HARVARD — Although acknowledging there’s as many questions as answers, the School Committee authorized Chairman Keith Cheveralls and School Superintendent Thomas Jefferson to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), or first step, towards qualifying for federal “Race To The Top” (RTTT) supplemental education funds.
How much will be made available to Harvard, or any other of the state’s school districts, is unknown. In all, about $250 million is to be funneled to the state.
Jan. 13 is the filing deadline for Harvard to submit paperwork to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). A statewide Webinar conference to answer last-minute district questions was held Dec. 18. Cheveralls said the number-one question asked was how districts could convince local teachers unions to sign off on the MOUs. Teachers union signatures upon MOUs are scored more favorably, evidencing a spirit of local cooperation.
But, even without a sign-off from the Harvard Teachers Association, the committee opted to press forward, noting teachers unions statewide are awaiting an advisory position statement first from the Massachusetts Teachers Association. A controversial though undefined notion in the RTTT literature is one of the five program initiatives. The language reads only that one goal is to, “improve teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance by creating a statewide system to measure effectiveness and developing new tools, approaches, and policies to strengthen educator development.”
While Jefferson confirmed there’s uncertainties about all the “what ifs” and program particulars, the Harvard School Committee sought counsel from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Cheveralls said, after touching base with MASC Executive Director Glenn Koocher, “there’s really no compelling reason not to apply” and “now is the only time to get in. There are lots of times that we can get out.”
A preliminary discussion with HTA President Kathleen Doherty went well, Cheveralls said, stating the union was “very open” to the dialogue.
Piali De stated her interest in another of the five initiatives, to “increase college and career readiness” by investing in new programs, support systems and incentives. De said money sent Harvard’s way could perhaps drive a new computer programming curriculum that could serve as a statewide model. “I think we have a lot of leverage to say ‘trust us’ to do it.”
Student Advisory Council Chairman Molly O’Rourke-Friel said she, too, was briefed on the RTTT program and was advised a letter of support from student government can help bring up the district’s total point tally. “Just let me know so I can organize it,” she said.
“Let’s do it,” said De. “We want the maximum number of points. We want to be competing the best we can.”
On Jan. 19, the DESE submits its statewide proposal to the U.S. Department of Education, which in turn announces its state grant awards in April.
Jefferson theorized the neediest, Title 1 school districts will get the most money. “For them it’s a no-brainer.” For Harvard, however, “it’s a bit more complex for us,” he said, but added “everyone’s able to be at the table for discussions” once districts sign on with their MOUs.
Jefferson and De both thought funds could also be used to spark International Baccalaureate (IB) programming for all grades. The IB mission statement is provided on its Web site, www.ibo.org, as follows:
“The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect… These programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”
HES gets pennies from heaven
Two new notions are emerging in recent committee meetings to benefit Harvard Elementary School.
First, in dealing with the “bubble” fifth-grade class, which has class sizes nudging and reaching 25 students per class, added tutoring and aide hours have been made available. It’s a concept that the HES School Council and Principal Mary Beth Banios are suggesting would benefit the school next year, even after the bubble class pushes up and out to the Bromfield School across the street.
Council member Kirsten Wright, a mother of a fifth grade HES student, said the council supports the notion. Jefferson said the figures are being worked out internally to see if “what resources, if any, might be available.” But the goal would be to have a floating aide, called in for half-day stints as determined collectively at the outset of a week, to aid in different day parts. Jefferson called such a per diem aid a more “cost-efficient model” than a straight hire.
Second, the call for a new playground at HES is gaining traction. Cheveralls said the Capital Planning Committee met along with Parks and Recreation officials on Dec.16 to discuss the shortcomings at the playground, including lack of fencing and aged and inappropriate equipment for younger and smaller students. Cheveralls credited Jefferson with making an “artful” appeal for assistance, which Cheveralls said received a “favorable” reaction, though noted that the funding plea to that Committee is likely too late for the upcoming fiscal year.
The School Committee will discuss the two HES needs again at their Jan. 11 meeting.
Briefly, the Committee discussed:
* The launching of a regularly issued Superintendent’s Report, similar in nature to the HES and Bromfield electronic newsletters circulated to parents. Committee member Patty Wenger noted that it was “overwhelmingly recommended” at a recent conference attended hosted by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Jefferson said it will be a New Year’s Resolution for him to author such a circular, but offered “if you find it’s repetitive and redundant,” then the Committee could revisit the idea later and decide if they want to keep or drop it.
* The Committee reviewed the superintendent’s job description. De said it was important to differentiate between the job description, that is more steady, and job goals, which may flux year to year, “at least that’s how it is at my work. The description also called for 45 days advance notice of any resignation by the superintendent. Jefferson noted that his contract calls for 180 days advance notice. Cheveralls deferred to Jefferson as an expert on his own employment contract and asked for any other comments to be addressed to him to finalize the job description at the Committee’s Jan. 11 meeting.
* With Ethics Commission concerns swirling like snow drifts at year’s end, Cheveralls encouraged his committee to log onto the Ethics Commission Web site and take the mandatory ethics quiz required of all town officials — elected, appointed and hired. “I already did the online test,” he said, adding it was “relatively painless” and took “15 minutes, start to finish. You cannot fail the test.” Indeed, the multiple-choice exam will tell participants immediately if they answered incorrectly and why and provide another opportunity to answer the question correctly, again with a brief statement as to why they’ve landed on the right choice. Cheveralls said “every sitting member” must take the exam, and certify so with the town clerk, by April. Cheveralls is the subject of an Ethics Commission complaint, lodged by fellow committeeman Stu Sklar, for allegedly leaking confidential grievance information to the Harvard Hillside. Jefferson had a two-day adjudicatory hearing before the commission in mid-November, alongside former Committee Chairman Paul Wormser. Jefferson commented about the test, “it’s fairly well done” as to thoroughness of topics covered. Wormser has rested his defense before the Commission.
Jefferson’s counsel has petitioned to make oral closing arguments directly to the full Commission regarding an alleged quid pro quo swapped favor arrangement with Wormser to compensate for part of Wormser’s daughter’s private school education with public funds. Oral arguments by Jefferson and the Ethics Commission Enforcement Division may happen as soon as January or February, pending a favorable response to the request for oral argument.