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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Spring 2018 Coordinated Office Hours

Share your thoughts about Somerville Public School's future budget at the Spring School Committee Coordinated Office Hours hosted throughout the city from March 28th - April 14th. The Somerville School Committee oversees the School District's finances as well as establishes our District goals and policy -- let your voice inform our work. We are engaged in the budget process, but happy to discuss anything that is on your mind. Hosted in all Wards, join the one that best fits your schedule. Note the addition of school drop off times at several schools (Argenziano, Brown, Kennedy and West Somerville) as well as the participation of several Aldermen and Representatives.

Spring 2018 Office Hours Schedule

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Fall Coordinated SC Office Hours: Nov 11 - 18, 2017

I'm excited the School Committee is continuing our new tradition of coordinated office hours this Fall. Links for translated Office Hours announcements are included below.

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How to stay informed about the Somerville School Committee

Here are three ways to stay informed about the activities of the Somerville School Committee

  1. Receive weekly emails that outlined scheduled meetings and agendas. Request by emailing Patti Marques, the Superintendent's Executive Assistant at: pmarques@k12.somerville.ma.us

  2. "Like" the Laura Pitone Ward 5 SC Facebook Page. I post SC activities, district events and other announcements.

  3.  Sign up for updates on my website. Newsletters are emailed every few months sharing information, activities, events and announcements.

And don't hesitate to contact me directly, via my School Committee email (lpitone@k12.somerville.ma.us) if you have any questions, ideas or concerns. 

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Innovation School to be Considered for Somerville Public Schools

Somerville Public Schools has been in the process of developing an Innovation School, which should be shortly considered and voted on by the School Committee, the final step in the Innovation School authorization process.  Referred to as Powderhouse Studios (formally as the STEAM Academy) this Innovation School design has been in the works for a few years. This past March, the plan was approved by the Innovation Committee, a major milestone in the process. Currently, the district is in discussions with both the City of Somerville and the Somerville Teachers Asociation (STA) to refine the elements of the plan. If final terms are agreed upon with the STA and the City, the updated plan would be submitted to the School Committee for consideration and a vote, a process which would include a public hearing. Although the updated plan to be submitted to the School Committee is not yet complete, the draft plan approved by the Innovation Committee in March can be viewed here. Watch for an announcement about a public hearing and posting of the final plan, or receive a notification from me by signing up for my SC updates via email or Facebook

What is an Innovation School? A Massachusetts Innovation School is an in-district school that can implement creative and inventive strategies with the goals of increasing student achievement and reducing achievement gaps while keeping school funding within districts. Innovation Schools are different from charter schools that they are hosted, funded and directly overseen by the public school district. Innovation Schools are different than other public schools as they have requested some deviations from the standard practices of the district, referred to as “autonomies and flexibilities”.  Innovation Schools encourage districts to explore new, innovative practices with the potential to be used district-wide. Creation of an Innovation School requires a community process culminating with deliberation and a vote by the School Committee.

Does SPS already have an Innovation School? SPS currently has one Innovation School, the Winter Hill Community Innovation School (WHCIS.) The WHCIS received approval from the School Committee to convert to an Innovation School model five years ago, after completing the innovation design process. A few ways the WHCIS differs from other K-8 schools in the district includes how they are organized and make decisions (uses a school governing body), greater autonomy in professional development, how they intentionally build and maintain the school climate and culture (using the Responsive Classroom evidence-based approach that focuses on the link between academic success and social-emotional learning, which has since been adopted by other schools), and implementing a school dress code which was voted on and adopted by the student body. The WHCIS was just awarded the 2017 Pozen Prize for Innovation Schools by the Boston Foundation as the first in-district Innovation School to receive this honor. 

What is the proposed NEW Innovation School? The current proposed Innovation School experience at Powderhouse Studios consists of student defined, real world longer-term projects coupled with direct instruction to support common core standards and the skills necessary to pursue and complete projects. The proposal is modeled after research or design laboratories, includes a full year schedule and longer days, and is targeted to serve students that don’t always thrive in a traditional middle school or high school model.

