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Monday, February 27, 2017

Dear Students, Families, Faculty and Staff,
During February break, President Trump reversed President Obama's guidance to schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that they feel are appropriate to their gender, and instead argued that the question of which bathrooms transgender students may use should be left to the states.

Massachusetts passed its own law in 2016 giving "transgender people the right to use restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identities."*  Unless the Supreme Court were to rule otherwise, the Massachusetts law will remain in effect whether or not the federal government supports this position. The Bedford School Department's actions are governed by the Massachusetts statute, which closely aligns with our District's values.

Those values clearly uphold the right of all of our students to be themselves, to be free from discrimination and disparate treatment, and to feel safe to embrace their identities.  We also safeguard the right of all of our students to voice their opinions, respectfully, even if those opinions are not embraced by a majority of their peers. Ensuring the intellectual and emotional safety of all of our students is a personal priority, and I pledge to work closely with all members of our school community to protect, particularly, the most vulnerable among us. In the context of national news regarding the travel ban and deportations, this may mean our Muslim students or immigrant families' children.  In the context of a particular class discussion, it may mean a student with conservative political views.

At the end of the day, learning is undermined when students feel unsupported or under attack, or when they are afraid to voice their beliefs.  As educators, we cannot sit idly by and allow that to happen.

Sincerely,

Jon Sills

Monday, January 30, 2017



A Message to Faculty, Staff, Students and Families

While I am certain that we have faculty, students and families who are opposed to President Trump's recent executive order and faculty, students and families who support it, I am equally certain that we have students and faculty who are personally impacted by it.  

Please be alert to the very real possibility that we will have students in our classes or fellow faculty members who will be anxious, afraid and/or feeling personally attacked by the travel ban.  At the very minimum, anxiety, fear and a feeling of being targeted or diminished impede learning, and we all must do our utmost to take care of our students' and our fellow faculty members' feelings.  

I would add for families that if you have a concern about your child's well-being relative to this evolving situation, please contact the classroom teacher, school guidance counselor or administration to let them know.

School Committee Approves FY18 Budget 

Last Tuesday, the School Committee voted to approve a $39,061,561 FY18 budget, which is a $1,320,858 or 3.5% increase over the FY17 budget.  Following a multi-month process that included a line item review of the present budget and a reduction of $209,080 from the Superintendent’s initial increase request of 4.05%, the final vote aligned the FY18 budget with the Finance Committee’s 3.5% guideline.   Confident that this budget will support the District’s 2017-2018 educational objectives, we will present the FY budget to the Finance Committee on February 2. 

The principal drivers for the FY18 budget include our growing student population, expansion of our in-house special education programs, additional personnel needs to support academic success for all students, and instructional technology integration.  Key among the enrollment-driven needs are  additional teachers at Lane and JGMS and added custodial support for increased space at Lane and Davis; and included among our special education additions are special educators and teaching assistants for our SAIL, STEP and Integrated Pre-school programs.

Were it not for the success of these special education programs and the corresponding savings derived from educating increasing numbers of students in-house (several million dollars per year), it is fair to say that we would have found it much more difficult to meet this year’s guideline. 

Please go to Superintendent's FY18 Budget Request Final to view the Final FY18 Budget Presentation.

Governor’s FY18 Budget

Good news for Bedford out of the Governor’s office.   While there is some controversy over whether the Governor’s FY18 includes the funding that the Commonwealth’s schools need to address their many challenges, Bedford is unquestionably the beneficiary of two of the Governor’s decisions: the increase of Bedford’s Chapter 70 (Education Foundation Budget) funding by $242,761 and the inclusion of $513,000 Military Mitigation Aid for the first time in a governor’s budget request!

Bedford has had to fight each of the past ten years that the Massachusetts State Legislature has agreed to channel funding to Bedford to mitigate the fiscal impact of our Hanscom students, given that the federal government has failed to adequately meet its obligation.  Fully committed to continuing the relationship with Hanscom AFB that contributes so much to the unique character of our students’ education, we have fought with some success to convince Massachusetts lawmakers of the fairness of our position- that Hanscom contributes $8 billion annually to the region’s economy, but Bedford alone shoulders the cost of educating its high school age children.  Thanks to a collective effort, including the relentless advocacy of Representative Ken Gordon and Senator Mike Barrett, the legislature passed a bill two years ago that made this commitment permanent, but unfortunately it has nevertheless been subject to the unpredictability of the annual appropriation. While successful at the end of the day for each of the past several years, it has taken a lot of time and energy to see the process through.  So  Governor Baker’s decision to include it for the first time in the governor’s budget thankfully makes it all the more certain that the bill will be funded in FY18.                               JS



