This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Report Shows Effects of Healthcare Costs on Schools

A new report by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and The Boston Foundation highlights the drastic effects that increases in health care costs have had on school systems across the state.

An article in the Boston Globe last week summarized the findings:
Hundreds of millions of dollars the state has provided to local school districts to improve classroom education has instead been gobbled up by soaring health care costs for school employees, according to a new report that questions whether Massachusetts has fulfilled the ambitious goals of its 1993 education reform law.

From 2000 to 2007, annual health care costs in school budgets grew by $1 billion, while state aid for schools grew by only $700 million ...

... Largely because of health care costs, school districts have been forced to make painful spending cuts, in books, teachers, and teacher training.
School advocacy groups such as Stand for Children hope the report can add fuel to the drive to pass legislation that would give local governments more power to trim employee health benefits without union approval.  Similar legislation again stalled in the state legislature last year.

Mayor Scanlon, who also serves as President of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, has been a strong voice in favor of "plan design" legislation. Scanlon stated last spring the nearly the entire amount of new spending in the city budget was used to pay for increases in health care costs.

Stand for Children, whose Beverly Chapter held its fall meeting and focus group last week, has identified this as one of the most important advocacy issues this year, saying in a letter to members:
This report underscores the importance of our continued advocacy for health benefit reform.  Thanks to your advocacy and the work of partner organizations, this issue continues to gain traction. With shrinking town and school budgets, we simply can’t afford to leave $100 million or more on the table.

We look forward to working with you in the coming months to ensure that city and town managers are given the tools they need to better manage health care costs in their communities. Providing good health benefits at a lower cost will allow us to save teaching positions and improve outcomes for students.
For information on how you can join Stand and help advocate for action on this issue, please contact Jim Povey.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Highs and Lows at Joint Session

For the first 90 minutes of last night's annual joint session of the School Committee & City Council, the audience at the Hannah School basked in the recent positive buzz the district has been enjoying.  The opening of the new academic building at the high school, winning educational grants, positive press on the school's technology program, and a seemingly successful NEASC accreditation visit has cast a generally positive light on the city's overall high school program.  Even the football team got into the act, winning a trip to this Saturday's Super Bowl.

Much of the early meeting centered around the high school, with Mayor Scanlon detailing a plan to ultimately build two artificial turf fields at the school, funded entirely with grants and private donations.

High School Principal Sean Gallagher gave a thorough presentation on a major Small Learning Communities grant that the high school recently won that will help to provide students with more personalized and supportive learning experiences.

Gallagher won praise from several members of the City Council, for his roll in winning the grant, as well as lowering the dropout rate, and successfully shepherding the school through the disruptive move to the new building all while hosting the NEASC accreditation team.

Superintendent Marie Galinski gave a presentation of the generally positive results of the recent strategic planning survey, and revealed the three top-level goals of the Stategic Planning Committee, which many members of the community have participated in.  The goals will be further detailed at next Wednesday's School Committee meeting.

But then things crashed back to earth with a thud as Special Education Director Debra O'Connor gave her presentation on the mass of regulation and requirements that is Special Education, and the precarious position SPED has placed the current year's budget in.

Today's Salem News story on the meeting, Special Education Costs Breaking Budget, focuses solely on O'Connor's presentation:
The schools have already overspent their contingency budget for special education students this year, placing the entire school budget in a precarious position, City Council and School Committee members were told last night.

Sixteen students that the district had not planned on receiving special education services now require those services, at a cost of $631,459, said Debra O'Connor, special education services administrator.

"That's huge. I've never seen this before," ... We've overspent the contingency budget by about $200,000. When it's November and I come up with numbers like this, it makes me nervous."

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa said the school district has "frozen our budget" to compensate for the unexpected special education costs.

"There's no place left for us to go," Cesa said. "Should this trend continue over the school year, we are in trouble."
O'Connor detailed the "vicious cycle" that state and federal SPED regulations and unfunded mandates, coupled with decreasing support from other support agencies, causes within the district.

The regulations result in many health and mental-health issues being passed onto the schools because they are mandated to deal with any issues even remotely related to a child's education. The schools, she says, become the support agency of last resort.

O'Connor says this forces more general education money to be diverted to SPED, which, in turn, can cause even more of the general school population to fall behind and require SPED intervention. 
Just this week, O'Connor said, four students required psychiatric hospitalization. Beverly is required to pay tutors by the hour to teach the students in the hospital.

O'Connor said schools are required by law to pay for special education services for students from ages 3 to 22 who qualify. The number of special education preschool students has tripled in the last 10 years, she said.
Twenty percent of Beverly students qualify for some type of special education services.

All three of last night's Powerpoint presentations are linked in the relevant sections above.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Panthers are Super Bowl Bound

Exciting day for Beverly High School students today.  Classes were held in the new academic building for the first time this morning, and this evening in Lynn the school's football team put on a dominant perfomance in their first playoff game in 22 years.

The Panther's beat the Scituate Sailors by a score of 41-14 to earn a trip to the Super Bowl  this Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

The team will take on the undefeated Somerset Blue Raiders at 11:00 am this Saturday at Gillette.

As the Salem News stated last week, its a good month to be a Panther.

City Council & School Committtee to Meet Thursday

There will be a joint City Council and School Committee meeting this Thursday at the Hannah School. The meeting is one of an occasional series of joint sessions where the two bodies can discuss issues of concern to both the city and the schools.

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa tell us that the agenda for the meeting includes Buildings & Grounds consolidation, the turf field proposal at BHS, community learning grant at BHS, special education updates, and details on the district's strategic plan.

The meeting begins at 7pm and the public is urged to attend.

12/1 UPDATE: Today's Salem News has more details on the agenda for the meeting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Leaders Celebrate City's New Flagship

More than 100 school, city, and state leaders gathered this morning outside the library of the gleaming new Beverly High School to usher in a new era of education in Beverly.

The ribbon cutting ceremony was led by a jubilant Mayor Scanlon, who State leaders gave the bulk of the credit for making the project a reality.

State Treasurer Tim Cahill and Massachusetts School Building Authority director Katherine Craven praised the Mayor's tenacity in keeping the project on track, and ultimately getting the state to fund nearly 60% of the project.

Past and present School Committee and City Council members, academic and parent leaders from across the city, and others with some connection to the project, all joined together in what had to be the most celebratory moment in recent Beverly education history.

The project has been in the works for nearly 20 years, and seeing the successful results of that effort gave attendees a sense of pride, not just in the new building, but in the many positive aspects of the district's programs that are often overlooked in times of budget turmoil.

Former Superintendent Hayes, who managed so many of the details of the buildout, joined in the festivities, and current Superintendent Marie Galinski called the new school the "flagship of our educational program."  Galinski talked about the recognition that has already been given to the school's technology program, as just one of several recent accolades the district has earned.

Following the ceremony, high school students—clearly excited about next week's move to the new facility—led small group tours of the new building.

The building will be open for the public to tour Saturday from 10:00am-1:00 pm.  Take some time to see it, and appreciate the work and dedication by so many that went into making it a reality.

10/20 UPDATE: Here are reports on the ceremony from the Globe's YourTown:Beverly, and the Salem News. The News' story details some of the features of the new facility.
The new four-story building features chemistry, physics and computer labs; a conference room with a state-of-the-art sound system; an art wing with rooms for music, chorus and cooking; and half-size "special learning centers" for classes such as English as a Second Language.

