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September 14 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, September 14, using Zoom conferencing with two members in-person at the Phillips Administration Building and five members remote.

The Superintendent provided another update on school reopening plans. On September 17, 18, and 21, families and students will visit schools to pick-up supplies and materials, including Chromebooks and iPads. From September 22 to October 27, most students will be in remote learning while some students with specialized needs will be in school buildings to work with teachers. During this time, two key metrics will be monitored related to COVID-19 in Watertown: the Daily Incident Rate, which should be less than 4 per 100,000 (currently at 1.29) and the Positivity Rate, which should be less than 5% (currently at .31%). County and state data also will be considered. If the metrics are favorable, elementary students will start a hybrid learning format on October 27. Middle and high school students will continue remote, with the possibility of hybrid instruction beginning on November 30. Currently, 18% of students have chosen to remain remote until at least February through Watertown’s Virtual School or Edgenuity. Additional updates are available at Community Forums at 6 PM on September 15, 22, and 29.

The Teaching and Learning presentation also included an update on teacher professional development this past summer as well as the past two weeks devoted to preparing for the reopening. Many workshops and programs were held over the summer, including 28 educators attending a program at Harvard on teaching and learning in an online environment. Professional development this month included many topics, including social-emotional learning, educational technology, instructional planning, differentiation, and student engagement. A new WPS website is dedicated to helping teachers and families use educational technology.

The School Committee approved the Superintendent’s recommendation to join other Middlesex League schools with the following fall sports: soccer, field hockey, cross country, and golf. These are all outdoor sports. These sports will begin on September 21 (with golf on September 28) and each will be limited to ten competitions. A variety of accommodations are being made to protect student health and safety, and the number of spectators will be limited. Football may take place later in the school year, and other sports will be considered depending upon progress in containing COVID-19.

The School Committee also approved annual goals for the Superintendent and School Committee. The Superintendent’s goals include: Building the Bridge to Return; Review and analyze WPS budget expenditures; Building for the Future – elementary and high school projects; Systems and structures to ensure equity and anti-racism; Tiered systems of support; and Shared vision for district improvement. The School Committee has four goals that build upon those from the past year. They include: Members as liaisons to each school; Working with the Superintendent to develop metrics for an annual report; Developing a social media strategy and continuing with community updates; and Holding Committee meetings in each of the schools.

In other actions, the Committee approved school handbooks as well as a COVID-19 addendum that includes important information on how the district will ensure health and safety in school buildings and respond to COVID-19 scenarios. The Committee also approved the calendar of Committee meetings during this school year as well as a recommendation from the Superintendent for compensation adjustments for the current fiscal year for non-union employees. These adjustments include a 2% cost-of-living increase for most non-union employees and an average 3.75% increase as a market adjustment for a smaller group of non-union employees. The Superintendent was recognized for her leadership of the district when she declined to take a compensation adjustment during earlier budget deliberations when the budget was reduced by almost $1 million due to the economic shortfall caused by the pandemic.

The Committee heard a report from the Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee on a recent report from an outside consultant on the HVAC systems in all the buildings and related issues around air circulation and quality. Recommendations were made for various modifications and improvements, which are being acted upon. Going beyond those recommendations, the district will be adding air purifiers in all classrooms.

Updates also were provided on the school building projects. Construction of the new elementary schools is moving forward, and the School Building Committee recently voted to focus its attention on the existing High School and Phillips school areas as the most likely site for a new high school. The Victory Field and track area on Orchard St. will no longer be actively considered as a possible site.

The next regular School Committee meeting is October 5 at 7 PM. Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Watertown School Committee

August 24 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, August 24, using Zoom conferencing with four members in-person at the Phillips Administration Building and three others remote. In total, there were 84 participants in the meeting.

The Superintendent provided an update on school reopening plans. September 1 begins 13 days of professional development and related activities for teachers and other staff in the district. This will include sessions on wellness and safety as well as curriculum development and other teaching strategies. The final three days focus on staff-student-family connections involving meetings with students, technology distribution, and other final preparations before remote learning begins on September 22. Additional community forums for district-wide updates are scheduled on August 25 (3-4 PM), September 1 (6-7 PM), and September 8 (6-7 PM). Individual schools also have Zoom forums for parents and students. In related action, the School Committee approved the new start date of September 22 for the school calendar.

The Chair of the School Committee presented the composite performance evaluation of the Superintendent for 2019-20. The composite is based on evaluations completed by individual Committee members. The first part of the evaluation focuses on seven 2019-20 goals. Across all seven goals, the ratings by Committee members total the following: “some progress - 7,” “significant progress - 27,” “met - 11,” and “exceeded - 3.” In their evaluations, members note that ratings of “some progress” or “significant progress” often result from the inability to complete goals due to the closure of schools on March 13. The second part of the evaluation focuses on four performance standards established by the state: instructional leadership, management and operations, family and community engagement, and professional culture. For the first three standards, the Superintendent receives ratings of “proficient” by 5 members and “exemplary” by 2 members. For the fourth standard, the ratings are “proficient” by 6 members and “exemplary” by 1 member. The final part of the evaluation asks for an overall performance rating. For this area, the Superintendent receives “proficient” ratings by 2 members and “exemplary” ratings by 5 members. The final comments of each member are included in the composite. This is a very strong and positive evaluation of the Superintendent’s performance. The Superintendent thanked the Committee for its support and emphasized that the positive evaluation reflects a team effort from the central office, principals, and school-based educators and staff throughout the district.

Drafts were presented of the Superintendent’s proposed goals for 2020-21 as well as the School Committee’s goals for the coming school year. The Superintendent’s goals include: Building the Bridge to Return; Review and analyze WPS budget expenditures; Building for the Future – elementary and high school projects; Systems and structures to ensure equity and anti-racism; Tiered systems of support; and shared vision for district improvement. The School Committee has four goals that build upon the work from this past year. They include: Members as liaisons to each school; Working with the Superintendent to develop metrics for an annual report; Developing a social media strategy and continuing with community updates; and Holding Committee meetings in each of the schools. The Committee will vote on both sets of goals at its September 14 meeting.

The meeting also included a brief discussion of the school building projects. Construction of the new Cunniff has begun and the new Hosmer will begin soon. At the high school level, the School Building Committee continues to review site options for a new school. Their next meeting is September 2 at 6 PM.

Among other items, the Committee heard a budget report that highlighted final budget actions for the past school year and this summer. The Committee also approved three additional grades at a private school, Star Academy.

The next regular School Committee meeting is September 14 at 7 PM. Prior to that, on September 2, the Policy subcommittee will meet at 4 PM, followed by the Athletics subcommittee. Last week, the MIAA published guidance for 2020/2021 athletics. The Middlesex League met yesterday and will provide their own guidance shortly. The Athletics subcommittee will be reviewing sports options for the coming year. Recommendations from these subcommittees will go to the full School Committee on September 14.

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

John Portz

Watertown School Committee



August 6 School Committee

The School Committee met on Thursday, August 6, using Zoom conferencing with four members in-person at the Phillips Administration Building and three others remote.  The main agenda item was a presentation, discussion, and vote on a proposed school reopening plan for the fall.  It was a large meeting with 505 participants on Zoom and many questions and comments. 

The Superintendent presented a PowerPoint that covered her recommendation for reopening in the fall.   The reopening plan is a phased approach that begins with extensive preparation by educators, remote learning for all students, then transitions to two paths in which some students continue with remote learning while others move to a hybrid model if health and safety standards are met.  There are many details to be determined, but the recommendation provided the direction for how students can return to an effective and safe learning environment.      

Under the plan, teachers and other educators start professional development and planning on September 1 and continue until the first day for student instruction on September 22.  From that day until October 22 all students will be in remote instruction that takes place primarily in a schedule that follows a regular school day.  Elementary and middle school students are divided into two cohorts that alternate days between core instruction and ‘specials’ (e.g. art, music, foreign language) to keep groups small for a better learning experience and to facilitate a possible transition to hybrid learning.  High school students follow a seven-period, two-day schedule that is repeated during the week, leaving Fridays for asynchronous work, office hours, and other activities.

October 22 is the first point for an assessment of health conditions to determine a possible switch to hybrid learning for elementary students.  It is expected that the state will soon provide metrics that can be used for this assessment.  If a transition is feasible, those elementary students choosing a hybrid option will switch to hybrid on October 27.  In the hybrid model, students continue in their cohorts and have in-person instruction in the mornings for two days and remote learning three days/week.  A similar assessment and possible switch to hybrid takes place for middle and high school students on November 25, with a start date of hybrid on November 30.  Monitoring of health conditions continues during the year with the possible return to full in-person instruction if feasible. 

Students choosing remote-only learning continue remote throughout this time.  They follow a daily schedule similar to students in the hybrid learning environment and engage in synchronous and asynchronous learning.  There may be opportunities during this time for simulcast learning with students in the hybrid model.  Elementary families will be asked to choose the remote-only option later in August so the district can create student schedules that keep remote-only students and potential hybrid students in separate groups so a move to hybrid can happen without switching classes and teachers.  Remote-only students will continue remote until February 8, 2021, when students will have an opportunity to reassess their learning options. 

School Committee members and the public asked many questions, and principals from the different school levels (elementary, middle, and high) provided examples of how this plan would work in their schools.  It was recognized that implementing this plan will be a challenge for families and educators alike, but a phased strategy was generally viewed as the best approach for students to return to schools in the fall. 