Friday, January 13, 2017




IMPORTANT UPDATES FOR JANUARY

BUDGET PROCESS
Just prior to the winter break, I presented the Superintendent’s FY18 Budget Request, (http://www.bedford.k12.ma.us/sites/bedfordps/files/uploads/superintendents_fy18_budget_request2.pdf) to the School Committee.  As you will see, I have requested a 4.05% increase over the FY17 budget, which is .55% higher than the 3.5% guideline that the Finance Committee set this year for the schools.  Building upon a 2.57% Maintenance of Effort budget, the additional $561,358 in new requests corresponds to four budget drivers:
·         Enrollment increases at Lane and JGMS
·         Cost-saving, in-house special education program expansion
·         Modest instruction and maintenance related salary additions
·         Modest contract service, technology and maintenance additions

Examining the budget line by line at our last School Committee meeting, the committee asked clarifying questions about various line items, and engaged in a process intended to ensure that one, any unrecognized needs will be addressed, and two, that any areas that might yield savings will be identified. 
FY18 NEW REQUESTS
FY18 MoE REQUEST
FY18 TOTAL REQUEST
FY17 APPROVED BUDGET
MoE BUDGET INCREASE
FY18 MoE % CHANGE
FY18 TOTAL REQUEST INCREASE
TOTAL FY18  % Change
$561,358
$38,709,283
$39,270,641
$37,740,703
$968,579
2.57%
$1,529,938

4.05%

In preparation for the next School Committee meeting, the committee has tasked the superintendent to present two additional budget scenarios:  a 3.75% increase over FY17 and a 3.5% (FinCom guideline) increase over FY17.  These will require reducing the projected FY18 budget of $39,740,703 by $114,662 or $209,013 depending upon which of the two scenarios is acceptable to the committee.

It is important to note that the practicability of coming close to meeting, or potentially meeting the Finance Committee guideline, as we did last year, despite our enrollment-driven need for additional staff, is mostly attributable to the school department’s successfully reducing our out-of-district special education costs during the past ten years.  Impelled by a commitment to educate children with significant special needs in the least restrictive environment (in-house as opposed to out-of-district whenever possible) as well as by the budgetary imperative, the programs that we have created have reduced our out-of-district placements from 116 in 2006 to 59 this year. 

While these programs themselves require adequate levels of staffing, the net savings and cost avoidance are significant.  In future years, however, the direct savings from bringing children back in-district will begin to diminish, although the cost-avoidance will continue to be quite large.  As this happens and as our enrollment continues to grow, meeting guideline will present a much greater challenge. JS

SPACE NEEDS TASK FORCE RECONVENES
Following upon December’s news that the Massachusetts School Building Authority rejected our statement of interest for a Davis School addition, this week we reconvened the Space Needs Task Force to take up the work of re-examining our enrollment trends and making a recommendation to the School Committee as to whether or not to proceed with a town-funded Davis School project.

A year ago, the task force produced a comprehensive report that verified the enrollment trend that our commissioned study (NESDEC) had projected in 2009.  The report, which can be viewed at
examined a multiplicity of sources in order to yield an in-depth analysis of the drivers behind our growing student population.  The support that followed for the Lane School project is now being translated into brick and mortar and the space that our growing population needs to learn at Lane.

This week the committee toured Davis School as Principal Beth Benoit pointed out the building’s deficiencies as increased enrollment and special education programming press up against limited space.

The FY18 capital budget has a $98,000 placeholder for feasibility study and schematic design should the research bear out the projected need for additional classroom space at Davis, where we presently have two modular classrooms to temporarily meet the need.  The task force will complete its enrollment data update by early March to give the School Committee and other town boards time to make a decision about whether or not to bring this request forward at this year’s Town Meeting.

A big thanks to the following task force volunteers for stepping up once again: Rob Badzey, Shaena Grossman, Diane Hughes, Mark Mullins, Brenda Catanzano, Jeff Cohen, Jim O’Neil, School Committee members Ed Pierce and JoAnn Santiago, Facilities Director Taissir Alani, and School Finance Director David Coelho.  JS


Thursday, January 5, 2017


Religious and Cultural Holidays Task Force Deliberates

Responding to many parents’, students’ and teachers’ desire to see as equitable a practice as possible when it comes to how the schools address religious holidays, I convened a task force of volunteers last spring.  The summer interrupted the committee’s launch, but we resumed in the late fall, with students, parents, teachers, school committee member, community members participating.  An early recognition of the similarly important role that Chinese New Year plays for many Chinese Bedfordites led us to expand the name of the committee to the Religious and Cultural Holidays Task Force.  Ecumenical in composition and including both religious and nonreligious contributors, the group has had several challenging but productive meetings.

