New leadership for Diamond, LCP, Hastings, Estabrook: Four new principals introduced themselves: Marlon Davis will serve as the new principal of Diamond Middle School; Heejean Parry-Cruwys will serve as the permanent Lexington Children’s Place Director after being Interim Director through the end of this school year; Gerardo Martinez will be Estabrook Elementary School’s new principal; and Chris Wai, previously co-principal of Hastings Elementary School, will now be its principal. New SEPAC Co-Chair Jessica Quattrochi praised the diversity of incoming leaders – multiple candidates shared greetings and brief comments in Spanish and Korean.
A new DEI curriculum in the works: Johnny Cole, Director of Equity and Student Support, summarized the broad brushstrokes of yearlong work by a Community Input Team to create the outlines of a new PK-12 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) curriculum for the school system. This CIT included about three dozen members from over 100 applicants; the group held conversations, reviewed practices in other districts and ultimately compiled a report outlining learning standards, a curricular framework and a three-phase rollout for the curriculum. This summer, a Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) grant will allow a consultant to work with LPS educators to “adopt, adapt and create [a] curriculum that helps realize the recommendations of the DEI CIT for the 2022-2023 school year,” Superintendent Julie Hackett wrote. This work will focus on “creating lesson plans for all students that help meet the ‘identity’ domain of the Social Justice Standards” published by Learning for Justice, which the DEI CIT recommended for district-wide adoption. The CIT described these as age-appropriate standards divided into four outcomes: Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action. This fall, teachers will be trained in the new lessons focused on the first ‘identity’ standard (building on some existing lessons, such as “Windows and Mirrors” and “Understanding Our Differences” at the elementary school level).
“Full implementation” is expected “in the 2025-2026 school year or sooner” per the report. Cole stressed that this curriculum will be accessible to students through multiple curricular channels: a consistent district-wide curriculum will reach all students, with differentiated components by grade level; different departments will incorporate their own discipline-specific work; and students will have opportunities for “independent study” through electives, extracurriculars and other outlets. Multiple members of the CIT reflected during the meeting on how the intensive conversations over the past year made them feel genuinely heard, and increased their understanding of the complexity and scale of work required to create a new curriculum. School Committee members praised the in-depth and collaborative work of the CIT, noting that this is not a process every district undertakes. “This is amazing, especially in the context of where we are as a country,” School Committee member Kathleen Lenihan said.
A continued projected surplus in the FY22 end-of-year financial report: Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations David Coelho presented financial projections for LPS at the end of the fourth quarter for this school year: The district currently projects an approximately $2.98 million surplus from the approved FY22 budget (about 2.43% of the School Department budget), largely due to “savings experienced from turnover in staff, gaps in positions being filled due to turnover, and leaves of absence/retirements” – in short, the same pandemic-exacerbated staffing challenges schools and labor markets nationwide continue to experience. The district currently has 26.2 full-time vacancies across the district, roughly 10 more than usual at this time of the school year, Coelho said. Since most of these vacancies are for student support staff (called Unit C) the district has increased its service contract with outside agencies to help fill vacancies. Coelho stressed that financial projections are preliminary and could shift prior to the end of the fiscal year.
Changes to the Fiske Intensive Learning Program (ILP) and Estabrook Therapeutic Learning Program (TLP): Hackett recently approved the consolidation and relocation of two elementary special education programs at LPS, and updated the School Committee on the reasons for these changes. The Intensive Learning Program previously run by Fiske could have class numbers as high as 34 due to significant program growth, including many students with one-to-one support staff; these space constraints mean “we are now at the point where we can wait no longer to make these changes,” Director of Special Education Ellen Sugita and three elementary school principals explained in their update. Space is already tight enough to have necessitated at least one out-of-district placement this year. To create more physical space for students, an ILP program is being established at Estabrook starting next year for rising ILP kindergarteners at LCP and rising 1st graders at Fiske. Moving forward, “future LCP ILP cohorts will attend either Fiske or Estabrook in alternate years,” with room for case-by-case exceptions, such as to keep siblings together. Additionally, the TLP program at Estabrook will be consolidated with the TLP program at Bridge due to a decrease in program enrollment. No jobs will be lost in these transitions, and parents of students affected by the transitions have received individual communication. School Committee member Larry Freeman stressed that major transitions like these affecting some of the community’s most vulnerable students must always be handled carefully, but agreed about the necessity and urgency of the changes for student well-being and praised the proactive communication with families.
A small price increase for adult lunch + a la carte milk: Inflation continues to take its toll everywhere; for the 2022-23 school year, adult meals will increase in price by 50 cents to $5, and a la carte milk will increase by 25 cents to 75 cents, as unanimously approved by School Committee members. National pandemic aid which made school lunches free for the past two years is also set to expire at the end of this month, a development School Committee members criticized.
Superintendent’s Evaluation: In the superintendent’s annual public evaluation, School Committee members assessed Hackett’s progress toward goals and performance on Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) standards. The School Committee granted Hackett the highest possible “exemplary” rating in the vast majority of standards and metrics, and rated her instructional leadership as “proficient” while still commending her navigation of complex challenges in this area: “Hackett pushed her team forward in a way that was responsive to the social-emotional needs of our school community while remaining committed to the academic needs of our students,” Chair Sara Cuthbertson wrote in summative comments for members. In assessing Hackett’s overall leadership, members offered high praise, calling the past year “arguably the most straining and demanding year for anyone involved in education” and noting that “although Dr. Hackett has been under incredible and very public pressure, she is consistently able to balance extremely weighty demands that require significant time and energy to address.”
Goodbye to a dedicated student representative: 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. Her tenure on the School Committee began with a “mistake,” she recalled; another LHS Senate representative slated to attend a School Committee meeting could not go, and asked her to take his place. Soon, everyone was asking Mei to take a slot because she didn’t mind hours-long meetings that other students dreaded, and the Senate appointed her student representative instead of sending rotating students. Mei did not learn English until 3rd grade and was a shy child who faced the corner during independent reading and hid behind doors during indoor recess, she reflected; to become the voice of students on the top decision-making body of LPS was a role she never expected for herself. In emotional goodbyes, School Committee members praised Mei for being the most committed student representative they had ever seen – with “enthusiasm unmatched by anyone,” per member Eileen Jay, and an unfailing capability and willingness to say the hard things that needed saying with compassion, according to Chair Cuthbertson. Mei will attend Boston University this fall. To the first student who asked her to cover his School Committee duty, Mei said, “Thank you for being the best mistake of my high school career that landed me here.”