The top three floors each include an assistant principal's office and a carpeted teachers' lounge with a kitchenette. On the first floor is a computer tech support room where students can bring their laptop computers for repairs. The chorus and band rooms feature "sound cloud" ceiling panels that enhance acoustics.
The News also had an editorial praising the project, and produced the following video featuring highlights of the ceremony.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New BHS Set for Public Unveiling

An official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at the new Beverly High School this Friday at 9:00 am for city leaders and invited guests.

This week's Beverly Citizen has details of the ceremony.
The ceremony will begin with a greeting by Mayor Scanlon, which will be followed by remarks by Superintendent Galinski, High School Principal Sean Gallagher, School Committee President Annemarie Cesa and City Council President, Michael Cahill.

The Beverly High School strings ensemble and Chorus will perform and students representing all four classes at the high school will take guests on a tour of the building.
The public is also invited to tour the new school on Saturday from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm.  Current high school students will serve as tour guides.

Students will move into the new academic space on Tuesday, November 30th.

The opening of the school, after more than a decade of planning, has energized a school community that has endured several tough budget seasons and school consolidations in recent years.  While most expect another tough budget season next spring, the successful completion of what will be the showpiece of the district is clearly something to celebrate.

Photo (cc) by Nicole Goodhue Boyd/Beverly Citizen and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Survey Says...!

The results of the strategic planning survey are now posted on the district's website.  The survey was conducted earlier this fall, and includes responses from over 3000 community residents, staff members, and students on the effectiveness and relative importance of the district's services.

Items covered in the survey include student achievement, academic programs, school operations, student support, and school culture. Items identified as most critical for the strategic plan include.
  • Closing the Achievement Gap
  • Math and Science Proficiency
  • Teacher Recruitment and Retention
  • Professional Development for Teachers
  • Class Size
  • Extra Help for Students Who Have Difficulty with Schoolwork
  • Diversity Awareness and Appreciation
The survey results are being used in the district's ongoing strategic planning process, which is currently being conducted.

11/16 UPDATE: Today's Salem News has a good overview of the survey results, and highlights the vast disparity of opinion between students, and their parents, particularly when asked what areas were most important.
Parents, teachers and students were also asked to rate the importance of each area. Overall, the vast majority of respondents — more than 80 percent on average for all 27 categories — thought Beverly schools were either "effective" or "extremely effective." Most parents (68 percent) and staff (72 percent) also thought areas such as math and science proficiency and class size were "highly important." The majority of students did not. In averaging each of the 27 categories, only 44 percent of Beverly students considered the issues "highly important," according to the survey.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Voices Urge No Vote on Question 3

The above video features Briscoe teacher Jess Lague speaking out against ballot Question 3, which would roll back the state income tax to 3%.

School advocates, along with most city and state leaders, strongly oppose the measure which estimates say could take $823,000 out of the Beverly school budget, and as much as $2.5 million out of the total city budget next year.

Earlier this month, the Beverly School Committee officially announced their opposition to the measure, and Mayor Scanlon has also been a strong voice of opposition.

All of the Gubernatorial candidates, including Republican Charlie Baker, oppose the measure, as does Democratic State Rep Candidate Jerry Parisella.

And today Brett Schetzsle, the Republican Candidate for State Representative, who had stated previously that he was undecided on Question 3, issued a statement saying that he would "personally vote 'no' on Question 3." (Schetzsle, like Parisella, says that if elected and required to vote officially on the matter, he will honor the will of Beverly voters.)

Schetzsle states that he agrees with the sentiment behind the measure, but:
I do not believe that cutting the sales tax to 3% and have it take effect mid-year is the right way to deliver that message....

Unfortunately, the majority party on Beacon Hill has shown time and again that cities and towns are easy targets for devastating cuts without receiving some of the badly needed tools to control employment costs. In the short term, I see massive local aid cuts as the solution that they would pursue and it would result in ugly consequences here in Beverly.
When the Republican candidates, whose primary campaign message is cutting government spending and reducing taxes, say that this is too "drastic" a step, then its a pretty clear signal that, no matter your views on state government, this is a potentially devastating initiative.

Please join all of us who care about education in voting no on Question 3, and urging others to do the same. Even with all these voices opposing the measure, recent polls have indicated that it has a better than even chance of passing.

10/26 UPDATE: Today's Salem News, while endorsing Republican Charlie Baker for Governor, still endorses a NO Vote on Question 3, saying:
Beacon Hill has no one but itself to blame for the fact that a question with potentially catastrophic consequences is on the ballot this November.
Question 3 would roll back the sales tax from the Legislature-approved rate of 6.25 percent to an unreasonable 3 percent. Those going to the polls next Tuesday should vote no, but at the same time vote out politicians who refuse to take the difficult steps necessary to get the cost of government in Massachusetts under control.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

State Rep Candidates Debate Tonight in the Cove

The two State Representative candidates, Democrat Jerry Parisella and Republican Brett Schetzsle will debate for a final time tonight at the Cove Community Center starting at 7:00 pm.

This is a race that is of great interest to school advocates, because many of the budget issues that have plagued Beverly schools for the past several years have their source, or potential solution, on Beacon Hill.  Municipal health care reform, Local aid cuts, Chapter 70 reform and MCAS standards, are all issues on which the next State Rep could have an impact.

The two held their first debate last night at the Memorial Building, and, compared to the previous week's contentious Congressional debate and the current tone of American politics, it was a dose of sanity—a generally intelligent and thoughtful debate about the issues.

As the Republican, Schetzsle is clearly much stronger in his criticism of Beacon Hill policies and the need for reform, but on some educational issues such as charter schools, the two seem to agree (both generally support the concept, but don't feel that a charter school would be good for Beverly at this point). On other issues such as the recent decision to adopt new Federal testing standards over the current MCAS system, their positions again diverge.

Some in the school community worry about Schetzsle's position on Questions 3, which most strongly oppose (Schetzsle states that he is undecided on how he will vote himself, but if elected will support the will of Beverly voters), and his blanket no new taxes pledge.

But most acknowledge the need for reform at the statehouse, and worry about the heavily Democratic legislature's ability to ever make any progress on municipal health care reform or "plan design" which the unions generally oppose. Many see plan design as the best way to get a handle on the spiraling health care costs that are paralizing the city and school budget. Parisella has seemed less that fully supportive of the concept at times.

The Boston Globe has posted a questionaire with answers from both candidates that further illuminate their positions on the issues.

Last night's debate, as well as hour-long interviews with both candidates will be running repeatedly on BevCam between now and the November 2nd election. Check here for the latest schedule.

All independent-mined voters who care about education should give both sides a fair hearing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is a New Middle School Still on the Horizon?

With a new $81 million high school just nearing completion and the district's operating budget facing annual multi-million-dollar deficits, any hope of a new middle school has seemed, at best, a distant dream.

But according to today's Salem News, the prospect is still alive, and the current batch of newborns at Beverly Hospital could see it in time for their middle school years in 2020.

Mayor Scanlon discussed it recently as part of his long-range capital expenditure plan.
The project would cost an estimated $33 million, a price Scanlon called "very much a ballpark number." Scanlon said he is assuming the state would pay half the cost. The city would sell the current Briscoe Middle School and use the proceeds to help pay for the project.

