Unofficial Minutes: Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee Meeting 10/24/16 – Key Points

Note: These are NOT official minutes.

Written by: Diego Hammerschlag

Committee members: Elizabeth Yusem, Kendra Foley, and Eileen Hsu-Balzer.

Others in attendance: Mark Sideris, School Committee member and Town Council President; Dr. Theresa McGuinness, Acting Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent; Steve Romanelli, Director of Facilities and Transportation; Deigo Hammerschlag (WSS), and David Stokes (WSS).

Shed at Hosmer Elementary School

The donation was previously approved. All concerned parties have approved the purchase and proposed location for the shed.

Given that the donation was from Lowe’s, Eileen Hsu-Balzer requested that the purchase be made from Lowe’s provided that the price and quality are comparable to the current quote provided by Home Depot. A request was also made to ensure that a ramp and a lock be provided if needed. Steve Romanelli indicated that it can be evaluated and provided at the time of the installation.

Buddy Benches in Memory of Bob Galante

A donation for the purchase of ‘Buddy Benches’ to honor Bob Galante was already approved. The money was raised through a GofundMe campaign coordinated by Maria Hinkson, a Lowell parent. The goal is to place the benches at all 3 elementary schools (Cunniff, Lowell, and Hosmer) as well as the Middle School and Victory Field.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer noted that Victory Field may not be a good location given near term renovation plans. All locations may require additional town approval given that they are not the sole responsibility of WPS. A motion was made to ensure that the cost of the installed benches not exceed the $3,540 donated and that the placement and distribution of the benches are to be coordinated by the Principals of the 4 schools mentioned.

Unofficial Minutes: School Committee Meeting 10/5/16 – Key Points and Commentary

Note: These are NOT official minutes. Commentary can be found at the end of the minutes.

Written by: Diego Hammerschlag

Committee members: John Portz, Chair; Kendra Foley, Vice-Chair; Guido Guidotti, Secretary; Eileen Hsu-Balzer; Candace Miller; Mark Sideris; Dr. Theresa McGuinness, Assistant Superintendent; Craig Hardimon, Human Resources Director.

Recognition: Benjamin S. Lowry, National Merit Recipient for 2015 PSAT

Postponed

High School Student Advisors

Several clubs have started their 2016-2017 activities.

Teaching & Learning Showcase: Environmental Initiatives at Watertown High School

AP Environmental Science is open to juniors and seniors. Several experiments and activities have been performed to raise awareness. For example, blind tasting of water, etc. The Environmental Club is not currently active but students hope that it will be restarted in the near future. As per future plans, they hope to start a Hydroponic garden and small scale composting.

Kendra Foley suggested environmental initiatives are good for presenting at Science Night and other events around town.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer shared several examples where small individual choices can make a larger impact on the environment.

Public Forum #1

Maria Baia, Chair of SEPAC, spoke about reaching out to the Watertown Community. Maria indicated that all SEPAC events are open to the community and most of them are of interest to all families. Detailed information about mission, schedules, and contact information can be found on the SEPAC web site or Facebook page. A SEPAC booklet was passed out as well.

David Stokes spoke on behalf of Watertown Strong Schools (WSS) urging the School Committee and public to vote NO on question # 5 on November 8th. Our schools need substantial updates in the near term, which could cost $200-400 million dollars per estimates from the recent Master plan study. WSS acknowledges the merits of the CPA but urges Watertown officials to table the CPA discussion until plans for the school buildings are finalized and tax implications are better understood. WSS believes a tax override for the CPA could jeopardize a future tax override to fund necessary school renovations. Please read WSS’ “Schools Before CPA” statement on our website.

Presentation & Discussion: Boston College Family Engagement Study

Rebecca Lowenhaupt, Ph. D. presented a study that started in 2015 as a partnership. She also reported additional grants from several universities were awarded to further fund this study. A ‘Needs Assessment’ was done across ~2600 students and their families. The study found the 5 top non-English languages spoken amongst families are Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Armenian, and Pashtu. The study looked into the demographics of various organizations that connect parents and schools (PTO, Site Council, etc.). The study confirmed healthy, active PTO and Site Council organizations and ~95% attendance of families at parent-teacher conferences. It also highlighted strong parent-teacher ties and an increasing number of family engagement activities (Movie night, Science night, etc.). Some of the gaps identified were:

  • Logistical issues for parent-teacher conferences at the high school.
  • Lower attendance rates for English as a Second Language (ESL) families.
  • ESL families also have less participation in PTO / Site Council (due to unawareness, language barrier, etc.)
  • Gaps are consistent with state and nationwide issues.

Several recommendations were made to increase school engagement with families. It was first recommended to work to minimize barriers, mainly time and schedule, and to try to reach out to families in the language spoken at home whenever possible. Also mentioned, was the importance of fostering 2-way communication instead of the traditional announcement type communication. The study plans to pilot the use of family liaisons and interpretative services.

The study also found that there is a ‘snowball’ effect when successfully reaching out to families. Interestingly, WPS web sites are of limited effectiveness given language and access challenges and texting (SMS) was found to be much more effective. Lastly, time sensitive handouts can also pose a challenge to families who do not speak English for the obvious reasons.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer identified with the findings; her Mom did not speak English fluently and engaging in school organization was not in her cultural background.

Candace Miller inquired about how the study managed to reach out to previously unreachable ESL families. She also suggested WPS add the ‘Google translate’ button wherever possible the web sites. This is a free service, which provides translation into most languages.

Presentation & Discussion: Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)

The results of the YRBS survey were presented by Stephanie Sunderland-Ramsey and Melanie St-Pierre. In the future, a digital version of the survey will also be available. One of the key goals of the survey is to identify preventive strategies. The detailed presentation is available on the School Committee site. The following are some of the findings:

  • Tobacco use in high school is down significantly consistent with National trends
  • Alcohol use in high/middle school is slightly down. This is one of the more concerning risk behaviors given its easy access.
  • Marijuana use in high/middle school is flat. Legalization is seen as a negative step since it makes it more accessible.
  • Non-medical use of prescription drugs in high school was measured for the first time
  • Depression & suicide in high school was up. This may be due to higher incidence or due to more data available. It is being watched closely.
  • Depression & suicide in middle school was measured for first time in 2014. The data looks for periods of 2 or more weeks of sadness.
  • Bullying in high/middle schools shows a stable trend and close links to body image.

Kendra Foley asked the definition of lifetime use of drugs. This means at least 1 incidence of a minimal amount dependence on the drug.

Candace Miller re-iterated the need to convert the Athletic Subcommittee into a Student Development Subcommittee that could better addresses students’ social/emotional development.

Guido Guidotti inquired whether any substance is of greater concern. Answer was alcohol given its easy access.

