Unofficial Minutes: School Committee Meeting 2/1/16

2/1/2016 School Committee Meeting Agenda [embed]http://wcatv.org/vod/school-committee-19/[/embed]

Note: These are NOT official School Committee minutes

MLK Essays: Congratulations to Roua Alwaz, Grade 8 from the Middle School and Stella Varnum, Grade 11 from the High School on being recognized for their prize winning MLK essays!

High School Student Advisors: Spoke about a new Fab Lab class being offered at the high school.  Students now have an official class to take, rather than using it during study period and other free time.  She also spoke about upcoming events.

Public Forum #1: No speakers

Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES): Adam Silverberg, 6-12 World Language Coordinator spoke about the proposed program. He has been meeting monthly with 10 people (high school language teachers, elementary principals and elementary teachers) putting together recommendations.  They have also worked with a World Language consultant, Gary Duncan. The goal of the program is to reach all learners in all schools.  The language teacher will speak only in the target language. Recommendations were:

  • Start in the PreK and Kindergarten next year in all Elementary Schools
  • Spanish is the recommended language
  • Meet 5x per week for 30 minutes

The general education teacher will remain in the classroom when the foreign language is taught. While the recommendations is to teach language 5x per week for 30 minutes, that can be scaled back to 3x a week for 30 minutes if needed, but it is not recommended.  The importance of getting full support from the teachers before implementing the program was discussed by the School Committee, they want general education teachers to feel that the foreign language is adding education value, not taking it away. What programming will be given up in those 30 minutes? No clear answer was given.

The program is expected to cost 0.45% above the current school budget and will require 3 language teachers in year one ramping up to 9 teachers eventually.  Each year a new grade will be added, eventually spanning PreK-12. It was disappointing that FLES information was not provided in presentation form and the budget projections were not provided to the public in a handout.  I had to ask a SC member for the actual program costs. The importance of fully committing financially to this program before implementing it was discussed. Nobody wants to offer it for one year and then have to cancel it.  Further discussion will happen at the Budget and Finance Subcommittee meetings.

Estimated program costs:

  • Year 1 $187,212.  This includes adding 3 teachers (assuming M1 salary level), professional development, teaching and learning materials, and technology support (computers, projectors,etc).
  • Year 2 $109,886. This includes 2 additional teachers, teaching and learning materials and technology support.
  • Year 3 $54,943. This includes 1 additional teacher, teaching and learning materials and technology support.

Class Size (Current and Projected): In light of enrollment trends and current over crowding in the elementary schools, class size information was provided via handout at the meeting. Current class size information is as of 2/1/2016.  The classes that stand out currently are a Grade 2 class at the Cunniff with 25 students and the two 4th grade classes at the Cunniff with 26 and 28 students. Next year, at the Cunniff there is projected to be a class with 24 students and one with 25, and the Hosmer is projected to have three large classes (two at 24 and one at 25). In the current 4th grade class at the Cunniff, there are 9 students on IEPs and 6 ELL students making the overcrowding that more challenging for the students and staff. The Cunniff school principal Mena Ciarlone, discussed how they are handling the large 4th grade classes. She met with parents in the affected classrooms last week and starting today, a smaller group of students are taken out and moved from space to space every other day except Wednesdays when there is no open space available.  While I commend the creative thinking on the part of the Cunniff school staff, this situation is less than ideal and needs a better short term solution as soon as possible. I would personally like to see the town lease a modular classroom for a few months while the district figures out other solutions. The Hosmer principal stated that his school is currently at capacity. Classroom space has been made out of one of the gyms and in other spaces.

See a summary of the class size information provided below (I believe current guidelines in Watertown for Elementary class sizes are near 20 for the lower grades and below 25 for the higher grades):

