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SC Meeting: October 19, 2021

At the October 19 School Committee Meeting there was a discussion of the Needham High School Student Advisory Report, an Update on Elementary Learning, and October 2021 Special Town Meeting Preparation.

Public Comments

  • A parent of two children in Needham Public Schools advocated for COVID surveillance testing in schools.

School Committee Updates

  • Aaron Pressman reported on a recent Minuteman sub-committee meeting. There are 31 Needham students currently enrolled. The school is currently at capacity but is looking at ways to expand to 800 students in future.

Superintendent’s Comments

  • Dr. Gutekanst asked that students be on their best behavior during this week’s early dismissal day.

  • He congratulated two additional students who are National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists.

  • He reminded the community of the upcoming Special Town Meeting which will have some items impacting the school.

  • He introduced Needham High School students Justin Mok, Brendan Szeto, and Alex McKay who were recently named Disney Magic Makers for the positive impact they have made in their community. Their initiative in promoting awareness to Stop Asian Hate resulted in raising more than $6,000 in two weeks to purchase and distribute 1,000 personal safety items in the Boston Chinatown community through a partnership with the Boston Police Department. They have been rewarded with a trip to Disney World.

Needham High School Student Advisory Report

This is the first of several reports the Student Advisory to the School Committee (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. Students at the presentation include Lea Gruen, Hannah Keselman, Max Scott, Danielle Sockol and Evan Tsingos.

They provided class updates on the following:

  • The sophomore class is settling into its first fully in-person year. The student council has been busy planning both class and community-wide events. Its grade-specialized merchandise, including long sleeve shirts and hoodies, are up for sale on MySchoolBucks. They recently had a successful bake sale and fundraiser in partnership with Chipotle. The next upcoming event is a community-wide Touch-a-Truck on November 6 at Needham High School.

  • The eleventh grade class is preparing for the Junior Harbor Cruise, which is being adopted from the senior class. The senior class’s event was postponed to the spring. They are doing small fundraisers and are looking to sell merchandise, sweatshirts specifically, in the near future. Many 11th graders are preparing for and took the PSAT on October 16.

  • The 12th grade class recently held Senior Field Day. Students competed in relay races, tug of war, and capture the flag. Their next goal is to work on fundraising and planning for Prom.

They also provided general updates including:

  • Clubs are returning, both after school and before, as well as sports heading into the second halves of their seasons, with the postseason playoffs approaching for many varsity teams. The Homecoming dance is October 22, and community-wide Bonfire will be held the week of Thanksgiving.

  • As of October 14, the Cabinet in Student Council is complete once again after ninth grade elections and the appointment process.

  • Students have been doing a good job adhering to mask requirements and procedures at the high school, requiring few reminders from faculty throughout the day. However, the general consensus is a desire to be rid of the masks entirely.

  • The general feeling toward the vandalism of Memorial Field was disappointment. The students felt it was unfortunate that a very small population or even a single individual can commit an act like that and have it reflect on the entire student body. However, by volunteering to help clean up the field, the overall lasting impression was that the community of students is stronger than some of its bad parts, and that a majority of students are working everyday to better themselves and the community as a whole.

Update on Elementary Learning

Karen Bourn, Eliot School Principal; Andrew Garlick, Broadmeadow School Principal; Laurie Davis, Broadmeadow School Special Education Liaison; and Betsy Maxwell, Eliot School Grade 2 teacher, shared an update on elementary learning, especially as it relates to the elementary schedule and the focus on ensuring that all students have the support needed to be successful.

Student learning has been largely disrupted over the past almost two years. As a result, a plan has been created to help those children most impacted. The three areas of focus include:

  • A consistent time on learning, which includes an instructional schedule that is provided to the teachers. It focuses on a less fragmented day, an equitable curriculum, and provides time for science, social studies and racial literacy instruction.

  • A schedule that maximizes time available for student engagement, learning, and enrichment, and includes a dedicated time for consistent, effective intervention/enrichment that addresses individual student learning needs. It will ensure equitable teacher collaboration, provide opportunities for creative learning possibilities through the collaboration of classroom and special area teachers’ work, and strengthen evidenced-based instructional practices.

  • Strengthening evidence-based practices, which will include a systematic approach to inclusive instruction that meets the needs of all students; data-driven decision making, progress monitoring, and evidence-based supports; strategies with increasing intensity to sustain student growth; collaboration and teaming that enables us to address student needs; and learning acceleration not remediation.

Staff shared how these strategies have been applied at Eliot and Broadmeadow.

School Committee members asked a number of questions that led to numerous discussions about how the plan can be used while balancing a wide array of priorities and concerns.

October 2021 Special Town Meeting Preparation

There was extensive discussion of the Finance Committee’s proposed amendment to warrant article 7. The original article appropriates funds for the design of the historic renovation of Emery Grover, and includes some funding for minimal upgrades to Hillside that would allow it to serve as temporary swing space during the construction project. But the Finance Committee's proposed amendment removes all funding for the Emery Grover portion of the project, leaving only funding for the upgrades to Hillside.

Dr Gutekanst has drafted a memo that outlines his concerns regarding the amendment, and has asked for feedback from School Committee. Several members also voiced strong objections to the proposed amendment, questioning the appropriateness of the Finance Committee's actions. The Town Moderator has been contacted with these concerns, but is reportedly going to allow the amendment to be put to Town Meeting for a vote.

The School Committee is steadfast in moving forward with the original article. Chair Connie Barr has recorded the presentation video for Town Meeting Members, and is preparing responses to questions that may be asked at Town Meeting. Additional information regarding the warrant article can be found on the Town website.

Also in advance of Town Meeting, Dr. Gutekanst asked to move funding in the budget to retain bus drivers.

Action Items

  • The School Committee voted unanimously to approve 2021-2022 Superintendent’s Goals.

  • Procurement of Massachusetts Grown Products: The School Committee approved a plan from School Nutrition Services that would allow prioritizing purchase of agricultural products (such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, meats, and seafood) from Massachusetts when possible, even if they are slightly more expensive than products from out of state. This will allow the district to support the local farming community and to provide fresh food for students.

School Committee Comments

  • The School Committee reiterated that it supports the plan to renovate the Emery Grover building.

The next School Committee meeting is October 26 at 6:30pm.


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