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SC Meeting: March 16, 2021

At the 3/16 SC meeting, Dr. Guteklanst presented a timeline for returning student sin grades 3-12 to full in-person learning. The agenda also included an update from the REAL Coalition, the Broadmeadow School Improvement Plan, and a proposal for a solar panel installation from the Needham High School Environmental Action Club.

Public Comments:

  • A Needham High School student encouraged the School Committee to support a state bill that would require schools to provide free menstrual products in the school bathrooms, as opposed to just in the nurse’s office.

  • Given recent changes in state guidelines, an updated quarantine policy needs to be better spelled out for families if their student is identified as a close contact.

  • A request was made to the School Committee to change the title on the school calendar from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

  • A request was made by high school parents to get high school open by mid April given mental health concerns for students.

  • A request was made from parents to lift classroom size limits in anticipation of full return to school for grades K-5, including those in Remote Academy who want to return.

  • A mentalhealth professional emphasized the Mental Health crisis across the state, and encouraged the School Committee to get students back in person full time; also encouraged need for extra mental health services on site for students

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates

  • Minuteman High School, Needham's vocational/technical high school option, is fully enrolled and next year there should be 10-11 Needham students attending the school. The school construction project that Needham contributed to has resulted in strong enrollment, and the school is looking to expand on their site, including adding Vet Tech program.

Superintendent Comments

  • CDC quarantining guidelines have shifted and revised guidelines can be found on the district website.

  • Dr. Gutekanst sat down with three seniors and had a discussion regarding race equity and anti-racist efforts at NHS, and the recording is available on the district website and Needham Channel online

Needham High School Environmental Action Club Project

Students have been working with Michael Greis from School Committee and Green Needham to develop a plan to put a solar canopy over parking lots at Needham schools.

  • This will allow for more green energy, provide sheltered parking, allow for energy storage, possibly allow for charging for electric cars, and help Needham become a greener community

  • Other local towns have implemented solar panels and have seen significant energy savings

  • Main location possibilities are Needham High School (concerns with fireworks debris and loss of parking space) and Newman Elementary School (no current concerns, lot is large enough to make it work)

  • The project would not take funds from the budget, but would rely on a power purchase agreement

  • There are currently solar panels on Sunita Williams School, and Mr. Greis will look into how cost-effective they have been

  • School Committee members are supportive. Students will next meet with the Select Board and Town Manager to look into logistical aspects of the project and seek approval

Broadmeadow School Improvement Plan

Principal Emily Gaberman was joined by school guidance counselor Alison Weeks to present a one-year transitional plan fro Broadmeadow which focuses on social emotional support and trauma-infomed practices. Ms. Gaberman is retiring at the end of this school year, so the incoming principal will be developing a new three-year plan next year.

  • This past year has highlighted many of the Portrait of a Needham Graduate competencies in students and faculty; teachers know students very well, technology is incorporated on a daily basis

  • A video was shared in which 5th graders were asked to focus on the silver linings of the pandemic; these included more time with family, becoming more independent, and learning new things about themselves

  • Need to focus on the possible trauma of the pandemic on the students’ social-emotional well-being, provide instruction and an environment that is sensitive to what students have experienced

  • Staff is preparing to look at students through a trauma-informed lens and address issues as needed

  • The school wants to provide an environment that is safe for students to share feelings, enhance community, and care for themselves and each other

  • Broadmeadow is focusing on continued structure and routine as well as allowing flexibility and growth mindset, all while prioritizing safety

  • Many Social-Emotional Resources are already in place. The school will continue to use the Trauma Informed School model with 3 Tier Intervention Model, as well as an Equity and Racial Justice lens, NPS Mental Health Survey, consistent routines, frequent communication with staff and parents, and collaboration with health and wellness resources in the school

  • Areas to address moving forward: teachers and staff need professional development and training to help better support students, as well as emotional support of their own. A response plan for potential future crises is also important

  • School aims to be flexible with change and focus on relationships with students and families

  • Now that K-2 is back fully, the school is aiming to reestablish routines and community while moving the academics forward

Racial Equity Access Leadership (REAL) Coalition Update

Dr. Joanne Allen-Willoughby, Director of METCO, and Mr. Stephen Plasko, REAL Coalition Member, presented an update on the work of the REAL Coalition. Areas of focus include curriculum, professional development, and hiring practices.

