Friday, December 1, 2017

2017-18 District Priorities

I can’t believe it is the beginning of December!  It seems that only last week we were putting away our beach towels and preparing for a new school year and the arrival of our students.

But now that summer is way behind us and the school year is in full swing, let me share how impressed I am with the level of engagement, work, and learning I have observed this autumn in multiple visits to classrooms throughout the Needham Public Schools.  We are fortunate to have talented teachers and administrators promoting challenging learning opportunities for and building strong connections with each one of Needham’s exceptional young people.

Administrators, teachers, and staff are also working hard to use the District’s 2017-18 Goals to improve and strengthen learning for all students.  Some of the key activities within each goal area include:

Goal One:  Advance Learning for All Students
  Implement writing units of study across each elementary school and level.
  Articulate K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math (STEAM) curriculum and experiences; identify K-12 interdisciplinary experiences for all students.
  Expand and strengthen culturally sensitive and inclusive instructional practices, PreK-12.
  Promote the growth of teacher leaders to strengthen their capacity to support professional learning.

Goal Two:  Develop Social, Emotional, Wellness, and Citizenship Skills
  Complete equity audit to ensure all students have equal access to high quality and inclusive programs and instruction.
  Align social & emotional learning curriculum, instruction, and practices to the Collaborative for Academic, Social & Emotional Learning (CASEL) Framework.
  Administer district survey to measure and understand the impact of SEL practices.
  Ensure Community Service Leaning activities complement and strengthen SEL programs.

Goal Three:  Ensure Infrastructure Supports Student Learning Goals
  Develop new Technology Strategic Plan.
  Commence construction of the Sunita L. Williams Elementary School and Needham High School expansion.
  Develop plans for Fall 2019 implementation of full day and publicly funded Kindergarten.
  Continue to build on the strong culture of collaboration that empowers teacher voice and responsibility.

The district goals are meant to be a guide and a map and not a list of specific directions; School Improvement Plans and individual educator goals detail the steps and outcomes necessary to support these, and other, key district priorities.  We intend to use the goals and actions steps as a way to focus our work and resources in order to improve the learning experience for each child.  The goals are ambitious and the outcomes may be imperfect, but we are committed to the work and the opportunity to collaborate to advance teacher, school, and district initiatives. 

Later this spring we will update the community on our progress and seek input about how we might improve our efforts to ensure all children experience a rigorous, challenging, and creative education in the Needham Public Schools.  To view the complete goals document, check out the district’s website: 2017-18 Needham Public Schools Goals

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Next Generation MCAS

In spring 2017, students in grades 3-8 across Massachusetts, including in Needham, participated in the new MCAS test in English language arts and mathematics for the first time.  This "next generation" MCAS test is completely different and a more rigorous assessment than the MCAS assessment that had been administered in our schools for nearly the last 20 years.  During the week of November 6th, you will be receiving the results of your child's performance on this new assessment.

As you review the report, here are a few things to keep in mind:
· The next-generation MCAS is a new test with a different approach to assessing student performance in grades 3-8.  Spring 2017 scores are not comparable to previous years’ scores.
· The score levels for the next-generation MCAS are different from those of the legacy MCAS.  The four new categories are:  Exceeding Expectations (E), Meeting Expectations (M), Partially Meeting Expectations (PM) and Not Meeting Expectations (NM).  They replace the categories of Advanced (A), Proficient (P), Needs Improvement (NI), and Warning (W) used for the legacy MCAS.
· The new standards for "Meeting Expectations" are more rigorous than the standards for reaching the "Proficient" level on the legacy MCAS.  Therefore, some students who scored Proficient on the legacy MCAS in 2016 may score only “Partially Meeting Expectations” on the new 2017 MCAS. 
· The Spring 2017 is a baseline year for the new test in grades 3-8 and will set the achievement level for coming years.
· High school students are still taking the legacy MCAS tests. The next-generation tests will be introduced at the high school level in spring 2019.

We ask that you keep in mind that MCAS results are only one measure of your child’s performance.  Students in Needham are learning and growing both academically and socially, and teachers are supporting the diverse needs of all our students.  We remain on par with our comparable communities and continue to outperform the state on many measures, including the MCAS, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams.  Additionally, our teachers design local assessments and tests that provide detailed and helpful information about their students.  In short, we use many measures to understand student growth and target areas for student growth.