Elieen Hsu-Balzer reminded all that e-cigarettes are no longer allowed in WPS properties.

Presentation & Discussion: ELL Student Progress Update

School committee and WPS administration were thanked for recent funding allowing an additional 1.5 FTE for the 2016-2017 academic year. According to the presentation, 11% of WPS students qualify as English Language Learners (ELL).

The summer program has been very successful. Amongst other things, it has prevented ELL students from regression academically and in language over the summer. ELL students face an additional challenge in that they have limited exposure to English over the summer vacation.

As in our schools during the academic year, the ELL summer program experienced some space challenges due to all of the competing programs that run in the schools. For example, it prevented concurring adult classes in the same building while the kids were in the summer program. These are important since services for adults will further whole family exposure to English as well as help with school engagement and outreach.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer indicated it was all very inspiring and confirmed the summer program is currently funded through Title III.

Presentation & Discussion: 2016-1017 Goals & Priorities for the District

Chairman John Portz distributed tentative draft goals which are available on the school committee site. SMART goals for the Superintendent have been delayed pending the hiring of a new Superintendent.

Candace Miller suggested draft goals should be better framed and cited examples such as FLES, larger language goals and STEAM fit into entire scheme of the Math & Science curriculum.

John Portz acknowledged initiatives should be better framed. 

Acting Superintendent Theresa McGuinness shared that WPS has a document that track all ongoing initiatives across the schools. She indicated WPS should be able to share this info with school committee.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer agreed with feedback about framing and stressed the importance of hiring a new Superintendent.

Appointment of Dr. Theresa McGuinness as Acting Superintendent, effective October 8th, 2016

Dr. Theresa McGuinness was approved as Acting Superintendent although approval of the contract has not happened yet.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer expressed the concern that the contract may require separate approval given that it may have impact on salary amongst other things.

Guido Guidotti questioned whether there were policies that state the Assistant Superintendent automatically becomes Acting Superintendent in any circumstance. School committee indicated that is not the case.

John Portz indicated that we are 3-4 weeks away from selecting an Interim Superintendent.

Vote on Resolution Opposing Question # 2 – Expanding the Number of Charter Schools

School committee passed resolution on opposing question # 2. This is a NO on expanding the number of charter schools and consistent with the position of teacher unions and a large number of school committees in Massachusetts.

Approval of WMS Overnight Field Trip to Washington, D.C. (April 24 – April 28, 2017)

Donations can be made. Check should be made to Watertown Public Schools and sent to the middle schools with a memo ‘Washington Trip’. Donation funds are used to help fund students that otherwise could not go.

Reports: Student Enrollment

Handouts with monthly enrollment report are available on the school committee web site. The recommendation was made to use October numbers since September numbers frequently have a number of graduating and moving students unaccounted for. Need some clarification on out-of-district students in handouts.

Middle School Principal Kimo Carter indicated churn rate numbers are misleading since they are not done across the same cohort.

Update: Interim Business Manager Search

Applications are due October 10th

Update: Interim Superintendent Search

The search committee has been identified and the position was advertised in late September. The search committee met to review applicants on 10/5. A community forum will be scheduled for October 20th. The goal is for the search committee to recommend 2 or more candidates to school committee.

The search for a permanent Superintendent search is targeted to start, in late November or early December. The permanent Business Manager search is planned to begin once the permanent Superintendent is selected.

Update: Master Planning Study

Elizabeth Yusem indicated that a draft should be complete 10/7 and is hoping to distribute the Master Plan report after the Columbus Day weekend on 10/11. A special effort has been made to make the report especially clear such that the new Superintendent, not having been part of the process, can make the most effective use of it.

Acknowledgement

School Committee acknowledged the contributions and dedication of retiring Superintendent Dr. Jean Fitzgerald and retiring Business Manager Mr. Charlie Kelner throughout their years of service. 

Next Meeting & New Business

While the next School Committee meeting is scheduled for November 14th, due to the search for Interim Superintendent and Business Manager, it is highly likely that the School Committee will meet one or more times before then.

Candace Miller requested a calendar be announced with tentative Subcommittee meeting dates. There is a great deal of activity ahead of us and publishing a calendar early would help all interested parties.

Candace Miller also requested that new School Committee members be provided a tour of all schools in the district.

Commentary

Diego Hammerschlag
It is evident that there are a number of important hiring decisions ahead of us. Two important challenges stand out. One is that several positions, such as Business Manager, are essential for the day to day operation of WPS and should be addressed, whether temporary or permanently ASAP. The second one is that we should use all our past experiences to ensure a sound, clear, and transparent process that leads us to the best hires for our district.

The engagement study showed some clear value in engaging the community and also helped identify some strategies that may help non-english speaking families in our district. This study tied nicely into the progress that has been made with ELL students and hope to continue in the future.

I also want to acknowledge our Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Theresa McGuinness, for not hesitating to take on the additional responsibilities during this challenging transitionary period. I hope we can all support her throughout this time.

Of no lesser importance was the Youth Risk Behavior Survey presentation, which clearly identified many of the challenges in our community. I believe the findings should help us implement measures towards a healthier community and successful youth.

Unofficial Minutes: School Committee Meeting 9/12/16 – Key Points and Commentary

Note: These are NOT official minutes. Commentary can be found at the bottom of the minutes.

Written by: Kate Coyne, Alyson Morales, and David Stokes.

Committee members: John Portz, Chair; Kendra Foley, Vice-Chair; Guido Guidotti, Secretary; Eileen Hsu-Balzer; Candace Miller; Mark Sideris; Dr. Jean Fitzgerald, Superintendent; Dr. Theresa McGuinness, Assistant Superintendent; Craig Hardimon, Human Resources Director.

Audience members: Vincent Piccirilli, Town Council; Lisa Feltner, Town Council; Michael Driscoll, Town Manager; Pete Caron, WSS; Kate Coyne, WSS; Diego Hammerschlag, WSS; Alyson Morales, WSS; David Stokes, WSS; Mark Cotton; Elaina Griffith; Lily Tripler; Mike Shephard; Charlie Breitrose, Watertown News; and many more teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

The entire meeting was broadcast live and can be watched on demand at http://wcatv.org/vod/school-committee-8/.

Recognition of Retiree

The School Committee recognized the 31 years of “faithful and efficient” service and contributions of Gaylene Fantasia, Personnel Assistant (and “Queen of Graduation”), on the event of her retirement from Watertown Public Schools Central Office.  Ms. Fantasia received a standing ovation from the entire Committee and audience, as well as a copy of the signed proclamation of the School Committee, conveying their “deep appreciation of [her] splendid service to our Town”.

Student Advisors

It is only day 3 of school, but things are going smoothly. Fall sports are doing well: football and field hockey won their recent games.