The plan for Powderhouse Studios has be awarded an XQ grant of $10M given to school designs that successfully “rethink high school.” Although the $10M would be used to develop the school, the City and the Somerville Public Schools would be responsible for all costs of running the school once the grant dollars are spent. 

Again, watch for announcements about the the final Innovation Plan and School Committee Pubic Hearing, sign up for my SC updates via email or Facebook, or reach out directly to any School Committee member to share your thoughts about the inclusion of this proposed Innovation School in the Somerville Public Schools. 

 

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March Newsletter 2017

I can't believe that three years have past since I began representing Ward 5 on the School Committee. Thank you for support and perspective since my first campaign and I hope it will continue as I run for my third term this fall. Watch for an announcement about a campaign kickoff event later this spring. 

Office Hours - Spring 2017
Join me and Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang at our Spring 2017 Office hours.

  • Sunday, March 19, 1:30-3:30 pm, Armory Cafe, 91 Highland Ave.
  • Tuesday, March 21, 8 - 10 am, Armory Cafe, 91 Highland Ave.  

All School Committee Members are hosting office hours from March 18 - March 26, see this link for the full schedule.  If you cannot attend office hours, School Committee members always welcome emails and phone calls. Contact information can be found on the SPS website.  

Safe Schools Resolution
The Somerville School Committee and district has recently adopted the Safe Schools Resolution to broadcast our commitment to supporting and protecting the rights of all students.  I am proud and thankful for the expedited and thoughtful work of our administrators on this important resolution and associated policy to support it. I am most thankful for those in the district -- our students and staff -- who live and act in the spirit of this message every day and inspire these words.

New Somerville High School
Plans continue for the design and construction of the new Somerville High School (SHS), overwhelming supported by voters during the November 2016 election. I am very excited to share that the MSBA (the Massachusetts School Building Authority which provides oversight to and state funding approval for school building projects), approved the schematic design (overall scope and conceptual design) this February.  On March 22nd the Board of Alderman will hold a public hearing (agenda) on requesting an appropriation and authorization to borrow funds in a bond for the construction of a new SHS. Following this approval, detailed design will begin.  The targeted construction period is April 2018 - July 2021.  Check out the new SHS website for up to date information about the project, building committee and meetings, which are open to the public.  

School Committee Chair for 2017
I am excited to share that I have been elected by my peers to serve as the School Committee Chair for 2017.  One of my first responsibilities as the Chair was to speak at the State of the City this past January.  Click here to read the text of my speech.  

As we all thaw from the winter into spring, I look forward to seeing friends and neighbors out and about in the city.  Anytime and place is a good time to share your thoughts, aspirations and concerns about our schools and students.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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School Committee Chair for 2017

I am excited to share that I have been elected by my peers to serve as the School Committee Chair for 2017.  One of my first responsibilities as the Chair was to speak at the State of the City this past January. Below is the text of my speech. 

The following is from School Committee Chair Pitone’s speech delivered at the Board of Aldermen Organizational Meeting on Monday, January 9, 2017 in the Aldermanic Chambers:

Mayor Curtatone, President White, fellow elected officials on the Board of Alderman and School Committee, Superintendent Skipper, family and friends. I am honored to share this night with you and for my new role as the Chair of the School Committee. I appreciate the confidence and trust you have placed in me to lead and collaborate with the talented people that represent the city of Somerville on the School Committee.

First I want to acknowledge and congratulate Paula O’Sullivan as our newest member of the School Committee, representing Ward 6. She is filling big shoes (literally) with the resignation of Paul Bockleman, who mentored me and many others with his deep knowledge of the district, ability to both listen and speak thoughtfully and with great humor. With her professional background in education and as a parent of three children attending the Kennedy and Brown Schools, Paula’s perspective will contribute greatly to the work of the School Committee. Thank you Paula, for stepping up and your future service.

I would also like to acknowledge the out-going Chair of the School Committee, Carrie Normand, who has led us through a period of great change, both in membership and district leadership. Although our current school committee members are relatively new to the job, there is no shortage of passion and Carrie has inspired all of us with her generous and thoughtful leadership, always putting the needs of the children of Somerville first and foremost.