Over the weeks and months ahead, our teachers and principals will review and analyze these results to understand student needs and how we might make improvements in classroom instruction and test administration.  We want to continue to use the MCAS as one of many ways in which we measure and account for our students’ growth and achievement in the Needham Public Schools.

If you have questions about your child’s performance, please contact the school.  For more information about the MCAS and Needham's results, please check out this link:  Needham MCAS Information

A comprehensive report about these results and the MCAS will be presented to the School Committee later this winter.

Thanks to Dr. Terry Duggan, Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning, for providing this month's post!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Needham High School Expansion & Renovation: 1 Project Addresses 3 Critical Needs

At the October 2017 Special Town Meeting, Town Meeting Members will consider a request from the Needham School Committee to fund an expansion and renovation project at Needham High School where current and projected enrollment exceed the school's design capacity.  The project, totaling $14.2 million, will address three critical needs at the high school:
• Expands core academic classroom space to address significant overcrowding;
•  Renovates the original "A" Gym to repair several infrastructure problems and to meet growing school and community program needs; and
•  Replaces non-operational HVAC equipment.

View of High School Classroom Expansion from Webster St.
The classroom expansion component constructs a new ten-classroom wing at the Webster entry to the school.  The new wing will also include much needed conference, office, and storage space.  Several existing spaces within the high school would also be renovated to meet special education and student program needs.
The second component of this project would renovate the 1950s era "A" Gym, including the replacement or refurbishment of the floor, ceiling/lights, ventilation system, and walls; scoreboards and hoops would be replaced and/or relocated as appropriate.  Additionally, the project adds much needed equipment storage to the gym area to meet the demand for one of the largest interscholastic athletic programs in the state.
The third portion of the project improves boiler efficiency and replaces the defunct 300-ton chiller with two 250-ton chillers to provide adequate HVAC to the entire building.
If Town Meeting appropriates the funds for this construction project, work will begin next February 2018 and continue throughout the spring and summer; the expansion and renovations will be ready for the start of school next fall.
All three components of this one project will meet the needs of the high school for many, many years to come.  Students and teachers will have additional and appropriate space in which to learn and teach, and the building's infrastructure and systems will meet the growing enrollment and demand for services.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Listen Deeply, Make Mistakes, Inspire a Generation

Following are excerpts from the remarks I shared with the staff at our opening day meeting on August 28th:

Before I begin, I wish to extend my appreciation to my colleagues in the central office and all of the principals, administrators, and teachers who have worked to prepare for a new school year. I especially appreciate the efforts of our clerical, custodial, transportation, nutrition services, and technical staff who have tackled various projects getting ready for our students’ arrival on Wednesday. You know, the heart of our work is in the classroom—the exchange of ideas and learning between and among the teacher and students.  But our teachers are supported by so many others who assist them in this singularly important work. All of us, regardless of our roles, are on the same team, and all of us are serving for a greater purpose—to help young people learn, grow, and achieve.

Thanks to our dedicated School Committee members who support us throughout the school year; and I again appreciate having our Town Manager, Kate Fitzpatrick, here this morning.

I also want to thank a very special guest who braved travel from Houston through Hurricane Harvey to be here with us today:  Welcome to NHS Class of ’83 alum, Retired US Navy Captain, and NASA astronaut Sunita L. Williams! More about Captain Williams in a few minutes.

Well, I hope all of you had some down time over the summer months and an opportunity to relax and recharge!  

And now that we are back from our assorted adventures and travels we anticipate a new school year.  We prepare for our students’ return with great eagerness and, well to be fair, some degree of anxiety! This work you do is daunting and not for the feint of heart!  The work you do with children, shaping and encouraging young minds is a huge responsibility and it is a gift!  In my view, nothing is more important in society than helping young people grow and develop into adults who will assume their place in the community. Accept the excitement, anxiety and butterflies as both a sign of your preparation and readiness—and as a sign of the huge responsibility and commitment we have to the children and families we serve.  

I’ll confess to you that the superintendent also gets butterflies…  I stress out about what to say, and I often worry—a lot—that I will not meet your expectations.  I go for extra long runs to drain the fear and steady the nerves. I run a lot! 

To be honest, in light of national events, particularly the recent violence in Charlottesville, I have struggled mightily with how to address you. On the one hand, it’s important to keep politics and polarization away from the schoolhouse where we have an obligation to remain evenhanded, impartial, and balanced. In our roles as educators, as public officials, we can’t take sides. 

