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SC Meeting: January 26, 2021

At the 1/26 meeting, the middle school and high school programs of studies were presented. Dr. Gutekanst also shared information on pooled testing for NPS staff, and the School Committee voted to approve the budget request and two warrant articles for the upcoming annual Town Meeting.

Public Comments

Three people commented. The first proposed that better education about COVID health and safety measures be provided to the community, citing misinformation as a cause of unfounded fear among staff and students which is delaying the return to in-person learning. A second commenter questioned whether it was wise to be increasing in-person learning when infection rate are rising and vaccination is still rare, and urged the district to delay action. The third requested periodic updates on planning for adjustments to the hybrid model.

SC Updates

Sue Neckes shared that NUARI (Needham Unite Against Racism Initiative) met on Monday night and reviewed the draft vision statement and principals. They are seeking feedback from the community — please visit the NUARI page on the Town website to learn more.

Superintendent’s Comments

  • Needham High School has been awarded the College Board’s 2020 Female Diversity Award for AP Computer Science Principles. Young women made up over 50% of NHS enrollment in this course, helping to close the gender gap and boost opportunities for all.

  • Officer Karl Harmon is retiring after 30+ years of service. He has served as the Community Service Officer since 2007, supervising crossing guards, school and bus safety, 3rd grade bike rodeos, and more.

  • NHS is currently fully remote due to positive COVID cases — 30 within 10 days. This rate is extraordinarily high, and there is some indication of in-school transmission. Dr. Gutekanst thanked the vast majority of students and families for following safety protocols, but expressed frustration with the small number of families who are not. In recent days, out-of-school activities such as birthday parties, sleepovers, and bus trips into Boston have contributed to higher infection rates. He also cited younger students' participation in youth sports teams, which do not have the professional supervision required to consistently enforce safety measures, and asked families to reconsider participation on those teams at this time.

MS & HS Programs of Studies

Principals Jessica Downey and Tamatha Bibbo highlighted a few changes to the 21-22 Middle School program of studies (pages 17-53 in the meeting packet):

  • Added information about alignment with district's competencies related to Portrtai of a Needham Graduate

  • Clarifications for Fine & Performing arts classes, for example is the course a trimester or full year?

  • Refinements to curriculum to incorporate recent Professional Development

The most significant changes are to the math program — Accelerated Math 7 and 8 will no longer be offered, and instead a new math elective called Data Science and Visualization will be introduced:

  • Changes have been discussed at length across grades 6-12 during a 3-year study.

  • It has been determined that heterogenous math is most appropriate and equitable for all students.

  • Due to the hybrid model, Accelerated Math 7 was not offered this year.

  • Data Science and Visualization 1 was piloted with grade 7 students who would have been enrolled in Accelerated Math 7. The class covers data, spreadsheets, analyzing and interpreting data, and creating visualizations. Feedback from students has been very strong.

  • Next year they will offer Data Science 1 and 2. These classes will be open to students in both grades, each are one trimester long, so could both be taken in one year.

Principal Aaron Sicotte and Assistant Principal Alison Coubrough-Argentieri reviewed changes and new courses in the High school program of studies (pages 54-108 in the meeting packet):

  • Modern Music Laboratory — 2-credit elective. Focus on music from the last 50 years.

  • Performance Seminar— 2-credit elective. Focus on solo performance for instrumentalists or vocalists.

  • Math Explorations Through Data Science — 2-credit elective. Open to students in any math class. Allows students to learn across all levels of ability and learning styles.

Several School Committee members commended the new Data Science electives, citing the life-long importance of understanding data and its alignment with the district's core competencies. There were also suggestions to more explicitly highlight anti-racist curriculum, clarify the middle school schedules, and avoid the term "better" when referencing grade requirements for courses (i.e. "... a B+ or better").

School Budget

Dr. Gutekanst recommended that the School Committee vote to approve a request for both a "base" budget and a "supplemental" budget, which will cover possible COVID-related costs should they be needed. The budget request, as presented at last week's meeting, was approved unanimously.

Update on Student Learning

Dr. Gutekanst will present plans for changes to the elementary hybrid model at the next School Committee meeting. This week, he presented a key component of maintaining health and safety: Surveillance Testing Program for Staff. The district feels that health protocols are foundational to strengthening hybrid model, and providing pooled testing will help build staff confidence.

The testing program is through a private company called Mirimus, not the pooled testing program being offered by the state. Wellesley and Lexington are currently using Mirimus testing with good results. Benefits of this testing program include:

  • A self-collected saliva test which can be collected at home — fast, safe, and non-invasive.

  • Results are available 12-24 hours after receipt (shipped overnight to New York) — samples could be collected on Tuesday mornings and tested by Wednesday night, allowing members of the infected pool to stay home Thursday morning.

  • From from the original pool of samples, the test pinpoints infection to just two people.

  • Almost 90% of staff who responded to a survey said they were interested in participating in pooled testing.

  • It is a month-to-month contract — estimated ~$200,000 through end of year, which will be funded by money saved form his year's budget and state/federal grants.

By contrast, the state-run pooled testing program has the following drawbacks:

  • Is only free for first six weeks, and then the district takes over all costs.

  • Requires a nasal swab sample collected at school.

  • The logistics of testing all students will lead to increased time off learning.

  • Will require extra staff to organize on-site testing.

  • All members of a positive pool must return to school to provide a second sample for individual testing.

Next steps:

  • This week: Share information with staff, secure contract with Mirimus, and figure out logistics.

  • 2/9: First weekly collection

  • 3/15: Update Joint Committee on Health and Safety

In addition, the district plans to require daily health attestation forms for all students. NPS staff already do this. This would be delivered by text to all families each morning.

Annual Town Meeting Warrant Articles

  • Special Education Reserve Fund — approved 6-1-0 (Aaron Pressman voted no)

  • Foster Care Transportation Reimbursement — approved 7-0-0

The next School Committee meeting will take place on February 2.


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