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Holliston Public Schools School Committee News

by Stacey Raffi

Holliston Public Schools
School Committee News
School Committee Newsletter --  Issue #4  Feb 5., 2016

Dr. Brad Jackson, Holliston superintendent, kicked off the school year by sharing with building administrators, teachers, and staff a challenge to “Embrace Our Humanity.” While academics are, of course, our core purpose as educators, we also need to pay attention to the social and emotional well-being of each student, so everyone has their best chance of success. The theme has been woven into the school year via School Improvement Goals, Professional Days, the Student Stress Task Force, and the Parent Education Series, which recently presented “Rebound: The Chris Herren Story.”  The theme is ringing true for adults and students alike. One High School student group, the Beautiful Mind Campaign, which exemplifies the theme, was recognized in the media recently for their work in trying to challenge the stigma associated with mental health issues. The full article can be found here:

Rumor Control

We’re introducing a new segment in our newsletter titled “Rumor Control.”  Every now and then, rumors get started and cause a whole lot of confusion. We’re going to address some questions/issues that we hear about around town to help clear up misperceptions. For instance, some have worried recently: “Next year there is not going to be a third Montessori 3-4 class, therefore making the class sizes for those two rooms more than 30 students.”


Response:  The administration has proposed the hiring of a third teacher.  Whether or not a third teacher can be hired for the Montessori 3-4 class depends upon the School Department FY’17 budget, which must first be approved by the School Committee before going to Town Meeting, which begins May 9, for a vote.

School Improvement Plans: Mid-year updates

Principals from each school presented mid-year updates of their School Improvement Plans to the School Committee on January 21.  Full presentations can be found here.


Highlights from Placentino (PK-2)

Goal 1:  Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction

  • Placentino administration, teachers, and specialists are looking deeper into data, such as formative and summative assessments, to ensure that they are using it to maximize student growth.

  • Second grade teachers have been matched in “critical friends pairs” to help grade each other’s papers and share results, prompting the exchange of ideas.

  • Placentino is updating its French Immersion assessments to align with corresponding assessments in English.

  • The Open Circle curriculum has been updated.

  • Grade Level Leaders are taking “Learning Walks,” visits to classrooms to observe instruction and learning in action.


Goal 2:  Emotionally Safe and Supportive School Environment

  • The CARE Program (Positive Behavior Intervention System) has been updated -- moving away from “things/prizes” and moving toward celebrations of success.  Classroom celebrations and school-wide assemblies have been implemented.

  • Teachers, administrators, and staff are continuing to work on “Don’t label it (behaviors), describe it,” as learned at the first professional day for the school year.


Goal 3:  Communication

  • The school website has been revised and is updated frequently.

  • The School Council is reviewing the Family Engagement Survey.

  • Teachers are working on ways to implement strategies to support student learning both at school and at home through various communication methods.

  • Placentino is working on a consistent approach in communicating to the home and community.


Highlights from Miller (Grades 3-5)

Goal 1:  Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction:  

  • Scheduled, developed, and implemented the RTI (Response to Intervention) block for third grade this fall, following success at Placentino.  

  • Hired part-time ELL teacher to help support 12 ELL students who enrolled at Miller this fall.  

  • Launched “Teach Like a Pirate Book Club,” with 22 teachers participating in this collaborative opportunity to share ideas and best practices for student-centered learning.

  • WiFi was installed over the summer and building administrators, staff, and teachers have given it rave reviews.

  • 180 chromebooks have been deployed building-wide. The carts are signed out all the time and our classrooms are using the technology for collaboration.


Goal 2:  Emotionally Safe and Supportive School Environment

  • Still enjoying great momentum from the August 30th Professional Day. Teachers, staff, and administrators are using lessons from Dr. Turk’s presentation  “Don’t label it, describe it.”  

  • For October’s Professional Day, Miller (in conjunction with Placentino) focused on Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom. Teachers presented sessions and shared ideas and tool kits aimed at supporting students in the classroom.


Goal 3:  Communication

  • Email communication is being sent more often.

  • School Council is working on strategies to get parents more involved, by, for example, working on a plan to link parents together in a “Buddy System” for those families who are new to town, new to a grade level, etc.


Highlights from Robert Adams Middle School (Grades 6-8)

Goal 1:  Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction

  • Increasing collaboration between and within departments, specifically with writing assignments. Focus on explicit writing, writing, writing!

  • Providing students with targeted and immediate feedback.


Goal 2:  Emotionally Safe and Supportive School Environment

  • Implemented “homework free” vacations.

  • Guidance survey sent out in the fall; Student Stress survey scheduled for mid-February; looking forward to comparing results.

  • Reviewing the MetroWest Youth Survey results.


Goal 3:  Communication

  • iPass is now live and available to parents and students, with  500+ logins to date.

  • A “virtual coffee hour” is scheduled for Feb. 9.


Highlights from Holliston High School (Grades 9-12)

Goal 1:  Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction  

  • Used October 9th Professional Day to review data to come up with protocols for major assessments (e.g., finals).

  • Working with teachers to continue differentiated and flexible instruction.


Goal 2:  Emotionally Safe and Supportive School Environment

  • Mental health and behavior is a major focus area for teachers, administrators, and even students (Beautiful Mind Campaign).

  • Looking forward to reviewing data from the Student Stress Task Force survey scheduled in mid-February.

  • Lots of positive feedback on the implementation of “homework free” school vacation weeks.


Goal 3:  Communication

  • School Council and Guidance Department developing helpful resources to define or clarify the role of Guidance at the HS.

  • Athletic Twitter Feed has received a lot of positive feedback.

  • Implementing a new event:  8th Grade Open House Night, where students will give tours.

