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SC Meeting: February 2, 2021

At the February 2 meeting, Dr. Gutekanst presented the plan for bringing back K-2 students to full in-person learning starting March 8 and Principal Tamatha Bibbo shared the Pollard School Improvement Plan.

Public Comments

Three community members shared suggestions for improvements to the hybrid model and increasing in-person learning.

Superintendent's Comment

Dr. Montes McNeil, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, shared an update on hiring. Two major open positions are for Broadmeadow Principal and Assistant Director of Human Resources. There are also short-term positions for TAs. The district continues to train hiring teams on hiring for equity — all hiring teams will go through a new training that examines biases and hiring practices. The district has been using platforms such as Indeed and LinkedIn to reach more applicants.

Pollard School Improvement Plan

Principal Tamatha Bibbo was joined by staff members Mike Healey and Brooke Kessel to present an overview of the Pollard School Improvement plan. School improvement plans for each school are presented every year. They follow a three-year cycle and are aligned to the district's core competencies as developed through Portrait of a Needham Graduate. The full plan can be found in the meeting packet (pages 17-26).


  • Science Curriculum integrated according to the 2018 state framework

  • History and Social Science have also fully transitioned to state 2018 framework

  • Review and modify current technology offerings

  • Math program audit completed, which led to changes to be implemented next year to discontinue accelerated math and differentiate within heterogenous class, and introduced data science elective

  • Assess and adjust the world language program allowing for more opportunities in both middle and high school

  • Incorporate and align the recommendations, competencies, and goals from Portrait of a Needham Graduate

Still in progress:

  • Define and determine special education and regular education co-teaching model in both grade levels

  • Ensure equitable and culturally responsive teaching and learning

  • Implement and evaluate the efficacy of the new transition program for students in need

New Goals:

  • Develop and pilot an innovation/interdisciplinary cluster

  • Identify bright spots from the Remote Learning/Hybrid Model — for example guest speakers on remote Wednesdays

  • Implement the 8th Grade civics project . Per the state, all 8th graders must participate in a civics project to learn about our government and structures. Due to COVID limiting community service options, this year they combined civics with community service. The hope is that students will become active, engaged citizens.

Update on Student Learning

Dr. Gutekanst presented his recommendations for changes to the elementary hybrid model which would be implemented starting March 8. The plan is to provide full in-person learning for children in grades K-2 (except remote Wednesdays), and increased synchronous instruction for students in grade 3-5 during remote weeks. His presentation outlined the concerns, considerations, constraints, and challenges that informed the development of the planned changes. A detailed document "Strengthening the Elementary Hybrid Model" is available on the NPS website.

Where are we now?

  • COVID numbers in Needham and Massachusetts are trending lower despite global surge.

  • We have more information and understanding of COVID, and experience imagining infections through health and safety measures.

  • We need to assess where we are and what we can/cannot change, including state and federal restrictions.

Why enhance the elementary model now?

  • Our youngest students are struggling — both parents and staff are concerned about the social/emotional wellbeing of students.

  • Recent research suggests it is critical to get younger students back to school full-time.

  • Staff are reporting exhaustion, anxiety, frustration, and fatigue.

  • Our community has the resources to strengthen health protocols and the elementary instructional model.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new study about the emotional needs of students.

What we CAN'T do:

  • Municipal spaces cannot be used for teaching and learning for multiple reasons.

  • Loosening health guidelines is not advised by the Joint Committee on Health and Safety. Our students are already 3-6 feet apart, as opposed to strictly 6 feet in neighboring districts. Also, students cannot eat less than 6 feet apart.

  • Livestreaming to a K or 1st grader is educationally impractical.

  • Compared to neighboring districts, Needham enrollment and classes sizes are larger. This means there is not enough classroom space to bring all students back safely.

Health & safety measures and considerations:

  • COVID surveillance testing for staff

  • Daily health attestation form for families

  • Vaccination clinics for staff during Phase 2 (later in February)

  • Research shows 3-foot spacing is sufficient for youngest students (older students should maintain up to 6 feet)

  • Ventilation, masks, and hygiene are still critical


  • Grade K-2 students will be back in school four days per week.

  • Nine teachers are being hired to keep class sizes no more than 17. Some students will need to be moved to a new classroom — schools will ask for volunteers first.

  • Grade 3-5 students will have over five hours of live instruction per week.

  • 15 TAs are being hired to support grade 3-5 teachers in the classroom (three per school).

Logistics and Planning

  • Additional bus for Boston resident students, and rerouting for Needham students

  • Reconfigure lunch schedules and seating

  • Moving classrooms, securing materials

  • ~$1.1 million needed — will be covered by saved money and grants

  • Also committed to maintaining middle and high school hybrid models

  • Shifting some special education staff, making additional counseling available during transition

Work still to be done:

  • Vaccinations: Staff will be vaccinated, but do students need vaccines, too?

  • Review and share out elementary literacy and math data to assess progress and make adjustments where necessary.

  • Continue to work on the budget.

  • Guidance resources for families/students that require it.

  • Determine what enhancements can be made to K-12 programs.

  • Develop summer plan to adjust curriculum.

  • Planning for a full and safe return to school for all students based on state guidance.

Timeline and next steps:

  • February 1: Hiring TAs and K-2 teachers

  • February 4: Elementary information session at 6:30pm

  • February 12: Deadline for families who want to switch either into or out of the Remote Learning Academy to submit an application for change — space permitting.

  • February 22: Surveillance testing begins for all staff

  • March 4: Will be a "snow day" for students to let teachers prepare

  • March 8: Welcome all K-2 students back to school and increase live instruction for grades 3-5

Action Item: Approve Middle and High School Programs of Studies

Feedback regarding including more explicit anti-racist messaging will be developed in the coming months and implemented in next year's programs of studies. Other suggestions from last week's meeting were incorporated. Approved unanimously 7-0-0.

The next School Committee meeting will be Tuesday, February 23.


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