Handling of buffer zones meets largely with favor
UPDATED, Nov. 26: Th appointment of a new chief financial officer, evaluation of the superintendent and report on buffer zones consumed most the Nov. 15 School Committee meeting. The meeting with concluded with a discussion of a later start time for the middle schools and high school, which found favor with the superintendent and committee members.
Superintendent Kathleen Bodie recommended the new CFO, Michael Mason Jr., replacing John Danizio, who is leaving for a position in Burlington. She reviewed Mason's educational background, degrees in accounting and finance from Salem State College, and his previous experience of six years as business and finance manager in the Chelsea school system and two years at Partners Health Care in the position of financial specialist.
Once introduced, Mason was invited to make a few remarks. He spoke of his successful innovative projects in Chelsea to use “technology to advance capacity.” In his previous position, he developed and worked with financing of several state School Building Authority projects and looked forward to working on budget and financing development for the Arlington High School building project.
School Committee members voted unanimously to approve the nomination.
Mason is now in contract negotiations with the School Department.
Buffer zones satisfy 95% of parents
Marilyn Salvas, schools' data specialist, reported the successful use of buffer-zone placement to manage class size in the seven elementary schools for 2018-2019. A buffer zone is a designated area between two elementary schools in which entering students are assigned to schools to balance class size among schools. Arlington public schools instituted them in 2012.
Salvas said that in a series of steps, students were assigned to elementary school classes. One hundred and fifty-four entering students live in the buffer zones. First, 45 qualified as sibling placements, which means they already had a sibling in their first choice schools, and therefore these children were assigned to those schools. In April, the remaining students were assigned schools; 50 percent of them were awarded their first choice.
Later last spring, 3 1/2 new classrooms were added (the one at Dallin was a combined kindergarten and first grade), allowing the School Department to offer to many more parents their first-choice school. Some parents accepted their first choice, but others chose to remain in what had been their second-choice school, having already made plans around after-school programs, transportation, etc.
Salvas then estimated 95 percent of parents were satisfied with the final placement of their child and reported “except for the Brackett, where numbers are high, the rest of the district is pretty well-balanced.” Read the full report >>
Committee member Jane Morgan responded to the report, noting that some entering students were placed in classrooms with already high enrollment. Bodie answered that she made these decisions, not Salvas, and in consultation with the building principal.
These cases, she continued, involved “a lot of considerations, with very serious reasons why.” Chair Kirsi Allison-Ampe suggested that one way “to build a better case for the buffer zones” was to show for this year “what it would look like without buffer zones.”
After Allison-Ampe spoke on the importance of making a case for the buffer zones and why the superintendent needs to assign their child to a particular school, Morgan suggested that they “reach out to Realtors." She said she has spoken to new buyers of homes in buffer zones, and they understood that they can “pick where they go to school." Therefore she suggested that it would be important "to change the narrative from where it started.”
Superintendent evaluated as proficient overall
The committee, using a lengthy and complex evaluation tool provided by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, announced how it rated Bodie for the 2017-2018 school year. This is the conclusion of a process that involved a number of steps, including School Committee discussions and questions, individual members' scores and written commentary from all the members.
Allison-Ampe read the compilation of ratings starting with the “summative evaluation,” which concluded with a unanimous rating of proficient. She then read the various subgroup ratings, including performance goals, instructional Leadership, management and operations), family and community, and professional culture.
Bodie scores were primarily proficient, with a few needs improvement and exemplary. The evaluation form concluded with a compilation of summary remarks from each School Committee member. Find all comments here >>
The committee did not vote on the evaluation. Members Bill Hayner and Paul Schlichtman did not attend the meeting.
Later start times introduced
In other business, the committee heard the end-of-the-year financial report, the update by the superintendent on the AHS rebuild and an update by the new principal of the Ottoson Middle School, Brian Meringer.
During subcommittee reports, Jennifer Susse introduce the benefits of a later start time for middle school and high school students. She reviewed the compelling data and experiences of other school districts that had instituted a later start -- benefits included higher test scores.
Bodie concurred with this data and said she would support an 8:30 start time for the middle schools and high school. The committee expects to discuss this further.
After subcommittees reports, the committee adjourned for an executive session.
Oct. 10, 2018: Schools' CFO to leave for Burlington; search to start
Oct. 21, 2018: Discussion of results of new MCAS gets underway
Sept. 25, 2018: AHS rebuild update: Some urge more green; $308M called top cost
June 13, 2018: Growing enrollment pushes Bodie to add classrooms
This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Jo Anne Preston was published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, and updated Nov. 26, to add a photo.
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