Scanlon acknowledged that spending on new projects "must be quite modest for several years" due to the debt the city is taking on for the nearly completed $81 million high school project.

But, he wrote, "a review of existing debt runoff indicates the middle school project would be initiated in five years and proceed through design and construction to be complete by FY (fiscal year) 2020."

Scanlon said the Memorial site is the best choice for a middle school because it has 17 acres, three times more than Briscoe, and the building is newer. The Memorial Building was a middle school until 2005, when the city consolidated into one middle school at Briscoe. Memorial is now used to house school and city offices and Northshore Recovery High School.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

High School Accreditation Process Begins

This week's Beverly Citizen reports on the upcoming evaluation of the high school by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which will begin this month. A committee of 15 educators will visit the school October 17-20 to begin their evaluation.

The high school has been on probationary status since 2003, primarily due to the condition of the building, which NEASC said "was interfering with students’ learning."  The designation was the driving force behind the city's decision to build a new school (or academic wing), which was authorized by the City Council in a March 2006 vote.

Superintendent Galinski says the district had hoped that the visit could be postponed until after students were in the new building (currently scheduled for late November), but that wasn't feasible. She says the group will hold meetings in, and tour the new facility, however.

High School Principal Sean Gallagher describes the accreditation visit to the Citizen:
"As part of the evaluation, the visiting committee will meet with all school constituents, review the school's self-study, visit a number of classes and examine examples of student work submitted by the school... During the comprehensive self-study, the faculty attempted to identify the school's strengths and determined those areas in which changes would be beneficial.”
Further details from the Citizen article:
School Committee Vice Chairman Maria Decker said the school will be evaluated in seven key areas: core values, beliefs and learning expectations; curriculum; instruction; assessment of and for student learning; school culture and leadership; school resources for learning; and community resources for learning.

“They come for the visit, then send follow-up comments with a two-year report after that, and we will do a progress report after a couple of years. It’s a 10-year cycle,” Decker said. “It’s a circle of constantly assessing who you really are. There’s always room for improvement, and we evaluate ourselves.”...

“We have every optimism that the probation will be lifted, since we have a brand new building,” Galinski said. ...

“The BHS staff has been working on the accreditation for over a year. Many staff members have been active on many of the various committees set up,” School Committee Chairwoman Annemarie Cesa said. “I am sure that the accreditation team will be impressed by the quality of education our students are getting here in Beverly.”
While past accreditation issues have been due mainly to the condition of the building, there was one point during last year's budget debate that the School Committee worried that proposed teacher cuts at the high school could jeopardize the school's academic standing.  Subsequently, many of those cuts were restored or otherwise mitigated.

BHS Wins Grant

In other BHS news, the Salem News reports  that the school has won a grant that could total as much as $2 million over the next few years from the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the News, the Smaller Learning Communities grant, "will help the school provide students with more personalized and supportive learning experiences."
Most of it will be spent on teacher training. The training will focus on different styles of learning and how teachers can meet the needs of all types of students, [Superintendent Marie] Galinski said.
Some money will go toward developing a "Freshman Academy" to help them make the transition from middle school, Galinski said. The money will also bolster the existing 8.5 program, a summer program that helps just graduated eighth-grade students make the transition to high school. Teachers will also get training on the school's 1 to 1 laptop initiative, a controversial new plan to have every student have an Apple laptop in school by September of next year.
The school is guaranteed  $756,000 for each of the next two years, and then must reapply to receive the remainder of the funds.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Waiting for "Superman"

My name is Julie DeSilva. I have been invited by SBS to post about education issues from time to time.

Recently I attended the Massachusetts premiere of the documentary Waiting for "Superman." Kris Silverstein and Deb Ploszay attended with me. The next day we shared some of our thoughts with the City Council, the School Committee, school administrators, and many concerned Beverly parents.

Following is an email we sent to this group to give more information about the movie, to share some information that was shared with us, and to keep the conversation going about this movie and the state of public education today. I hope you will see the movie and continue the conversation here!
We are happy to have heard from many of you with questions, comments, and information sharing regarding our thoughts after seeing Waiting for "Superman." First, many of you wanted to know where the movie is playing. It will be playing at Hollywood Hits in Danvers starting October 8.

For those of you who don't know, the movie looks at particular children in New York, LA, and DC. Fortunately for our children public education in these cities doesn't look the same here in Beverly. In Beverly the problems are fewer and different but the big problem is the same. The way we fund public education doesn't work and is unsustainable. We want to be clear that we left that movie feeling grateful for the education offered students here in Beverly. We want to see the quality of education preserved and enhanced here, and we want our kind of quality education for all children across the nation!

Attached are three documents:
  • a Public Education Funding brief from the Mass Budget and Policy Center—this is long and exciting reading, but even if you just flip through the figures, you will get the picture
  • a toolkit from the National School Boards Association
  • some talking points specifically created for this movie from the American Association of School Administrators
You should also read about a success story right here in Massachusetts that shows real change can happen through determination, teamwork, and a focus on the basics.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vote for Education

As this website is generally supportive of Stand for Children, we wholeheartedly endorse their Pledge to Vote for Education campaign, and join them in urging voters to reject Question 3, which would further decimate the state budget by rolling back the sales tax to 3%, making the already critical budget issues in Beverly even worse.

We were a bit stumped and disappointed, however, in reading their Voter Guide to the Gubernatorial election.  The promotion for the piece goes to great measures to be nonpartisan and comprehensive, stating:
We know that education is a top priority for you when you enter the voting booth and we want to help you make an informed decision when you cast your vote for Governor on November 2, 2010.
In order to help you make educated decisions and vote for the person you feel has the strongest education platform, we’ve created this Voter Guide.
But once you open the Voter Guide, the cover of which continues the nonpartisan pitch, you are presented with the answers to 10 questions on education, the first line of every answer being "Baker: No response received."

With the race a dead heat, and education figuring strongly in our vote, it would have been nice if Charlie Baker had taken the time to fill out the questionaire, or if Stand had made some extra effort to get his responses before publishing the book.

As a former member of the Massachusetts Board of Education, Baker has had plenty to say about education throughout the campaign, and a detailed comparison of all the candidates' positions would have truly helped voters make an educated decision.

Stand also neglected to request answers from independent Jill Stein, which could have added to the debate.

You can get half the story, at least, by reading detailed responses from Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill.

10/5 UPDATE: Some shocking estimates from Mayor Scanlon on the impact of Question 3.  According to today's the Salem News, Scanlon estimates that the city would lose "at least 50 municipal jobs," if voters approve the sales tax reduction measure. The ballot question is opposed by all four of the candidates for Governor, but in recent polls it stood a better than even chance of passing.

10/18 UPDATE: As the officials who would have to deal most directly with the local ramifications of a sales tax cut, its no surprise that the School Committee has also taken a stand urging a NO vote on Question 3.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Elementary PTOs Team Up for Fun Run

In the first-of-a-kind joint fundraising event, the PTOs of the 5 elementary schools are teaming up to sponsor the first annual Fall Frolic 5K & Fun Run. The event will be held on Sunday, October 17, 2010 at Lynch Park, and follow the Homecoming race route. See the above link for more information, or register online. Registration fee prior to September 30th is $20, and goes up to $25 after the 30th.

