Board assesses camp renewal, impact of MCAS, absence concerns, school improvements

The goal of camp is community building, social-emotional learning, and joy.

A reimagining of the program formerly known as Science Camp, changes to standardized test scores, attendance concerns and updates on elementary campuses were discussed at length by the school committee on October 13, although no decision has been made.

Emphasizing that the camp proposals are currently only an initial “exploration,” Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. outlined four options for what is now being called a “nighttime experience.”

If chosen, one could potentially take over from the long-established and hugely popular Rhode Island-based Alton Jones Science Camp. program that many Arlington Public School fifth graders attended before the pandemic.

But with the old venue permanently closed and the consensus now to allow as many students as possible to participate, including those living with disabilities, things will have to be different in the future, administrators and faculty acknowledged. members of the committee in recent months.

All of the proposals presented are aimed at sixth-graders and none focus specifically on science. These changes were not explained or discussed at the meeting, so YourArlington demanded to know why.

The focus now is on building community, social-emotional learning, and joy, in line with the core values ​​of Gibbs School, which exclusively teaches sixth grade. “It won’t be tied to the science curriculum,” MacNeal said.

The timing of any future nighttime experience was not specified, although it was mentioned that it would take place during the February or April holidays, either in 2023 or 2024.

The topic is expected to be discussed again soon at least twice: Tuesday evening at the Gibbs School Parent-Teacher Organization meeting and at the Oct. 24 morning meeting of the curriculum subcommittee. , instruction, evaluation and responsibility of the school committee.

4 possibilities for the future

Four sites have been identified and described – three in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire. Estimated costs were only mentioned for two of them, and it was unclear how these would be paid for, who would pay for them, how many nights of stay the quoted prices cover or how many children could attend at one point. Read it documents for this item on the agenda >>

Morse Hill Outdoor Education Center Inc. of Shutesbury and Amherst did not provide cost information. No nurses are on staff, but all employees are trained in first aid, CPR, and administering medication. Still, MacNeal said, the district should provide a school nurse for each group of students it sends. Activities include paddling, climbing and tree identification, all with social-emotional learning in mind. The venue is also customized for students with individual education plans and for behavior support.

Athol Agricultural School is a working farm, with hands-on activities dictated by the season; for example, it is currently harvesting and will have maple syrup production in February/March. No nurse is available in the establishment. Teachers are expected to supervise and parents are expected to attend if space allows. The initial estimate was $425 per participating child.

The Merrowvista Education System in Tuftonboro, NH focuses on team building and quasi-engineering activities, such as building rafts, fires, and shelters. These activities, along with outdoor games such as capture the flag, archery and arts and crafts, make this the most summer camp-like of the four options being considered, MacNeal said. . No staff member is authorized to administer any type of medication, he said, making it crucial that the district send a nurse with each group of students. The base cost was quoted at $320 per student.

Nature’s Classroom in Charlton was the only facility of the four to have a nurse on staff and available 24 hours a day, MacNeal said. Additionally, this program could be linked to science education if desired, he added. It includes a focus on mindfulness and the humanities. Without mentioning numbers, MacNeal said one downside is that this site would likely be “expensive with add-ons.”

Good news, bad news on the MCAS front

MacNeal also showed a slide deck and talked about the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, better known as MCAS. Arlington Public Schools are above the state average in grades three through eight, scoring in the 60s compared to 50s in the “meets or exceeds expectations” rating. However, statewide trends are that math and science scores have increased but English language arts scores have declined, and local schools reflect these trends.

View all documents for this agenda item >>

Arlington High School is higher in advanced course attendance in 2022 compared to 2021, although non-white students, English language learners, and low-income students generally attend at a lower rate than that of whites who do not learn English or low income. Asked about this – something sometimes referred to as a “success gap” or an “opportunity gap” – MacNeal said, “I would like to see all of our groups achieve success at a much higher rate.”

In response to a question from committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, he said, “The pandemic has widened the gaps. We know that the pandemic has had all kinds of effects that were beyond the control of the school system.

