The School Committee met to discuss strategic plan working groups at its Wednesday, June 23 meeting.
“Basically, we’re just going to go around, one-by-one and we’re going to share some ideas,” said Chairman Christopher Howard. “These ideas are meant to be broad areas of focus … we’ll come back [this] week, after we’ve let those ideas soak in and everybody’s had the opportunity to think about that.”
The goal is to ultimately vote on some of the ideas on a rank-choice basis to narrow the list to three ideas, which would be discussed over the summer — through to mid-August — doing a “deep dive.”
Mike Jones, who was away with his family, and Fred Small, who was seeing to a personal family matter, did not attend the meeting.
Steve Bois kicked things off by suggesting “lets get things done that we want to get done,” specifically full-day kindergarten and a return of foreign languages to middle school curricula, if not the elementary grades, as well.
“If this is what’s working for other districts — for places across the country — let’s just do it,” Bois said, noting he has always considered Massachusetts schools to be among, if not the nation’s best. “It’s probably not only to our benefit, but obviously, to the kids’ benefit.”
Michelle Bourgelas agreed with Bois on the language issue, noting that high school students have had the option of taking AP Spanish and earning the opportunity to pass on taking a language requirement in college. Because middle schoolers do not now take a language, the AP option is not available in high school so they will have to take language requirements in college.
Tracking student achievement in elementary grades is important, said Hillary Kniffen, but she asked what is being done to track it in grades six through 12.
Dawn Byers spoke of the need to analyze and address the funding decline, which began in 2009 during the Great Recession.
“My big-picture is district-wide, and it ties into kindergarten, but it’s combining grade levels,” she said. “My thought process is, it helps with equitable class sizes, if you combine all second-graders in Whitman, perhaps, in one school … it allows the teachers to collaborate and evens out the class sizes.”
She said she hoped the list would not be shelved until next year once a particular goal is selected as the primary goal for the year.
“It is going to be a multi-year plan,” Howard said.
Christopher Scriven said his decision behind his running for a seat on the School Committee, to begin with, was to affect change on the culture of the district.
“There’s been a lot going on, so I haven’t pushed hard for that, but I’ve been around long enough — I’ve worked in the district, I’ve seen enough things where … I think we could do better in areas, particularly the ‘average kid,’” Scriven said, stressing he is a “big fan of W-H.”
He said the emphasis on deliverables makes it hard to measure, but he wants kids to feel comfortable in school.
Dan Cullity said all-day kindergarten must be done. W-H is one of only about a dozen districts in the state to not have a full-day kindergarten program, as many districts that do are already shifting attention to full-day pre-K.
“We already missed the boat on that,” he said. “It’s going to be forced down our throats.”
David Forth suggested modernizing tech infrastructure as well as expansion to foreign language to the elementary level.
Small submitted written ideas pointing to full-day kindergarten as a primary goal, and Jones advocated for a deeper dive into facilities and capital goals. Howard, too advocated for early childhood education.
The full discussion can be streamed on the WHCA-TV YouTube channel.
Other ideas mentioned included social-emotional needs of children, uniform start time appropriate for all students, possible class size caps and early college credit classes targeting first-generation college students.
Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak said the leadership team’s goals included continuing with the one-to-one technology initiative, a robust K-8 arts program — which could include languages and/or a life-skills program.
“If we’re doing what’s best for kids, then what do they need?” Assistant Superintendent George Ferro said of an arts/life skills program. “I could contend that I would rather take coding than Spanish, because I’ll take Spanish when I get to college. … What do we owe students in this time frame to make them successful for all aspects of their life?”
Howard said students may not be excited about learning the material needed to pass an MCAS test, but they want to learn.