On the other hand, it is important to be unequivocal about what we expect here in Needham and what the law demands, regardless of political persuasion or one’s position on the Right/Left continuum. 

So here is the first thing this morning I want to be abundantly clear about: There is no place for bigotry, racism, homophobia, or hate in the classrooms of the Needham Public Schools.  All students and staff, regardless of their skin color, language, ability, gender identity or orientation, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or faith, have dignity and are valued and contributing members of this learning community. 

Or as my father put it to me in very simple terms when I was a little boy:  “Everyone matters.”

By the way, I acknowledge that some of our colleagues, students and their families may share different beliefs and perspectives on some of the issues of the day.  I respect that, and in the schoolhouse we all have an obligation to respect views that are contrary to our personal beliefs.  I happen to believe we have the capacity as a nation and the responsibility as a school community to make room for alternative views as long as we respect the individual dignity of each human being.

Now, permit me to share three challenges that will extend my statement about acceptance and tolerance, and that I hope will guide our work together in the coming year:

  Listen Deeply… and include all voices
  Make mistakes… and embrace new learning
  Inspire a generation… and improve the world

Listen Deeply… and include all voices
Let’s try and live up to the notion that if we spend more time listening to one another, we can learn more and we can develop a sense of trust, empathy, and connection with another. St. Ignatius Loyola urged people to (Speak little and listen much.”  Steve Covey Observed that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  It turns out that deep listening requires a conscience decision to suspend judgment even when we know the other is incorrect, foolhardy, and misguided(!)

Let’s make sure that we gather and include diverse student and staff perspectives; let’s encourage the quiet and overlooked child in our classrooms to voice her ideas and questions and not just hear from the loudest and most eager.  Let’s create safe space and opportunity in our classrooms, clusters, schools, and our community for the dissenting perspective, the marginalized voice. 

Personally, I know I must spend more time exercising my eardrums than my vocal cords!  I often find my inner voice getting in the way of listening; I find myself already coming up with the answer, solving the problem, or thinking about the next thing I need to do.  Instead of listening—deeply and patiently listening—and asking for a clarification or additional information, I frequently have moved on in my own little head figuring, “OK, I’ve heard this before.  I know what this is all about.  I don’t need to know anymore.  I have the answer.”  Listening requires patience and is an investment in the other person’s story or perspective.  Listening and including many voices can provide you insight and is an opportunity to make better decisions and take positive steps.  Listening deeply results in the development of trust, empathy, and confidence—it is an essential ingredient to a healthy and dynamic learning environment, one that values the experience of another.

Let’s demonstrate a willingness to ask and to listen—rather than to tell and be heard.  As educators we have a special responsibility to make sure we model for our students how to listen deeply.  In a world filled with the cacophony of divisive politics, hate-filled protests, and rancorous tweets, let’s model a respectful, civil, and authentic desire to listen carefully and completely to others. 

Make Mistakes… and embrace new learning
So my second challenge to you is to make mistakes and embrace new learning.  I’m encouraging you to screw up this year!

This coming year, try something new, take your work to a new level; lean on each other and push one another to grow and learn. Take new approaches and take advantage of the many resources around you.  For example, utilize the new District Curriculum Accommodation Plan, the DCAP, use School Improvement Plans, and consider your students’ learning needs to establish team goals and guide your practice and planning with one another. Give someone’s idea a chance even if the outcome is uncertain or unknown.   And don’t worry if something doesn’t work out.  It’s OK!  We have your back! 

Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmundson concluded that successful organizations allow professionals to work together in an atmosphere of open dialogue, trust, problem solving, disagreement, and failure.  Without a culture of collaboration and risk taking, learning organizations—our schools—cannot flourish.  We won’t move forward.

How can we encourage independent and innovative thinking within our students if we don’t allow ourselves the chance to confront long held assumptions or past practices?  Trying new approaches in the classroom or accepting a new direction in the school means we have to give up something; we have to make space for new ideas.

Sometimes new learning can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed.  It can create stress, tension, and doubt.  It’s also exciting, provocative, mysterious and can be the source of great joy, awareness, and fulfillment. Fortunately, we are in a District that will support our learning in this way; we have the mindset, tools, and energy to take risks and try new things, make new relationships.  Our core value of personal growth promotes learning readiness and provides the cover to think differently, and to try new approaches. 

