Superintendent's January 2019 Newsletter

Back in the late fall, I shared with the community that our 2018 MCAS and accountability results as a district showed significant gains from the 2017 reporting cycle, especially at the elementary level. I believe that these gains were in large part due to the District having a strategy for improvement. We all know that Watertown has a strong tradition of excellent teachers, supportive parents, and motivated students, however, we hadn’t experienced the results as measured through the States’ accountability system that we would expect. What makes the difference now? It is knowing that we have a well-developed plan and clear direction to prepare all students for life. How will we do this? By providing them with a meaningful and challenging education within an inclusive and diverse community.

 So What is That Plan?

The core belief in our strategy is that all students will learn and excel in the Watertown Public Schools. One of the ways we will ensure this is by having an aligned, consistent, coherent and rigorous curriculum. In one of my recent school visits, I witnessed the perfect example of how we are going to achieve this. A team of elementary teachers collaborated on planning a literacy unit. Present at the table were the classroom teachers, the English as a Second Language teacher, the special education teacher, and the Literacy Coach. Together, they planned how to deliver this rigorous content, how they were going to tailor the instruction, and how to effectively support each student to make sure that all students would be successful. I can’t imagine a better example of how we work together to prepare our students for life. Solid teamwork. Even more exciting was that I witnessed that same type of meeting at the next elementary school I visited! This type of teacher collaboration ensures the delivery of an aligned, consistent and rigorous standards-based curriculum. I can’t wait to share with you the progress that we make in the coming months and years as we prepare our Watertown students for their future lives.

Both the District Strategy Team and the District Communication Team, composed of WPS staff members and members of the greater Watertown community, continue to meet regularly to plan and assess progress on our Improvement Strategy. At the midpoint of the first year of the plan, we see evidence of success with many of our initiatives. We also recognize that our plan may have been more ambitious than what we could realistically accomplish in one year. All of the objectives and initiatives are worthy of commitment, but we may need to extend the timelines for completion. Please see this two-page document for a quick snapshot of our District Improvement Strategy.

 School Buildings

 We are pleased to be well underway in designing our elementary school building projects and have been invited into the Feasibility Study for the Watertown High School Project by the MSBA. I understand that there are some concerns about the current condition of our buildings in the community. I want to assure you that we take the safety of all students and staff in our buildings, and the maintenance of the buildings themselves, very seriously and will continue to do so until the doors open to our new or renovated buildings.

 Let me take a moment to review the steps taken to ensure the safety of our students and staff members, which I shared throughout this past year. In the first quarter of my superintendency last year, we conducted a thorough analysis of all of our buildings as required by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). As a result of these evaluations, we determined that abatement of asbestos would be necessary at the High School and that there were smaller areas of abatement needed in non-instructional areas at the Cunniff, WMS, and the Phillips Buildings. Correspondence was sent out to the entire community in October 2017 regarding the issues at the High School; a School Committee meeting dedicated to the AHERA reports was held on October 30, 2017; the reports and the AHERA notification letter were posted on the website; and ongoing communication was provided to families and staff.

All of our buildings have Asbestos Containing Building Materials (ACBM), as asbestos was used in a variety of applications throughout public buildings as part of the construction process in the past. Often, ACBM are commonly found in pipe insulation or floor tiles. What is important to know is that the best course of action for ACBM is no action at all, as they do not present a hazard unless they are disturbed (Environmental Protection Agency). At the High School, trace amounts of asbestos were used to bind the plaster on the walls. It was necessary to encapsulate or abate any areas of the plaster or the ceilings that had cracks or had sustained damage in the past, with the work being done by an abatement contractor. In the other school buildings, all remediation took place within the time guidelines or over school vacations as established in the AHERA report. All told, close to $400,000 was spent in remediation over the course of the last school year. All of the necessary work was completed and we inspect the condition of the ACBM every six months.

As for ongoing monitoring of the condition of our aging buildings, our Director of Public Buildings, Lori Kabel, has conducted several tests including water quality testing, radon testing, and testing for mold whenever it is appropriate or warranted. If any remediation is necessary, her department diligently follows all proper procedures to ensure that the projects are done well. An example of this would be the replacement of pipes in the Hosmer kitchen, in which the fixtures tested above the acceptable levels for lead as determined during a routine test. When a classroom HVAC unit at the Lowell Elementary School burst last January, we immediately addressed the issue, which required abatement and mold remediation.

 I remain impressed by the level and quality of attention to issues that arise, most often by our maintenance or custodial staff, under the supervision of Lori Kabel. We are fortunate to have a support staff that fully understands that we all work together to make our schools the best possible place for students to learn and thrive.

 As always, I am available to discuss any concerns in a variety of formats: email, telephone calls, Superintendent’s Coffees (the next date is January 28th at 9:00 am or 7:00 pm in the Phillips Building), or meetings.

 All the best,

Dede Galdston, Ed.D.