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Thread: Topics for conversation: June 15 School Committee Retreat

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    Default Topics for conversation: June 15 School Committee Retreat

    In its May 20th newsletter, the School Committee asked the community to suggest potential topics for its upcoming June 15th "retreat" (see the newsletter for details; click here to subscribe or send an email to subscribe@waylandschoolcommittee.org).

    Here's a summary of the suggestions received thus far--note that these represent the opinions of the contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Committee or its individual members. Additions welcome--send email to info@waylandschoolcommittee.org. Note that the Committee, which will be setting the retreat agenda shortly, will not have enough time at the retreat to address every topic, many of which are under discussion in other forums.

    • Differentiated instruction
    • Chinese language instruction (MS level)
    • Process skills (sometimes described oddly as "21st Century" skills)
    • Balance of curricular and co-curricular programs
    • High School curriculum
    • ES curriculum/program
    • Student/parent feedback on teacher performance
    • Planning for administrative turnover
    • Superintendent/district goals
    • Technology
    • SPED costs
    • Transportation
    • Alternate fund-raising
    • Transparency
    • Meeting schedule

    Differentiated instruction
    How can we further improve instruction to those in the “bottom-middle” who don’t qualify for an IEP/504 as well as to those who are performing well above grade level? While worksheets and software may provide a quick fix, can we add more teaching resources or accelerate content taught beyond grade level? (For instance, why can’t a group of advanced 1st grade students be taught the 2nd or 3rd grade level for a particular unit in Everyday Mathematics? Could they share time with a specialist, teacher or assistant who can cover the new material? Can we improve differentiated instruction without adding additional costs by simply coordinating schedules or having teachers share best practices?)

    Chinese language instruction (MS level)
    Chinese language instruction starting at Wayland Middle School. For a small fraction of our school budget (roughly $120,000 for 1.5 FTEs covering 6 sections for grades 7-12), we can truly prepare Wayland students for an unprecedented opportunity in the global economy. Why Middle School? An after-school program meeting once a week for an hour is simply insufficient. Language proficiency requires instruction that starts at an early age, is well-sequenced, and continues for a long duration.

    = It takes 2,200 hours (12.2 years @ 5x/wk) of Chinese language instruction to reach the same level of proficiency as 600 hours (3.3 years @5x/wk) of instruction in French or Spanish – nearly 9 more school years are needed for Chinese! (Source: State Department’s Foreign Service Institute)

    = Research shows that the capability for native comprehension, grammar and pronunciation declines around puberty

    = Many “broken pipelines” block proficiency and waste time. We should offer continuity and appropriate level classes to students who have been investing in Chinese classes after school and on weekends – let’s foster that interest!

    = Wellesley and Weston, among many other public schools, are offering Chinese starting in Middle School

    Process skills (sometimes described oddly as "21st Century" skills)
    Over the past 6 - 8 years there has been a big focus across the country on content, curriculum, and testing. More recently there has been a lot of discussion in the education community about 21st century teaching and learning. What are Wayland's plans for helping our kids to develop essential 21st century skills -- writing, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, self-expression, technology literacy, etc?

    Balance of curricular and co-curricular programs
    I suggest you consider as a long-range policy planning subject the optimum balance of resource allocation and focus along the grade spectrum. Or for those less abstractly oriented, is full day kindergarten or high school football more important?

    High School curriculum
    Here is a short list of changes I would like to see at the high school, regardless of whether/when there are improvements in the physical plant:

    = Vastly increased AP offerings. High schools are judged and ranked in part on the percentage of students taking AP courses and taking AP tests. I have spoken to Mr. Tutweiler about this and he has agreed with me that at least fifty percent of the student body at the HS is capable of AP level work, yet a far lower percentage (perhaps 20%?) actually take AP courses/tests. I realize that teachers tend to favor the teaching of honors courses over AP courses because with the former they have more control over the substance of what is taught, and can teach those topics of interest to them. While I respect that point of view, it may be a luxury that we can no longer afford. If we do not have sufficient faculty or space to add AP offerings to the current curriculum, then replace honors courses with AP courses - and encourage students to take the exams. Even if you make no other changes, PLEASE CONSIDER DOING THIS! The higher the high school is ranked, the more likely it is that the district will continue to receive taxpayer support and our property values will be preserved.

    = To the extent that it is possible (with item 1 being a priority), more interdisciplinary instruction.

    = Stronger central administration in setting academic policy.

    = A publicly stated academic vision for the high school, with stated goals and objectives, and performance measures to inform the public on how those goals and objectives are being achieved.

    ES curriculum/program
    After reading the comments from the 2008 SC survey last winter, it was disappointing to see so many negative comments regarding the ES. One comment that sticks in my head was, "Our elementary schools are no longer special." A discussion on how to evaluate the existing ES programs and facilities along with ensuring that the experience is similar across the ES schools would certainly be appreciated by many of the people who filled out your survey and those who have young children preparing to enter the system.

    Student/parent feedback on teacher performance
    One thought I've had recently concerns communication and feedback regarding teacher quality. Because organizations committed to continuous improvement always solicit customer feedback I wonder what Wayland schools could do to gather information regarding student/parent input on teacher performance. Whitney Tandon fielded a very short electronic survey
    which did a really nice job hitting the major points related to their program.