The Plan also includes information and links on safety precautions as well as protocols for responses if someone in the school community tests positive to COVID-19.  Between now and the start of student instruction on September 22 the district will work with parents and the community to fully develop this plan.  Committee members thanked the Superintendent and all who had worked on this plan.  The Committee voted unanimously in favor of the recommended plan.   

The meeting also included a brief discussion of the school building projects.  The Cunniff school has been razed and scheduled demolition at the Hosmer is almost complete.  Both sites will soon be prepared for new construction.  A recent community forum on the High School included a discussion of site options that include the existing site along with the area across Common Street occupied by the Senior Center and Phillips building as well as two site options in the Victory Field area.  A site decision will be made later in the year. 

Upcoming meetings include an open forum on the reopening plan on Tuesday, August 11, at 6 PM, on Zoom.  The next regular School Committee meeting is August 24 at 7 PM.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Watertown School Committee


July 27 School Committee Update

The School Committee met as a Committee of the Whole on Monday, July 27th using Zoom conferencing with three members in-person at the Phillips Administration Building and four remote.  The only agenda item was a review and discussion of three school reopening scenarios for this fall: in-person, hybrid, and remote.  It was a large meeting with 370 participants on zoom and many questions and comments. 

The PowerPoint presentation started with a review of recent surveys of parents and school staff.  There were 1496 parent responses.  Among the responses, 48% of families said they planned to send their child back to in-person classes and 24% were leaning that way.  For a hybrid learning option, the most popular option (31%) was for students to attend a couple of days/week.  Also, 18% of families preferred that their child attend a fully remote learning program.  For staff, which included 427 responses, 44% preferred all remote learning and 42% preferred hybrid.  When asked how comfortable they are to return to school with appropriate safety protocols, 17% reported “quite” or “extremely” comfortable, 25% reported “somewhat,” 31% “slightly,” and 28% reported “not at all.”  For a hybrid learning model, the most popular option (36%) was for students to attend a couple of days/week. 

In reopening school, the overarching goal is to provide the best learning environment for students while protecting the health and well-being of every child and staff member.  The presentation highlighted a number of “essentials” that will apply to all scenarios, including personal protective equipment for all staff, requirement of masks for all students (grades 2-12) and face shields (pre-K-1), voluntary COVID testing for staff, 5-6 feet of distance in classrooms, weekly learning plans, teacher collaboration and professional development, and outdoor learning opportunities.  The recording of the meeting provides more detail.   

In the In-Person plan the maximum number of students possible, with appropriate social distancing, would return to school.  This plan assumes approximately 25% of students are remote only and most staff return.  To maintain social distancing, up to 18 additional classrooms are needed as well as teachers across the district.  At the middle and elementary levels, in-person learning would take place 5 days/week in the morning, followed by a grab-and-go lunch, then remote learning in the afternoon for all students.  Students with special needs receive additional supports.  At the high school level it is not feasible to bring all students in-person, even with 25% remote only, due to the inability to maintain socially distancing in current classrooms as well as schedule variations. 

The Hybrid plan is a combination of less in-person instructional time and remote learning.  At the preschool and pre-K level, this involves different options for 5 half-day sessions or 2 full day sessions and 10 students in a classroom.  At the other levels, the Hybrid plan includes dividing each student body into two cohorts to reduce class sizes to allow social distancing.  In grades 1-5 and 6-8, each cohort meets two or three times in-person in the morning each week (e.g Cohort A meets Monday, Wednesday, and every other Friday).  The afternoon involves remote learning in elective and specialty classes.  The high school also has two cohorts, each meeting twice/week for the entire school day, with Friday set aside for remote learning activities and staff collaboration. 

In the Remote plan students are remote for all instruction.  It would operate for 5 days/week and students engage in a weekly learning plan that involves scheduling and opportunities that closely mirror the in-person experience.  This would include asynchronous and synchronous activities. 

There was a lengthy and robust discussion among School Committee members, staff, and the public covering many topics.  It was noted during the meeting that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education just announced that schools will be required to have student instruction for 170 days instead of 180 in the coming year.  This gives districts more time to plan and prepare for reopening schools.  In August the Superintendent and School Committee will decide how many of those 10 extra days for school planning will be used in September. 

For the remainder of the week the Superintendent will sponsor three Zoom ‘coffees’ for public input and discussion; each principal will hold a zoom meeting for staff in their school; and there will be a general zoom meeting on Thursday for educators and the Superintendent.  The three scenarios will be sent to DESE on July 31st, then on August 3rd the Superintendent will present her recommended reopening plan to the School Committee for discussion, public comment, and a School Committee vote.  This plan is due to DESE by August 10th.  The district will then focus on refining the plan and preparing for implementation.  The Superintendent scheduled additional dates for community engagement throughout August and September.

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

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee


July 13 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, July 13th using Zoom conferencing.  The major topic for this meeting was a presentation and discussion on the school reopening process for this fall.  A Powerpoint presentation provided information on the remote learning experience in the spring, recent surveys, and steps to move forward.

In spring remote learning, attendance and work completion were higher in the elementary and middle school grades and lower at the high school.  Results were presented on end-of-the-year surveys of students, staff, and parents.  These showed a variety of trends with respect to distance learning.  Survey topics covered such issues as the use of technology, student engagement, adult support for learning, and communication with parents. 

A 78-person School Reopening Task Force is meeting regularly to work on reopening plans.  The Task Force is composed primarily of school teachers and administrators, along with parents and representatives from the School Committee.  The Task Force is considering a variety of issues through subcommittees focused on teaching & learning, student behavioral and mental health support, physical space issues, and operational issues.  The district is required by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to provide, by July 31st, three possible reopening scenarios:  in-person learning at school with safety requirements, hybrid learning with in-person and remote, and remote only learning.  By the middle of August, the district will decide which scenario or combination of scenarios will be implemented in the fall.  The School Committee will meet on July 27th in a public session to hear and discuss the three scenarios. 

In other agenda items, the School Committee approved a resolution regarding COVID-19 state funding.  The resolution, which has been approved by over 100 other school committees, requests that the state provide funding for any COVID-19 related expenses that are mandated by the state.  It was noted that the district currently has access to approximately $900,000 in federal funds for COVID-19 related expenses.  The Superintendent provided an overview to the School Committee of the Personal Protective Equipment and COVID-related expenditures to date.  

The Superintendent presented a report on her performance over the past school year.  The report is in the context of her goals for the year, which include activities related to educator evaluation, communication with the community, school building projects, ensuring equity, student achievement, tiered systems of student support, and shared vision for district improvement.  Over the next two weeks, School Committee members will complete an individual evaluation of the Superintendent, and a composite of these evaluations will be presented at the first Committee meeting in August.  The Superintendent also presented a draft update to the District Improvement Strategy that highlights changes relevant to the challenges of reopening in the fall.

The School Committee also heard an update on the Building for the Future projects.  Work is continuing at both the Hosmer and Cunniff sites.  Both buildings have been vacated and demolition will begin soon.  The School Building Committee will meet on July 22nd to continue its review of High School building options.  On July 29th a community forum will be held to provide information and gather feedback on options for a new High School. 

The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for 7 PM on July 27th.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee


June 15 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, June 15th using Zoom conferencing.  The meeting started with recognition of 14 retirees from across the district.  Collectively, they worked in the district for 272 years!  Six were in attendance at the meeting and spoke briefly about their time in Watertown.  All received a round of virtual applause. 

The Committee heard an update on the Math Curriculum Review process.  This formal review of the math curriculum began last fall and will continue through the coming year.  Surveys have been done or are planned for teachers and parents, and focus groups will be conducted in the coming year.  Data has been collected and organized to document the K-12 program.  In early 2021 an outside review will take place with three reviewers.

In another presentation, students who graduated from the Hosmer presented a “buddy bench” to the district in memory of Lora Karaguesian.  The students showed a short video describing the process and honoring their friend. 

The Committee approved a resolution titled “Support for Staff, Students, and Community Members of Color.” The resolution is before several other school committees and speaks to the importance of engaging in constructive action to address long-standing issues of racism in American society. A vote on the WEA Unit D collective bargaining contract was deferred until union members have an opportunity to vote.  

In budget matters, the Committee heard an update on the FY20 budget, which ends on June 30th.  The budget balance stands at 2% of the year’s total, although most of that will be needed for final expenditures.  It was noted that federal CARES funds totaling $340,000 will be used in the fiscal year that begins on July 1st.  Also, the school nutrition program will continue this summer, providing meals twice a week.  More details will follow soon.  Currently, about 200 meals are provided on the days for distribution.    

In addition, the Committee approved internal transfers of $386,000 to help fund the Phillips Building remodeling project.  In the fall, the Phillips Building will be used for the pre-school and pre-K programs.  The Committee also approved the FY21 budget by costs centers.  It previously approved the total budget line of $51,937,315.  In one other budget-related action, the Committee approved the use of $84,000 under the state’s Student Opportunity Act for an elementary instructional coach.  The Committee approved this plan, although due to fiscal challenges the state has not yet released the funds.  

For this summer, the Committee approved a meeting schedule that begins with a meeting on July 13th.  During the summer the Committee will, among other tasks, complete an evaluation of the Superintendent, review district and school improvement plans, develop and review Committee goals for 2020-21, and review the Superintendent’s goals for the coming year.  The Committee also will be involved in discussion on plans to re-open the schools in the fall.  The Committee discussed its participation in the High School graduation, which takes place on June 20th at Victory Field and will be a scaled-down event with graduates receiving their diploma in a spaced, procession with up to four family members present, although at a distance.  The initial plan was for one Committee member to be present, but several members thought it not appropriate or necessary for various reasons.  After discussion raised different points of view, it was the sense of the Committee that a member not be present at the ceremony.     

