Oct. 1 2014
By Ann Needle
At its meeting last Wednesday, the Nashoba School Committee focused on sharpening how it tracks and handles student behavior and teacher progress.
On October 31, the district will host a training session on how to recognize possible substance abuse in students, announced Superintendent Michael Wood. He explained that the move is in response to “the increasing number of students who say they know someone who says they have used drugs in the past month.”
Crafted by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, this Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment program is designed to help educators pick up visual and other cues that could point to a student as using alcohol or other drugs. Wood described the program as similar to the training done with middle school staff on suicide prevention. Those he listed as invited to this initial training include the school nurses, guidance counselors, interventionists, and selected teachers.
At some point in the year, these staffers will have a chance to put their lessons to work by doing a drug screening, Wood said. The district will notify students and staff in advance. However, he added that Nashoba still needs to decide which grades to test.
In another move aimed at curbing substance abuse by students, Wood reported the district’s health educators this year will analyze what is offered to middle and high school students in the Health curriculum.
MCAS: “Our Students Did Very Well”
MCAS testing results for spring 2014 were released late last month, with Wood concluding, “Overall, I think our students did very well.” Though Wood promised a closer analysis of the results at a future committee meeting, he offered some preliminary thoughts on the scores.
Presenting an analysis of Nashoba’s scores vs. those from surrounding districts, Wood declared himself happy with Nashoba Regional High School’s 10th grade performance. But regarding the 4th grade cumulative scores in Math and Science, which were lower than most comparable districts, he said, “We definitely have some questions to answer.”
Lancaster Rep. Julie Fay questioned whether some of the districts Nashoba was compared to were enough alike, something to which Wood promised to give more scrutiny. The districts used for comparison were Acton-Boxborough, Berlin/Tahanto, Concord-Carlisle, Harvard, Lincoln-Sudbury, Shrewsbury, and Westborough.
This meeting also included first readings of several new policies and policy updates. Being updated were the Evaluation of Professional Staff policy, which Wood explained is being fine-tuned to the 2012 state law regarding what teacher evaluations should cover. Based on what teachers have experienced in the past year, Wood said, “It’s been a very positive experience for everybody.”
Among the new policies, there were several related to how districts should be using Title I reading funds. Each policy was basically prescribed by the state, with little room for comments or changes, Wood remarked.
The Positive Climate policy — much of it dealing with bullying — also is being revised to reflect the latest legislative changes. The new language extends the definition of potential “bullies” to include staff and administration, along with students.
Rep. Lynn Colletti of Stow questioned whether the committee should add language calling for the bully to apologize to the victim. She suggested addressing that bullying begins when the victim says, in some way, “stop.” Also, she remarked, “People have different tolerance levels [for bullying]; what may bother me may not bother you.”
Wood responded, “You can’t force someone to apologize. Do you want an empty apology?” He added that the Responsive Classroom and Second Step programs for elementary students also address these issues.
Regarding cyber-bullying, Stow Rep. Maureen Busch questioned whether the district could control any remarks made online from outside the schools. Wood acknowledged that is not possible, but that the policy allows the district to handle any fallout on the victim during school.
The new Criminal History Record Information Checks policy calls for staff to not only submit CORI forms (checking for criminal background), but to also be fingerprinted if they have unsupervised access to students. Volunteers also could be required to submit fingerprints if they are supervising students on their own. An example Wood gave of those who will likely need to be fingerprinted included a sports coach — whether a district employee or volunteer — supervising Nashoba student athletes at a field off of district property. However, a classroom volunteer who is supervised by a teacher won’t need fingerprinting, he said.
While staff and volunteers will need to pay for fingerprinting ($35 for current staff, $55 for new employees), Wood noted that the prints are good for the person’s entire time at Nashoba. Anyone hired as of the start of this school year will need to be fingerprinted. (He added that policy will not apply to volunteers until the School Committee passes it.)
“I think it’s extraordinary that volunteers need to get fingerprinted,” Wood commented, also pointing out that everyone needs to do this on their own time. In addition, he remarked that the state sets the prices, and that most districts are asking staff to foot the bill.