MacNeal said the district had three responses intended to make improvements: adopting a new K-5 universal basic literacy program, an equity audit, and fair grading practices. “We have ways to go through all areas to fully recover [pandemic-related] learning losses.

Updates on Dallin, Peirce

Playgrounds are being rehabilitated on three campuses, Superintendent Elizabeth Homan reported. At Bishop School, the playground reopened on October 11. In Stratton, rubber surfacing is scheduled to take place the week of October 17th. And Peirce’s Playground should soon be mulched where appropriate and open on or around November 2.

Peirce School Principal Andrew Ahmadi and Deputy Principal Oliva Goodrich reviewed the ‘victories’ and ‘challenges’ of the 330-student campus that values ​​’growth’ and ‘joy’, while such as the district’s mission statement. Read the documents for this agenda item >>

A big win is that MCAS science scores are 78% of students meeting or exceeding standards — above the district at 69% and well above the statewide average of 43%. The school values ​​relationships and people with a sense of belonging and is proud that 85% of families report feeling good about the two-way communication between home and school.

In Peirce, chronic absenteeism — missing at least 18 days of school, which equals 10 percent of a school year — is 11.8 percent, lower than the district average of 13.5 percent. But it is much higher among Peirce’s ethnic minority children, at 25 percent, which is still higher than the district average for those same students, which is 21.5 percent.

Ahmadi attributed chronic absenteeism to effects of Covid-19; transportation difficulties, especially in winter; a language barrier with some parents; and poverty in many cases – all factors that are “bigger than one school”. Campus staff meet with affected families more frequently, he said. He advocated looking at the concept of setting up a ‘drop-in centre’ to provide additional support to households that have ‘a lot of things working against them’.

On the other side of Mass Avenue. in the heights, the Dallin school, which has 425 students, considers courage, respect and responsibility as its fundamental values. He believes that “literacy equals equity” and also echoes the terms of belonging, growth, joy and empowerment in the mission statement, Principal Todd Dingman said.

See documents for this agenda item >>

He was happy to report that math scores are on the rise among the high-needs population and that reading scores have risen sharply in kindergarten over the past four years, especially in the “word fluency” tests. absurd”.

He said Dallin would continue to promote early literacy, improve math communities so students feel confident enough to speak up and share their ideas, foster stronger community bonds, and continue improve pedestrian safety by encouraging families to accompany their children to school. rather than driving them, and, he hopes, to have more crosswalks and crossing guards.

In other cases, the committee:

  • Expressed solidarity with METCO co-founder and education and civil rights icon Dr. Jean McGuire, 91, recovering from being stabbed by an as-yet-unknown assailant while walking her dog in Franklin Park in Boston on October 11. In 2016McGuire was honored at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration. in Arlington.
  • Unanimously approved a contract with cafeteria workers running from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2025 (see here >>);
  • I’ve heard that chronic absenteeism is a local and statewide problem. PSA stands at 13.5% overall and significantly higher among children classified as disabled and low income – 23.4% and 30.2% respectively. Homan called it “something we watch closely”, “something we need to recover from”, and noted that ensuring regular attendance is “a big challenge” for some families;
  • Committee member named Paul Schlichtman as a delegate to the assembly of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, or MASC;
  • Appointed Kym Goldsmith as committee representative to the city’s Rainbow commission and reappointed Michael Brownstein and Scott Lever as committee delegates to the Envision Arlington commission;
  • Heard they would meet “very soon” with the finalist for the CFO position soon to be vacated by CFO Michael Mason, who will become Deputy Chief Executive next month;
  • Adopted Consent Agenda 7-0; and
  • Voted unanimously to go into closed session at 9:47 p.m., with no report expected.
Watch the October 13, 2022 meeting on ACMi:


September 24, 2022: Costlier option for next year’s AHS start-up approved

This summary by YourArlington freelance writer Judith Pfeffer was published on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

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