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SC Meeting: October 17, 2023

At the October 17 School Committee meeting, there was a discussion of the 2023 MCAS results, the Needham Education Foundation Collaborative Initiative Award, the Needham High School Student Advisory to the School Committee Report, the FY 2025-2029 Capital Improvement Plan, and the Superintendent’s 2023-2024 Goals.

School Committee Chair Comments

School Committee Chair, Andrea Longo Carter, opened with a statement on tensions in the Middle East. She spoke against terrorism, acknowledged a commitment to supporting affected students and a duty to ensure a safe, respectful and welcoming environment for all students.

Unit E Memorandum of Agreement

Alex Montes McNeil, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources at Needham Public Schools, spoke about the Unit E Memorandum of Agreement.

  • Needham Education Association Unit E members earlier ratified the Unit E Memorandum of Agreement for Nutrition Service Workers.

  • The Memorandum of Agreement includes a referral bonus, cost of living adjustment, compensation scale adjustment, increase in manager hours, a new assistant manager position, new evaluation structure, summer employment and a referral bonus.

  • The School Committee unanimously approved the Unit E Memorandum of Agreement.

Public Comments

Representatives of the Needham Friends of Music gave thanks to the School Committee for their support of music and requested a favorable vote for upgrades in lighting and sound from the FY 2025-2029 Capital Improvement Plan. See FY2025-2029 Capital Improvement Plan discussion below.

School Committee Subcommittee Updates

Committee members Michael O’Brien and Connie Barr reported that they represented the School Committee at a recent REAL Coalition Meeting. They reported a productive meeting and noted the breadth of participation from students and the community. They relayed that it was powerful to hear student experiences and stories, and that the next two Coalition meetings will be largely based in the student voice.

Needham High School Student Advisory to the School Committee Report

The Student Advisory Committee to the School Committee gave the following report:

  • 9th grade: Recently participated in student council elections. Question from the School Committee asked for clarity on the freshman experience and the student highlighted the availability of resources for students.

  • 10th grade: Recently launched a merchandise sale which raised class and school spirit.

  • 11th grade: Highlighted new opportunities, such as finalizing details for the Harbor Cruise, new items on MySchoolBucks to raise school spirit, and the annual fall festival. Questions from the School Committee highlighted how students are managing strenuous course work and using strategies to manage stress, such as learning and practicing time management skills and receiving more guidance and outreach from teachers.

  • 12th grade: Reported a strong start. Recently hosted a Senior Breakfast and T-Shirt Day to raise school spirit, and participated in Field Day in September. The Senior class is looking forward to fundraising and planning Senior events (such as a pep rally and prom) amidst college planning.

  • At Large:

    • Students noted stability at school, and a smooth beginning in a post-COVID era.

    • Students spoke about new study spaces around school, particularly outside outside of the cafeteria. Additional study spaces have been well-received by students.

  • All students receive free breakfast and lunch. Students acknowledged a new nutrition director and the School’s commitment to healthier food. Students are excited about a snack table for athletes.

  • The student council has been “reformatted.” Participation has changed from class meetings to cabinet meetings. Change was intended to generate more time to create thorough memos with updates on school-wide initiatives.

  • Students noted that the wellness schedule and lunch schedule were swapped by semester. Students noted pros/cons to the switch.

  • Students noted a scheduling change for “no-movement advisory” (where students stay in their homeroom) to Wednesday. Students spoke about mixed reactions and are sending out a survey for feedback.

  • High School Pep Rally is upcoming on October 27th and will represent the first rally in the past 4 years. The Pep Rally has been restructured for inclusivity with less emphasis on sports and more emphasis on celebrating numerous groups and clubs.

  • Upcoming Events:

    • Homecoming November 3rd - “Masquerade Ball”

    • Annual bonfire to celebrate fall sports is November 21st

  • Question from Committee prompted discussion of positive takeaways from COVID. Students noted continued communication with teachers, oversight from guidance and “mask” breaks.

Needham Education Foundation Collaborative Initiative Award

School Committee unanimously accepted a Needham Education Foundation (NEF) award in the amount of $156,580 to fund Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Collaborative Initiative.

The award will support:

1) Leadership Academy for Educational Equity, Understanding and Organizational Transformation sponsored by William James College

2) Teacher-focused professional development with author/educator Cornelius Minor

3) Consultation, training and support for implementing restorative practices in schools.

2023 MCAS Results

Dr. Carmen Williams, Asst. Superintendent of Instruction and Innovation, provided a report on the district’s performance on the 2023 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests which are administered to all students in grades 3-8, and 10. Detailed slides containing performance data are available in the packet.

  • Dr. Williams emphasized that MCAS report is a snapshot and that students are “more than scores.”

  • MCAS scores represent a “data point that helps us locate ourselves within a larger teaching and learning context.”

  • Report consisted of:

    • Student Enrollment Data (Slide 2).

    • Chronic Absenteeism (Slide 3). State-wide concern about chronic absenteeism. While report has improved, rates are not yet back to pre-pandemic levels.

    • 2023 Accountability Report (Slides 4,5). It is the first year since COVID that the DESE has reinstated this system, which reviews multiple years of data related to achievement, growth, English language learner progress, advanced coursework, high school completion and chronic absenteeism.

      • Needham Score - 79% (meeting or exceeding targets).

      • But, Needham is considered on a “recovery path” because in 2019, Needham was at 86%.

  • Dr. Williams spoke about the importance of considering summary data in the context of income and need-based subgroups (Slide 6).

  • Achievement and growth results for the 10th grade (Slides 7,8).

  • Achievement and growth results for the 3rd through 8th grades (Slides 9,10).

  • Dr. Williams spoke to the comparison of current and pre-pandemic achievement by grade level in areas such as ELA, Math, Science. (Slides 11 - 27)

    • Results revealed negative “double digits” change (i.e., more than -10%) from pre-pandemic scores for 10th grade science (-15%), 8th grade ELA (-17%), 7th grade math (-12%)

  • Cohort trends at grade level are positive and fairly consistent with pre-pandemic levels.

FY2025-2029 Capital Improvement Plan (Packet starting at p. 65)

Anne Gulati, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations, discussed two clarifications from the Plan as previously discussed:

  • Preschool playground update: Estimate now reflects a cost reduction. Current request is $54,000 due to reduction in scale/scope of project due to size constraints.

  • Ms. Gulati noted that the theater and lighting study capital improvement request had been reconsidered since last discussion. Request is the same, but the Plan now proposes acceleration and phasing, sequencing Newman, Pollard and then the High School. Plan originally proposed a 9-year process, but the revised accelerated phased schedule would have all work complete by FY 2029 (i.e., a 5 year period).

School Committee approved FY 2025-2029 Capital Improvement Plan (vote of 6-1-0) after robust discussion including (among other things) prioritization of expenditures. Discussion continues with Town Manager next month.

2023-2024 Superintendent’s Goals

School Committee unanimously approved 2023-2025 Superintendent’s Goals, as reflected in the packet.

School Committee Comments

Upcoming town events:

  • 10/28/2023 9a-3p Craft Fair by PTC

  • 10/30/2023 Special Town Meeting

  • 11/5/2023 1p-5p Annual Needham Diversity Summit

The next School Committee Meeting will be November 7, 2023.


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