Nashoba Seeks Accountability… Oct. 15, 2014

By Ann Needle
The Nashoba School Committee voted in a salary increase last Wednesday for Superintendent Michael Wood. Most of the school committee meeting, however, was spent debating how to make both district and administrative goals more measurable and realistic.

The Committee voted 5 to 2 to hike Wood’s salary by 2%, to $167,451, for one year. Stow Rep. Lynn Colletti voted against the raise, while Rep. Lorraine Romasco abstained. (Stow Rep. Maureen Busch was absent.)

Meanwhile, with the committee in the midst of reviewing updated goals for the District Improvement Plan, along with Wood’s goals for the school year, some members were adamant that these targets be reachable, and that any success be obvious.

With the 5-year District Improve Plan — which must legally be updated and approved annually — one of the proposed goals the committee focused on was to put in place a comprehensive digital learning system throughout the district.

Wood maintained that the most radical aim of this goal is to have all district textbooks accessible online by 2019. The technology to make this happen should be commonplace by then, so resources shouldn’t be an issue, he said. And, in terms of any licensing costs vs. prices for paper textbooks, he noted, “It’s much cheaper to go online.”

In response to a question from Lynn Colletti, Wood said the district does not plan to modify its “bring your own device” policy. (BYOD allows students in the middle and high schools to bring to class any sort of device with Internet capability.) He also said the district does not plan to purchase a tablet or any other device for each student to help meet this goal. Wood said he does not think the district could afford to do that. Instead, he stressed the district would study what’s needed in the schools to assure every student has online access.

Colletti said she felt she did not want to approve any goal the district didn’t have the money to meet.

Chair Nancy Federspiel of Bolton commented that she interpreted the goal as bringing online access of school materials to each child. She remarked that the district could have enough devices on hand for take-home borrowing by those who need them, and that the actual textbooks would be the ultimate back-up.

In reviewing Wood’s goals, the superintendent explained that, once approved, these targets are the ones on which he will be evaluated by the committee in April 2015. One of these goal is to bring up student test scores by 5 points in Literacy and Math on the district’s Aimsweb testing system. Wood described Aimsweb as a computerized “diagnostic quick-test tool” that assesses what students have learned after each unit of study.
Though Lorraine Romasco lauded the goal, she urged Wood to consider using a broader benchmark, such as MCAS scores, to determine student test success. For now, both Wood and the committee acknowledged that the timing for implementing a larger benchmark is off, given the state has not yet decided whether to replace MCAS with the national PARCC testing system (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).

Also questioned was the goal of achieving a 100% graduation rate at Nashoba Regional High School, with Lynn Colletti pointing out that only a few schools in the state have reached this level.

Both the District Improvement and superintendent’s goals have yet to be finalized and approved for this school year.

 Time for Health
Wood reported that the task of overhauling the Health curriculum for grades 6 through 12 has begun, with the first meeting of the Health Curriculum Overview Committee going well. As Nashoba devotes more attention to the issues of at-risk students, administration is considering how and when to directly address sensitive health topics   — such as drug use — that students with academic or emotional issues are often more vulnerable to.

Another issue the Health Curriculum Committee is studying is whether the Health classes need more time, especially at NRHS, according to Wood. However, Rep. Nicole Odekirk countered that the curriculum itself should first be scrutinized, given some parents see Health class as “a waste of time.” She continued, “I know children who would rather go to the dentist than go to Health.” Odekirk suggested administration look at broadening the topics offered in these classes, and perhaps begin Health classes before sixth grade.

In other portions of the school committee agenda, the expected discussion and vote on a new honor roll system was postponed until the next meeting.