School Committee logoInterim director praised

UPDATED Feb. 18: Social-emotional learning, availability of counselors and social workers to students, and parental awareness of what’s provided could be better at Arlington Public Schools. That was the view of some School Committee members following a presentation about SEL at the Feb. 9 meeting -- although the committee simultaneously acknowledged the improvements made so far in this ongoing endeavor. 

They expressed concerns about a variety of topics, including overall availability of services for the general school population, as distinct from students with special needs.

Magali Olander, interim director of social-emotional learning and school counseling at APS since October, is “doing a spectacular job,” Superintendent Elizabeth C. Homan said.

Counselor, social worker added

Olander, during her presentation to the committee, said Arlington High School now has an additional counselor and an additional social worker. “We want to continue to grow this programming” so that students become “less anxious and depressed,” she said.

But committee members expressed doubt about how rosy the districtwide picture really is. 

“We’re glad you’re here,” committee member Jane Morgan told Magali, adding that “there is a lot of work to be done in this area.”

Morgan said she believes scheduling conflicts sometimes arise vis-à-vis timing of counseling appointments, class attendance and club participation; Olander acknowledged that there “are some limitations.”

Homan said that “We’re going to look into this” and noted that “It is not an expectation [for students] to be pulled from core content” to receive counseling.

'We have room to grow'

Committee member Len Kardon spoke of having seen parental complaints on social media about service availability at Ottoson Middle School and also said that public awareness of what’s available could be stepped up.

“We have room to grow,” Olander said, describing the district as being in the “front of the learning curve” and saying that the overall field of social-emotional learning is “kind of like the frontier just now.”

Committee member Paul Schlichtman, alluding to his past work as an elementary-school principal, said he knows “viscerally” just how important social workers are to the entire student body, especially with the widespread “disruption in lives of children” because of the now nearly 3-year-old pandemic. It needs to be “for the whole building,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Alison Elmer -- who oversees social-emotional learning, special education and nursing -- replied that all students, regardless of their classification, can get the help they need.

In other business, the committee:
  • Voted unanimously to approve the upcoming school year’s preliminary calendar, including the first and last days of instruction and the fact that grades K-5 will continue to have early release on Wednesdays. Conference dates and some other matters, however, have yet to be finalized. Read the agenda documents >> 
  • Voted unanimously to approve the Nordic Ski Team at Arlington High School.
  • Discussed the budget, which is being formulated in advance of a public hearing in March and a committee vote in April. Administrators intend to clear from the books long-vacant positions unlikely to be filled. Another complexity is pandemic-related ESSER III funding, which is to end by September 2024. Morgan said that she was “working on the mental gymnastics” of usage of that funding. “We have to spend that money next year,” she said.
  • Learned that subzero temperatures recently had caused frozen pipes on some campuses, with Brackett School, where pipes burst in and around the front office, incurring the most damage. Facilities maintenance crews worked through the weekend to ensure no impediment to instruction during the school week, Homan said.
  • Heard that the district had received a grant for $28,162 to help support Afghan refugee immigrants.
  • Were told by Deputy Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. that families soon will be invited to participate in the ongoing elementary literacy program implementation review.
  • Heard briefly about what Homan called “unbelievably cool robots” and other aspects of the digital-learning program; next year’s budget may include two more digital learning specialists. 
  • Heard that more than 30 families recently attended the town’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission’s forum; 
  • Were told that signs are now up at AHS delineating where the charging stations are for electric vehicles; and
  • Learned that the AHS wrestling team won its league for the fifth time in a row.
Watch the Feb. 9 meeting on ACMi:

Feb. 10, 2023: New deputy superintendent approved in 7-0 vote


This news summary reported by YourArlington Assistant Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, and updated Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, to correct a misleading initial paragraph.

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