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'No place to take a break.' -- Stratton parent Rachel Ostrow

UPDATED Nov. 23: Space constraints at Stratton School became a top concern at the School Committee meeting Thursday, Nov. 18. The matter is expected to be pursued by the committee’s facilities subcommittee at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22.

Two parents spoke to the topic during public comment at the meeting’s start. By longstanding practice, committee members rarely respond to public comment. 

“There is no place for students who need to take a break” to work on self-regulation, said Rachel Ostrow, who has two children at Stratton. “What a distressing situation it is.” She also said that the playground is “in disrepair” and that improving it is “an urgent need.”

Another Stratton parent, Brenda Mahoney, said that “space concerns” were in “dire need of attention” and that the campus “needs to be on par with the rest of the schools.”

The committee accepted the school-improvement plans from Dallin and Hardy schools as presented and agreed to accept the Stratton plan once the physical-plant concerns are removed from it, on the grounds that remedying these are beyond the purview of any single campus.

'Demanding period' at Stratton

Stratton Principal Michael Hanna addressed the situation later as he presented the previously scheduled school-improvement plan. He praised the “unbelievably committed educators,” as they continue work during a “really demanding period,” the ongoing pandemic. He said that the equivalent of one more classroom had been added each year since 2018, Stratton has doubled its number of English-language learners since 2017, staff has grown 30 percent since that time, and the Title One school has the second-highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

Among the space issues are the fact that two kindergarten classes no longer have adjacent bathrooms, there is no longer a dedicated art room and the Supported Learning Center for high-needs children will take up the equivalent of 2.5 classrooms. 

He asked the committee for resources, including short- and long-term plans for physical-plant improvements.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” said committee member Jeff Thielman. “We are surprised at this,” said Len Kardon, who echoed Thielman in saying that Stratton would be a priority for the facilities subcommittee early next week.

See the Stratton improvement plan >>  
Covid rates are up; so are vaccinations

The district still is dealing with the continuing pandemic, Superintendent Elizabeth Homan said. “Our schools are a reflection of the community,” she noted, with incidences of infection generally up recently in the town, county, state and nation. 

However, vaccinations also are ramping up, with some 1,700 schoolchildren vaccinated this month so far. She encouraged all parents to seriously consider vaccinating their children -- and to exercise great caution if they will be traveling out of the area for the Thanksgiving break, including practicing masking and testing.

Homan noted that Thompson School’s students were sent home early Monday because of concerns about adequate ventilation on that campus after the heat went on for the first time this school year. “We tweaked the settings, and everything was ready to go for Tuesday morning,” she said.

Hardy School improvement plan

Hardy School, with 412 students and more than 60 staff members, maintains the motto it has had since 1925, “We train hand, mind and heart for the common good,” and its newer, secondary slogan, to be kind, respectful and inclusive, according to Principal Kate Peretz.

Hardy has as a priority being a safe and supportive environment. “We continue to have our ups and downs, but a lot more ups than downs,” she said.

She acknowledged that there has been “not a lot of movement” since 2017 in results of standardized testing. “We need to do some really hard work,” she said, but noted that the “MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] is not the be-all and end-all.”

Improvement is expected because of interventions, including small groups for math, reading and other subjects, Assistant Principal Peggy Tsatsoulis said. She, Peretz and other educators also want to raise the rate of participation of family members in a shared decision-making process, continue to celebrate diverse identities, enhance collaboration among school-based organizations with a focus on equity, and pursue grants including one that would provide Hardy with an artist-in-residence.

See the Hardy plan >>  
Dallin School improvement plan

Dallin, with its 440 students and 70-plus staffers, emphasizes core values of courage, respect and responsibility, and school culture is also a priority, according to Principal Thad Dingman. He said Dallin has a strong commitment to improving literacy because “literacy is equity.” He said the latest MCAS results show reading scores are improving.

To keep things going in the right direction, he wants to emphasize the science of reading and in particular explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics. He said a cohort study showed that kindergartners in spring 2019 were assessed at 39.5 percent at minimal risk in reading, but  those same kids were up to 60.5 percent at minimal risk in first grade in winter 2020, and they were higher yet -- 70.6 percent at minimal risk – in second grade this semester.

Math is a different story. “We need to reflect and design mathematics classrooms where all students experience success,” he said. “It has to start with us.” The instructional objective is to improve student agency and equity in math and to support active listening and participation of all students in a collaborative mathematical community.

See the Dallin improvement plan >>
In other business:

The committee unanimously approved job descriptions for the following positions (see links to each):

The consent agenda passed unanimously.

The committee went into executive session at 8:48 p.m. 

Watch the Nov. 18 meeting broadcast by ACMi:

Oct. 29, 2021: As Covid cases track low, public schools wait to seek waiver

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, and updated Nov. 23, to add an ACMi video window.