The challenges for the schools are three-fold:
  • the first is educational in nature-  how best to educate our students about the diverse range of religious and cultural practices in ways that are appropriate for public schools and that help all of our students feel included and recognized (the schools have already taken steps to address this important need); 
  • the second involves which holidays, if any, should be days off of school- presently, Bedford has a half day on Good Friday, and both Christmas Eve and Christmas are no-school holidays;
  • the third, and perhaps the most difficult, is whether or not homework, quizzes, tests and/or new material should be allowed on or immediately after religious holidays (presently, for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, no homework, tests, quizzes or new material is allowed).

Background
Historically, Bedford has had no school on Christmas Eve, Christmas (around which winter break is scheduled) and has a half day on Good Friday.  While many of our neighboring districts have no school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Bedford has sought to provide a degree of equity by having a practice of no homework, quizzes, tests or new material on those days or on the days immediately following them.  This practice has been informed by a recognition of societal anti-Semitism and a desire to provide practicing Jewish families with the same “work-free” religious observance opportunities that practicing Christian families enjoy on Christmas and Good Friday.  

While individual students may have their absences excused for engaging in other religious observances, practicing Muslim and Hindu students and students who observe Chinese New Year have not had their holidays recognized as days off or as homework and test free days.  The need for greater fairness moving forward is, however, complicated by the need, particularly at the secondary level, to maintain academic progress without too many interruptions, particularly early on in the year.

Contrasting Views
The diversity of opinions regarding these issues is quite large and includes, for example, the following views:
  • there should be no days off for religious holidays, but individuals should have their absences excused
  • the major holidays for each religion should all be treated the same way- no homework or tests
  • homework and tests may be given, and students who choose to be absent for a religious holiday should have extra time to make them up
  • we shouldn’t have a policy but through greater awareness of the importance of respecting differences, teachers should make appropriate accommodations
  • we need a policy to ensure equity

Once the task force completes its initial deliberations, we will provide opportunities for expanded community input using surveys and/or focus groups before making a recommendation to the Bedford School Committee.  Please stay tuned.

                                                                                                                                    JS

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Equity and Diversity Update

Equity and Diversity continues to be a central priority within Bedford Public Schools. This brief update captures some of our recent work in this area.

Diversity in Hiring
The Equity and Diversity Committee, originally created in Fall 2013 to help the Bedford school community develop greater cultural proficiency among staff, students, and families, has initiated an outreach campaign to build relationships with local university student teacher program directors. The goal is to increase our visibility as a rich, supportive environment for student teachers of color so that we can successfully recruit from that known pool of candidates. We are reaching out as well to local and more distant university teacher programs and placement offices that will recommend to their candidates that they consider Bedford as a unique employment opportunity. In response to a request to teachers to allow us to use their names in outreach letters and potentially joining visiting delegations to local university graduate program, we have already  received  over sixty volunteers.

The district has also joined the Greater Boston Suburban Human Resources Network (GBSHRN), a consortium of public schools in greater Boston committed to "diversifying its teaching staff to reflect today's changing world." Among its other initiatives, GBSHRN hosts an annual Diversity Job Fair in March.  Bedford administrators will help to organize and participate in the 2017 fair.

Equity and Diversity in the Classroom
In recent years the Equity and Diversity committee is focusing its work more directly on curriculum development and support in each building. At the Lane School, for example, teacher leaders from the committee helped to prepare and run professional development last March around using picture books, four at each grade level, organized around common themes from Teaching Tolerance. These themes, Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action are also used as organizing principles for the Equity-Diversity work at Davis.

Lane teachers worked in teams on the professional development day to create common lessons to accompany each of the 13 chosen picture books.  This year, all classroom teachers are using the picture books and accompanying lessons in their classrooms to develop this common experience for students.

The three teacher leaders, Sarah Dorer, Jamie Nolan, and Julia Herman, presented this exciting work at the school committee meeting on November 29, 2016. Their presentation, which gives a much fuller sense of the project, is attached below. As was clear from their presentation, teachers are deeply committed to this work. Key individuals in each building bring creativity and energy to this important ongoing work.  MLS and JS

Equity and Diversity at Lane

Monday, November 14, 2016

From the Schoolhouse

As you may know, Jon Sills and I try to build into each week several visits to our schools.  We join meetings between teachers and administrators, participate in special events or professional development, and visit classrooms as frequently as possible. Not only does this participation build relationships with students, families, and staff, it also helps us to ground our leadership decisions and priorities in the everyday reality of our students and their teachers.

Last Monday, for example, I attended an 8th grade open house for social issue art projects created by Candace Banks' 8th grade students. Students worked with a partner or in small groups, researched a social issue that concerned them, and then created a three-dimensional art project that conveyed what they learned about the issue and their position on it.  As we toured the open house, students presented and explained their projects. Here are projects on anxiety and depression, and on homelessness.



