School Committee Updates

September 9, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on September 9th in the first meeting of the new school year.  Two key presentations and votes involved goals for the current school year for the Superintendent and the School Committee.  The School Committee approved seven goals for the Superintendent, several of which are a continuation from last year.  The goals are:  Fair and Effective Educator Goal Setting and Evaluation; Effective Communication with the Larger School Community; Support for the Building for the Future Projects; Systems and Structures that Ensure Equity; Increased Student Achievement for All Students; Tiered Systems of Support; and Shaved Vision for District Improvement.  Each goal includes Key Actions and Benchmarks for the year.  The Superintendent also reported on initiatives for the year under the District Improvement Strategy.    

The School Committee also approved four goals for itself: School Committee Liaisons with Each School; Annual Report of WPS Activities (with the Superintendent); Articles for Publication; and School Committee Meetings that Feature Individual Schools.  Several of the goals will require refinement, including the assignment of individual School Committee members as liaisons to specific schools, and the set-up of a schedule and details on holding one school committee meeting at each school during the year.  It also was noted that the Committee will need to play a role in facilitating community support for the debt exclusion override vote that will be needed to fund a new high school.    

The School Committee welcomed three new administrators to the district:  Rashmi Pimprikar as K-12 Digital Learning and Library Coordinator, William Bertoni as K-12 Physical Education, Health, and Wellness Coordinator, and Susanne Dunn as 6-12 English Language Arts Coordinator.  In addition, 33 new professional staff joined the district, 25 of whom are teachers.  In another change, the new high school student advisors, Lakshmi Thangaraj and Evan Fleischer, gave their first report to the School Committee.

In other news, Eileen Hsu-Balzer was recognized by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  Ms. Hsu-Balzer is concluding twenty-four years on the School Committee at the end of the year. 

With the Building for the Future school projects, the Town Council will be voting on funding for the Owner’s Project Manager for the elementary schools, and the Designer Selection Panel established by the Massachusetts School Building Authority will meet on September 17th to select an architect for the High School project. 

The Superintendent welcomed students, teachers, and staff to the new school year.  She also announced recent recognition of Watertown by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the district’s holistic approach to equity.

The next meeting of the School Committee is October 7th. Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 


August 27, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met twice in August. The first meeting was on August 14th and was part of the retreat for district administrators.  In the first part of the meeting principals from each school spoke about key accomplishments of their school over the past year.  These presentations sparked discussion on a range of school-related topics.  

The Superintendent briefly outlined four key district improvement strategies for the coming year:  further development of a multi-tiered system of student support; more work on curriculum alignment and review; additional work on equity issues; and improved communications with families and the community.   

The School Committee and administrators discussed the communication ideas developed by the School Committee at its July 8, 2019 retreat.  Four goals were discussed: holding selected School Committee meetings in school buildings or in Town Hall, but focusing part of the meeting on an individual school; School Committee members serving as liaisons to individual schools; School Committee members writing or co-authoring feature articles on school-related activities; and an Annual Report on district accomplishments, which would be done with the Administration. 

The second meeting was on August 27th in the High School Lecture Hall.  The two major discussion items were drafts of annual goals for the Superintendent and the School Committee.  The Superintendent presented seven goals for the coming academic year.  These included:  Fair and Effective Educator Goal Setting and Evaluation, Effective Communication with the School Community, Building for the Future School Projects, Systems and Structures that Ensure Equity, Narrowing the Achievement Gap, Increased Student Achievement, and Shared Vision for District Improvement.  Each includes a number of Key Actions and Benchmarks.  The School Committee presented and discussed the four goals identified at the August 14th meeting (see above).  Both Superintendent and School Committee goals will be voted on at the September 9th meeting.

Among votes taken, the School Committee approved a restructuring of the Middle School Athletic fee and program.  For the next two years, the $50 activity fee at the Middle School will also cover participation in all athletic programs.  With the activity fee and available monies in the existing athletic fee revolving account, additional coaches and equipment will be made available to expand intramural and possibly interscholastic sports programs to support growing participation at the school.

In other votes, the School Committee approved elementary, Middle School, and High School handbooks.  It also approved Committee meeting dates for the coming school year.

