All posts by Steve

League of Women Voters Questionnaire

School Committee candidates were invited to submit a 50-word biographical summary and answers to the following questions (75 words maximum each):
1. School start times are a big issue from the elementary schools to the high schools. What are the key elements of a successful solution?
2. What is your vision of the relationship among the School Committee, the community and the School Superintendent?
3. What policies would you suggest to reduce the impact of schools on traffic?

Continue reading League of Women Voters Questionnaire

Isn’t It Time To Build That 16th School?

Why don’t we build a new elementary school in Upper Falls? I used to be a vocal advocate for a 16th school in Upper Falls. Then as I learned more my thinking gradually changed.

An UF school would have a small population, as low as 250 students, and ongoing student population growth in this area is speculation, not fact.  In the 70s and 80s Newton closed schools around the City as their enrollments hit the low to mid 200s because an economic assessment showed that schools of this size were very inefficient to run.  Building and operating new small schools is still inefficient, and investments in new buildings channel dollars away from maintaining and repairing our older school buildings.

Continue reading Isn’t It Time To Build That 16th School?

Full Day Kindergarden – Advocacy and Cost

I have been quite open to full day kindergarten (FDK) as research indicates it supports children academically, socially, and emotionally. My approach to an issue like this is to confirm the objective, and then work to figure out how to fund it.

Newton’s FDK task force, working under past superintendent Jim Marini, suggested steps to advance this discussion a couple years ago but no further action has been taken. So step one is to do followup. Continue reading Full Day Kindergarden – Advocacy and Cost

Flexibility with Our Short Term Space Budget

A year ago I was quite concerned that the proposed Day Middle School and elementary school modular (short-term space) budgets might not be strictly honored, but my point of view has evolved to a different place.

Three things have changed:

• The needs of Day have come into clearer focus as its population growth continues greater than projected. Newton Public Schools (NPS) is starting to speak of 8 new classrooms, well above the 4 or 6 that were being asked for last year;

• A very good program with some flexibility has been developed that strongly responds to present and anticipated space needs; Continue reading Flexibility with Our Short Term Space Budget

Sleeping in is good for high schoolers. Who knew?

Groundbreaking work that began in Minnesota in the 1990s routinely shows positive results for high school students who start school later in the morning. This relates directly to adolescent biology around Circadian rhythms and the timing of Melatonin production. Here are categories where differences have been studied following later start times:

1. Grades – (hard data and surveys) Analysis does not show statistically significant grade improvements, but students consistently report that they are getting better grades.

2. Tiredness – (surveys) Both students and teachers report a decrease in student tiredness during first and second period classes. This is reported by both parties as lower incidences of students falling asleep at their desks! Students also report that they have greater clarity of thought and get through their class- and home-work more quickly. Continue reading Sleeping in is good for high schoolers. Who knew?

Should we be making changes to early release time?

Early release in Newton has been here for a long time and is firmly embedded in our teacher contracts. Rodney Barker, a former School Committee member and former Alderman, has fought about this in the past and he wrote an article to the TAB in January 2011 about them. Although his math is off his sentiments are true; still he made little headway in reversing this trend to add early release days. See his piece here:

Barker Op-Ed on Early Release

Comments from a followup TAB blog thread were recently lost in a technical glitch, but these provided additional commentary from the community on this topic. Continue reading Should we be making changes to early release time?

Top 2 challenges for our School Committee this year

Top Two Challenges:

1. Completion of a fair and sustainable teacher contract. Signs are that we are close, and a contract that is long-term affordable while respecting our teachers as bargaining table partners is a very good thing.

For years, contract growth has been the largest cost driver in the school budget; keeping this in check leaves more money to maintain student/teacher ratios, pilot and finance technology initiatives, strengthen early learning, and preserve breadth-of-program, for starters. Continue reading Top 2 challenges for our School Committee this year

Parkview Homes and School Overcrowding

The new Parkview Homes affordable housing development off Lexington Street will house children within the Burr School district. Many area parents have expressed concern that city planners have supported this private development but have not planned for its impact on school overcrowding.

If new construction creates increased tax revenues for the City, don’t we end up coming out even or ahead? The answer is more complicated than that, relating to resources, timing, and planning. I’ll start an explanation of why with an example: Continue reading Parkview Homes and School Overcrowding