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SC Meeting: June 4, 2024

At the June 4 School Committee Meeting there was a discussion of High School Attendance: Supporting Student Needs, a REAL Update, and a Literacy Update.

School Committee Comments

  • Congratulations to the Needham High School Class of 2024! Thank you to the student speakers, NHS Band and Chorale who performed at the graduation ceremony on Sunday June 2.

Superintendent Comments

  • Needham Police Chief Schlittler, Officer Scolponeti, and School Crossing Guard David Pinkham were welcomed to the meeting.

  • David Pinkham is the winner of the 2024 MassDOT Safe Routes to School Crossing Guard Award out of 500 nominees. Mr. Pinkham is a Navy veteran who uses his military experience directing Air traffic to get kids to and from Newman Elementary School safely. He is well known in town for his boundless energy and impressive dance moves.

  • Mr. Pinkham will be recognized on Thursday June 5th at a ceremony at the MA State House.

  • Chief Schlittler recognized the dedication and hard work of all of the Needham Crossing Guards who do a very challenging job and provide an essential service to our students. He also thanked Officer Scolponeti who coordinates all the crossing guards.

  • School Committee extended their hearty congratulations to Mr. Pinkham and shared their appreciation for all the crossing guards in Needham.

High School Attendance: Supporting Student Needs

NHS Principal Aaron Sicotte, Dana Plunkett, Director of Grade 7-12 Guidance, and NHS Assistant Principal Mary Kay Alessi presented on how the attendance policy is managed at the High School.

  • Families can report an absence through e-mail, a phone call, or a google form

  • If a student is marked absent by a teacher but there has been no notification from families, twice daily automated phone calls and e-mails are made

  • Three different attendance codes are used:

    • AE - Absence Excused - Student/family provides a note that they were at a doctor's appt, funeral or court. Also includes school related absences.

    • A - Absence Acknowledged - parent/family acknowledged the absence

    • AU - Absent Unacknowledged - no acknowledgement from parent/family

  • Both A & AU type absences count toward credit loss. AE does not count toward credit loss.

  • Current attendance policy pilot was created by a team of staff representing most departments. Current policy is if a student reaches 6 A/AU absences in a class in a quarter, they will lose 1 credit in that class. Rotating schedule of classes means not every class is held every day, so it would be possible to be over the limit in some classes but not others.

  • They regularly look at attendance patterns and speak with students as soon as any issues are noted (often absent first block of the day, several absences early in the term, etc)

  • If a student has reached 6 absences in a term, both the student and family are involved in conversations to address the issue. Goal is to provide support and help shift behaviors to improve attendance.

  • Students have an opportunity to earn back any credits that are lost due to attendance. Most students do participate in these opportunities (primarily by improving their attendance in the subsequent term which will allow them to earn back the previous term's credit).

  • Students who are absent for an extended period (5-6 days or more) due to medical, psychiatric, or school avoidance issues have access to the Transition Program which supports students coming back to school after extended absence. Some students qualify for home hospital tutoring during a prolonged absence. 51 students were involved in the Transition program this year, equally divided among all grades, 40% of these students received clinical support for mental health during that program.

  • In general, trends are toward fewer students with chronic absenteeism, however, among students with chronic absence, a higher proportion is now due to mental health concerns.

School Committee engaged in a robust discussion and asked many questions about the attendance policy. Some highlights of the discussion:

  • Intervention is the key to success: Less than half of the students who receive a warning letter actually lost a credit. Last year 4% of students lost 1 credit, 2% of students lost more than 1 credit, <1% of students lost 5 or more credits.

  • Typically, attendance concerns are a symptom of an underlying problem; the goal is to help support student and family with the underlying issue.

  • Focus on earning credits back during the school year rather than through summer programs. Community service can be an option to earn back credits.

  • They plan to provide an update on chronic absenteeism in December with more pilot data from the fall term.

