This meeting began with three announcements from the superintendent: she has been attending (and enjoying!) 6th grade graduations at the various elementary schools, the schools' budgets will be presented at Town Meeting starting on Monday (June 22nd), and the parents/staff surveys are continuing to come in from all schools (today is, I believe, the final deadline). She also noted that student surveys will be administered this fall. Mike Morris also thanked the Crocker Farm community for responding to a student in need.
We then turned to the School Improvement Plan for Fort River, which was presented by principal Ray Sharick. I don't want to give a long summary of this (because there were multiple handouts and I don't want to not do the presentation justice), but there were three specific goals noted: curriculum (across all areas, including an examination of data for how students in general and by subgroup were performing), instruction (with a particular emphasis on differentiation), and other (which included scheduling and communication). Members of the SC asked a few questions, including how consistent curriculum was both within different classrooms at Fort River and across the different schools (Steve), plans for hiring a new assistant principal (me), concern about the potentially negative impact of the word "subgroup" (Kathleen), how social justice was being implemented/seen (Kathleen), how data was being used (Andy), how science and social studies fit into the curriculum, given the lack of MCAS accountability on these subjects (me). The answers were (briefly) - consistency is a work in progress (some grades better than others), new assistant principal to be hired as soon as possible (probably July), "subgroup" is a widely-used term in MCAS but is problematic in a sense, social justice is seen in high achievement by all students (regardless of demographics), looking at data is just beginning, and science/social studies alternate throughout the year (unlike math/English) but time is always tight and limited.
Next, principal Nick Yaffe described the Mark's Meadow School Improvement Plan. This plan had five goals: inquiry, teaching/learning/curriculum, belonging and caring, social justice and anti-bias curriculum, and connections to our community. (Again, I'm not going to summarize ALL of the parts of this presentation but they will be summarized in the SC minutes, which will be posted on the web in a few weeks). Members of the SC then had various questions, including how science is implemented at MM (Steve), how the anti-bias curriculum ("Undoing Racism) was implemented (Kathleen) how the Investigations math curriculum works at MM (me), and how the major 6th grade UN trip works into the curriculum (me). The answers were (again, briefly) - there is a greater focus on consistency of science units across the district, thanks to the work of science coordinator Pat Cahill; the Undoing Racism workshops were presented to all staff/teachers on curriculum days (three days throughout the year) with homework in between; the Investigations math curriculum has worked OK for the English language learners but needed some revision by teachers and we need some more time to assess its effectiveness; and the UN trip is part of a 6th grade course of study on "world regions" and is very educational and enjoyable.
Nick then talked about the plans for the closing of Marks Meadow at the end of the 2009-2010 school year (this piece of the meeting was summarized in the Gazette article I posted last week). He has written a thoughtful letter which describes what he is sharing with the MM community, which includes focusing on "celebrating who we are as a community" and asking "ourselves what aspect of the Mark's Meadow spirit we will take with us when we go to a new school." I believe Nick spoke thoughtfully and sincerely about the type of leadership he will bring to the school, and indeed to the district, in the upcoming year (which will be a challenging one for all kids/families/staff/teachers/schools).
Next, and relatedly, the superintendent described the redistricting plan update. Proposals were requested from multiple firms which consult in educational redistricting and capacity analysis, and the services of a firm (DeJong-Healy) in Ohio have been secured (for $4,750). They will review the proposals made this far, and will develop a recommendation for how to redistrict (based on demographic projections and capacity at the three current schools). This work will be completed by June 29, 2009.
We then had some discussion on this process. Steve noted that other schools do close, and we should learn from schools/districts that have handled this transition well. He also noted that the community of MM is all facing the same challenge (e.g., their school is closing) together, whereas students at the other schools would face a less cohesive challenge (e.g., some students would be moving, others not). I then asked about whether we were considering the placement of 6th grade in these plans, given that redistricting 1300 students to three buildings has different implications than redistricting 1100 students (and hence lines might be drawn in different places). Maria noted that the proposal was to redistrict K to 6, and hence that was the focus of this firm, but it might be possible to also ask for lines to be drawn for K to 5. I noted that redistricting once K to 6 and then again (in a few years) K to 5 could involve having some kids have three transitions during elementary school, and hence we really needed to think through these issues at the same time. I felt this was particularly important since some MM families have been highly concerned about both very large schools (with 1300 kids, it would probably be 500 kids, 450 kids, 350 kids, whereas with 1100 kids, it would be 400-400-300) and the use of so many half-wall classrooms in the quads at FR and WW (we would need to use 23 or 24 quad classrooms in FR and WW with 1300 kids, but only 20 or so classrooms with 1100 kids, which means you'd almost eliminate the need for using the inner-most classrooms). Steve agreed with these points, and we asked to have this on the agenda for the regional meeting on June 23rd.
Finally, we accepted some gifts, discussed plans for upcoming meetings (including the potential of moving to a place in which we could have "live" meetings), and learned that the WW school improvement plan would be presented this fall.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.