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SC Meeting: February 23, 2021

At the 2/23 SC meeting, NEF grant awards were presented, including an almost $300K grant to support expand K-2 learning. The NHS School Improvement Plan was presented, along with an update on student learning.

Public Comments

Multiple parents and educators expressed concern about the hybrid program, and their desire to see more kids return to fully in person learning.

Superintendent's Comments

Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services Mary Lammi shared highlights of activities throughout the schools connected to Black History Month. Needham will continue to examine the curriculum and review school- and district-wide practices with an anti-racist and anti-bias lens. Ms. Lammi also shared the district's new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion website, which has been launched as a resource for educators but is also accessible to the wider community.

Needham Education Foundation Grant Awards

NEF Co-Presidents Seema Meloni and Maggie Shapiro announced $296,624 will be awarded to Needham Public Schools — the largest grant in the NEF’s 30-year history. The grant will be used to hire nine additional teachers to support the expansion of K-2 in-school learning.

NEF Board Member Sally Theran also announced eight winter grants totaling $45,524 including:

  • Orienteering at Sunita Williams

  • Creative dance and music lessons at Sunita Williams Early Learning Center

  • Sensory Pathways at Pollard

  • “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From” book club at the Needham High School

  • Access to the Contemporary Literacy Criticism digital collection for the Needham High School

  • Student Ambassador Program for students transitioning into the Needham High School

  • Author visits with Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies series) and Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic series) for fifth graders in all five elementary schools.

Dr. Gutekanst and SC members expressed their deep gratitude to the NEF for their continuing partnership in supporting the Needham Public Schools. The School Committee unanimously voted to accept the NEF Grants. More information about the NEF and the grant awards can be found on the NEF website.

Needham High School School Improvement Plan

Needham High School Principal Aaron Sicotte provided an update on the Needham High School 5-year School Improvement Plan, highlighting nine goals:

  • Provide students & staff with social emotional learning skills

  • Embed culturally responsive teaching practices into each classroom

  • Incorporate universal design for learning

  • Embed an explicit teaching of interdisciplinary learning skills

  • Consistently integrate subject matter across disciplines & classes

  • Increase opportunities for students to display learning through project based assessments

  • Update grade reporting processes to allow communication about students SEL & interdisciplinary skills

  • Use the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification & Redefinition model to guide technology use

  • Create a schedule that optimizes learning opportunities

COVID-19 has impacted the High School's priorities and has shifted the focus on technology instruction and supported to earlier in the plan. The plan has seen success and progress through programs like the 9th Grade Interdisciplinary Team and targeted professional development. The full School Improvement Plan can be found in the meeting packet.

Update on Student Learning

General Updates

  • The public can now access the weekly updates that are presented to the Joint Health & Safety Committee.

  • Staff surveillance testing begins week of March 1.

  • Family health attestation begins March 8.

  • Nine teachers and 15 teaching assistants have been hired for new positions in preparation for the K-2 return to in person school four days a week beginning March 8. Training of new staff has already begun.

  • New classrooms are being adapted

  • Student and staff schedules are being adjusted, especially to accommodate lunch and transportation changes. (Students MUST be spaced 6 feet apart when eating).

Family Health Attestation Form

  • The District is working with RUVNA who is currently working with the Natick Public Schools.

  • The form will be a daily requirement for all students in the Blue, Gold or Green Cohorts. It is not a requirement for students in the Red Cohort.

  • Families will receive a text or email each day in which each parent will have to complete a brief screening to ensure their students are ready to go to school. Reminder texts or emails will be sent until the attestation is completed.

  • Once students arrive at school, along with attendance, the teachers will review who has or has not completed the attestation. If it has not been completed then, if necessary, the student will be removed from class to ensure that they are healthy enough to be in attendance, and the school may try to contact the family.

The Work Ahead

  • Needham is currently working on plan to possibly partner and provide a vaccination site for Needham's teachers.

  • The District will continue consider and understand new guidance and regulations from the Commissioner and State Board of Education.

  • The COVID Advisory Committee will reconvene in March to begin planing the return to school in the fall.

  • Sometime in April the District will review and share out elementary math and literacy assessment data to show progress and inform curriculum adjustments into next year.

  • Planning will also be made for a summer education program.

School Committee Comments & Questions

  • District continues to evaluate necessary quarantining and isolation timing.

  • Questions regarding distancing: CDC recommends 6 ft when possible, but the Mass commissioner is recommending 3ft. This highlights conflicting guidance. Needham does not have the space to have 6-ft distancing, and our class sizes are higher than neighboring districts. Needham is using 3-6 ft distancing. All of our students will NOT fit in our schools at 3-ft spacing without significant changes to education programming. Typically students were just inches to 1-ft apart. Lunches are extremely challenging if we need to maintain 6 ft.

  • MCAS: The school committee had previously voted on a resolution to not administer MCAS this year, but there is a federal mandate, and the state is still requiring schools to administer the test which, although it will be shorter, will take time away from instruction.

  • The hybrid and remote models adopted by school districts were allowed under Commissioner Riley's emergency authority. Today he made a statement that he will be asking the Board of Education to revoke the hybrid option for school districts, which could have an enormous impact in Needham. This announcement has caught schools by surprise, and Dr. Gutekanst will be seeking more information on this in the coming days.

  • Concerns were expressed that convening the COVID Advisory Task Force at the end of March is not soon enough. Dr. Gutekanst agreed that, given the commissioner's statement today, the timing may need to be moved up. But staff is already working on ideas for bringing more students back if required by the Commissioner.

  • Several members emphasized that SC is taking the concerns expressed by parents and staff very seriously, and considers all comments and feedback. There is urgency to increasing in-person learning, but also ever-changing guidance and health requirements that must be considered.

The next School Committee meeting is March 2.


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