The Superintendent provided details on the WPS Re-Opening Task Force.  Composed of over 45 people from across the district and community, the Task Force will work on various aspects of a re-opening plan for the fall.  The state is expected to provide detailed guidance for this in the coming week. 

The School Committee also heard an update on the Building for the Future projects.  On June 9th the Town Council approved a loan order of $103 million for construction of new Hosmer and Cunniff schools.  A construction fence is in place at the Cunniff and the groundbreaking will take place on June 24th at 4:30.  For the Hosmer, a neighborhood meeting via Zoom is scheduled for this Thursday, June 18th at 6 PM to hear about how construction will impact the neighborhood.

As a final note, Tuesday, June 16th was the last day of school and just a few days ahead of High School graduation on the 20th.  Congratulations to the 2020 graduates, and many thanks to educators and staff across the district who have worked through the many challenges of remote learning for the past three months.  This year has required extra effort and perseverance on the part of everyone in the district as well as from parents and students.  The School Committee is grateful to all in the community for helping and supporting the Watertown schools during these extraordinary times. 

The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for 7 PM on July 13th.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee


June 1, 2020 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, June 1st using Zoom conferencing.  Watertown Cable broadcast the meeting ‘live’ and will replay it on the local cable channel.  The meeting began with a statement regarding recent events involving the tragic death of George Floyd and racial injustices in this country. 

To continue hearing from teachers on their remote learning experiences, Cluster 3 teachers from the Middle School (Jim Kirkcaldy, Patrick Dayton, Ellen Fitanides, Cristina Spicer, and Heather Smith) spoke about their work with 7th grade students.  They have a Zoom meeting with their students every day and focus on different subjects on different days.  Students engage in a variety of asynchronous activities and are supported in homework sessions and small group gatherings.  They also have various strategies to connect with parents.  From the High School, three teachers (Kacie Kirkpatrick, Joanna Honig, and Elena Wikner) spoke about their remote teaching experiences.  Student participation is more variable at this level and generally lower than at the Middle School and elementary grades.  These teachers covered a variety of topics, including teaching with special education students, tutoring students, and the challenges of engaging students at all learning levels.  Collectively, these teachers provided a number of important insights on the successes and challenges of remote teaching.

Also from the High School, the Committee heard from the Class Valedictorian, David Abrahamyan, and the Class Salutatorian, Elias Cherry-Germain.  Both spoke about their experiences at the High School and thanked their teachers.  In other High School news, graduation will take place on June 20th and will consist of a diploma-conferring process at Victory Field.  Students will enter Victory Field one at a time with their parents or guardians, receive their diploma, and have a picture taken.  A video will be made of all the students and accompanying music and comments.  In addition, a car rally is under consideration. 

In budget matters, the School Committee approved a budget request to the town of $51,937,315 for FY21.  This is a 2.9% increase over the current budget.  The Town Manager had projected a 5% increase for the school department last October, but in the last few months the fiscal situation for the town has changed significantly.  Recognizing this situation, and after discussion with the Manager, the School Committee reduced the increase by $1,026,180.  It was emphasized, however, that these changes do not diminish the core instructional programs of the district.  As part of budget discussions, the Budget and Finance Subcommittee reported on two meetings in May. 

Several contracts were approved.  The Superintendent’s three-year contract that ends on June 30th was renewed for a four-year term.  Members of the Committee supported this change and spoke highly of the Superintendent’s leadership and vision for the district and her ability to work with other educators and the community in moving the district forward.  In addition, in light of the difficult financial situation in the coming year, the Superintendent declined a salary raise that would have started in July.  Other parts of the contract did not change.

The Committee also approved collective bargaining agreements for Unit B (14 coordinators) of the Watertown Educators Association as well as Unit C (6 assistant principals, athletic director, and early childhood coordinator).  Both are three-year contracts that include a number of changes as well as annual salary increases of 2.25% in the first year (FY20) and 2% in each of the following years.  These increases are the same as those approved for Unit A (teachers) earlier in the year.    

In other actions, the Committee approved a school calendar for 2020-21.  School will begin on Tuesday, September 8th.  Also for the coming year, the Superintendent announced formation of a 40-plus person Re-Opening Task Force.  The Task Force includes four subcommittees: Physical Buildings, Teaching & Learning, Student Support, and Operations.  The Task Force is currently considering options in each area and will narrow the focus when the state provides more guidance.  In addition, a survey will soon be sent to students, teachers, and parents to assess remote learning experiences and help in planning for the new school year.   

The School Committee also heard an update on the Building for the Future projects.  On May 20th, the School Building Committee approved the $92.3 million bid from Brait Builders for construction costs of the new Hosmer and Cunniff buildings.  This was an important milestone for these projects.  The Building Committee’s recommendation now goes to the Town Council for a vote, which is scheduled for June 9th.  In addition, neighborhood meetings (via Zoom) to hear about the construction process are planned for 6 PM on June 4th for the Cunniff and June 11th for the Hosmer.  The School Building Committee next meets on June 3rd at 6 PM to review the latest options for a new High School.

In upcoming events, there is a virtual art show happening now (https://www.wpsart.org/) and a virtual music fest planned soon (see https://watertownmusic.org/).  Also, the Superintendent will hold online ‘coffees’ via Zoom on June 8th at 9 AM and 7 PM.  The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for 7 PM on June 15th.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee


May 4, 2020 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, May 4th using Zoom conferencing.  Watertown Cable broadcast the meeting ‘live’ and will replay it on the local cable channel.  As this was Teacher Appreciation Week, the School Committee and administration thanked the teachers and other staff throughout the district for the important learning opportunities they have provided during this very difficult time of building closure.     

The meeting began with a focus on the High School, particularly the options for celebrating the graduating class.  The High School student advisors, Lakshmi Thangaraj and Evan Fleischer, spoke about their remote learning experiences and also the strong desire by seniors, expressed through a survey, to have a live graduation event at Victory Field at some point during the summer.  Principal Lundberg, who spoke at this time, said that a 17-member committee has been formed with parents, students, and others to discuss graduation ceremony options.  The hope is to have an event sometime this summer, but it will depend on social distancing and any other requirements determined by the state and health authorities.  She also described the various activities planned for seniors, including lawn signs for each senior, and other ideas under consideration, like a car parade during what would have been graduation weekend.  She also noted that the athletic and honors award ceremonies would be combined and put together as a video that would be available to students. 

A second presentation and discussion featured Remote Learning Phase 3, which began this past week when it was announced by the governor that schools would not open again this academic year.  As part of Phase 3, the state has identified key learning objectives – “Power” standards – from among the existing standards for each subject and grade level.  Meeting these standards will best prepare students for the coming year.  Along with a focus on these areas, the state also is requesting that districts do their best to engage all students.  The Assistant Superintendent reported on activities in the district, including a survey of Middle and High School students around their remote learning experience as well as faculty around professional development needs. 

As part of this presentation, four teachers spoke about their remote learning strategies and experiences:  Jacqueline Tresca and Susan Mannix, 1st grade co-teachers at the Lowell, Kelly Graves, 4th grade teacher at the Hosmer, and Heidi Baildon Rass, ESL teacher at the Middle School.  They described the various ways they engage with students, both through Zoom and supporting other student learning activities, as well as the meetings they have with other teachers, curriculum coordinators, coaches, and other educators to plan and coordinate learning activities.  They reflected on the challenges as well as opportunities that have come with remote learning.  One point of discussion with the School Committee was the concern that students who are not participating will come to school in the fall significantly behind those students who regularly participate now.  This is a concern across the state and one that the district will need to address with appropriate learning opportunities, supports, and interventions. 

In other business, the School Committee heard an update on the Building for the Future projects.  For the elementary schools, the general contractor bids for a new Hosmer and Cunniff will be opened on May 6th.  Subsequent to that, the School Building Committee will meet to discuss next steps.  As part of the elementary projects, the first and second floors of the Phillips Administration Building will become an Early Childhood Learning Center for pre-K and preschool classes.  Contractors will begin work on converting those floors by mid-May, with a completion date of late-July.  For the Cunniff, renovations continue at Cunniff West in Waltham, and for the Hosmer, the connector part of the building should be empty by mid-June in preparation for demolition of that part of the building.  For the High School project, a response was made to the MSBA on questions they raised about the Education Plan and Space Summary.  The architect continues to refine alternative site proposals that can be presented to a community meeting, preferably when in-person public meetings are allowed.  This may delay the High School timeline a little, but there are opportunities to catch-up later in the schedule. 

In another report, the School Committee Chair announced that a tentative agreement has been reached with the Superintendent to renew her contract for a four-year term.  Her current three-year contract ends on June 30th of this year.  The new contract would include a compensation increase of 2% in the coming year.  The Chair noted that a four-year contract reflects the important work in teaching and learning led by the Superintendent as well as the importance of continuity with the Superintendent’s leadership during the major building construction projects.  The new contract will be considered for a vote at the next meeting. 

And finally, on the personnel side, the Superintendent noted that part-time staff in the Extended Day program have been furloughed for the present time.  Hopefully, they will be hired back in the fall, assuming schools are operating normally.    