Strategic Improvements Meeting

School principals and Central Office administration present Strategic Improvement Proposals (formerly known as “New Initiatives”) to the School Committee each year at the beginning of the budget planning season. The name has changed to better fit the real intent of the meeting and recognize that many of the proposed initiatives are not “new,” but restorations from prior budget cuts.  In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the school budget was such that there was an opportunity to fund “new initiatives.”  That has not been the case in recent years.  While it is a public meeting, special invitations are made to the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee to attend these presentations.

On Friday January 22, 2016, the entire School Committee was in attendance along with Selectmen Kevin Connolly and Jay Leary and Finance Committee Member Sue Nersessian.  

Presentations may be found here.  (There may be a delay in the posting of presentations due to inclement weather/no school at the time this was submitted.

The common themes in the presentations across the entire district include:

  • Supporting the emotional needs of ALL students. Among the initiatives are proposals  to restore full-time psychologists at each school. Currently, there are two psychologists in district that split their time between Placentino and Miller, and the Middle School and High School.

  • Creating a plan/budget to maintain technology across the district and boosting technology support (for example, by adding hours for Tech Integration Specialists and restoring the district-wide position of Director of Technology, which was cut in 2009.

  • Restoring some of the Supply Budget, which includes updating textbooks and adding general supplies of pens, pencils, paper etc.  Supply budgets have been cut for the past 5+years in a row.

  • A complete listing of ALL the restoration/additonal teaching hours and positions are listed by school in the Strategic Improvements document referenced above.  Restoring/adding teaching hours and positions. A few examples:  At the middle school, adding hours for the chorus/general music position; at Miller adding a grade 3-4 Montessori teacher, a moderate/severe Special Education teacher, and two part-time reading/math interventionists; at Placentino adding part-time math interventionists and a part-time early childhood coordinator.

Budget Planning 2017
In an effort to accelerate the budget review process for FY 2017, we have added opportunities to examine budget drivers, which began at our November 12, 2015 meeting. Information on budget drivers is also posted on our district site.  All School Committee meetings are held on Thursday nights, at 7:00 p.m., in the Holliston High School Library, unless otherwise noted. 

We learned from the superintendent at our Jan. 7 meeting that budget planning this year will be a challenge. The town's Finance Committee again has given all departments a guideline increase of 1.5 percent (over last fiscal year) for budget preparation. Unfortunately, due to budget drivers beyond our control, the administration estimates a shortfall of at least $400,000, or 2.8 percent, just to continue doing exactly what we are doing. That doesn't include any restoration of prior cuts or investment in new initiatives. 

What does that mean? To avoid cutting teachers and programs -- again -- the town has three options:
1) quickly find a way to raise additional revenue through fees, new growth, or other economic development;
2) change our existing municipal budget priorities; or
3) pursue a Proposition 2 1/2 override. 
The Budget Planning Schedule for FY17 

Feb 4:   Superintendent’s Recommended FY17 Budget was presented (view here)
Feb 25:  Budget Discussion

MARCH 2016
Mar 3:   School Committee votes preliminary FY17 Budget
Mar 15:  Finance Committee Presentation - Town Hall -7:30 p.m.
Mar 17:  Budget Discussion (if needed)

APRIL 2016
Apr 7:   Public Hearing on FY17 Budget
Apr 28:  Budget Discussion (if needed)

MAY 2016
May 5:  Budget Discussion (if needed)
Monday, May 9, 2016         Annual Town Meeting
Tuesday, May 24, 2016      Annual Town Election

SC Communications: FAQ

Are School Committee meetings public meetings?

No. School Committee meetings are held in public but are not public meetings. We are required to follow the regulations of the Open Meeting Law (M.G.L. c. 30A, §§ 18-25) and we follow Robert’s Rules of Order. There are times when the Holliston School Committee will hold “hearings,” where we encourage the public to come and voice opinions.


During “Public Comment” at the School Committee meeting, there is never discussion between the committee and the person who speaks.  Why?

There is no discussion between the School Committee and the speaker from the audience because new topics (if not on the agenda), cannot be acted or voted upon. Agenda items need to be posted for at least 48 hours prior to a meeting to allow for the community to weigh in on a subject, per Open Meeting Law.  


Why does the School Committee vote on the newsletter at each meeting?  Couldn’t you just send out a meeting summary?

Individual School Committee members cannot speak for the entire committee without prior approval. That’s why we created this newsletter and why we vote to approve it.

School Committee Office Hours
The School Committee schedules opportunities for Holliston residents to meet with Committee members to ask questions or provide feedback about district-specific issues through "office hours."  Our office hours are held periodically throughout the year at local venues (Holliston Public Library, local restaurants, etc.) and are held both in the morning and in the evening to accommodate various schedules. We announce office hours at our Thursday night meetings and via our newsletter,, Back-Pack Express on the district website, and Holliston groups on Facebook.  

Upcoming Office Hours for February 2016:
Thurs, February 11, 7:30-9:30 p.m., at Casey's, 81 Railroad St.
Sat, February 27, 8:30-10:30 a.m., Coffee Haven, 76 Railroad St.

School Committee Members
School Committee members are Holliston residents who are elected to three-year terms.  All Massachusetts School Committees have three main purviews:

  1. Hire and evaluate the Superintendent
  2. Prepare and approve a school budget, which is subject to final approval by the town
  3. Create and amend policies

Our agendas, meeting minutes, and policies are available on our web site.                      
Feel free to contact any committee member with questions or comments.

Carol Emmons, Chair:                                                                                         Anne Louise Hanstad, Vice Chair:   
Lisa Kocian:
Cynthia Listewnik:
Andy Morton: 
Stacey Raffi:
Joan Sousa: