Thursday, January 31, 2019

Empowered and Resilient Students: Finding Their Voice, Building Community, and Taking Responsibility

Needham students, teachers, and staff knocked it out of the park this week with two programs designed to empower student voice and strengthen school culture and community.

First some context:  Needham’s educators are committed to promoting the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) of each student in grades PreK-12.  We believe that a learning environment which emphasizes the skills, experiences, and relationships required for children and young people to thrive and grow into competent, caring, aware, giving, and resilient adults is critical to the Needham Public Schools experience.  We believe that SEL enriches and empowers young people and is fundamental to their academic and personal growth and success. 

SEL has long been a critical component of our elementary curriculum, including, for example, the use of Responsive Classroom to build a classroom community and develop students’ social skills.  In addition, our Physical Education & Wellness Program incorporates the domains of Emotional Wellbeing, Physical Wellbeing, Intellectual Wellbeing, Occupational/Leisure, Social and Spiritual Wellbeing into the curriculum for all students.

This past week two amazing SEL opportunities for our 7-12 students occurred at Pollard Middle School and Needham High School.  I attended both programs and came away amazed at the level of creativity, energy, and opportunity for young people to learn about and engage in important and current issues and ideas that impact their lives and schools.

At Pollard Middle School, all students participated in Make Your Move Day:  Know Thy Selfie!  Students attended classes and workshops designed to develop relationship skills, self-awareness, responsible decision making, and self-management, all with a emphasis on the use of technology and social media.  Workshop titles included, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and Don’t be MEME.  Students also worked in their advisories to unpack what they had learned and share ideas for making small changes to online and social media behaviors.

At Needham High School, students helped organize and plan for One Day, a program designed to complement this year’s all school read, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  A variety of workshops, lectures, and performances focused on the theme of Finding Power in Your Voice—a major theme in the book—provided students and teachers with opportunities to explore issues related to equity, race, social media, and substance abuse.  Additionally, students led and explored workshops focused on the development of athletic leadership skills, climbing, speech and debate, history, and poetry.  Musical performances by the Sons of Serendip, the creation of art and sculptures, and TED Talks rounded out the program.  In many cases students developed and led the workshops, an important way in which to include their personal experiences and stories.

We believe students need opportunities to strengthen relationships, empathize with a different point of view, and build confidence and resilience.  We believe the academic curriculum and classroom experiences are enriched and reinforced by vibrant SEL practices and programs that boost learning.  We believe that young people grow and the broader community strengthened and enriched when we empower student voices. Thanks and congratulations to all involved who continue to develop these amazing learning experiences in the Needham Public Schools.

To learn more about the District’s SEL programs, check out our website: Social and Emotional Learning in the NPS

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