Nashoba Continues MCAS Analysis…Nov. 4, 2015

By Ann Needle
In a meeting that concluded with Nashoba Superintendent Michael Wood announcing his resignation as of the end of the school year (see accompanying story), the School Committee took a closer look at test scores for its high-needs students, along with a new program designed to connect Nashoba Regional High School to the community and environmental issues.

As in past years, an overview of spring 2015 MCAS scores shows Nashoba continues to out-perform the state averages. But, presenting a closer look at scores for the district’s high-needs students, Nashoba English Language Arts Coordinator Patricia O’Connor summed up the results as “not where we want to be.” High-needs students are defined as those that fall into one or more of what the state considers the special needs, economically disadvantaged, or disabled categories.

O’Connor explained that the state determined each district and its subgroups should at least reach a 75 on the state’s Cumulative Performance and Progress Index. Overall, Nashoba and its larger subgroups of students all have met or surpassed this benchmark, but the overall high-needs group scored 65.

In ELA, only 52% of the district’s high-needs group scored proficient or higher, compared with 75% for the state and 93% for the rest of the district’s students. O’Connor remarked that the subgroup of students with disabilities was the most concerning in ELA, with only 39% scoring at least proficient.

Nashoba Interim STEM Coordinator Robin Benoit noted that the gap between high-needs and typical-needs students in Math scores was a bit closer, though there’s still work to be done. Overall, 47% of the high-needs group across Nashoba scored at least proficient, compared with 66% for the state and 89% for non-high needs pupils. As with ELA, students with disabilities also were mentioned as a concern, with a 35% proficient-or higher rate.

In trying to address these gaps, Michael Wood said that Nashoba will first study its curriculum goals across the district, while individual school administrators will work on strategies based on how its own high-needs and typical students performed. Bolton SC Rep. Neal Darcy also suggested the district consider looking into how much Nashoba spends per pupil in areas such as Special Education.

Going Green at NRHS
Three years ago, NRHS Social Studies Teacher Tim Caster took a semester-long sabbatical to explore other curriculum opportunities for the high school. One of the programs that Caster said grew directly from his time away from school was a USDA grant of $45,000 total over the next 3 years, in exchange for school volunteer time  “to prepare students for coming environmental challenges.” Caster said there would be no expense to the district.

The high school is partnering with Maria Moreira and her World Farmers organization at Flats Mentor Farm in Lancaster, which Castner explained provides farm training to immigrants, teaching them about what is often a very different climate than they are familiar with, along with other farming and related business skills. (The farm is located on Rte. 117W, right after Bolton Flats.)

The grant will also provide for four summer interns, along with “summer academies” for teachers to help form an interdisciplinary curriculum that connects local agriculture, healthy eating, and immigrant communities, Castner said. He noted that even topics such as World History could easily connect to the grant, saying of the immigrants being trained, “Here are people who have lived through real challenges, and they keep on going.”

In a related measure, Castner also is mentoring the NRHS Green Team student organization. NRHS Junior Paige Farren explained that the group is devoted to promoting a more environmentally-sustainable school, with activities such as regular recycling and planting in the school courtyard. Other activities Farren said the Green Team is looking into include composting in the cafeteria, promoting less use of electricity, and putting in refillable water bottle stations, which the National Honor Society has offered to fund. (Concerning the water stations, Castner mentioned NRHS sells bottled water, which contradicts the Green Team’s aim of reducing the number of plastic bottles around the school.)

The SC suggested Castner bringing these goals and concerns to Facilities, and to contact outside community groups for support.

In routine SC items, Mark Jones reported from the Finance Sub Committee that, as expected, there will likely be a drop in revenue for the 2016/17 fiscal year. He reported that a $746,000 drop is anticipated at this point, but may change as the budget process moves forward. This can be traced to the SC withdrawing more than usual from Excess & Deficiency — free cash — to help defray the 2015/16 budget, and in phasing out the School Choice program, which brought in $5,000 from the district of each out-of-district student attending Nashoba schools.

The SC voted unanimously to accept the updated addendum on Nashoba’s leasing of the Emerson building from the Town of Bolton. The update gives the district most of the third floor for use as office space, which Michael Wood remarked should free up some office space at the crowded NRHS.

In another unanimous vote, the SC approved updated policies on SC staff communications, administration goals, and smoking on school premises.  The updated smoking policy now includes a ban on smoking devices (such as pipes) and e-cigarettes.