And, like listening, we have a responsibility to model our learning, risk taking, and mistake-making to our students.  Let them observe us goof up, fall down, and reboot.  Last year in a classroom I observed a talented and experienced teacher pause during a math lesson and look at his notes and the work of a questioning student.  I watched as the student suggested a different way of solving a problem—one the teacher had not considered.  With excitement and glee, the teacher erased his notes on the board and invited the young scholar up to demonstrate a new approach.  The teacher embraced the opportunity to try something new and the students saw that adults can be learners too!

This year, make mistakes and embrace new learning!

Inspire a Generation… and improve the world
And this brings me to my third challenge: Inspire a generation… and improve the world.  We have a duty and responsibility to listen deeply to those around us, embrace new learning, and use then these attributes to empower young people to grow, achieve, and improve their lives and this world—a world hungry for their scholarship, service, and leadership. 

Kindle within your students a sense of belonging, of purpose, creativity, exploration, and a hunger for social justice and innovation.

This morning we are fortunate to have with us a witness to that spirit of inspiration. Let me again welcome Sunita Williams back home to Needham.  Allow me to share with you a little bit about Sunita L. Williams and her inspirational story.

After attending elementary school in Needham, Sunita graduated from Needham High School in 1983 and went on to the US Naval Academy and Florida Institute of Technology where she earned her MS degree in engineering management in 1995.

She has enjoyed a 30-year career in the Navy beginning with her commission as an ensign in 1987.  Eventually becoming a Naval Aviator, she was assigned to Helicopter Combat support and was deployed overseas, including in the Persian Gulf War. She served as Officer in Charge on the USS Slyvania during Hurricane Andrew relief operations.

Captain Williams has logged over 3,000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft.  In 1998, Suni was selected as an astronaut for NASA and began training in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency.  Subsequently she served on two missions aboard the International Space Station, first as a flight engineer and then as commander.  Suni spent a total of 322 days in space during which time she completed 7 spacewalks totaling over 50 hours; she held the record for the most spacewalks by a female astronaut until a few months ago! 

And during one of her stints on the Space Station, Suni decided—of course!—to run the 2007 Boston Marathon to inspire children to think about their physical fitness.  She completed it in an impressive 4 hours and 24 minutes at a speed of about 17,500 miles per hour!

Additionally, Suni has inspired children around the world with her life’s story and commitment to education and young people.  She even beamed a lesson about space and planets to hundreds of Needham’s children lessons while she was onboard the International Space Station.

In 2015 NASA announced that Suni would become one of the first astronauts for US commercial space flights, and she is currently working with Boeing and SpaceX.

Needless to say Suni has received many honors and commendations from the US and the governments of Russia, Slovenia, and India.  She also received the NHS Distinguished Career Award in 2007 because, after all, we are the Rockets!

This past May, Captain Williams retired from active service in the US Navy at a ceremony onboard the USS Constitution.  I had the honor of attending, and Suni insisted that Needham students be invited to the ceremony; she met and spent time with two Class of 2017 grads, Jack Higgins and Beth Gordon, who are respectively attending the US Merchant Marine Academy and US Air Force Academy.  Both students told me Suni eagerly filled them in on Academy life and what to expect in the military.  She took the time to connect with two young people who were in awe of her. Sunita Williams has been on the forefront of the space program for 20 years; she is an incredible role model for today’s students and she exemplifies the potential of a career in the military, science, engineering, and public service.

In June, after due consideration, research, and much conversation, the Needham School Committee, recognizing Sunita’s roots in this community, service to her country and dedication to education and personal growth, and her unwavering commitment to young people, unanimously named the new elementary school on Central Avenue the Sunita L. Williams Elementary School.

Suni, it is an extraordinary honor to have you here with us today. Later this morning we have invited Suni to visit with faculty and students at Hillside and if there is time Sunni will visit the site of the new school which is scheduled to break ground later this fall.

I think it is fair to say that while Suni’s parents and family supported her throughout her life, Needham’s teachers also inspired her along the way!  In return Suni motivates other children and adults with a life of exploration, service, and commitment.   Inspiring others, it turns out, helps change lives and improves the world!

So I know the world our students are growing into is complex and messy.  We have a huge responsibility to prepare them for a journey of self-discovery, challenge, and, sometimes, personal failure.

