School Committee Greets the New Year

By Ann Needle
The Nashoba School Committee officially welcomed the new school year on September 10, with its first meeting of 2014/2015. At the meeting, Committee members questioned some of the often-debated changes that could take place this new year.

Of these changes, the Committee seemed most disturbed by what some claimed was a “bait-and-switch” tactic used by Superintendent Michael Wood to gain member approval of the new half-day kindergarten plan.

Last spring, the Committee voted in Nashoba administration’s plan to make all kindergarten classes full-day, though any parents could place their child in a half-day session instead. All half-day students attend a full-day class, but leave at noon. When the Committee voted on the plan, Wood pledged that half-day students would receive an identical program to full-day, with core curriculum topics covered only in the morning.

Wood explained at the meeting that, answering concerns of some half-day parents when this year began, the schools will re-arrange the six “specials” scheduled for the year. [Specials are classes and activities, such as art and music, that complement academic topics being taught.] The three specials now taught in the morning — when half-day students are there — will be switched in January for the three specials currently held in the afternoon.  This would give the half-day students a half year of each special, while maintaining the full schedule of core curriculum for the full year. Though Wood maintained this exposes half-day pupils to the whole curriculum within the school year, some Committee members expressed doubts that this was enough.

Stow Rep. Nicole Odekirk was one of several members to assert, “Right now, they’re not getting the same curriculum. They were promised the same curriculum [as full-day kindergarteners] when we voted.” She added that, for full-day students, afternoons were supposed to be devoted to activities such as “lunch, outdoor time, rest time,” and that these had been listed on the district web site.     “It seems there was a miscommunication somehow.”

Wood countered that half-day parents have been pleased with the district’s remedy of when the specials are taught, and reiterated that the change gives half-day students a full curriculum throughout the year. “Right now, all of our half-day kindergarteners are getting exactly what half-day kindergartener got in previous years.”

Countered Rep. Lorraine Romasco of Bolton, “But that’s not what we voted for.”

However, Stow Rep. Maureen Busch remarked, “If I were a half-day kindergarten parent, I wouldn’t want my kid to spend half the day on specials, rather than being prepared for first grade.”

Though both half- and full-day options were offered for several years, administration said the switch to full-day kindergarten was needed to alleviate the long waiting lists for that class. At the start of this school year, Nashoba reported only a handful of kindergarteners were going half-day.

Honor Roll Roll-Back Possible
In another issue first brought up last spring, Michael Wood reported he has set down his recommendations for revising how students make the honor roll.

After reviewing feedback from administrators, neighboring high schools and parents that attended the honor roll forum in June, Wood said he is recommending the middle school honor roll be based on individual grades rather than an average GPA, with no Cs allowed. At Nashoba Regional High School, honor roll would continue being based on an average weighted GPA,  but with only one C allowed for honors level, and none for high and highest honors.

Wood stressed that he is aiming for an honor roll “that won’t let kids game the system, and pushes the kids.”Asked what he would do with the honor roll if he was the sole decision-maker, Wood said he would base it strictly on individual letter grades, with no weighting influencing it at the high school level. (Letter grades are assigned starting in grade 6, and classes are weighted at NRHS, with an A in an honors course being worth more than an A in an accelerated or college prep-level class.)

Stow Rep. Lynn Colletti, referring to the separate grading system used for student behavior in middle school, wryly asked, “Are we still going to use this as a punishment if you’re not a model student?” Wood said the tentative plan is that students cannot make the honor roll if the teacher rates them as “seldom meets” under a given standard of behavior, such as participating in classroom activities.

Wood estimated the changes as is would trim the NRHS honor roll up to 33%, and by smaller levels at district middle schools. While the Committee and many community members have said that Nashoba honor rolls have grown too large to be an honor anymore, Wood noted that parents find them important. “I’ve had more calls not about who’s on the honor roll, but whether the honor roll is in the paper,” Wood said.

He reiterated that administration hasn’t made any final decisions, and that he plans to hold another parent forum before any changes.