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.

Monday, May 21, 2012

BHS Honored for Innovation

Saturday's Salem News detailed a new honor for Beverly High School, which has been receiving considerable notice recently for both it's 1-1 laptop program, as well as its Smaller Communities Learning Grant.

The school recently received notice that it was among a select group of schools in the nation invited to present at a Washington DC conference on innovative public schools to be hosted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals
"We're aware of schools all across the country and most of them have tried different things, but they haven't been as effective as Beverly has," said Joe DiMartino, president of the Center for Secondary School Redesign, which helps select schools for the conference. "They're doing a lot of innovative things with good results, not just innovation for innovation's sake."

Beverly High came to the attention of conference organizers through the school's implementation of a $1.2 million, five-year federal grant that it was awarded in 2010. Beverly was one of 28 schools in the country to be awarded the Smaller Learning Communities grant, which is designed to improve academic achievement in public schools with enrollments of more than 1,000.

Beverly High Principal Sean Gallagher said the grant has been used to "take a big high school and personalize the learning." The school established a freshman academy that groups ninth-graders in teams, and created an advisory program that assigns 10 students to a staff member, who meets with the group twice a month. ...

... Gallagher said preliminary data show a drop in the failure rate and disciplinary incidents among freshmen and an increase in the daily attendance rate. He said teachers have made a point to call and write to parents when their students are succeeding, not just when they're in trouble academically.

"What's made us unique is that the program is really utilizing our upperclassmen as role models for the freshmen throughout the summer," Gallagher said. "Their impact on the school, especially the senior class, has been really great in the sense of developing a positive school culture."
Beverly is the only school from Massachusetts invited to participate in the conference, which will be held on February 28th of next year.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hannah Class Sizes Main Topic at Hearing

The quietest budget season in many years also featured a very quiet public hearing last night at the high school. About 50 people listened as Dr. Galinski presented an overview of the budget, which included no major cuts, and a net gain of staff positions despite the loss of some revenue. Most fees will rise by 2.5%, and administrators will receive their first raise in three years. The budget also contains a reserve line for union negotiations, which are still in progress.

Today's Salem News has the full story, as does the Beverly Citizen. You can also view the full hearing on BevCam's website.

After the presentation, about eight audience members spoke, mostly Hannah School parents (including myself) who are upset about the large class size projections for grades 4-5 and the inequity in class sizes across the district. Our primary point was not simply the size of next year's classes, but the fact that this is the third year in a row that Hannah's upper grades have occupied two of the top three spots in terms of class size across the district, and to point out the burden the repeatedly overloaded classes is putting on Hannah teachers, staff and students.

We also pointed to Hannah's sudden drop in MCAS scores and failure to make AYP (Adequite Yearly Progress) for the first time ever (see accompanying graphic) as one indicator of the result of the district's class size policies. 2011 was the first year of testing after the district compressed Hannah's 3rd and 4th grades from 3 sections to 2 resulting in class sizes between 27-29 in both grades. It has since done the same to the 5th grade, and many parents whose children were in those classes see a connection.

Other speakers spoke about class size concerns in grades 1-2 at North Beverly, and the need for an additional adjustment counselor, and improved technology infrastructure at Briscoe.

As is the norm, the evening ended without any comment or answers from the Committee.

UPDATE: A revised class size projection Galinski presented at the hearing (see below) that includes "pushback" of open-enrolled students to their "home school" shows Hannah's numbers slightly improved, and Ayers 4th grade edging ahead in terms of largest class size. Little change is noted to the grade 1 & 2 numbers at North Beverly and Ayers that were also of concern. But Galinski warns that the numbers regularly fluctuate up until the start of school, and beyond. Numbers in blue indicate sizes that the administration considers in danger of going over guidelines or in need of additional classroom support, and is monitoring closely.  Apparently the Hannah and Ayers 4th and 5th grade numbers no longer fall into that category by district standards. We doubt most parents and teachers would agree.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Class Size Projections Show Wide Disparity

A close look at the class size projections contained in the just released  FY13 Budget Draft  [see post below for full summary of budget] shows a slight improvement overall on elementary class sizes with fewer classes in the 25+ range that most troubles parents. But there is also a wider fluctuation between the schools than in past years. The district maintains an official class size limit of 25 in grades 1 and 2, and 30 in grades 3-5.