Let’s do this work with honor, humility and a profound sense of hope and love in our young people.  And let listening, learning from our mistakes, and inspiring students guide our work.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Welcome to Our Three Newest School Leaders!

Welcome to three new school leaders who have assumed new responsibilities in the Needham Public Schools:

•  LeeAnn Sutton has been appointed the new Fine and Performing Arts Director, replacing David Neves who retired in June. Ms. Sutton, who has most recently held diverse teaching and leadership opportunities in the Cambridge Public Schools, just completed her Master of Education degree in School Leadership from Harvard University.  She also holds a Master of Arts in Music from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Her undergraduate degree is in Music Education and Performance from Ithaca College (NY).  Prior to her time in Cambridge, Ms. Sutton taught at the Longy School of Music of Bard College, The New England Conservatory Prep School, and Ithaca City School District (NY).

With her background and experience, Ms. Sutton brings a breadth of knowledge in teaching students of diverse backgrounds as well as in developing curriculum, promoting professional growth, developing and facilitating professional learning experiences for teachers, strategic planning, and collaborating with the community to enhance arts education.  Throughout the interview process, she continually demonstrated thoughtfulness, intelligence, grace, and humor.

Ms. Sutton is enormously impressed with the Needham Public Schools and is looking forward to becoming part of the dynamic and student-centered Fine and Performing Arts team in each of our schools.

•  Dan Lee takes over as the Director of Athletics and Club Sports, succeeding Mr. Micah Hauben who has accepted a dean’s position at the King School in Connecticut.

Mr. Lee has prepared for this role for many years first as a coach and more recently as the Needham High School Assistant Director of Athletics and Coordinator of Club Sports.   He brings energy, insight, discipline, sportsmanship, and experience working with student-athletes, coaches, and parents at Needham High School into this new role, and we are fortunate to have someone of Dan’s caliber lead our athletic and club programs in grades 7-12.  Mr. Lee earned his undergraduate degree from Holy Cross College and his Master of Arts degree from the University of Connecticut.

Throughout the search process, colleagues, coaches, parents, and especially students described Mr. Lee as a highly respected and valuable member of the Needham High community.  In addition to his knowledge and passion for athletics and club activities, Mr. Lee is seen as having exceedingly strong communication, collaboration, and interpersonal skills.  He is compassionate, willing to seek help or advice, a collaborator and someone who is able to foster a positive athletic culture.

Mr. Lee is honored to be given the opportunity to promote and sustain a quality interscholastic athletic program that is focused not on wins and losses, but on student learning, growth, development, teamwork, and sportsmanship.

  Karen Bourn has been appointed to serve as the interim principal at the John Eliot Elementary School, replacing Mr. Rod MacNeal who has been named the assistant superintendent in the Arlington Public Schools.

Ms. Bourn has served in the Needham Public Schools since 2013 as the assistant principal at Broadmeadow.  She earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and her Masters in Educational Administration at Boston College.  In her role as assistant principal Ms. Bourn has worked with the staff to support an excellent instructional program for all students.  She has led professional development at Broadmeadow, coordinated various child study and professional meetings, managed the school's schedule, and overseen student behavior and discipline. 

Ms. Bourn has helped to lead the district's efforts around cultural proficiency, and she has used her extensive classroom experience to collaborate with and guide teachers at the elementary level. Ms. Bourn has also established strong and productive relationships with students and their families.

Ms. Bourn has a strong instructional background and a deep affinity for the classroom experience. Before coming to Needham she taught for fifteen years, most recently in the Natick Public Schools where she was a 4th grade teacher.

Ms. Bourn is a superb listener and has strong communication skills. Ms. Bourn relishes hard work, and she is very much focused on empowering others—students and adults alike—to grow, learn and achieve.  Ms. Bourn knows that the teachers at Eliot are smart, dedicated, and caring; she understands the parents are involved, committed to their school, and devoted to their children. Her main job will be to support the entire Eliot community in its efforts to improve learning for each child.

Join me in welcoming these three talented school leaders to their new positions in the Needham Public Schools!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Advice to the Class of 2017 from the Class of 2023

Following are excerpts from my remarks to the Class of 2017 delivered at Graduation on June 5th.

Members of the School Committee, Mr. Sicotte, faculty, guests, parents, and members of the Class of 2017, good evening!

