Angela Harkness on Sept. 8, 2014

Drilling Down This School Year’s Goals

The following is part of a recap from the Sept. 8, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other portions of the recap, click here.

8:44 p.m. – Clay gave a shout out to the nurses of the schools in town.

Olsen then said that 1,474 students are now enrolled, with the change being normal.

He was pleased with class size ratios. There was some stress at the Crisafulli School in Third Grade with some classes near 21 students per class due to the new Princeton Properties development, but other schools were right in the range, and that the danger level was in the 24 to 27 student per class range.

Olsen said there may be some redistricting, but nothing was imminent.

School Committee member David Keele asked a question regarding methodology of the districting of the schools and School Committee member Terence Ryan asked the enrollment numbers.

Angela Harkness on Sept. 8, 2014

Angela Harkness on Sept. 8, 2014

It is currently 725 students, although in the past it was believed to be 900.

Clay said that some schools are slammed, with Westford Academy currently at 105 percent of capacity.

Murray then talked about class sizes and said she was pleased with the numbers.

Benoit then asked about the future when the Blanchard School’s enrollment.

Ryan then asked if this was just homeroom classes, which it was, and what the numbers were in other certain classes.

Olsen said he would get those figures.

Murray then said that class sizes may not matter as much for higher level classes as they are possibly more independent.

Keele then noted that the proper term is accelerated rather than advanced, noting that all students learn the same thing, some students just learn it at different speeds.

8:52 p.m. – Regarding the building tour, Olsen asked if there were any schools other than Robinson and Day (the window schools), and mentioned that question would be asked again after Thursday.

8:53 p.m. – Olsen forgot a flipchart in his car regarding crisis management in each building.

He talked about the chart and how it had been developed with first responder agencies in town and that Westford was ahead of the game due to this.

Olsen thanked Fire Chief Joe Targ with his work on this, and talked about radios being used at the schools.

8:55 p.m. – Clay said the rest of the night would be spent on Superintendent goals.

There are two district improvement goals, a learning goal and a professional practice goal.

The learning goal was built with Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery, Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli and Babson College regarding an entrepreneur program at Westford Academy.

Olsen also wants to find entrepreneur mentors, and said he saw the talent of students regarding the entrepreneurial process and find more help for students in regard to issues like venture capital.

Olsen said he received his MBA from Babson and it was the foremost college in the U.S. regarding entrepreneurship.

There is a conference call on Tuesday and the class may be in person and online.

Olsen also said that 15 to 20 CEOs would be invited to a meeting to address the skills of the future that will be needed.

Kohl thanked Olsen for this; Olsen said it just needs to happen.

Kohl then asked about Babson’s role and whether this would be a credit course at Babson.

Olsen said that would be discussed tomorrow.

Kohl then asked about the price of the program, and it was said that any significant costs would come before the committee.

Murray said she loved the idea, but after hearing the need for engineering resources earlier in the meeting, that the engineering course should come first to foster the innovation.

Ryan asked if the conversation could occur with UMass Lowell. Olsen said potentially, but Babson was his first choice due to his history with them. However, he has not ruled them out as they have a program for entrepreneurship and innovation and they also have engineering space.

There were several more comments, and then Harkness asked if entrepreneurship was more about business rather than hands on issues.

Clay then had a comment saying the really exciting thing with this was that it could be a pilot that could be duplicated in other fields regarding other things.

Murray then asked if it might need people of different specialization from Babson.

9:11 p.m. – Olsen’s second goal was basically just starting a blog, which he said he would start in the next couple of weeks.

Keele said that communication is already good to begin with, but he was happy to hear about the blog and said that the goal of greater communication should be one in perpetuity.

Murray also agreed that Westford does a great job of communication and that the blog would be a positive part of the superintendent’s update.

Benoit said that it was positive, but that blogging may take more work than he thinks.

Kohl noted that the blog was just a part of the true goal, which is enhancing communication with the parents and community and that other things such as answering e-mails should be part of the goal.

Harkness told Olsen that he should tweet his decisions on snow days.

9:18 p.m. – Olsen then talked about providing giving tools for administrators to help professional development.

Specifically, each leadership team at each school will carve out time for the use of technology during professional development time.

He also wants technology teams in each school and people who feel comfortable with the process at each school.

It needed to be determined what needed to be determined what was needed to bring schools into the digital age.

He also talked about fostering a culture of technological risk taking to improve communication, with things such as blogs from principals.

There’s also a need to clarify the role of technological specialists, asking for consistency in what their jobs are, as each one’s responsibilities are slightly different.

The technology plan will be a springboard for technological policies over the next five years, but the it has yet to be determined how the plan will impact students.

Murray then asked about something to allow students to collaborate, like Google Docs.

She went on to say that the money should be spent so parents could know just how much more effective learning is due to these new tools.

Olsen replied that the leadership team needed to be more digitally oriented to serve as an example for teachers in schools.

Kohl liked the fact that the money aspect wasn’t discussed as much as the fact that technology will be used consistently.

However, she was interested in how these changes impact classrooms, and hoped for a report on changes as well as previous changes and how they have impacted things.

Clay then asked what specifically is being targeted, and the goal should be more concrete.

9:28 p.m. – The final goal is creating a new five-year strategic plan that will serve as a road map to get to desired outcomes.

The Department of Education has six strategic areas that align with Westford’s mainly, with the only difference that Westford’s areas were combined in some areas.

The leaders in charge of those areas will be finalized and there will be a new draft of that plan coming in late May or early June of this school year.

Murray asked how the School Committee can evaluate if the strategic plan can be successful in its implementation.

Kohl continued on Murray’s comments, asking about who will be accountable for success in implementation of the strategic plans.

Kohl also said that it is appropriate for the School Committee to approve a strategic plan.

Olsen said that it’s needed for the School Committee to be cognizant of the plan due to appropriation of funds.

Clay agreed with Kohl, and added that it should not be process focused but focused on what success looks like, saying parents would not be interested in just process.

Harkness asked if there is another blueprint, Olsen said the strategic plan used to be called the blueprint.

She also said it was important to get this out to the public and that more participation in the strategic plan process from the community is better than less.

Olsen agreed, saying he would also interview students.

He concluded saying that he hoped to focus on all four goals equally.

Benoit made a motion to allow Olsen to focus on all four goals, Harkness seconded.

Murray said the data goal hasn’t fully been realized. She also wanted to make sure what is being agreed upon.

Keele asked that the goals be accepted as written.

Kohl wanted to see how the comments given would be incorporated by Olsen before her vote.

Harkness said Olsen takes the School Committee’s comments into account regarding goals.

The motion passed 5-2, with Kohl and Murray opposing.

Clay asked if there could be updates throughout the year.

9:40 p.m. – Kohl said there needed to be a database of where the department’s strengths and weaknesses are before going forward.

Olsen said that has not been forgotten and one the goals last year was a course relating to that, and the result was that there needs to be more discussions. In education there is theory and reality and Olsen said that the two needed to be closer together.

Clery said she had taken the course and one of the things discussed there was taking an hour a day to analyze data collected, which is not feasible, so there was a discussion on how to make more realistic takeaway solutions from that class.

Kohl replied asking for additional information, with Olsen again saying it was being discussed.