Hannah has the two largest class size projections with 28.5 projected for the 4th grade and 27 for 5th. Ayers also shows a projection of 26.7 for 4th grade. These 4th grade numbers contrast sharply with Centerville, which shows 19.7 students per section next year.

Last year, Centerville parents made a strong showing at the public hearing to speak out against their large 3rd grade class.  The class, which was compressed from 3 sections to 2 last year, will return to 3 sections in 4th grade. In addition, the district is adding a section for next year's 3rd grade class.

The Centerville numbers overall stand out as—by far—the lowest in the district [see update below]. In addition to grade 4, the numbers range from an almost unheard of (at least by Beverly standards) 15.5 in 1st grade to 20 in grade 2, 20.3 in grade 3, and 21.7 in grade 5.

In the lower grades, North Beverly's 1st and 2nd grades are both bumping up against the district's maximum 25 with projected sizes of 24 and 24.7 respectively. Ayers also has a projected 24.3 first grade, a far cry from Centerville's 15.5.

Below are the full class size projections for all the elementary schools:

Class size is generally the most discussed issue at the annual budget hearing, which will be held Tuesday night at 7pm at Beverly High School. Please make an effort to attend.

Disclosure: This blogger's daughter will be a Hannah 4th grader next year, the class with the district's highest projected class size.

5/5 UPDATE: School Committee President Maria Decker has provided some more insight into the projections. She says that the current numbers reflect existing placements, and that school choice students (students from outside of Beverly), as well as open-enrolled students (students from Beverly who choose to attend a school other than their home school) may be moved to produce more balanced class sizes across the district.

She also says the additional sections at Centerville were created in part to accommodate more students expected from the new housing development in Gloucester Crossing that will attend Centerville.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

FY13 Draft Budget Posted; Hearing Next Tuesday

The proposed FY13 district budget is now available to view on the district website. This is the first view many of us will have of the document, which the school committee has developed through one of the quietest budget seasons in quite some time.

The district again this year will utilize fellows from both Merrimack and Endicott Colleges to supplement classroom and special education teachers.

The Northshore Education Consortium's [NEC] Recovery High School program, which had been renting space in the Memorial Building for the past 5 years will be relocating in FY13 which results in a reduction of $125,000 in rental income for the District. The District continues to rent the McKeown School to the NEC, and also plans to move 4 sections of full-day Pre-K to the NEC building on Sohier Road to free up space in the elementary schools.

The FY13 Budget contains changes in staffing, operating budgets, programs and revenues. These changes are reflected below. The changes in staffing result in a total increase of 3.8 full-time equivalents (FTE).

Here are other highlights, as stated in the document:

