School Committee Updates

March 18, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, March 18, in Town Hall.  A major agenda item was a presentation of the proposed FY20 school budget.  The Budget and Finance Subcommittee met four times in the last few weeks to discuss the budget.  The Superintendent presented her proposed budget, which was recommended by the subcommittee at its last meeting. 

Creating a level-services budget is an important first step in developing the operating budget.  A level-services budget identifies expenditure changes necessary to provide the same level of services in the next school year.  Because of enrollment shifts at the elementary level, this includes three new elementary teachers as well as partial position increases in the Middle School.  Another major budget ‘driver’ is a projected increase of $468,000 for Minuteman tuitions, including a capital charge for their new building.  Also included are projected salary increases for all staff as well as supplies.  The level-services budget requires 90% of the proposed 5% overall increase in the town appropriation.  This is an adjustment downward from the last School Committee meeting when it was expected a new kindergarten teacher would be needed for level services. However, projected kindergarten enrollments are lower than expected.  This leaves $237,700 for new initiatives.  Included in the new initiatives are two Middle School instructional coaches, an additional social worker, a .5 FLES teacher, as well as monies for curriculum and technology.  The requested town appropriation is $50,441,000. 

The School Committee also created an ad hoc committee to review the compensation for members.  The compensation was last changed in 2008, from $2100 to $3200.  The ad hoc committee will review this issue, including a comparison to other communities, and report back to the School Committee.  For a change to be effective in 2020, the School Committee and Town Council must approve a change by June 30 of this year. 

The School Committee continued its review of the Policy Manual.  It did a first reading on several sections of the Manual and will do the second reading and vote at its April 1 meeting.  In other news, the Superintendent announced that a second pre-K class will start at the Hosmer in the fall.  There is a waiting list with considerable interest in this class.  The Superintendent also noted that an organization called City at the Lab will conduct a study of Watertown businesses to see how high school students can be best prepared for jobs in the community and beyond. 

The next School Committee meeting is April 1 at 7 PM in Town Hall.  This meeting will include a public hearing on the proposed FY20 budget.  The School Committee will vote on the budget at a subsequent meeting.      

Additional information is available on the WPS website at:  www.watertown.k12.ma.us

John Portz

School Committee Chair

March 4, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, March 4, in Town Hall.  The meeting began with a moment of remembrance for Allison Donovan, a curriculum coordinator, teacher and interim principal in the district, who died tragically in an automobile-pedestrian incident, as well as Nancy Heffernan, the Town Treasurer/Collector, who also passed away in the last month. 

The Teaching and Learning Showcase featured an overview of the Middle School Turnaround process.  In the 2018 MCAS tests the Middle School results were lower than expected, particularly among student subgroups.  The state requires a Turnaround Plan in these instances.  With a state grant, the district has hired SchoolWorks to assist in this process.  An Instructional Leadership Team has been created to focus on this work, which will involve a variety of strategies, including an alignment of curriculum to standards, use of assessment data, and targeted instructional supports.  A Turnaround Plan is due to the state by June 30, 2019.

The administration also provided a preview of the FY 2020 operating budget, which begins July 1, 2019.   This preview focused on a “level services budget,” which estimates the costs needed to provide the same level of services next year as provided this year.  Typically, the main increases are projected salary increases for current teachers and other staff as well as any other increases, such as new teachers, needed to continue services if enrollments are projected to increase.  For FY 2020, the projected level services budget includes an increase of $2.23 million to cover projected salary increases, up to four new teachers in the elementary schools, several other staff adjustments, an increase in costs for students attending Minuteman Vocational High School, and a number of other adjustments.  The level services budget uses 93% of the total projected 5% increase from the town.  This leaves $173,000 for new initiatives.  The administration is proposing that these funds be used for Middle School instructional coaches, a social worker, and an increase in Spanish teaching capacity.  The School Committee’s review of the proposed budget continues with subcommittee meetings on March 7, 11 and 13, then another presentation at the School Committee meeting on March 18. 

In another budget related action, the Committee approved staffing adjustments for the current year, using already available funds.  This includes kindergarten aides as well as door monitors at the Middle and High Schools. 

