Monday, December 31, 2018

The 2019-20 School Budget Plan: Equity and Achievement for All Students

A well crafted school budget plan should signal to the community what priorities the School Committee has for its students.  It should be a statement about what is important and necessary to enrich and nurture learning for each child.   With the guidance and leadership of the Needham School Committee, I believe the 2019-20 budget proposal does just that.

During the month of January the School Committee will continue to discuss and eventually vote on a budget plan for the 2019-20 (FY20) school year that includes funds for Full Day Kindergarten, the opening of the new Sunita L. Williams Elementary School, and resources and programs designed to promote equity and inclusion.  The proposed FY20 budget includes a request for an additional $5.3 million or a 7.5% increase over FY19. To learn more about the budget plan and view the budget presentation shared with the School Committee in December:  NPS FY20 Budget Proposal Information 

The community is invited to participate in the budget discussions now and throughout the winter and spring as other Town officials, including the Finance Committee, Select Board, and Town Meeting, review, discuss, and debate the School Department’s spending plan for 2019-20.

A key opportunity for public participation will be held on Tuesday evening, January 15, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. during the School Committee’s meeting at Broadmeadow.  Parents, students, staff, and community members are encouraged to share thoughts, comments, and questions about the budget proposal prior to the School Committee’s vote on January 22nd. 

Highlights of the FY20 Budget Plan include:

  Full Day Kindergarten  After years of discussion and planning the budget proposal includes the funds needed for the implementation of a Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) program in the Needham Schools.  Needham is one of a few communities in the Commonwealth that does not have a FDK program, and the plan calls for a publicly-funded and compulsory FDK program for all eligible children.  Most Massachusetts communities have a FDK program and many others have a combination of half day/partial week FDK programs available to either all children or some; many of these programs also require lotteries for admission and tuition.  The Needham School Committee believes that a FDK program, one that is developmentally appropriate, student centered, and properly staffed, will boost learning for all of Needham’s children assisting them to grow and learn as they continue elementary school and beyond. Funds for additional teachers, supplies, and a full-time teacher assistant in each Kindergarten classroom are included in the implementation plan.  More information about FDK can be found here:  Full Day Kindergarten in the Needham Public Schools: Report to the School Committee

  Sunita L. Williams Elementary School  The planned September 2019 opening of the Sunita L. Williams Elementary School, which will replace the Hillside School, will require some additional resources and staffing to ensure student and program needs are met.  The District will consolidate a special education program in the new school, and this will require some additional staffing.  A slight increase in office and administrative staff is also sought for the new school, which will be doubled in size compared to the existing Hillside Elementary School.  Additional information about the new school can be found here:  Sunita L. Williams Elementary School Information

  Resources for Equity, Inclusion, and Access  The budget proposal also outlines additional funds to ensure we are supporting an equitable educational program for all students.  Resources for an additional bus to support the growing interest in school transportation; funds to strengthen recruitment efforts for teachers and staff of color; programs to assist students of color at the high school; additional staffing for our growing English Language Learning (ELL) program; and funds to support coaches and transportation for the Unified Sports Program, an interscholastic athletic opportunity conceived by the Special Olympics for differently abled students, are all included in the proposal.  For additional information about the work the district is doing to ensure equity and inclusion for all, please check out a recent presentation to the School Committee:  Race, Equity, Access & Leadership Report to the School Committee  Along with the funding proposed for Full Day Kindergarten, this budget plan clearly prioritizes the need to ensure all children in the Needham Public Schools feel welcomed and included and that each child has access to high quality educational programming, PreK-12. In fact, over $2 million of the $5.3 million plan, or about 38% of the total request, will support an enriching, accessible, and equitable education for each child enrolled in the Needham Public Schools. 

The budget plan also includes funds for additional classroom and specialist teachers and staff as well as the resources required to meet ongoing special education student needs, including tuition.

I encourage you to learn more about the budget and make your voice heard at the School Committee’s upcoming budget hearing scheduled for Tuesday, January 15th at 7:00 p.m.  Questions and comments about the plan may also be submitted to the School Committee:

Monday, November 26, 2018

2018 Parent, Staff, and Student Survey Results: We Hear You!

We are committed to gathering the perspectives of parents, staff, and students to better understand our strengths and challenges as a district.

Last spring parents, students, and staff were invited to complete a survey to measure our progress as a District toward meeting school and District goals.  1,940 parents completed the District Survey – a 34% response rate. We combined the results of the Parent Survey with responses from 2,981 Students in grades 3 to 12 and 669 Staff to share highlights of the key findings:

Evidence of Progress Toward Meeting District Goals Shown for each goal as the average of percent favorable responses for Parents, Students, and Staff combined :

Goal 1 - Advance Learning for All Students: 85% favorable
·   Efficacy: How much students believe they can succeed (87%) / Parent perception on supporting their child’s learning (86%) / Staff perception on supporting students’ learning (96%)
·   School Engagement (student-only measure): How attentive and invested students feel about school (69%)
·   Homework furthering learning: Student perception (52%) / Parent perception (71%) / Staff perception (76%)
·   Involvement in decision-making about education: Student perception (71%) / Parent perception (88%) / Staff perception of encouraging parent involvement (93%)
·   Curriculum meeting needs: Student perception (86%) / Parent perception (91%) / Staff perception (92%)
·   High Academic Standards: Student perception (96%) / Parent perception (86%) / Staff perception (98%)