A. Positions/Adjustments
1. At the district level (effective FTE changes = -2)
  • Addition of clerical support for Business/Personnel ($20,000). 
  • Add salary increases for individually contracted employees. These employees have not received raises for three years. 
  • Add $50,000 back into the budget to pay a salary that was previously covered under the revolving account. 
  • Remove $2500 from revenues due to loss of sales from beverage agreements. We no longer have vending machines in schools due to nutritional guidelines. 
  • Cut the position of Academic Division Leader due to retirement. 
  • Cut a Title I teaching position due to retirement and replaced with tutors. 
2. At the elementary level (effective FTE additions = +2.2)
 Ayers Elementary School
  • Increase 1FTE in Grade 3 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Decrease 1 FTE in Grade 1 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Add .2 TLC teacher to support social/emotional learning. 
Centerville Elementary
  • Decrease 1 FTE in Grade 1 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Increase 1 FTE TLC teacher to support social/emotional learning. 
  • Increase 1 FTE teacher in Grade 3 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Increase 1 FTE in Full Day Kindergarten due to projected enrollment (moved from Ayers). 
  • Increase 1 paraprofessional in additional Full Day Kindergarten class (Moved from Ayers). 
Cove Elementary School
  • Decrease 1 FTE in Grade 2 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Increase 1 FTE in Grade 3 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Increase 1 FTE in Grade 5 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Increase 1 FTE TLC teacher to support social/emotional learning. 
  • Decrease 1 FTE paraprofessional for TLC support no longer needed. 
Hannah Elementary School
  • Increase 1 FTE in Grade 3 due to projected enrollment. 
  • Increase 1 FTE TLC teacher to support social/emotional learning. 
  • Decreased 1 FTE paraprofessional for TLC support no longer needed. 
  • Increase 1 FTE Full Day Kindergarten teacher due to projected enrollment (moved from North Beverly). 
  • Increase 1 paraprofessional for additional Full Day Kindergarten class (Moved from North Beverly). 
North Beverly Elementary School
  • Increase 1 FTE for TLC to support social/emotional learning. 
  • Decreased 1 FTE paraprofessional for TLC support no longer needed. 
  • Increase 2 Fellows to help support large class size in Grades 1 and 2. 
3. At Briscoe Middle School: (effective FTE additions = +.6 FTE)
  • Decrease of .4 Reading teacher due to decrease in class size for Grade 6 Reading program.
  • Increase in 1 FTE for Special Education to support social/emotional learning. 
  • Decrease in Fine Arts Facilitator due to retirement and consolidation with other departments. 
  • Increase a Math and Science Facilitator due to the retirement of the Academic Division Leader for Math and Science. 
  • Add a special education facilitator to help address oversight of programs at the middle school. 
  • Add additional teaching 6th for the SBI program due to large class size in Grade 7. 
  • Increase expressive arts rotation for technology to prepare students for high school and reduce class size in expressive arts. 
4. At Beverly High School: (effective FTE additions 3 FTE)
  • Increase custodial overtime to support maintaining new high school building.
  • Replace the Certified Medical Assistant with an LPN due to medication administration.
  • Increase 1 FTE in English to reduce class size from 30+ to 25.
  • Increase 1 FTE in PE/Wellness to reduce class size from 30+ to 25.
  • Increase 1 FTE in Foreign Language to add ASL to electives to support Mass Common Core requirements for all students.
  • Increase teaching 6th to reduce class size.
B. Operating Budgets
  • Operating budgets are based on enrollment figures for FY12.

C. Program
  • Restore the TLC program at the elementary level to retain students from out-of-district placements.
  • Project a 3% increase in special education collaborative tuitions.
  • Increase technology expressive arts opportunities at the middle school to prepare students for high school one-to-one.
  • Enhance the Foreign Language program at the high school to provide for students to choose another option to complete the Mass Common Core requirement.
  • Relocate 4 Full Day Pre-K classes from Cove to Northshore Education Consortium.
  • Relocate 4 sessions of Half Day Pre-K from Hannah to Cove.

D. Revenue
  • Plan for an increase in General Fund Revenue from the City of $1,140,000 (2.5% increase of FY12).
  • Project a 60% level of reimbursements for the Circuit Breaker program. This will result in a loss of about $100,000 in revenue due to the increase in the foundation amount upon which the reimbursement is based.
  • Plan for a decrease in revenue from the Northshore Education Consortium (NEC) due to the relocation of Recovery High School ($125,000).
  • Plan for an increase in revenue due to the plan design of health insurance ($100,000).
  • Decrease in health insurance liability due to drop in enrollment numbers ($165,000).
The public hearing on the budget will be held next Tuesday, May 8th at 7:00 at the high school.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Trash vs. Teachers, Redux?

What does trash pickup have to do with class size?

If you are new to the budget debate in Beverly, you probably didn't immediately think about the schools when you read last week's Salem News story on Mayor Scanlon's efforts to raise the trash fee by 40%.

But those of us who lived through the budget drama of 2008 know the connection well.  When the Mayor came up with his last minute plan that year to spare Cove School, he did it by diverting money that would normally go toward trash collection to the schools. 

A Beverly Citizen story from June 2008 does a good job of outlining how the plan worked.  As the story explained then "Technically, the money isn’t coming from the trash fee. Instead, the money will stay in the general fund [rather than being transferred to the sanitation fund]. The schools would instead use that money."

At the time, the sanitation fund was $1.34 million in the black, and Scanlon's plan was to use the excess in that account, along with the annual proceeds from the trash fee, to fund trash pickup while diverting $680,000 a year to the schools instead of the maintaining the sanitation fund. Essentially the trash fee would be covering a larger amount (but not all) of the cost of trash collection.

But, as the article clearly states, the plan was only sustainable for 5 years.

