In-person SC meeting attendance option returns for community members: School Committee members began the first full meeting of the 2022-23 school year yesterday in the new School Committee Meeting Room at the Central Office, which is large enough to accommodate members of the public. For most of last year, School Committee members met in-person while members of the public joined remotely. Community members still have the option to watch and participate in meetings virtually.
Same general COVID safety guidelines as last year: The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and Department of Public Health (DPH) issued a joint memo Aug. 15 detailing statewide COVID-19 guidance for the 2022-23 school year aligned with Aug. 11 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. For this school year, “districts and schools should focus their COVID mitigation strategies towards vulnerable and symptomatic individuals, while minimizing the need for more restrictive district-wide COVID policies,” Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley summarized in his Aug. 15 weekly update. The State is not recommending universal masking requirements, asymptomatic testing, contact tracing or test-to-stay testing, he added. Superintendent Julie Hackett emphasized that “any member of the LPS school community who wishes to continue to mask will be supported in that choice.” School Committee Vice Chair Deepika Sawhney asked that the district explore its options to ensure immunocompromised LPS students and staff have the best protection possible while following the latest state guidance; Hackett said the district’s Health and Safety Committee could discuss options to ensure LPS is supporting these community members to the greatest extent possible.
Beyond COVID – new meningitis vax phase-in: Beyond COVID health guidance, Hackett added that while most students are up-to-date on general required school immunizations, missing immunizations are highest in grades 7, 11 and 12, largely due to “a new phase-in immunization for meningitis” effective this year. The state DPH offers more information on this new requirement, which essentially requires one dose for entry to grades 7-9 and one booster for those ages 16 and older.
Smooth sailing on the first day of school: Tuesday was the first day of school for students PK-9, while grades 10-12 began school today. No major issues with buses arriving on time were reported, Hackett said – an improvement from last year – though ongoing construction in town did contribute to traffic challenges. This year, 53% of students are registered for the bus, an increase from last year; Hackett said this number is expected to further increase.
Kidsborough’s enrollment numbers: A total of 494 students are currently enrolled in Kidsborough’s elementary afterschool program, Hackett reported, which amounts to 18% of K-5 students. This is the first yearKidsborough is serving as Lexington’s elementary afterschool provider, replacing longtime provider Lextended Day; the program began yesterday. One school, Bridge, has a waitlist that should be resolved by Oct. 1, Hackett added.
Ongoing DEI curricular work: As previously reported, Lexington Public Schools is creating a new district-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) curriculum. Earlier this month, more than 50 educators participated in a training about incorporating Learning for Justice’s Social Justice Standards into their teaching. Hackett said that many educators are integrating these standards into their department-specific curricula, while about three dozen staff members are working on interdepartmental learning experiences across grade levels. LPS will phase in the curriculum this year, focusing first on lessons exploring two of the four Social Justice Standards domains: “identity” and “diversity.” Currently, “teachers are developing and refining the first round of lessons” focused on these two areas, Hackett wrote. The other two domains, “justice” and “action,” will be officially incorporated in future years, though “many staff are already incorporating this work into their instructional practices,” Hackett wrote. The Office of Equity and Student Supports also plans to share a DEI Guidebook with staff detailing Lexington educators’ collaborative work over the past several years along with guidance and resources; the administration hopes “to soon create a companion guidebook for students and community members,” Hackett added. School Committee Chair Sara Cuthbertson suggested that if possible, a demonstration or concrete example of the new curriculum be presented during a future School Committee meeting to help give community members a sense of what the new curriculum entails.
New history courses at Lexington High School: In other curricular news, Lexington High School is offering two new courses this year – African American History and Asian American History – largely thanks to the advocacy effort of LHS students, as reported by the Lexington Times Magazine.
Growth in the Jump Start program: Hackett also reported an expansion in the Jump Start summer program, which in previous years has offered incoming Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) students a chance to familiarize themselves with Lexington’s school system. An $80,000 DESE grant allowed LPS to expand Jump Start to include about 30 current students alongside incoming peers.
Free support groups available for disadvantaged children and families: After receiving two grants from the Cummings Foundation and the Weil Memorial Charitable Foundation, the Community Therapeutic Day School in Lexington can now provide social support services to disadvantaged children and their families at no cost.
Monthly homework breaks for grades 6-12: Approximately once a month, students grades 6-12 have designated homework breaks, coinciding in many cases with cultural holidays, long weekends or other school breaks. The School Committee approved the 2022-23 school calendar in May.
Progress toward a new or renovated LHS: Lexington is continuing to progress through the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA)’s 270-day eligibility period. As of Day 90, yesterday, the district has submitted an Initial Compliance Certificate, formed a School Building Committee that was approved and accepted by the MSBA, and submitted an LHS Educational Profile Questionnaire as well as updated enrollment information. On the next deadline, Day 180, maintenance documents and enrollment certification will be due. Once all requirements are completed, Lexington will be eligible for an invitation from the MSBA Board of Directors to the Feasibility Study phase, as previously reported.
Annual community report: In July, the Lexington Public Schools Community Report was emailed to all families, but hard copies will soon arrive at community members’ homes. The report summarizes progress made toward four LPS goals set by the School Committee: address and narrow equity gaps; redefine success; cultivate student agency; and plan and innovate for sustainable change.
Other superintendent updates – free lunch for students, new leadership and exciting student accomplishments: More information about free school lunch for all Massachusetts students, new LPS administrators and leadership and LPS student and community accomplishments – including a second place prize for Clarke Middle School in the National Science Bowl Competition, and first place in the 2022 Cyber Challenge – is included in Hackett’s biweekly Superintendent’s Report.
Recreation representation on the Master Planning Advisory Committee: In a 4-0 vote (one School Committee member was absent from the meeting), the School Committee approved a motion to add a Recreation Committee or staff representative to the LPS Master Planning Advisory Committee (MPC). Hackett recommended this addition especially because a Recreation Representative can provide important input as the project to build a new or renovated LHS continues. Prospective Recreation projects in the past have also been affected by school building planning and projects, Hackett added. The MPC, which is another group heavily involved in planning for the new or renovated high school, separate from the School Building Committee, previously voted in favor of this addition. Sawhney shared other updates from the previous MPC meeting, including consensus about the importance of not losing sight of other key district projects as the high school project moves forward.
LPS Policy update: Chair Cuthbertson shared an update about the School Committee Policy Subcommittee’s current priorities and recent activity. The subcommittee is focused on amending and updating policies to comply with Massachusetts General Law, prioritizing those that could have the greatest impact on students. The subcommittee and School Committee have reviewed policies on the restraint of students, meal charges and nondiscrimination throughout this month. Sawhney urged the drafting of a new policy to require an effort to make every school subgroup, task force, committee and organization as diverse as possible. Such a policy could have a significant impact on students and should be a priority, she said. Cuthbertson explained that the recently updated policies were already in the pipeline to be amended. On the other hand, any effort to create an entirely new policy like the one proposed by Sawhney could benefit from deeper discussion at the School Committee’s upcoming retreat before being tackled by the subcommittee, Cuthbertson added.
2023 international MS field trips approved: The School Committee also approved two international middle school field trips for the week after Memorial Day in 2023, consistent with previous years, in a 4-0 vote. The School Committee had previously discussed potentially scheduling these trips during a school vacation week, but Hackett explained that this change would have made the trip difficult to staff and potentially more difficult for some students to attend. Member Larry Freeman asked that LPS consider gathering data about the diversity of students on these field trips to ensure LPS is making them as accessible as possible to all students. Sawhney also stressed the importance of ensuring that the students who do not attend have meaningful alternative enrichment activities and instruction.