Pillar One: Strong Policies

Policy Change Themes

As I have reviewed the School Committee policies throughout the last few months, there are a few general themes I would suggest and work towards as a member of the School Committee.  Those themes include:

  1. Closing the Gap - Missing Policies - While reviewing the officially published list of policies, I have found myself unable to find policies on key recent topics (i.e. Kindergarten Assignment).  As such, I would work with the Committee to create appropriate Polices where they are lacking and in doing so, improve the understanding of the constituent community regarding key topics.
  2. Improving the Bullying and Harassment Policy - I would like to work to improve policies around responsiveness to parent concerns, by the School Committee and Administration, including instituting the collection of Key Performance Indicators around Bullying Complaints, Demographics of Bullies and the Bullied, and Resolution Time.  Through these KPIs, we can track outliers, measure ourselves for improvement and focus on the providing timely resolution to concerns raised.
  3. Financial Stewardship - There are many policies that directly impact the bottom line of the school district.  However, many of those policies aren’t clear enough about establishing expectations for sustainable spending habits and/or don’t allow for the district to sell materials that could offset costs and thus reduce spend.

Examples of each of the themes will be provided below.


Improve the Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Policies

Consolidation, Measurement and Escalation

Goal: The consolidation of two policies and the appropriate implementation procedures and practices into a single Policy aligned with a single Procedure document to improve Transparency, Means of Escalation and Community Confidence in the efficacy of the Policies.

Policy Updates / Changes:

  1. Consolidate the Bullying Policy with the Harassment and Discrimination Policy.
  2. Implement Standardized Metric Gathering and a regular cadence of Reporting to the School Committee.
  3. Document a Means of Escalation to the School Committee for rare cases in which the resolution was not suitable to the Victim and/or his or her Family via compliance with Executive Session Rules in the Open Meeting Law Statutes.
  4. Implement mandatory electronic claim filing by the claimant or the member of staff receiving the claim.

Justification:  Through multiple discussions with impacted individuals I have heard feedback that reporting a claim can be an arduous, difficult to follow process.  Further, on multiple occasions I have told that the family won't report the claim due to concerns about retaliation, the lack of ability of the school to protect the child and/or perceived lack of follow through on previous claims.  These changes are meant to streamline the reporting process while providing transparency to the greater community as a whole and confidence to the reporter that the claim will be processed appropriately.


Creation of Policy on Dyslexia Early Identification

Goal:  Establish an exceptionally strong Dyslexia Program within the Town of Reading Public Schools to improve child and family experience with the schools while also reducing the negative financial ramifications of children going out of district late in academic careers due to insufficient growth in district.

Policy:  WHEREAS, the Legislature of the State of Massachusetts passed An Act Relative to Students with Dyslexia, also known as the Decoding Dyslexia Act, in October of 2018, and...

WHEREAS, we the School Committee of the Town of Reading believe in scientifically studied means of teaching and therefore believes in the importance of a Phonics based instruction method and...

WHEREAS, we the School Committee of the Town of Reading believe that learning to Read is the core means of accessing all other Curriculum and Learning to Read by the 3rd Grade is a key indicator of future success in school and..

WHEREAS, we the School Committee of the Town of Reading understand that struggling in reading can lead to low self esteem, anxiety and other social emotional challenges for children and...

WHEREAS, we the School Committee of the Town of Reading believe that an effective and efficient program is one that proactively and positively engages all constituents (Teachers, Parents, Administrators and Children) in the program, we do hereby determine:

  1. We will support the Administration, specifically the Director of Student Services or his/her delegate, to proactively work closely with the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education in the Regulations around the Decoding Dyslexia Act.
  2. We will support scientifically based recommendations, with appropriate and consistent budget, for implementation of Early Identification in the Reading Public Schools from here forward with the anticipation of proactively identifying students in Pre-K, K and First grades for Dyslexia.
  3. We will support scientifically based curriculum, with appropriate and consistent budget, aimed at teaching ALL children to read.
  4. We will support, with appropriate and consistent budget, the growth of our Language Learning Disability program, currently referred to as the Bridge Program, with appropriate staff as required to implement the scientifically based recommendations.
  5. We will support, with appropriate and consistent budget, the use of a Structured Literacy program where necessary to bridge the gap for students diagnosed with Dyslexia.
  6. We will support, with appropriate and consistent budget, the classification, categorization, training and certification of our teachers and administrators within the program and make such information freely available to the public at all times.
  7. We will support, with appropriate and consistent budget, training and assistance for parents of children in the program with the aim to integrate them as key partners therein and educate them in their role and how they can help their child during non school hours.
  8. We will monitor, via agreed upon and appropriate Key Performance Indicators, the progress of the program to assess the health and sustainability of the program coupled with the health and progress of the students in the program.  