So that's where the city now finds itself in 2012. The money in the sanitation savings fund is nearly gone, and the city must either raise the trash fee to cover a greater amount of the actual trash services, or start diverting that money from the general fund (much of which still goes to the schools) back to trash collection. 

As school supporters who watch state aid continually cut at the same time that the schools are burdened with ever more unfunded mandates, we feel the city needs to fund the schools to the maximum amount possible, and know that any cut from the current levels could have major consequences.

But as objective observers, its hard to dismiss the case made by trash fee opponents, chief among them Ward 5 councilor Don Martin, who question how the citizens of Beverly can be asked to pay more out of their pockets for trash collection, when costs are actually going down due to the citizens' efforts on recycling. Scanlon himself says the amount of money the city spends on trash collection is down $400,000 since 2006 due to recycling.

At this point in the budget cycle, School Committee President Maria Decker tells us that the Mayor has pledged his usual commitment of a 2.5% increase in funding over last year. But should the trash fee increase not pass, that figure could be in jeopardy, and that is a prospect that concerns Decker.

With the trash fee always controversial among a certain segment of the population, there is sure to be an outcry on efforts to raise it, and at least some pushback from the City Council.  A public hearing on the matter will be held on Tuesday, April 17, at 7:20 p.m. at City Hall, and we expect a packed house.

A vote by the City Council will take place after that, and if the Mayor's request does not pass, then other city departments, including the schools, may feel the crunch.

Whatever your view on the merits of the trash fee, as school supporters we must continue to demand necessary—and transparent—school funding from the city.

Quiet Budget Season Otherwise

Other than the potential for trouble here, the FY13 budget season has been very quiet.  Decker says there have been no major flashpoints, and there has been no press coverage on the budget whatsoever.

As always, parents of children in large classes continue to press the school committee to give more attention to reducing the size of classes. But the committee generally abides by its official limits of 25 in grades K-2 and 30 in grades 3-5. Decker says that there are a few classes with projections approaching those limits that they are watching closely, but otherwise its unlikely we will see any reduction across the board.

Decker also tells us that the committee is in the midst of contract negotiations with the unions, the settlement of which will have an effect on the FY13 budget.  She also says the district would like to be able to reinstate several of the positions that have been cut in the previous years including:
  • A fully staffed TLC program to address the increasing social/emotional issues at the elementary schools.
  • More teachers at the high school to address an increase in enrollment, as well as support the school's effort to eliminate study halls.
At Briscoe, the district also hopes to address the need for more instruction and continuity in computer technology by including it as part of the expressive arts rotation in 6th grade.

These wishes, of course, are all dependent on final funding figures from the state and city, which often are uncertain until later in the budget cycle.

A public hearing on the school budget is scheduled for Tuesday, May 8th, at 7:00 pm at the high school.  A draft budget will be available for the public to view sometime before that.

4/9 UPDATE: Today's Salem News editorializes against the trash fee increase, and Ward 6 Councilor Brett Schetzsle has submitted a letter outlining his recommendations on the matter to the Finance Committee.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New SPED Boss Pick Same as the Old

After an "exhaustive" three-week search process, Dr Galinski today announced her pick for Director of Pupil Personnel Services (Special Education Director).  And the new new boss is the same as the old new boss: Cove Principal Stacy Bucyk.

The announcement was made to all parents through another rather vague Connect-Ed message, and a more complete explanation on the district website.

Earlier this month, Galinski's original selection of Bucyk ran into some controversy due mainly to her selection without the knowledge of many in the SPED community, and without any search process.

This time, according to Galinski's note to parents, a committee of 19 interviewed Bucyk and recommended her as one of three potential candidates for the position, which is one of the top jobs in the district :
After an exhaustive search with a committee of 19 (representing administration, educators, school committee, and parents), the search committee for the Director of Pupil Personnel Services completed their work on Thursday, March 22, 2012 and recommended to me three finalists for the position. 
After conducting interviews and completing background checks, it was clear that our in-district candidate was the best choice for the position. It gives me great pleasure to announce that Ms. Stacy Bucyk will be the district’s Director of Pupil Personnel Services. Ms. Bucyk has long been recognized as possessing strong leadership skills as part of our district team and I am so glad that the search committee selected her as a finalist for this position. Ms. Bucyk understands the needs of the district well. We are so fortunate to be able to give Ms. Bucyk the opportunity to advance her career here in Beverly!
Galinski also posted Bucyk's resume for the public to view.