Superintendent Contract

Dr. Fitzgerald announced her retirement from Watertown Public Schools and read the following statement:

“We are “back to school” again after a summer of busy preparation and projects, such as teacher-led curriculum workshops, ongoing long-range facilities planning, and successful teacher contract negotiations. I would like to thank all members of the Watertown faculty and staff who worked diligently to make our schools ready to welcome students.

Every new school year represents a fresh start and an opportunity to explore new challenges. We reflect on what we have accomplished, set new goals, and begin the work required to move forward. As this school year begins, I have decided to make such a change in my own career as an educator. After a long and rewarding career in public education, I am today announcing my retirement from the Watertown Public Schools.  I will remain in my current role until the beginning of October to allow the School Committee to facilitate a transition.

I am very proud of what we have accomplished together in Watertown since I joined this great community seven years ago. During this time, we have

  • Implemented significant curriculum improvements emphasizing 21stst Century Learning initiatives to include Global Competency, elementary foreign language, and STEAM programs that will make Watertown students competitive in today’s world
  • Addressed inadequate and aging school facilities through local planning and the Massachusetts School Building Authority process
  • Upgraded facilities, programs, and practices to ensure the best available safety resources for Watertown schools
  • Improved school department business practices to establish an effective, efficient budgeting and finance system
  • Focused the professional development program to engage educators in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity
  • Established a Behavioral Health Department to address the social emotional welfare of our students
  • Strengthened relationships between school leadership and the Watertown Educators Association, and
  • Supported innovative programs like Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation curriculum that brought together Watertown students, teachers, and police officers.

With commitment to our schools and utmost respect for each individual’s worth and contributions, I worked every day to improve student success and wellbeing. I would like to express my deepest gratitude and heartfelt thanks to all faculty, staff, students, parents, and the community.

I wish you a happy and successful school year.”

John Portz then made an announcement that the School Committee would hold a public meeting on Monday September 19th at 7pm at Town Hall in the Council Chambers to discuss the process and timeline for hiring an Interim Superintendent and a permanent Superintendent. Public comment is welcome. For those that cannot attend, comments can be sent to all School Committee members at schoolcommittee@watertown.k12.ma.us.

Public Forum #1

For exact statements please refer to the video link at the top of the minutes.  The content below is our best attempt at a summary.

Julie McMahon, former School Committee member, spoke and expressed her sadness at Dr. Fitzgerald’s retirement and stated that you “never really know what you have until its gone.”

Holly Cachimeul, WMS Spanish teacher, stated that the district “will really miss you across the board” and that she was worried going forward as a teacher.

Lindi DeLorio, read a resolution against lifting the cap on Charter Schools and asked the School Committee to adopt the resolution. John Portz stated that it couldn’t be addressed during this meeting as it was not part of the agenda, but accepted a copy for consideration.

Elizabeth Lloyd, Innovation Specialist at Lowell Elementary School, spoke to thank Dr. Fitzgerald for her leadership and her “big ideas”.

Andrew Allegro, Watertown resident who works with kids, spoke to thank Dr. Fitzgerald for his first job at WMS with Dr. Carter.

Unit A Contract with Watertown Educators’ Association

Kendra Foley read the following statement:

“John Portz and I made up the school committee negotiating team for this new 3-year contract.  We would like to thank WEA President Deb King and the members of the union negotiating team for enabling an honest and thoughtful process.  And, thank you to the Superintendent, Business Manager and HR Director for their invaluable participation. 

As with any collective bargaining agreement, this one includes compromises by both parties, and in that context, I feel this contract has allowed us to tackle a number of important issues around school schedule, parental engagement, time on learning, and compensation.

Strong parental involvement is part of the foundation of any high quality educational system.  Parent/teacher conferences, scheduled in the fall and the spring, are an important tool for family engagement and communication.  Over the past few years, we have had four half days and one evening dedicated to parent/teacher conferences each fall and spring.  With two working parents, having daytime parent/teacher conferences can be a challenge.  Also, these eight half days over the course of the school year can erode time on learning for our students. 

This new contract has increased the number of evening meetings from 3 to 5, which will allow the School Administration to make a scheduling adjustment that will benefit both parents and students.  Instead of four half days and one evening for parent/teacher conferences, the Administration will have more flexibility to schedule fewer half days -- as few as one or two -- and two evenings each fall and spring.  The changes will allow for more time on learning for our students, fewer half days, and maintain the same amount of professional development, which we feel is an important support for our teachers.  This change will be reflected in the current school year. 

In the past, the school start date has changed from year to year – ranging from the Tuesday after Labor Day to the Thursday after Labor Day, which leaves uncertainty for families.  We have negotiated a change so that starting in the 2017/2018 academic year, the first day of school can always be scheduled on the Tuesday after Labor Day. 

As we embarked on the financial portion of the negotiations, we were careful to balance our strong support for our teachers with the financial constraints that exist. 

We have negotiated a cost of living adjustment over the next three years of 2.25% in the current academic year, 2% next year, and 2% in the following year.  In addition, we have increased longevity payments, which support our more experienced teachers who most often do not benefit from step increases.  And this contract caps the number of days eligible for sick leave buyback for all new teachers hired after July 1, 2016. 

Other changes in the contract include a reduction in the number of teacher work days from 185 to 184, continuation of the current practice of granting the WEA president half-time release with substitute costs paid by the union, and the possibility of additional days for bereavement leave. 

While this contract provides fair compensation to teachers, it will continue to allow the district to make investments in curriculum, programs, materials, extra-curricular activities, and more.  After many difficult financial years following the recession of 2008, the town has been generous with our schools, which we greatly appreciate.  In the current fiscal year, for example, the town provided a 5% budget increase.  The contractual costs for this agreement - the cost of living adjustment and the longevity increases - cost $720K this fiscal year.  Other projected move ahead costs that were not part of this contract negotiation are step increases, which are based on experience, and lane changes, which are based on education level, will cost $388K this fiscal year.  Including additional costs for other employees the School Administration has over $800,000 to invest in new staff, curriculum, program development, and other initiatives for the district. 

This contract is fair to our teachers, fair to the taxpayers, allows us to make additional programmatic investments in the coming years, increases time on learning for our students, and addresses a number of scheduling concerns from parents.”

Mark Sideris spoke in favor of the memorandum of agreement.  The Town Manager said that he could not support the contract due to the step structure.  The step structure in this contract has not changed, but rather it is our understanding that his objection is to the changes made to the step structure in a past contract, which is carried forward into the current agreement. The School Committee voted in favor of the contract unanimously, with the Town Manger as the only vote opposed.

The contract is expected to be posted at this website by the end of the week.