You can also contact Race Director Shari Hewson for more information.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Strategic Planning Survey

In conjunction with the district's strategic planning process, which several of the contributors to this website are participating in, the administration has prepared a survey that it would like all members of the community to participate in.  The survey is now live on the district website, and will be open until Friday, October 15th.

Dr. Galinski has also posted a letter of explanation on the district website, some of which is excerpted here:
Beverly Public Schools is conducting a system-wide survey as part of its strategic planning process. The survey will help guide the district leaders on what they do and why they do it over a specific period of time. ...

Results of the survey will be posted to our website by the end of November.

A diverse community like ours is stronger when everyone shares their ideas. Thank you for taking the time to participate in our survey. 

Thank you for taking time to give us your input!
We will also post updates on this site as the process proceeds.

10/1 UPDATE: Today's Salem News has a story on the Strategic Planning Committee

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Literacy Program to be National Model

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday named a literacy program launched in Beverly as "one of the most innovative programs in the country," and announced that it will use the program as a model for other school districts, according to today's Salem News.

Despite the News' very misleading headline that states "Beverly literacy program given $5M from state before later informing readers that "Beverly will not receive any of the $5 million," the recognition of the program is still noteworthy.

The results of the program, titled the Data Driven School Transformation Partnership, have been impressive since it was launched in Beverly five years ago. According to the News:
"Our internal data has shown that (reading) scores have improved," [Superintendent Marie] Galinski said in an interview. "Elementary school students are coming into middle school at a higher reading level than they were three years ago."

According to the data, 78 percent of fifth-grade students read at grade level or better three years ago. Now, 87 percent do. 

Beverly pays for the program using Title 1 funds, which are funds given to a school district based on the number of free or reduced lunch students it has. 

"I am sure that the success of the program in helping to turn around our two schools and reducing the achievement gap was a major factor in the decision by the Department of Education to select DSTP as a national model," Galinski said in a statement about the grant. 
Out of nearly 1,700  proposals that were submitted, the program, developed by the Bay State Reading Institute, was one of only 49 selected.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

District MCAS Scores Still Lag in AYP

District MCAS scores were released by the state today, and as Dr. Galinski indicated in a memo to parents last week, Beverly continues to rate as "needs improvement" in the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) ratings in both Math and English in certain student subgroups. The district was newly identified last year as needing improvement in these areas, and this year's report indicates that no improvement was made in English, and "improvement below target" in Math. 

In last week's memo Galinski stated:
This designation is based upon a compilation of MCAS scores for Mathematics and ELA [English Language Arts] in all grades and all schools in the district and to the degree students in the schools have attained participation, performance, attendance and graduation goals. This information indicates that more work is needed by principals, teachers and parents to ensure that all students are successful.

The district will be revising the district improvement plan to address the reasons for low student performance in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) for the identified student subgroups.
While the overall (aggregate) student population in the district did make AYP,  many individual schools also missed that target in English and/or Math. The accountability ratings for each individual school is as follows:

Ayers/Ryal Side
North Beverly
Briscoe Middle School
Beverly High School

The ratings show that all schools except Cove and Hannah currently have some degree of AYP status issues; all schools except Hannah and BHS missed the aggregate AYP this year in either Math or English; and only Hannah met AYP in both aggregate and all subgroups in both Math and English. While Cove failed to meet AYP in Math this year, it takes two consecutive years of missed AYP to trigger any warning status.

An explanation of the accountability ratings can be found here, and Dr. Galinski gave a detailed presentation on the assessment process, and the increasing difficulty of making AYP at last year's State of the Schools program.

The Boston Globe also has an overview on the results which suggests that Beverly is not unique, and casts a critical eye on the ratings system itself.
Fifty-seven percent of the state's schools are failing to measure up under federal achievement standards, education officials announced this afternoon. ...

...The state also announced that 123 school districts, including 32 independently run public charter schools, failed to meet test score targets under No Child Left Behind.

State education officials have expressed frustration that the No Child Left Behind Law is forcing them to give so many schools negative designations, believing that many of the schools are providing solid academic programs. Many local school officials say it's unrealistic to expect that 100 percent of children, regardless of learning disabilities and fluency in English, will score proficient.
Look for more detail and analysis of these numbers in the coming days.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beverly High PTSO to Hold Annual Fundraiser

The BHS Parent Teacher Student Organization has asked us to post the following notice for their upcoming fundraiser. With the opening of the new building less than 3 months away, all Beverly parents—even those of elementary school students—should take an interest in what is happening at the high school, and show their support:
Beverly High’s Parent Teacher Student Organization will celebrate the momentous opening of the new building with their only fundraiser for the year - a Golf Outing & Dinner/Auction Social.  This event will be held Thursday, October 14 at the Beverly Golf & Tennis Club with golf beginning at 12:30pm and dinner/auction/social at 5:30pm.

This is an exciting time for all citizens! Founded in 1858, BHS has a proud tradition of educating the children of Beverly. Enrolling almost 1300 students, BHS offers strong academic programs with over 92% of students going on to two or four year colleges.  BHS was listed in the September 2010 issue of Boston Magazine on their "Honor Roll" for accomplishments in technology.

We need your help!  Please consider a sponsorship or donation to support Beverly High School.  From student arts & enrichment, school library resources, science and technology programs, enhanced teaching resources, guest speakers, career seminars and college fairs, proceeds will benefit all students.

Sponsorships (see attached form)
  • Platinum ~ Prominent event signage plus Leader Board Display! Golf foursome (includes greens fees, cart, dinner and BHS golf shirts for party), four green/tee signs, two cart signs and full page program ad. $1200
  • Gold ~ Golf foursome (includes greens fees, cart, dinner and BHS golf shirts for party), two green/tee signs, one cart sign and ½ page program ad. $800
  • Silver ~ Golf foursome plus one green/tee sign.  $575
  • Green/Tee ~ Display a sign on the course featuring your business, family or student(s).  Name listed in program.  $125
Donate and Attend
  • Auction Items ~ Sporting tickets, gift certificates, weekend getaways, case of wine, gift baskets, golf items – new items of any value are welcome!
  • Cash ~ Make checks payable to “BHS PTSO” c/o Kathy Carnevale, 19 Paramatta Rd, Beverly
  • Individual golf/dinner.  $125
  • Dinner/Auction/Social only (begins 5:30pm).  $35
Join us Thursday, October 14, at Beverly Golf and Tennis Club
We are grateful for your support and look forward to a terrific year in our new building!
You can view the full brochure for these events here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Understanding State Education Funding

UPDATE: The location of Monday's Stand event has changed to North Reading Middle School, 19 Sherman Road.

Even those of us who follow the school budget process closely, often find it difficult to make sense of what goes on at the Statehouse, and understand how decisions made there affect Beverly schools.

If you'd like to learn more, the Beverly chapter of Stand for Children is cosponsoring a forum titled Politics, Policy, and Campaigns on Monday, September 20.  The event, held in conjunction with several other Massachusetts Stand communities will be held at the at the Flint Memorial Library, 147 Park St. in North Reading (6:30 PM: Welcome and Refreshments, 7-9 PM: Program)

Join other Beverly Stand members and learn about the funding and policy issues that impact children’s education in Massachusetts, and how you can have a role influencing the key decisionmakers.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Kris Silverstein to RSVP, or with questions. Also please indicate in your message if you'd like to car pool.

