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SC Meeting: March 2, 2021

The March 2 School Committee meeting included an update from the NHS Advisory to SC, the Newman School Improvement Plan, and the in-person learning reopening plan.

Public's Comments

Thirteen members of the community spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, expressing their desire for all students to return to in-person leaning. The majority of commenters cited concerns about increased mental health issues among children, and urged the district to pursue more creative ways to bring all students back full time.

Needham High School Student Advisory to the School Committee (SASC) Report

This was the third of several reports the SASC will provide the School Committee this year. The SASC meets regularly with the principal to discuss school issues, concerns, and ideas with the high school administration.

Class Updates:

  • The 9th grade class is working on finalizing the designs and ordering class specific apparel, such as sweatshirts, water bottles, and either t-shirts or hats. To raise class spirit and create community building, they are thinking of possibly holding a grade wide contest to come up with a logo or design to put on the water bottles. They are also continuing to brainstorm fun and safe fundraising ideas for this spring.

  • The sophomore class is working on selling apparel to raise both money and class spirit. They are collaborating with a local business that has already worked with several Needham High sports teams. They are trying to finalize the design and are preparing to take orders soon. Also, they are still planning the drive-in movie night for later this spring and potentially a charitable fundraiser.

  • The junior class is working on launching the pre-order for their driver starter packs, as well as planning for our outdoor movie for the spring. They also have chosen a date in September for a potential harbor cruise, as well as picking a date and venue for senior prom, which will be in early June at the Fairmont Copley Hotel.

  • The senior class is currently continuing to brainstorm ways to bring the class together in their final months as high schoolers. They are discussing outdoor prom venues, including a few outdoor locations in the area, such as Lookout Farm, Elm Bank, or possibly, here, at the High School. However, all of this depends on the prevalence of cases in the spring, and the regulations around large gatherings. They are also looking into other events and activities, such as a possible rescheduled Senior Field Day.

At-Large Updates:

  • The Executive Board of the Student Council along with the High School Leadership Team has been planning teacher appreciation events and activities for the rest of the school year. On the Friday before February vacation, they handed out bags of chocolates to all of the faculty and staff, with a small appreciation note inside.

  • They are also working with Ms. Alessi, one of the Assistant Principals, on collecting gift cards and discount certificates from local businesses to hand out to teachers. They’ve already had some responses from Abbot’s and Truly Yogurt. Finally, Student Council is beginning to plan a teacher appreciation letter writing project. They will be emailing out information to all students in March, however, the plan is to have at least one appreciation letter to give to each NHS faculty member by teacher appreciation week in May. This will also be accompanied by a teacher appreciation breakfast or possible sundae bar.

  • Student Council and Own Your Peace held a combined Join the Conversation event on February 03 via Zoom. This event was open primarily to juniors and seniors. There were 35 attendants, and additionally a few Needham High School staff members, including Tom Denton. Although the group was smaller than expected, they had some great discussions, acknowledging common feelings of disconnectedness and loneliness, while also sharing ways to channel and reflect on these emotions in more productive ways. OYP and STUCO will be using this student feedback from the event to plan other activities that cater to students’ more specific needs in the future. They’ll also be meeting with some of the High School administrators on March 9 to continue work on improving student emotional wellness.

Proposed Ombudsperson Position:

  • A few teachers approached the Executive Board a couple months ago asking for support for an ombudsperson position at the High School to help students address discrimination and mental health issues. After a presentation and two lengthy decisions about the position, the group decided not to back the proposal.

  • They thought that between personal and academic guidance counselors, there wasn’t really a need. There are many existing resources that students — especially incoming 9th graders — can be made better aware of.

  • However, they also had a discussion around the continued stigma regarding mental health at the High School, and how students may not want to mix academics with their own mental health — for example seeking mental health support from the same person who would be writing college recommendation letters.

  • The Executive Board recommended that should the teachers want to continue with this project, they reach out to social justice and diversity clubs like the Black Student Union, Jewish Student Union, Gender Equality Club, CCOR, Asian Student Union, Gay/Straight Alliance, etc.

