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SC Meeting: June 6, 2023

At the June 6 School Committee meeting there was discussion of the Sunita Williams School Improvement Plan and a Race, Equity, Access, Leadership (REAL) Update.

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates

  • Congratulations to Needham’s graduating seniors!

  • Recognition of Needham staff who received SEPAC (Special Education Partner Advisory Council) awards this year: Emily Delaney-Disasto (Newman), Emily Dudek (Pollard), Beth Garceau (Mitchell), Heather Harris (High School), Grace Healy (Mitchell), Megan Hennessey Schofield (High School), Jessica Horgan (Sunita Williams), Michele Negoshian (Sunita Williams), Stuart Slawsby (High School)

Superintendent Updates

Members of Needham’s Unified Track and Field team were recognized for their outstanding achievements.

  • Victor Cavalcanti is finishing his first year at Needham High School and won a gold medal in the 100m dash and a bronze medal in the javelin at the State meet.

  • Thomas Drosos is a junior at Needham High School and won a gold medal in the 100M dash.

  • Samantha Murray is a junior at Needham High School and is a leader in the unified sports teams. She placed 5th in the 100m dash in Division 1 and exemplifies the spirit of unified sports.

  • Gianna Moreschi is a sophomore at Needham High School and is on the varsity soccer team. She is deeply involved in Top Soccer (a training program for athletes with emotional, physical or intellectual disabilities) and has been a key part in building a positive environment in the unified sports program and ensuring everyone is having fun.

Sunita Williams Elementary School Improvement Plan

Kiana Brunson - SWES principal, along with Patrick Marra - Assistant Principal, April Crawford - parent and school employee, and Allison Shenker - Literacy Coach presented the Sunita Williams school improvement plan.

  • SWES has 533 Students, 118 Faculty, 26 home rooms, 5 educational & specialty programs (General Ed, Moderate Special Ed, Intensive Learning Center (ILC), English Language Learners and METCO) and 3 ILC substantially separate classrooms.

  • Population -70% white, 12% Asian, 4% Black, 6% Hispanic, 7.5% multiracial, 0.2% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

  • 14% ESL learners, 15% Special Ed, 28% High Needs

Objectives: (i) Evaluate, and if needed, revise support given to teaching staff to maximize academic instructions and increase student achievement and (ii) increase cultural proficiency of staff and students through professional development opportunities and school-wide and grade level projects that effectively address matters of equity, diversity and inclusion in the context of pluralistic communities in which we live.

What this Means in Practice: Review programming, professional development programs, resources and supports in place for SEL learning, instructional interventions, and maximizing professional development opportunities around DEI specifically to support inclusive environment for all of the school’s learners and community members.

  • Math: Implemented Illustrative Math to shift math learning to a process-oriented approach focused on using math as a conceptual tool. Also implemented and maximizing value of ST Math. Feedback from kids has been positive. As a school, students solved over 1.3 million puzzles and completed over 8,000 objectives in ST Math, all of which supported the math skills they were learning. SWES student population surpassed the school goal of 80% completion. Successes were celebrated – trophies and awards; classroom parties; Rita’s Italian Ice came to school and the entire community celebrated with a frozen treat.

  • Literacy: Increased instructional supports to strengthen reading and writing skills. Implemented additional early screenings for dyslexia in compliance with new State law. Implemented curricular strategies and resources to increase foundational literacy, including increasing phonetic and phonemic awareness in grades K-5. Reintroduced Fundations in grade 3, and in grades 4 and 5 introduced new initiative for phonics and spelling.

  • Teacher/Student Support Team: The team reviewed the current model for the teacher support team (TST) and revamped processes for greater alignment with MTSS framework in ensuring referrals to the support team are data driven and are made once other interventions have been utilized. SWES is taking a more data drive approach overall to better inform interventions and how best to support students and teachers. Instead of simply saying ‘this isn’t working’, the team is asking ‘why isn’t this working’ and using data to explore trends and other important metrics in determining next steps. Faculty members and administrators collaborated to create tiered structure of support and intervention for students, and created actions plans for students they were supporting and monitored student progress on a 6-8 weekly basis to determine where has the student had growth, where is it necessary to course correct, and what are the next steps. 26 students have come through TST.