Some potential KPIs related to resolution #8 include, but are not limited to: 

  1. Number of Students Screened vs. Number of Students Deemed to have Dyslexia
  2. Number of Students in the Program - by Grade
  3. Number of Students referred to Counseling with Anxiety or Low Self Esteem related to Reading or Language Learning Disabilities.
  4. Average Years behind Grade Level Reading by Years in Program
  5. % of Students in Grade 3 that are Proficient or Advanced on the Massachusetts MCAS with a goal and expectation of achieving 80% at minimum by the third year after the passage of this Policy.

The above Key Performance Indicators are merely examples and should not be considered a final list.  It is expected that the KPIs will need to be addressed on a regular basis until a sufficient cadency of delivery and observation is achieved.

References:  MGL Chapter 71 Section 57,  MGL Acts of 2012 Chapter 287


Creation of a Proactive Social Media Policy

The Only Thing to Fear, is Fear Itself

The use of Social Media as an avenue to engage with the Reading community has been eschewed by the School Committee for quite some time. Generally, this is due to concerns about potentially violating Open Meeting Law. If we look at the polices that are at the center of this discussion, then examine the potential positives of changing the mode of operation, we may be able to arrive at a suitable policy to govern how the School Committee leverages Social Media as a proactive means of communication with the community.

Back in 2006, the School Committee approved Policy AB (The People and their School District) in which it committed to the following:

'Maintain two-way communications with citizens of the community.  The public will be kept informed of the progress and problems of the school system, and citizens will be urged to bring their aspirations and feelings about their public schools to the attention of this body, which they have chosen to represent them in the management of public education.'

Further, per Policy BBA (School Committee Powers and Duties), the School Committee recognizes a duty in Public Relations:

'Public relations.  The Committee is responsible for providing adequate and direct means for keeping the local citizenry informed about the schools and for keeping itself and the school staff informed about the needs and wishes of the public.'

Finally, per Policy BHE (Use of Electronic Messaging by School Committee Members) the School Committee is rightfully concerned about the use of Social Media platforms as an accidental means of deliberation that may violate Open Meeting Law.  They key portions of that Policy are:

'As elected public officials, School Committee members shall exercise caution when communicating between and among themselves via electronic messaging services including, but not limited to, electronic mail (e-mail), text messages, social media postings, internet web forums, and internet chat rooms.

Under the Open Meeting Law, deliberation by a quorum of members constitutes a meeting. Deliberation is defined as movement toward a decision including, but not limited to, the sharing of an opinion regarding business over which the Committee has supervision, control, or jurisdiction.  A quorum may be arrived at sequentially using electronic messaging without knowledge and intent by the author.'

With that background, I tread lightly into a proposed Use of Social Media Policy recommendation.  I see many benefits in such a policy, including but not limited to:

  1. Ability to distribute materials and a synopsis thereof, to the public where many gather to discuss a wide range of topics, from nail salon recommendations to national politics.  While materials are currently distributed via the district's Web Site and the Town's electronic archives, I have heard from many parents that they do not know where to find Policies, Meeting Minutes, Agendas, etc.  Further, there are often Agenda items that parents may want to participate in, but aren't sufficiently aware of due to this lack of knowledge and understanding.
  2. Ability to defuse potentially negative situations quickly.  Like it or not, occasionally Social Media takes on a life of its own.  Accidentally, somebody may post incorrect or incomplete information.  If designated School Committee members were able to respond, further agitation could likely be avoided.  This avoidance could clear up issues more quickly and enable School Committee meetings themselves to be more productive working on the business of the Schools.
  3. Ability to reach a broader audience.  While the current Superintendent Blog, as one example, has a lot of good information in it, it is primarily directed to the School Community.  There are many constituencies outside the School Community that may be interested in such information and a quick post and share on Facebook or some other such platform would make the information more available to the greater Reading community as a whole.
  4. Ability to publicly celebrate the good things that happen within the school district.  Whether it is the High Five at the High School or an exceptional Understanding Disabilities event at Parker or Coolidge, Social Media would allow the School Committee to celebrate many of the great things happening throughout the district.

