The School Committee heard updates Wednesday, Jan. 11 on the three pillars of the district’s strategic plan adopted in September — Healthy Bodies/Healthy Minds, Curriculum Instruction and Safe and Secure Schools — as the budget process begins.
“We felt we were in quite a good place in terms of meeting our goals,” said Superintendent of School Dr. Ruth-Gilbert-Whitner. “We have also looked at what are the financial implications of achieving these plans, and as we’ve developed the budget for FY ’18, we’ve prioritized, over time, what are the key items that we believe the district needs to have funded to be able to meet the goals of our strategic plan.”
Based on a level-service budget, which adds no new programs, the fiscal 2018 budget is expected to increase by $1.58 million based on the higher price on fixed costs such as salaries, health insurance, transportation and custodial services.
“It’s the same forecast we have every year — expenses exceed revenue and we’ve got to figure out how to make it work.”
No-cost full-day kindergarten, now estimated to cost about $400,000, is not included in the budget increase at this point.
Department officials gave presentations on the progress toward goals within their pillars.
Administrator of Special Education and Pupil Personnel Services Dr. John Quealy and Food Services Director Maureen MacKenzie talked about the Healthy Bodies/Healthy Minds goals.
“In a nutshell, the goal of Pillar I is to develop a learning environment that fosters social, emotional and academic growth for all of our students,” Quealy said, guided by a Wellness committee of representatives from each school and district officials.
One of the programs being planned is a spring Wellness Fair to include representatives from North River Collaborative, Whitman-Hanson Will and outside organizations in an effort to highlight services available to families. He is also working to expand mental health support services, such as are offered at the high school for students transitioning from hospitalization back to the classroom, to the middle schools.
MacKenzie reported the district is holding steady at 29 percent of students on free or reduced-price lunch programs. A pre-paid purchase system also protects privacy. She has also begun offering sound nutrition and exercise guidance through age-appropriate newsletters and menus students want.
“If our students are not mentally healthy, they are not going to be available to learning,” Gilbert-Whitner said.
Mathematics Curriculum Coordinator Brian Selig; History, Social Science Curriculum Coordinator Robert Davidson; Science Curriculum Coordinator Mark Stephansky and Language Arts Curriculum Coordinator Amy Hill spoke of progress being made under the Curriculum Instruction pillar.
Selig said the main goal is to provide equal access to a high-quality curriculum and the resources to support it, “regardless of what room, what building or which town they’re in” to ensure every student is career and college-ready.
In elementary grades, Davidson said that means to expand from the initial two grade levels from which the math and science programs began and creating new curricula in social studies and English language arts. Professional development for teachers is also vital.
“It’s easy to forget that elementary school teachers teach four academic subjects, and the content is no joke,” he said.
“I think you’re going to see that this is a game-changer in W-H,” Gilbert-Whitner said. “It creates a cohesive learning system — it also keeps a focus on what needs to be done.”
At the middle school level, Stephansky said developing a coherent and cohesive curriculum across the two towns is an important goal. That makes an easier transition to the high school where, Hill said, a whole new set of challenges comes before graduation, including state testing, SATs, PSATs, AP exams and courses.
The 16 new late-start days during the school calendar year have proven invaluable for teacher research, training and collaboration, she said.
Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Dr. Patrick Dillon and Facilities Director Ernest Sandland addressed Safe and Secure Schools goals. A Dec. 27 active shooter drill at the high school for school officials and first responders was an important part of safeguarding schools.
“We have great passion in this area,” Dillon said, noting a district-wide Safety and Security Committee has been formed to work on developing safe practices. “There is an amazing partnership with our first responders.”
Dillon and Sandland are also touring the schools to solidify facilities and maintenance plans and will be modifying the entrances to both middle schools over the coming summer.