Superintendent’s Report

Dr. Fitzgerald asked the WHS Principal, Shirley Lundberg, to address scheduling at the high school. There have been some scheduling issues around singleton classes such as Music, Orchestra, Chorus, and some foreign language classes. Ms. Lundberg outlined the difficulties in moving information from iPass to PowerSchool, and that the effort required many additional hours of manual manipulation and clean up.  This effort resulted in a bit of a timeline slip:  normally, WHS tries to get the student schedules printed a few weeks before distribution on the first day of school; this year, even with the PowerSchool data scrubbing and conversion, schedules were printed and ready for and distributed on the first day of school.  The only piece that was not in place on time was the Parent Portal, which would usually have been available the week before Guidance counselors returned at the end of August, but is still waiting due to training for parents and some staff.

She acknowledged the improved, advanced, and student-centered capabilities that WHS now has with PowerScheduler, the scheduling functions in PowerSchool.  She also provided some detail about the constraints on the schedule that are programmed into PowerScheduler, including those related to teachers, students, educational necessity, and facilities.  She discussed how WHS has tried to prioritize classes and create rules that try to minimize schedule-conflicting “singletons” for students.

Candace Miller asked if there was a ballpark estimate on when the Parent Portal would be available. Ms Lundberg state that she was hoping for the week of 9/19, but she believed it would be ready by October at the latest.

Current Enrollments and Update on Elementary Student Assignment

Lauren Harwood presented current enrollment updates as of 9-9-16. She stated that since the centralized enrollment process began, 85 new students have enrolled in the district.  The breakdown is as follows:

  • Cunniff: 9 students
  • Hosmer: 22 students
  • Lowell: 21 students
  • Middle School: 23 students
  • High School: 10 students

Ms. Harwood stated that there was only one instance where a student was assigned to a school that was not their neighborhood school. That specific instance was in Grade 2 at the Cunniff, which is full, and the student was in turn assigned to the Lowell.  Ms. Harwood noted that the family was amenable to and in agreement with the assignment.

EDCO Report on Special Education

Kathleen Desmarais, Director of Special Education, presented the results of the EDCO report on Special Education. The detailed report will be made public.

Curriculum Goals Update

Elizabeth Kaplan, K-5 Math and Science Coordinator, Toni Carlson, K-12 Educational Technology and Library Coordinator, and Magen Slesinger, FAPA Coordinator, presented an update on STEAM Curriculum. Dr. Kimo Carter, WMS Principal, and Kraig Gustafson, 6-12 Social Studies Coordinator, presented an update on Global Competencies. The full report on Global Competency will be made public at a future date.

Compensation for Non-Aligned Employees

John Portz explained that non-aligned employees represent those staff that are not part of a union and include 33 staff members. The School Committee voted to approve $45,303 to provide a pool that represents the equivalent of a 2.5% salary increase for these employees.  However, the pool is distributed at the discretion of the Superintendent.

Revised School Calendar 2016-2017

The updated school calendar was discussed. Due to the newly approved teacher’s contract, the number of teacher working days has been reduced from 185 to 184. The resulting calendar change is to have no school on Election Day.  Parent-teacher conference dates will be discussed at a Principal’s meeting on 9/13/16 and will be made public in the near future.

School Committee Meeting Dates for 2016-2017

John Portz discussed the School Committee meeting schedule. All meetings will be held on a Monday, except the October meeting that will be held on Wednesday 10/5 with a location still to be determined.

Master Plan Facilities Study – Update

The final Master Plan Community Forum was held at the end of August.  The Steering Committee is waiting to receive a copy of the draft report from SMMA.  Once the report is received a final Steering Committee meeting will be scheduled to discuss it along with sequencing of potential construction projects.  Once the report is made final (a few weeks after the final Steering Committee meeting), it will be presented to a joint meeting of the School Committee and Town Council. Further information can be found at the Buildings & Grounds/Master Plan website, including meeting agendas, minutes and presentation materials.

Phillips Building Preschool Construction – Update

The main construction project at the Phillips is complete.  There are a few punch list items that will be completed in the near future.  There has not yet been an upgrade to the playground, but some new playground equipment has been ordered and will be installed in the near future.

Public Forum #2

For exact statements please refer to the video link at the top of the minutes.  The content below is our best attempt at a summary.

Barbara Barry, a 4th Grade Cunniff teacher, stated that she used to wonder why a district needed a Superintendent, but came to understand the value of the Superintendent’s role. She was sad to see Dr. Fitzgerald retire and noted that Dr. Fitzgerald will be terribly missed.

Cara Coller, a parent, thanked Dr. Fitzgerald for all of the help she has provided and worries that people looking at Watertown will see that the Superintendent left after a group of parents called for her replacement.

Mike Shepard, former School Committee member, was upset and disappointed that Dr. Fitzgerald will not be around to see the end results of programs that she started. He stated that there is a severe shortage of quality candidates for Superintendent in Massachusetts, and that Dr. Fitzgerald will be difficult to replace.

Erika Dorenkamp was upset with the certain school committee members and parents that she felt caused Dr. Fitzgerald’s retirement.  She felt that Dr. Fitzgerald embodied the sentiment that being a Superintendent is not just being an administrator, but that success is defined by personal relationships.  She blamed the School Committee for ultimately failing to do all in its power to shield Dr. Fitzgerald from the “toxic atmosphere” in Town, and then called on John Portz to resign as chair of the School Committee.

Pete Caron, a Cunnif parent, relayed the story of a teacher in another district with very little funding who won an award for bringing her students to amazing levels of academic achievement in one year's time.  When asked how she did it she responded that she had seen the IQ test scores of her class in the office.   She knew how smart they were and expected a lot from them.   In the end it turned out that those were their locker numbers.  It isn't only what we supply our kids with in the classroom that matters, it is what we do with it that counts.   Given the amazing presentations on curriculum during the evening, it brings great excitement that our kids will be continuing through these amazing programs and curriculum with the amazing faculty in Watertown.

Chairman’s report

John Portz reiterated his earlier announcement that a public meeting would be held on Monday 9/19/16 at 7pm at Town Hall to discuss the process for hiring an Interim Superintendent and a permanent Superintendent.  Public comments on the process are welcome.

The next School Committee meeting will be held on October 5th.

Commentary

Kate Coyne

I was surprised to hear that Dr Fitzgerald would be retiring.  I am appreciative of all the work she has put into the past couple years for Watertown Public Schools.  I look forward to the process of finding a new interim Superintendent, which I understand will be a challenge. Going forward, I’m hopeful that the parents, teachers, administrators and town can come together to make this transition one which works for all.  I am confident that our community can come together and is up to the challenge.  I’m hopeful that the process to find the interim Superintendent will be one which is well thought out and transparent.       

With respect to other business, I was also glad to hear about the union negotiations but wonder if the ½ PD days were on the table during this negotiation (considering many parents and teachers have voiced wanting this). Good to know that we can start school on the Tuesday after Labor day and will have evening conferences (and less ½ days!).          