    Planning for administrative turnover
    Again, after reading the comments from the 2008 surveys, there were many negative comments regarding our existing administration. I think that these comments should be taken seriously. Considering that the MS principal is currently doing a two-year stint to fill in since Dr. Schlagel left, the Superintendent is nearing the end of his contract, and the Business Administrator has talked about leaving in the next couple years, the SC should be planning now for these vacancies. Planning should involve a discussion of what Wayland wants in its top administrators. In the past couple of years, administrative positions (HH principal, CP principal, Director of Student Service, Assistant Superintendent) have all been internal hires with little or no outside search for candidates. By contrast, the HS principal was found using a community involved search committee and it appears that most people are pleased with the results. A discussion comparing internal hiring procedures versus external searches might be warranted.

    Superintendent/district goals
    The Superintendent and the SC together come up with goals for the superintendent for the year. I would like to see the SC discuss the superintendents' goals for the coming year and what their expectations are. For example, if one of the goals is a greening of the schools then setting up a parent/teacher committee to look at recycling in the various schools would be supporting that goal but in a very shallow way. Considering that the SC approves the goals, a discussion of how they would expect those goals to be met over the next 1 to 5 years would be a helpful exercise for everyone. It would also allow the SC to more effectively evaluate the superintendent.

    Technology
    Please make reduction of operating expenses by use of technology (or any other means) a major subject for your strategic planning.

    SPED costs
    Managing special education costs. I have attached a case study on Arlington Public Schools that may help our school system address the issue of rising costs while improving student outcomes.

    Transportation
    The school year is wrapping up and there has been little or no information regarding next year's bussing. Many parents that I talk to are confused about who will need to pay and who will not. The SC may want to consider directing the administration as to what the goals of the new procedures should be.

    For example, are we going to offer bussing to anyone who is willing to pay the $180 fee? If have a first grader who lives .5 miles from HH and we live on a bus route, but do not currently ride the bus, can I pay $180 for my child ride the bus next year?

    If you look at the four busses currently used for HH, with the new two mile limit, I would suspect that you would not even fill up two busses with children who live more than two miles away. Is Wayland going to "sell", or have a lottery for, the extra seats on the busses after re-working the routes for the mandatory bussing? This could save a significant amount of money in the transportation budget but the trade off might be increase congestion around the schools. Then again, I doubt HH has 140 children, two full busses of children, riding the existing four busses now which would lead me to believe that traffic would be no worse.

    Or, do we keep the same four bus routes running at HH and ask those under two miles to pay? What about children who did not ride the bus this year because the lived too close but want to pay to ride the bus next year? Do we need to add new crossing guards to any locations? What will the policy be for kindergarten children?

    Considering that each bus costs about $50K and selling all 71 seats for $180 brings in less than $13K, are we going to continue to subsidize transportation for children who we are not required to bus? If so, are we going to do this for everyone regardless of were they live? Are we going to bus any HS student who is willing to pay if they live more than two miles? What if they live 1.5 miles? What if they live one mile away?

    Is it possible to start 6th grade at 8:30 and let them share the busses with the k-5 kids? Wayland is not required by law to provide any bussing for the 7-12 graders. What would this option look like? How much would it cost? What if you ran extra busses for the HS/MS students but people paid what they really cost? What if Wayland supported, even rewarded, car-pooling?

    Parents need to be made aware of the new procedures and feel that they are fair, reasonable, and most of all well planned and implemented. Please try to make next year's bussing changes as smooth as possible while at the same time saving as much money for more important school programs that are being cut.

    Alternate fund-raising
    Consider: naming of buildings/parts of buildings; advertising; fundraising campaign aimed at WHS graudates.

    Current policy on advertising: Advertising of commercial products or services will only be permitted in school buildings or on school grounds or properties with the permission of school administration. Publications of the School District will not contain any advertising. However, this policy will not prohibit advertising in student publications that are published by student organizations, subject to administration controls, or the use of commercially-sponsored, free teaching aids if the content thereof is approved by the administration.

    Transparency
    Would the SC consider any of the following?
    = Providing more detail budgeting information

    = Providing more detail in the SC minutes (HSBC does an excellent job of this)

    = Providing a packet of information at the SC meetings for people attending the meeting to review. Obviously some of the information is confidential and cannot be included. However, if you are serious amount welcoming the public to your meetings you should allow them to review what it is you are talking about. (The HSBC does a great job using the overhead to project what they are discussing, and passing out extra copies of documents for people in attendance to review. Even if 4 people are sharing one document it is so much better than sitting there in the dark.) One extra packet of information, placed on the sign-in table, for people to review would be a nice gesture.

    Every taxpayer in Wayland has the right to see how the money is being spent, providing an online checkbook would do this. I would ask every department in Wayland to do this, not just the school.

    Meeting schedule
    If the SC is feeling as if there are more items to discuss than there are meetings to handle it, would you consider meeting every week? [editor's note: I'm reminded of the old saw, "Just be thankful you don't get all the government you pay for."]
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    Last edited by Jeff Dieffenbach; 06-09-2009 at 12:42 PM. Reason: Addition of topic list; clarification of retreat agenda; typo correction

  2. #2
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    The School Committee narrowed down the list of potential retreat topics to the following six, while being clear to acknowledge the importance of many of the others and their being addressed in other venues.

    1. Long Range Strategic Planning
    2. Differentiated instruction
    3. Balance of curricular and co-curricular program
    4. Planning for administrative turnover
    5. Additional revenue sources
    6. Committee transparency

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