Questions and Comments:

  • Several SC members praises SASC for focusing on teacher appreciation efforts

  • Dr. Gutekanst asked the SASC if they had any thoughts or recommendations for additional supports the district could provide at the high school for the remainder of the year. Responses included addressing the inconsistent schedule between remote and in-person weeks, more check-ins and individualized attention from teachers, and help building more class unity.

Newman School Improvement Plan

The Newman School Council has worked collaboratively this past year to advise Principal Jessica Peterson and develop and maintain the School Improvement Plan. The full plan can be found in the meeting packet. The focus for 2020-21 has been:

  • Increase access to all students to receive additional support

  • Increase collaboration with families regarding equity and anti-racist practices

  • Implement anti-racist curriculum, K-5

Racial literacy curriculum enhancements

A series of workshop is bringing together families to examine the racial literacy curriculum by class and student development. Approximately 35 people participated in the first workshop:

  • 100% of participants appreciated talking with other parents and educators about how to discuss race with their children.

  • 50% of participants reported feeling “confident” when discussing race with their child(ren); 50% reported feeling “okay” when discussing race.

  • 83% of participants appreciated hearing about NPS Equity work underway and students sharing work as a result of the curriculum.

  • Participants reported wanting to have further conversations about talking about race and supporting school efforts at home.

A video of a monthly community meeting was shared, which is typically attended by about 400 students from both the remote and hybrid models. All meetings this year have been focused on diversity and equity.

Update on Student Learning

Dr. Gutekanst provided updates on planning for the March 8 return to school, health and safety, and the DESE commissioner’s plans and next steps.

March 8 Reopening for K-2

  • Maximizing space at all schools, utilizing areas for cafeterias and classrooms, a tent at Mitchell

  • Began staff surveillance testing this week, awaiting first results

  • Family health attestation launching at Eliot and High Rock this week, and for all families starting March 8. Staff will assist with challenges during the initial implementation period. An alert will be sent automatically to parents’ phone.

Health and Safety

  • COVID cases in Needham continue to trend downward

  • Of note: DESE COVID case data is only for those who have been in a school building within the past 7 days of test date. Needham's dashboard reports ALL cases associated with the hybrid model, so it will be higher than the DESE numbers.

  • All data presented weekly to the Joint Health & Safety Committee is available online.

DESE Commissioner Riley's Plans

  • Will ask the Board of Education to grant him the authority to determine when hybrid and remote learning models no longer count as learning hours

  • Wants districts to plan for April 5 return for K-5; perhaps 6-12 later in the year

  • Urges to use 3 feet of physical distancing in general (but there is discrepancy with CDC guidance); must be 6 feet when eating lunches

  • Vaccines are not a prerequisite to return to schools, but Dr. Gutekanst feels this is critical

The Path to Fully Reopen Schools

  • Lessons will be learned from K-2 experience

  • COVID Advisory Committee will meet 3/18

  • Recommending SC organize a televised workshop next Tuesday with all the school principals to discuss moving forward with expanded in-person learning

  • Build on ideas from District Leadership Team

  • Report on plan for full and safe return to school

Comments and Questions

  • Needham's plans will need to meet or exceed DESE requirements.

  • For principals, logistics are the limiting factors for a full return — transportation, lunches, distancing and space. For example, outdoor lunches will be necessary, even if weather is cold.

  • Current cleaning and health protocols have been effective, so reducing them is not advised yet.

  • SC is mindful of losses and does want to get more students in-person.

  • Many other communities have plans for a full return, but they are aspirational, not yet implemented, and depend on full vaccination of staff.

  • Headlines about other districts that are "going back to in-person" can be misleading... for example Brookline is only bringing back 1st graders right now, Newton's high schools are only moving to hybrid after being completely remote all year.

Resolution: Prioritize School Employees to Receive Vaccinations

A resolution urging the Governor to prioritize vaccination of school staff was read and approved unanimously (including by the student representative). The resolution was closely modeled on ones in other districts. It was noted that while the science has indicated vaccination is not required for teacher safety, vaccination would alleviate anxiety for teachers and as well as families, whose children will likely not be vaccinated until early 2022.


  • Matt Spengler acknowledged work towards securing Solar Parking Canopy at Needham High School. The project will be presented to the School Committee and Select Board in the coming weeks.

The next school committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 16, 2021.


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