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School Committee hears about continuing enrollment gains, Hardy delay

At first meeting, new AHS website, no budget deficit seen

The School Committee's first meeting for 2017-18 brought word of continuing climb in enrollment, a budget-close-out without a deficit, a new rebuild website, new faces, the as well as delay and a solution for projects at Hardy.

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John Danizio, the new chief financial officer, gave the committee members good news: The budget "closed the year without a deficit."

Yet he cautioned Thursday, Sept. 14, that the the closeout process would not be entirely complete until the end of September but should not change the good news. Committee member Len Kardon noted that the budget does not include some small accounts, including the one for foreign students." He suggested that next time to include the whole budget. Bodie reminded everyone that "this account is not touched until the end of the [fiscal] year."

While last year's budget was balanced, the steady increase in the student population demanded new teachers had to be hired for the fall -- four first-grade teachers and one kindergarten teacher.

180 more students in year

Bodie calculated, using October 2016 as a baseline, 180 more students, an increase of 3.3 percent, have enrolled in the Arlington Public Schools: 88 in the elementary schools, 51 in the middle school and 40 in the high school.

See the numbers here >> 

She noted that in the last three years, from 2014 to 2017, enrollment has grown by 465 students. The official enrollment for the new school year will be determined in November after October numbers are reported.

Committee member Bill Hayner pointed out that these enrollment figures do not include out-of-district placements or the preschool students. He also reminded Bodie to verify the residence of all vocational students. Apparently, in the past, students from outside Arlington had registered as Arlington residents and Arlington paid for their vocational education. 

Another change in this year's enrollment, Bodie reported, was more imbalance in class size. Since class size is determined in May for the following year, enrollment growth over the summer makes it difficult to balance the number of students in each class.

Class sizes concern Starks

After scrutinizing statistics on class size, committee member Cindy Starks offered: "The class numbers are starting to be crazy -- almost one-quarter of the elementary students have 24 or more students."

Citing her own classroom experience as a teacher, she said, "the difference between 21 and 25 is enormous." Although Starks realized that there was no remedy at the moment, she told the committee she "just wanted to put it out there."

Bodie responded that she had added part- and full-time teaching assistants to kindergartens with larger enrollment numbers than optimal. Furthermore, new assistant principals or other support staff were added to all elementary schools to assist the principals with the increased administrative work. In response to Starks' concern about the impact of larger classes, Bodie said, "Research has shown quality of teaching was more important than class size."

Bodie reviewed the school-building projects. For the Hardy addition, the expected finish time is November 2018, with construction beginning next March.

Plan B for Hardy

Because the classrooms will not be finished at the beginning of the 2018 school year, Bodie announced there will have to be a plan B put in place for the opening of school.

In addition, the Capital Planning Committee has allocated $20,000 to improve and to make the Lake Street side playground safer.

As for the completion date for the Thompson, Bodie reported that she "doesn't know." Although the architect predicts the building will be complete by Oct. 1, Bodie had doubts about whether it will be that soon. Moreover, she pointed out that "one big issue is security" as construction occurs now that school is in session.

Stratton, she told the committee, "still had things to be done," such as moving in the furniture for the media center. "It is really a beautiful building, and most impressive is the new media center."

The superintendent reported that for the Gibbs all the interior demolition has been completed and the entire construction project has remained on schedule by having some Saturday workdays.

Find updates about the high school rebuild on the project website. Committee member Jennifer Susse announced there will be a community forum about the project in November. The AHS website is expected to have dates of all upcoming meetings.

Who's behind AHS site

The new AHS rebuild website -- launched that evening, at -- was designed by School Committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Amy Speare, both on the Arlington High School building project subcommittee on communications. Its purpose was to serve the whole community by compiling all the information about the progress, design and future meetings concerning the new high school, still in relatively stages.

Speare told the committee that, while much of the information could be found in others places, this website would collect all of the information in one place. She characterized it as "really a portal so everyone can find everything they want."

The new assistant superintendent, Roderick MacNeal Jr., followed with an extensive presentation about the plethora of summer professional-training programs and workshops

"It was important to know how it was disseminated to teachers," Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said. She described how during the two days of teacher meetings before schools opened, the results of all the planning and training were presented to teachers at every grade level and to each department.

McNeal concluded, saying he is impressed with the "the commitment of the teachers to come in during the summer."

In other business, Bodie was elected to represent Arlington as a voting member of the EDCO collaborative board.

New admins, teachers

Robert Spiegel, director of human resources, reported on new hires for administrative positions, including a new director of social and emotional learning, a position not filled for a number of years, and a new director of world languages. Both were first announced last spring.

The overall increase in administrative positions was 1.6. Forty-four new teachers, team chairs, and specialists were hired for this year. See the complete list here >> 

The School Committee went into executive session to conduct strategy sessions for negotiations with unions and nonunion personnel and to discuss stipends for principals.

Sept. 20, 2017: State review of special ed cites 13 issues, draws committee differences

This news summary by YourArlington r=freelance Jo Anne Preston was published Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017.

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