Will Somerville have a new school?

This is the question the Somerville School Committee has been considering and is scheduled to vote on Monday March 18th (rescheduled from March 4th snow cancelation): Will the Somerville Public Schools (SPS) adopt the proposed Powderhouse Studios as an in-district Innovation School? An Innovation School is a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) designation that allows for the creation of in-district public schools (different from a Charter School) that employ creative approaches and differing practices from district or DESE mandates. This January the School Committee (SC) initiated the last component of the DESE defined authorization process for the proposed school initiated approximately five years ago. The SC is very interested in community opinion on this decision, and here I share my best understanding of the opportunity, as well as what I will be considering as a Somerville SC Member when I make my vote on March 18th.

For those not familiar with the proposed Innovation School for SPS, below is a brief overview:

  • Powderhouse Studios is a proposed Innovation School that is being considered by the SC. The proposed school was initiated by an outside non-profit (“the Applicant”). SPS had representation on the Innovation Committee that developed the initial plan, facilitated the process for the Somerville Teachers Union to consider the plan, and is collaborating with the Applicant more significantly since early January to support the further development of the proposal for SC consideration.
  • The proposed school is designed to serve up to 160 students, 13 years old - high school, after a four-year ramp-up period. It would provide an alternative to attending grades 7-12 in our current public schools. Some of the differing elements include: a later start time, a longer school day, a year-round calendar, significant real-world projects (versus traditional subjects), and non-standard budgeting, curriculum, and staffing.
  • The plan has the proposed school located in the former Powderhouse School site as one of several tenants in a mixed-use development project. It is not planned to be located in a City owned facility, therefore the draft financial model includes rent and build-out expenses.
  • A $10 M grant was awarded by XQ to the Applicant, not to SPS or the City of Somerville. How the Grant money can be utilized is still under discussion between the Applicant, the SPS and the Grantor. The full $10 M cannot be allocated to offset district expenses. Nearly $1 M of the Grant money has been spent by the Applicant since awarded by XQ two years ago.
  • Since early January, the School Committee has hosted a public process to consider the proposed school, which has included: two Public Hearings, fourteen SC Office Hour sessions, the receipt of many emails, and presentations/discussion in all January and February SC Regular Meetings with the opportunity for Public Comment at the beginning of those meetings. The last opportunity for Public Comment on the proposed school is March 18th, 7 pm, at Somerville City Hall.

The adoption of the proposed school is not a “done deal” as several people have assumed. There is a vote scheduled by the SC on March 18th on whether or not to adopt the proposed school.

If you want to learn more, visit the SPS web page which details the process and has links to a great deal of information on the proposed school: http://www.somerville.k12.ma.us/district-leadership/somerville-school-committee/powderhouse-studios-proposal

During Office Hours over the last weeks, in emails and at the two Public Hearings, I have heard from those excited by the proposed school and creative model, those who expressed a strong belief in the Applicant and those considering the proposed school for their children, if it is adopted. I have heard from constituents who are questioning how the adoption would impact the rest of the district (financially and initiative wise) and if adoption will address the SPS goals and challenges, specifically the achievement gap. Although discussed, these questions have not been answered. The financial plan has not been finalized and there is less than one week until the scheduled SC vote.

The draft financial plan includes, over the next five years, a $10.7 M investment by the Somerville Public Schools and an additional $1.4 M investment by the City of Somerville. This School District investment is based on average per pupil spending. In short, this money would be spent by the district if the proposed school is adopted or not, however if the school is adopted the funds would be shifted from other schools and initiatives to the proposed school. The financial plan assumes full enrollment to cover significant fixed costs which may not be realistic in an urban district with demonstrated high annual student mobility. If the school is not fully enrolled, the planned average per pupil allocation from the district would be reduced (by average per pupil spending of students not enrolled) and the school would not have expected money to cover the expenses outlined in the financial plan which is not accounted for. Additionally, the draft financial plan assumes a reimbursement of $900 K over five years from the Grant for district staff time to support the proposed school design and launch, which has not been agreed upon to date by the Grantor. If not covered by the Grant or the allocated average per pupil spending, SPS would assume any additional expense from the district budget.

