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SC Meeting: February 15, 2022

At the February 15 School Committee Meeting, there was a discussion of the Needham Education Foundation Winter Grant Awards, the Needham High School Improvement Plan, and an Update on Health & Safety. The School Committee also approved the 2022-2023 School Calendar.

Public Comments

Some community members spoke in favor of going mask optional in schools as soon as possible. Others were concerned about vulnerable members of the community who will be at risk when the mask requirement is lifted. Concerns were raised about discrimination against students who continue to wear masks. Several questions were asked about what metrics the Joint Health & Safety Committee will use to decide if masks need to be reinstated in the future.

School Committee & Superintendent Comments

Both the School Committee and the Superintendent have received many e-mails and comments regarding the school mask policy, some strongly in favor of removing masks and others strongly in favor of keeping masks. They appreciate the active engagement on these issues and want to remind the community that there are many varied perspectives.

They wish students, families, and staff a happy and safe February vacation.

NEF Winter Grant Awards

Jennifer Collings and Sally Theran of the Needham Education Foundation Winter Grants Committee presented 6 Winter Grant Awards totalling $32,541.00.

  • American Sign Language and the Deaf Community at Pollard - this will fund a part time teacher, curriculum development, and launching a new ASL elective for 8th graders

  • Broadway Master Class for Middle School Students (High Rock & Pollard) - a professional Broadway performer will give an after school master class, including group-based acting exercises and games, Q&A, and a brief performance.

  • Technical Theatre Workshop Series (Pollard & High School) - will bring in local performers to teach students about sound, lighting, costumes, sets, stage management, and new technologies in the theater industry.

  • High School Ceramics Workshop for Advanced Ceramics Students - students will learn Raku, an ancient japanese pottery technique

  • Children's book author Ty Allen Jackson will give a presentation to all elementary students at Newman - Students will be inspired by his stories of black superheroes, lessons about money, and beliefs about the importance of reading and literacy.

  • SWES grant to purchase 34 ukeleles for Sunita Williams Elementary School - this will provide a new musical experience for SWES students and an alternative and inclusive way to make music for students in the Early Learning Center (ELC) program. Similar grants have already been given to other elementary schools.

More details can be found on the NEF website.

Reminder about an important upcoming NEF fundraiser: Trivia Bee on March 10. The School Committee will be sponsoring a student team.

Needham High School Improvement Plan

Aaron Sicotte, Needham High School Principal and Danielle, member of the NHS Student Council presented the Needham High School Improvement Plan. The last SIP was presented in Feb 2020, however the COVID-19 pandemic upended those plans. Their focus was forced to change during hybrid schooling last year and this year is still not completely back to normal.

Current areas of emphasis:

1. Social-Emotional Learning

  • Needs are broad, varied and more extreme than before

  • Focus on building a safe sense of community

  • Hired an additional personal counselor

  • Professional development to broaden strategies for relationship building & connections

2. Teaching and Learning

  • Generally, during the pandemic, they found that courses covered the key points of content that are covered in a typical year.

  • Emphasis on key concepts and deep learning

  • Tiers of support in the classrooms and beyond

  • Curriculum reflective of the broader society around us

  • Professional development to broaden strategies for relationship building & connections

3. Interdisciplinary Learning

  • 9th grade IP program has been well received and will continue

  • 10th grade IP program will start next year

  • Adding new classes to the Program of Studies that will focus on the intersection of concepts and skills from different disciplines

4. Technology Integration

  • Technology was essential to provide hybrid & remote school during the pandemic

  • Google Classroom now used by all teachers

  • Zoom classes & live streaming may continue in some circumstances

  • They use a variety of programs to enhance access, engagement, and learning

5. Schedule Review

  • X-block has become a very well liked part of the schedule. X block is designed to provide time within the school day to provide academic support. This time also allows students to get together to collaborate on projects during the school day.

  • Sunset clause in the teachers contract will revert back to the pre X block schedule after this year unless contract is modified.

  • In the midst of negotiations to determine the schedule for next year.

NHS Student council sent out a mental health survey to HS students today, and have 500 responses so far. They are still analyzing the responses. So far 46% of students say they feel that they have someone to talk to or reach out to for support within the school. 84% of students said they have someone to talk to outside of school. Concerns about the amount of work, rigorous classes, and high stress/high pressure school environment were frequently raised.

Mr Sicotte advised students and parents to prioritize mental health when choosing courses for next year and not to overload their schedules.

Ending the mask requirement is a polarizing issue among NHS students. There are many students on both sides of the issue. There is a lot of concern about judgment or stigma between those who continue to wear masks and those who remove their masks. Student council is discussing how to promote and support a judgment free "mask friendly" community.

Update on Health & Safety

Dr. Gutekanst presented an COVID-19 update. Slides can be found here.

  • Almost 35,000 home tests have been distributed. 64% of students are participating in at home diagnostic testing, 76% of staff. 15 individuals have notified the district of positive tests since the start of the home testing program.

  • 80% of students are participating in the in school symptomatic testing program, so far no students have tested positive at school.

  • COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are dropping in MA .

  • 89% of all students (preschool - 12) have received at least one vaccine dose. The district continues to coordinate vaccine clinics with local partners.

  • Due to the history of COVID-19 spikes after holidays and breaks, and to give time for staff to prepare and transition, the current recommendation is to end the school mask mandate and transition to a “mask friendly” policy on March 7th in grades K-12. Preschool students and staff will continue to mask for now as most of those students are too young to be vaccinated.

  • Plan is to reinforce personal choice on masking. Students should feel supported to continue to wear masks if this is their choice.

  • Unvaccinated students are strongly encouraged to wear masks but it will not be required.

  • Federal mandate requires masks for school transportation and health offices, so masks will continue to be required on school buses & in health offices.

  • Daily health attestation will remain in place

  • Hygiene, ventilation, and visitor protocols will remain in place

  • Emphasized that Sick individuals should stay home

  • District is working to support vulnerable students and staff

  • Families will need to talk with their children regarding their plans for masking or not. Staff will not be policing whether students are complying with their family’s wishes.

  • Students who test positive for COVID will need to wear masks for 5 days after they have been cleared to return to school.

Approval of 2022-2023 School Calendar

School Committee unanimously approved the 2022-2023 school calendar.

The Next School Committee meeting will be March 1, 2022.


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