  • SEL: Continuing to implement PBIS (positive behavior intervention support) framework, which has been a 2-year process. Tiered approach similar to MTSS approach for academics, but from a social emotional and behavior standpoint. Started last year by implementing school-wide expectations and educating staff on what those expectations were and what acceptable behavior should look like. Solicited buy-in from both teachers and students in developing these behavior expectations. This allowed students to have a clear understanding of the expectations for their actions. Expectations were always in line with SWES’s 3 foundational principles -- working hard, being kind, and being safe. This year SWES implemented an awards program (Paw Award) to support students acting in alignment with these expectations, which has had a positive impact on the school community.

  • DEI: SWES has a school-wide equity team, which meets monthly. The team reviews and discusses research-based articles, culturally relevant texts for students, and social concerns pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion, which impact both the school and the broader community. The team homed in on a few specific initiatives this past year including creating a family survey in the Fall to understand the culture of each student’s family to better support families and understand students as a whole person, and adding more culturally inclusive literature.

Celebrating Successes for this School Year:

  • Increased effectiveness and fidelity of CPT

  • Piloted instructional walkthroughs for K-5. Birdseye view of what’s happening in the classroom. These can be done by anyone, and the observations are used solely to gather data and to learn what is happening in other classrooms. Provides greater alignment across grade levels in the classroom and enhances learning for students.

  • Increased safety measures and routines. Ensuring the proper protocols and staff are in place to support students. Implemented greater structure and strategies around dismissal and being accountable for where kids are going at dismissal each and every day.

  • Increased the number of armed intruder drills to 2 annually for greater safety and protection of students.

  • SWES currently has the largest population ever in the school’s history. Added an additional cohort to accommodate students, and working in collaboration with the Newman School to maintain the ILC classrooms at a manageable size and to ensure students’ needs are being met.

Hopes for Next Year:

  • Create instructional foci which supports student and community needs in alignment with Portrait of a Needham graduate.

  • Increase targeted and intentional teacher and faculty collaboration. Specifically, between general ed and special ed practitioners.

  • Continue to strengthen and increase the work of SWES equity team.

  • Continue and strengthen practice with instructional walkthroughs.

  • Create more opportunities for student and community celebrations.

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

The REAL Coalition is comprised of students, parents, community members and Needham Public School educators. The REAL Coalition meets regularly. It provides leadership and guidance on eliminating barriers to racial equity and supporting advancement of all learners in NPS, and its members act as ambassadors, committed to engaging staff, students, families and community members in conversations and actions that promote equitable practices for all in our community.

  • Needham schools view this work as a shared responsibility of all, and not of any one person alone, which was the impetus behind forming the Coalition and working collaboratively with the constituents represented in the Coalition.

  • Going forward, the Coalition is focused on making student voices a greater part of this work to ensure their voices are heard. The Coalition wants to ensure that students see the impact of this work and their voice reflected in that and students help socialize the work being done and its impact.

6 Goal Areas in support of equity (Detailed slides can be found in the packet.)

1. Policies and Practices

  • Revised memorandum with the police that specifically addresses increased antibias training for police force.

  • The School Committee recently adopted a library media learning resources policy that helps us explain why we selected materials and, if challenged, how NPS will respond.

  • Implemented the policy passed last year by the School Committee around student fees, fines and charges that allows NPS to be more equitable in providing scholarships for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in co-curricular programs and in devising penalty systems that are more equitable and practical.

2. Curriculum and Instruction

  • Ms. Williams shared her experience of chaperoning a middle school field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in support of the students’ social studies curriculum. During that visit, the MFA docent leading their tour, while explaining some of the artifacts to the students, shared that the museum has changed its practices around collecting and showing some of their pieces because they want to be more culturally responsive. The MFA wants to honor the culture and history of the art and artists. Ms. Williams witnessed the students naturally understanding and agreeing with this concept, and their awareness of the need to honor and respect others, which is a testament to the work being done in Needham’s curriculum.

  • There are plans for broader roll out of the new social studies curriculum (Investigating History) and the new Illustrative Math curriculum includes intentional pieces to be culturally responsive. The program encourages students to build a community of learners and there are strategies teachers use to build community in Math.

