The School Committee Answers Some Questions

On behalf of Acton Forum, I contacted the School Committee (SC) and asked the following questions (in bold) on topics many residents of Acton and Boxborough believe are important. A portion of the questions were provided by a reader of Acton Forum. The Vice Chair of SC, Tessa McKinley provided the following answers. There are many more questions that could be asked, and I encourage readers to contact Acton Forum with ideas for more questions on this or other local topics.

1. What was the process to determine implementing Chromebooks on a 1:1 (student:device) starting as early as 3rd grade thru eighth grade?
a. Explain the objectives and results from the SC's research/study process into this decision.
b. What is the anticipated costs per student (direct - hardware, software) and indirect (training teachers, time away from instruction)?
c. What funds or programs needed to be cut to implement the Chromebook distribution?

To the best of my knowledge, the school committee has not implemented a 1:1 policy from grades 3-8. Some communities may see it differently, but teaching methods are generally left to the discretion of the educators. In this case, the junior high has recently achieved this ratio through allocation of funds within their own annual operating budget. The Jr. High has also been increasing the use of chromebooks to support students learning for a number of years and it is more cost effective to assign the chromebook to a single student for use in multiple classes than to have every classroom in a building have a chromebook cart. Each principal submits specific building requests through the annual budget process but it has not been the work of the school committee to implement these devices throughout the district. I'm attaching the Department of Educational Technology budget overview from the FY '20 budget binder.

Budget Overview

2. How are votes on budgets and important policy or teaching decisions affecting elementary schools divided between Boxborough and Acton.
a. Specifically, is cost-sharing proportional to each town's population within primary schools? Please explain how and provide an example.

For budgetary and policy decisions, the school committee does not look at our schools as divided by town. We are a single district with 6 elementary schools, a junior high and a high school. As you know, town assessments, per the regional agreement, are determined on a rolling three year average of the student population in each town.

3. How often are teachers polled for feedback on implementation of new frameworks, teaching policies, or asked to contribute new ideas?
a. Explain an example where the SC took action based on teacher feedback.
b. Explain how parent's input is considered by the SC?

The administration regularly polls teachers when decisions affect their area of specialty. For example, math curricula are piloted and teachers provide feedback to their own administrators. In last week's packet, you will see commentary solicited from kindergarten and first grade teachers as to the proposal of universal all day kindergarten. We also polled parents to more deeply understand why families may choose either full or half-day K.Parents are regularly polled by the school committee on issues that fall under our purview. You may recall surveys about start times as well the calendar in recent years. Most recently our draft tutoring policy was released to parents to solicit feedback before we consider it as a committee.

4. In light of the increased use of online instructional videos for teaching, has the SC studied a modified teaching method known as "flipped classrooms"? To many experts, this method is overdue and the current model is unnecessarily inefficient.

a. If so, is there serious consideration to implement such changes?
b. If not, will the SC consider studying this for implementation in the near future?

The school committee has been made aware of such teaching methods within the context of presentations given by our assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. The methods of instruction used within our district classrooms fall under the administration of each school and are outside the committee's purview. While different methods are interesting to the committee, ultimately as long as they are in line with district and state standards, their implementation is not the work of the committee. In general, there is no one instructional methodology or approach that is likely to reach all students, and our teachers employ a variety of strategies within their classrooms to reach all students.

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