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SC Meeting: November 17, 2020

The November 17 School Committee meeting included an update on Middle School Student Learning and the new K-5 Racial Literacy Curriculum.

School Committee Chair and Subcommittee Updates

  • Sue Neckes congratulated Needham Diversity Initiative on their Virtual Summit this past weekend. They had about 250 people attend and did a wonderful job.

  • Matt Spengler attended the SEPAC meeting today, and they are discussing and planning what might happen for Special Ed if the district has to go fully remote

  • Andrea Longo Carter thanked all who attended the School Committee Open House this past weekend

Superintendent Comments

  • Dr. Terry Duggan provided follow-up to Open House questions related to videos for remote learning. All videos from YouTube are run through a cleansing program to remove ads, which was a concern for some parents. Math and literacy videos are provided to teachers, some of which are meant for teachers and some are meant to be passed on to students. Inadvertently one of the videos that was sent to students was intended for teachers, they have addressed the issue and will make all efforts to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

  • The abridged fall athletic season within our “pod” of schools wrapped up last week. The girls field hockey team was undefeated, and many other teams also did extremely well.

  • MA Association of School Superintendents Academic Excellence Awards were presented to Catherine Chen and Alexandra Rieser. This award is presented to students who have distinguished themselves in the pursuit of excellence during their high school careers, and is the first time both recipients are young women.

Update on Middle School Learning

High Rock principal Jessica Downey and Pollard principal Tamatha Bibbo were joined by several staff members to provide an update on learning at the middle schools.

High Rock

  • Ms. Downey discussed how Wednesdays allow flexible learning to provide more social-emotional and community learning. If schools have to go fully remote, it will take some time for enrichment teachers to adjust since the two cohorts are at a different level.

    • Steve Miller, 6th grade Science teacher said students are taking safety procedures seriously, both regarding masks and social distancing. Students are also doing well on remote learning days and seem more engaged and prepared than in the spring. There is more collaboration between teachers than there has been in the past. Students are learning self-advocacy, perseverance, and important life skills during this trying time.

    • Bethany Crowe, ELA teacher discussed how students seem to have a renewed passion for learning, are more inquisitive, and have an increased respect for teachers and one another.

    • Dan Amato, Wellness teacher enjoys seeing everyone face to face. It’s been harder to get to know students since he only sees them half as often, but appreciates having a smaller group to form relationships with students.


  • Ms. Bibbo described how community building in the school is happening this year. There are lots of times for games and socialization built into the day.

    • Sarah Burns, Accelerated 8th grade math teacher presented some equations she uses in her classes, allowing for movement in the classroom and cooperation among students. This year has required some outside-the-box thinking but she is still able to engage with students and foster social relationships.

    • Steven Heldt, Band Teacher, discussed how band is going. They are playing outside, 12’ apart as much as possible, and using technology to develop skills and adapt. There are many new apps to help, and are using PA systems to provide background sound. Students are playing songs they enjoy, and learning about recording and music production and editing.

Report on Racial Literacy

Andrea Vargas (Assistant Principal, Newman) and Brooke Kessel (Middle School Social Studies Chair) presented a report on Elementary Racial Literacy within the district.

  • A task force was formed over the summer and included members from all elementary schools, with racial, ethnic, religious, and experiential diversity.

  • The district felt this was necessary to align with principals from Portrait of a Needham Graduate, results from the Equity Audit, the current national movement against systemic racism, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Studies have shown that it’s never too young to talk about race and conversations at a young age can be very beneficial

  • To be racially literate students must understand history and it must be framed in such a way that allows them to see things from multiple perspectives

  • 3-4 essential lessons will be taught throughout the year across all five elementary schools, and can be adapted for in-person or virtual learning. Many materials provided from Pollyanna Racial Literacy, Inc., including a full curriculum and a parent guide. Parental involvement will be key to enforce the lessons students will receive in school.

  • Age-appropriate lessons are incorporated into the social studies curriculum: - Kindergarten: a celebration of skin colors - Grade 1: We are part of a community, encouraging kindness, social awareness, and empathy - Grade 2: Diversity around the world--how geography and our daily lives connect us - Grades 3 and 4: Stories of activism--how one voice can change a community (and bridge the world) - Grade 5: How “immigration” shaped the racial and cultural landscape of the US--the persecution, resistance, and contributions of immigrants and enslaved people

Needham Education Fund 2020 Fall Grant Awards

Robert Murphy from the NEF presented four grants totaling $15,980:

  • A new portable field camera for the high school to be used outside the TV studio

  • An express grant for Learning Ally app to allow students to listen books at Pollard

  • A book club for 7th graders at Pollard

  • High School Band commission bringing back a student teacher to help with music education

NEF holiday cards for teachers will be available again this year, including a new email/online donation option. More information can be found on the NEF website.

Action Items

  • Superintendent's 2020-21 Goals were approved, 7-0-0 vote

  • Portrait of a Needham Graduate 2020-21 Action Steps were approved, 7-0-0 vote

School Committee Comments

  • Having observed in several schools, Dr. Barr applauded students for their compliance with mask wearing and teachers for their commitment and dedication to students during this difficult year.


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