The Superintendent will hold online ‘coffees’ via Zoom on May 11th at 9 AM and 7 PM.  The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for 7 PM on May 18th.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee



April 13, 2020 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, April 13th in its second online meeting using Zoom conferencing.  Watertown Cable broadcast the meeting ‘live,’ and several members of the public joined through the public connection to Zoom.    

The meeting began with a presentation and public hearing on the Superintendent’s proposed FY21 school budget, which starts July 1, 2020.  The presentation of the proposed budget included an overview of academic accomplishments during the past year as well as a level-services budget for FY21.  A level-services budget includes continuing costs from the current year and new costs, such as contractual obligations, needed to maintain the same level of educational services.  With a projected 5% budget increase from the town (projected in October 2019), the dollar increase for FY21 is $2,522,071.  It is anticipated that 92% of that increase is needed for level services, which includes increases under collective bargaining agreements, positions added during the year, continued expansion of the elementary language (FLES) program, and a variety of expenses, including increased tuitions for Minuteman and Out-of-District placements.  With the remaining 8% ($197,487), along with anticipated turnover savings from retirements and resignations, the proposed budget includes several administrative part-time positions and three new full-time positions, including an instructional coach at the elementary level, one Middle School teacher, and an occupational therapist. 

The School Committee did not vote on the proposed budget.  The recent economic downturn has created uncertainties for local town revenues as well as revenues from the state.  Once there is more clarity on revenues, the Committee will re-visit the proposed budget and make adjustments accordingly.

Another presentation focused on the district’s Extended Learning Plan, Phase II.  Since the school district will not re-open until at least May 4th (or later), district educators expanded the remote learning plan first developed after the school closing on March 13th.  This is a very robust learning plan that includes synchronous activities, such as teleconferencing when the teacher and students are engaging in material at the same time, as well as asynchronous learning, when students are working on their own time with reading, problem sets, and similar activities.  It is anticipated that elementary students will spend 1-2 hours per school day on learning activities, while middle school students spend 2-3 hours each school day, and high school students spend 3-4 hours each day.   Discussion and questions ensued, along with many ‘thanks’ to teachers and others in the district who have worked on this plan. 

Another important discussion related to the April vacation week.  Given the unusual circumstances over the past month, school districts across the state are considering whether to continue with the vacation week.  Districts are making different decisions on this issue.  The Superintendent presented a recommendation that remote learning continue.  This allows for the momentum of Phase II to continue and will shorten the school year by one week.  In a survey of teachers and parents, just over 70% of each group recommended that the April vacation week be cancelled.  After discussion, the School Committee unanimously approved this recommendation.     

In other business, the School Committee heard a report on the current FY20 budget and updates on the Building for the Future projects.  At the elementary level, construction bids on the new Hosmer and Cunniff schools are expected in early May, and at the high school level, the MSBA made its initial response with a variety of questions to the educational plan and space summary provided by Watertown.  The School Building Committee has not met since prior to the school closure, but will be meeting via Zoom in the near future. 

The Superintendent will hold online ‘coffees’ via Zoom on April 27th at 9 AM and 7 PM.  The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for 7 PM on May 4th.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee



March 2, 2020 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, March 2nd in Town Hall. The Wayside Youth and Family Support Network presented the results of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Watertown Middle and High School students.  The written report compares Watertown to other Middlesex districts and the PowerPoint focuses on Watertown survey results over time. This important survey covers a variety of youth-related issues, including substance use (tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana), mental health (depression, suicide, stress), bullying and other activities. There will be a variety of related activities at the High School during SPEAK week, beginning March 16th. This includes a community event featuring Michael (Mykee) Fowlin on the 16th from 6-8 PM in the High School auditorium. 

Also related to the High School, Joel Giacobozzi, the new principal as of July 1, was introduced, and the High School Program of Studies for the coming year was approved by the Committee.  The Committee also approved two future high school field trips to different parts of Europe. 

In other votes, the School Committee approved the District Curriculum Accommodation Plan.  This Plan lists a number of strategies and curriculum tools that teachers can use to support student learning. The Committee also approved changes to five School Committee policies, and it sent proposed compensation adjustments for Community Education staff to the Budget & Finance Subcommittee for further discussion. 

In addition, the Committee approved the Superintendent’s request for funding to hire a part-time Community Engagement and Communications Strategist. This person will support the district by developing and implementing internal and external communications. This has become particularly important with communications required for the elementary and High School building projects. 

In the Building for the Future projects, the Cunniff and Hosmer are continuing on-track for demolition and construction to begin this summer. The bid documents for new construction will be released on March 12th, and both schools are planning for the move. A community meeting will be held at the Hosmer on March 19th to provide more details on the project. The Preschool at the Hosmer and pre-K classes from all three elementary schools will move to the Phillips building, which will be renovated this spring and summer. 

For the High School, the School Building Committee approved the Preliminary Design Program and sent it to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. This is an extensive document that provides information on all aspects of the project, including the Education Plan and the proposed space needs summary for the new building. This document also removes Moxley Field as a site option for the new building, leaving three options for further study: Victory Field, the existing site, and the existing site in conjunction with the Phillips building area. Those options will become the focus of study in the coming months, with a final decision in late summer or early fall. In addition, a new website is being developed for High School and elementary school projects. There will be a WHS Community Forum on March 26th from 6:30-8:00 in order to provide the community with an update on the project and to solicit feedback.  The School Building Committee meets again on March 18th in Town Hall.   

The next School Committee meeting is at the Middle School at 7 PM on March 23rd.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee



February 10, 2020 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, February 10th in Town Hall. The High School student advisors provided an update on happenings in the school, then the Committee took up two important High School matters. First, Superintendent Galdston presented an overview of the Education Plan for the new High School. This Plan evolved from a series of visioning sessions and the collaborative work of teachers, students, administrators, and the community. Guiding principles include: real world living; inclusivity; school as a community resource; connections; and adaptability and evolution. 

Based on this Education Plan, a space needs analysis was presented by the subcommittee and Ai3, the architectural firm designing the new High School and elementary schools. This analysis includes the proposed square footage needed for all spaces in the new building. As is true in almost all high school building projects, the proposed square footage exceeds in a few areas the guidelines of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The MSBA maintains various space limitations to maximize its ability to spread funds to as many schools as possible.  The existing High School includes 138,159 net square feet, while the proposed building will be 154,737 net square feet. The main area of increase is in core academic spaces, which includes classrooms and related spaces to accommodate 21st Century learning environments. It’s estimated that about 16,500 square feet will fall outside MSBA reimbursement guidelines, which is typical for school building projects. Both the Education Plan and space needs proposal were approved by the School Committee and now go to the School Building Committee and the MSBA.   

Related to the elementary schools’ projects, the School Committee approved bus services for Cunniff students attending Cunniff West in Waltham (St. Judes’s School) beginning in September. In the next month, Cunniff families will be surveyed to see how many students want to ride a bus. Also, the Committee approved a plan to identify available funds in preschool and pre-K revolving accounts to support renovations at the Phillips School for 10 preschool and pre-K classrooms. Beginning in September, during the construction period, all preschool and pre-K classes in the district will be held in the Phillips School. Also building related, the Committee approved a request for state support to replace two boilers at the Middle School. This request must be approved by the Town Council and Town Manager before submission to the MSBA. 

With respect to the school calendar, the Committee approved the addition of an early release on April 17th. The Hosmer and Cunniff schools will use this time to prepare for moving and other construction-related activities, and the other schools will use it for professional development and school planning. The Committee also approved September 8th as the first day of school in the fall. Per the collective bargaining agreement, the first day of school for students will always be the Tuesday after Labor Day. And finally, the Committee approved a motion to not participate in the state’s school choice program, and it also approved a music field trip to New York City. 

The Committee heard the first budget presentation of the proposed FY21 budget, which starts in July.  With a proposed 5% increase from the town, the initial budget projection includes a level services budget of $52,818,473, which is 94.2% of the total increase, leaving approximately $145,000 (5.8%) for new budget priorities. The level services budget includes moving existing costs forward to the coming year, plus increases required by contracts and to continue student and district services at the same level as this year (for example, additional staff to adjust for class size increases and the final year of FLES expansion to 4th and 5th grades). This includes salary increases, increases in out-of-district tuitions, and several new positions, including a social worker and school nurse. The out-of-district tuition increase is driven, in large part, by a 29% increase in tuition to Perkins as well as increased costs at Minuteman.

In other reports, the Chair asked for volunteers from the Committee to serve on an ad hoc subcommittee to begin the process of soliciting and hiring an attorney for the Committee and district. Also, the Superintendent noted that she will soon conclude the process of hiring a new High School principal for the coming year.  

The School Building Committee meets next on February 27th to discuss High School matters, and the School Committee meets on March 2nd in Town Hall. Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee

 
January 27, 2020 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, January 27th, at the Cunniff School. The meeting started with a presentation from Cunniff teachers and students on integrating technology into the curriculum.  Students presented examples of using Bee-Bots for learning math skills, google slide presentations, Scratch Jr. storyboards, and Adobe Spark social studies projects. Two fifth grade teachers also talked about their co-teaching strategies. 