To prepare my remarks for graduation I found it necessary to consult with some of the greatest minds available.  Fortunately, Boston is home to renowned colleges and universities staffed with leading researchers and professors.  We live in a metropolitan area rich in corporate know-how and populated with talented and world class artists, musicians, and writers who work alongside prominent religious, civic, and social leaders.

I spoke with over 50 brilliant scholars, all of whom have important stories to tell, and each one eagerly proffered pointed, salient, and sincere advice for the Class of 2017.  Frankly, I was overwhelmed with ideas, suggestions, and insights—And I know I can’t do justice to the sages who took time out of their research, their studies… and their recess at High Rock School to sit with me and offer a perspective on life and learning that only a 6th grader can possess.

Yep, I leaned on the youthful insights of Needham’s 6th graders, all of whom are your neighbors and even a few are younger family members, sitting here this evening, applauding as you receive your diploma… and watching and listening to make sure I get it right.

Now, granted, the perspective and wisdom of a 6th grader may be limited by age, schooling, and height.  But I think the young people I spoke with have advice that should resonate with the Class of ’17 and, frankly, with us all.  The advice they shared for the graduates falls into three broad categories: The Practical, The Profound, and The Personal.
First the Practical. Sixth graders are remarkably sensible, and they want you to get right down to business after graduation. No wasted time or dithering with parties, beaches, or lounging around.  No wallowing in nostalgia, sipping Starbuck’s, or Snapchatting late into a summer’s afternoon.  Some of their more prudent suggestions include:

  Keep a curfew.
  Don’t worry about the party; worry about the homework.
  Don’t do bad things and do your class work on time.
  Eat vegetables.
  Don’t waste your parents’ money on unnecessary things. (Oh yeah, sure…)
  Try to network and make new friends who will help you out.
  Drive safely around little kids and never drink and drive. (I like that one a lot.)
  Don’t sass your teachers.
  Study hard so you don’t end up living in your parents’ basement after college.

6th graders can also be quite philosophical, and they offered some profound and erudite suggestions to the members of the Class of 2017.  For example:

  Stand up for your beliefs to make this world a better place.
  Keep trying:  You never fail; you only learn that some things don’t work.
  Think about the world around you; how can you make it greener and safer?
  In all of these years the teachers taught you tremendous things, and hopefully you remembered how important character is.  (This, from a 6th grader!)
  Don’t be afraid.  Take risks. Climb the mountain.
  Be proud of the community you come from but also be willing to grow and become part of a new community.
  Always remember that if you fall down, it’s OK as long as you get back up again.
  Be kind to people and don’t bully.
  You’re going to have a hard time if you don’t maintain a positive attitude.
  (And I like this one a lot: ) What you do shows who you are.

A few of the young scholars I spoke with are related to some grads, and they had lots of personal advice and some reminders. One eager student of a grad suggested: “You know, it’s a good time to think about moving out!”  Mostly, though, their advice was a little more personal and poignant.

  Keep in touch with the family.
  We may fight a lot but we are still sisters and we love eachother. 
  Don’t forget what mom and dad have taught you.
  I love you so much… and I hope it goes as planned… and I’m taking over the bathroom and your bedroom.
  Like mom always says:  “Say please and thank you and make sure you include others.”

Pretty impressive advice, huh?  Advice that comes from some of the youngest among us… the neighborhood kids and little brothers and sisters who idolize you as heroes, emulate you, and who watch everything you do and say. As one 6th grader put it to me:  “I look up to them to know what to do.”

Their advice is innocent, full of wonder, and reminds us to look after one another. Their advice suggests that the world you create is not for me, your parents, or our generation, it is for you and it is for them.  They want you to lead, create, and nurture a world that is both exciting and innovative… and caring and humane.

Their advice to you, spoken so poorly through me, is a wish for their own future. 

They are depending on you, and if you have listened carefully, their voices offer messages of courage, hope, and love.   

Advice for us all, and a gift to the Class of 2017.


Monday, May 8, 2017

School Committee Considers Two Notable Needham Women for New School's Name!

The School Committee is considering two names for the new elementary school which will replace the Hillside School and is scheduled to be built on Central Avenue.

