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SC Meeting: December 20, 2022

At the December 20 School Committee meeting there was a presentation from High Rock Students on the Portrait of a Needham Graduate, and a discussion about the FY24 Budget Request for Student Support Services.

Superintendent's comments

Dr. Gutekanst had a few comments and updates.

  • Starting tomorrow Dec 21 the Emery Grover Building will be closed - School Administration will be relocated to Hillside School for 19-20 months. Emery Grover renovations will begin on Friday Dec 23.

  • Many thanks for the Birthday Book donations.

  • Best wishes for a well deserved holiday break.

High Rock Student Presentation: Portrait of a Needham Graduate

A group from High Rock School including students Daniel Choi, Sienna-Jane Guire, Elie Hendler, Social Studies teacher Randi Garon, and Assistant Principal Tammara Ceaser presented how the Portrait of a Needham Graduate competencies have been incorporated into the High Rock Social Studies Curriculum.

One competency is empowering students to be “Empowered Learners.” In early October, students begin to learn about early civilizations and culture. Within this unit they also explore their own culture, create a presentation, and share it with the class. They learn about being an engaging presenter and an attentive audience member. Students have enjoyed learning more about the diverse cultures of their peers.

The three High Rock students shared their culture presentations with the School Committee. School Committee members were very engaged with the presentations and asked the students questions about their High Rock experience and what they learned from this project. The students highlighted that they enjoyed learning more about their own culture, as well as learning about all the interesting cultures in our community and what other students value and experience in their homes.

FY24 Budget Discussion: Student Support Services

Student Support Services will be discussed in several meetings. Tonight will focus on building capacity in Special Education and ELL services. In January they will focus on Mental Health & Counseling Services. Mary Lammi, Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services, presented about the FY24 Budget Request for Student Support Services. Slides are available in the packet. Brief Highlights of the presentation:

  • Students have increased behavioral and mental health needs

  • Families are struggling with accessing mental health services outside of schools, with long waitlists for services

  • Increase in homeless and refugee students who have additional counseling and language support needs

  • Goal is 1 counselor per 250 students. Higher caseloads are seen at some of the schools, some budget requests to improve this

  • Increase in special education enrollment and referrals will require increased staffing and resources

Daniel Cohen, interim preschool director presented about the Needham Preschool Structure:

  • The Preschool program is an integrated program of special education students and community peers (64 tuition slots for typically developing peers, 56 special education slots)

  • 8 half day integrated classrooms, 2 substantially separate classrooms, and one intensive learning classroom (ILC) for students with the most intensive needs

  • Some students attend for brief periods to access very specific special education needs (speech therapy, OT, etc) while enrolled in other childcare programs

  • The Preschool provides screening and evaluation, many referrals come for Early Intervention programs

  • Each year enrollment significantly increases throughout the school year as eligible children turn 3, or new needs are discovered during the year

  • Budget requests are for a new integrated classroom, as well as teaching and support staff to run that classroom

Julie Muse-Fisher, director of Special Education, gave a K-8 special education overview:

  • Special education staff provide inclusion services, consultation services, direct services, skill centers

  • District wide Specialized programs (Connections, ILC, Language Based Programming, Insight/Bridges Middle School programming)

  • Speech/OT/PT/Adaptive/Consultation/Counseling are all parts of Special Education programming

  • Budget requests driven by increased needs for their Specialized Programs (44 students in the ILC at all levels, an increase of 8 students from last year) and increased caseloads with increased Special Ed enrollment. Budget requests are for additional staff to meet these needs

  • Many students have high level needs requiring 1:1 staffing for communication devices and help with toileting/safety.

  • Having a difficult time filling some positions (especially teaching assistants) due to generalized staffing shortages, requiring the use of staffing agencies.

Tricia Mullen, Special Education Director at the High School, gave an overview of the NHS budget requests:

  • Budget request is primarily for increased staffing needs in the Post-Graduate and Inclusion Programs

  • New request for a 0.2 School Psychologist for Psychological evaluations to meet demand from NHS, out of district, and private school students

Jamie Singelais, Director of English Language Learner Education Program, gave overview of ELL needs:

  • Stability in the number of students overall but an increased level of need has been noted. Many more students are entering at the beginning language level which requires more intensive daily ELL services. Needham High School has been the most impacted by this.

  • A number of refugee students are fleeing wars in Ukraine and other countries

  • Budget request is for additional ELL staff for NHS and Pollard

In summary, Dr Gutekanst highlighted the 3 priorities addressed in the FY 24 budget:

  • Building capacity for preschool/ELL/ILC programs with increased needs

  • Increased Mental Health and social-emotional supports

  • Not just asking for "more" but asking for "different" supports, allowing existing resources to be converted and re-positioned to serve students more appropriately.

School Committee members engaged in a robust discussion and asked many questions of the Special Education staff. They note that public schools are legally obligated to provide services to all students in the least restrictive environment possible, so these services are essential for Needham Public School programming. They acknowledge that both the physical plant and staff capacity is limited and will require significant attention, especially when planning for future school construction projects. There is no extra space in any of our buildings, but spaces have been identified that can be repurposed for additional Special Ed needs at the preschool and Pollard. 50-60 languages are identified on intake forms as being spoken in the NPS community, but not all of these students require ELL services. The highest incidence languages are Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese; this year there has been an influx of Russian/Ukrainian speaking students fleeing the war in Ukraine, as well as an increase in Azerbaijani, Turkish, and Arabic speakers.

School Committee Comments

Upcoming FY24 Budget Discussions:

  • Jan 3 AM, SC liaisons will meet with Finance Committee

  • Jan 3 PM, Town Manager will attend SC meeting for Budget Consultation, discussion about School Counseling

  • Jan 17, Public Hearing on the school budget

  • Jan 18, Finance Committee requests a SC budget presentation at their meeting

  • Jan 24, School Committee scheduled to vote on FY24 budget plan.

Reminder that many seniors are currently thinking of what their plans will be after their senior year. Many are working on college applications and awaiting decisions, others are deciding on the military, gap years, or entering the workforce. This can be a time of incredible stress, please keep their mental health in mind. Good Luck to the Class of 2023 in their decision making!

The School Committee wishes everyone a safe and restful break!

The next School Committee will be on Tuesday Jan 3, 2023 at 6:30pm.


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