  • Implementing a K-12 racial literacy program – asks ‘what does it mean to be racially literate at all levels?’ i.e., if we are preparing students to be socially and culturally responsive, what does racial literacy truly mean? A group of 10 teachers will work on this over the summer.

  • Another group of K-12 teachers will look at what it means to build a school and culture that honors the identity of LGBTQIA+ students. (content, culture, safety conditions, etc.)

3. Professional Learning

  • Continuing to provide district and school level programs. The focus this year has been on creating conditions for learning for all students in every single classroom. Every person in the district received a copy of We’ve Got This by Cornelius Minor, and Mr. Minor worked directly with faculty and staff in group and small group settings. Mr. Minor partnered with Dr. Williams in applying a data lens to the work that is being done in this arena in Needham schools to analyze the success of initiatives and efforts.

  • Continuing to provide many robust training program across the district, and partner with IDEAS for many of these trainings. IDEAS is connected to the Mass Association of School Superintendents, which is an initiative for developing equity and achievement for students. Trainings are particularly focused on anti-racist practice, implicit and explicit bias, and having difficult conversations. There is also anti-racist training for every hiring committee involved in hiring processes.

  • Using Data Wise framework to do simulations for this work and to orient to some of these practices – taking the space to ask ‘why’, which has been a powerful tool/process. Curated list of professional development opportunities that are equitable for adults, in the same way they want to provide equitable opportunities for kids/students.

4. Hiring/Employment Practices

  • Proactively working to have more diverse candidate pools. Needham has practices in place to expand and engage with prospective candidates of color, including for example, anti-bias hiring and training; job fairs for diversifying candidate pools; and focusing on diverse pipeline through, for example, tuition assistance, post-grad program support, students seeing themselves as teachers.

  • 19% increase in the number of full-time employees of color between 2022-2023. On track for 11% of staff to identify as BIPOC.

  • Needham received 2 grants through the Dept of Elementary and Secondary Ed (DESE) for broadening and diversifying teaching staff and providing opportunities for new entrants into the profession, including tuition assistance, which Needham has been providing for 2 years, and signing bonuses for staff.

  • What’s Next? The district will be working on the evaluation processes to better support equity in our district and professional learning.

5. Culture and Climate

  • Continue to look at what our students, staff and families are saying in regard to school climate. Student voices are an integral part in measuring success. (Metro West Adolescent Health survey (grades 6-12) and Panorama survey (elementary and secondary level)). The Coalition recognizes the need for better measurement of the impact of programming.

  • Focusing on positive school climate that is supportive of social emotional and mental health of all students and staff. Providing examples of best practices across the district, and school-based equity teams with varying goals. Goal to ensure every student feels safe and secure in the school environment.

  • Focus on restorative practices as a way of helping to build community and create a sense of belonging for students. Restorative practices can be used to help repair or address prior harm, but the primary focus of Needham is also using these practices to help build-up an inclusive and positive school environment right from the start. Predominantly used at the high school level and Pollard through a pilot program this year. Looking to expand to other schools going forward.

  • Creating Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health (SELMH) Framework. Needham’s version of a multi-tiered system of support and SEL and mental health practices.

  • What’s Next? (i) Prepare for implementation of SELMH framework as a district blueprint; (ii) explore NEF funding to support structure for equity teams at each school; and (iii) measure student and staff sense of safety and belonging.

6. Communication & Community Engagement

  • The goal is a clear communication of the vision and the goals outlined above. The members of the REAL Coalition, acting as ambassadors, share this information within their circles of influence. Multiple vehicles for communication, including:

    • Portrait of a Needham Graduate Updates annually (now in year 4)

    • Performance report sent to all Needham households

    • District survey for families (1,352 respondents – approx. 25% response rate)

    • ELPAC (English Language Parent Advisory Council) launched, parent meetings at Cook’s bridge

    • REAL Coalition as ambassadors for equity work

    • Let’s Get REAL annual publication on progress

  • What’s Next? (i) Equity website update and (ii) REAL Coalition and staff accountability and fluency with concrete examples and metrics for equity work.

The next School Committee meeting will be Tuesday, June 20 at 6:30pm


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