School Committee Meeting, 16 November 2016

IMG_0794School Committee Meeting 16 November 2016

Six present, Mayor Kennedy Absent (SC Gendron presiding)

The attention of the School Committe was on the Middle School Report (Item 12) and Joint Subcommittee Minutes.

Special Order of Business

SC Gendron introduces both Principal Carmona of the Lincoln School and Francey Slater from Mill City Grows to speak about the recent Lincoln School Garden construction; a project video can be found here.  The garden, located  between the Lincoln School and Lincoln Street in what had been an eyesore and abandonded lot, is visioned as a place for extended learning and discovery. Along with the school garden, the space will become a community gardening space.

Permissions to Enter

$9,534 in expenses approved. See detail in the Meeting Packet.


Two motions were presented; both by SC Doherty

  • 2016/456 (J. Doherty): request Superintendent meet with stakeholders to develop/plan for adequate nursing coverage in all schools. SC Doherty points to the important role of nurses in each school for students and staff. Concerned about compliance with state law regarding coverage and high turnover. SC Martin mentions substitute nursing coverage for absentees and school trips should be included (friendly amendment).
  • 2016/457 (J. Doherty): requests Superintendent work with School Committee and City Council Facilities Subcommittees to establish monthly meeting dates to address ongoing maintenance issues. Motion to show solidarity to work with the City regarding issues of building maintenance. By scheduling dates in advance, members not on the subcommittee will have adequate notice and can arrange to attend. Building maintenance ($55 million number includes more than maintenance).  SC Gendron says that misunderstandings arise from miscommunications; would like to change the motion to “bi-monthly” from “monthly”. SC Doherty would like to see more frequent meetings to address critical needs (mentions heat issues in schools) and then possible shift to bi-monthly.

Mr. Hoey speaks about costs charter schools (net school spending for charter schools is $14 million – not all of this is maintenance). For the City Public Schools Mr. Frisch confirms $400,000-$500,000.

Subcommittee Report

The Joint Facilities Subcommittee report from November 2, 2016 and Item 12 (2016/450 Middle School Report) were taken together. SC Martin takes chair as this is SC Gendron’s report. See notes on this meeting here (11/2) or Meeting Packet p 30-32 and Middle School Report on p 71-73 of the Meeting Packet.

See report in the Meeting Packet. Maintenance already addressed. Superintendent Khelfaoui through Mr. Frisch reports on middle school crowding and a plan requested by SC Gendron for addressing the middle school bubble.

Four classrooms needed at STEM Academy (1 year solution for 2017-18) for grades 5-6. Recommendation for a permanent solution for a middle school solution after that time. Notes that class sizes of 26-30 students per class are lowered when considering pull-out students in Grade 5 (pull-out services for 60% of the day).  Mr. Frisch will confirm his understanding that 150 Grade 5 students across the City are pulled out for some portion of the instructional day.

As much as possible, under the law, there is a requirement that students are instructed using the Least Restricted Environment (LRE). Sometimes this involves adaptations of the instruction planned by the “regular education” classroom teacher working with a special education teacher, and sometimes, as determined through Special Education evaluation testing and collaboration between the team (educators, parents and specialized therapists/instructiors) the student’s need requires more intensive instruction or pull-out instruction.

Under the pull-out model for special needs, students go to locations other than the regular classroom for specialized instruction as outlined in each students Individualized Education Plan or IEP. Students may be pulled out for intervals during the school day up to 60% of the total school day. The remaining 40% of the day, the students are with their peers in the regular classroom setting. For example, if a student’s need is determined to be only in the realm of mathematics, the student may go to a separate space to receive the instruction that is needed for academic growth for just the mathematics portion of the school day instruction and will remain in the regular classroom for all other instruction and activity during the day.  

Mr. Frisch is pointing out that in considering the class sizes at the Middle Schools the size of each instructional class can be somewhat lower due to the numbers of students who receive this smaller group or pull-out instruction.

Mr. Frisch detailed the costs of adding classroom space at the STEM Academy for 2017-18.  These costs include: four teachers (approximately $480,000), an additional custodian ($55,000), guidance counselor ($80,000), and supplies/furnishing which will total $440,000.  Mr. Frisch is still calculating the costs associated with the permanent solution of a new STEM Academy.

SC Gendron states 27.25 students this year and the STEM solution 26.66 for 2017-18.  Mr. Frisch notes that an additional 60 students could possibly transition to a Charter School in 2017-18 which would result in a further reduction.  This does not, however, take into consideration that any students who transition to a Charter School would result in lowered per pupil monies received by the City from the Commonwealth.

The new classroom spaces would be obtained through reuse of the home economics and office space conversion . Mr. Hoey notes there could be six possible spaces when considering some spaces he noticed during a recent tour (removal of TV Studio for example).  He notes that the increased student population (over 700 students) may necessitate the need for an addditional Assistant Principal. Mr. Frisch asserts that the District would prefer to avoid moving children in a CSA classroom (CSA means Children on the Spectrum of Autism).

Superintendent Khelfaoui points to the transition from Grade 5 to 6 is not as easy a transition as it is for students coming from Grade 4 to the middle grades, Grade 5.  Charter School increased capacity (32 fifth graders anticipated to move to Charter Schools) may impact the configuration of the short-term plan.  School Committee and District will need to come to a decision about whether the STEM Academy become K-8 or is divided into 2 schools (K-4 and 5-8). Many middle schools are reaching the 700 student population – whether or not that threshold triggers the need for a new assistant principalship will become a decision impacting more than just the STEM School (Sullivan School for example is already at close to this threshold).

SC Martin states that the original intent of the STEM school model was predicated on the Stoklosa being built with the STEM curriulum and focus in mind. School Committee will need to address the “what’s next” for STEM facilities in the near future. Superitendent Khelfaoui reminds the Committee that there is no longer any capacity to transition STEM Academy students back into all the other Middle School buildings; there is no additional physical space to include Grades 7 and 8 at the Rogers site on Highland Street.  The conversations for addressing capacity with the City (building, leasing space, etc.) has not yet been started. When the High School project is completed there will be a possibility of addressing the capacity for the seventh grade (in 2018-19) will be less problematic, but that is a long way off.

SC Martin speaks to the original intent of creating a STEM school had been in conjunction with building a new middle school.  Reconfiguring the grade structures could have unintended consequences that the School Committee and Administration needs to examine carefully and thoughtfully. A longer term solution will need to take place now as opposed to 6 months from now.

SC Doherty suggests looking at other options such as centralizing all Grade 8 students in one location (or, as previously suggested, putting all the Pre-Kindergarten in one location).  Superintendent Khelfaoui states that adding students to Lowell High during construction will be more than difficult to manage. The School Department and City will need to meet collaboratively to form the ultimate solution.

Accepted as a Report of Progress.

Reports of the Superintendent

There were four items under Reports of the Superintendent, including 2016/450 which was taken out of order during Public Participation.

  • 2016/445: Youth Summit Report See page 34-35 of the Meeting Packet for details.
  • 2016/446: BRIDGE Annual Report. See pages 37-62 of the Meeting Packet. This is an alternative education program which has been directed through Middlesex Community College and which will be transitioned to fully under the auspices of the Lowell Public Schools.
  • 2016/449 : Monthly Budget Reportt.  See pages 64-70 of the Meeting Packet.

A donation of 60 books to the Office of Student Support Services and the Convention and Conference Requests (2) were all approved.

Meeting Packet can be found here.