It was great to get enrollment data.  The enrollment shows that we received 85 students from August.  I’m hoping that going forward they will be able to provide the previous months enrollment so that trends can be shown.         

Looking forward to the STEAM initiative and would love to hear more about the vision over the years. 

The master plan still has very many questions.  The report is supposed to come out soon and I hope that this will help answer some of the questions.   I would also like to hear about the process going forward.  I’m also still concerned that the Phillips School (one of our schools in Watertown) is not included in the Master Plan.  I would think that one of the options offered by SMMA would be to have thePhillips renovated for preschool/pre-k in, lieu of right side of the Hosmer (especially at a cost of 100M!!).  This space could also serve as a swing space for the other schools prior to making it to a preschool/pre-k…this may or may not be the answer but this school should be part of our Master Plan regardless (and have it’s own renovations in the plan).

Alyson Morales

Dr. Fitzgerald announced her retirement from the Watertown Public Schools tonight.  It was definitely a surprise to those in the audience. Again, John Portz has encouraged everyone to attend the public meeting that will be held on Monday 9/19 at 7pm at Town Hall, where the process to find an interim and permanent Superintendent will be discussed.  Public input is welcome and encouraged.

I would like to thank everyone that was involved in negotiating the new WEA Unit A contract for all of their hard work.  The contract will be posted by the end of the week.   The additional evening parent-teacher conference days, making it easier for working parents, and the additional certainty added with the set start day of the Tuesday after Labor Day were great additions from a parent perspective.  From a financial standpoint, it is also important to ensure our teachers are well compensated and it seems that this contract achieves that goal. Again, thank you to all involved.

The WHS scheduling difficulties brought up at the meeting were concerning and I appreciate Ms. Lundberg discussing them and being open about the challenges.  From what I understand, the conflict most often seems to be between Honors classes, Orchestra, Band, Chorus and World Language and that this has been a challenge for several years. Students should not have to make the choice to drop an Honors course, drop Band/Orchestra/Chorus (which many students have been participating in since 4th grade) nor drop or switch a World Language.  I hope the new PowerSchool program will help eliminate some of the scheduling challenges, but if not I hope other solutions can be found.  If more funding is needed I hope the request is made and that it finds its way into the FY18 budget process.  These are unfair choices to ask our students to make after multi-year commitments to certain paths.

It was great to get the updated September enrollment information.  It would have been even more helpful to have a historical data point (June 2016) included to provide additional perspective on the increase in students.  While not an ideal circumstance, it was encouraging to hear that only one new student had to be reassigned away from their neighborhood school and that the family was agreeable to the move.  It will be important to keep an eye on the enrollment data, in order to both monitor the current situation as well as have the most up to date information as we continue the conversation about the need for renovations/additions to our current school buildings.

Unofficial Minutes: School Committee Meeting 6/13/16 – Key Points and Commentary

Note: These are NOT official minutes. Commentary can be found at the bottom of the minutes.

 Written by: Pete Caron, Julie Cotton, Kate Coyne, Alyson Morales, and David Stokes.

Committee members: John Portz, Chair; Kendra Foley, Vice-Chair; Guido Guidotti, Secretary; Eileen Hsu-Balzer; Candace Miller; Mark Sideris; Liz Yusem; Dr. Fitzgerald, Superintendent; Charles Kellner, Director, Business Services; and Craig Hardimon, Human Resources Director.

Audience members: Mena Ciarlone, Cunniff Principal; Elizabeth Kaplan, Lowell Principal; Bob LaRoche, Hosmer Principal; Kimo Carter, Middle School Principal; Shirley Lundberg, High School Principal; Donna Ruseckas, Director of Wellness & Extended Services; Toni Carlson, K-12 Educational Technology and Library Coordinator; Lauren Harwood, Accountability Data Manager; Michael Lahiff, Athletic Director; Todd Robbins, TV Productions; Vincent Piccirilli, Town Council Vice President; Michael Dattoli, Town Councilor; Tony Palomba, Town Councilor; Steve Magoon, Assistant Town Manager/Director of Community Development & Planning; Tom Tracy, Auditor/Assistant Town Manager; Brandt Brisson, WSS; Jim Cairns, WSS; Pete Caron, WSS; Julie Cotton, WSS; Kate Coyne, WSS; Diego Hammerschlag, WSS; David Stokes, WSS; Alyson Morales, WSS; Elodia Thomas; Mike Shephard; and many other parents, teachers, and community members.

Recognition Of Retirees, John Vitti, Boston/New England National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and Athletics

  • Retirees

o   Susan Cole, Hosmer Elementary Teacher, 36 years

o   Joan Corkery, High School Nurse, 31 years

o   Eleanor Donato, Middle School Teacher, 31 years

o   Margaret McDonagh, Evaluation Team Coordinator, 35 years

o   Judith Powers, ESL Teacher, 16 years

  • John Vitti:  The Superintendent and the SC wanted to recognize John Vitti for his years of tireless, unending devotion to journalism in WPS schools.  Toni Carlson recounted all of the great volunteer work done by John. Since 2007, John has volunteered his time, talents, and treasure to create and grow student newspapers in several WPS schools: Cunniff Kids News, Watertown Splash (WMS), and Raider Times (WHS).

  • Boston/National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences: WHS Senior Rebecca Grossman created and entered a poetic documentary titled “Latent” and won the 2016 Boston/New England National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Award for “Editor at the High School Level” and 3 additional “Honorable Mention” awards.
    • Athletics:  

o   Mr. Lahiff, the Athletic Director, gave out awards to seventeen seniors that participated in sports in all twelve seasons of their high school careers.

o   Girls Lacrosse was honored for winning the Middlesex League title.

o   Four track athletes (a relay team) will be going to Nationals in Greensboro, NC – although not as a WPS-sanctioned athletic event, in accordance with MIAA rules.

Public Forum #1

No speakers

DecisionInsite Enrollment Report

DecisionInsite (DI) had intended to present in person last week, but due to errors discovered with some of the data, and the presentation being rescheduled to this week, they were unable to attend in person. The DecisionInsite Enrollment study was presented remotely instead.  

The presenter walked through the slide deck, discussing the context of population and demographics in town.  Large-scale developments will primarily fall in the current Hosmer and Cunniff districts.

Historical enrollment numbers are all Spring-based enrollment numbers due to technical limitations from the District’s current systems in providing Fall data.  For the sake of an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the projected numbers are also Spring numbers.  Guido Guidotti asked what the numeric difference between WPS’s Fall and Spring numbers was.  DI wasn’t provided any Fall data and, as a result, was not able to answer this question.

