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SC Meeting: March 7, 2023

At the March 7 School Committee Meeting there was a presentation from members of the Sunita Williams fourth grade class about reducing plastics, the Newman School Council presented information from the School Improvement Plan, the committee discussed next steps for submitting a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for state funding for the upcoming projects at Mitchell and Pollard, and a baseball field user fee was approved for middle school baseball.

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates

Andrea Longo Carter reported that she and Chair Matt Spengler accompanied Dr. Gutekanst to the Tri-County Superintendent’s legislative breakfast in Newton. It was a great opportunity to talk about budget challenges and remedies.

Superintendent’s Comments

Dr. Gutekanst encouraged families to enjoy a fine and performing arts weekend in Needham both by buying tickets to attend Beauty and the Beast, as well as visiting Art in Bloom at the library.

Portrait of a Needham Graduate – Student Presentation

Students from the fourth grade class at Sunita Williams Elementary School, led by teacher George Goneconto gave a presentation about reducing plastics in the world. They have been working in collaboration with Green Needham since the beginning of the year.

The students presented the benefits of reducing plastics and ideas for how to do so, and they distributed reusable bags made from old t-shirts to the School Committee. They also performed a special song.

Members of the School Committee asked questions about what they learned and what are the takeaways.

Newman School Improvement Plan

Principal Jessica Peterson along with the Newman School Council presented data from the district about the state of the school, especially with regard to student wellbeing. They examined the responses and the numbers, and especially focused on the students who responded less favorably to ensure everyone’s needs are being met. They want to explore what needs to be examined more closely, and who is not served well by the system.

Looking at all the various demographics to determine who is feeling positive about school, and more importantly who isn’t.

  • Students of color rated it less favorably

  • Students outside of Needham also scored it less favorably

Looking at sense of belonging, the data showed the majority of students felt understood.

  • ELL students felt favorably

  • Special Education, the data was evenly split

  • Non Needham residents scored it less favorably

  • By race, students of color had the lowest favorability rating

Looking at engagement data and how attentive students are in class, the response was majority favorable.

  • Male students reported less favorably

Looking at self-management, students responded very favorably, but teachers responded much less favorably. There is a disconnect between how students are feeling and how teachers are perceiving self management.

When looking at the parent responses with regard to academic standards, the score was only 31% favorable.

School Improvement Focus areas include:

  • Teachers fostering the emotional development and social and emotional skills, attitudes, and behaviors of students so they can be successful across a variety of settings

  • Increasing the sense of belonging at school for all members of the school community

  • Teachers partnering with colleagues to address the targeted academic and social/emotional needs of students on a consistent basis

  • Effectively communicating to our diverse Newman caregiver community in a variety of ways

Massachusetts School Building Authority Statement of Interest

The School Committee discussed how to move forward on the School Facilities master plan and our ability to apply for state funds for the rebuilding of Mitchell and Pollard through the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

Hank Haff, the Director of the Needham Building & Design Department, helped pull together the statement of interest (SOI) for the MSBA. This is a first step toward getting these projects completed.

Dr. Gutekanst reminded the community that we are having this conversation because of the key goals of the School Master Planning Process.

  • Remediate the deteriorating physical infrastructure and programmatic deficiencies of the Mitchell and Pollard Schools, including the end-of-life middle school modular classrooms

  • Alleviate the general overcrowding and lack of adequate program space at the District’s two middle school facilities: High Rock and Pollard

  • Mitigate the impact of construction on one or more generations of students

  • Avoid expensive building maintenance over time by completing renovations in a timely manner

  • Avoid expenditures for temporary facilities, to the extent possible

  • Provide elementary enrollment capacity, including preparing Needham for Universal Preschool

To be considered by the MSBA this year, Needham must submit this statement of interest by April 14 with a list of deficiencies. The town will need to submit one for both Mitchell and Pollard with a list of their respective deficiencies.

The School Committee will vote to support an SOI, and then it moves to the Select Board to vote whether Dr. Gutekanst will submit the SOI to the MSBA, and to state which is the priority project. MSBA will come back to discuss and have a conversation around why one is a priority and with what conditions. Needham will indicate the Pollard is the priority. Both have significant deficiencies, but by prioritizing Pollard we can:

  • Avoid costly temporary swing space

  • Offer fastest resolution of Pollard and High Rock issues

  • Offer fastest resolution of Mitchell School issues and best scale for Mitchell site

  • Create elementary classroom capacity for enrollment growth

Next steps are for the School Committee to review and discuss the SOIs and ultimately vote on March 21. Then the town will have to wait several months to hear back from the MSBA. Once the School Committee hears back with a response, discussion will begin for how to proceed. The School Committee had a discussion about preliminary plans based on various responses, and underscored the need to move on these projects as soon as possible.

Action Items

The only action item on the agenda was to approve the middle school baseball user fee to add baseball to the middle school sports offering. It passed by a vote of 4 – 0 – 3.

School Committee Comments:

  • NHS JV and Varsity dance teams were in the state competition. Both teams did well, and Varsity came in second. They will move onto the regional competition.

  • The Needham Multicultural Festival coming up on Sunday, March 19 from 1-5.

  • Congratulations to the High School Jazz Band who won Gold and several students who received individual awards at the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators Southeast Jazz Festival.

  • Thanks to Sara Grina and the Middle School select choir who performed at the concert at the Great Hall this past weekend.

  • Many thanks to the Sunita Williams fourth grade students for this evening's presentation.

The next School Committee meeting will be on March 21 at 6:30pm.


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