After smoke clears, school board backs ‘improvement’ plan
A District Improvement Plan for the town’s public schools, in the works for about a year, was approved last Thursday by the Board of Education, but not before several hours of debate and discussion over its details.
The final vote on the document, a five-year plan aimed at improving student performance, was unanimous — a rarity for the frequently divided school board.
“This has gone through a lot of hands,” Superintendent of Schools David Title told the board. “In my view, this is the administration’s, the leadership team’s, best effort. This is what we think should be in there.”
Still recovering from surgery to donate a kidney to his son, Title was able to stay at the meeting only until about 10 p.m. The board’s final vote on the plan did not come until 12:30 a.m.
Title told board members if they wanted to change the plan, that was their right, but “for all intents and purposes, this is the plan we’re recommending.”
Vice Chairman Paul Fattibene, while generally supportive of the plan, said he had reservations because it was a five-year plan. He sought to change the plan to require a review during the first half of the plan’s third year, rather than simply at some point in the third year.
That way, he said, the review would come two and a half years from the date of implementation, which is this September. This, Fattibene said, would allow plenty of time to make any changes the board might feel necessary.
“I agree with Mr. Fattibene,” said board member Donna Karnal. “If we wait til the end of the third year, nothing could be incorporated until the start of the fourth year.”
“Whether you do a review in December or January or June, you’ll be talking about year for of implementation. Year three will already be underway.”
Llewellyn also attempted, unsuccessfully, to expand the school climate survey data considered under the plan.
To judge student progress toward achieving academic goals, the plan also uses information from a variety of standardized testing, a post-high school student survey, participation in AP courses and AP scores, extracurricular participation and attendance.
During public comment, Representative Town Meeting member Ellen Jacob, R-9, submitted a letter to the board signed by herself and five other RTM members. The letter requests that if the board did not take into consideration a “response” to the DIP submitted by four residents, they receive a written explanation as to why.
The RTM members also asked that any approval of the DIP be withheld until a “reliable” budget for its implementation is created.
“It will be done within the budget we have been given,” Title said. “It will fit within the budget.”
Title said there are 63 action items in the plan, but said some will be implemented over a period of years. “Typically, we’ve been handing 30 to 32 initiatives a year,” he said.
“The problem I have with this plan is the comprehensiveness of it,” Fattibene said. “Inevitably, choices will have to be made.”
The board’s budget only goes so far, Karnal said, “and although there are some really good ideas in here, it’s hard to pass something when we don’t know the financial trade-offs.”
But board Chairman Philip Dwyer said the board itself will have an influence on what initiatives will be funded in the budget. “This board always has trade-off decisions to make,” he said. “I’m confident passing this plan because it gives us guidance for five years.”
Liu-McCormack also said while there are positive aspects of the plan, in her opinion “some things are questionable.” There should be a budget, timeline and priorities, she said.
“The district needs to get moving forward,” said Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly. She said the board needs to have “a modicum more of trust that we have good people” working on the plan.