Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our Children

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, communication between LPS Central Office and Principals remained open to the School Committee over the weekend.  I was inspired by what I read from our administrators: by their dedication and care for staff and students, by their thoughtfulness and collaboration with colleagues, and by their exemplary leadership to their school communities.

Some among us would be quick to point out that it is their job to do so. And they'd be right.

But while we expect school administration to review safety procedures and protocols and to forward supporting resources for students and families following such unconscionable violations on elementary school children and their educators, we should not be surprised that they reveal their deep love and care for neighbors and humanity, too.

What an incalculable loss in those twenty innocent young lives, in those six dedicated educators!

It is true that some children face deadly violence in their neighborhoods on a daily basis.  And, even though the violence rarely happens in school, wherever it happens, children are affected.  Whether the violence is experienced locally or through the media, parents, educators, and communities have had to explore ways of helping children cope in the aftermath of impossible violence.

Friday's violence happened in a school, a place where so many work every day and to which they returned Monday.  Friday's victims were children (just like ours) and others were educators (also like ours) who died trying to protect their students. One does not often think of Principals "ministering" in a kind of pastoral way to  parents and community members, but that is what they did, and did so against their own sorrow and grief.

Principals and the Superintendent forwarded excellent resources to school communities in Global Connect messages on Friday and Saturday; community members shared those messages in turn with our larger community. My heart went out to all of our teachers and staff returning to work after spending the weekend in sorrow, thinking about the needs of students, colleagues, and families and preparing for Monday.

I learned last night (at our SC meeting) of some personal ties and connections between our Town and Newtown. One family relocated from Newtown to Lexington just last year. Several staff members are connected to police, fire, and medical personnel there.

Often, when we talk about "safe schools", we mean keeping students safe from bias, bullying, from negative messages that limit their opportunities to learn and grow, not as places where life itself is in danger...

It's heartbreaking to realize that sometimes they are.

My Take

This post is my view of last night's School Committee meeting, an unofficial set of minutes.  (Meeting Agenda was posted here on the Sunday before). I invite you to view the entire meeting "onDemand" via LexMedia (posting may take several days). 

The meeting began and ended as anticipated in the Town Office Building, Selectmen's Meeting Room.  Following the Call to Order & Executive Session at 7:02 PM, the Committee returned to Open Session at 7:35 PM.

Chair Margaret Coppe began with a moment of silence out of respect for the lives lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy last Friday.  She then read a statement on behalf of the School Committee, published in the Lexington Patch and Lexington Minuteman.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Ash also expressed his sadness for the loss of life to elementary school children and school staff.  He invited Police Chief Mark Corr, Fire Chief John Wilson, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Finance Ms. Mary Ellen Dunn, and Director of Public Facilities Mr. Pat Goddard to the meeting to address concerns related to school safety.

Chief Corr said, "no one wants to hear that they [his department] have received new military-grade assault weapons" and that they have been to Hartwell Ave, training for the impossible, but that is what has been happening.  They will be prepared to respond as quickly as possible in the event of the impossible.  Chief Wilson said that the schools will have everything they need from his department.  Ms. Dunn described Crisis Management Teams (a.k.a. Incident Management Teams) at each school, of which building principals are a part.  Each Team is equipped  with a "go bag" and an "All Hazards Guide", created as part of LPS' Readiness & Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) implementation grants.  Mr. Goddard described some of the security features at all schools and entrances.

School Committee members had questions, responses, and comments.  I had loosely prepared some remarks pertaining to the Newtown tragedy - - I will post them in a separate post after this.