Significant factors affecting the prediction of enrollment numbers over the next five years include: Kindergarten enrollment numbers, “cohort aging”, and new unit developments in Watertown.  DI referred people to their Methodology White Paper for additional detail on their methodology.  Cohort aging describes the trend of enrollment of a particular grade as they move from one grade to another.  DI stated that Kindergarten enrollment has been on a downward trend over the last few years. They also stated that they normally see enrollment increase from Kindergarten to first grade as students leave private Kindergarten programs, home schooling, etc., to join the public school system.  However, they describe seeing the opposite trend in Watertown; there is a decrease in students from Kindergarten to first grade. They did not have an explanation for this trend.

There are 1,398 new units that will be coming online through 2019 that are estimated to add a total of 273 students (a 10% increase) in the next four years across all schools.  Since this data is dependent on known developments in town through 2019, their predictions are as follows over the next 4 years (2016-2019):

  • Cunniff Elementary: 307 to 282 = Loss of 25 Students (-8%)
  • Hosmer Elementary: 540 to 602 = Gain of 62 Students (+11%)
  • Lowell Elementary: 403 to 404 = Gain of 1 Student (0%)
  • Middle School: 584 to 633 = Gain of 49 Students (+8%)
  • High School: 695 to 752 = Gain of 57 Students (+8%) 
  • Totals over 4 years: 2,529 to 2,673 = Gain of 144 Students (+5.7%)

In summary, there are predictions of fluctuation in enrollment across the various schools in the district culminating in a net gain of an additional 194 students over the next five years.  According to this study, there is a downward trend of enrollment at some of the schools due to some classes aging out to the middle/high schools.

Assistant Town Manager/Director of Community Development & Planning, Steve Magoon spoke to questions raised about residential development (“teardowns”) in town beyond the large-scale developments.  He estimated residential development that resulted in a net gain of housing units to be approximately 10 per year on average.  It was his opinion (with agreement from DI) that this number wouldn't be statistically relevant for the sake of planning and didn’t add additional data to the data used by DI. The Superintendent stated that the District isn’t tracking the number of students coming from “teardowns”.

More questions about empty nesters moving out and families moving in without a net change in units available were again assumed to be statistically irrelevant.  It was the opinion of Steve Magoon that these numbers wouldn't add useful information to the planning process and would average out across the District.

Revised FY17 Budget

Charles Kellner presented the revised FY17 Budget.

Candace Miller asked what amount we have in revolving funds, etc., that is not stipulated for grants or any other purposes, which would be available to fund the construction costs at the Phillips.  Most of the available money is in the circuit breaker carryover amounts. This part of the discussion got a bit confusing for the audience members as there was no documentation, and all of the discussion was verbal.  Some of the discussion was tabled until the presentation on Proposal #3 (for renovating the Phillips School), which was next on the agenda.  The total estimated available funds after subtracting costs associated with the new proposal (personnel, construction, etc.) were approximately $1.2M. 

Candace Miller asked if we should be voting on any re-appropriation of funds. John Portz stated that the School Committee wouldn’t have to do that now, but could do that later.  Candace stated that she wanted to ensure that the budget was transparent so that we know from where the funds are coming and to where they are going.

The revised FY17 budget was approved.

Plan to Renovate First Floor of Phillips Building and Allocate Classes

The Superintendent recommended Proposal #3, which creates space for two Early Steps Preschool classrooms at the Phillips building.  One classroom will be a new classroom to accommodate students on the waiting list, while the other space will be occupied by an existing Early Steps classroom that will move from the Hosmer into the Phillips.

There will be some shuffling of space within each of the three Elementary schools. The Hosmer will create a needed 4th grade classroom with some creative shuffling to take advantage of the vacated Early Steps space.  The Lowell will gain a needed 1st grade classroom by moving the Computer Lab to the library and using that vacated space.  The Cunniff will create a space for art/music (depending on the project and/or class) with some internal shuffling, including combining some special education space into space vacated by co-teachers that will be moving into classrooms. The Cunniff 2nd/3rd grade classroom will be in the space currently used by the third 4th grade class, which was previously the art/music space.

Costs associated with this proposal totaled $400K+ ($219,000 in construction and architectural costs + $232,148 in salary costs + $11,905 in other costs = $463,053). Dr. Fitzgerald also stated that part of the new proposal is to hire a full-time Registrar (rather than the 0.5 Registrar that they originally requested in the FY17 budget), allowing the District to begin centralized registration, with a goal of assigning students to schools based on class size.

The Superintendent then presented the new 2016-2017 WPS Elementary enrollment projections. The Lowell 3rd and 4th grade will have the largest projected class sizes in the district under the new proposal.  Also, the Cunniff seems to be projecting a decline in K-5 enrollment, while the Hosmer and Lowell are projecting increases.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer was grateful to the Superintendent for the third plan and thanked her for basing her recommendation not on a political decision, but rather what is best for the students of WPS.  Eileen had concerns about the cap on enrollment but thought this was the best plan so far.

Mark Sideris stated that he felt that the biggest issue during this whole process was communication.  He apologized for the lack of communication and feels we can do a better job.  He believes this proposal is the best option because it causes the least problems for parents and students.

Kendra Foley thanked the Superintendent for her work and thanked parents for attending meetings and being involved in the process.  She went on to explain why she felt that the current recommendation was the best one.

Candace Miller still had concerns about the current proposal and wanted to know how growth in enrollment will be handled if we gain students in grades that have reached capacity at schools that have no more available space.  Liz made a motion to table the question, and it was never answered.

The Superintendent’s recommendation was approved.

Mark Sideris made a motion to direct the Superintendent to accept new student registrations, but to delay placements of any students until the end of August, starting immediately.  The motion included a referral to the Policy Subcommittee to work out the details of assigning new students to schools.  The motion was approved after much discussion.

Special Public Comment Related to Space Concerns

Diego Hammerschlag spoke about the lack of communication throughout the process.

Michael Dattoli, Town Councilor and Lowell parent, spoke about concerns with the recommended proposal and felt that it didn’t do much to free up space.  He was concerned how MAP testing would be handled, as the Lowell is moving its computer lab to the library in order to make space for the new first grade classroom.  He was also concerned about the size of the room.  Elizabeth Kaplan, Lowell Principal, stated that they started using Chromebooks for MAP testing in the upper grades, so testing should be ok. She is working with the Librarian to envision how to arrange the library space to include the computers. She also stated that the computer lab is an appropriate size for a classroom.

Michael Dattoli also commented on modular classrooms. He stated that they would have been a better option.  He said, while they aren’t perfect, they can be connected to the school, and that they are often nicer than some traditional classroom spaces.  He currently teaches in a modular classroom.