The School Committee also discussed the status of rental fees for the use of school buildings by local non-profit organizations and other groups.  There has been some confusion and unintended consequences this year over the fee structure approved last year, although not fully implemented, which differed significantly from what had often been charged in past years.  The Committee did not take a vote, but it was expected that the administration would continue charging fees as it did in the fall, based on past practice.  The Committee will continue reviewing this issue and establish a new fee structure to begin July 1, 2019.

In the Building for the Future update, it was reported that the School Building Committee recommended to the town that Ai3 continue as the architect for the remainder of the elementary schools project, but that Daedalus not be continued as the owner’s project manager.  The Building Committee will seek a new owner’s project manager for the rest of the project.  At the High School level, a subcommittee of the Building Committee will soon review applications for the owner’s project manager for the High School project.  This hire will take place in the next few months and involves a different process that is controlled largely by the state School Building Authority. 

The next School Committee meeting is March 18 at 7 PM in Town Hall.      

Additional information is available on the WPS website at: https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz
School Committee Chair

February 4, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, February 4th, in Town Hall.  The High School was featured in two major agenda items.  First, the School Committee heard an overview of programs at the high school that provide a strong core curriculum as well as a variety of academic opportunities for students.  The major curriculum requirements covering math, science, English, and social studies are consistent with the Mass Core, which is recommended by the state.  In addition, the presentation covered a variety of other curriculum opportunities, including advanced placement courses, engineering in Project Lead the Way, Virtual High School, and industry certifications in graphic design, media broadcasting, and other areas. 

Second, the School Committee reviewed and approved changes to the High School Program of Studies for the next school year.  A common theme was creating more flexibility in the curriculum to meet the varied needs of students.  A prominent example includes revisions to the physical education/wellness requirements.  In this area, there are graduation requirements for the high school, which can be met through a combination of four semester-long courses related to physical fitness and wellness.  There also is a state requirement that physical fitness be taught as a subject each year that a student attends school.  This requirement can be met by the courses, but new for the coming year will be several other options to meet the requirement, including participation in athletics or a structured physical activity.  

In response to questions raised in the community, the Superintendent presented a report on actions taken across the district to ensure that all of our school buildings are safe for students and staff.  Of particular concern is asbestos in the buildings, which is typical for any building constructed at the time of our schools, which range from the Lowell in 1925 to the Hosmer in 1967.  In the last year, almost $400,000 was spent on abatement of asbestos at the High School as well as monitoring and addressing other conditions in the buildings.  The Superintendent’s report includes a list of proactive and remediation activities to ensure the maintenance of all school buildings. 

In the Building for the Future update, it was reported that the School Building Committee recommended to the town that almost $170 million be allocated for the construction of new elementary buildings to replace the Hosmer and Cunniff and major renovations/addition at the Lowell.  The Town Manager included this level of financial support in the Capital Improvement Plan, which is subject to a vote by the Town Council in the near future.  The next meeting of the Building Committee is February 6th at 6 PM in Town Hall. 

The Buildings and Grounds subcommittee met just prior to the School Committee meeting to discuss building rental issues, including fees.  A discussion of fees will continue at the next subcommittee meeting, to be jointly scheduled with the Budget and Finance subcommittee.  Also, the Committee discussed options to host school-community forums at each school as well as facilitate ways for School Committee members to observe teaching practices in the schools.  In other actions, the Committee approved a field trip, the disposition of surplus property, gifts, amended EDCO article of agreement, and a motion to not participate in the state’s school choice program.  Of particular note among gifts is the recent announcement by the Watertown Community Foundation of grants totaling over $29,000 to various school projects. 

Upcoming meetings include the Policy subcommittee on February 6th at 3 PM; Budget and Finance subcommittee on February 12th at 6 PM; and the Superintendent’s Coffee on February 25th at 9 AM and 7 PM.  The next School Committee meeting is March 4th at 7 PM.

Additional information is available on the WPS website at https://sites.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/watertown-k12-ma-us/.

John Portz

School Committee Chair



January 7, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, January 7th in its first meeting of 2019.  First on the agenda was the Committee’s annual reorganization.  The current officers were re-elected: John Portz as chair, Kendra Foley as vice-chair, and Amy Donohue as secretary.  Subcommittee assignments also remain the same as in 2018.  See the WPS website for assignments. 

