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.

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.