I am under no delusion that such a change would be easy.  However, I have experienced frequently that what is easy isn't always what is best.  As such, I would propose the following as a starting point for this policy:

  1. The School Committee shall Rotate the Role(s) of Social Media Coordinator(s). This is proposal number one for two reasons.  First, if there is a rotation of Quorum - 1 School Committee members that contribute on a monthly basis to Social Media platforms, then the School Committee will avoid Open Meeting Law violations.  Further, it means that no one person will be overburdened with the job.  Second, by rotating, members can avoid any appearance of grandstanding or other such concerns that may have caused problems with other boards or committees in the past. Finally, this rotation can mimic the current "office hours" rotation that the School Committee performs and thus, doesn't have to be limited to the Chair.
  2. The School Committee shall Establish their own Facebook Page. As has been done in other towns (i.e. Woburn, Melrose and Pentucket Regional), the Facebook page provides a mechanism to reach out to the community for information distribution and celebratory posts.  Further, the fact that posts would be shareable makes it much easier to distribute information to other Facebook forums.
  3. The Policy shall Reference the Determinations from OML 2017-11, OML 2017-192 and OML 2018-145.

The intent of the proposal is to improve transparency between the School Committee, the Superintendent and their Constituent base.  I acknowledge the above will take some ironing out, but I believe the 'juice is worth the squeeze' to improve relationships, perceptions and the flow of information.

Links to Relevant Research

  1. Section A - Foundations and Basic Commitments where you will find Policy AB (The People and their School District).
  2. Section B - School and Governance where you will find Policy BBA  (School Committee Powers and Duties) and Policy BHE (Use of Electronic Messaging by School Committee Members).
  3. Initial Blog on Open Meeting Law Research
  4. Follow up Blog with Determinations from the Division of Open Government supporting the potential for this policy.

Minor Policy Change Recommendations

Policy on Curriculum Adoption


While I acknowledge that curriculum execution and alignment to State Standards is fully in the court of the Superintendent, I also know that the Budget is fully in the court of the School Committee.  As such, I believe this Policy needs to be changed to establish a process of expectations around Curriculum Implementation options to demonstrate adherence to Research Based principles and Fiscally Responsible and Sustainable Curriculum choices.

Policy on Textbook Selection


This policy needs two significant changes.  

First, it needs to specifically allow electronic material.  In this day and age, we don’t always use physical books and books can be more expensive to maintain.

Second, it must establish some guidelines for purchasing said materials to manage the impact on the budget that the School Committee is ultimately responsible for.

Policy on Library Resources


I would like to see this policy updated to reflect / make available another avenue for removal of withdrawn library resources.  While I don't expect it to be a large money maker in any way, adding the ability to sell withdrawn resources seems like a simple way to add money to the library resource replenishment funds.  Such a simple policy change may enable more regular refreshing of materials and/or enable a model of partial self sufficiency. 

Policy on School Day


This policy lacks expectations for approval of changes.  Recently, we were faced with a large change to the Start Time of RMHS.  While the School Committee approved that, it is my belief that a complete impact assessment, on other schools, the greater community, etc. was not executed sufficiently.  As such, I would like to see verbiage added to demonstrate the requirement for a complete impact assessment and community involvement of changes more than 15 minutes either way.

Policy on Basic Instructional Program


There is a very minor change I would suggest to this policy, but it aligns to the Parental Rights (and expectations) category.  Specifically, this policy implies that it is the responsibility of Reading Public Schools to equip students with good attitudes.  It is my firm belief that attitudes are set at home and attitudes detemine altitude.  I do agree that the School system can and should encourage good attitudes, but the equipping is a Parental responsibility.

Policy on Homebound Instruction


This policy needs to be updated to reflect current trends and practices in Education.  As an example, this policy does not allow for online learning if a child is homebound for some reason.  Such an option should be available to the family and child and is a very straight forward addition to the policy.  The budget impact of online resources is also minimal vs. additional local staff.

Another minor change necessary in this policy is the title change from Director of Pupil Services to Director of Student Services.