School budget pitch lacks world language, but sup’t looks at K-5 revamp, longer day
World language instruction in the elementary schools won’t be happening in the foreseeable future, according to the 2014-15 budget proposed by Superintendent Jeffrey Young at the School Committee’s special meeting Thursday. Instead, the proposed budget includes:
an additional $740,000 for more staff to meet higher kindergarten enrollment levels and higher required staffing levels for English-language learners.
$176,000 for after-school and summer programs for upper school students needing more support in the new dual math pathways for seventh and eighth grades.
$240,000 for continued “curriculum alignment,” including $75,000 in implementation of a new K-8 math curriculum.
and another $487,000 for a variety of other initiatives, much of it in the form of professional development with a little money thrown in for a communications director to “market the good news” about Cambridge public schools.
This $1.6 million increase will be paid for by significant savings expected from paying less tuition for out-of-district student placement (largely due to the development of a successful in-district autism program) and savings from retirements, including an early retirement incentive for four clerical positions.
The proposed budget remains balanced and meets the $156.7 million allowance provided by the city manager (representing a 3.8 percent increase over this year’s budget).
The meeting was solely for the superintendent’s proposal. School Committee members held off questions and comments until Tuesday, their next meeting. Dedicated to the budget, it will be televised and include public comment and committee member questions.
In his presentation, Young tantalizingly posted “Elementary World Language” at the bottom of a list of proposed initiatives to “Create an aligned curriculum and instruction system.” But when he got to that bullet point, he delivered what will be bad to news to many:
We’ve decided that we are not putting money into elementary world language at this time. The reason for that is, as we have said all along, time. We do not have enough time in the day to adequately provide a high-quality world language program while we have so many other things to do.
Re-imagining K-5 schools
He went on to set up what he clearly hopes is the Next Big Thing for Cambridge school policy: a complete reworking and “realignment” of the K-5 curriculum and approach.
“We want to try to move away from the piecemeal method of school change … We want to ask the School Committee to think about doing what we did with the upper schools [and take] a more holistic look,” he said. “What are our goals? What do we want kids to have learned and accomplished by fifth grade?”
School officials need to look at how to fit in new science and English language arts requirements and find the right level of recess, arts and music, he said, and appealed to the committee to help get a longer school day.
“I would be hopeful that part of that conversation would be a second pass at thinking about a different process we might use to commence a discussion about lengthening the school day. We would like to find a way to have a more open, transparent discussion with our staff and families about what we might be able to do with that extra time, how might those extra minutes help us with our goals and help us accommodate the many competing demands on too short a day.”
Other elements of the proposed budget include:
the cost of hiring a Spanish teacher for the Fletcher Maynard Academy.
replacing the library aide and technology assistant in the four buildings that share upper and elementary schools with a “library media specialist” dedicated to the upper school, with the existing librarian dedicated to the K-5 school.
a long-awaited reorganization of the Office of Student Services, recommended in the 2010 West Ed study, managed by new Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Victoria Greer and endorsed enthusiastically by the co-chairs of the city’s parent advisory council on special education.
costs incurred from ending the mixed grades at King Open and Olá, the Portuguese-English bilingual immersion program within King Open. This was presented as part of district support for Level 3 schools, meaning schools deemed underperforming based on MCAS scores. That includes the King Open and Kennedy-Longfellow elementary schools.
a partnership with the Today’s Students/Tomorrow’s Teachers nonprofit to increase staff diversity.
and implementing a Math in Focus K-8 math curriculum. The Math in Focus program is being tried this year, but there hasn’t been discussion of a formal study of the effectiveness of the pilot.
Professional development, no new high school hires
In an earlier presentation, Assistant Superintendent Jessica Huizenga said a significant portion of the cost of Math in Focus is for the 24 hours of professional development for each teacher needed to make the switch. Professional development funds were also proposed to address issues such as “cultural proficiency training,” “leadership development” (including hiring a consultant, Jon Saphier), “positive classroom management” and Response to Intervention expansion. Chris Colbath-Hess, president of the Cambridge Educators Association labor group, said she was not ready to comment on the specific proposals.
No new high school hires are in the budget. The superintendent expressed confidence the district can fix the problems of large class sizes for some high school classes with better scheduling, including moving to an automated system that will be driven by student demand for classes. He expects that this will lead to the appropriate number of sections to keep class size in check.
Finally, Mayor David Maher laid out a plan to keep the City Council abreast of issues in the budget and the process by which the committee reviews it. To avoid a repeat of last year’s decision by some councillors to delay a budget vote in large part because they felt insufficiently informed, Maher has scheduled an informal opportunity for councillors to meet school administration officials and a roundtable between the council and committee. The roundtable will be held at 6 p.m. March 31. Budget subcommittee co-chairman Richard Harding said he and fellow co-chairman Mervan Osborne have been talking with councillor and ex-committee member Marc McGovern about keeping the channels of communication open between the groups.