Other reports covered a Curriculum Subcommittee meeting and an update on Building for the Future projects.  The elementary schools are finishing the Design Development phase, which will soon include more detailed cost estimates for the three school projects.  For the High School project, the Designer Selection Panel set-up by the Massachusetts School Building Authority met in August and identified three architectural firms – Ai3, JCJ Architecture and Jonathan Levi Architects – for finalist interviews on September 17th.  The firm chosen on that date will then negotiate with the Watertown School Building Committee and the town for a contract to be the architect for the High School project.

And finally, congratulations to Eileen Donohue, Watertown’s long-time and very successful field hockey coach, for her induction into the National Field Hockey Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.   

The next meeting of the Committee is September 9.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz
Chair, Watertown School Committee 


July 22, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update
The School Committee met on July 22, 2019.  The main topic for the meeting was a report on the Superintendent’s annual evaluation.  At this time each year the School Committee completes an evaluation of the Superintendent based on her annual goals for the past academic year as well as four standards identified by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Each member of the School Committee completed their own evaluation, then the Chair created a composite evaluation that includes comments from members as well as a tally of all ratings.

The evaluation was very positive.  As one School Committee member noted, “Dr. Galdston continues on her path to becoming an exceptionally talented and capable superintendent.”  In the final summary rating, all seven members rated the Superintendent as “proficient” (the rating scale for this part of the evaluation is unsatisfactory, needs improvement, proficient, and exemplary).  For the four state standards, which are Instructional Leadership, Management and Operations, Family and Community Engagement, and Professional Culture, most of the ratings also were proficient, with several exemplary, and one needs improvement.  The six annual goals use a different rating scale, but the most frequent rating was “met,” with several goals indicating “significant progress” and some “exceeded” ratings as well.  While noting areas for growth, the overall evaluation provided strong support for the Superintendent’s leadership of the Watertown schools.    

In other reports and presentations, it was announced that the School Building Committee will meet on Wednesday, July 24.  One key agenda item is a decision on the preferred design for the addition to the Lowell School.  For the High School project, the Designer Selection Panel will meet in mid-August to review proposals from architectural firms to be the designer for the High School.  The Selection Panel is composed of 16 people, 13 of whom are appointed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.  The other three are from the town and include the chief executive officer of the town (Town Manager), Superintendent, and a representative from the School Committee.  The Committee selected Mark Sideris to be their representative.  Not only is he on the School Committee, but he is the President of the Town Council and Chair of the Building Committee. 

In other business, the Superintendent presented a report on mobility rates in the district, based on locally-generated data.  The state prepares the official report later in 2019.  Based on our preliminary data with a total enrollment of 2784 students, the intake rate this past year was 2.8%, which is based on the number of students who enter the district.  The churn rate was 5.2%, which is based on the number of students who enter or exit the district.  And, the overall stability rate was 94.5%, which is based on the number of students who persist throughout the school year.  Based on these preliminary numbers, student mobility is lower than the previous year, indicating slightly higher stability in the student population.     

The next meeting of the Committee is August 19.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



July 8, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met twice on July 8, 2019.  The first meeting was at 4:30 and had only one agenda item: approval of transfers in the FY2019 budget.  A memo to the School Committee explained the major factors that resulted in a favorable end-of-the-year financial position.  These included a variety of one-time savings in salaries, such as three unfilled professional positions, a reduction in the number of instructional aides based on changes in student enrollment, and other savings.  Also, there were savings from a reduction in expenses, including lower out-of-district tuitions since fewer students attended Minuteman Vocational school than were originally budgeted, additional Circuit Breaker funds from the state for extraordinary special education costs, and other expense savings.  With these one-time, additional monies available, the School Committee approved a number of budget transfers.  These covered items not previously funded, such as curriculum materials, musical instruments, and athletic equipment.  In addition, these monies were used to pay for school capital projects that were already planned, but would have required funding support from the town.  Most of these projects are at the Middle School and High School. 

The School Committee also met at 5:15 for a retreat at the Commanders’ Mansion, facilitated by Dorothy Presser, our field representative from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.  There were two major topics.  First, we discussed the Superintendent’s evaluation process.  Topics included the various steps in the evaluation as well as the criteria and rating standards used in the evaluation.  Each School Committee member will complete an evaluation, which is combined into a composite by the Committee chair.  A draft of the composite evaluation will be presented to the Committee for discussion and a vote at the July 22 meeting. 