Goal 2 - Develop Social, Emotional, Wellness, and Citizenship Skills: 89% favorable
·   School Belonging: Students feeling like valued member of the school community (83%) / Parents reporting: “School matches my child’s development needs” (88%) / Staff feeling ready to address diversity in school community (95%)
·   School Climate: Perception of overall social and learning climate of school (Students 81%; Parents 92%; Staff 94%)
·   Social Awareness (student-only measure): How well students consider others’ perspectives and empathize (92%)
·   Feeling Safe: Student perception (93%) / Parent perception (95%) / Staff perception (94%)
·   Feeling Stressed: 39% of Students report feeling quite stressed or overwhelmed / 17% of Parents perceive their child feels quite stressed or overwhelmed by school / 35% of Staff perceive students feeling quite stressed and overwhelmed
Goal 3 - Ensure Infrastructure Supports Learning Goals: 84% favorable
·   Adequacy of programs/services: Highest measures for Nursing (94%) and Media Center (95%), and lowest measures for Afterschool Programs and Food Services (85%)
·   Resources: Perception of adequacy of school’s resources including instructional, human, technology, facility (81%) with highest measure for “Ease of accessing extra support” (92%) and lowest measure for “Adequate number of staff/specialists to help students” (61% according to parents and 45% according to staff)
·   Effective Communication: Student perception (83%) / Parent perception (89%) / Staff Perception (87%)
·   Professional Learning: (staff-only measure) Perception of the amount and quality of professional growth and learning opportunities available to school staff (80%)

Representative open-ended comments from Parents, Students, and Staff:

Parents: “I think the teachers and administrators do a wonderful job of creating a positive learning environment for the students.” “I truly appreciate everything the district does to ensure a top-quality education for our children.” “Schools are underfunded and caseloads are way too high!” “Student-to-teacher ratios are such that we feel the teachers do not have enough time/energy to really get to know each student.” “Facilities could use some attention.” (701 parent comments)

Students: “Teachers are always there for me.” “I think this is a very strong school system and I think I am lucky to be in it.” “Homework can really make kids get stressed and overwhelmed if they have a lot.” “We need consistent heat and AC in every room.” “Get more assistant teachers to help some kids that need more help.” (1,411 student comments)

Staff: “Overall, NPS provides a positive, supportive teaching environment.” “I feel fortunate to work in a district that is dedicated to improving itself by soliciting feedback.” “Anxiety is significantly impacting students in my school more each year.” “Wish we had more support staff to help kids who struggle academically.” (54 staff comments)

Your voices have been heard, and we appreciate your feedback!  The survey allows our district to celebrate strengths and respond to goal areas needing attention. Over the next several months we will engage parents, staff, students, and our School Councils in analyzing the survey findings and incorporate the data, and appropriate action steps, into our school improvement plans.

To view the survey results, check out the District’s website: 2018 NPS Parent, Staff, and Student Survey Results

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Update on Portrait of a Needham Graduate – A Shared Vision of the Future for our Students

In response to my blog last March, more than 200 Needham community members and staff expressed interest in the Portrait of a Needham Graduate process, and 53 have participated in workshops and represented their stakeholder groups: students, educators, parents, business and civic leaders, and higher education. We have met for three full-day workshops and have grounded our work in research and data on future trends in education and changes/challenges in society that we must prepare our children to address. The presentations, articles, and videos previewed by the Portrait participants are available to the entire community at

The speakers and panelists at the Portrait sessions have been thought provoking and our small group discussions helped shape the vision for the future of education in our community. Perspectives of local leaders from business and higher education influenced our understanding of how to prepare students for jobs and life-long learning. Although the conventional wisdom about 21st century skills holds that students must master STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, math – because that’s where the jobs are, according to our research, the top characteristics of success are soft skills, like communicating and listening well, having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues, being a good critical thinker and problem solver. STEAM skills—in Needham we also include an “A” for the Arts—are vital to the world we live in today, but these skills alone are not enough. Broad learning skills are what some large companies seek when they hire new employees and what some higher education institutions care more about than grades or results on standardized tests. Furthermore, in a fast-changing workplace, the ability to acquire new knowledge and skills is critically needed. At the very least, learning how to learn just may be one of the puzzle pieces for navigating an uncertain future.

After discussing, debating, and articulating our vision for students at all grade levels as we propel them towards graduation, the 53 members of the Portrait committee drafted a framework for the broader community’s consideration. A graphic facilitator from a local firm, Collective Next, assisted in synthesizing the attributes, skills, and knowledge we believe Needham’s young people need, now and as far into the future as we can see. I invite you to review the draft list of competencies at and to provide us with your feedback on the overall Portrait process by completing a short survey:

Using multi-pronged approaches, the Portrait committee is communicating with as many stakeholders as possible throughout the month of October and into early November. Community forums are being held; presentations are being made at various organizations’ meetings; the Needham Education Association is involved; and discussions are scheduled in each school. The intent is for members of the Portrait committee to be ambassadors for this effort by presenting information and soliciting feedback so that everyone’s voice can be heard.

The last of four sessions with the Portrait committee will take place on November 16th. Informed by feedback from the broad community, the 53-member committee will be poised to consider strategic priorities with the Portrait in mind. We will look at instructional practices and professional learning that integrates the attributes, skills, and knowledge made explicit by the Portrait. The committee will generate suggestions for actions to help us make progress in a new direction.

Developing a Portrait of a Needham Graduate has been inspirational and the impact at the school, department, and classroom level will be considered before this framework is finalized. At a regularly scheduled School Committee meeting in the spring, the members will be asked for their approval of the Portrait and the critically important work ahead of helping us prepare ALL students for the challenges and opportunities that await them.

I welcome and invite your feedback and support!