I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I plan on making my final decision when the SC completes deliberation on March 18th considering thoughts from my SC colleagues and the recommendation from Superintendent Skipper. I can share the four primary considerations I will base my decision on: the educational design of the school, the viability of the plan (including the financials), the potential impact to the district, and how adoption would support SPS goals and priorities. The impact to the district includes the potential to explore innovative ideas that can be adopted in the district based on the experience with the proposed school. It also considers how a diversion of both funds and resources from other schools, initiatives or opportunities due to the investment in the proposed school, will impact our district.

The proposed school is exciting, complex and a radical change from a traditional school. The number of unknowns, outstanding questions and concerns is large. Less than one week before the SC vote, the financial model is a draft which has yet to demonstrate that the proposed school is fiscally responsible or predict the likely impact to the district. Additionally, based on the complexity of the proposed school, I am concerned the amount of work necessary to realize the vision will distract from current district-wide innovation efforts and goal achievement. I look forward to exploring these concerns and questions further over the next several days to inform my analysis and decision, in the context of serving the best interests all students in the Somerville Public Schools.

The SPS staff have invested a great deal in refining the plan for the proposed school throughout this community process. I am impressed by the efforts of my SC colleagues, with their various skills and experience in education and business, to understand and give sincere consideration to the proposed school as well as request and review input from the community. I extend my thanks to the Somerville community, SPS staff, my colleagues and the Applicant for their efforts.

If you have an opinion about whether or not Somerville Public Schools should adopt the proposed school, Powderhouse Studios, or questions, please contact the Somerville School Committee (email or phone can be found on the SPS website) or join the School Committee at City Hall for Public Comment at 7 pm on Monday March 18th.

Laura Pitone, Somerville School Committee Representative, Ward 5

lpitone@k12.somerville.ma.us

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Newsletter - Winter 2019

Consideration of a new Innovation School, Office Hours, Budget planning, Equity Policies, and the initial findings of the Somerville Learning 2030 initiative are just a few of activities of Somerville Public Schools (SPS) and the School Committee (SC) this winter. 

OFFICE HOURS: Please join me and Ward 5 City Councilor Mark Niedergang for Office Hours Sunday, February 10th, 10:30 - noon at the Armory Cafe, 191 Highland Avenue. The School Committee has initiated Office Hours a little earlier this year to seek input on not only on the 2019-2020 budget but also the proposed Innovation School Powderhouse Studios. See full schedule of Office Hours

PROPOSED INNOVATION SCHOOL: The School Committee plans to vote on March 4th on whether to adopt Powderhouse Studios as an Innovation School in SPS. The SPS website Powerhouse Studios Proposal page has information about what an Innovation School is, the Innovation School Process and the proposed plans for Powerhouse Studios. There is a great deal of content on the SPS website, I recommend starting with the video of the January 23rd public hearing, which includes a high level overview of the proposed school design and comments from the public. I also encourage people to attend the next School Committee Public Hearing this Wednesday February 6th from 6 - 8 pm at the West Somerville Neighborhood School (177 Powderhouse Blvd). School Committee Members are seeking community input on the proposed school to inform their decision for the district. Community members may also email the School Committee, or participate in Public Comment at 7 pm at the School Committee meetings scheduled Monday February 25th and Monday March 4th (day of the vote) at City Hall.

Somerville_Learning_2030_initial_findings_list_(2).JPGSOMERVILLE LEARNING 2030 FINDINGS: Nearly 700 surveys were completed and over 200 people participated in focus groups exploring the question: "What do we want growing up in Somerville to look like?" View the initial results and share your feedback on the results in the "What you said - findings so far" section of the Somerville Learning 2030 webpage. Some of what participants said they value included housing affordability, youth friendly spaces (indoors and outdoors, especially for teens), attention to youth social emotional health, and access to affordable early childhood and after school programing. Once the report is finalized, it will serve as community input for future planning for our City and Schools. 

EQUITY POLICIES: The School Committee is creating policies to prioritize and guide efforts to ensure equity for our students at Somerville Public Schools. Equity may mean different things to different people. In the context of public education, I often come back to the statement "decoupling the link between student socio-economic status and success" which has guided the Somerville Public Schools as participants in the By All Means initiative (an educational consortium Hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.) One tangible result of these efforts is the newly approved Workforce Diversity Policy, with a goal to diversify District staff to better reflect the District's diverse student population.

Marijuana, Vaping & Youth: A Discussion: An opportunity for parents, guardians and their students to learn about the concerns associated wtih marijuana and vaping. 

