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School Committee evaluates Bodie positively, hears budget updates

UPDATED: Along with the continuing discussion about school-building projects and student enrollment, the School Committee on Thursday, Nov. 10, discussed updates to the fiscal 2017 budget and the evaluation of the superintendent.

School Committee logo

Chief Financial Officer Diane Johnson, returning from a leave, reported about the current budget, which showed increased revenue despite increase expenses for special education.

Overall, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie received a positive evaluation.

 The Thompson, rebuild of the former Gibbs School, and Arlington High School building projects are all moving forward and are on schedule. The School Committee voted funds for a study of the Hardy School space needs, School budget reports.

SPED expenses, other funding up

Johnson alerted the committee that the key news from her monthly budget report was that special-education expenses "were tracking $360,000 above budget expectations, and I expect that number to double as cases become decided."

Since "that it was early in the [school] year, the amount may be significantly more" later, she reported. In discussion with the committee, she attributed the causes of this budgetary issue to an increase in students who must receive an education outside Arlington and a greater need for aides to serve more students with Individual Education Plans. Both numbers were tied to the increase in enrollment.

On a more positive note, Johnson reported that the School Department unexpectedly received more revenue: funding from the circuit breaker was up, Town Meeting stabilization funds were up and Title I monies was up even more. "We are significantly ahead of where we projected," she commented. Read Johnson's memo here >>

This brighter financial picture allowed the superintendent to increase staff positions, both teaching and nonteaching, from summer supplemental funds. Some hiring was required by the enrollment of more special-education students who needed classroom aides, while overall increases in enrollment demanded more classroom teachers.

Over the summer, Bodie reported, an additional 242 students enrolled in the Arlington schools. And more than 100 of them entered the high school in the fall. Other teachers need to be hired once scheduling for "specials" was done. These are teachers in art, music and phys ed, for example. Having to hire more teachers for specials, Bodie explained, happens every summer, whatever the changes in enrollment.

The School Committee engaged in a long discussion about the appropriate motion to approve the additional monies, including the option of having no motion. Some members expressed the statutory need for the School Committee to formally approve additional funding and spending. How "granular" their oversight needs to be remains unclear. Finally, the committee decided to send this question back to the budget subcommittee for clarification.

Evaluation of superintendent

School Committee Chair Jennifer Susse began the report on the evaluation by explaining that it would be conducted in three parts: overall responses, overall results and comments read by each School Committee member. Step I involved three criteria: 1.) Professional Practice, 2.) Learning Goals, 3.) District Improvement Goals. Susse reminded the committee members that they decided at the end of last year to combine 1 and 3.

For the time period under evaluation, the committee defined Professional Practice (and District Improvement Goals) as designing a plan for the district for enrollment growth for the next 10 years. The overall evaluation of the superintendent by the School Committee members was "net" or average.

The School Committee defined the Student Learning goal for this time period as closing the student achievement gap. The overall evaluation of the superintendent was "significant progress."

Step II standards for evaluating the superintendent were described as the following: 1.) Instructional Leadership, 2.) Operations, 3.) Family and Community Engagement, 4.) Professional Culture. Members gave Bodie an overall evaluation of "exemplary" on Instructional Leadership and "proficient overall" on Operations.

On Family and Community Engagement as well as Professional Culture, they rated the superintendent as "proficient."

For the third part of the evaluation, School Committee members gave individual oral reports of their summary evaluations. Bodie received much praise for her handling of the 2015-16 enrollment crisis and initiating three school-building projects -– the additional six classrooms to the Thompson, the renovation of the former Gibbs School for an all-town sixth grade and the high school rebuild.

School Committee members also made suggestions for further improvement. Kirsi Allison-Ampe asked that both more high-level analysis be made available to the committee and called for more family and committee engagement. She also saw the need for more serious discussions about how to do evaluations.

Len Kardon requested that there be developed a stronger long-term vision. Jeff Thielman suggested that research be done to determine whether professional development resulted in higher student achievement. Susse saw the need for a strategic plan for leadership development.

Online link posted

Bodie responded that she appreciated all the thought and hard word that went into the evaluations. She said, however, she would have liked to see the documents ahead of time to better prepare her remarks.

She spoke of the major effort put forward by everyone to launch three school-building projects. It was achieved, she said, "by a good process" and support of the community to fund these projects.

Bodie also told the committee she wanted to move forward on teaching and learning. She agreed that what would be most effective should be informed by research. Furthermore, she was concerned about improving the social and emotional culture, making sure that all students felt welcomed in our schools. These issues and other mentioned in the reports will be discussed at a retreat with the committee in January.

Superintendent's report: Building projects, enrollment

Bodie reported on the Nov. 7 School Enrollment Task Force meeting, included in a report from YourArlington. She said there was great urgency in moving the process of studying the Hardy School forward, because if there is a need for a permanent addition in September 2018, it must be approved by Town Meeting next spring. The School Committee quickly approved the funding for the study voted on by the task force.

Bodie said all building projects were on target, with no problems. This week there will be walkways installed around the Thompson to ready it for construction. The walkways will be followed by site work in the next few weeks, with the goal of having the steel foundation completed by early winter. The Shawmut Design & Construction Co. of Boston has been selected to rebuild the former Gibbs School, with a meeting this week to start drafting a plan to be available for public comment in December. The high school rebuild committee has met and are waiting to hear whether the project is invited to the next phase by Mass. School Building Authority. See the steps in the 270-day timeline >>

Bodie reported that school enrollment continues to climb, with an increase in 30 students since Sept. 7 and new registration daily. The total number is now 5,498. The Oct. 1 numbers, which are official, have yet to be certified and are expected to be slightly lower.

Earlier in the meeting, students from the Ottoson School sixth grade presented their calendar with their prize-winning drawings in the Great American Smokeout contest funded by the Sanborn Foundation, an Arlington-based nonprofit that funds anticancer efforts.

The regular meeting was adjourned at 8:45 for an executive session.

School budget reports 

Nov. 10, 2016: School Committee votes task-force recommendation for Hardy space study

ec. 16, 2015: Hayner's statement expresses doubt about Bodie
Oct. 11, 2016: Enrollment task force backs 6 Thompson classrooms, no mods at Ottoson

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Jo Anne Preston was published Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, and updated to add the 2016 evaluation link.

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