The selection still needs to be approved by the School Committee, which will take up the matter tomorrow night.  The committee was reportedly divided on the original selection of Bucyk, but never had the opportunity to vote, as the appointment was withdrawn in order to conduct a more thorough search.

It remains to be seen whether the committee and the community will support what still seems to many to be a rather abbreviated exhaustive search with a predetermined result.

3/29 UPDATE: The School Committee last night unanimously approved Bucyk as the district's new Director of Pupil Personnel Services.  Today's Salem News has more on the search process, and says that Busyk apparently has the support of those in the SPED community who initially opposed her selection:
The search committee recommended three finalists — Bucyk; Jeanne Saunders, director of special education services in Hollis and Brookline, N.H.; and Donna Straight, director of special education in Battle Creek, Mich. 
Galinski interviewed the three finalists. She said Bucyk was the most qualified because of her experience as a teacher and principal, and her familiarity with Beverly and with Massachusetts law, including the new state teacher evaluation program. 
The other finalists have no experience in Massachusetts or as a principal, Galinski said. 
"That would be a big learning curve," she said. "Stacy was the most qualified and the best fit for the position. She really has a passion for Beverly and what she needs to do with the special education department."... 
... Amy Donovan, co-chairwoman of the Beverly Special Education Parent Advisory Council, said she was pleased that a search was ultimately conducted and that parents were included. Donovan was among the parents who served on the search committee. 
"It's healthy to do a search process," she said. "And I think it's good for Stacy to come into the position knowing that different people from the community were involved."
The district will now begin a search to find a new principal for the Cove School.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

SPED Director Pick Stirs Controversy

Today's Salem News has details on the controversy that's been brewing over Superintendent Galinski's pick to replace retiring Special Education Director Debra O'Connor.

The position is one of the most senior and important administration positions, overseeing a program that serves nearly 25% of the district's 4,300 students and manages a budget of $11 million.

Galinski initially selected Cove Elementary Principal Stacy Bucyk, who had previously served under O'Connor in the SPED department, as her choice to fill the position, and began a public search for a new Cove School principal.

An interview and vote of approval by the School Committee had been scheduled for last Thursday, but was abruptly cancelled after a group of parents led by members of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council raised objections about the closed nature of the process (many SPED parents didn't even know O'Connor was leaving), and the fact that no search process was undertaken to look at outside candidates.

Then on Friday, Galinski sent a ConnectEd message to the entire school community announcing in very legal terms that a public search would be done for the "Director of Pupil Personnel Services." The message gave little background on the previous developments, and it wasn't even clear to the layman that this was the Special Ed Director position:
To ensure that all constituents have an opportunity to participate in the selection process in compliance with various interpretations of state statute, the Director of Pupil Personnel Services position will be posted, and a search committee formed. ...
... The search for a principal for the Cove School has been suspended until the process for the Director of Pupil Personnel Services has been completed.  
Galinski tells the News that she chose Bucyk in part because of her qualifications in Special Education, but also because the salary that Beverly is offering for this position (which we believe is set by the School Committee) is not competitive with what is being paid by other districts:
Galinski said she selected Bucyk without a search because she is well-qualified and there are few qualified candidates available. She also said the salary that Beverly is offering — between $95,000 and $105,000 — is "at the lower end of the scale." Similar positions in other districts pay up to $127,000, she said. 
"I obviously know what the pool looks like on the outside. I have contact with superintendents," Galinski said. "It's a very difficult position to fill. There aren't a lot of candidates, and we don't pay a competitive salary. 
"It was apparent to me that we had somebody in-house that was qualified. I recommended to the School Committee that we don't do a search. They agreed to do that and then changed their mind."
According to the News, there also seems to be some confusion over who has the authority in hiring for this position:
School Committee President Maria Decker said the interview was canceled due to "varying opinions" on the proper search process....
... Decker acknowledged that pressure from parents played a role in the School Committee's change of mind. She said there was also confusion over whether the School Committee or the superintendent has the authority to hire the special education director. 
State law says the School Committee "shall appoint a person to be its administrator of special education." But the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recommended the hiring be left to the superintendent.  
Amy Donovan, co-chairwoman of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council, which was the driving force in persuading the School Committee to back off on Bucyk's appointment told the News that she is pleased that the School Committee decided to open up the process:
"The main thing we were hearing from parents is that they really wanted to see a search process," Donovan said. "It wasn't anything specific to the candidate that the superintendent was recommending. It's a major position in our district. It's a very broad population, and it impacts every school in the district."
As was the case with the initially closed method by which the administration and School Committee developed and planned to vote on the 5-8 middle school model last fall, the objections here seem to not necessarily be with the specific candidate that was chosen, but with the lack of public notice and inclusion into the process.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

