • Parents learning to readjust expectations based on developmental level and social emotional needs of their children

  • Role of empathy and compassion. Focus on responding to needs of those struggling.

Update on Student Learning: K-5 Hybrid Exploratory Team

The Exploratory Team is a working group of elementary school community stakeholders which includes representative teachers, School Committee members, principals, administrators, and parents. With health and safety as a priority, the Team was tasked with reviewing the November district survey results; sharing the perspectives and experiences of all stakeholders; generating insights, questions, and ideas about potential improvements to the experience.


Connie Barr announced Science Center is in need of 100 Matchbox cars for a student project.

The next school committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 5, 2021.


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