mask hanging above books and pencils on a chalkboard
Recently graduated LHS senior Sara Mei has served as the School Committee’s student representative for three years – attending consequential meetings about balancing health concerns with student learning for the duration of the pandemic. (Courtesy of Envato Elements)

New leadership: The School Committee reorganized their leadership structure Tuesday. Previous Clerk Sara Cuthbertson was unanimously voted chair; member Deepika Sawhney was unanimously voted vice chair; and previous Chair Kathleen Lenihan was unanimously voted clerk. Members thanked Lenihan for leading the Committee through the exceptional challenges of pandemic learning. Cuthbertson compared Lenihan’s role as that of a “calm second chicken” always providing solace to the first chicken, recalling the analogy from a previous mental health training.

An LPS elementary school student advocates for a school holiday on Eid-Al-Fitr: During the first public comment period, LPS 5th grader Sofia asked the School Committee to make Eid Al-Fitr a school holiday to acknowledge and recognize her identity and culture while educating others. Sofia gathered over 150 signatures in support of this action from children and adults who work and live in the district, she said.

Does LPS need an air quality dashboard? The School Committee discussed monitoring LPS air quality, and whether a public dashboard showing the (high) air quality and (low) CO2 levels of individual school buildings similar to that used by Boston Public Schools would be doable and worthwhile. Department of Public Facilities Director Mike Cronin explained that the district already gathers extensive air quality data, but such a dashboard would require paying for installation of the program, and would have various pros and cons. Superintendent Julie Hackett said she does not think the district needs to prioritize such a dashboard in addition to previous and current efforts to monitor air quality.

Encouragement to voluntarily return to masking amidst high county, state case levels: Hackett reiterated her recommendation that the school community voluntarily return to masking for now (stopping short of a mandate) as Middlesex County’s case rates are considered high under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifications. Clarke Middle School, in particular, has recently seen high enough absentee rates largely due to COVID cases that Central Office Staff had to step in and teach classes Monday (when 19 staff were absent).

Kidsborough registration status update: In her report, Hackett also provided an update on Kidsborough registration alongside Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Dave Coelho. Kidsborough is still enrolling students, Coelho said; about 577 students are currently registered, and capacity is in the 680 range, he said. Kidsborough has hired eight Lextended staff, and is interviewing another six, he added; they’re also looking to hire a behavioral technician at each program site. Kidsborough is currently reviewing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities to assess each child’s needs.

Two teams of educators presented K-5 math and phonics pilot overviews respectively: 

Math Pilot: This year, educators have piloted three math curricula in grades K-5 across all elementary schools after a couple years of auditing and research to select program candidates. Two “very high quality” programs, Illustrative Mathematics and San Francisco Unified School District Math, are currently being considered as finalists and have different pros and cons. A recommendation for a program is expected by mid-May. One of these programs will be implemented for grades 3-5 next year, and for grades K-2 in 2023-24. This staggering reflects the greater urgency of a new program for students in the upper grades, and the desire not to whelm K-2 teachers who will also be tasked with implementing a phonics program.

Phonics Pilot: In the phonics presentation, educators described efforts to align with and respond to recent state dyslexia guidelines. Lexington’s Dyslexia Task Force has been working to address the learning needs of and district communication related to dyslexic students since 2016. K-5 Literacy Department Head Kathy McCarthy stressed the multi-tiered systems of support and varied assessments used to fortify and keep track of student progress and needs. In kindergarten, Lexington is piloting three phonics programs: Fundations; Units of Study for Kindergarten Phonics; and Lively Letters. All three programs have shown promise and have teacher champions, according to McCarthy; a decision on a program for grades K-2 is expected this month.

Parent enthusiasm for phonics pilot, especially to support dyslexic students: During the second public comment period, three parents applauded work on these pilots, especially for phonics. The parents also disputed Hackett’s critique of state literacy guidelines. In her report, Hackett referenced a literacy leaders convention in Lexington earlier this month where “experts expressed their concerns about the narrow and singular focus of the State’s new literacy agenda.” Hackett added that “Unfortunately, in the education profession, we are experiencing an overreach by those who lack expertise in a discipline, leading to an unhealthy encroachment on teaching and learning.”

Friday K-5 half-days next year, with a couple of additional secondary half-days: The School Committee unanimously approved a one-year Memorandum of Agreement with the Lexington Education Association (LEA) settling the weekday of half-days for the next school year. Fridays, rather than Thursdays, will be half-days for students, as requested by the School Committee and superintendent especially for parental/childcare convenience. There will also be one more professional development half-day, and five more half-days for middle and high school staff prep time. This appears to be a compromise with the LEA; Thursdays were K-5 half-days pre-pandemic and the LEA expressed concern about switching to Friday as their members contend this may be less productive prep time for them than Thursday. In this MOA, they’ve agreed to Fridays, but have a little more prep time built in.

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