The second topic was a discussion of strategies to improve the effectiveness of the School Committee.  Most of the discussion focused on ways to improve community engagement and input to the School Committee as well as communication from the Committee to the public.  Possible strategies include School Committee liaisons with each school, holding some Committee meetings in schools or inviting schools to be featured at a Committee meeting, writing feature articles on key school events and happenings, and working with the Administration to produce an annual school report.  These and other strategies will be discussed over the summer, with a presentation of Committee goals for the year in early September. 

The next meeting of the Committee is July 22 in Town Hall.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee  






June 17, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update


The School Committee met on Monday, June 17, from 7-9 PM.  This was the last day of school.  Many thanks to educators and staff throughout the District for their work during the school year, and to the parents for their support.  Congratulations to students for completing another year, with special congratulations to 8th graders moving to the High School and our High School graduates heading to college, careers, military or other endeavors. 

At this meeting the Superintendent made two key presentations on activities in the district.  The first presentation was an update on progress in completing initiatives undertaken during 2018-19 as part of the District Improvement Strategy.  The update covered four strategic objectives and four major initiatives under each objective.  Among key activities during the year: Responsive Classroom in the elementary grades, Equity Leadership Team, Atlas curriculum mapping, professional development partnerships, instructional coaches at the elementary level, iReady assessments, 1:1 technology, new website, Professional Learning Teams, parent engagement strategies, and coordination with the Building Committee on school building projects.  In the fall, MCAS and other data will be available to complement this description of activities. 

The second presentation was the Superintendent’s report on accomplishments related to her 2018-19 goals.  Last September the School Committee approved six goals for the Superintendent.  Goals were developed around educator goal setting and evaluation, communication, school building projects, student achievement, the achievement gap, and a shared vision for the district.  The report identifies the completion status for actions designed to meet each goal.  The School Committee will use information from this document as part of its annual evaluation of the Superintendent, which will be completed this summer. 

The School Committee also heard a report on including Watertown in the state’s Seal of Biliteracy program.  Under this program, school districts can award a Seal of Biliteracy to high school students who meet certain benchmarks that prove competency in two languages.  Eligible students include native English speakers who learn another language as well as English Language Learners fluent in a different language who learn English.  The Committee will vote on joining this program at a subsequent meeting this summer. 

Accomplishments in spring sports were recognized early in the meeting.  The High School track team was particularly successful, setting a number of new school records. 

The Committee also heard an update from the Superintendent on staffing changes planned for the coming year, primarily at the elementary schools.  This includes the addition of several new positions as well as the reallocation of positions to meet class size guidelines and provide needed services.  In an update on Building for the Future, it was noted that the Building Committee will meet on June 19 to continue its review of elementary school designs, and the new Owner’s Project Manager for the High School will be introduced at a subsequent meeting. 

In upcoming meetings, the Curriculum Subcommittee will hold a meeting at 3:30 on July 8, and the School Committee will have a retreat later that day.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 


June 3, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, June 3, from 7-9 PM.  Highlights of this meeting included recognition of students and staff as well as presentations of school improvement plans from the three elementary schools.  Thirteen retiring staff were recognized for their many contributions to the Watertown Public Schools.  Collectively, they provided over 280 years of service to the Watertown schools.  Seven of the 13 were in attendance at the meeting. 

Several students also were recognized.  The High School Student Advisors, Honor Petrie and Olivia Lampasona, updated the Committee and spoke about their plans for next year as well as their role before the Committee.  The High School Valedictorian, Joshua Theodore, and the Salutatorian, Nathan Follett, were unable to attend due to a senior event, but Principal Lundberg read statements from each in which they reflected on their High School experience.  All four students are attending college in the coming year:  Tulane, Endicott, Princeton, and Cornell.  Mange Camara also was recognized for his indoor track accomplishments, including state records in the 55 and 300-meter races and will be attending Northeastern University. 

