SC Meeting: January 25, 2022

At the January 25 School Committee meeting there was an update on the Middle and High School program of studies, an update on the Athletic Program, discussion of the May 2022 Annual Town Meeting Warrant Article Requests, and a Health & Safety update.


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The meeting began by congratulating the Boys Varsity Soccer Team on winning the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Sportsmanship award. This is the second win for a Needham High School athletic team this year – the Girls Varsity Volleyball Team won this award in the fall.



Middle School & High School Program of Studies Update


The Middle School program has two minor changes:

  • An addition of Structured Learning Support Course Descriptions, which has been in place but is being articulated

  • Adjustments to the Performing Arts options in Grade 7.

Otherwise, there were no substantial changes from this year.


Principal Aaron Sicotte and Assistant Principal Alison Coubrough-Argentieri presented new and reformatted High School programs. New courses represent the creativity and effort among the staff to meet student needs and provide rich opportunities. Some changes simply represent housekeeping issues like course titles and clear explanations.


Some of the new courses include:

  • More in-depth computer course for students who want to go beyond current introductory programs

  • Courses in digital media, social media, and social change

  • Life Sciences

  • A 10IP program of studies that will build on the current 9th Grade Interdisciplinary Program

The High School is considering extending the interdisciplinary program into junior year, but with options that allow students to challenge themselves more in their areas of interest.

  • Adding these IP programs in the 9th,10th, and 11th grades will allow students four potential years of interdisciplinary programming if they continue with Greater Boston Project in their senior year.

  • The current 9IP can offer three sections, and they expect that will be consistent for 10th grade.

  • The IP is consistent with the goals of the Portrait Of A Needham Graduate.

  • It is currently hard to know the impact of the 9IP program because the first year was in the hybrid learning model. Hopefully after this year, they will be better able to asses the impact it had.

Equity, inclusivity, and access were also issues that were examined and that drove some changes at the High School level. The primary focus was on communication with families and helping them understand the programs offered. Some changes/additions include:

  • Increased training for staff

  • Reformatting communication instructed by best practices

  • Increasing white space, using larger font, decreasing “clutter”

Michael Greis brought up the question of required courses versus offered courses. If the list of requirements is too long, it ends up being too much and doesn’t offer flexibility for students to make choices. It is a balance that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and regularly.


Aaron Sicotte reviewed the course selection process and how students are advised in choosing their classes.

  • Incoming parents and students are introduced to the program of studies

  • Current teachers and guidance counselors work with students to make the best choices based on their strengths, interests, and balancing all the other aspects of their lives (sports, extracurriculars, other advanced courses, etc.) The conversation is student-centered.

  • Teachers make their recommendations, but parents can appeal

The goal is not to limit students, but to highlight the pathway to success. The most important aspect is to make sure students are healthy first and foremost. They also need to be happy, and then they can be challenged. All aspects of a student’s life are examined to help determine the right fit for a class. Providing clear information with accessible language will greatly help with course selection and letting them know what’s ahead.



Athletic Program Update


Athletic Director Dan Lee and Assistant Athletic Director Ricardo Andrade showed a video highlighting sports in the Needham Schools during COVID-19. Student athletes persevered and excelled in the last year and a half. One of the silver linings from changes that were made to adapt to the pandemic that will remain going forward, is live streaming games. This has enabled more people to watch and participate. Technology has also enabled coaches and students to train virtually. For example, everyone can Zoom in to study film from home.


The focus of the athletic department is not just on sports, but on the whole student. The district hires coaches that don’t just perform on the field, but that help athletes become better people overall. They want a rich, inclusive program in which traditional and non-traditional students can grow, play and achieve. Challenges exist when a team is having a difficult season, but regular check-ins with coaches help with goal setting and making sure there are still positive takeaways at the end of the season.


MIAA recently changed from a section format to a tournament format that includes the top 32 schools, which benefits Needham because it keeps regular season games in closer proximity.


The Unified Program was started three years ago. It works in partnership with the Special Olympics and MIAA to give all students an opportunity to play sports. It pairs students with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to compete – partners and athletes. We are one of the go-to schools that the Special Olympics uses as a model for other schools who want to start a unified program.


A major addition to the program is the Middle School Adaptive Sports program.

  • Now students don't have to wait until high school to be able to participate in unified sports

  • One of four schools to launch a program at the middle school level

  • They have a selection process for the partners because so many kids want to participate.

The Athletic department works hard to be equitable and inclusive, making sure as many students as possible can participate. Each year, they fill about 2,300 spots. They also work to make sure to have a broad range of offerings, and recently added Girls Rugby and Girls Golf as varsity sports.



May 2022 Annual Town Meeting Warrant Article Requests


Dr. Gutekanst requested that the School Committee consider endorsing the two warrant articles that will be presented at the Town Meeting in May. The Select Board will lean heavily on the School Committee for their recommendations and will follow suit. If the School Committee votes to insert them, the Select Board will then vote to insert them on their behalf.


The first article is to raise an appropriate sum for the renovation of the Emery Grover building, associated grounds, and any work that needs to be done to Hillside to be used for swing space during the project. The School Committee will vote to request this article be inserted.


The second article is to appropriate the funding to update the heating system at Hillside. This system will be used beyond the Emery Grover project. This article will be brought forward by the Building Maintenance Department of DPW, and School Committee will vote to endorse it.


The language for the articles is still being clarified and finalized.


Andrea Longo Carter also requested they endorse the warrant articles related to design funds for the rooftop replacement of the boilers at Broadmeadow and Eliot.



Health & Safety Update


Based on information shared by the commissioner and the governor, there will be changes to the testing programs.

  • Based on the Test & Stay programs, close contacts in schools are very unlikely to contract or spread COVID. 98.6% of the state’s 508,312 Test & Stay tests were negative.

  • The recommendation is to move away from PCR tests and begin using rapid antigen testing.

  • The focus will shift to identifying symptomatic students rather than in-school close contacts.

  • Contact tracing will end.

  • All families will be provided at-home rapid tests for each student if they opt into the program.

  • Schools will test symptomatic students using their CIC contractor and will be sent home if the test is positive. Students with negative tests, but who are sick, may still be sent home.

  • The Health Attestation will remain.

The new at-home testing program will begin on February 4.

  • Families and staff must “opt in” to the symptomatic testing program in order to participate; many have already opted in when they consented to Test & Stay.

  • Families and staff must “opt in“ to receive at home diagnostic tests through RUVNA.

  • Families and staff can do both programs (diagnostic & symptomatic); one of the programs; or neither.

  • Per DESE requirements, opting into the at-home testing program will require each student to test every Sunday and Wednesday and report positive cases. (Sunday is mandatory, Wednesday is required, but families have flexibility to use at their discretion if a need to test on different day becomes necessary.)

  • For families who have opted into the at-home testing program, kits will be sent home with students weekly.

All information will also be provided in a 10-minute video that Dr. Gutekanst will share with the community.



School Operating Budget Vote


The School Committee reviewed the revised proposed budget, with the only essential change being the full-time personal counselor at Needham High School as discussed in the December meeting.


Dr. Gutekanst recommended to the School Committee that they approve the FY23 school operating budget $87,277,798.00 as submitted.


The School Committee unanimously approved the budget.


The next School Committee Meeting is February 1, 2022.