School Committee Updates

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/.