On a related topic, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a research group that analyzes the state budget, has just released a report titled Public School Funding in Massachusetts: Where We Are, What Has Changed, and How We Compare to Other States.

The report provides a detailed looks at the statistics surrounding education funding, and reports several key findings.
  • Massachusetts ranks high in per-pupil spending but ranks low in total education spending as a percentage of the state economy. 
  • Massachusetts continues to rank low in state funding as a percentage of the total economy, although this percentage increased steadily during the mid to late 1990s.
  • Massachusetts schools rely heavily on local funding sources. 
If you are a budget junkie, it's worth a read.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Class Size Update

Here are the most recent enrollment figures for the district.  These were compiled as of mid-August, and may have changed slightly since then, but generally show where the trouble spots are.  Large class sizes are one or the main concerns of school advocates, and an issue we highlighted often during the Spring budget process.

The district's largest elementary class size is 29 in the Hannah 4th grade [disclosure: this blogger's son happens to be in this class], followed by 28.5 in the Ayers 5th grade.  These were two of the classes that were affected by the open-enrollment pushback plan devised by former Superintendent Hayes.

North Beverly 5th grade ranks 3rd with an average of 27.7 students per class.

All other classes seem to fall at or below 25.

One of the strategic plan focus groups meeting this fall will focus on the issue of class size.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Boston Magazine Highlights BHS Technology Program

While its customary to see our neighbors in Hamilton-Wenham and Manchester on Boston Magazine's annual best schools list, this year Beverly earns a spot in the issue as well.

In a sidebar titled Best Schools 2010: The Honor Roll, the magazine highlights "standout programs that prepare kids for life beyond the classroom"

Beverly High receives a nod for its Technology program, about which Boston Magazine says:
Picture this: every student working wirelessly on a Mac laptop in a new building. Teachers using Wikis to post assignments, give feedback, and encourage discussion online. Assessments that aren’t just term papers, but 21st-century ways to demonstrate knowledge — blogs, documentaries, PowerPoint presentations, and podcasts. It’s about to happen at Beverly High, which this September becomes the first school in eastern Massachusetts to require every incoming freshman to have a laptop. (Thanks to a deal with Apple, students can purchase, rent, or borrow a computer.) The school teaches everything from basic computing literacy to AutoCAD, the design-industry standard. And it also trains students to provide tech support to peers. Kyle Sweeney, Beverly class of ’07, says that experience helped him get into college. “It taught me communication and problem-solving skills better than any class.”
Interestingly there is not a mention of the controversy that erupted over this same program last Spring.

Back to School

As Beverly students return to the classroom, the Salem News has a front page story on the upcoming school year in Beverly. 

A few new budget details that are of interest:

Of the 31 positions that were cut in last spring's budget cuts, almost six were able to be added back because of an end of year surplus in last year's budget.  Restored positions include two middle school teachers, a high school teacher, an elementary school aide and a clerk.

The story also confirms the numbers in our previous post regarding new Federal funding programs. Superintendent Marie Galinski says most of the money will likely be saved to help with next year's budget. Anticipating another tough budget season next year, many districts seem to be taking this approach with the federal money.

The story also reports that the new high school is on track to open at the end of November.  The school will also begin an accreditation renewal process this fall.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Massachusetts Wins "Race to the Top" Funding

Massachusetts today was named one of ten state winners in the second round of the federal Race to the Top education funding program.  The state will receive $250 million in additional federal education dollars over the next four years. The Boston Globe has the story here and the Herald here.

While the announcement was hailed by most officials on both sides of the political aisle, the decision several weeks ago to adopt new federal standards over the current state MCAS system—which is seen as a key element in the state's victory—has been criticized by some as short-sighted.

In fact, an analysis on the Globe's education blog, written by Pioneer Institute Director Jim Stergios does a pretty good job of dumping a pail of ice water on any victory celebration.

Even so, the Race to the Top victory coming on the heals of last week's passage of a federal stimulus bill directed largely at saving teaching jobs, offers a ray of hope for new funding sources to help offset this year's cuts and what is expected to be another very tough budget season in Beverly next year.

8/25 UPDATE:  Today's Salem News has the local angle on the Race to the Top program, and reports that Beverly will receive $360,392 over four years.

The Globe also has more details on Beverly's share of the education stimulus funds. According to a spreadsheet that accompanies the story, Beverly schools will receive an additional $390,187 in funding from this stimulus (not to be confused with the Race to the Top funds).  This is one time money that the district can use this year, or save for next, according the the Globe.

9/2 UPDATE: The Beverly Citizen has some more specifics on Beverly's plan for the money.

Friday, July 23, 2010

School Advocates Follow State Rep Race

With many of the fiscal problems facing Beverly Schools originating at the State House, many school activists are turning their attention to the race to fill the seat of retiring Representative Mary Grant. If next year is going to be any less painful than early indications show, it will only be through action on municipal health care reform, a reversal of local aid cuts, or other reform on Beacon Hill.

The race for Beverly's seat pits two Democrats, Scott Houseman and Jerry Parisella—who will face off in a primary September 14—against Republican Brett Schetzsle in the November election. Earlier this month the Boston Globe had an overview of the race.

All three candidates touch on the above issues in their campaign literature, but voters will have to decide which of them can be the strongest voice for Beverly.

Here is what the three candidates say on their websites about the issues involving education:

Nothing is more basic to parents and the community at large than the quality of our public education system. There is a direct link between the health of our economy, budget reform, and funding for our children’s education. Without a strong economy and sound fiscal policies, funding for our schools is always threatened. Our children will work in a globally competitive world. They will need to learn the fundamental analytical and problem-solving skills to be successful and be the next generation of leaders. Scott will work on:
  • Restoring local aid and Chapter 70 education funding
  • Supporting public-private initiatives to education funding
  • Seeking more sustainable, predictable funding mechanisms for education funding
  • Supporting the mission of our public colleges and universities to provide quality, affordable education
With his daughter Sophia preparing to enter first grade, Jerry understands one of the most essential functions of our state and local government is providing quality public education. He is grateful for the quality public education he received growing up in Beverly, and will support efforts to improve quality in the system for today’s youth.

Jerry understands that local aid cuts have put a burden on our City, as it tries to provide top-notch education with dwindling financial resources. Beverly receives less local aid today than it did in 2001, yet costs continue to rise. Jerry will fight to restore local aid and Chapter 70 education funds. Jerry will also work with our city leaders to ensure the high school and new vocational school receive the reimbursements promised by the state.
Massachusetts is home to many prestigious colleges and universities, attracting students from around the world. Yet, tuition costs are out of reach for most local families. With a stepson, Chris, who is a sophomore at the University of Arizona, Jerry understands how expensive college can be, and Jerry himself worked in construction for several years to save money to enroll at Emerson College, and eventually go to Law School. Jerry supports our public colleges and universities in their efforts to provide high quality education affordable to all.
Education has played a large role in helping to provide the opportunities I have had in my life and I know the same will be true for my children and the children of this community. That's why I'm committed to actively working on education issues and why I volunteer at both Briscoe Middle School and North Beverly Elementary School.

