The following is a transcript of the Nov. 17, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.
8:32 p.m. – School Committee Chairman Tom Clay then invited Westford Academy Principal Jim Antonelli to testify regarding the Westford Academy School Improvement Plan.
Antonelli began with an overview, saying that the school is in a good place regarding class size, so things were on track with that goal.
The second goal was improving communication, with some things being done well, but more work needed to be done regarding grades being able to be seen by parents on a more real-time basis.
Part of the issue here was that grades are given differently in different subjects and in some areas, quickly given grades are counterproductive.
The third goal is finance and operations, particularly regarding Internet Technology. There is currently a project updating infrastructure in the building.
The final goal is to provide emotional, physical and intellectual well being, saying the Bridge program has been particularly helpful.
The number of student hospitalizations due to concussions has decreased dramatically and many students have been using the program to address depression.
Antonelli said that Westford Academy is doing very well, but it can improve, providing statistics indicating that it is almost perfect compared to comparable schools in the state, with small changes needed.
He wants to look at helping students who need credit recovery and looking at examining graduation requirements, particularly foreign language requirements.
Antonelli said that often students take courses that don’t fit their intellectual ability, and there is an “override” policy where students can take courses they are not ready for.
He said that in several cases, this is not healthy, and sometimes parents can pressure students for taking classes that are too challenging. He asked that the committee look at this.
The second goal is continuing with new communication, particularly regarding updating technology being used by students as trends evolve.
He talked about a new program that would allow live streaming that could be done via subscriptions and advertisements.
The third goal is to looking at a budget for the next fiscal year that accommodates for growth and addresses technological needs.
He wants to continue the school’s Mandarin program, implement an academic coach for Grade 9 and Ten, and aid the counseling department.
The final goal was to continue providing for the emotional, physical and intellectual well-being of students, particularly regarding exchange programs.
Antonelli concluded by saying thank you very much in Mandarin.
8:48 p.m. – School Committee Member David Keele asked if there was any cost to expanding grade tracking for students. Antonelli said there was not. Keele then asked why it wasn’t happening already in that case.
Antonelli said this was due to different types of parents, students and teachers and the complexity in that.
Keele asked if the role of an academic coach could be achieved with a teacher staying after hours.
Antonelli said that some students have not yet made the transition on what to study or how to study.
Keele asked if some students could help fill this role. Antonelli said that honors students could help, but some of the 1,700 students feel uncomfortable being tutored by another student.
It was also mentioned that academic coaches are available at middle schools in town.
School Committee Member Margaret Murray asked if students who were 18 could deny parents from seeing their grades. Antonelli said that only occurs in college.
Murray said once she saw a parent confront administrators regarding the speed of seeing available grades and asked if they would become available more frequently.
Antonelli said he would talk with Olsen as it’d impact staff and that it needed to be addressed carefully and there is a desire to have students advocate for themselves.
Murray asked about a term used by Antonelli, “snow plow parent”, Antonelli said it was new this year (parents who “clear the path”)
She then asked about on-line textbooks, with Antonelli said the school is exploring the issue with Apple and significant changes have been made in the past five years alone.
In the future, a 1:1 device to student ratio will need to be examined.
Murray then asked about a program where students camp on their own. Antonelli said it is now woven into physical and health wellness classes.
He then provided details on the program, saying many students choose it.
School Committee Member Erika Kohl then elaborated on this camp, saying she hopes it can continue. Antonelli hopes it can be done, but was unsure how long it could last.
School Committee Member Arthur Benoit made a comment about the camp and then School Committee Member Terence Ryan asked about the new School Resource Officer.
Antonelli said that it had been enormously positive, that he had made good relationships with students and he had dealt with certain scenarios dealing with student safety.
Kohl praised Antonelli on several issues, particularly the Bridges program, and asked about declines regarding depression in students despite an increased need for guidance counselors.
Antonelli said this was because of a strong bond between counselors and many students and was worried about a time/focus balance for them.
Kohl talked about the communication goal next, asking if he could solicit more feedback from parents in the future.
Benoit said he is a parent of a student involved in the Bridge Program. He wanted to thank the people involved in the program and the follow up data is a priceless tool.
He said he had seen growth in his own child thanks to the program.