The Cunniff, the Hosmer, and the Lowell Elementary Schools presented key accomplishments from the current year as well as their school improvement plans for the coming year.  The principals, teachers, and parents on the site councils of each school commented on many important initiatives and practices in the elementary schools.  Among topics presented and discussed:  Responsive Classroom curriculum, iReady assessment, co-teaching, standards-based report cards, tiered instruction, Readers’ Workshop, summer reading, diversity initiatives, Foreign Language in the Elementary School, newsletters and other communication strategies, Literacy and Math Nights, International Night, and more.   It was interesting to hear about common initiatives across the schools, such as Responsive Classroom as the social-emotional curriculum, as well as individual school strategies, such as the Diversity Councils at the Lowell, the Welcoming Committee at the Hosmer, and Reading Buddies at the Cunniff. 

Among “Action Items,” the School Committee discussed and approved an increase in annual compensation for the Committee from $3200 to $4500.  The last increase in compensation was in 2008.  In explaining a need for the increase, several members noted the increase in the number of meetings and overall meeting time in recent years, as well as the overall rise in costs, such as childcare, that members sometimes incur for participating in meetings.  It also was noted that compensation for Town Councilors recently increased to $7500, and community members of the Board of Assessors receive annual compensation of $5075.  By the Town Charter, the School Committee can vote on a compensation change only in the first 18 months of a two-year term and the increase must be approved by the Town Council.  It does not go into effect until after the next election.

In other business, the FY2019 Budget Update outlined recent changes in the budget that leaves unencumbered funds of $569,000 as of May 29, which is 1.2% of the budget.  The Budget Office anticipates that the FY2019 budget will be full expended by the end of the fiscal year.  In an update on Building for the Future, it was noted that the Building Committee will finalize its vote for the Owner’s Project Manager for the elementary schools, and the High School project is continuing in the designer (architect) selection process, concluding with selection of a designer in late August or early September. 

The next School Committee meeting is June 17, 2019.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



May 20, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, May 20, from 7-9:15 PM.  This meeting featured three presentations: two school improvement plans and a presentation on vocational, technical and career education opportunities.  The Middle School Improvement Plan identified a number of important initiatives and actions for the coming school year.  These include the addition of instructional coaches, continued use of iReady formative assessments, differentiation of instruction, effective use of common planning time, and further development of a social-emotional curriculum.  The High School Improvement Plan also identified a number of key initiatives and actions for the next school year.  These include evaluation of the new class schedule, continuation of curriculum development through Atlas, completion of NEASC reports, expansion of social-emotional learning activities, and completion of an Educational Plan and other activities related to the Feasibility Study for a new high school. 

The third presentation on vocational, technical and career opportunities was by the consultant firm Digital Ready (paid for by the Barr Foundation).  The report and presentation provided interesting and helpful information on the status of possible career pathways at the High School.  The report includes general background information on the student population at the High School, a “needs assessment” based on interviews with students, teachers, and others in the community, “labor market analysis” of Watertown and the Boston area, an “asset map” of community strengths and opportunities, and analysis of potential content pathways, such as computer science, engineering, and humanities, as well as options for structuring new pathways, such as state Chapter 74 programs and Innovation Pathways.  The report documents the strong concentration of life sciences and related businesses in Watertown, and it provides insights on strategies for students and teachers to connect to the business community.  This report will be helpful as the district begins the planning process in the summer and fall to develop an Educational Plan related to the new building Feasibility Study.

Among “Action” items, the Committee approved the 2019-2020 School Calendar, a memo regarding low attendance early release on Good Friday, a schedule of summer School Committee meetings, a fee structure for building use by members of the public, and the policies in the updated Policy Manual (with three policies on-hold).  In addition, the Committee approved entering into a contract with the Massachusetts Association of School Committee to host and update the newly-approved Policy Manual. 

In an update on Building for the Future, for the elementary school projects, the Town Council on May 14 approved a $12 million loan order to fund the remaining architectural work for this project.  In addition, the School Building Committee gave initial approval to Hill International to be the Owner’s Project Manager for the elementary projects.  For the High School project, the next step is to begin the designer (architect) selection process.  This will conclude in August when the designer is selected. 

In other happenings at the meeting, Erin Moulton was introduced as the new principal at the Hosmer School, effective July 1, 2019, and Renee Ruggiero, the Executive Assistant for the School Committee and Superintendent, was thanked for her service as she leaves at the end of the month for a position at the Berklee College of Music. 