Members had various reports and updates to share:
  • Vice-Chair Alessandrini informed about the "how-do-we-begin-to-restore-elementary-foreign-language" meeting he and I attended last week with Elementary Principals Trach, Lipsitz, and Anton, and Assistant Superintendent Pilarski.  We were presented with the approach to elementary school schedules; he asked that the members of the Committee receive the schedules that we saw.  
  • Member Bonnie Brodner updated on the Cary Memorial Building's renovation project and asked Member Jessie Steigerwald to share information related to upcoming Capital Projects Planning Committee meetings (to which she is a voting member liaison).
  • Member Steigerwald attended an EDCO Collaborative meeting and shared that Weston has a subcommittee looking at a later start to the high school day; Weston is interested in LHS' later start (8:30 AM) on Wednesdays.
  • I attended the Permanent Building Committee (PBC) meeting last Thursday and updated related to the two school renovation projects at Bridge & Bowman Schools and the new Estabrook Elementary School project.
At Bridge & Bowman, PBC reviewed :
  • Scheduling the core rooms behind the library (referred to as "D-2")
  • HVAC refinement
  • Punch list from Phase 1
  • TLT Construction's approach to planning and scheduling the various trades for the period from now through summer
  • Work continues during vacations, on nights and weekends
At Estabrook:
  • Project is on schedule
  • The GMP (guaranteed maximum price) is due to MSBA in early January
I also raised the fiscal issues related to pending federal sequestration budget cuts and the governor's recent mid-year 9C budget cuts for FY13.  State tax receipts are lower than projected.  The cut to the state's special education circuit breaker reimbursement account (identified at $11 million) will have an impact to LPS.  Added to the as yet unknown Congressional outcome of pending across-the-board sequestration federal budget cuts (identified as an additional potential $300 million cut to Massachusetts) and we are in for some interesting times.  The 9C budget cut process is designed to ensure that the Commonwealth's overall budget remains balanced.  View the FY13 budget HERE and details related to the 9C cuts HERE.  I also recommend viewing the non-partisan MassBudget and Policy Center (MBPC) analysis, found HERE.  For information about federal sequestration, check HERE and HERE.

When we got to the first item on the Agenda, it was 8:30.  We approved the Unit A Contract (teachers' contract) with the Lexington Education Association (Massachusetts Teachers Association union affiliate).  As a member of the bargaining team, I was thrilled to learn that the LEA had ratified the new three-year contract only a few hours before our meeting.  The terms agreed to were 2% in year one; 2.25% in year two; and 2.75% in year three.

Tom Plati, Director of Educational Technology and Assessment, clarified some 2012 MCAS data.  Member Steigerwald objected to claims that LPS had "closed the achievement gap".  Why it is true that MCAS scores in 10th grade ELA were100% Proficient or Advanced (no Warning or Needs Improvement), we are committed to high achievement for all students and for the long haul.  Dr. Ash said there would be no "resting on laurels"; results of the focused work of getting all students to Proficiency are just beginning to bear fruit.

This proved a perfect segue to the presentation on the District-wide Professional Development to Increase Educator Capacity and Student Learning.  Mr. Len Swanton, Director of Professional Development (now referred to as "professional learning") and Ms. Carol Pilarski, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development, gave an impassioned, comprehensive presentation on meeting student needs with better tools for teaching through professional learning.  Their presentation, in turn, perfectly teed-up Dr. Ash's Update on Improving Professional Relationships. Presentation documents will be posted HERE.

The meeting adjourned at 10:55 PM.  The next meeting of the School Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, January 8, 2013, at 7:30 PM in the Town Office Building, Selectmen's Meeting Room, 1625 Massachusetts Avenue, when we expect Dr. Ash to present the FY14 School Budget.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

School Committee Meeting - Agenda

 Agenda for the School Committee meeting this Tuesday, December 18 (below). I am looking forward to items #3 and 4; stay tuned to this space for my updates from the meeting, to be posted Wednesday, December 19:

Lexington School Committee Meeting
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Lexington Town Office Building, Selectmen's Meeting Room
1625 Massachusetts Avenue

7:00 PM Call to Order

7:01 PM Executive Session
Exemption 3 - To Discuss Collective Bargaining Regarding the teachers' Contract
Exemption 3 - to Discuss Executive Session Minutes relative to Litigation

7:30 PM Return to Public Session and Welcome
Public Comment - (Written comments to be presented to the School Committee; oral presentations not to exceed three minutes.)

7:40 PM Superintendent's Announcements

7:45 PM Members' Reports/Members' Concerns

8:00 PM Agenda

1.  Vote to Approve the Unit A Contract with the Lexington Education Association (10 minutes)
2.  Additional 2012 MCAS Data (10 minutes)
3.  Report on the District-wide Professional Development to Increase Educator Capacity and Student Learning (60 minutes)
4.  Update on Improving Professional Relationships (15 minutes)
5.  Vote to accept a $100 Donation from Lueders Environmental, Inc. (2 minutes)
6.  Vote to Approve School Committee Minutes of August 28, 2012 (2 minutes)
7.  Vote to Approve School Committee Minutes of October 16, 2012 (2 minutes)
8.  Vote to Approve School Committee Minutes of November 19, 2012 (2 minutes)
9.  Vote to Approve and Release School Committee Executive Session Minutes of August 14, 2012 (2 minutes)
10. Vote to Approve and Not Release School Committee Executive Session Minutes of August 30, 2012 (2 minutes)
11.  Vote to Approve and Not Release School Committee Executive Session Minutes of October 22, 2012 (2 minutes)

The next meeting of the School Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, January 8, 2013, at 7:30 PM in the Town Office Building, Selectmen's Meeting Room, 1625 Massachusetts Avenue.