The Teaching and Learning Showcase featured the Kingian Nonviolence program in the Watertown schools.  Students and faculty from the Middle School, along with Lieutenant Unsworth from the Watertown Police Department, provided an informative presentation on Kingian Nonviolence activities.  Kingian Nonviolence is an interactive training program in which shared values and engaged dialogue help people deal with conflict situations.  Since 2016, many WPS faculty and students, as well as community members and police officers, have engaged in this training program.  At the meeting, students from the Middle School spoke about the key principles of the program and how it has affected their lives.  These conflict resolution skills are being introduced to 5th graders, and training programs continue for the community.  Kingian Nonviolence integrates well with the social-emotional curriculum recently introduced in the Watertown schools. 

Another presentation was the Superintendent’s mid-cycle self-assessment on meeting her 2018-19 goals.  The Superintendent’s report covered various action steps connected to each of six general goals.  The six goals are:  fair, effective educator goal setting and evaluation; effective communication with the larger school community; Building for the Future elementary and high school projects; increased academic achievement for all students; narrowing the achievement gap; and, shared vision for district improvement.  School Committee questions covered a variety of topics, particularly in the student learning area and prompted a good discussion on curriculum, assessment, and related issues. 

The main ‘action item’ was approval of the FY2020 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  The CIP covers capital-related expenditures, such as purchasing school furniture and painting hallways and classrooms, that are long-term in nature.  There are a variety of needs across the district that fall into this category.  The School Committee amended the proposal by removing $100,000 in technology costs since that amount will be covered through the district’s operating budget.  The total request of $1.6 million will be forwarded to the Town Council, which will hold a hearing on the town-wide CIP and prioritize items for the coming year, and the Town Manager will make recommendations as part of the FY2020 town budget process. 

The Building for the Future update included two important news items.  For the elementary schools, at the January 2nd meeting of the School Building Committee, the architect presented conceptual designs for new Hosmer and Cunniff school buildings and a major addition and renovations at the Lowell.  At the upcoming January 23rd meeting of the Building Committee the architect will present cost estimates for these projects.  If the Building Committee votes to proceed, a funding request will be forwarded to the Town Manager, who would then make a recommendation to the Town Council.  These are exciting opportunities to create state-of-the-art facilities at all three schools.  For the high school project, in mid-December the Massachusetts School Building Authority approved Watertown’s request to proceed to the next “Feasibility” phase.  Initial tasks are hiring an owner’s project manager and architect for the high school project.    

The Superintendent will hold her next coffee on January 28th, 9 AM and 7 PM; the Curriculum subcommittee meets on January 30th at 3:30-5 PM, and the next School Committee meeting is February 4th at 7 PM.      

Additional information is available on the WPS website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/.

John Portz

School Committee Chair     




December 10, 2018 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, December 10th in Town Hall.  The meeting started with two interesting “Teaching and Learning” presentations.  The first presentation focused on an important addition to the elementary schools:  literacy and math coaches.  There are two coaches in each subject area who work with teachers to further improve the teaching and learning experience.  The coaches assist with professional development, model teaching practices, help analyze student work, and support in other ways the learning environment at each elementary school. 

The second presentation was on the new class schedule at the high school, to be implemented in fall 2019.  The current 7-day schedule has been used for over 20 years.  The new schedule is based on a 5-day cycle in which classes meet four times each week and include one longer block of 76 minutes for each sequence.  This provides a better opportunity for project-based activities and other teaching strategies that take longer than the shorter class sessions, which are typically 50 minutes.  This also allows the advisory session to meet once every five days rather than seven days.  This year teachers will be planning new approaches and strategies for this schedule.  A parent meeting is planned for January 16th to explain and answer questions about the new schedule. 

In the area of budgeting, the School Committee approved goals for the FY 2020 budget.  Draft goals were presented by the administration and cover four strategic areas:  Equity, Excellence, Community, and Building for the Future.  The first subcommittee meeting on the FY 2020 budget will be in January 2019.  The School Committee also approved an increase in compensation for lunch aides, to $12.50 per hour, as well as pay rate structure for auditorium technicians, who are used by outside groups that rent the high school auditorium. 