  • REAL Coalition goals: enquip, engage, and empower students, staff, and faculty to be equitable in the community, asking what does it mean to an be anti-racist, anti-biased district, and how do we move forward with these goals in mind?

  • Steering Committee and Advisory Board help advance goals

  • Looking at how to advance curriculum and instruction to support REAL Coalition goals

  • Want to develop system where every student in Needham, grades K-12, receives a culturally-responsive education

  • Helping teachers become Culturally-Responsive Educators also supports the goals of The Portrait of a Needham Graduate. There are 4 domains in becoming a Culturally-Responsive Educator; each domain includes definitions and questions for reflection

    • Know Yourself

    • Know Your Students

    • Know Your Practice (how a teacher runs the classroom)

    • Know Your Content (ways to address bias in curriculum materials)

  • Several other organizations in Needham have also been doing work to help address equity, including Voices in Unity and Needham Unite Against Racism Initiative (NUARI)

  • Roadmap for how to proceed: Needham needs to acknowledge the history of the town, Invest time and resources to develop strategies for change, equip and train to help advance thinking regarding bias and race, Engage multiple perspectives to be heard and respected, and empower the community to change policies and practices that contribute to racism and bias.

Update on Student Learning

  • Currently in second week of full-time K-2 students and so far it is going well

  • Plan to build on the work of staff to guide a safe and full-time return to school for all students

  • Commissioner of Education compelled full-time instruction for all elementary students by April 5, and middle school students by April 28; no date provided yet for high school students

  • Remote Academy will remain for families who wish to continue through the end of the school year

Proposed Reopening Timeline

  • April 5: grades K-5 return full time, with early release Wednesday for the remainder of the year

  • April 15: bring grades 6-8 back full time, early release Wednesdays

  • May 3: return high school students full time with staggered and modified schedule, with early release Wednesday

  • Continue to prioritize safety, follow principles from NEA Memorandum of Agreement from the summer, focus on academic and social/emotional well-being of students. and ensure adequate planning time for teachers

  • Want to bring middle school back before April break; April 14 is already a planned remote day, and will also allow for the transition of classrooms. Starting before break will allow for transition of curriculum units and a trial run of health and safety protocols.

  • Reopening of the high school will require staggering of students, partially because of MCAS requirements for this year

    • Week of May 3: 9th and 12th grades in person, 10th and 11th remote

    • Week of May 10: 10th and 11th grades in person, MCAS begins, 9th and 12th remote

    • Week of May 17: all high school students back in the building

    • Week of May 24 would be last week of instruction for 12th graders (last day May 28)

    • Week of May 31: 9th grade MCAS scheduled, only grades 9, 10, 11 in school building for the remainder of the year

Health & Safety Factors

  • 3 feet of physical distancing in classes, 6 feet of physical distancing with mask breaks and for eating

  • Considering open campus for all high school students

  • Masking, ventilation protocols will still be in effect

  • Will allow for two students per seat on the buses

  • May need to come up with creative ways to allow students to be safe for lunch, including having students sit on buckets outside at Pollard

Additional Considerations

  • Remote Academy K-8 students who want to return in person have been contacted, will attempt to accommodate as many as possible

  • No current plan to hire more staff, but will address needs as they arise

  • May need to purchase more desks, other furniture, and tents

  • Need to determine a plan for students who are required to quarantine, since there will no longer be a remote curriculum for Blue/Gold students

  • Many surrounding communities with similar sized high schools do not have a current plan to bring students back

  • Flexibility and understanding is needed as plans may change based on guidelines or health and safety needs

  • Dr. Gutekanst thanked and praised faculty and staff for their flexibility and willingness to change to make this year as successful as it has been

  • Student member Aidan Michelow asked about mental health support that may be available for students who are anxious about returning. Dr. Gutekanst said that teachers and guidance counselors will be available to assist students who may need extra support.

  • Dr. Gutekanst will work with principals to send out information to families on how the plan will be implemented at each individual school

  • School Committee members unanimously voted to support the Superintendent’s plan to bring all students back full-time.

Information Item: Draft of 2021-2022 School Calendar

Next School Committee meeting: April 6, 2021.


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