Eleanor Donato, retiring WMS teacher, stated that the conversations around space reminded her of 1984 when Watertown started closing schools.  She thought it might be beneficial if a town-wide PTO was created, similar to the PTU that was created back then.  It was a solution that provided parents and teachers from the different schools an opportunity to come together as a single community, around a single purpose, and share with one another and the Superintendent their concerns and solutions.  She stated that there are several people in town that could advise how the former PTU group was created and used.

Kate Coyne, a Lowell parent, stated that she agrees with Diego Hammerschlag’s concerns and was also very disappointed. She stated that they (School Administration & School Committee) had dropped the ball with respect to overcrowding, not only this year but in the past couple years. This has been an ongoing issue.  Many of the solutions, like modular classrooms, were not looked into in an earnest and in a timely manner.  There is no data even to date for modular classrooms, we cannot make a decision for or against without it!  There was time to get this data in Feb and March.  Looking forward, she was hopeful that the Master Plan Steering Committee would bring open communication and good solutions for our children’s education.  She then reiterated what Diego stated about the lack of communication.  Everyone in the room had been affected by the lack of communication and timeliness.  Hopefully, the School Committee and Administration can do better going forward.

Steering Committee for Master Plan Study

John Portz announced the recommended Steering Committee members.  The Steering Committee will meet every two weeks.  The first meeting will be held on Wednesday, 6/15/16 at 6:00pm in the Innovation Room on the 3rd floor of the Phillips building.  The list of Steering Committee members is as follows:

  • Liz Yusem – School Committee – co-chair

  • John Portz – School Committee – co-chair

  • Jean Fitzgerald – Superintendent, Watertown Public Schools

  • Charles Kellner – Business Manager, Watertown Public Schools

  • James “Kimo” Carter – Principal, Watertown Middle School

  • Toni Carlson – Coordinator of Digital Learning, Watertown Public Schools

  • Debra King – WEA President, Middle School teacher

  • Michael Dattoli – Town Councilor, Chair of Eductation Subcommittee

  • Vincent Piccirilli – Town Councilor, Vice President

  • Steven Magoon – Director, Community Development and Planning, Assistant Town Manager

  • Pete Caron – Community Member (Cunniff and Early Steps parent)

  • Elaina Griffith – Community Member (Cunniff parent)

  • Chris Lowry – Community Member (High School parent)

  • Alyson Morales – Community Member (Middle School parent)

  • Lindsay Mosca – Community Member (Lowell parent)

  • Mike Shepard – Community Member (Middle School parent) 

The Steering Committee members were approved.

Approval of Student Handbooks

Shirley Lundberg remarked on the few minor changes to the WHS Student Handbook.

John Portz identified that the School Committee members listed in Handbooks were not completely accurate.  Jean said that she’d be sure the list gets fixed, and that that was usually caught during the final review before publishing.

Kimo Carter and Bob LaRoche confirmed that there were no significant changes (only minor tweaks) to either the WMS or Elementary Student Handbooks.

Acceptance of Gifts

The Suicide Prevention Funding Group donated $200 to the Hoops for Hope effort at WHS, which was accepted.

The Watertown Community Foundation donated $5,000 in the form of a grant for the Parent-Child Home Program, which was accepted.

Approval of 6/6/16 School Committee Minutes

The minutes were approved.  Candace commented that she appreciated the timeliness and completeness of the minutes, given that the meeting had only occurred 1 week ago.

Public Forum #2

Jim Cairns asked that the School Committee include maximum recommended class sizes in the new policy and follow that when placing students.

Chairman’s Report

John thanked the Superintendent, the Business Manager, and the Central Office staff for their work in putting together the revised FY17 budget.

Superintendent’s Report

Jean noted that today (6/13) she accepted another $150,000 grant from the Massachusetts Office of Victims Assistance (MOVA) for next year.  She expressed much gratitude and excitement at the fact that WPS will be able to have another dynamic speaker come to Watertown, along with other smaller activities, because of this grant.

Next Meeting

The next School Committee meeting will be held on Monday, 7/18/16 at 7:00pm in the Council Chamber at Town Hall.

New Business

In the vein of his comments about better communication with the Community, Mark requested that the School Committee agendas have the supporting documents linked to each item (provided they are available at the time of the agenda’s publication), as the School Committee had agreed and started to do back in November.  Jean said that she was not aware that the agendas did not have links any longer, and that she would make sure all agendas going forward did provide links to the supporting documents.

Commentary

Alyson Morales

I would like to start by thanking all of the retiring teachers for all of the amazing work they have done on behalf of our students. Congratulations on your well deserved retirement!  Thank you to Mrs. Donato for her great suggestion on a town-wide PTO to connect parents at different schools to discuss concerns and solutions.  If any of you are ever bored with retirement, Watertown Strong Schools would welcome your insight and benefit from your experience!

Regarding the DecisionInsite (DI) report, aside from the technical difficulties, I found it lacking.  The report left me with more questions than answers.  I feel we would have been better served having a meeting solely devoted to this presentation, so that there would be more opportunities to discuss their methodology and assumptions.  I don’t know much about forecasting enrollment, but I feel I do know when things don’t look right.  Some of my questions include the following:

  • DI is projecting no new K-5 students next year, does that make sense? WPS Administrators are projecting growth.

  • If we subtract DI’s forecast for students from new development from the total forecast, our enrollment would be in steep decline. Does it make sense that we would lose 258 K-12 students from the 2015-2016 school year to the 2024-2025 school year without new development?

  • What assumptions are they using to determine the number of students coming from new development? Did they look at historical Watertown rates for the number of students in large developments? In 2016, DI seems to be assuming that there are students in 17.5% of the total apartments from new development, and that rate increases to 22.68% by 2025. The current 2016 rate in Watertown for students in large apartment complexes is 6% for total occupied units, and 12% for 2-3BR units. Looking at historical Watertown data, the DI assumptions seem high.

  • From the questions and answers during the discussion, it seems that “teardowns” were not factored in according to DI and Steve Magoon.  It would have been helpful to see the data.

  • Also from the questions and answers during the discussion, it seems like “generational” turn over (older people moving out and young families moving in), was also not a factor considered according to DI and Steve Magoon.  Mr. Magoon seemed to suggest that the effect would be negligible.  I would have liked to see the data on this, as we have heard anecdotally that the surge in students is coming from this effect more than from new development. I am not sure they actually have data on this and I think this is more of an opinion on his part.

We have now had two enrollment studies done and they offered very different results. The NESDC study done in January was based on births among other things and did not factor in new development.  The NESDC study forecasted an additional 123 students in K-5 by the 2024-2025 school year.  DI forecasted that we would lose 81 K-5 students in that same timeframe.  The NESDC study, forecasted that we would gain 239 K-12 students over this time period, while the DI study forecasted a gain of 59 K-12 students over this time period.  SMMA, the architectural firm contracted to conduct the Master Plan Study, will have its work cut out for it trying to reconcile these studies and coming up with an enrollment forecast to help inform our space needs going forward.