Although many of the faces on the school committee have changed, it is inspiring to look around the room and recognize so many who have served before us – the list is too long to name – many who continue to serve in public office. Your commitment to the city and our schools continues in your current work, and the Somerville Public Schools would not be enjoying its current success without your continued support – thank you. As steward of the schools I also imagine I am not only seeing my predecessors but hopefully a few faces of those that will follow in our footsteps.

For some of us, OK me, my role on the SC was not part of some master plan but a journey I unwittingly embarked on the day I brought my son to kindergarten at the Healey School 10 years ago. I was welcomed in the school community and greatly supported as we made, what was for my family, a challenging transition. I wanted to give back so I got involved at the school, doing what I was interested in and leveraging my skills – that sweet spot that makes volunteering easy. But I realized I wanted to do more for the wider school community. Running for office was an overwhelming prospect but one of the most exciting and rewarding experienced I have had. I met so many amazing and different people – but the one thing they shared in common was their sincere interest in the students of Somerville.

That interest showed it self this November when the community overwhelmingly supported the city’s planned investment in a new Somerville High School. Thanks to the High School Building Committee for their time and efforts to consider every possible location and various interests from historic preservation, the experience of current students during construction to the inspiring educational vision of the future of Somerville High School developed by school staff, Headmaster Oteri and Superintendent Skipper. This vision emphasizes critical thinking skills, collaboration and an increased connectivity between our career and technical and college preparatory programming. I am excited to see the future of Somerville High School unfold.

In addition to plans for a new High School, 2016 brought an increased focus on the social and emotional development of our students. From enhancing health education in the middle schools to strengthen how our staff is organized to identify and met the needs of struggling students – we have made investments that allow all our students to better meet academic challenges and prepare them for life after SPS. Students who are struggling socially or emotionally may not be ready to learn or make their full contribution to their community. These efforts are in direct support of the district’s continued commitment to Whole Child education – a shorthand for the combination of academic, social, emotional and physical education – including new methods to assess our successes (and learn about areas for growth) beyond standardized testing.

But now, I hope to liven things up a bit by switching gears from assessments to baked goods to illustrate something fundamental about our schools and the work of 2016 and beyond. I was at Lyndell’s bakery last week, and the woman next to me made a comment about a young boy and girl pressed against the glass case filled with doughnuts. They were siblings and she was impressed to see them happily together, if not slowly, asking for their order. Her name was Barbara and she was a retired SPS PE teacher. She then told me about bumping into one for her former students and although she didn’t remember the name of the “boy” (who she guessed was about 60 now) she did remind him of a collision they had in the gym and pulled up the leg of her pants to show him the resulting surgical scar on her kneecap. After over 40 years she still remembers her student and he remember her. Wow, our educators know our kids (even 40 years later), our educators put the needs of our kids first, our educators watch out for our children in the community – even after they retire, looking at our future generation with a kind heart and commentary. Attracting, growing and keeping great staff is a top priority at SPS and Superintendent Skipper has enhanced our efforts. To put it simply, the goal is to make SPS THE TOP choice for quality educators in order to retain and attract the best talent. I use the term educator intentionally (just as Superintendent Skipper does) to include not only teachers, but administrators, paraprofessionals, lunch aids – everyone who work in our schools – they all play a role in educating our children. I believe this will be one of the most powerful ways we improve opportunities for the children of Somerville.

There are so many more exciting things I could share, but to keep things brief, I would like to expand on the idea of educators, reflecting on my own experience and reaching out to you, members of the Somerville community. Think about the ways that you may have a positive impact on our schools – considering where your interests intersect with your skills (that sweet spot of volunteering) – from tutoring students to asking challenging questions of your elected officials and city and school administration, educating on what our community wants and needs. Thanks to those who are already in the mix, our PTAs, volunteers and tutors. Great thanks to Superintendent Skipper for her high-energy leadership and clear vision. And my personal thanks to those who allow me to do the work I do – my family, friends and dedicated colleagues on the School Committee. Be an educator, be involved, have an impact. But I warn you it may be addictive and next thing you know one of you may be standing on this podium or sitting in the horseshoe as the next stewards of our city and our schools. Thank you.

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Laura Pitone for Ward 5 School Committee
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