REAL (Race, Equity, Access, Leadership) Coalition Update

Dr. Gutekanst, Dr. Joanne Allen-Willoughby, METCO Director, and other NPS leadership staff gave an update from the REAL Coalition. Detailed presentation and slides can be found in the packet.

  • REAL Coalition has done a lot of work with staff through professional development. Using restorative practices with students and staff. Working with students to make sure their voices are a part of the process. Working to engage with families so they can support this work at home.

  • Nationally, dealing with issues of race and bias has been a challenge. How can we make school a safe space for students and staff to have these conversations?

  • NHS Class: Courageous Conversations about Race, students then did community engagement projects

Some of the work that has been done includes:

  • Updating the student handbooks on how we respond to acts of bias, hate, and discrimination

  • Fully funded summer programming and transportation for at risk students

  • Stipends to support middle school GSA/all genders programming

  • Professional development Resources, Roadmap for Becoming a Culturally Responsive Educator

  • Content and Teaching Strategies for Social & Emotional Learning Programs, Investigating History Pilot, supporting Teacher developed curriculum projects this summer

  • Working with William James College to provide equity focused leadership education

  • Continued work with Cornelius Minor

  • Staff identifying as BIPOC grew from 90.8 FTE in 2023 to 109 FTE in 2024

  • New hiring/guidance document includes anti bias hiring/training, job fairs to diversify pool of candidates

  • Tuition assistance for BIPOC Staff to continue their education

  • Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health (SELMH) framework finalized

  • Developing mentoring opportunities for students of color (Pollard Mentors Like Me, SWES Black Girl Magic Group, discussion groups)

  • District Survey 2024 - Feedback from Parents, Students and Staff

  • Participating in Needham Series of Conversations about How Race Impacts our Community

  • Piloting "Talking Points" App for Family Outreach/Translations

School Committee expressed their appreciation for this important work and engaged in discussion and questions. Highlights include:

  • Request to consider including Special Education & Neurodiverse Student Equity under the umbrella of the REAL coalition as there are similar concerns of marginalization for those students.

  • How is progress being tracked? Results of District Survey, more low income & students of color participating in Accelerated classes, more student interaction with school leadership to give feedback, tracking data on discipline, attendance, chronic absenteeism to look for disproportionality

Literacy Update

Lisa Messina, Literacy Director, and Dr. Carmen Williams, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Innovation, presented an update on Literacy in NPS. Detailed presentation and slides about the Literacy Program can be found in the packet.

  • Added systematic phonemic awareness program in K-1

  • Strengthened phonics instruction

  • Revamped the Tier II, III Instruction with Literacy Coaches, Pull Out instruction

  • Early Bird and DIBELS screening

  • Progress Monitoring

  • Professional Development for Teachers and Coaches, Coaching for Equity

  • Currently due for Curriculum updates of older materials

  • Current Review of the Literacy Program began in 2022-2023, leadership group evaluated all the curriculum programs on the market. This year teachers in grades K-5 gave feedback on the 6 programs that remained in contention after the initial review, through early release time, curriculum fairs. Volunteers will pilot the four top-rated programs next year. These programs represent a variety of methods.

  • Hope to have clarity on which program will be the best fit by Spring of 2025 with implementation of the new Literacy Curriculum in SY 2025-2026. This timeline may change due to a number of factors including DESE guidance, outcomes of proposed legislation, and funding, etc.

  • Total cost of initial implementation including Program Materials, Software Licensing fees and Professional Development ranges from $700,000-$2,000,000.

  • While Needham performs well above state averages on MCAS, there is still work to do to meet the goal of every 3rd grader reading on grade level with appropriate scaffolds and supports.

School Commitee thanked the presenters for their extensive work on this process and engaged in questions and discussion.

School Committee Comments

  • School Committee Surveys evaluating Dr. Gutekanst are due this Sunday

  • The NHS Civics Showcase is on Saturday June 6 at 2pm at Town Hall

The next School Committee Meeting will be June 18, 2024 at 6:30pm.


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