The Building for the Future presentation was moved up to focus on the major changes coming to the Cunniff community. Several slides provided images of the new Cunniff building, and the Superintendent described changes coming this year as Cunniff faculty and students move to the former St. Jude’s school in Waltham, to be called ‘Cunniff West.’ The town is leasing the building as swing space while the new Cunniff is being built.  Cunniff West will open in September, with planned occupancy of the new Cunniff in January 2022. The new Hosmer will begin construction this summer/fall as well, giving the community two very important and exciting school building projects this year. Major renovations at the Lowell school will follow the Cunniff project. To facilitate these projects, the Superintendent noted that the Early Steps pre-school (currently at the Hosmer) and all pre-Ks will move to the Phillips building this fall.  

Planning for a new High School continues. A community forum on January 21 included presentations on the Education Plan for the High School as well as major options for a new building: at the existing site, a combined project with the existing site and the Phillips School/Senior Center area, and the Victory field area. The Massachusetts School Building Authority expects the town to explore all options at this stage of the study. 

The Superintendent gave two reports. The first was a mid-cycle update on accomplishments in meeting her annual goals for this school year. A color-coded progress update with key actions and benchmarks was applied to seven major goals: educator goal setting and evaluation, communication with the school community, Building for the Future, supporting equity, student academic growth and achievement, tiered systems of support, and shared vision for district improvement. 

The second report provided an update on the High School principal search. The Screening Committee interviewed eight applicants and recommended three to the Superintendent: Jennifer Hamilton, Joel Giacobozzi, and Matthew Poska. These finalists visited the High School last week, with interviews on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  The superintendent indicated that the next step in the process will be to conduct site visits.

In other actions, the School Committee approved a request from the Superintendent to provide $78,927 for salary adjustments for the current fiscal year for staff who are not part of collective bargaining unions. Most staff will receive 2.25% increases, while a small number will receive slightly higher raises as part of market adjustments related to their positions and performance.  The Committee also approved a motion to allow the disposal of surplus property at the schools undergoing demolition or renovations, with a monthly report to the Committee on items declared surplus. This will expedite the process from the current practice that requires Committee approval prior to disposal. 

Upcoming subcommittee meetings at the Phillips building include: Athletics (3 PM) and Policy (4 PM) on February 3rd and Curriculum on February 6th (3:30 PM).  The next School Committee meeting is February 10th in Town Hall (7 PM). Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

 

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



January 6, 2020 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on Monday, January 6th, in its first meeting of 2020.  David Stokes joined the Committee as a new member, replacing Eileen Hsu-Balzer who retired after 24 years.  In the annual reorganization, the 2019 officers were re-elected to their positions: John Portz as chair, Kendra Foley as vice-chair, and Amy Donohue as secretary. Committee assignments also were approved with only a few changes from 2019 to reflect David Stokes as a new member. 

There were two presentations at the meeting. Renée Gaudett, the Executive Director of the Watertown Boys and Girls Club, provided an overview of Club activities. The Club provides youth programming after school every school day as well as summer camps and a number of other activities. There are over 1,400 registered members, with an average daily attendance of 146 youth. The Club is particularly appreciative of the busing provided by the school department for youth from all three elementary schools to attend the Club, and there was a discussion on other ways the Club and WPS can collaborate in supporting Watertown youth.    

A second presentation was a report on the special education Connections Program. An outside consultant reported on her analysis of the program, which includes 42 students on the Autism Spectrum. The report is organized around “practices,” “systems,” and “data” that are central to the program. Recommendations are made in each area, which will become the focus of attention for the Connections program and a subsequent follow-up report to the Committee. The discussion covered several topics and highlighted the need for more outcome data and a higher response rate on a parent survey.  

Among “action items,” the Committee tabled until the next meeting a vote on compensation for non-aligned staff, while several budget transfers in the current fiscal year were approved. The Committee also voted to continue with Colin Boyle as its attorney, pending an open search process to happen as soon as possible with a conclusion no later than July 1, 2020. Attorney Boyle recently changed law firms, but the Superintendent and Chair recommended the Committee continue with him while in the midst of collective bargaining activities.   

Superintendent Galdston provided an update on the High School Principal search. A newly-formed screening committee will meet soon to formulate interview questions and review applications. Currently, there are almost 30 applications. Focus groups with parents, students and staff are planned for January 13th and 14th. Interviews with candidates will take place later in January with visits to the District by finalists at the end of the month.     

In an update on Building for the Future, the Building Committee will meet on January 8th to focus on the High School, January 15th to focus on the elementary schools, including a report on project costs based on 60% completed construction documents. There is a community forum on the High School on January 21st at 6 PM at the High School Lecture Hall and another Building Committee meeting on January 29th.    

During the public forum, two parents spoke about their concerns regarding bullying in the schools, particularly in the Middle School. Later in the meeting, the Superintendent spoke to this issue, committing the district to continue its work on addressing concerns around bullying. She noted that of the 1000 Watertown students who responded in the recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 146 describing some type of bullying at school.    

The next regular meeting of the School Committee is January 27th at the Cunniff School.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



December 9, 2019 School Committee Update

The School Committee met on December 9th for its last meeting of 2019.  This also was the last meeting for Eileen Hsu-Balzer, who didn’t run for re-election this year. Eileen is finishing 24 years on the School Committee. She is the longest-serving member since 1896! At the beginning of the meeting School Committee members and former members, Tony Paolillo and Laurie McManus, thanked Eileen for her many years of dedication and service to the Watertown public schools. 

There were several action items before the Committee.  The Committee approved applications to the state for two Chapter 74 career and technical education programs: Engineering Technology and Medical Assisting. If approved by the state, these programs would be phased-in over several years, beginning in 2021, and would be incorporated into the Educational Plan for the new high school. Projected costs are $319,000 for staff and equipment, although it is likely that equipment can be secured through outside grant funding, reducing the costs to approximately $146,000, which is primarily for staffing the Medical Assisting program. The High School currently has staff in Project Lead the Way that can support the Engineering Technology program.

The Committee also approved budget priorities for FY2021, which begins July 1, 2020.  Priorities include a number of current and future initiatives under the strategic objectives of equity, excellence, and community. The administration will develop a preliminary budget to be presented to the Budget and Finance Subcommittee at the end of January. In addition, the Committee approved and recommended to the Town Council an FY2021 capital budget totaling $4.78 million. Most of the projected capital expenditures are at the Middle School, including boiler replacement, upgrade to fire protection, air conditioning in the cafeteria and third floor, and remodeling of bathrooms. 

The School Committee heard several reports. One report on School Nutrition provided highlights on improvements to food services across all five schools. Improvements include the addition of salad bars at the Middle and High Schools as well as increased use of locally-sourced items to meet nutrition goals. A composting program is being enhanced, and food services are being connected to school curriculums. A “Backpack Program” has started at the Cunniff to provide weekend food options for students. 

The Superintendent presented a report on class sizes at the Middle and High Schools. Average Middle School class sizes are 21-24 students, while High School class sizes in the core subject areas average 16-19 students. Of particular note at the High School is 283 students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The report provides detail on individual class sizes at each school. 

In an update on Building for the Future, for the elementary schools, a recent focus was on options for using solar panels to achieve Net Zero energy use at the proposed Cunniff and Hosmer buildings. A consultant is being hired to assist in this review. At the High School, the focus is currently on developing an Educational Plan for the new school. 

The next regular meeting of the School Committee is January 6th in Town Hall. Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



November 18 and 25, 2019 School Committee Update

The School Committee met twice over the last ten days.  Most recently, the Committee met on November 25th at 5:30 to vote on the Unit A (teachers) Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Watertown Educators’ Association.  The MOA includes changes to the existing contract for the next three school years, from Sept. 2019 to Sept. 2022.  The MOA was approved by the Committee and was approved by the Watertown Educators Association the previous week. 

The School Committee also met during the previous week on November 18th for its regular monthly meeting.  The Teaching and Learning Showcase featured a presentation on Kingian Non-Violence activities as part of the district's social-emotional learning initiative.  Teachers and students from the middle school, along with community partners, described how Kingian Non-Violence techniques are extending to the elementary schools as well as the high school.  At the high school, students using Kingian and restorative justice skills developed 5 modules for 9th grade advisory.  The modules cover such topics as use of social media and conflict reconciliation.  Additional modules are being developed. 

The School Committee also recognized three high school students as National Merit Commended Students: Evan Fleischer, Ashley Nygren, and Raymond Whitney. Based on their PSAT scores, these students are among the top 3.3% in the country.   

The School Committee heard a report on career and technical education programs at the high school.  Based on an analysis of the job market and student interests, the district is initiating a process to create Chapter 74 programs in Engineering Technology and Medical Assisting. Chapter 74 programs go through a state approval process that begins with a Part A application this week.  The School Committee will review this initiative again at its December 9th meeting to vote on including it as part of the Education Plan for a new high school. 

Another report by the Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee focused on the school capital plan for the next fiscal year, FY 2021. The Subcommittee reviewed this plan and will provide a more detailed presentation at the December School Committee meeting when the Committee will vote on recommending the plan to the Town Manager and Town Council.  The Committee also heard updates on the operating budget, personnel changes, and enrollment trends.   

In an update on Building for the Future, the next meeting of the School Building Committee will be held on December 4th.  The projected costs for the elementary schools project continue to be $170,000,000.  Working with the Owner’s Project Manager and the architect, Ai3, the elementary project continues to move forward.  The high school project also is moving forward, focusing on a “Visioning” process as part of developing an educational plan for a new school. 

The next meeting of the School Committee is December 9th in Town Hall. 

