The meeting began at 6:30pm discussing what additional data and research the SC members requested from the Superintendent/staff and the findings.  Unfortunately unless your on the SC you do not have access to the documents they are viewing during the meeting so it is very hard to keep up. I was able to gather some information to share through discussions.

One of the main items discussed was the Best In Class research and anaylsis – future reference in my blog as the BIC.

The BIC districts included in the comparison were: 

  • Acton-Boxborough
  • Concord-Carlisle
  • Lexington
  • Sharon
  • Westford
  • Belmont
  • Dover-Sherborn
  • Lincoln-Sudbury
  • Weston
  • Hopkinton
  • Medfield
  • Winchester
  • Littleton

Peter Cronin with a background in analyzing data performed a data review of the info provided by the Superintendent which explains how G-D compares to the BIC districts. Please note the complete information will be released with a formal narrative once complete by the Superintendant. 

BIC Comparison Key Findings:

  • Spending (PPE): We’re spending less per pupil than both the BIC average (15% lower) AND the state average (10% lower).

PPE for Guidance Counselors: G-D is over 60% below the BIC average

PPE for Materials & Equipment: G-D is 70% below BIC average

PPE for Professional developement: G-D is 22% below BIC average

Our families pay higher activity fees than most BIC districts and significantly higher athletic fees

SPED spending is 50% lower in OOD (Out OF District) services than BIC average. This is a sign that our district programming and staffing are working and doing exceptional work with the resources we have provided but it is not enough.  

Transportation spending is 25% less than BIC average.

  • Staffing: In general, our teachers have more kids than do teachers in BIC districts. Our students to teacher ratios are 25% above average (general) and 20% above average for art & language. I commend our teachers, talk about making lemonade out of lemons for many years. 

Our SPED student to teacher ratio is also 20% higher than BIC districts while our Para Professional ratio is actually lower than most BIC districts. This is interesting as Jeff Kubick pointed out one could make an observation that we are substituting teachers with Paras?

Most recent data (2013) shows that GD teachers were also paid approximately $10K less per year on average than teachers in BIC districts. However they were comparable to Westford and more than Littleton. Note this was before the teachers new contract.  

  • Achievement: SGP (Student Growth Percentile) varies by school within G-D.  Student Growth Percentile compares student growth within their levels… ie AP with AP and SPED with SPED so you are comparing apples to apples.

G-D is higher than the BIC average in elementary schools, particularly in math

G-D is lower than BIC average for all middle school, particularly for ELA. Recent cuts hit the middle school the hardest and ELA, particularly reading specialists, took more hits than math.

High School is mixed – math 15% higher than BIC average, ELA is 10% lower than the BIC average, History and Biology AP proficiency are slightly above the BIC average  and Science is 12% below.  Mean SAT scores for Math are 4% below, Writing is 9% below and Reading is 6% below the BIC average.

For students with disabilities, PPI is nearly 40% below BIC average.

  • Hypotheses: High student to teacher ratio and lower support (materials/PD) are a drag on achievement, particularly at the MS and HS levels. Cuts of MS spending have hurt achievement, particularly for ELA. ELA also impacted at the HS. Cuts to guidance spending landed us significantly below BIC and state average and have adversely impacted social/emotional health of our students. The higher than average teacher/student ratios for SPED as well as cuts to Tier II staff particularly reading specialists are contributing to students with disabilities subgroup PPI signficantly below BIC average. 

Peter Cronin made it very clear that he feels that we (Groton & Dunstable) have cut spending for our schools because we placed a higher priority on municipal services than education. Municipal spending up and education spending below inflation over the past 6 years. We want to preserve the “rural look and feel” of the towns (investments in conservation a land and lack of economic development) AND we did not want to raise property taxes.  

The spending cuts have had an adverse impact on our educational achievement. We’re good but we’re not as good as we were 6 years ago.

