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SC Meeting: May 4, 2021

The May 4th School Committee meeting included an update from the NHS Advisory to SC, and the presentation of the Eliot School Improvement Plan. Dr. Gutekanst also provided an update on student learning.

Public Hearing on School Choice

The state requires an annual public discussion to see if the School Committee would allow students from other towns to choose to come to Needham Schools (tuition would be provided by other towns). There were no public comments, and the issue will be voted on next meeting

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates

Chairwoman Connie Barr thanked the Town Leaders and Town Meeting members for passing the School budget and funding of transportation for foster care children to their schools, as well as passing revolving funds. Michael Greis mentioned the discussion at Town Meeting regarding zoning and planning for Muzi Ford location, and if the development includes housing that may test the limits of school capacity, particularly for the Eliot School.

Superintendent Comments

Dr. Gutekanst congratulated high school juniors who won awards for National History Day

Needham High School Student Advisory to the School Committee Report

It wa noted that Aidan Michelow has served as a Student Member of the School Committee for the last two years and will be moving on to college in the fall. Members of the Student Council were present to provide updates

  • 9th Grade: Student council members are creating fundraising events and deciding on items to sell to the freshman, are planning a bingo night for the grade, and are hosting a Covid-safe bake sale on May 7

  • 10th grade: class jogger order forms have been sent out and they’re trying to maximize sales. They are discussing renting a food cart to sell food in the parking lot, and possibly planning a drive-in movie

  • 11th grade: They recently hosted fundraisers in cooperation with local restaurants, and are selling tickets for a harbor cruise

  • 12th grade: They are planning Prom for June 3, which will occur at the high school in several locations in the building. They will have food trucks, a DJ, decorations in the cafeteria, and a red carpet.

  • School-wide: Student Council will be hosting a teacher appreciation breakfast on May 7 as well as delivering student-written appreciation letters to all staff members. Students are excited to get back to a normal schedule. Some things that have occurred this year have been appreciated, such as teachers providing a week-at-a-glance and open-campus for 10th graders, and students hope these will continue next year. Homerooms have started back up, and they’re trying to come up with ways for students to bond and get to know one another. Student council is planning a trivia event (NHQ)-- homerooms will compete to win prizes, hope to have it by June 14th for 9th-11th graders.

  • 9th and 12th were in person fully this week. The transition went smoothly, and teachers are helping so that everyone is at the same point in curriculum. A challenge, especially for 9th graders, is trying to get the cohorts to get to know one another better. Seniors are very happy to be back all together again, and have been having a spirit week this week.

  • Students are feeling less anxious about being back full time given that many students are now vaccinated and teachers are allowing more frequent time outside for mask breaks

Eliot Improvement Plan

Principal Karen Bourn was joined by Emily Charton (Assistant Principal), and students Abby Taylor (5th grade) and Ethel Nanteza (4th grade) to present highlights from the Eliot School Improvement Plan.

  • The demographics of Eliot have changed in recent years; currently 42% of students are students of color.

  • The school has tried to encourage student council participation to allow students to have a voice in the school and become student leaders. The students have helped develop spirit weeks, and are trying to find ways to make Eliot a fun place to be.

  • The 5th grade students engaged with the administration to change the policy and allow them to have a choice regarding who they sit with at lunch.

  • Looking forward to a new school improvement plan, the school is trying to find ways to give students more voice and choice in the their school, help the students give back to the community, work with families to embrace diversity and the many cultures that are part of the school, as well as how to strengthen math and literacy, and student improve engagement

  • The school population has grown in recent years, and the school is trying to figure out how to accommodate increased numbers and how to best utilize the space. In the future they may need to utilize the art room or the music room to become classroom space.

Update on Student Learning

  • 9th and 12th graders were fully back this week, and next week 10th and 11th graders will return fully in person. All students will be back in full on May 17th. The schools are still practicing safety protocols, including social distancing, and likely will into the fall.

  • Covid cases across the town continue to trend down. Many Needham residents have been either partially or fully vaccinated. As of 5/4/21, 336 students at the High School are fully vaccinated. There is the possibility of a vaccination clinic for the high school students in the coming weeks.

  • End of the year celebrations for Seniors are being planned, including Prom on campus, a car parade, and graduation on June 6th on Memorial Field.

  • Planning is continuing for the 2021-2022 school year, guided by the Joint Committee on Health and Safety. The Remote Academy will wind down and will not continue for next school year.

  • With anticipated Emergency Use Approval of vaccines for 12-15 year olds, SC members are brainstorming ways to encourage and facilitate vaccination for younger high school and middle school students, including the possibility of vaccine clinics in the schools.

  • Looking forward, Dr. Gutekanst is thinking of ways to support students who haven’t progressed as much as they would have in a typical school year, i.e. “unfinished learning.” More details will be provided at the SC meeting on 5/18/21. There will be new screening of incoming kindergarteners as well as current kindergarteners who will be entering 1st grade to allow teachers to know where the students stand at the beginning of the year.

Superintendent Evaluation Process

The annual evaluation of the Superintendent, based on both the DESE standards as well as School Committee bylaws, will be conducted in the upcoming weeks. School Committee members will receive two surveys to fill out and the results will be reviewed by Andrea Longo-Carter and read out at a public meeting in June. Recent outgoing members Heidi Black and Sue Neckes will also participate in the surveys since they were present for most of the school year.

Action Item

The revised 2021-2022 Elementary, Middle, and High School Handbooks were approved with a 7-0-0 vote.

School Committee Comments

Matt Spengler thanked the Core Gifting Committee for providing gifts to seniors.


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