  • K: No class sizes currently over 18 at any school; Next year the Cunniff is projected to have 2 classes with 20 students.
  • Grade 1: Currently, all Cunniff classes are below 20, Hosmer has 3 classes over 20 (2 at 21 and one with 23), all the classes at the Lowell are at or above 20 students (two at 20 and two at 21). Next year, the Cunniff is expected to have all classes above 20 (one at 21 and one at 22), Hosmer will have all classes at or below 20 students, and the Lowell will have all classes below 20 students.
  • Grade 2: Currently, all Cunniff classes are above 20 students (23 and 25), Hosmer has all of its classes at or below 20 students, Lowell classes are all above 20 students (two at 22 and one at 23).  Next year, all Cunniff classes are projected to be below 20 students. Homer will have several classes above 20 students (two at 21, and one at 23), while the Lowell will have two classes above 20 at 21.
  • Grade 3: Currently, the Cunnif has one class above 20 students with 22. Homer has three classes at 21 and all classes at the Lowell are above 20 students (two at 22 and one at 23). Next year, the Cunniff will have both classes above 20 students (24 and 25). All classes at the Hosmer will be at or below 20 students.
  • Grade 4: Currently, the Cunniff has two very large classes (26 and 28). All classes at the Hosmer are above 20 (two at 21 and two at 22). The Lowell classes are all below 20. Next year, Cunniff classes are projected to be above 20 (22 and 21).  The Hosmer is projected to have all classes above 20 (two at 24, one at 25, and one at 21). The Lowell classes are projected to all be above 20 as well (two at 22 and one at 23).
  • Grade 5: Currently, all classes at the Cunniff are above 20 students (21, 22) with the exception of the inclusion class which has 12 students. All classes but one at the Hosmer are below 20 (21). All classes at the Lowell are above 20 (two at 23 and one at 24). Next year Cunniff is projected to have two classes at 21. All Hosmer classes are projected to be over 20 (two at 21 and two at 22), while all classes at the Lowell will be under 20 students.

Rennie Center Report: There was a discussion about the Rennie Center Report on the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth.  The report's focus was on recommendations around Social/Emotional Learning. The superintendent will give a presentation at March's School Committee meeting showing that Watertown is ahead of the curve on all that it is doing in this area. Stay tuned.

Subcommittee Assignments: The following subcommittee assignments were voted and approved.

  • Budget and Finance: John Portz, Chair (one year transition); Guido Guidotti, Candace Miller
  • Buildings and Grounds: Liz Yusem, Chair; Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Kendra Foley
  • Curriculum: Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Chair; Candace Miller, Liz Yusem
  • Policy: Guido Guidotti, Chair; Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Liz Yusem
  • Athletics: Kendra Foley, Chair; Guido Guidotti, Candace Miller
  • Contract negotiating committee for Unit A: John Portz, Kendra Foley

Buildings and Grounds Report: Liz Yusem gave a detailed report on the meeting.  Those minutes should be posted soon.  See the earlier Buildings and Grounds unoffical summary post for further details. Several School Committee members asked about timing of the RFP and expected study results. No firm timeframe was given. The impression was given that the study may not be completed in time to have recommendations in time to be implemented for the Fall.  Members pressed to move quickly on the RFP and resulting study.  Concerned parents and residents should press the Buildings and Grounds committee for a timely turnaround so plans can be implemented for the upcoming school year.  There seems to be some confusion as to the scope of the study. It was my understanding that this was to be a study to discern short term solutions. A study focusing on longer term solutions may be necessary in the future, but we need something to help us make decisions in the short term to address overcrowding.  This needs to be resolved in a timely manner.

Public Forum #2: Paul Weeden spoke, asking about the potential use of two basement classrooms at the Cunniff as a way to ease overcrowding.  The superintendent said the business manager and the interim facilities manager can relook at that space, but she feels that it is not appropriate for a classroom as it is below ground and has water damage, etc. Mike Shepard, former School Committee member and former Chair of Buildings and Grounds stated that the space was declared unsafe, lacked a sprinkler system, was in the oldest part of the building and was too expensive to fix.

Chairman's report: A search will start soon for a new Assistant Superintendent and a new Director of Special Education. There will be public forums on these two positions once finalists have been chosen. This is expected to take place after the March School Committee meeting where dates and times for the public forums will be announced.  There will be a meeting of the Budget and Finance subcommittee Monday February 8th at 6pm. Location to be determined.  The long awaited third party audit of school finances is near completion. It is expected to be presented to a joint Town Council/School Committee meeting in March.

Superintendent's report: Watertown's relationship with Minuteman is being discussed with the Town Manager. Currently, Watertown is not a member of the Minuteman district. Watertown pays tuition to send our students to Minuteman. Currently 71 students attend Minuteman and the Superintendent just authorized 10 students to attend.

This Friday 2/5 or Monday 2/8 a survey will go out to parents and students regarding school start times.  Parents and students are encouraged to take the survey and share their thoughts. Watertown is considering pushing back school start times at the high school and middle school.  The Superintendent is working with Deb King of the WEA to craft a survey to get the perspective of teachers.

The Superintendent is rolling out a TV show called "The Superintendent's Notebook". This working with Watertown High School students to produce the show.  The first show will cover STEAM and the next show will be about Global Competency.  Please tune in.

There will be a showing of the film "Most Likely to Succeed" on 2/4 at the high school. Everyone is encouraged to attend.

Next Meeting: March 7, 2016

Minutes written by: Alyson Morales [contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]