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)

An introduction to Kidsborough leadership and enrollment updates

  • Enrollment and hiring: Christeen Rohwer, owner and administrator of Lexington’s new afterschool programming provider Kidsborough, attended Tuesday’s School Committee meeting to introduce herself after holding individual open houses at all six elementary schools. Superintendent Julie Hackett also shared updates on Kidsborough enrollment in her regular report: As of Tuesday, 575 students were enrolled in the program, which means “55-76 more students on a daily basis than in the 21-22 school year,” Hackett wrote. Kidsborough has also “received registration materials from 22 families with students with a disability,” and is still interviewing for the board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) position, she added. Kidsborough has hired 15 Lextended Day staff members, and has four more offers pending – the program plans to offer 207 additional district-wide slots to families once it has caught up on hiring. Rohwer added that they’ve interviewed about 25 Lextended staff at the pace of 4-5 people per week, and only a couple have chosen to take other positions, to her knowledge.
  • An extensive review process: Rohwer expressed excitement to join the community and appreciation for Lexington’s in-depth program review process, which she said was “hands-down, one of the most thorough and thoughtful processes we have ever been through” – for instance, attending a School Committee meeting in a partner district was not a typical part of her routine.
  • “The original Kidsborough kid”: Rohwer’s son, Jakob, also attended the meeting; she introduced him as “the original Kidsborough kid.” Their family had just moved from California to Massachusetts when the program began, he recalled; today, he’s one of the program’s site support administrators, and takes pride in the program’s student-driven model, where students can share ideas for new activities that interest them.
  • Snacktime: In response to questions from School Committee members, Christeen Rohwer noted that the program always serves healthy snacks including a fresh fruit or vegetable option. 
  • Diverse hiring: Hackett asked Rohwer to elaborate for the public on measures taken to diversify staffing. Rohwer explained that she was the first person in her family to go to college, so she has always given a lot of importance to requiring a degree of her own staff – but in examining barriers to diverse hiring within their own organization recently, she realized that this requirement can shut the door on some very qualified candidates. Now, Kidsborough is looking at having a degree be preferred rather than required, among other measures to increase accessibility of the program to diverse staff, Rohwer said.

Support for the Fair Share Amendment

  • At the May 24 School Committee meeting two weeks ago, Lexington Education Association President Avon Lewis asked the School Committee to consider expressing its support of the Fair Share Amendment, a proposed amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that would implement an additional 4% tax on annual income over $1 million (and otherwise known as the millionaires’ tax). This week, members voted 4-0 for resolution in support of this amendment (member Larry Freeman was not present for Tuesday’s meeting, which is why only four members voted). Money from this tax would help fund public schools statewide and other public infrastructure. Voters will weigh in on this amendment as a ballot question this November. Lewis thanked the Committee for their endorsement during a public comment period.

Superintendent’s reflections on the year

  • Looking back: Hackett reflected on the past year and room for improvement in the future at this week’s meeting; at next week’s meeting, the last of this school year, the School Committee will share their own superintendent evaluation.
  • A challenging transition: Transitioning to full-time learning last April eased the transition into an in-person school year somewhat, Hackett said – but it has still been harder than expected for everyone, and many community members are all still grappling with dysregulation, not to mention exhaustion. 
  • Resisting a negative spiral: Among areas for continued improvement, Hackett specified the tendency to get caught in a negative spiral; for the good of students, it’s important to listen to and acknowledge challenges and fatigue, but also keep moving forward, she said. 
  • Retaining staff of color: Additionally, while LPS has come a long way in recruiting staff of color, there is more work to be done on retention, Hackett said, including by building in more support systems. More broadly, research suggests white supervisors shy away from giving feedback to staff of color, another area for potential improvement – “we shouldn’t fear those relationships and conversations,” Hackett said.
  • MSBA progress: Hackett expressed pride for the district in the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) vote in March to invite Lexington into its eligibility period for a new or renovated high school, and credited the School Committee with planning ahead to get the district to this point.

Lots of ongoing curricular review

  • LPS conducts cyclical curricular reviews in all content areas, Hackett said. The district is currently working to incorporate more student voices into the curricular review process, including by partnering with the student-led Lexington chapter of Diversify Our Narrative (DON). The curricular review process typically includes four phases: One-year Audit, Research and Development phases, followed by a multiyear Implementation phase. When the pandemic hit, regular curricular reviews were paused, so far more departments than usual are undergoing the review process simultaneously: Seven departments are currently in the review process, and four plan to launch reviews next year. Rather than each department sharing their progress in a separate report or presentation, all departments compiled brief progress updates.

Follow-up questions on K-5 literacy update

  • Reflections from a retiring Department Head: At a School Committee meeting last month, K-5 Literacy Department Head Kathy McCarthy and other educators presented an update on efforts to align with and respond to recent state dyslexia guidelines, including by piloting multiple phonics programs. McCarthy, who is retiring after 14 years as a part of LPS, answered School Committee questions about the previous presentation. In her comments, she emphasized the continued importance of rich textual analysis alongside decoding, and the general excellence of the LPS elementary literacy team. Parents can support student literacy by reading with their kids and celebrating a library card, she said – at home, parents can teach kids the joy of reading, free of the pressures and sense of obligation which can accompany reading at school.
  • A fluid assessment process: McCarthy also explained the way reading assessments can be used to identify and address students’ learning needs; Hackett noted that evaluation of students’ progress to ensure that interventions are effective is a fluid and ever-changing process. The complexity of that process can be challenging to capture in a single dashboard, Hackett and Director of Elementary Education Caitlin Ahern added, as it’s typically distributed across several different spreadsheets.
  • Pandemic impacts on PD: McCarthy also reflected on some of the pandemic impacts on student literacy education. For instance, the pandemic had made it more challenging to pull elementary school teachers out of the classroom for professional development involving learning from other teachers, she said, due to the shortage of substitute teachers – but the district hopes to return to more of these kinds of trainings in the future.

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