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SC Meeting: November 21, 2023

At the November 21 School Committee Meeting, there was discussion of the Science curriculum and how it relates to the core values of the Portrait of a Needham Graduate, the Fall NEF grant awards, Disproportionality in Education, and a Vote on the 2024-2025 School Calendar.

Superintendent and School Committee Comments

Dr. Gutekanst congratulated the Girls Swim and Dive team for winning the first ever D1 State Final. They had a 9-1 season and broke Wellesley’s 75 meet streak. They were also Bay State Champions. This was coach Kate Curtin’s first year as head coach.

Mike O’Brien shared that he, Connie Barr and Matt Spengler met with Dr. Gutekanst to discuss policies with personnel and students. They will meet again over the winter. He also met with the acting superintendent at Minuteman Vocational High School where he is the liaison. Needham’s enrollment remains strong as do MCAS scores. Minuteman is partnering with Lesley University to use their athletic fields, and have plans to improve those on their own campus.

In this Thanksgiving week, School Committee presented a slideshow that expressed their thanks and appreciation for all the different staff who work in the schools to support NPS students.

Portrait of a Needham Graduate Presentation: Grade 6-12 Science

Mark Healey, Science Department Chair for grades 6-8, and Jennifer Regrut, Science Department Chair for grades 9-12, presented how the Portrait of a Needham Graduate competencies are helping to create a cohesive understanding of what it means to think like a scientist. Students from High Rock, Pollard and NHS discussed their personal experience in the classroom and projects they completed.

The presentation covered:

  • How students are creative thinkers, problem solvers, empowered learners and resilient.

  • There are many layered opportunities to align the work of scientists and engineers with the competencies.

  • They create collaborations with other areas of study, including math and literacy.

  • The programs focuses on anti-bias curriculum resources as well as being socially and culturally responsible contributors.

  • Grading is based on growth and learning and mastering the material, with feedback on how to get there. More than a letter grade, and more reflective.

The students at each level focused on the importance of collaboration and working together to get the best out of each other and the work.

Needham Education Foundation Fall Grant Awards

Members of the Needham Education Foundation presented their fall grants. There were nine grants awarded across all the schools totaling over $30,000. There were more grants in this cycle than there have been in the past. Details of the grants can be found on the NEF website. The School Committee voted unanimously to accept the grants.

Disproportionality in Education

Mary Lammi, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services, and Dr. Gutekanst presented on Disproportionality in Education. Disproportionality refers to a group’s representation in a particular category that exceeds expectations for that group or differs substantially from the representation of others in that category. The presentation looked specifically at special education, discipline, and chronic absence based on 2022-23 data. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires states to collect and examine data to determine if significant disproportionality in special education based on race or ethnicity is occurring. The district has received a report of no disproportionality since the state reporting requirement was initiated in 2014. However, even though Needham has no reports of disproportionality from the state, they want to look deeper into any discrepancies that exist. More information can be found in the packet.

  • Higher level of students of color percentage wise compared to white counterparts in special education

  • English learners and low income also have discrepancies

  • Students on IEPs are a more vulnerable population when it comes to discipline (suspension and expulsions). Looked at the numbers of students who have 10 or more, as well as the practices, policies, and procedures. Looked at all categories and no disproportionality was found.

  • COVID had a huge impact on chronic absences (absent at least 10% of the days they were enrolled), with 1 in 4 students chronically absent across the state. It hasn’t returned to prepandemic rates as of last school year.

    • Discrepancies by race and ethnicity, low income, high needs, ELL, and students with disabilities.

    • Compared to the state, Needham is doing better in these areas. But we still see great discrepancies in certain areas that the district needs to address and work with families to create stability in those students’ education.

The district is addressing disproportionality by:

  • Instituting clear policies and procedures for expectations around special education, discipline and attendance.

  • The district curriculum accommodation plan for supports for students

  • Curriculum/Instruction that is universally designed, equity focused, and evidence based

  • School level student support teams that review student needs

  • Rollout of the Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health Framework

  • Strong network of supports and services for struggling students across all schools, especially for chronic absences

Vote on the 2024-2025 School Calendar

Discussion about the 2024-25 school calendar began with Dr. Gutekanst explaining the reasoning behind some changes, including election day and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Next year, instead of having the full day before Thanksgiving off, Tuesday Nov. 5 – Election Day – will be a vacation day. This change is to reduce undue burden on Newman as well as respond to teachers’ request to have a longer and more productive personal development day not close to a holiday. The last day of school is currently slated for June 16, 2025 without snow days.

Matt Spengler and Mike O’Brien voted against the calendar as presented, but in the end it passed with a 4-2-0 vote.


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