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

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 


October 21, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on October 21st in the Lowell School library.  This was the first of five meetings this year to be held in our school buildings.  We began the meeting with students from the Lowell leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lowell School Pledge.  The next school-based meeting is at the Cunniff School on January 27th.  

Lowell students also led the Teaching and Learning Showcase with several presentations related to STEM Week, including a demonstration with School Committee members on programming “Bee-Bots” to navigate paths on a paper maze.  In addition, slides were presented that show the planned building addition and renovations of the Lowell School that are part of the elementary school construction project. 

The Watertown Community Foundation (WCF) also made a presentation on their programs and activities related to the schools.  In 2018, the WCF merged with the Watertown Education Foundation and has continued many of their activities.  In 2019, $29,000 in grants were awarded to teachers for education-related projects, and in the summer of 2019, 14 high school students worked as WCF-funded interns at area businesses and non-profits.  The Foundation is helping to coordinate the Backpack food program, SAT Prep activities, and several fundraising activities, including the Spelling Bee, Teacher Tribute, and upcoming Trivia Night on November 22nd

MCAS results from the spring of 2019 were presented for all five schools.  This included a PowerPoint presentation as well as a memo from the Assistant Superintendent.  Overall, the results are positive and show improvement in a number of areas, although challenges remain in several grades.  The report covers math, English language arts, and science test scores for all students as well as subgroups of students, such as economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities.  Data also are reported for cohorts of students, showing the change in test scores for the same group of students as they progress through grades. 

An update was provided on the Middle School Turnaround Plan. An Instructional Leadership Team was created over the summer and an instructional focus – Learning Targets – was identified to help support teaching and learning at all grades and subjects.  Four Turnaround Practices are in place and teachers are working in Professional Learning Teams to develop a number of key school-wide improvement strategies. 

In an update on Building for the Future, the School Building Committee will hear a report on projected costs for the elementary school projects at its next meeting on November 6th.  The High School is beginning a “visioning” process as a key step in developing an educational plan for a new school. 

The next meeting of the School Committee is November 18th in Town Hall.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



October 7, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on October 7th in Town Hall.  In the “Teaching and Learning Showcase,” the Superintendent reported on the district’s 2019 state-determined accountability status.  District-wide, WPS scored 63%, which is defined as “substantial progress toward goals.”  This part of the accountability system measures the district’s progress according to student test scores, high school completion, English language proficiency, and two additional indicators on absenteeism and completion of advanced coursework (in high school).  At the individual school level, the Hosmer is a “School of Recognition” primarily because of growth in test scores.  The other schools either “met or exceeded targets” or made “progress” towards targets.  No school requires assistance or intervention by the state.  At the October 21st Committee meeting, the administration will report on MCAS scores by school.

The Committee heard another report on Tiered-Focus Monitoring completed by the state on the district’s delivery of special education, civil rights, English learners, and career/vocational technical education.  The state review identified between one and six findings in each area that require follow-up by the district.  This is a smaller number of findings compared to the previous review several years ago.  School districts across the state are subject to this review on a periodic basis. 

The Superintendent announced the search process for a new High School principal.  Shirley Lundberg is retiring after seven years at WHS.  The position will be posted on December 6th to receive applications, and a screening committee of educators, parents, and community members will be formed in December.  Applications will be reviewed in January with initial interviews beginning the week of January 21st.

The Committee heard a report from the Policy Subcommittee on the issue of seeking an MIAA waiver for a non-WPS student (who attends an online high school) to participate in athletics.  The existing school policy does not allow for such a waiver.  The School Committee followed the recommendation of the Subcommittee, which was to continue the current policy, recognizing the importance of reserving school extracurricular activities for students attending WPS or, like home-schooled students, participating in a curriculum approved by WPS. 

In other business, the Committee approved the 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. in early June; reappointed the Superintendent as the district’s voting member on the EDCO collaborative board; and approved a motion that all WPS employees would receive at least the minimum wage.  Also, it was announced that Committee members would be liaisons with the following schools:  Lily Rayman-Read – WHS; Amy Donohue – WMS; Kendra Foley – Hosmer; Lindsay Mosca – Lowell; John Portz – Cunniff. 

In an update on Building for the Future, the School Building Committee recently heard a report on sustainability (net-zero and LEED) for the new Hosmer and Cunniff, and the High School project will soon begin the visioning process for the educational plan and a feasibility study of possible school locations.  Also, it was noted that initial planning has begun for a campaign in support of a debt exclusion vote to support a new high school.  This vote will not likely happen until 2021, but planning is important and voter approval is required for the state to cost-share the project.             

The next meeting of the School Committee is October 21st at the Lowell School.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



September 9, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on September 9th in the first meeting of the new school year.  Two key presentations and votes involved goals for the current school year for the Superintendent and the School Committee.  The School Committee approved seven goals for the Superintendent, several of which are a continuation from last year.  The goals are:  Fair and Effective Educator Goal Setting and Evaluation; Effective Communication with the Larger School Community; Support for the Building for the Future Projects; Systems and Structures that Ensure Equity; Increased Student Achievement for All Students; Tiered Systems of Support; and Shaved Vision for District Improvement.  Each goal includes Key Actions and Benchmarks for the year.  The Superintendent also reported on initiatives for the year under the District Improvement Strategy.    

The School Committee also approved four goals for itself: School Committee Liaisons with Each School; Annual Report of WPS Activities (with the Superintendent); Articles for Publication; and School Committee Meetings that Feature Individual Schools.  Several of the goals will require refinement, including the assignment of individual School Committee members as liaisons to specific schools, and the set-up of a schedule and details on holding one school committee meeting at each school during the year.  It also was noted that the Committee will need to play a role in facilitating community support for the debt exclusion override vote that will be needed to fund a new high school.    

The School Committee welcomed three new administrators to the district:  Rashmi Pimprikar as K-12 Digital Learning and Library Coordinator, William Bertoni as K-12 Physical Education, Health, and Wellness Coordinator, and Susanne Dunn as 6-12 English Language Arts Coordinator.  In addition, 33 new professional staff joined the district, 25 of whom are teachers.  In another change, the new high school student advisors, Lakshmi Thangaraj and Evan Fleischer, gave their first report to the School Committee.

In other news, Eileen Hsu-Balzer was recognized by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  Ms. Hsu-Balzer is concluding twenty-four years on the School Committee at the end of the year. 

With the Building for the Future school projects, the Town Council will be voting on funding for the Owner’s Project Manager for the elementary schools, and the Designer Selection Panel established by the Massachusetts School Building Authority will meet on September 17th to select an architect for the High School project. 

The Superintendent welcomed students, teachers, and staff to the new school year.  She also announced recent recognition of Watertown by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the district’s holistic approach to equity.

The next meeting of the School Committee is October 7th. Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 


August 27, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met twice in August. The first meeting was on August 14th and was part of the retreat for district administrators.  In the first part of the meeting principals from each school spoke about key accomplishments of their school over the past year.  These presentations sparked discussion on a range of school-related topics.  

The Superintendent briefly outlined four key district improvement strategies for the coming year:  further development of a multi-tiered system of student support; more work on curriculum alignment and review; additional work on equity issues; and improved communications with families and the community.   

The School Committee and administrators discussed the communication ideas developed by the School Committee at its July 8, 2019 retreat.  Four goals were discussed: holding selected School Committee meetings in school buildings or in Town Hall, but focusing part of the meeting on an individual school; School Committee members serving as liaisons to individual schools; School Committee members writing or co-authoring feature articles on school-related activities; and an Annual Report on district accomplishments, which would be done with the Administration. 

The second meeting was on August 27th in the High School Lecture Hall.  The two major discussion items were drafts of annual goals for the Superintendent and the School Committee.  The Superintendent presented seven goals for the coming academic year.  These included:  Fair and Effective Educator Goal Setting and Evaluation, Effective Communication with the School Community, Building for the Future School Projects, Systems and Structures that Ensure Equity, Narrowing the Achievement Gap, Increased Student Achievement, and Shared Vision for District Improvement.  Each includes a number of Key Actions and Benchmarks.  The School Committee presented and discussed the four goals identified at the August 14th meeting (see above).  Both Superintendent and School Committee goals will be voted on at the September 9th meeting.

Among votes taken, the School Committee approved a restructuring of the Middle School Athletic fee and program.  For the next two years, the $50 activity fee at the Middle School will also cover participation in all athletic programs.  With the activity fee and available monies in the existing athletic fee revolving account, additional coaches and equipment will be made available to expand intramural and possibly interscholastic sports programs to support growing participation at the school.

In other votes, the School Committee approved elementary, Middle School, and High School handbooks.  It also approved Committee meeting dates for the coming school year.

Other reports covered a Curriculum Subcommittee meeting and an update on Building for the Future projects.  The elementary schools are finishing the Design Development phase, which will soon include more detailed cost estimates for the three school projects.  For the High School project, the Designer Selection Panel set-up by the Massachusetts School Building Authority met in August and identified three architectural firms – Ai3, JCJ Architecture and Jonathan Levi Architects – for finalist interviews on September 17th.  The firm chosen on that date will then negotiate with the Watertown School Building Committee and the town for a contract to be the architect for the High School project.

And finally, congratulations to Eileen Donohue, Watertown’s long-time and very successful field hockey coach, for her induction into the National Field Hockey Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.   