Later that day, I attended the elections at Davis and Lane schools. Davis students voted on whether to have a "wild hair" day or a "choose your own table at lunch" day. Students went through a process for campaigning and voting that mirrored our election process.

 Fifth grade students at Lane ran the voting process there, complete with signing in, completing a secret ballot, dropping it in the slot, and earning a voting sticker.

On Tuesday, the professional development day, I spent most of my time at Davis where teachers spent the morning discussing the writing process, how it is taught and assessed, including what one year's growth looks like at each grade level.  During the afternoon, I participated with a mixed-grade group of educators who were grading together writing samples from each grade level using a rubric, and then discussing the next instructional steps in each case.  These were rich discussions that helped everyone understand the K-2 process as a whole.

Later in the week, I joined technology instructional coaches in their staff meeting.  I had a chance to get their feedback on a progress monitoring system we are considering and heard in more detail about their work at JGMS and BHS, including their plans for professional development embedded into high school faculty meetings.

The culminating event of the week was a brief orchestra concert scheduled in the high school library during break time, conducted by Phil Moffa. The audience was standing-room-only and the string players were in fine form, especially considering the busy venue and potential interruptions over the loudspeaker.  They played with aplomb.


These school visits, as always, give me a profound sense of gratitude to work in the Bedford Public Schools with such dedicated educators and engaged students.  MLS


Friday, November 4, 2016






ELECTION DAY IS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT DAY FOR BEDFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS FACULTY

There will be no school for kids on Tuesday, but our faculty will be fully engaged in learning.
 
  • ·         At Davis School, Andrea Salipante, our newly appointed K-5 ELA Coordinator/K-12 Reading Program Administrator, will work with teachers on writing assessment; and in the afternoon, grade level teams will work together on calibrating writing scoring by focusing on exemplars and then learning to look for patterns to identify whole class strengths and needs.
  • ·         At Lane School, guest speaker and behavior specialist Kevin Russo will present to the faculty about particularly challenging student behaviors and effective strategies for managing and improving them; and in the afternoon, grade level teams will all work together on integrating coding into the curriculum at each grade level.
  • ·         At JGMS, team-based parent conferences will occupy the morning hours; and in the afternoon, Principal Tracey will lead his faculty through an examination of the faculty-read book, Whistling Vivaldi, which addresses the issue of ‘stereotype threat’, a phenomenon that studies have shown to have a significant impact on certain types of achievement particularly for women and students of color.
  • ·         At BHS, the faculty will reflect on faculty-student relationships by reviewing every BHS student in order to determine which students do, and which students do not, have a strong connection with at least one faculty or staff member, so that appropriate steps may be taken to ensure that each student does.  In the afternoon, the faculty will be offsite engaging in a community building set of experiences using high and low rope type challenges.


SCHOOL COMMITTEE PRESENTATIONS

This week, we made two important presentations to the School Committee: the Class Size Report and the FY18 Capital Expenditures Proposal. 

The Class Size Report apprises the committee of the current enrollment at each school and in each grade based upon October 1 numbers.  As well, it compares our class size numbers with our class size guidelines and identifies those classes that are either smaller than normal or that exceed our maximum standards. 

Typically at the high school level, the handful of classes under ten students (not counting support classes that are designed to be small) are a product of scheduling.  For example, we might have 57 students enrolled in Algebra.  To offer only two sections would result in classes well over the maximum of 25, so in offering three sections, the schedule might distribute them as 25, 23 and 9.  The schedule can also create classes that exceed guideline maximums even if the total number of students in all of the sections would yield an acceptable average.  Alternatively, the excessively high numbers may indicate a need for additional staffing, and this would be subsequently addressed in the budget proposal.

2016-2017 Class Size Presentation

The FY18 Capital Expenditures Proposal presentation lists the combination of school facilities’ requests such as acoustic/PA systems for the Lane and Davis gymnasiums where all-school assemblies are held, and school requests such as our annual technology replacement cycle needs that includes networking switches, large scale equipment like interactive boards, and desktop and laptop computers.

Please note that a few items are included as placeholders in that they depend upon other decisions that our presently in the hands of other agencies.  For example, we have submitted a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for the Davis School addition/renovation project, and we will hear from the MSBA in December whether or not it will be supported.  If not, then the feasibility study and schematic design “place hold” costs in the FY18 capital budget will become “activated” and the School Committee will request of Town Meeting that the town proceed to fund that first phase of the project.  Similarly with the press box lift, which ethics and ADA compliance require of us for the press box at Sabourin Field, is included in the FY18 list as a place holder.  This is because it will also be on the STM warrant this November, and if it is supported it will come off the FY18 list.  This timing is necessitated by the state architecture board that has given Bedford until March to install the ADA required lift.                                                               JS