I agree with Peter, schools have not been a priority for the last several years and we as a town need to decide what is important to us. Many members of the BOS have stated that they support our schools. The SC has been hesitant to request money that is needed because they don’t seem to have the BOS support for the funds and if more money is needed for the schools then it is tagged as “the schools need an override”. We are a town that includes schools and municipal services and they should be held in equal value so if our towns need more money to pay for municipal and school services then “Our Towns” need an override…. it should never be tagged to schools nor municipal. We have always been a town with a great reputation for having an excellent school district and beautiful rural surroundings… maybe its time to decide if that is still what our town wants? 

The next part of the meeting was a lengthy discussion over when should the strategic plan be formally presented.  Leslie Lathrop would like to see the Strategic Plan, Capital Plan and Technology Plan packaged together for the public. Jon Sjoberg expressed concern about once again treading water and patching holes in our schools verses making real progress.  Peter Cronin also was concerned about many children being 1/2 way through MS before we actually start making progress that would benefit them and feels that Groton does have the funds it’s a matter of allocating them. Stephanie Cronin made note that Dunstable does not.  Jeff Kubick stated that although he understands the situation in Dunstable, at some point we can not let Dunstable stop the progress needed in our schools. Alison suggested that they invite Dunstable to come and present the budget to them so they can understand it better. The discussion went on and on until roughly 10:30pm.

The superintendent said the strategic plan is ready to roll out, however the SC made it clear that they did not feel that they own it yet and the community may not be behind it; if that is still the case then there is an alternative there is a 1-year plan that she can offer that works within the already approved 2016 budget until they are ready to roll out the longer term plan. However she needs to know what is the time line for the strategic plan.  Do they wait until Spring 2016 where they will have the research and data complete for the Technology & Capital plan and package it all together or do they roll out the Strategic Plan now and then the Technology & Capital plan comes later.  This would call for more money being requested in 2017 and then a second round of increase for the Technology & Capital Plan versus one larger request.  I feel that they should roll out the Strategic Plan and explain thoroughly that it is Phase I and the Technology & Capital Plan are Phase II which will allow the towns to take on the financial responsibility in a more conservative manner.  Many business projects have a Phase I and Phase II plan for financial and personal reasons… it is comprehensible if explained in detail. I do not think our children should lose any more ground than they have.  

A vote was never taken as to if the SC will be waiting until Spring to roll out a packaged plan that includes the Strategic Plan, Technology Plan & Capital Plan or if they will separate it to begin progress now.

Another SC Work Shop will be scheduled and hopefully we will have a vote confirming the timeline on the strategic plan.

Meeting adjourned 10:45pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

The PCCE ( Public Communications & Community Engagement Advisory Committee) started our 2.5 hour meeting with a round 2 of introductions.  I met PECC members, Christine Muir (Dunstable) and Russ Harris (Groton).  Malham Hamami (Dunstable), David Sciuto (Dunstable) and Sara Campbell (Groton) were unable to attend the meeting this week.

Organization of the PECC was established by assigning Peter Cronin as the Chair, Marlena Gilbert (yup little ole me) as the Vice-chair and Jeff Kubick as the Secretary.  The minutes from our prior meeting were approved and we moved onto the reviewing a draft list of informational topics, channels of engagement and possible G-D constituents.

Although reviewing other district practices was on tap (agenda) we didn’t get a chance to dive deep into discussing other district practices (Framingham Task Force Report) and or other districts.  But I think discussing what other districts are doing should come after our self-evaluation of what we are doing and what we feel is working and not working… so back burner is where it belongs at the moment.

We began defining a methodology of how to map out what specific topics interest the different constituents within our community and what is the best way to get that information to them. Russ Harris suggested that the community would appreciate stories about where our G-D graduates are and how our district helped them be the successful people they are today. I think this is a fantastic idea that would not only share local success stories (who doesn’t love a great success story) but also allow the tax payers to see how the children in our community benefit from our tax dollars.  

Superintendent suggested we could better define costs better as a district.  Christine Muir suggested that we elaborate on the benefits of services so that value of the costs can be better understood.  I suggested we should also elaborate on the decrease of state funding for mandates as that is the other half of the story.

Further discussion took place on what channels the SC are currently utilizing to engage & communicate with the community.  Three methods were discussed.