All agenda items and the order of items are approximate and subject to change.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Last night, the School Committee met for our annual meeting with families in Boston participating in the METCO program, the second oldest desegregation program in the country.  The program provides support services to students, staff, and parents around academic, cultural, and social issues.  About 250 students are bused each day from Boston to attend Lexington Public Schools.

We were privileged to hear directly from three students, two current and one graduate, who shared their experiences and challenges.  One student, a junior at LHS and a METCO Scholar, stated that her experience has been very positive.  She noted that there is great support from parents and staff for academics as well as for social-emotional issues.  One challenge has been that some teachers of AP had not expected to see her (as a person of color) in the higher level classes.

The second speaker, a sophomore, talked of how she is benefitting from her METCO experience:  she is exploring several post-secondary options for college, including careers in photography, meteorology, and teaching.  Through the Today's Student Tomorrow's Teachers (TSTT) program she is learning a lot about potentially becoming a teacher.  LHS is one of five high schools in Massachusetts participating in TSTT.  TSTT's Mission is to recruit, mentor, and train culturally diverse and economically challenged students and place them as effective teachers and committed leaders who strengthen schools and communities.

The last student who spoke was a 2012 LHS graduate who currently attends Lesley University.  She spoke about the benefits of METCO relative to the cultural exchange and being exposed to resources and networks that she might not otherwise have had access to.  She also shared that the program helped her to become more comfortable with diversity and that had a positive impact on her first semester in college.  She said that LHS successfully prepared her for this part of her life.

Having participated in the Family Friends Program when our children were in elementary school, this meeting solidified my understanding that not only is METCO an integral program of educational excellence in Lexington, but it has a positive impact on building community between Boston and Lexington and that lasting cultural and social benefits extend beyond the school day.

Lexington has participated in the METCO program since its inception more than forty years ago and in the Greater Boston area, there are at least ten districts participating: Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Concord-Carlisle, Foxborough, Needham, Reading, Scituate, Wakefield, and Wayland. There is another METCO program out of Springfield, but I am not as familiar with that one. The state funds the entire program on an annual basis.  The current funding level, at $18,142,582 for FY13, is seriously underfunded.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

I learned that

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Eschew Sequestration

The following post appeared in the Lexington Minuteman weekly newspaper as a Letter to the Editor on December 7, 2012.

On January 2, 2013, Lexington Public Schools will experience federal budget cuts of more than eight percent, affecting vital education programs beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, unless Congress intervenes.

The across-the-board cuts known as "sequestration" are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, mandating reductions in both defense and non-defense discretionary programs as a means of deficit reduction, with no consideration for vital investments in long-term economic growth.  For school districts across the nation it will mean more than $4 billion in cuts to public education (pre-K through higher ed).  Cuts to programs like Title I and Special Education (IDEA) are across the board reductions; highest-need schools and students will suffer most, as their share of federal funding is higher.

Education is vital to long-term economic health.  Our community works hard to successfully educate college-, career-, and civic-ready students.  The success in our own community should not be jeopardized because members in Congress are incapable of indentifying a responsible, balanced, and bipartisan approach to deficit reduction that preserves investments in vital services for children and families.

For our schools, sequestration will mean reduced personnel, larger class sizes, less access to intervention programs, cutbacks in professional development, and more.  This will impact the overall quality of education for students and the overall economic health of our entire community.

Now is not the time for thoughtless, blunt reductions.  Now is the time for leadership in Washington, DC.  Join me in urging our own members of Congress to join with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to intervene and protect education.  Deficit reduction is needed, and I am counting on Congress to sideline the bickering and reach consensus on a responsible approach that doesn't place disproportionate burden on students by decimating our national investment in education and long-term competitiveness.