Monday, November 10, 2014

Making the Jump

I attended the School Committee Special Meeting last week and then watched the Regular Meeting at home on the teevee while drinking wine and folding laundry.  Why wine and laundry?  The wine is to calm me down and the laundry folding makes me feel that I have actually accomplished something.  Also, why not?

My notes from the Special Meeting reflect that there are lots of options and not a lot of agreement on which options to take or even which are a priority.  The mayor stated that the High School is the number one priority because we are in danger of losing accreditation.  Later, during the regular meeting, we were assured that the capacity issues at the elementary school level are the number one priority.  Sigh.

With regards to the High School, the School Committee is waiting to hear if WPS will get money from a SOI Statement of Interest submitted to the MA School Building Authority.  This is the third time that a SOI has been submitted for the High School, and, after we were assured that the second SOI was the Bomb and would not be denied, we are now awaiting news on the third submission.  Apparently, WPS has been invited to the MSBA for an interview, which hasn't happened before, so that's a good sign.  And we are all about good signs and positive attitudes and keeping our collective chins up.  Sigh.

There are options for the site of a new High School.  These include the existing site and build a new building right next to the old one.  Another is, of course, the Fernald site, where there are 50 acres available, excluding the wetlands.  There was a motion to study the benefits of each.  A study, you say?  Yes, that's right.  A study.

Moving onto the elementary schools, the mayor recommended that the Fitch be removed from consideration, even though there has been no final report on the cost to rehab the building.  Hmmm.  Might some developer be interested in the Art Deco facade for another use?  The Committee Members asked to wait until final price tag for rehab of Fitch is in before tabling its use as a school building.

The mayor's recommendation was to build an addition onto the MacArthur, because that school has the best site for an addition and also has the lowest population.  Mr. Frassica stated that there is also room to build at Stanley.  There was a spirited discussion of what constitutes the actual South Side of Waltham -- whether the division is the river or some other line.  Then there was a motion for a feasibility study of building and addition at the MacArthur vs. the Stanley.  Ah.  A feasibility study!

At that point, something rather remarkable happened.  Mr. Tarallo, long a favorite of the PTO Mom, actually used math and existing real data to figure the way out of the muddle.  In summary, if each of the elementary schools was built to house 550 students, then we need to look at more equal distribution of the kids.  Further, doing the math, insure that 24 appropriately-sized regular ed classrooms exist at each school and then look for space for special education.  All I could do was think back to the glaringly bad decision to move the Language Based Resource Room students to the Fitz two years ago.  Had an assessment like this been performed, those students would now be enjoying actual classroom space, instead of shared space.  And the ELL students at the Fitz might even have a classroom instead of the large closet with a window that serves as their classroom now.  Coulda shoulda woulda.

Sigh.

There was discussion again of *reclaiming* the computer labs as classroom space.  The $40,000 laptop carts, it turns out, hold 30 laptop computers and include the price of the laptops.  So, folks, that's a quarter million if we get one cart per elementary school.  I had in my notes that Ms. Donnelly moved to go forward with this dollar request, however, I can't be sure that that actually happened or if I just wanted to think that it had.

Oh!  And the pre-K program!  My older son is a graduate of the program at the Northeast.  I loved the opportunity to have him in a pre-school where the kids with IEP were matched with kids who didn't have an IEP: what a wonderful, diverse learning culture.  How wonderful it would be to expand the pre-school to everyone in Waltham, without a waiting list or a lottery to get in.  The pre-K options discussed include: housing the program at the *new* high school and including vocational experience for students looking to work in early childhood ed; housing the entire pre-K at the (expanded) MacArthur and avoiding redistricting; housing the pre-K program at South Junior High, where there is space available. I don't have in my notes which is the best option.  Sigh.

I have to say that this year's meetings are nowhere nearly as fun to watch as last year's, since the committee members appear to be earnestly trying to make the best decisions using the best processes and the best information that they have.  All of the members are professional and no one calls anyone else names.  That makes it a little harder to pay attention, but it's worth it.

In summary:

  • I've been hearing crazy rumors being bandied about regarding redistricting: if you're worried about redistricting, you need to watch the School Committee meetings or read the minutes.  Once you've done that, you can start spreading rumors.  The *R* word is on the table, however, so is everything else.
  • There's a search for a new Superintendent.  Anything that doesn't get done BY JUNE 30TH will likely result in plan changes when the new Super takes over.
  • There is a mayoral election in 2015.  I don't believe that Mayor McCarthy has made an official announcement, however, there are indications that she is running for reelection.  City Councillor and State Representative Tom Stanley has announced that he will run.  So, anything that doesn't get done by election season, beginning in September, may change if there is a change in mayor and during the campaigns.
  • Regarding the Fitzgerald: this is a school performing at Level 1.  It was a Commendation School last year.  The Fitz has accomplished this EVEN THOUGH there have been five principals in six years and WHILE the Fitz welcomed the LBRR program from the Whittemore, pushing the student population over 500.  The educators and staff at the Fitz are accomplishing great things with limited resources and in a space that is overflowing.  What does this mean to you?  How's your property value looking?  The Fitz is a system under stress and the stress needs to be relieved.
  • Whatever happens is gonna cost a lot of money.