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SC Meeting: November 10, 2020

The November 10, 2020, School Committee meeting included discussions about the Needham High School Student Advisory to the School Committee Report; Portrait of a Needham Graduate Strategic Priorities; Student Learning; and Superintendent’s 2020-21 Goals.

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates

Heidi Black provided an update from the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School subcommittee meeting.

  • A capacity of 634 students are enrolled (27 from Needham) with a wait list.

  • Outdoor facilities (track, etc) are being completed. Update to come next meeting.

Susan Neckes provided an update on the Needham United Against Racism Initiative (NUARI).

  • Group has met several times.

  • According to survey, police and schools were most important issues to address.

  • Request Superintendent Gutekanst to attend a future meeting and provide update on district’s efforts, particularly hiring practices, curriculum improvements (especially history), and professional development.

Superintendent's Comments

Dr. Gutekanst reminded the community the Needham Diversity Initiative will be holding its virtual summit on Sunday, November 15, 2020.

Consent items

Adopted by unanimous consent were:

  • The request to establish the NHS Entrepreneur Scholarship to provide financial assistance to a Needham High School graduate who has demonstrated exemplary leadership in entrepreneurial skills. The scholarship would consist of one annual award, disbursed by the donor, in the amount of $500 per year. The first award would be made in June of 2021.

  • Several donations to Needham Public Schools including $50,000 in art supplies from Ms. Patricia Maher of the Art Emporium, $20,270.75 to the Elizabeth L. Gardner Scholarship from Elizabeth L. Gardner Charitable Trust, and $1,326.87 from the NPS Class of 2019 to the Adrienne Garrido Scholarship Fund.

Public's Comments

There were no comments.

Needham High School Student Advisory to the School Committee Report

This is the first 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.

Student Council overview:

  • Trying to reimagine what events may look like in a virtual or socially distant setting. For example, a “Senior Week” filled with outdoor activities, such as a sunrise walk.

  • Also planning a “surprise” gift for the senior class, as a way to keep the class community and spirit.

  • The At-Large Student Council is also brainstorming events such as a virtual pep rally or some sort of spirit week to maintain normalcy from previous years.

  • Focusing on finding entertainment for the cafeteria, specifically for the 9th graders, as it is difficult to engage with peers during lunch

  • Just ended Rafi Nova mask sale

Hybrid Model update:

  • It is going well. Most students prefer to be in-school rather than at home. It can however be difficult to move between remote and in-class learning.

  • The teachers are doing an incredible job making time for students during their at-home weeks, and maintaining a safe classroom.

  • Google Classroom has been helpful in keeping students organized and on top of due dates.

  • Students believe that the largest issue with the Hybrid Model is the inconsistency of synchronous vs. asynchronous classes.

Students’ Mental Health and General Wellbeing:

  • Students quarantined for two weeks due to close contact tracing simply join the remote cohorts for those weeks, and join back in class when they are approved to do so.

  • There has been more emphasis on mental health awareness, especially around the stresses of COVID, the presidential election, and an increase in the amount of schoolwork.

  • Students generally seem to be doing fairly well given the circumstances.

Update on Student Learning

The Superintendent provided another update on the schools. He is joined by Needham High School Principal Aaron Sicotte to speak directly about the high school experience.

Health and safety

  • The District established a Joint Committee on Health & Safety to advise the Superintendent on opening/closing schools. The Committee has established three measures:

  1. State Department of Public Health & Department of Elementary & Secondary Education Health metrics

  2. Positivity rates (14-day average)

  3. Adherence to NPS safety and health measures

  • DPH and DESE have updated Health Metrics in an attempt to keep more school systems out of the red (from 120 to 12). Needham is in the green which is <10 avg cases/100k AND >10 total cases

  • Governor Baker is putting an emphasis on in-person learning. To move to in-person learning, school system must meet all safety protocols if in the green, including physical distance, mask wearing, hygiene and transportation. Standards have remained the same. Does not change NPS’ model for hybrid learning at this time.

  • Not a single case of COVID-19 has originated in the Needham school system

Teaching and learning

  • High school is focusing on consistency.

  • Limited interaction between cohorts of students.

  • Class schedule is working well and achieving main goals.

  • Using mask breaks and other down time to cultivate community.

  • 120 students enrolled in the Remote Academy.

  • Grades are weighted – first semester = 10%; second, third, fourth semesters = 30% each – to allow students to adjust.

Next steps toward growth and improvement

  • Surveys distributed to family, staff and students beginning the week of November 9.

  • School Committee Open House on November 14 at 9am.

  • Joint Committee on Health & Safety continues to meet weekly.

  • School Councils review preliminary data from surveys beginning November 30.

  • Working group established first week in December to consider opportunities for improvement.

  • FY22 budget — one with COVID-19 quarantine and one without — proposal shared in December.

Portrait of a Needham Graduate Strategic Priorities

The Superintendent provided action steps for the district that will incorporate the important work of keeping students healthy and safe, while prioritizing instruction for all students.Priorities of the hybrid learning plan:

  • Developing and nurturing caring relationships.

  • Providing equitable access to education for all students.

  • Being flexible, adaptable, making improvements where needed.

  • Supporting all students and staff with their personal health and family concerns and needs.

  • Providing students and staff with tools and resources to work together in support of student growth, understanding, and achievement.

Superintendent’s 2020-21 Goals

The Superintendent presented his 2020-21 goals to the School Committee. All professional staff, including the Superintendent, must use the district goals to develop specific and personal goals as part of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) educator evaluation program.

  • The Superintendent has incorporated district priorities into his proposed goals for the 2020-2021 school year, which include professional practice, student learning, and district improvement.

  • The Superintendent will provide an update on his progress later in the school year.

  • The School Committee will develop a final evaluation that reflects, in part, the Superintendent’s progress on these goal areas.

Action Item: Approve Additional Capital Improvement Plan Request

The Needham School Committee unanimously voted to approve the additional Capital Improvement Plan request:

  • The Town will need to ensure that the maintenance work at Pollard School is conducted in 'harmony' with the planned building modifications for the Master Plan, to avoid wasteful spending. This is particularly important with regard to replacement/retrofit work on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, since those systems will be expanded and reconfigured during the addition project.

  • The School Department is proposing an additional study to be conducted next year. The cost is $280,000 in FY22 and the study will entail a review of programming, layout and other factors that will allow building modifications to be made in concert with the proposed project.

Action Item: Vote to Support Massachusetts Association of School Committees Resolution 1

The Needham School Committee unanimously voted to adopt the Massachusetts Association of School Committees Resolution.

  • The resolution calls for a moratorium on all high stakes testing for the 2020-2021 school year so all students can benefit from their time being focused on direct instruction and we urge the legislature to enact a moratorium on high stakes testing of three years.

The next school committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17, 2020.


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