District displays its "high expectations"

While challenges remain, this week's State of the Schools presentation went into great detail in presenting the many new initiatives throughout the district that leaders say are aimed at transforming a good school system into "great" one, and to showcase what high school principal Sean Gallagher called the district's "high expectations."

The Salem News had a good wrapup of the night's presentations in Thursday's edition, and if you missed it, you should take some time to watch the entire event, which can be seen on BevCam's video archive here (note: there is a lot of dead air at the beginning, so skip up to about 8:40 to start). You can also view the evening's Powerpoint presentation here.

Presentations included:

  • Superintendent Marie Galinski explaining the district's Strategic Plan.
  • High School Principal Sean Gallagher detailing the many new initiatives that were funded in large part by the Small Learning Communities Grant that the school won last year.
  • Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Duffy outlining district initiatives funded by federal Race to the Top funding, most aimed at improving student achievement.
  • Briscoe Principal Matt Poska on the specifics of the Statement of Interest for a new middle school.
  • Technology Director Judy Miller showcasing the many ways in which technology is weaved throughout the district's curriculum, and plans for the future.
  • Citywide PTO President Julie DeSilva in the PTOs' contribution to csupplement students' leaning and enrichment experiences.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

State of the Schools Returns

After two years of a more PTO-based format, the district is bringing back its traditional State of the Schools night on Wednesday, February 29th in the high school auditorium. New School Committee President Maria Decker says the change is "an attempt to improve community relations and increase communication about the schools."

The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with refreshments and an opportunity for the community to speak with School Committee members and district leadership. The formal program will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be aired live by BevCam.

Presentations will be given by Decker, as well as Superintendent Marie Galinski, and several district administrators, including Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Duffy, Beverly High School Principal Sean Gallagher, Technology Director Judy Miller, and Briscoe Middle School Principal Matt Poska.

The program will highlight district initiatives, accomplishments, and challenges including the Strategic Plan, Race to the Top grant participation, Statement of Interest on the middle school, Small Learning Communities Grant, the new DESE Evaluation Program for all educators, and community outreach, partnerships, and contributions.

Please make an effort to attend or watch on BevCam.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Committee Meetings Now Viewable Online

Beginning last month, BevCam began streaming the monthly School Committee meetings live on their website, and also archiving them so citizens can view at their leisure.  The live feed and archive can be accessed here.  Last night's meeting was just posted to the archive today, and as the first meeting of the new session, covers many topics of interest to the school community.

BevCam is also streaming and archiving City Council meetings, and other government events such as the recent inaugural ceremonies. You can follow BevCam on Twitter (@bev_cam) to keep up with their coverage and posting schedule.

This is a welcome step in making it easier for the public to follow the happenings within the district, and city government, and helps compensate somewhat for the lack of coverage by the region's print media.

For now, the coverage only includes the monthly meetings at City Hall, but we have encouraged BevCam to consider streaming some of the Commitee of the Whole meetings, where more of the details of issues are discussed, and which are more difficult for the public to attend.  This could be particularly valuable during budget season.

Ironically, at last night's meeting, one committee member, David Manzi, took time to criticize BevCam for reducing its airing schedule of the meetings on its television channels, and none of the members appeared to be aware of this additional, and more convenient, viewing option that now exists on the web.

City Council members themselves have also embraced online media this session, with two of the new members, @BrettWard6, and @JaSizz, providing regular Twitter posts about city issues and meeting updates, and Council President Paul Guanci establishing an official Facebook page where he has been posting notices and agendas of upcoming meetings and other items of interest to the public.

