Goals & Change for the Year Ahead
What do I plan on accomplishing this year if elected?
First of all, no one School Committee member gets anything accomplished on their own. It takes a team– most often a team that extends to the Superintendent of Schools and our district Leadership Team. Our student and parent community is who we serve and their voices (both critical and aspirational) must always be taken into account whether challenging us or inspiring us to action. Many School Committee and district goals also require partnership and understanding with other public bodies, such as the Select Board, Capital Planning Committee, Finance Committee, and others. To this end, I have six key goals for this coming year:
Execute a long-term contract for Superintendent of Schools
In collaboration with the Superintendent, establish the Strategic Plan framework as discussed in December
Constructively negotiate a successor collective-bargaining agreement with the units of the Winchester Education Association
Passage of the Lynch Replacement Project Funding Agreement at Fall Town Meeting
Passage of the debt-exclusion override in January for construction of the New Lynch Elementary School.
Secure funding for much-needed improvements at the Lincoln Elementary School, McCall Middle School and our early work at the Parkhurst School and Carriage House to accommodate swing space for students as we build the “New Lynch”!
The Beginnings of a Strategic Plan
Though the School Committee partners on district goals development each summer, it has been five years since the district’s last true strategic visioning. While much good came from this exercise, our last two years interrupted by COVID-19 have given all of us pause– policy makers, teachers, parents and students alike– to rethink both what is essential in education and also what new tools, tactics and priorities are helpful lessons-learned that can and should be applied in our post-pandemic world. Though the School Committee has discussed this conceptually, we need to be sure not to lose this opportunity while our collective memories– including students’– are fresh.
Before launching a community-wide strategic visioning, we need the right executive team in place to help shape, share and execute on the plan. The biggest changes we can make here are signing contracts with a permanent superintendent, a permanent director of finance and a permanent director of special education. All three roles today are either interim or being vacated.
Beyond these key goals, a vision for change this year
In all things, I’d like us to have a broader shared understanding of what we do, how we do it, and why.
As an example, with the importance and meaning of standardized testing coming under more scrutiny nationally both at the secondary and post-secondary level (think of MCAS 2.0, and major changes from the College Board), I’m appreciative of the district’s emphasis on performance-based assessments, but with this it’s important to be data-driven and to have some shared understanding of “what” we collect and “why”.
What can we and will we do with this information? How can we share it, learn from it and change our practices from it? What’s the best way to share this with our parent community as well so they can understand this feedback loop? It’s a subject that is both wide and deep but, as I’ve noted before, requires the right permanent team in place to challenge each other– and the School Committee!
My kids joined me at the McCall E-Wing open house, Fall 2009. Since this photo, the number of kids in my family has gone up by 50% and we've added over 1200 district-wide! These two are now almost 21 and 18 years old. Don't blink! They grow up fast. (photo credit: Ann Ringwood, Winchester Star)
Will Enrollment Change?
With few exceptions, we've seen annual growth in overall enrollment since 2000. In fact, from 2003 to 2012-- a decade that saw K-12 enrollment fall statewide-- Winchester's grew by nearly 30%! However, 2012 is a fading memory in the rear-view mirror.
We expected to see enrollment drop due to COVID but were surprised that we did not see the sharp return expected this Fall. What will happen in September 2022? Will all these kids come back? Many of us expect they will, but by when is up to speculation and some degree of good fortune.
We will need to work closely with the Town Clerk's office monitoring the census and Kindergarten screening volume this Spring.
What About 40B & Other Residential Development?
Thinking back to the Master Plan development from 2016 to 2017, some expected projects have finally moved forward. While the largest and most concerning developments-- such as the 300+ unit Holton Street project-- fizzled out, others like River Street have come into the pipeline and are well under way. Housing development is happening in Winchester and it is bringing more students into our district.
I'm excited for these kids. They are going to get a great education here, but we have to be sure we have the spaces and resources for them. The good news is that with the recent expansion at McCall Middle School, we have space to handle a reasonable growth factor. And though Winchester High School remains tight on space (not as much as 3 years ago), the New Lynch school is going to accommodate not just the kids displaced over the past three years, but our projected neighborhood growth including increases due to residential development.
In partnering with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) on the Lynch project, I've had the opportunity to work with our Town Planner, Town Engineer, Assessor and Building Commissioner to make strong cases for school capacity in Winchester. Our collective careful planning and thoughtful data collection have no doubt made an impression on the MSBA, as they have been receptive to "counting" a number of projects as likely even though shovels are not yet in the ground. For an idea of how projects of varying sizes impact enrollment, take a look at the memo, attached.