SC Meeting: June 1, 2021

At the June 1 School Committee meeting, discussion items included a new DEI collaborative initiative with the NEF, the Sunita Williams School Improvement Plan, and the Superintendent's annual evaluation.


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Public Comments

Three people spoke about the lean budget being proposed for performing arts next year as outlined in an information item in the meeting packet. Speakers stressed the need for more equity between the performing arts and sports programs, which receive more funding. Aaron Pressman had also noted this in the packet, and requested more information about the decision making in this area of the budget.



School Committee Comments

This was the last meeting for student representative Aiden Michelow, who is graduating. School Committee members talked about how positive it has been having Aiden as a member of the school committee. SC will be welcoming a new student representative for next year.



Needham Education Foundation DEI Collaborative Initiative

Joanna Herrera and Seema Meloni of the NEF joined Mary Lammi to present information on a new collaborative initiative to support racial equity efforts in the district. Unlike NEF grants, collaborative initiatives are large, multi-year investments developed in collaboration with the district. The most recent one focused on interdisciplinary learning from 2014 to 2021.


As a first step, a consultant has been hired to look at what has been happening in the schools around racial equity since the 2018 Equity Audit. The information gathered in this first phase will inform next steps. It is the hope that the Portrait of a Needham Graduate will become the vision and direction of this initiative. SC members thanked both the NEF for being a catalyst for educational change and the Needham community for generously supporting the NEF. Efforts will be made to communicate progress to the community. The SC unanimously accepted funds in the amount of $35,000.



School Improvement Plan for Sunita Williams Elementary School

School principal Michael Kascak was joined by SWES staff members to present highlights from the school improvement plan, including:


Equity

  • High School Internship Program

  • Racial Literacy Program in 3rd grade

  • Needham schools received lots of wonderful grants/book donations for all 5 elementary libraries from the Rotary Club, AAPI, and ICON to help diversify library collections. Parents are also able to purchase books from teacher book wish-lists. Many of the books are leveled so they will be put in the hands of kids to read and use. There are questions that were prepared that can be used with the books to help spark conversations with students and staff.

  • Equity Professional Development drop-ins every Wednesday to provide conversations and guidance around teaching equity

Campus and school use

  • The outdoor campus is GPS mapped out for community use. Kids are spending a lot of time outside on the campus as well as people from the community.

  • There was some discussion about the new school building and how it's space and technology are being utilized, for example energy and solar panel data can be used for science lessons.

  • Composting project to restart next year (suspended during pandemic)

Mr. K also thanked three retiring staff members: Lynn Doran, Ann Lewis, and Barbara Fuller. The full School Improvement Plan can be found in the meeting packet.



Update on Student Learning:

Dr. Gutekanst provided an update on student learning looking towards the summer and fall, when he anticipates a new year of uninterrupted learning in the Needham Public Schools:

  • Prioritizing health and safety — For the summer, DESE is keeping current safety protocols in place. But in the fall many will be lifted, including distancing requirements. This means all students can return to the cafeterias to eat, and there will be no more tents for additional outdoor space. Ventilation, cleaning, and maintenance of buildings will be scaled back but still prioritized. It is unclear if masks must be worn in the fall.

  • Winding down Remote Learning Academy — 400+ students will be returning to in-person school

  • Focusing on summer learning — Summer programs include: Extended School Year, Summer Bridge, NCE summer explorations, METCO Jumpstart (K-1 students), ELL Newcomer Camp (elementary), Summer Credit Recovery (high school)

  • Provide ongoing learning and SEL interventions for the fall and beyond — Many interventions are being put into place for students at all levels both academically and socially for next year.

Next steps (at next SC meeting):

  • Update Portrait of a Needham Graduate Strategic Priorities 21-22

  • Draft school opening plan (published 6/12) will provide details to families, and an open house will be held on 6/16 to take questions from families


Superintendent's Evaluation

Andrea Longo Carter presented a narrative review that incorporated feedback from teachers, staff, SC members, and a self-evaluation by Dr. Gutekanst. Following the practice of DESE, the Superintendent's performance is rated annually in five major areas:

  • Instructional Leadership

  • Management and Operations

  • Family and Community Engagement

  • Professional Culture

  • School Committee Relations

Overall, Dr. Gutekanst received a rating of "Proficient" (rigorous, expected levels of performance), but was rated on 47% of indicators as "Exemplary" (serves as a model of practice for others within region or statewide). Noted areas of strength included his fiscal management, relationships and school culture, focus on equity work, progress on district goals, and efforts to improve communication with both School Committee and families. But communication was also identified as an area that needed more work, along with advancing school building projects. While many aspects of his handling of the pandemic were praised, some others were identified as areas where he struggled. School Committee member praised his leadership during an incredibly challenging year, and also took some responsibility for areas that need improvement. The full evaluation can be found in the meeting packet.


The next School Committee meeting will take place June 15 at 6:30pm.