Since the state's landmark education reform in the early 1990's, Massachusetts kids have vaulted to the head of the class compared to kids from other states. Not only must we keep them there, but we must be certain that Beverly's kids are equipped to compete with kids not only from Marblehead, Danvers and Salem, but from Moscow, New Delhi and Shanghai.

To do that, we know that high standards and independent oversight work for Massachusetts.

However, in recent legislative sessions, there has been a steady erosion of independent oversight, of the demand for high standards and a lack of commitment to fixing the Chapter 70 funding formula.

That erosion has now reached a critical point with the recent action by the Governor's hand-picked education commissioner recommending a move away from the proven standards created by our state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education when it was an independent policy-making body motivated by the needs of our students and not by politics.

Specifically, in education, I will actively pursue these things:
  • I will support local aid and Chapter 70 policies that don’t short-change our cities and towns. I believe that our state tax money is better spent in local schools than wasted on Beacon Hill and that the legislature should not adopt new, unfunded mandates for our school districts.
  • I will support maintaining our state's ability to chart its own course on education standards and continue to be able to lead the country in education achievement.
  • I will support a return for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to an independent policy-making body and restoring the independent overseers of education accountability in the state.
  • I will support adding personal finance classes to our high school curricula to prepare our kids for the realities of mortgages, bank accounts, car loans and household budgets.
  • I will focus on keeping college costs within reach for families by ensuring that our state colleges and universities are run without waste and that private schools are able to use their endowments to provide financial aid and not fund state government.
Aside from the earlier Globe story, press coverage of the race to this point has been minimal, although Schetzsle plays the social media game well. Some of his recent statements critical of the Patrick administration's decision to abandon MCAS in favor of new Federal standards have been covered in the hyperlocal press.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Panther Reigns at New BHS

While this has little or no significance compared to the serious issues facing the district in the next few years, the BHS logo debate was a media sensation earlier this spring, and because of our personal involvement with the project, we thought it worth sharing the final result with you. This is the actual terrazzo panther logo, which is currently being installed at the new high school.

The logo was precast offsite, and is shown here in position in the new school's lobby. The terrazzo flooring that has already been set in other areas of the building will be poured in the area around the logo, and then polished smooth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Strategic Planning Committee Seeks Participants

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa has asked us to post the following notice regarding the district's Strategic Planning Committee, which will begin its work this Fall.
Superintendent Marie Galinski and the Beverly School Committee are in the beginning stages of developing a Strategic Plan for the school district.  It is important to determine where the district will be moving in the next few years and how we are going to get there, while understanding the fiscal realities ahead.  It is our goal that the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) includes a wide and diverse representation of the Beverly community, including: parents, school staff and administrators from all levels, alumni, high school students, major benefactors, and business and general community representatives.

There are many ways to be a part of this process.  We are looking for people to serve on the large Strategic Planning Committee, one of 4 working sub-committees, or attend Focus groups that will take place throughout the city early this fall.  The large SPC committee will meet bi-weekly over a 6 to 9 month period beginning in September.

In addition to the large SPC group, there will be active sub-committees who will be tasked with gathering and reviewing data and information that will be used to help set and prioritize goals and objectives, as well as strategies for achieving them.  Subcommittees, who will also meet bi-weekly beginning in September, will be formed around the areas of investigating:
  • Class size
  • Facilities usage
  • Consolidation/outsourcing
  • Technology. 
Please join us in this important endeavor by contacting Donna Bergeron at (subject Strategic Planning Committee) before August 10, 2010.  Tell us a little about yourself and on which committee you would like to be placed.  Please include your:
  • Demographic background and contact information
  • Role in the community (parent, employee, alumni, business member, etc.)
  • Statement of prior school district committee experience
  • Statement of any expertise you have that would be brought to the SPC
  • Availability and commitment for meetings
We will follow the progress of the committee as it develops its plan for the future of the district.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Galinski Settles in to New Role

New Superintendent Dr. Marie Galinski, who took over from Dr. Hayes on July 1st, has posted her first Superintendent's letter on the district website.  In it she acknowledges the financial difficulties of the past few years, but points to some of the district's successes and looks forward to the opening of the new high school, and the Strategic Planning Process that she will begin next fall:
These last few years have been challenging for us financially, yet we continue to move forward with enthusiasm and improve our programs and opportunities for students. This is in large part due to the commitment of the teachers to making education a successful experience for students and to the hard work of the parents beside us as partners in their children’s education.

The upcoming year will be one filled with excitement and challenges! We are looking forward to entering a state-of-the-art high school facility sometime in November. Not long after that, we will embark on a one-to-one learning environment which will enable us to meet the needs of students with different learning styles, strengths, and learning paces.

In addition, it is our plan to begin a Strategic Planning Process in September where we will be looking carefully at where the district wants to be in the next five years and how we are planning to get there. This will be an important process in which all community members should be involved. Look forward to hearing more about this soon.

I would like to thank the School Committee, parents, teachers, students, and other community members for giving me the distinct privilege to lead the school district. I am looking forward to my leadership role!
If you would like further introduction to Galinski and her plans for the district, try to catch the interview that BevCam has been airing.

Grimes Criticizes School Committee

In an email to her constituents, City Councilor Pat Grimes has expanded upon her criticism of the School Committee for the lateness of this year's budget approval and public hearing.  Grimes first made mention of this during a City Council meeting last month.  In the email, Grimes says:
I am troubled by the actions of the School Committee during this recent budget process.  As I stated at the Council meeting with the Schools on June 9th, they were in flagrant violation of our City Charter and the requirements of city government.  Conducting a public hearing on the school budget on May 27th only two business days before the city budget was presented to the Council is nothing short of outrageous.  Our Charter requires the School Committee to adopt a budget at least 21 days before the city budget is presented to the Council.  Since the city budget is traditionally presented at the beginning of June (the latest it can be presented), the schools should have had a public hearing and adopted a budget by the beginning of May at the very latest.

[Former] Superintendent Hayes and the School Committee are well aware of this requirement, since I have spoken to them in the past about it several times. Part of the reason for the 21 days is to give the public time to digest the impact of the school budget and voice any concerns to the Council and Mayor.

Why all the fuss??  If some elected officials are making their own rules to suit themselves, then the best interests of the city are not being served, and in the long run that is not good for this city.  It may make life easier for some officials to withhold information from the public or not present it until the 11th hour, but it does not bode well for the city.  I hope this practice does not continue.
We are no experts on the City Charter, but we agree with Grimes' view on the public hearing scheduling. While there was ample opportunity for the public to follow the process earlier on, and to contact Committee members with their personal views, it was pretty clear to most of us that the Public Hearing was being held more as an obligation, rather than a true opportunity for the public to have any influence on the final budget.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final Job Cut Tally: City, 6; Schools, 31

The Boston Globe's new local YourTown: Beverly website debuts today [more about this below] with a summary of the final FY11 city and school budget that was approved last night by the City Council.  The most striking fact to us is the contrast in the final number of job reductions on the city side compared to the schools.

The article states that the "budget avoids layoffs on the city side, but essentially level-funds most departments and calls for reducing about six jobs through attrition."

But, the article states, "Cuts are steeper on the school side, and include classroom teachers and several administrators... The $44.6 million budget approved by the School Committee calls for a $674,000 — or .15 percent increase — over the current year. But to reach that figure set by the mayor, the committee had to slice $2.4 million from its original level-services budget."