Thursday February 7, 2019 - 6:00 - 7:30 pm Somerville High School Highlander Cafe (81 Highland Avenue)

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2019 Winter Office Hours - Proposed Innovation School and Budget Input

Please share your thoughts on both the proposed innovation school (Powderhouse Studios) and 2019-2020 Budget by joining members of the School Committee at Winter Office Hours between January 22nd and February 10th.  Many are co-hosted by Alderman (being retitled City Councilor) and State Representatives. I will be co-hosting the the following office hours with Ald Mark Niedergang:

CORRECTION: Wednesday January 30th 8:30 - 9:30 amKennedy School Coffee (5 Cherry Street) *changed from 1/24

Sunday January 27th 10:30 am - noonThe Armory Cafe (191 Highland Avenue)

Sunday February 10th 10:30 am - noonThe Armory Cafe (191 Highland Avenue)

Full schedule for all School Committee Representatives below

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Fall 2018 Newsletter - Office Hours and Updates

In addition to announcing Fall School Committee Office Hours, I am excited to share Somerville Public School initiatives including a city-wide community visioning process for learning called Somerville Learning 2030 (please take a moment to participate), efforts to reconsider Homework Policy, a pilot of enhancements to SPS recycling programs and the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples' Day holiday. If you cannot attend Fall Office Hours, please email me at lpitone@k12.somerville.ma.us and let me know what you're thinking.

Laura Pitone, Ward 5 School Committee Representative


Office Hours SignOffice Hours - Fall 2018
Join me and Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang at our Spring 2018 Office hours.

  • Sunday, Oct 28, 12:30 - 2 pm, Armory Cafe, 91 Highland Ave.
  • Tuesday, Oct 30th, 8:30 - 10 am, Armory Cafe, 91 Highland Ave.
  • Wednesday, Oct 31st, 7:45 - 8:45 am Kennedy School Drop Off
  • Thursday, Nov 1st, 7:45 - 8:45 am Brown School Drop Off 

All School Committee Members are hosting office hours from October 27 - November 3, see this link for the full schedule. Planned in all Wards, attend the one that best fits your schedule.  If you cannot attend office hours, School Committee members always welcome emails and phone calls, or you can share your thoughts in public at the beginning of each Regular School Committee Meeting during Public Comment.  

Homework Policy - Encouraged by strong parental interest, the Educational Programs Sub-committee is working with administration to draft an updated homework policy. Community and staff feedback has been solicited (surveys this past spring) and research done on homework effectiveness and value. The current policy provides time guidelines by grade starting with Kindergarten, but I expect that the proposed new policy (which has yet to be completed, reviewed and deliberated on by the School Committee) will be less prescriptive with a reduced emphasis on homework for early elementary students. 

Recycling and compost pilot 2018

Recycling at SPS - A pilot recycling and composting programming has been launched in the cafeterias of four schools; Argenziano, Brown, Healey and Kennedy. A collaboration between SPS, the Department of Public Works and the City Office of Sustainability and Environment, this grant funded initiative also included hiring sustainability champions in all schools to support and encourage recycling efforts as well as a new School Committee Recycling Policy. This pilot will be evaluated in early 2019 and recommendations made for next steps.

Somerville Learning 2030 - The City and SPS are asking all community members to share their thoughts on what the experience they would like to see for kids growing up in Somerville. Participate in a visioning working session or complete the survey. The goal is to establish shared priorities and values that will inform investment in city services, educational programming (in schools and beyond) as well as strategic partners. Learn more about Somerville Learning 2030 here

Indigenous Peoples' Day - After a compelling presentations by students of the East Somerville Community School, the city renamed the first Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day (formerly Columbus Day) and the School Committee passed a resolution to change the holiday in the schools as well. Research, thoughtful arguments and articulate oral presentations by these students was exciting and inspiring.

Ways to stay informed about the Somerville School Committee

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Somerville Learning 2030 Initiative - priorities for growing up in Somerville

What do you wish growing up in Somerville will look like in the future? Share your thoughts as part of the Somerville Learning 2030 Project. Somerville Learning 2030 is a community visioning project to identify our shared priorities for learning and youth development in Somerville. What do currently love about youth opportunities in the city? What do we need more of? What did you love about your own experience growing up that you would like to see in Somerville? This is not just for parents, all members of the community are encouraged to share their thoughts. 