The next meeting of the Committee is September 9.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz
Chair, Watertown School Committee 


July 22, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update
The School Committee met on July 22, 2019.  The main topic for the meeting was a report on the Superintendent’s annual evaluation.  At this time each year the School Committee completes an evaluation of the Superintendent based on her annual goals for the past academic year as well as four standards identified by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Each member of the School Committee completed their own evaluation, then the Chair created a composite evaluation that includes comments from members as well as a tally of all ratings.

The evaluation was very positive.  As one School Committee member noted, “Dr. Galdston continues on her path to becoming an exceptionally talented and capable superintendent.”  In the final summary rating, all seven members rated the Superintendent as “proficient” (the rating scale for this part of the evaluation is unsatisfactory, needs improvement, proficient, and exemplary).  For the four state standards, which are Instructional Leadership, Management and Operations, Family and Community Engagement, and Professional Culture, most of the ratings also were proficient, with several exemplary, and one needs improvement.  The six annual goals use a different rating scale, but the most frequent rating was “met,” with several goals indicating “significant progress” and some “exceeded” ratings as well.  While noting areas for growth, the overall evaluation provided strong support for the Superintendent’s leadership of the Watertown schools.    

In other reports and presentations, it was announced that the School Building Committee will meet on Wednesday, July 24.  One key agenda item is a decision on the preferred design for the addition to the Lowell School.  For the High School project, the Designer Selection Panel will meet in mid-August to review proposals from architectural firms to be the designer for the High School.  The Selection Panel is composed of 16 people, 13 of whom are appointed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.  The other three are from the town and include the chief executive officer of the town (Town Manager), Superintendent, and a representative from the School Committee.  The Committee selected Mark Sideris to be their representative.  Not only is he on the School Committee, but he is the President of the Town Council and Chair of the Building Committee. 

In other business, the Superintendent presented a report on mobility rates in the district, based on locally-generated data.  The state prepares the official report later in 2019.  Based on our preliminary data with a total enrollment of 2784 students, the intake rate this past year was 2.8%, which is based on the number of students who enter the district.  The churn rate was 5.2%, which is based on the number of students who enter or exit the district.  And, the overall stability rate was 94.5%, which is based on the number of students who persist throughout the school year.  Based on these preliminary numbers, student mobility is lower than the previous year, indicating slightly higher stability in the student population.     

The next meeting of the Committee is August 19.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



July 8, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met twice on July 8, 2019.  The first meeting was at 4:30 and had only one agenda item: approval of transfers in the FY2019 budget.  A memo to the School Committee explained the major factors that resulted in a favorable end-of-the-year financial position.  These included a variety of one-time savings in salaries, such as three unfilled professional positions, a reduction in the number of instructional aides based on changes in student enrollment, and other savings.  Also, there were savings from a reduction in expenses, including lower out-of-district tuitions since fewer students attended Minuteman Vocational school than were originally budgeted, additional Circuit Breaker funds from the state for extraordinary special education costs, and other expense savings.  With these one-time, additional monies available, the School Committee approved a number of budget transfers.  These covered items not previously funded, such as curriculum materials, musical instruments, and athletic equipment.  In addition, these monies were used to pay for school capital projects that were already planned, but would have required funding support from the town.  Most of these projects are at the Middle School and High School. 

The School Committee also met at 5:15 for a retreat at the Commanders’ Mansion, facilitated by Dorothy Presser, our field representative from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.  There were two major topics.  First, we discussed the Superintendent’s evaluation process.  Topics included the various steps in the evaluation as well as the criteria and rating standards used in the evaluation.  Each School Committee member will complete an evaluation, which is combined into a composite by the Committee chair.  A draft of the composite evaluation will be presented to the Committee for discussion and a vote at the July 22 meeting. 

The second topic was a discussion of strategies to improve the effectiveness of the School Committee.  Most of the discussion focused on ways to improve community engagement and input to the School Committee as well as communication from the Committee to the public.  Possible strategies include School Committee liaisons with each school, holding some Committee meetings in schools or inviting schools to be featured at a Committee meeting, writing feature articles on key school events and happenings, and working with the Administration to produce an annual school report.  These and other strategies will be discussed over the summer, with a presentation of Committee goals for the year in early September. 

The next meeting of the Committee is July 22 in Town Hall.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee  






June 17, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update


The School Committee met on Monday, June 17, from 7-9 PM.  This was the last day of school.  Many thanks to educators and staff throughout the District for their work during the school year, and to the parents for their support.  Congratulations to students for completing another year, with special congratulations to 8th graders moving to the High School and our High School graduates heading to college, careers, military or other endeavors. 

 

At this meeting the Superintendent made two key presentations on activities in the district.  The first presentation was an update on progress in completing initiatives undertaken during 2018-19 as part of the District Improvement Strategy.  The update covered four strategic objectives and four major initiatives under each objective.  Among key activities during the year: Responsive Classroom in the elementary grades, Equity Leadership Team, Atlas curriculum mapping, professional development partnerships, instructional coaches at the elementary level, iReady assessments, 1:1 technology, new website, Professional Learning Teams, parent engagement strategies, and coordination with the Building Committee on school building projects.  In the fall, MCAS and other data will be available to complement this description of activities. 

The second presentation was the Superintendent’s report on accomplishments related to her 2018-19 goals.  Last September the School Committee approved six goals for the Superintendent.  Goals were developed around educator goal setting and evaluation, communication, school building projects, student achievement, the achievement gap, and a shared vision for the district.  The report identifies the completion status for actions designed to meet each goal.  The School Committee will use information from this document as part of its annual evaluation of the Superintendent, which will be completed this summer. 

The School Committee also heard a report on including Watertown in the state’s Seal of Biliteracy program.  Under this program, school districts can award a Seal of Biliteracy to high school students who meet certain benchmarks that prove competency in two languages.  Eligible students include native English speakers who learn another language as well as English Language Learners fluent in a different language who learn English.  The Committee will vote on joining this program at a subsequent meeting this summer. 

Accomplishments in spring sports were recognized early in the meeting.  The High School track team was particularly successful, setting a number of new school records. 

The Committee also heard an update from the Superintendent on staffing changes planned for the coming year, primarily at the elementary schools.  This includes the addition of several new positions as well as the reallocation of positions to meet class size guidelines and provide needed services.  In an update on Building for the Future, it was noted that the Building Committee will meet on June 19 to continue its review of elementary school designs, and the new Owner’s Project Manager for the High School will be introduced at a subsequent meeting. 

In upcoming meetings, the Curriculum Subcommittee will hold a meeting at 3:30 on July 8, and the School Committee will have a retreat later that day.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 


June 3, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, June 3, from 7-9 PM.  Highlights of this meeting included recognition of students and staff as well as presentations of school improvement plans from the three elementary schools.  Thirteen retiring staff were recognized for their many contributions to the Watertown Public Schools.  Collectively, they provided over 280 years of service to the Watertown schools.  Seven of the 13 were in attendance at the meeting. 

Several students also were recognized.  The High School Student Advisors, Honor Petrie and Olivia Lampasona, updated the Committee and spoke about their plans for next year as well as their role before the Committee.  The High School Valedictorian, Joshua Theodore, and the Salutatorian, Nathan Follett, were unable to attend due to a senior event, but Principal Lundberg read statements from each in which they reflected on their High School experience.  All four students are attending college in the coming year:  Tulane, Endicott, Princeton, and Cornell.  Mange Camara also was recognized for his indoor track accomplishments, including state records in the 55 and 300-meter races and will be attending Northeastern University. 

The Cunniff, the Hosmer, and the Lowell Elementary Schools presented key accomplishments from the current year as well as their school improvement plans for the coming year.  The principals, teachers, and parents on the site councils of each school commented on many important initiatives and practices in the elementary schools.  Among topics presented and discussed:  Responsive Classroom curriculum, iReady assessment, co-teaching, standards-based report cards, tiered instruction, Readers’ Workshop, summer reading, diversity initiatives, Foreign Language in the Elementary School, newsletters and other communication strategies, Literacy and Math Nights, International Night, and more.   It was interesting to hear about common initiatives across the schools, such as Responsive Classroom as the social-emotional curriculum, as well as individual school strategies, such as the Diversity Councils at the Lowell, the Welcoming Committee at the Hosmer, and Reading Buddies at the Cunniff. 

Among “Action Items,” the School Committee discussed and approved an increase in annual compensation for the Committee from $3200 to $4500.  The last increase in compensation was in 2008.  In explaining a need for the increase, several members noted the increase in the number of meetings and overall meeting time in recent years, as well as the overall rise in costs, such as childcare, that members sometimes incur for participating in meetings.  It also was noted that compensation for Town Councilors recently increased to $7500, and community members of the Board of Assessors receive annual compensation of $5075.  By the Town Charter, the School Committee can vote on a compensation change only in the first 18 months of a two-year term and the increase must be approved by the Town Council.  It does not go into effect until after the next election.

In other business, the FY2019 Budget Update outlined recent changes in the budget that leaves unencumbered funds of $569,000 as of May 29, which is 1.2% of the budget.  The Budget Office anticipates that the FY2019 budget will be full expended by the end of the fiscal year.  In an update on Building for the Future, it was noted that the Building Committee will finalize its vote for the Owner’s Project Manager for the elementary schools, and the High School project is continuing in the designer (architect) selection process, concluding with selection of a designer in late August or early September. 

