At the May 9 School Committee meeting, there was discussion of the Broadmeadow School Improvement Plan, a SEPAC update, and discussion of the Superintendent Evaluation Process.
The Meeting opened with an opportunity for public hearing on School Choice, as required by MA State Law. There were no public comments on this topic. Dr. Gutekanst recommended that Needham not participate in the School Choice Program due to programmatic and space limitations in our schools. School committee voted unanimously that Needham will not participate in the School Choice Program for the 2023-2024 Academic Year.
A Needham family with two children with invisible disabilities, commented that we should be teaching kids about invisible disabilities (ADHD, Autism, Mood Disorders, OCD, etc). She mentioned that community members including parents are not always supportive of children with invisible disabilities participating in sporting events and other community events. Requests that the schools work on better supporting these students and also teaching neurotypical students how to change this culture. Some schools have sibling support groups and they request that these types of services are available district wide. They also discussed that students who go to Special Education IEP support often cannot participate in Band, which deprives them of an opportunity they would really like to engage in with their friends. They recommended two books for students on these topics: Rules and Fish in a Tree.
School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates
School Committee acknowledges Teacher Appreciation Week. They showed a Kudoboard for thank you and appreciation. Thank you to ALL staff who work for our schools: teachers, staff, bus drivers, custodians, nutrition services, counselors, nurses, administration, and more!
Broadmeadow Improvement Plan
Principal Andy Garlick and Broadmeadow teachers, parents, and students presented about their School Improvement Plan. Principal Garlick commented that the job of teaching has never been harder or more important. Highlights of the Broadmeadow presentation:
508 Students, 25 classrooms, 87 Faculty
Site of the district's Connections Programs for students with social & emotional learning needs
Focus on Community Building with structured time in the schedule for all-school meetings
Dyslexia screening in kindergarten and 1st grade; Using "Words their Way" Program in 4th grade.
Illustrative Math program now district wide; piloting a new Social Studies curriculum "Investigating History"
Students presented on the school's year-long Community Art Project with the Theme "You Belong". The school collaborated with local artist Tova Speter on several art projects. Students first created paper chains that linked together to show community and later collaborated on a large honeycomb now displayed in the school. Detailed slides available in the packet.
Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) update
Pam Greenfield, Co-Chair of SEPAC, Jennifer Adreani, and Lindsay Bigda presented on their experiences with Special Education in Needham, highlights of SEPAC's work this year, and gave suggestions for areas of improvement. Highlights of the SEPAC presentation:
Collaboration between SPAN and SEPAC. Discussed how they might change the school culture to be more accepting of Special Education students in the way that the culture has changed to be more welcoming of other affinity groups.
Discussions with Parks & Rec on how to make programming more accepting of students with Special needs; adaptive baseball program
Parent support groups
In the future they would like to host a different ability celebration carnival for next year and increase their parent support groups.
They recommend a formal district wide special education curriculum rather than what seems to be a "hodgepodge of good efforts" and a "reactive game of whack-a-mole" with proactive education for all students about neurodiversity that makes all students feel like valuable parts of the community. Students need the appropriate tools and language to start to shift the culture.
Parents of Needham High School students with invisible disabilities feel that students face discrimination and need updated curriculum - the tiered system is not geared to support neurodivergent students who are capable of learning accelerated material but may need more time with processing or organizational skills.
NHS Fine & Performing Arts curriculum is not available to students on IEPs as they lose this block to go to education support. Jazz Ensemble is the only ensemble available to IEP students since it meets after school, but this is audition based, only takes limited instrumentation, and conflicts with other after-school commitments.
Culture has been improved for DEI with literature and discussion, stickers of support for race, gender identity, LGBTQ, but no celebration or support for neurodiverse students
National Honor Society Application - no space for an explanation of impact of disability on leadership/service
End-of-year activities - not enough options for those uncomfortable in a loud unstructured environment (no alternative to junior harbor cruise, etc)
Neurodivergent students often feel like they have to "mask" themselves all day long, forced to act a certain way to fit in. This is exhausting and they never feel at ease. This stress is all on the neurodivergent students instead of a give-and-take share of the load with the community/students.
Recommend district wide messaging about neurodiversity with literature, mentors, regular focused conversation. Acknowledge that "accelerated" learning doesn't mean smarter. Update curriculum to allow the same access to Fine & Performing Arts Opportunities.
Discussion of Needham Integrated Preschool: Staff are true partners with families as they deal with new diagnoses and begin the process of IEPs. Importance of maintaining regular staff as staff turnover is upsetting for students. Seems to be a shortage of TAs, request more funding for this staff to help with hiring.
School committee members thanked the presenters for their courage to share such personal experiences in their presentation. SEPAC's state mandated role is to advise the School Committee on matters that pertain to the education and safety of students with disabilities. It's a good reminder that there is still work to do to ensure equity of access and opportunity. Shifting the culture is important and needs to be intentional. Dr Gutekanst feels it's important to state that Needham Public Schools does not discriminate against students on IEPs. Educators are held accountable for following the IEP plan even though sometimes this is imprecise and imperfect. The administration, SC and SEPAC will continue to work together on these issues.
Superintendent Evaluation Process
Matt Spengler will be preparing the superintendent evaluation. One of the roles of the School Committee is to evalute the superintendent annually. SC will answer questions and provide written feedback- completed in June. There is a statewide rubric for the evaluation. Dr Gutekanst sent out a survey to staff about his roles and responsibilities - 46% of staff have responded; he will complete a written assessment of his work on the goal areas within 10 days.
School Committee Comments
Town Meeting approved School Committee budget and capital funding - School Committee is very grateful for the support of the community.
This is a time for thoughtful conversation to fit the School Master Plan into the town's budget for the future.
The next School Committee meeting will be Tuesday, May 16 at 6:30pm.