Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 4, 2014
CSD school committee holds first of two back-to-back meetings
Rules and roles of meeting participation outlined in brochure
by Tevlin Schuetz
The school board held the first of a pair of meetings scheduled for the month at DISHS on Tuesday evening, September 2.
The board had decided to hold twice-monthly meetings until December in order to develop the proficiency-based education policy and to address other pressing issues.
(The second meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, September 3, will be covered in a future issue of Island Ad-Vantages.)
Attending Tuesday’s meeting were Union 76 superintendent Mark Jenkins, DISHS principal Todd West, DISES principal Michael Benjamin, Reach program director John Lincoln, board chairman Mark Cormier and members Andy Vaughn, Stephen York, Skip Greenlaw, Holly Eaton and Virginia Peacock. Citizens present were Bill, Heidi and Duke Shepard, Darlene and Tracy Turner, Linda Nelson and Suzanne Ruch.
Citizen participation, school board communication and meeting structure
Of particular focus Tuesday night was the issue of citizen participation in school committee meetings.
A first draft of a brochure, titled “Welcome to Our School Committee Meeting,” was presented to those in attendance, which included a formal welcome from board chairman Mark Cormier and explained the different components of board meetings and the roles of those participating. It also addressed executive sessions and included guidelines for public participation in meetings. Upon review and approval by the board, the brochure would be available at future committee meetings.
During the conversation that ensued, board members agreed that citizen participation is important, but they expressed a variety of opinions as to when and to what degree citizens should be allowed to speak to issues or to propose new items for discussion in meetings.
The board also turned its focus inward, discussing the members’ own tendencies to drift from the topics at hand during discussions.
Superintendent Jenkins said that “fundamentally, everyone should be showing up… to go over agenda [items]” versus introducing new agenda items from the floor—this goes for board members and citizens alike, he said.
The board weighed the possibility of reserving the citizen comments component of committee meetings just for the introduction of future agenda items, where the issues raised would not be discussed until later meetings.
Jenkins said this would “allow board members to form some opinions” and gather facts, rather than to be thrust into discussions without the benefit of careful consideration.
Committee member Stephen York voiced his concerns, citing the board’s need to remain focused. “We need to tighten up meetings.”
York affirmed his belief “that citizens have the right to speak,” but added that it would be sending the wrong message to imply that any issues raised by citizens would become future agenda items.
The school committee also pondered hearing citizen comments on a per-discussion item basis—potentially throughout a meeting—rather than allowing one opportunity for comments near the beginning of a meeting.
With respect to school committee communications, Jenkins said that he planned to implement improvements to the CSD’s websites soon to provide information in a more efficient manner.
The board also discussed potentially creating an email list of recipients to whom meeting agendas would be sent.
Community member (and former board member) Linda Nelson suggested that if the district sent out a monthly email newsletter, it would save the board from having to divert its energy toward “clarifying its operations” on a continual basis.
Maintenance at both schools
The maintenance subcommittee has continued its investigation of the physical issues facing both school buildings.
Jenkins said the subcommittee is trying to identify the cause of water damage at the elementary school. It must be determined whether the damage has resulted from flaws in design or due to other factors, he said, in order to avoid running into the same problems in the future.
Jenkins stressed the importance of making a careful decision as to how to proceed, and said that proposed work on the roof at DISHS and possible fixes to water damage at DISES could both be addressed at a future town meeting pertaining to existing school maintenance funds.
No estimate for the repair at DISES was given during the discussion, but the tab for roof repair at DISHS could be around $50,000. Jenkins had previously suggested a town meeting would be needed to access funds from the town budget, in which $90,000 is reserved for CSD maintenance and technological use.
The board voted unanimously to accept the nomination of Christine Colwell for the life skills teacher position. Colwell has served the district as both a long-term substitute teacher and as a level III education technician. The life skills teaching position is contracted for one year.
Proficiency-based education and individual learning plans
Jenkins presented a timeline for proficiency-based education, which outlined its implementation across all grade levels, K-12. He explained the steps involved in realizing the new model, citing the importance of creating rubrics—or means by which to measure student competency.
The standards of proficiency-based education will affect both the curriculum and how that curriculum is taught, as DISHS principal Todd West had explained in a school committee meeting last month.
The “essential standards” include overarching skills, such as communication, problem solving and collaboration, and are not confined to any one academic area of study, he said.
The board also discussed individual learning plans, in which a student can learn curriculum in a customized fashion, tailored to his or her needs. This approach has typically been used when a student experiences difficulty in the classroom or falls behind, but as Jenkins explained, larger trends in education are moving in this direction.
DISES principal Michael Benjamin estimated that 50 to 60 percent of the students at the elementary school already have individualized learning plans.
West presented the board with an example of what is called a “personalized learning model.” Although the model is not yet part of the action plan for DISHS, West stated that it is a guide for development, and he sought feedback from the school board.