SC Meeting: May 17, 2022

At the May 17 School Committee meeting, there was an announcement of three grant awards from the Needham Education Foundation, a report from the Needham High Student Advisory to the School Committee, information on the Sunita Williams School Improvement Plan, and an update from the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC).


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School Committee Updates


  • Chair Matthew Spengler issued a statement about the shootings in Buffalo. He stressed the need for open communication around race issues.

  • Connie Barr reported an update on the Joint Health and Safety Subcommittee. COVID cases in Needham are at 7% positivity rate down from a high of 15% in January but slowly climbing. Hospitalization rates are very low.

  • Michael Greis provided an update on Emery Grover. With Town Meeting approving the funds, planning is moving forward at an accelerated pace. Additional studies will move forward as well.


Superintendent’s Comments


  • Dr. Gutekanst asked that families complete the family survey. Survey results will be used to guide future work by District and School Committee.

  • Dr. Gutekanst asked Michael O’Brien and High School Principal Aaron Sicotte to provide an update on the upcoming prom season. Information is being provided for students and families around substance use and abuse. Appropriate decisions should be made by both parents and students.



Needham Education Foundation Spring Grant Awards


Robert Murphy from the Needham Education Foundation announced three grant awards totaling $18,434 for its spring grant cycle. This round of grants supports innovative and enriching programs that will benefit students in every Needham Public School:


  • Students in grades 3-6 at all five elementary schools and High Rock, and their families, will learn healthy and safe strategies for navigating an increasingly digital world from Dr. Elizabeth Englander, a nationally-recognized expert on the topic. Awarded to: Abigail Hays (Broadmeadow PTC Co-President), Emma Navales (Newman Elementary School PTC Co-President), and Frederica Lalonde (William Mitchell School PTC Co-President)

  • Students taking Spanish classes at Pollard Middle School will soon have engaging fiction and non-fiction Spanish language books in their classrooms to help motivate them to read in Spanish and boost their confidence in their developing Spanish reading skills. Awarded to: Amy McKenna, Maura Lia, Jackie Edwards, Megan Murphy, and Susan Connolly, Pollard Spanish Teachers

  • Needham High School Social Studies teacher Laura Magno will participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Heart Mountain Educator Workshop in support of efforts to revamp the way Japanese American incarceration during World War II is addressed within the tenth grade Social Studies curriculum. Awarded to: Laura Magno, Needham High School Social Studies Teacher.


The grants were accepted unanimously by the School Committee.


Needham High School Student Advisory Report


This is the last of several reports the (SASC) has provided the School Committee this school year. The SASC meets regularly with the principal to discuss school issues, concerns, and ideas with the high school administration. Members include Lea Gruen, Hannah Keselman, Dilin Meloni, Max Scott, Danielle Sockol and Evan Tsingos.


  • The 9th grade class recently finalized its t-shirt design and is in the process of having the shirts produced. It’s also planning to hold an event, like a bake sale, before the end of the year.

  • The 10th grade class held a successful car wash to raise money for future events. In May and June, it is looking to partner with a few local businesses, such as Abbotts and Hearthstone Home, to continue to raise money and create a sense of community. Lastly, the class is planning end-of-the-year popsicle and bake sales, and has begun to plan for the Junior Harbor Cruise in the coming year.

  • The 11th grade class is preparing for its final event of the year, Junior Harbor Cruise, to which it has sold 300 tickets. The AP test taking period has concluded as well.

  • The 12th Grade class is approaching its final days of school and preparing for final exams. They will soon be celebrating senior week with a Harbor Cruise, Class Day, Senior Picnic, prom, and graduation.

  • Students continue to be satisfied with the mask policy. As more time passes, students have realized the silver linings of COVID policy, including classroom breaks, group activities outside, and other mental health check-ins.

  • The Underclassmen Semi-formal tradition returned on May 13 at Mosley’s on the Charles. Student Council will be holding a car wash on June 18, which will be the first event run by the 2022-2023 members.

  • In all, for the first time in two years, the conclusion to the school year will be fairly typical, with students experiencing finals for the first time in a while.


Sunita Williams School Improvement Plan


The Sunita Williams School Council has worked collaboratively this past year to advise Principal Michael Kascak and develop and maintain the School Improvement Plan. In accordance with M.G. L. Chapter 71, Section 59c, the Superintendent has approved the Sunita Williams School Improvement Plan.


Principal Kascak provided background about the plan. Equity, diversity and inclusion are three concepts that are driving many of the objectives of the school improvement plan. It is also connecting objectives to The Portrait of a Needham Graduate wherever applicable. There are also specific logistic issues, primarily the recent pandemic, which impacted this plan.


Students were able to successfully move fully into the new campus in the Fall of 2019. The challenges inherent in the pandemic prevented students from completing a full first year in the new building. District-wide Full-Day Kindergarten Programming, as well as a collaboration with Curry College in launching a new teacher training residency program were also greatly impacted while still moving forward.


The update included references to PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) which were formally implemented this school year.



Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) Update


The Special Education Parent Advisory Council Co-Chair Jill Yanovsky and Programming Co-Chair Jenn Scheck-Kahn provided the School Committee with an update on initiatives and events during the 2021-22 school year.


SEPAC is a state-mandated group representing students that receive an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). It is composed of 30 parent officers including liaisons from every school, and serves over 1,000 Needham students - 18.3 percent of the total student population.


They provided SEPAC’s goals for the school year and discussed specific projects and partnerships.


SEPAC is seeking a new district-led disability awareness curriculum to replace the current parent-led curriculum (UDA). It provided the guidelines for the preferred program.


SEPAC is also requesting consistent and transparent reporting of disciplinary information, particularly as it relates to special education students and students of color.


Action Item


  • The School Committee unanimously approved a number of policies, including:

  • BG School Committee Policy Development

  • EEA Student Transportation Services Revision

  • EEAE/EBBD School Bus Safety Program

  • EEAEA School Bus Driver Examination and Training Revision 2

  • EEAEA-1 Drug & Alcohol Testing

  • EEAEC Student Conduct

  • EEAFB Multi-Function School Activity Bus


  • Upon recommendation of the Superintendent, the School Committee voted unanimously not to participate in the School Choice Program (Chapter 76, Section 12b) for the 2022-2023 academic year as required by the 1993 Education Reform Act, due to programmatic and space limitations.


The next School Committee meeting is June 7 at 6:30pm.