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SC Meeting: October 20, 2020

The October 20 School Committee meeting included a presentation on K-5 hybrid learning, a Human Resources update, and a vote on the School Master Plan.

Superintendent's Comments

Dr. Gutekanst provided information about an abridged athletics program that has commenced this fall season. Superintendents, Athletic Directors, Principals and Team Captains from Needham, Newton, Natick, Brookline and Wellesley all signed a statement that they will adhere to COVID safety measures to ensure the safe continuation of girls swim and dive, field hockey, cross country, soccer and golf.

Update on Elementary Teaching and Learning

An in-depth presentation on elementary teaching and learning was provided by the K-8 Director of Literacy, the K-5 Math Coordinator and several teachers. The full presentation is on pages 60–93 of the meeting packet. Highlights included:

  • Curriculum teams were formed over the summer to analyze the curriculum and create a bridge between March and September.

  • Literacy curriculum focuses on the Heggerty Program, word games, Lexia Core 5 and Fundations, and are utilized every day to ensure the highest probability of success. Both remote and in person lessons are parallel.

  • Math curriculum utilizes Freckle and ST (Spatial Temporal) Math for asynchronous learning during remote weeks. Curriculum planning focused on: - Community: setting routines and supporting use of technology prior to diving into complex problems - Assessment: smaller assessments are made at the end of the day instead of larger ones that take up an entire lesson - Coherence: smaller lessons are inserted throughout the year instead of front loading from the previous year

  • A resource hub for teachers has been launched. This internal website can aide teachers with weekly resources for at home learning; provide them with science, math and literacy resources; and is being built up with professional development videos for assistance with distance learning.

Teachers shared concerns over children managing their workload during remote weeks, and the inequity of those without consistent adult help to guide them through their days, as well as the challenges presented by teaching half a class in person and half a class remotely. The District plans on hosting a series of open houses for elementary teachers to share their thoughts and help determine if there are modifications that are able to be made moving forward.

Human Resources Update

The annual Human Resources update was provided by Dr. Alex McNeil, the Assistant Superintendent of HR, and included the following data:

  • Needham currently employs 423.4 FTE.

  • Retention rate is constant around 90.5%.

  • BIPOC employment has increased in the last couple of years with the addition of 19 teachers/teaching assistants and 5 additional staff members in 2019-2020, and 9 teachers/teaching assistants and 4 additional staff members in 2020-2021.

  • The Town and NPS BIPOC staff meet regularly every month to discuss issues as they arise in both the workplace, community and country.

  • A strong mentorship program is continuing to support new staff to maintain retention.

  • HR is rolling over systems to the Powerschool suite to create a more streamlined process for HR and the hiring team. Next year will move to their evaluation system, Perform, providing teachers the opportunity to more easily track how they are moving through their goals and action steps.

  • A monthly newsletter is continually sent to staff as a primary resource of information such as clear and updated health and safety information and protocols.

Resolution: MCAS and High Stakes Testing

The School Committee discussed a resolution proposed by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees related to MCAS testing which:

  1. rejects the requirement that current juniors make up the MCAS from last spring in order to graduate

  2. calls for a moratorium on high-stakes testing for 2020-21, and urges that the moratorium be extended for three years

The resolution will be voted on at the next School Committee meeting.

Action Item: Approve School Master Plan

Dr Gutekanst recommended the approval of the school Master Plan Scenario D, which utilizes High Rock as an elementary school and Pollard as a middle school that will accommodate grades 6-8 while still incorporating the same 6th grade "feel." This plan involves the town pursuing MSBA funding for Mitchell while financing the Pollard project without any MSBA assistance.

Merging both middle schools will allow more programming opportunities and more efficient use of staff and resources. Dr Gutekanst also noted that the constraints of the Mitchell site meant it would be a stretch to build a 4-section facility at that location, let alone a 5-section facility. The conversion of High Rock to an elementary school may require the relocation of some Newman families and creating a larger preschool at Newman.

Dr Gutekanst advised the following regarding the Master Plan:

  • The final report on the Master Plan will be ready within weeks and will be published for the public to review

  • The vote allows the Capital Improvement Plan to move forward and is due in the Town Manager's office soon

  • The vote represents an idea, not a specific final plan, to move discussion forward on the Master Plan and set a path to formally engage the MSBA

Approved 7-0 vote to move ahead with Plan D.

Action Item: Approve FY22-25 Capital Improvement Plan

Approved 7-0.

The next school committee meeting is scheduled for November 10.


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