Friday, August 31, 2007
Carlisle School Committee looks ahead
Members of the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) met over dinner on August 23 to review lists of goals for the School Committee, the superintendent, and the school district for the coming year. The group also considered how the tight FY09 budget environment (see page 1, "Bad news builds on FY '09 budget") might affect the school.
School Committee goals
CSC Chair Nicole Burkel invited committee members to brainstorm a list of goals for the committee which will be further refined in coming months. Items discussed include:
· Communication. Dale Ryder suggested the CSC seek to improve communication, both among committee members and between the CSC and the public. Burkel observed that the public comment period during CSC meetings was "not particularly satisfying, because there is no dialog." Committee members did not feel a lengthy dialog with the public was feasible during meetings, which typically have many agenda items to cover in a limited amount of time. Wendell Sykes suggested offering a more general dialog, perhaps with the facilitator, outside of the regular meetings, but the idea of scheduling extra meetings was not met with enthusiasm.
Michael Fitzgerald said the public seeks ways to complain to the school's "governing body," leading to the question of how e-mails from the public to the School Committee are handled. Burkel said that, as chair, she typically responds to each e-mail, though she did not answer all of them this spring. She noted that often the topic of the e-mail is not about something for which the CSC is responsible, and in these cases she passes the message on to the proper destination. When Chad Koski thought it might help the public to be given a description of how the committee functions (available at:www.carlisle.mec.edu/schcommittee/meetings.htm.) Burkel suggested the School Committee might write an occasional column for the school newsletter, the Buzz.
Ryder agreed to bring additional specific suggestions to a future meeting.
· Transition. Burkel recommended the CSC develop a transition plan. Both she and Fitzgerald plan to step down from the committee next spring, after serving for many years. She hopes that before leaving, they can share tips on how to participate in teacher contract negotiations.
· School building. Ryder's proposed goal to replace the Spalding Building was supported by the committee.
· Facilitator. The committee noted that working with the facilitator would be another important task for the coming year.
· History curriculum. Fitzgerald would like to see a review of the school's history curriculum. He admitted to being a "history junkie," concerned about recent statistics claiming that most Americans know little U.S. history. Sykes responded, "Whether a student can remember a particular fact is less important than whether they can be a functional member of a democracy."
There was a question about whether the School Committee could make a request to review the history instruction. Burkel said it was not the purview of the committee and leaned against including it on the list of goals, but Fitzgerald believed it did fall within the CSC responsibility to see that the school's educational program is sufficiently broad. Superintendent Doyle said that administrators will be looking at the social studies instruction and agreed there were gaps, due in part to the state curriculum frameworks which have changed several times in recent years.
Where does the School Committee's role in curriculum review end and the Superintendent's responsibilities begin? A School Committee sets educational policies and is responsible for the yearly budget, while day-to-day school operations falls to the Superintendent and other administrators. However, even the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) 1995 Advisory on School Governance (www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/advisory/cm1115gov.html#lev), admits that "the line between policy and administration is rarely clear-cut." According to that document, it is the School Committee's job to decide "broad, system-wide curriculum such as whether the district should establish a French immersion program for grades K-6," while on the other hand, the state says School Committees should not make operational decisions such as "at what grade level teachers are to start teaching students cursive writing."
· Budget. Fitzgerald proposed a goal to get through this budget year with the least negative impact on the academic program, if tough economic forecasts prove correct.
Carlisle School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman warned that an increase of as much as half a million dollars may be needed to maintain the existing level of services in the FY09 budget. Contracted salary increases are the largest contributing factor, she said. The committee asked Zimmerman to begin more detailed budget estimates to be ready for their consideration as soon as the Finance Committee issues specific guidelines.
Doyle described some of her priorities for the coming year. Her first goal is to work with the facilitator, faculty and parents to foster a collegial learning environment. The next goal was to continue the review of the math curriculum and begin a review of English/Language Arts instruction. She hopes to help interim principal Jim Halliday make a smooth transition, and to oversee the new search committee to hire a permanent middle school principal.
Another of Doyle's major goals is the school renovation project. She plans to work with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the school and the town on the proposal to replace the Spalding Building. Even if they approved the project, the MSBA warned it would be "several" years before a new building was completed, presenting Doyle and the CSC with the question of how much to spend on repairs to Spalding's leaky roof in the meantime. While the group agreed it was important to maintain the building so as to be safe, there was reluctance to undertake significant improvements if the structure were soon to be torn down.
Carlisle District goals
The pre K-grade 8 Carlisle School comprises the local school district, not to be confused with the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District. A preliminary set of 2007-08 district goals was recommended by Superintendent Marie Doyle. The list included maximizing student learning, building trust and communication, assessing the curriculum, refining the strategic plan, integrating technology and addressing space needs and managing the budget.
The basic district goals have changed from last year by the elimination of two goals — "restructuring of the middle school," which has been accomplished, and "promoting collegiality," which now appears under the Superintendent's goals.
Koski asked to see more measurable details and timelines proposed for the coming year. A document available on the Carlisle School web site at www.carlisle.mec.edu dated July 12, lists last year's goals, subgoals and the actions taken to accomplish each.
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