  1. SC currently has assigned liaisons to different committees (PTA, GDEF, BOS, etc) and it is at the SC member’s discretion as to which & how many meetings they attend.
  2. They share the meeting minutes once approved on their website.
  3. They have the Groton Channel broadcast the SC meetings and put a link of the video recording once released on their website.

The limited engagement methods being used tells me that the SC have their work cut out for them. While public relations and public involvement is important, both would hardly exist without community engagement. Public engagement needs to be ongoing not just a one hit wonder or based on crisis control. The SC needs to engage tax payers as owners verses customers because that is what they are and build a common area of interest.  

The superintendent has increased the level of information being provided to parents through her blog, however it is the SC role & responsibility to engage the community and to be a bridge between the Superintendent and the community. We definitely need our SC to be more aggressive in engaging the community.

The SC roles/responsibilities are defined via the MASC power point presentation slides here:  SC roles & resp

The SC self-evaluation will continue in our next meeting along with some creative brain storming of possible ways to help the SC engage and communicate with the community more effectively.

Meeting adjourned at 9:45pm (roughly)

Some may remember from my June 24, 2015 SC meeting cliff notes that the PCCE ( Public Communications & Community Engagement Advisory Committee) Advisory Committee is a special advisory committee established by the   G-D School Committee to research, brainstorm and advise the SC on how we may improve the School Committee’s public communications and community engagement practices.  The PECC had their first meeting tonight to discuss the mission, timeline, committee organization and how to accomplish the mission and the next steps in the process.  There are 10 members in the PECC Advisory Committee and they are:

  • Stephanie Cronin (SC member) – present
  • Peter Cronin (SC member) – present
  • Dr. Kristan Rodriguez (Superintendent) – present
  • Jeff Kubick (SC member) – present
  • Leslie Lathrop (SC member) – present & took notes
  • Marlena Gilbert (Groton) – present but 45 minutes late
  • Malham Hamami (Dunstable) – present
  • Russ Harris (Groton)
  • Christine Muir (Dunstable)
  • David Sciuto (Dunstable)
  • Sarah Campbell (Groton)
Unfortunately we were missing 4 members tonight. This could have been due to the last-minute schedule change for the meeting because the original date was scheduled for August 4th, however it was rescheduled because the original date was not publicly posted in time to allow the meeting to take place.  The open meeting law requires all public meetings times/agenda to be posted 48 hours prior to the meeting.  I am not sure if the change of date affected attendance. I know it did affected my ability to be on time but as the story goes…  it happens.    
Although we were short members tonight, there was a lot of good discussion.  Some of them included the possibly of sending out a survey to identify how/where the community get their information, what information are they interested in receiving, what feedback do they want to share about the schools to the SC and how do you get a survey to the majority of the community in a cost-effective and obtain a strong response?
Peter Cronin suggest that we first start with a self assessment and then publish it so the community can then respond to our findings.  Stephanie Cronin and myself both agreed with Peter and added our take on his idea. I liked the idea because it seems to me that if you want someone to give you their opinion about how you’re doing a self assessment gets the conversation going. It is how many job evaluations are performed in many industries so why not the SC too…. after all the SC can only perform more effectively if they know what the stake holders want and how they prefer to be communicated with.  If your live in Groton or Dunstable then you are a stake holder.     
The meeting concluded with all members agreeing that we will start with a self assessment of current practices. Our “homework” is to review current channels of community engagement and communication, what stake holders are being reached, what other districts are doing to communicate, what current methods are working/not working so that we can come together at our next meeting and discuss our individual thoughts and formulate an outline for a self assessment.  The second item expected on our next agenda (if time permits) will be a brainstorming session to come up with modern, inventive and effective ways to improve public communications and community engagement practices. Listening and sharing creative ideas inspires me in all things, so I am looking forward to our next meeting.  I’ll be sure to post the date/time of the next meeting.  If you want to share any ideas with me you’re welcome to email me at marlena71@live.com or post to my blog.  I would be happy to share them with the committee.
Meeting adjourned at roughly 8:45pm.