The district and School Committee have been more reluctant to embrace social media as a method of communications, although the city maintains a Twitter feed at @beverly_ma and occasionally posts school notices. We hope that the district will follow their lead.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why is the District Soliciting Outside Students?

This notice on the Beverly Citizen top news listing this week caught our attention:
The Beverly Public Schools has openings for non-resident students, through the School Choice program beginning in August 2012. Available choice schools include the elementary schools; Ayers Ryal Side, Centerville, Cove, Hannah, and North Beverly in grades 1-5. In the secondary schools there are openings in the Briscoe Middle School for grades 6-8 and Beverly High School for grades 9, 11 and 12.

The schools offer: Modern, state of the art facilities, fine arts, sports and technology programs, a newly renovated high school, One to One Laptop Program at the high school level, after-school programs in the elementary schools.

If you are interested, submit a letter of application/request that includes the following: Student(s) name, name of parent/guardian, address, telephone, date of birth, prior school attended, grade (if elementary level which elementary school).
While we are aware of the school choice program, we found this type of "advertisement" puzzling, given that one of the overriding criticisms of the Beverly Schools is the ever increasing size of classes, and the fact that many of our own students who open-enroll to other Beverly elementary schools have been routinely shifted back to their "home school" in recent years in an effort to limit classes.

Since the beginning of this year, we have heard from several parents at various schools about classes that started the year in the mid to upper 20s, and have since increased further due to students moving into the district.

Furthermore, it has been stated repeatedly that there is a space crunch at most of the elementary schools, as well as Briscoe, and even the new high school. One of the selling points in the recent discussion of moving the 5th graders to the middle school was to alleviate the overcrowding at the elementary schools.

With the turmoil in the schools in Salem, we imagine that Beverly would be an attractive option for Salem parents, especially when other neighboring districts such as Manchester have recently shut the door to outside students altogether.

It's an encouraging sign that many Beverly students who had previously choiced out have decided to return to Beverly schools due primarily to the opening of the new high school.  But what does the district gain by seeking further non-Beverly students?

As with many school isssues, the answer appears to be money. The district receives funding from a student's home district for every student it accepts. But we wonder if the full cost (including any potential SPED services) of these students has been weighed, especially when state regulations require that once a student is accepted under the school choice plan, that the district owns them until high school graduation.

UPDATE: School Committee President Maria Decker contacted us to explain the reasoning further.  She said that the district does receive funding from a student's home district, and tries to select students for particular grades and schools where there is room, and can move them between schools as availability dictates.  The extra funding and students can, she says, in some cases allow the district to add a section of a particular grade, and therefore lower the overall class size in those grades.  She also confirmed that the home district is responsible for any future SPED costs for students we accept.

While this might be a reasonable explanation on a current year basis, it seems that the additional students could easily become a burden in future years, (Decker confirmed that once the district accepts a student, we "own" them until graduation) especially in a district that continually struggles to maintain reasonable class sizes, and in buildings that have been described by the Superintendent herself as "bursting at the seams."

1/19 UPDATE:  This issue was discussed in some detail at this week's School Committee meeting, which can be viewed in BevCam's streaming archive.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Decker to Lead School Committee

As many had expected, Marie Decker was elected this week by the School Committee to be its president for the next two years. She has served as vice president for the past several years.  Paul Manzo was elected vice president, and newcomer Matt Kavanagh chosen as secretary.

The roles were confirmed at Tuesday's inauguration, which saw Mayor Scanlon sworn in for a record ninth time; Paul Guanci return to the role of City Council President; and four newcomers: Jason Silva, Scott Dullea, Brett Schetzsle, and Scott Houseman join the council.

Both local newspapers have coverage (here and here) of the inaugural, which was something of a lovefest for Scanlon, and a rundown of the new faces and roles in city government.  The Salem News editorial page, which has also seemed to become a champion of Scanlon and all things Beverly, weighs in with an editorial titled "More of the same a good thing."

And BevCam, which has begun streaming city government meetings, covered the event live, and has it archived here.

We wish Maria and all the new and returning leaders well over the next two years as they seek to continue to build on the generally positive strides the schools and the city have made over the past several years, while managing the always challenging fiscal environment.

We will update the elected officials contact list as soon as we have the new information.