After receiving dozens and dozens of suggestions of names from community members, the School Committee's School Naming Subcommittee has proposed that two notable Needhamites, Leslie Cutler and Sunita Williams, should be considered for this honor.  The School Committee expects to discuss the two proposed names in May and then vote on the name for the new school at their first meeting in June.  Following are brief biographies of both women:

Leslie Cutler (1890-1971)

Born in Boston in 1890, Leslie Bradley Cutler attended both Radcliffe College and MIT, where she studied biology and public health.  She married Roger Cutler of Needham (later divorced) and was the mother of 5 children.

Cutler had an impressive career in politics and public service especially considering the historic context in which she lived.  Elected Needham’s first female selectman (and only the second in the Commonwealth) in 1924, with the help of newly registered women voters who secured the right to vote in 1920, Cutler went on 2 years later to be elected to Needham’s Board of Health, a position she retained and contributed to passionately for 41 years.  She ran for the MA House of Representatives in 1928, 1930 and 1932 before being elected in 1934 and became only the second woman in MA history to win election to the MA Senate in 1948, where she served for 20 years.

Some of her most notable accomplishments included:  passing a bill permitting women to serve on juries; chairing a special legislative committee on mental health, fighting for a bill establishing community mental health centers and advocating strongly for the funding to transform Logan International Airport into the major airport it is today.  Leslie Cutler expressed her personal sense of adventure in taking flying lessons in 1942.
As if her state and local political roles, in addition to being a mother, were not sufficient to keep her busy, Leslie Cutler was simultaneously very busy contributing to a number of service organizations within the Town of Needham.  She served as President of the Needham Community Council for 28 years; director of the Needham Red Cross; founder of the local chapter of the YMCA; and she helped start the Needham Council on Aging.

In recognition of grit and extensive contributions the Needham Historical Society named Leslie Cutler “Needham’s Outstanding Person of the 20th Century” in 2000.  She was a crusader for mental and public health, an activist in the womans suffrage movement, champion of welfare and penal reform, juvenile needs, education and aviation, a true public servant for 44 years.

 Sunita “Suni” Williams (1965- )

Although Suni Williams was born in 1965 in Euclid, Ohio, she “considers Needham, MA to be her hometown.”  Her background, as the daughter of an Indian American father and a Slovenian American mother, reflects racial, geographic and ethnic diversity.

Suni graduated from Needham High School in 1983 and went on to earn a BS from the US Naval Academy in 1987 and an MS in Engineering Management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1995.  She has enjoyed a long career in the Navy beginning with her commission as an Ensign in the Navy in 1987. In 1989 Williams became a Naval Aviator, and was trained in and assigned to Helicopter Combat support.  During her Navy career she was deployed overseas including the Persian Gulf and served as Officer-in-Charge aboard the USS Sylvania in Miami, FL to provide support for the Hurricane Andrew Relief Operations.  Williams career ultimately focused on flight.  She completed US Test Pilot School in 1993 and ultimately logged over 3000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft. 

In 1998, Suni was selected as an Astronaut for NASA, and, as part of her training, she worked in Moscow with the Russian Space Agency.  Having served on two missions to the International Space Station (ISS), first as a flight engineer and then as commander, Suni spent a total of 322 days in space.  During this time she completed 7 space walks totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes and held the record for a female astronaut walking in space until this past March 31st.  And, not the least of her accomplishments, Suni ran the first marathon in space when she completed the 2007 Boston Marathon in 4 hours and 24 minutes.  Additionally, Suni taught a lesson on space and physics to Newman students that was beamed from the ISS to classrooms in Needham. 

In July 2015 NASA announced that Sunita would become one of the first astronauts for US Commercial Spaceflights.  She is currently working with Boeing and SpaceX.

Among many honors and awards, she has won Navy Commendation and Humanitarian Service medals and medals/awards from the governments of Russia, India and Slovenia. In addition, Suni received the George Dennett Distinguished Career Award (for NHS alumni) in 2007.

Sunita Williams has been on the forefront of the space program over the last nearly 20 years.  She is an incredible role model for today’s students and exemplifies the potential of a career in the military, STEM and public service.

Thanks to the following subcommittee members who have been involved in this important process:  Sue Neckes (School Committee), Marianne Cooley (Selectmen), Heather Dummett (Teacher), Gloria Greis (Needham Historical Society), Joanna Herrera (Parent), Michael Kascak (Principal), Kim Marie Nicols (Community Member), Steve Theall (Community Member).