Clearly the cuts on the school side are much steeper. As has been reported on this site and elsewhere, the school job cuts total the equivalent of about 31 full-time positions. While the final breakdown is not clear, it appears that the majority of the school side cuts result from layoffs.

Scanlon tells the Globe that ‘‘I think the money I gave to the schools is fair,’’ and then repeats his often-stated line that "the city’s contribution to the school budget is up $1.05 million, which he said meets a commitment he made three years ago when the city proceeded with the high school building project to provide the schools with about $1 million [or 3%] more per year."

As we've noted before however, while Scanlon bemoans the fact that the city's healthcare and pension cost increases account for nearly all new spending on the city side, he seems to forget that the schools are also faced with ever increasing healthcare and pension costs (growth rate for FY11 was 11%), in addition to local aid and other state funding cuts. This makes living within that 3% annual increase from the city a daunting task, and results in the kinds of drastic cuts to the core curriculum that we have seen this year.

On the local media front, this new hyperlocal Globe site, YourTown: Beverly, which includes its own schools page, looks to be a welcome addition to our local news options. The Beverly Citizen's web presence has been nearly dormant at times for most of the year, impossible to navigate since its redesign, and has recently even stopped posting most of the paper's school related news, instead posting a one paragraph tease, and a list of places to purchase the print edition if you want to read more.

With the Globe stepping in to fill the online void, its unlikely that the Citizen's ploy to put the print genie back in the bottle is going to have much success.

6/30 UPDATE: The Salem News also reports on the final budget approval today. It quotes City Council President Mike Cahill, in a statement we can only assume refers to the "city side," of the budget rather than the "school side," as saying "...with the historically difficult economy and a 4 percent cut in state aid, the numbers we were able to approve were quite good."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hayes Bids Farewell to Beverly

Dr. Jim Hayes, who ends his tenure as Beverly School Superintendent on Friday has posted his farewell letter on the district website.  The letter, titled "Thank you, Beverly" reads as follows:
As I finish my last days as Superintendent of Schools in Beverly, I want to tell you how wonderful it has been to work on behalf of children in this City! I have worked eleven years in Beverly, five as Assistant Superintendent and six as Superintendent! These have been the best years of my career!

People have been asking me what I am most proud of as a look back over my time as Superintendent. There are many things that make me proud, but most of all I am proud that we have a terrific school system despite the limited resources which plague local communities and especially education. Our school system is very progressive when it comes to teaching and learning. We do great things for kids in so many ways!

This success is a credit to everyone involved. The teachers, administrators, and support staff continually strive to improve so that students can achieve at higher levels and so that schools can be positive places. You have been true professionals! To run a good system, it also takes the dedication of every employee, and I am so impressed by the caring, hard-working people that add the personal touch to make us a better place for kids. I am talking about the folks who drive and monitor our buses, help our kids cross busy streets, work in our offices, serve meals to our students, and keep our buildings clean and well-maintained. I have appreciated so very much that everyone has worked together with a firm commitment to doing what is best for kids!

In Beverly, the business community is always there to provide support. And the parent support in Beverly is exceptional! How could we do it all without you! I have been fortunate over the years to work with excellent School Committees too. I know I can count on all of you to continue the meet the challenge - to hold education as a top priority and do your best for all kids! They are our most important resource! Education should not be seen as an expense; it is an investment! As the saying goes, yes, it costs a lot to educate a child, but it costs even more if we don't!

To work in a community such as this with such wonderful people, this is why I say that I am blessed! I will truly miss Beverly and truly miss all of you! Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and work with you!
We would also like to thank Jim for his service to Beverly. Its been a rocky time fiscally for the schools during much of his tenure, and there have certainly been some decisions with which many of us disagreed. But we never doubted Jim's commitment to the kids of Beverly, or his desire to provide the best possible education. It is unfortunate that so much of his time had to be spent looking for ways to mitigate the effects of continually dwindling resources.

The new high school may prove to be Jim's greatest legacy in Beverly. He took great pride in his role in the design and construction of the building, a role that took considerable time away from the already demanding job of Superintendent. Jim says he looks forward to being on-hand for the dedication of the building next winter.

We thank Jim and wish him well in his future endeavors.

Hayes has also given a final interview the the Beverly Citizen, but if you'd like to read it, you'll have to pick up a copy of this week's newspaper. The Citizen has decided to run most stories only in the print edition, so we will no longer be able to link to them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hayes, Galinski Defend Laptop Program

Outgoing Superintendent Jim Hayes, and incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski have penned a letter in today's Salem News defending the high school laptop program, which has come under heavy fire in the media the past couple weeks.

The letter states that the program "supports our district's mission to enable all students to reach their potential with a sustainable model that prepares them for 21st-century challenges." It invites readers to view the online presentation about the program, and attemps to clear up some of the misinformation about the program, such as:
  • Parents are not required to participate in this program. We will have an in-school loaner program for those who do not participate and financial assistance for those in need.
  • As part of our research over the past five years, we spoke to many "1-1" laptop schools across the country. We were advised over and over to select one platform to ensure program success. A multi-platform environment would require more tech support and potentially make it difficult and disruptive for teachers in the classroom — i.e.; they would need to be very familiar with both platforms in order to deal with issues that may arise.
The letter also attempts to explain: "Why Apple?"

Another letter, from a Danvers resident, does an even more succinct job of clearing up some of the misconceptions about the program, and criticizes the Salem News for some of the reporting in the original story that sparked the controversy. She calls the program "..the first progressive idea to come out of the city of Beverly since the development of the Cummings Center."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Searching the City Budget

We caught the public hearing tonight on the overall city budget on Bevcam.  The speakers consisted of four City Hall regulars. Most of us in the school community were tied up with last day of school and spring sports commitments, and the general feeling is that we have made our points repeatedly throughout the process, and there is not much left to say that could affect this year's budget.

Among the topics covered by those who did speak were the often-cited trash fee, the unfairness of the 3-minute time limit given to speakers at City Hall public hearings (although most speakers were actually allowed to go at least double that), and the confusing nature of the city budget document.

Councilor Jim Latter, along with at least one of the speakers, questioned Finance Director John Dunn, as to why the document could not at least be made searchable, which was a question we wondered ourselves. It is virtually impossible for an average citizen to discern anything from the way the budget is presented. The contrast is especially clear when compared to the final school budget, which was indexed, searchable, well organized, and generally attempted to present complex numbers as clearly as possible to the public.

Dunn said the city did not yet have the capabilities.

So as a public service, we spent five minutes running the 126-page document through Adobe Acrobat's OCR [optical character recognition] feature, and post here a searchable version of the FY11 City Budget. It's still confusing, but at least its searchable.

The budget will be voted on next Monday at a 7:00 pm meeting at City Hall. Council President Mike Cahill invited those who spoke tonight, as well as others, to email him with any further comments, which he said would be made part of the public record.

6/22 UPDATE: Today's Salem News also reports on the lack of speakers at last night's public hearing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

FY11 Budget Season Winding Down

The public hearing on the overall city budget will be held on Monday, June 21, at 7:00 pm, in the council chambers at City Hall.  This is the last opportunity to speak publicly about the school budget, and while it's likely too late to affect any change this year, it is an opportunity to voice the concerns of the school community to the Council members.