The next School Committee meeting is June 3, 2019.  Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee



May 6, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, May 6, from 7-9 PM.  There were two interesting and informative “Teaching and Learning Showcase” presentations.  First, the Committee heard about services provided by the Coordinated Family and Community Engagement Program, formerly known as the Family Network.  Funded from a state agency through the school department, this program provides services for children ages 0 to 5 and their families.  Among the services are thirteen playgroups each week, parent support activities, and a number of special events.  Located on the first floor of the administration building on Common Street, the program highlights a play curriculum that prepares children for pre-k and kindergarten programs. 

The second presentation was by the Robotics Club at Watertown High School.  This is a very active group that immerses students in designing and building a robot that then participates in area competitions.  The students described how they used their STEM skills to build a robot that must perform several key tasks as part of the competition. 

Another informational presentation came when Helen Chatel, the Executive Director of Watertown Cable (WCATV), presented a $40,000 check to the School Committee on behalf of WCATV.  Located in the High School building, Watertown Cable includes several studios and production equipment that offer important learning opportunities in media production and development.  There are six classes for high school students, and in 2018 over 100 students produced various media productions and shows. 

Among “Action” items, the Committee approved policies in Section I, Instructional Programs, of the Policy Manual, and it also authorized the administration to pre-pay special education FY20 tuitions to the degree allowed by state law.  The Committee also approved a Resolution titled, “In Support of Full Funding for Our Public Schools.”  Sponsored by Fund Our Future, a state-wide coalition of labor and community groups, the resolution calls for changes to the state’s foundation budget formula, which is the basis for Chapter 70 state aid for schools, and has not been substantially revised since 1993.  A 2015 state task force recommended a number of changes and the legislature and governor are currently considering changes. 

Among “Reports,” the Committee heard a presentation on the Tiered Focused Monitoring Program, formerly referred to as Coordinated Program Review.  Conducted by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on a six-year cycle, this is a detailed review of several major programs and areas:  special education, civil rights, career/vocational education, and English learners.  The review begins now with a focus on individual education plans for special education students as well as civil rights responsibilities in guidance and counseling services.  A survey will be sent to parents, and the first report is due sixty days after completion of the review.  Additional reviews of other areas will take place over the next several years.

In an update on Building for the Future, for the elementary school projects, on May 7th the Building Committee will interview three finalists for the Owners’ Project Manager position, and on May 14th the Town Council will vote on a $12 million loan order to fund the next phases of architectural work.  For the High School project, Compass Project Management has been approved by the Massachusetts School Business Authority (MSBA) as the Owner’s Project Manager, and a group from Watertown is participating in a MSBA-sponsored ‘design summit’ to learn more about possible high school designs.  The Committee also discussed the importance of planning for a debt exclusion vote as part of the high school process. 

In other comments, the Superintendent highlighted the hard work and many contributions of teachers in Watertown during Teacher Appreciation Week, and the Committee Chair noted that the proposed FY20 town budget from the Town Manager includes a 5% increase for the school department, continuing the strong support provided by the town for public education.  Among upcoming meetings, State Senator Will Brownsberger is hosting a meeting with Senator Jason Lewis on the “State of Education Funding in Local Schools,” May 13th, at 6 PM, in the Honan-Allston Branch Library, 300 N. Harvard Street, Allston.  Watertown, Belmont and Boston will make presentations.

Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee 



April 22, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, April 22 from 7-8:30 PM.  This was primarily a ‘business’ meeting in which the Committee reviewed updated policies for its Policy Manual.  Two major sections of the Manual, sections B and J, were approved.  Section B includes policies related to Committee Governance and Operations, while Section J involves various policies related to Students.  The Committee also completed a first reading of Section I, which focuses on various Instructional policies.  This section will be subject to a vote at the next meeting.  Several policies were referred to other subcommittees or the town attorney for further review.  The Committee deferred to a later date, pending more information, the decision to have the Massachusetts Association of School Committees host and update the Policy Manual. 

In the Building for the Future update, it was noted that the School Building Committee meets this Thursday, April 25, from 6-8 PM in Town Hall to continue its review of the school building projects, focusing on the elementary schools.  The Town Council will have the first reading of a loan order on April 23 for over $12 million to continue the elementary school design work.  For the high school project, which is in partnership with the state and at an earlier stage, the Massachusetts School Building Authority on May 6 will make the final decision on an Owner’s Project Manager for the high school project. 