Three ways participate:

1. Fill out the Survey - Please share the survey link via social media.

2. Participate in a Visioning and Values Session - Three dates are already scheduled: Sat Nov 3rd 10 am - noon, Mon Nov 5th 4 - 6 pm and Tues Nov 13th 5:30 - 7:30 pm. Additional details, including location and registration included in the link.

3. Host your own conversation with friends and share your findings - This link includes a conversation guide to help facilitate a group conversation and how to share your notes with the project team.

Information about shared priorities and values generated through the Somerville Learning 2030 project will inform planning in our city, schools and youth partners for several years. Make sure your ideas are heard -- We want to hear from EVERYONE in EVERY neighborhood.

For more information about the Somerville Learning 2030 Project, please visit the Learning 2030 Website

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Fall 2018 School Committee Coordinated Office Hours

Please join members of the School Committee at Fall Office Hours between October 27th and November 3rd.  Many are co-hosted by Alderman and State Representatives and some at schools during drop off. I will be attending the following office hours:

Sunday October 28th 12:30 - 2 pm with Ald Mark Niedergang at The Armory Cafe (191 Highland Avenue)

Tuesday October 30th 8:30 - 10 am with Ald Mark Niedergang at The Armory Cafe (191 Highland Avenue)

Kennedy School Drop off - Wednesday October 31st 7:45 - 8:45 am with SC Rep Paula O'Sullivan, Ald Mark Niedergang and Ald Lance Davis 

Brown School Drop Off -  Thursday November 1st 7:45 - 8:45 am with SC Rep Paula O'Sullivan, Ald Mark Niedergang and Ald Lance Davis

Full schedule for all School Committee Representatives below, as well as translated into Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole: 

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Introducing Public Comment at Somerville School Committee

The School Committee recently created a new policy that includes a public comment period at the beginning of each Regular School Committee meeting, which are generally scheduled the first and third Monday of the month. This is an opportunity for members of the community to share with the School Committee in a public meeting thoughts about the Somerville Public Schools. Policies BEDH and BEDH-E outline the expectations and guidelines for public comment, but in short community members must sign up by 7 pm, are generally allowed three minutes to speak, and are asked to not identify any staff members in their comments. As the public comment period is designed as input to the School Committee, administration and School Committee members will not respond to any comment during the meeting. Read more if you are interested in ways to stay informed about meeting agendas or activities of the Somerville School Committee.

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Spring 2018 Newsletter - Office Hours and Updates

In addition to announcing Spring 2018 Coordinated School Committee Office Hours, I am excited to share about Somerville Public School activities including efforts to envision the future educational experience of our high school students, a city-wide community visioning process for learning, the establishment of School Committee Long Range initiatives and the addition of Public Comment to our Regular School Committee Meetings. If you cannot attend the Coordinated Office Hours, please email me at lpitone@k12.somerville.ma.us and let me know what your thinking, about the budget or any other aspect of our schools.

Office Hours SignOffice Hours - Spring 2018
Join me and Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang at our Spring 2018 Office hours.

  • Sunday, April 8th, 12 - 1:30 pm, Armory Cafe, 91 Highland Ave.
  • Tuesday, April 10th, 8 - 9:30 am, Armory Cafe, 91 Highland Ave.  

All School Committee Members are hosting office hours from March 28 - April 14, see this link for the full schedule. Planned in all Wards, attend the one that best fits your schedule.  If you cannot attend office hours, School Committee members always welcome emails and phone calls

Envisioning the Future of Somerville High School - Planning Grant
Somerville High School, in partnership with the Center of Collaborative Education, has been awarded a two-year $300K Grant from the Barr Foundation to "catalyze innovation...toward the planning and implementation of public, whole-school educational models that transcend the school walls in order to help students develop the competencies required for a 21st century definition of student success." Read more about the scope and process of this very exciting work that will enhance student learning at Somerville High. 

Growing Up In Somerville: SomerVision for Learning
SomerVision is Somerville's community planning process initiated in 2009 and the city is excited to share that Somerville has received a grant to expand this work, to develop a community defined SomerVision for Learning. Growing Up In Somerville conversations will include our schools, but will also consider experiences beyond the public schools that impact our youth. Watch for future announcements about how to get involved in this exciting process. 