While many of the funding issues affecting Beverly are problems shared by most other communities in the state, the Council and the Mayor must decide how much money gets appropriated to the schools and must ensure that the quality of the schools is given the importance it should have in preserving the overall quality of life in Beverly.

The Council votes on the budget on the following Monday, June 28, also at 7:00 pm. Both meetings will televised live on BevCam.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Check Out Our New Digs

As you've probably noticed, we've done some tinkering with the design of Save Beverly Schools. The top banner has been redesigned and now features the new Beverly High School, which will become the showpiece of the district when it opens in November. The typography is easier to read and we've widened the page to create more real estate for the wealth of information that has accumulated here over the past two years.

Most recent press coverage and commentary are now side-by-side at the top of the right-hand columns, and many of the other sections that were buried before are now easier to locate. At the bottom of the sidebar is an archive of nearly every story that has appeared in the press about the Bevery schools since March 2008.

We're still tinkering a bit, so you may notice some further changes over the next couple of days, and the site hasn't yet been tested on all browsers (Internet Explorer seems to still have some issues). If you have any comments or suggestions, or notice any bugs with the new design, please let us know.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Laptop Program Still Making Headlines

Today's Boston Globe has an editorial that praises Beverly schools for their focus on technology, but denounces the administration's decision to charge parents for the new laptop program.

Beverly's new high school, set to open in November, should be the envy of its counterparts in other towns. With the school’s emphasis on technology, students will be able to work together more easily, including through video conferencing, and learn how to use advanced computer programs.

Unfortunately, Beverly is also obliging parents to pay extra for this tech-utopia — a requirement that violates the spirit of public education. Not only must every student have a laptop computer, but it must be a specific, expensive type: a MacBook with a price tag of $900. And since the school system couldn’t find a donor to cover the cost, students and their families will be on the hook.
Channel 7 also covered the controversy over the weekend.

We're not sure why charging $225 a year for a computer would cause so much more of a stir than the district's even more egregious policy of charging $4000 a year for full-day kindergarten; but there is no predicting what might start a media circus.

Other than the cost to parents, the most controversial aspect of the plan seems to be the requirement that students must purchase an Apple Macbook.  This Q&A put out by the administration attempts to answer this, and many of of the other questions swirling around this program.

6/17 UPDATE:  The story has now spread around the world, as evidenced by these reports from as far away as the Netherlands:

Se obliga a comprar MacBook a los estudiantes de Massachusett 
Beverly High verplicht leerlingen tot aankoop MacBook
En Massachusetts se obliga a comprar MacBook a los estudiantes

In Brazil, the story has even been translated to be happening in Beverly Hills.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

BevCam Airing Galinski Interview

BevCam has been running an interview with Marie Galinski that provides a good introduction into the thinking of Beverly's new superintendent.

The interview starts off discussing the challenges we face in the current fiscal environment, and the impact of reduced state aid both in the form of Chapter 70 funding, as well as the reduced reimbursement rate for exceptional special education expenses. She also talks about the strategic plan for the district that she plans to undertake with the School Committee (see previous post).

But the interview moves on to cover some of the more positive elements of Beverly's school system as well. Galinski says that while our MCAS scores are only about average for the state, she considers our overall academic program strong.

She points to several areas including the arts, literacy programs, and advanced placement courses at the high school as areas of strength, and says that students from other communities even choice into Beverly for these programs.

Galinski goes on to discuss the new high school in considerable detail. The interview was taped before the recent controversy over the one-to-one laptop program, but Galinski discusses the thinking behind that program, and explains how it integrates with the district's overall goal of infusing technology into everyday learning.

It's an informative hour, and, for those of us who have been immersed in the budget proceedings for the past few months, a glimpse at some of the more positive, and even progressive, aspects of our school system.

The interview schedule for the next couple weeks is at follows:

Channel 10
Sunday 6/13 at 7:30 PM
Monday 6/14 at 1:00 PM
Tuesday 6/15 at 7:00 PM
Sunday 6/20 at 7:30 PM
Monday 6/21 at 1:00 PM
Tuesday 6/22 at 7:00 PM

Channel 22
Sunday 6/13 at 4:07 PM
Tuesday 6/15 at 6:00 PM
Wednesday 6/16 at 1:30 PM
Wednesday 6/16 at 8:05 PM

You can find the schedule for future showings on the BevCam website.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hayes Presents Budget to City Council

On Wednesday night, Dr. Hayes presented the FY11 school budget to the City Council, and answered their questions about many of its provisions.  The presentation was very similar to the one presented at the public hearing on May 27, but contained a few new or updated details. 

The two core curriculum teacher cuts at the high school have been identified as English and Social Studies.  A science teacher was added back after the last minute maneuvering that occurred at the final budget meeting. The other incidental cuts that were identified at that meeting are seen in the "cost center impact" page where the administration's share of the cuts jumps from a 14% reduction—by far the highest percentage of all cost centers—to a whopping 17% overall reduction from last year.

Hayes has also posted a note on the district website, where he says "The School Committee plans one more budget meeting on Monday, June 14, at 5 pm to determine a 'restoration list' should any funds become available in the weeks and months ahead."

This presents school advocates with one last opportunity to lobby the School Committee to restore some of the teacher and program cuts that we feel are most important.

At Wednesday's meeting,  Councilor Maureen Troubetaris questioned the steep cuts in the building budget for each school, which range from 20% for each of the elementary schools to $50,000 at the high school. Mindful of the the perception in some circles that the city doesn't take care of its buildings, (see the condition of the current high school) Troubetaris wondered how this would affect maintenance of the buildings.  Hayes responded that the building budgets covered school operating expenses and supplies, rather than upkeep of the building.  We would point out, however, that the Buildings and Grounds budget was also cut by 9.5%, so Troubetaris' point still seems valid.

Councilor Pat Grimes also chastised Hayes and the School Committee for the lateness of the budget approval.  Grimes said that the City Charter says that the school budget must be approved, and the public be given the right to speak on it, at least 21 days before the date that it was due to be submitted to the Mayor and City Council [June 1].  While the final budget "number" was approved on May 4th, most of the actual items in the budget were still in flux for another four weeks. The public hearing was not held until May 27th, and the final vote by the school committee on the actual elements within the budget did not occur until the June 2nd Committee meeting, at which changes were still being made.  Grimes said this was a flagrant and "outrageous" violation of city regulations.

After the Superintendent's presentation, School Committee President Annemarie Cesa spoke about the anticipation that next year's budget would likely present even more challenges than this year's.  Cesa said that the Committee, along with incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski, plan to form a strategic planning committee this summer to study three major areas: class size guidelines, facilities, and outsourcing services.  Cesa added, however, that any talk of reducing class size guidelines is limited by the fact that all the elementary schools are currently utilizing all of their classrooms, so that any plan that creates additional classes would have to deal with this reality.

Many in the community believe that the "facilities" debate will likely return us to another conversation about an Early Childhood Center, or a further restructuring of the elementary schools into some type of K-2 and 3-5 or similar pairing arrangement that would allow the district to better manage class size irregularities.  The Committee has said previously that all options will be on the table.

The public hearing on the overall city budget will be held on Monday, June 21, at 7:00 pm, and the Council votes on the budget on Monday, June 28, also at 7:00 pm. Both meetings will be at City Hall, and televised on BevCam.