The next School Committee meeting is June 17, 2019.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



May 20, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, May 20, from 7-9:15 PM.  This meeting featured three presentations: two school improvement plans and a presentation on vocational, technical and career education opportunities.  The Middle School Improvement Plan identified a number of important initiatives and actions for the coming school year.  These include the addition of instructional coaches, continued use of iReady formative assessments, differentiation of instruction, effective use of common planning time, and further development of a social-emotional curriculum.  The High School Improvement Plan also identified a number of key initiatives and actions for the next school year.  These include evaluation of the new class schedule, continuation of curriculum development through Atlas, completion of NEASC reports, expansion of social-emotional learning activities, and completion of an Educational Plan and other activities related to the Feasibility Study for a new high school. 

The third presentation on vocational, technical and career opportunities was by the consultant firm Digital Ready (paid for by the Barr Foundation).  The report and presentation provided interesting and helpful information on the status of possible career pathways at the High School.  The report includes general background information on the student population at the High School, a “needs assessment” based on interviews with students, teachers, and others in the community, “labor market analysis” of Watertown and the Boston area, an “asset map” of community strengths and opportunities, and analysis of potential content pathways, such as computer science, engineering, and humanities, as well as options for structuring new pathways, such as state Chapter 74 programs and Innovation Pathways.  The report documents the strong concentration of life sciences and related businesses in Watertown, and it provides insights on strategies for students and teachers to connect to the business community.  This report will be helpful as the district begins the planning process in the summer and fall to develop an Educational Plan related to the new building Feasibility Study.

Among “Action” items, the Committee approved the 2019-2020 School Calendar, a memo regarding low attendance early release on Good Friday, a schedule of summer School Committee meetings, a fee structure for building use by members of the public, and the policies in the updated Policy Manual (with three policies on-hold).  In addition, the Committee approved entering into a contract with the Massachusetts Association of School Committee to host and update the newly-approved Policy Manual. 

In an update on Building for the Future, for the elementary school projects, the Town Council on May 14 approved a $12 million loan order to fund the remaining architectural work for this project.  In addition, the School Building Committee gave initial approval to Hill International to be the Owner’s Project Manager for the elementary projects.  For the High School project, the next step is to begin the designer (architect) selection process.  This will conclude in August when the designer is selected. 

In other happenings at the meeting, Erin Moulton was introduced as the new principal at the Hosmer School, effective July 1, 2019, and Renee Ruggiero, the Executive Assistant for the School Committee and Superintendent, was thanked for her service as she leaves at the end of the month for a position at the Berklee College of Music. 

The next School Committee meeting is June 3, 2019.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee



May 6, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, May 6, from 7-9 PM.  There were two interesting and informative “Teaching and Learning Showcase” presentations.  First, the Committee heard about services provided by the Coordinated Family and Community Engagement Program, formerly known as the Family Network.  Funded from a state agency through the school department, this program provides services for children ages 0 to 5 and their families.  Among the services are thirteen playgroups each week, parent support activities, and a number of special events.  Located on the first floor of the administration building on Common Street, the program highlights a play curriculum that prepares children for pre-k and kindergarten programs. 

The second presentation was by the Robotics Club at Watertown High School.  This is a very active group that immerses students in designing and building a robot that then participates in area competitions.  The students described how they used their STEM skills to build a robot that must perform several key tasks as part of the competition. 

Another informational presentation came when Helen Chatel, the Executive Director of Watertown Cable (WCATV), presented a $40,000 check to the School Committee on behalf of WCATV.  Located in the High School building, Watertown Cable includes several studios and production equipment that offer important learning opportunities in media production and development.  There are six classes for high school students, and in 2018 over 100 students produced various media productions and shows. 

Among “Action” items, the Committee approved policies in Section I, Instructional Programs, of the Policy Manual, and it also authorized the administration to pre-pay special education FY20 tuitions to the degree allowed by state law.  The Committee also approved a Resolution titled, “In Support of Full Funding for Our Public Schools.”  Sponsored by Fund Our Future, a state-wide coalition of labor and community groups, the resolution calls for changes to the state’s foundation budget formula, which is the basis for Chapter 70 state aid for schools, and has not been substantially revised since 1993.  A 2015 state task force recommended a number of changes and the legislature and governor are currently considering changes. 

Among “Reports,” the Committee heard a presentation on the Tiered Focused Monitoring Program, formerly referred to as Coordinated Program Review.  Conducted by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on a six-year cycle, this is a detailed review of several major programs and areas:  special education, civil rights, career/vocational education, and English learners.  The review begins now with a focus on individual education plans for special education students as well as civil rights responsibilities in guidance and counseling services.  A survey will be sent to parents, and the first report is due sixty days after completion of the review.  Additional reviews of other areas will take place over the next several years.

In an update on Building for the Future, for the elementary school projects, on May 7th the Building Committee will interview three finalists for the Owners’ Project Manager position, and on May 14th the Town Council will vote on a $12 million loan order to fund the next phases of architectural work.  For the High School project, Compass Project Management has been approved by the Massachusetts School Business Authority (MSBA) as the Owner’s Project Manager, and a group from Watertown is participating in a MSBA-sponsored ‘design summit’ to learn more about possible high school designs.  The Committee also discussed the importance of planning for a debt exclusion vote as part of the high school process. 

In other comments, the Superintendent highlighted the hard work and many contributions of teachers in Watertown during Teacher Appreciation Week, and the Committee Chair noted that the proposed FY20 town budget from the Town Manager includes a 5% increase for the school department, continuing the strong support provided by the town for public education.  Among upcoming meetings, State Senator Will Brownsberger is hosting a meeting with Senator Jason Lewis on the “State of Education Funding in Local Schools,” May 13th, at 6 PM, in the Honan-Allston Branch Library, 300 N. Harvard Street, Allston.  Watertown, Belmont and Boston will make presentations.

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

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



April 22, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, April 22 from 7-8:30 PM.  This was primarily a ‘business’ meeting in which the Committee reviewed updated policies for its Policy Manual.  Two major sections of the Manual, sections B and J, were approved.  Section B includes policies related to Committee Governance and Operations, while Section J involves various policies related to Students.  The Committee also completed a first reading of Section I, which focuses on various Instructional policies.  This section will be subject to a vote at the next meeting.  Several policies were referred to other subcommittees or the town attorney for further review.  The Committee deferred to a later date, pending more information, the decision to have the Massachusetts Association of School Committees host and update the Policy Manual. 

In the Building for the Future update, it was noted that the School Building Committee meets this Thursday, April 25, from 6-8 PM in Town Hall to continue its review of the school building projects, focusing on the elementary schools.  The Town Council will have the first reading of a loan order on April 23 for over $12 million to continue the elementary school design work.  For the high school project, which is in partnership with the state and at an earlier stage, the Massachusetts School Building Authority on May 6 will make the final decision on an Owner’s Project Manager for the high school project. 

In other business, the School Committee heard an update on the FY 2019 budget, which shows a positive balance of $3.1 million as of March 31.  The Committee also approved cash gifts to the District as well as the disposition of surplus property. 

Upcoming meetings include the Budget and Finance subcommittee on May 2, 6-7 PM, in 301 Administration Building.  The Budget and Finance subcommittee agenda includes a discussion of rental charges for the use of school buildings.  The Superintendent’s Coffee is on April 29, from 9-10 AM and 7:30-8:30 PM in room 301 of the Phillips Administration Building.  The next School Committee meeting is May 6 at 7 PM in Town Hall.        

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

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee  



April 1, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, April 1, in Town Hall.  One major agenda item was the public hearing on the proposed FY20 school budget.  We covered much of this in the last meeting as well.  The Superintendent provided an overview of key accomplishments from the past year and goals for next year.  The level-services budget for next year requires 90% of our projected overall 5% increase.  This includes three elementary classroom teachers needed to retain class sizes within our guidelines.  It also includes projected salary increases for teachers and other staff, an increase in Minuteman costs, anticipated increase in basic supplies, and a number of other costs to maintain level services.  Beyond level services, there is $237,700 for new initiatives, which includes two Middle School instructional coaches, an additional social worker, increase in a Spanish teacher allocation as well as monies for curriculum.  The requested town appropriation is $50,441,424. 

The School Committee voted the proposed budget at a meeting held yesterday in the Town Council Office space.  After the School Committee meeting, the approved budget will be forwarded to the Town Manager, who incorporates it into the overall town budget, which is then presented to the Town Council.  In May, the School Committee and School Administration will present the budget to the Town Council, which will vote on the entire town budget in June. 

The School Committee also heard from a Middle School teacher and group of students on a program called One Step Forward.  These students are working on a variety of issues related to student risk behaviors as well as homelessness and other social issues.  They recently met with the Peer Leaders at the High School and hope to join that group next year. 

The Committee also reviewed the proposed school calendar for the next school year.  School will begin for students on September 3 (the day after Labor Day) and will end in June, although the exact day will depend on the number of snow days.  The Committee will vote on the calendar at its May 6 meeting.  It also was noted that the last day for school this year is currently a half-day on June 17, assuming there are no more missed days. 

In other business, the Committee continued its review of the Policy Manual.  We approved several policy sections and did a first reading on Section J.  We also discussed the option of having the Policy Manual hosted on the Internet by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.  A number of questions were raised about this option that will be addressed before any action is taken. 

We also heard an update on school building projects- both the elementary projects and Watertown High School.  The next School Building Committee meeting will be held on April 25 at 6 PM.  These meetings are open to the public and are broadcast live on WCA-TV.

The next School Committee meeting is on April 22, 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





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/.