School Committee Identifies Long Range Priorities
At the end of 2017, the School Committee completed a process establishing the School Committee Long Range priorities to support the realization of the SPS Vision and Goals. Long Range initiatives have a longer time horizon than traditional School Committee two-year goals and are significantly complex with respect to level of investment (time and resources) as well as cultural shifts necessary to both consider and implement. The resulting three Long Range priorities are: Equity in the District, Enrollment Strategy and Planning, and Supporting Human Capital Strategy/Labor Relations. Read more about the Long Range planning process and priorities. 

Public Comment at Regular School Committee Meetings - Newly Established
The School Committee created a new way to share your concerns -- establishing a public comment period at the beginning of each Regular School Committee meetings. Read more about what to expect from and guidelines for Somerville School Committee Public Comment here.  

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School Committee Long Range Priorities for 2018 and beyond

In 2017, the School Committee (SC) identified a SC Long Range agenda that would best support achievement of the SPS Vision and Goals. Long Range initiatives have a longer time horizon that traditional district two-year goals and are significantly complex with respect to level of investment (time and resources) as well as cultural shifts necessary to both consider and implement. The process for this work, as well as the outcome, are outlined below and include three Long Range priorities for the SC and a list of additional topics that administration will explore and engage the SC as appropriate. 

Process: To identify the most pressing items to be addressed through the SC Long Range activities over the next several years, several meetings were held to brainstorm, parse (short term from long term), consider and assess. Once items were identified, each were were assessed based on two parameters; the first complexity to implement and the second scope of impact. Complexity to implement considered both the resources necessary (people-power and money) and the type change -- from "adaptive change", which requires significant cultural shifts in expectations, to “technical changes” which are more contained to a specific area or group that doesn’t require as much change in mindset or practice. Scope of impact considered the both the influence on the achievement of the district’s goals and the population of students and staff that would be positively impacted by implementation. SC members did homework to pre-assess each item based on the two criteria, as well as rank each to prepare for the group process and worked together to finalize their findings. 

Outcome: The following three items were identified to be the focus of Long Range activities over the next 1-2 years. An additional list of topics that the SC and administration agreed would benefit from the School Committee’s participation in consideration were also identified. Efforts on this additional list would be lead by administration and are also listed below.

SC 2018 Long Range focus:

  • Examining Cultural proficiency and power structures in the district, which includes equity in the district
  • Long Term Enrollment Strategy (enrollment projections, school population and programs (including scope, placement, expansion or addition), school choice (including current Brown School transition model)
  • Long Term Labor Relations/Supporting Human Capital strategy

Additional topics identified for SC participation in consideration (scheduled by Superintendent/Chair in Regular or Subcommittee meetings in 2018 and beyond if necessary):

  • Enhancing middle school programming in the K-8 model
  • Developing a comprehensive transportation plan
  • Enhanced planning/resources to increase family access and engagement
  • Delivering on an after school and out of school time equity plan
  • Assessment and Accountability (standardized testing and beyond)
  • High school Structures
  • K-8 World Language Strategy

The three Long Range topics will be explored in more detail, including clarifying the scope of each topic, in future SC Long Range meetings to be scheduled in 2018 and beyond. 

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Envisioning the Future of Somerville High School - Grant Funded Planning

Somerville High School (SHS) staff, students, parents and community partners have been working with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) to re-imagine the future learning experience for students. Starting with the SHS Education Plan created to define the needs for the new Somerville High School campus, this new, innovative work is funded by a $300,000 two-year planning grant from the Barr Foundation. A whole-school educational model is being designed that puts the student at the center of a flexible and evolving learning experience, creating new and sustainable opportunities to connect all students to the real world as standard practice. In short, future students at Somerville High School will gain practical hands-on work experience outside the classroom as the natural course of pursing their high school diploma, and the structures of the school (assessments, scheduling and personalized planning) will be adjusted to make this happen.

Presentation Envisioning SHS This is exciting in so many ways -- students and employers are asking for this, our school community is engaged and leading the process and the Barr foundation believes in Somerville Public Schools and is funding this planning effort. Visit the Envisioning the Future of Somerville High School web page for more information about the projects and to learn more, which also includes a community input form. Continue reading below to learn about details shared at a recent Educational Programs Subcommittee of the School Committee meeting.

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Laura Pitone for Ward 5 School Committee
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