In other business, the Committee approved policies in Section K as part of the review of all Committee policies and heard a report from the Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee.  The Capital Budget for FY 2020 was originally scheduled for a vote, but was postponed until the January meeting to allow for more discussion with town officials.  The School Committee also approved a resolution requesting that the Federal Communications Commission reconsider a proposed change in regulations related to local cable providers.  This change would likely limit or end many in-kind contributions made by Watertown Cable Access in support of the schools and town, such as curriculum opportunities for our students, access to and donations of media equipment, and other activities that support local programming. 

The Superintendent provided a report on class sizes in the middle and high schools, which led to an interesting discussion on the structure and course offerings in the secondary curriculum.  The Curriculum Subcommittee will follow-up with more discussion. 

The Building for the Future update included two important news items.  For the elementary schools, the Town Manager has agreed to explore the option of building two new schools – replacing the Hosmer and Cunniff schools – along with smaller additions and major renovations at the Lowell.  This is an exciting opportunity to create more new learning spaces that are state-of-the-art and energy efficient.  The Building Committee will review this option at its January 2nd meeting (6 PM in Town Hall).  For the high school project, the Massachusetts School Building Authority will meet on Wed., December 12th, to approve Watertown’s participation in the next “Feasibility” phase.  Initial tasks are hiring an owner’s project manager and architect for the high school project.    

The Superintendent will hold her next coffee on December 17th, 9 AM and 7 PM, and the next School Committee meeting is January 7th.    

Additional information is available on the WPS website at  https://sites.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/watertown-k12-ma-us/.

John Portz

November 19 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, November 19th in Town Hall.  The lead presentation was on MCAS scores and accountability determinations at the High School and Middle School.  Test scores from spring 2018 were reported for English language arts (ELA), math and science, by school and by various subgroups, such as English language learners.  At the High School, the percent of students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" increased from last year in ELA and science, and stayed the same in math.  All scores were above the state average.  Subgroup performance varied, with several groups showing achievement gaps of 20 percentage points or more.  The accountability determination, based on targets set by the state, was “meeting targets.” 

At the Middle School, MCAS test performance showed a decline in the percentage of students scoring "meeting" or "exceeding" expectations in all test areas compared to the 2017 scores, although ELA scores in 7th and 8th grade, science in 8th grade, and math in 7th grade remained above the state average.  Achievement gaps were significant with a number of subgroups.  The accountability determination was “partially meeting targets.”  For both the Middle and High Schools, principals and curriculum coordinators described a number of changes to improve student learning, and Committee members asked questions on a variety of issues, including curriculum alignment and teacher practice.  This was the third presentation to the Committee on 2018 MCAS scores and the new state accountability system. 

Another topic of discussion was Watertown’s participation in Minuteman Vocational School District.  Watertown is not a member of Minuteman, but it currently sends and pays tuition for 56 students.  At several previous subcommittee meetings there was discussion about the pros and cons of joining Minuteman.  Citing several factors, including higher costs in the long term and the continuing availability of space for Watertown students, the Committee voted to continue its current status, while reviewing this issue again after completion of the feasibility study for a new Watertown high school and in consideration of possible changes at Minuteman and other area options for vocational education.    

The Committee also heard several other reports:  a summary of recent professional development activities on election day (when students were not in school); review of capital improvements completed this past summer; and an update on the current budget.  The Committee also completed a first reading on a set of policy revisions.  At the beginning of the meeting, two Watertown seniors, Nathan Follett and Robert Leonard, were congratulated for being commended by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation for their performance on the 2017 PSAT exam.

Building for the Future updates included comments on the recent community forums at the Hosmer and Cunniff Schools, as well as a presentation by the Superintendent on the High School process, which is completing the Eligibility stage and will seek approval from the state to hire the architect and Owner’s project manager for the High School project.  The Town Council recently approved $1.6 million for this next phase of the project.

Upcoming events include a community forum at the Lowell School on proposed building changes, on November 28th at 6 PM; Superintendent’s coffee on November 26th at 9 AM and 7 PM; and School Committee meeting on December 10th.    

Additional information is available on the WPS website at  https://sites.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/watertown-k12-ma-us/.