Regarding the short-term space plan recommended by the Superintendent and approved by the School Committee, I understand why it was chosen.  Our backs were up against the wall, time was running out, and it was the easiest choice to make.  I am still not convinced it was the best choice. Centralized enrollment will help but I am skeptical that it will save us.  I will be surprised if we don’t see a “Cunniff-like” situation crop up during the coming school year, most likely at the Lowell. I sure hope I am wrong.   

I still feel that modular classrooms are the best short-term solution as we try to determine our long-term space needs.  I don’t think that they were ever properly investigated as an option.  They are not “trailers” as the Superintendent and Eileen Hsu-Balzer like to describe them.  Many towns use them to solve short-term space issues.  The Master Plan study will provide us with some options, but we will still need to decide which option is best for Watertown.  We will need to have community-wide discussions, and build town-wide support.  I don’t want us to rush the process, as this decision will have long lasting financial and educational implications.  We need to ensure that we choose the right solution.  I believe modular classrooms could buy us that time and they could be repurposed in the future as swing spaces during any future construction.

The discussion around the motion for centralized registration and to not assign students to schools until August was also a bit confusing.  I hope that when the issue is taken up by the Policy Subcommittee, some clear guidelines and procedures are put in place.

I found the discussion about finances hard to follow.  The FY17 Revised Budget was straightforward enough given that there was a handout, but the following discussions about available funds and the costs associated with the approved short-term space plan were very hard to follow and understand.  I understand that Mr. Kellner has to answer verbally when asked unexpected questions, but the information was very hard to hear and track.  He really needs to remember to turn on his microphone.  The question about costs associated with the short-term space plan recommended by the Superintendent was anticipated, but the audience was not provided a copy of the document.  It would have made it easier for the audience to follow the discussion.

The bottom line to this whole process is that better communication is needed.  Parents felt jerked around at the end of the school year from proposal to proposal.  This could have been avoided if the School Committee took up this space issue earlier.  As others have mentioned, we have known about this issue for several years.  The district needs to do better going forward.  We have an opportunity for more transparency and better communication this summer with the Master Plan study.  As a member of the Steering Committee I will do my best to work towards that goal.

Julie Cotton

I found this meeting to be, overall, quite frustrating. Certainly, we're at an impasse now where there are very few options that can be implemented quickly; still, it seems we're in more of a holding pattern for another year than creating forward momentum towards viable overcrowding solutions (though I remain optimistic about the Steering Committee's work to be done over the summer). I found it refreshing that Candace Miller questioned the fact that the third proposal came late, with few details, and was the only option left on the table by the time the School Committee was asked to vote. I understand the need for an expedient decision but was glad to see that there was still a call for clarification and accountability-- we are where we are, but certainly we can highlight why we should never have been in this position to begin with.

Many information-heavy parts of the meeting were difficult to follow. Technical issues with the DecisionInsite conference call muddied the sound volume and clarity, creating significant challenges for the audience in following along with the presentation. This is especially disappointing given the number of questions that remain surrounding the content of the enrollment report, and considering the fact that a DI representative would have been physically present for the presentation last week if they had not made a significant data error in the first version of that report. In addition, Charlie Kellner's presentation of financial information was challenging to follow without his microphone turned on and with no data in front of us with which to follow along-- a handout would have been incredibly helpful for navigating that volume of information. Considerations like that would show that the School Department truly values keeping the community informed and empowered on these matters.

Community input in these processes is critical and I'm glad that it became an important part of this process in the past month. I echo the sentiment of many other parents and community members, however, when I say that the community has been communicating concerns about overcrowding for quite some time, and there has been ample opportunity to hear those concerns well enough in advance to not be down to the wire with few options as we are now. I truly hope that this experience is taken as a serious lesson by the school department and administration and that our plan for 2017 is well-planned, carefully considered, and proactive rather than reactive.

David Stokes

First of all, if you have read all the way down this far from the beginning, congratulations – and condolences!  You now have some idea about the experience of sitting in the audience during the meeting Monday night.

I acknowledge that the School Committee has had (and continues to have) much work to do.  I commend them for attempting to get it all done in a timely fashion.  However, how can anyone expect parents and community members to stay engaged and sit through 3+ hours of a meeting on a school night?  Lack of seating, lack of air conditioning (although Mark did finally get it going), and various technical and acoustic difficulties all contributed to the poor audience experience of the meeting. 

Monday night was not the first time that I have sat through one of these marathon meetings, so I don’t wonder at all why there are usually so few parents in the audience.  However, I might request that the Committee consider either conducting more frequent meetings with fewer agenda items (that are not expected to last more than 2 hours), or moving the venue to a more hospitable location that can accommodate a larger audience (although I fully understand why the Council Chambers are used, since live broadcasting of the SC meetings are highly desired).

Don’t get me wrong:  all of the agenda items Monday night were important.  Especially the recognitions (we’ll miss all the graduating Seniors and the retiring faculty, but look forward to continued Athletic achievements in the Fall and the announcement of any additional awards for Rebecca Grossman’s video!).  And the DecisionInsite Enrollment Report.  And the votes to approve the revised FY17 budget, the plan to renovate the first floor of the Phillips Building and allocate classes (Proposal #3), and the members of the Steering Committee for Master Plan Facilities Study.  Not to mention the Committee’s normal monthly Action Items, Forums, and Reports.  All were important, but increasingly, to me, there just seems to be too much to cover in one monthly, two-hour meeting.

Perhaps as part of their “retreat” next week, the School Committee might also consider that presentations, like the DecisionInsite Enrollment Report, might be better conducted in an open forum where, if parents and School Committee members are given the information in advance, an actual dialogue can be achieved.  I am sure that I am not alone in wondering how much of an impact that report – for which we all waited these long weeks with bated breath – actually had in informing the construction of Proposal #3 and the SC’s decision to approve it, with such limited time for review and digestion.  Specific questions about the study and the details continue to be raised by the parents and others not on the SC, which might go without a public, transparent answer, since those questions were not posed during the Public Forum opportunities of the SC meeting.

Agreeing with all the comments made by my fellow WSS commenters above, I have much concern about the immediate future, the start of school in September.  One concern in particular:  The Policy Subcommittee’s task to hammer out all the details around the use (and then stopping use) of the Central Registration to assign incoming students to a school before the end of August is not small, nor insignificant.  It requires much transparency and communication, so that the parents and residents (and prospective residents and families) of Watertown will know exactly what will transpire at the end of August and throughout the next school year.  I encourage all parents and Watertown residents to continue to ask our elected officials to be more transparent and communicate with us “early and often”.