In other business, the School Committee heard an update on the FY 2019 budget, which shows a positive balance of $3.1 million as of March 31.  The Committee also approved cash gifts to the District as well as the disposition of surplus property. 

Upcoming meetings include the Budget and Finance subcommittee on May 2, 6-7 PM, in 301 Administration Building.  The Budget and Finance subcommittee agenda includes a discussion of rental charges for the use of school buildings.  The Superintendent’s Coffee is on April 29, from 9-10 AM and 7:30-8:30 PM in room 301 of the Phillips Administration Building.  The next School Committee meeting is May 6 at 7 PM in Town Hall.        

Additional information is available on the Watertown Public Schools website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

Chair, Watertown School Committee  



April 1, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, April 1, in Town Hall.  One major agenda item was the public hearing on the proposed FY20 school budget.  We covered much of this in the last meeting as well.  The Superintendent provided an overview of key accomplishments from the past year and goals for next year.  The level-services budget for next year requires 90% of our projected overall 5% increase.  This includes three elementary classroom teachers needed to retain class sizes within our guidelines.  It also includes projected salary increases for teachers and other staff, an increase in Minuteman costs, anticipated increase in basic supplies, and a number of other costs to maintain level services.  Beyond level services, there is $237,700 for new initiatives, which includes two Middle School instructional coaches, an additional social worker, increase in a Spanish teacher allocation as well as monies for curriculum.  The requested town appropriation is $50,441,424. 

The School Committee voted the proposed budget at a meeting held yesterday in the Town Council Office space.  After the School Committee meeting, the approved budget will be forwarded to the Town Manager, who incorporates it into the overall town budget, which is then presented to the Town Council.  In May, the School Committee and School Administration will present the budget to the Town Council, which will vote on the entire town budget in June. 

The School Committee also heard from a Middle School teacher and group of students on a program called One Step Forward.  These students are working on a variety of issues related to student risk behaviors as well as homelessness and other social issues.  They recently met with the Peer Leaders at the High School and hope to join that group next year. 

The Committee also reviewed the proposed school calendar for the next school year.  School will begin for students on September 3 (the day after Labor Day) and will end in June, although the exact day will depend on the number of snow days.  The Committee will vote on the calendar at its May 6 meeting.  It also was noted that the last day for school this year is currently a half-day on June 17, assuming there are no more missed days. 

In other business, the Committee continued its review of the Policy Manual.  We approved several policy sections and did a first reading on Section J.  We also discussed the option of having the Policy Manual hosted on the Internet by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.  A number of questions were raised about this option that will be addressed before any action is taken. 

We also heard an update on school building projects- both the elementary projects and Watertown High School.  The next School Building Committee meeting will be held on April 25 at 6 PM.  These meetings are open to the public and are broadcast live on WCA-TV.

The next School Committee meeting is on April 22, 7 PM in Town Hall.  Additional information is available on the WPS website at  https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz

School Committee Chair





March 18, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, March 18, in Town Hall.  A major agenda item was a presentation of the proposed FY20 school budget.  The Budget and Finance Subcommittee met four times in the last few weeks to discuss the budget.  The Superintendent presented her proposed budget, which was recommended by the subcommittee at its last meeting. 

Creating a level-services budget is an important first step in developing the operating budget.  A level-services budget identifies expenditure changes necessary to provide the same level of services in the next school year.  Because of enrollment shifts at the elementary level, this includes three new elementary teachers as well as partial position increases in the Middle School.  Another major budget ‘driver’ is a projected increase of $468,000 for Minuteman tuitions, including a capital charge for their new building.  Also included are projected salary increases for all staff as well as supplies.  The level-services budget requires 90% of the proposed 5% overall increase in the town appropriation.  This is an adjustment downward from the last School Committee meeting when it was expected a new kindergarten teacher would be needed for level services. However, projected kindergarten enrollments are lower than expected.  This leaves $237,700 for new initiatives.  Included in the new initiatives are two Middle School instructional coaches, an additional social worker, a .5 FLES teacher, as well as monies for curriculum and technology.  The requested town appropriation is $50,441,000. 

The School Committee also created an ad hoc committee to review the compensation for members.  The compensation was last changed in 2008, from $2100 to $3200.  The ad hoc committee will review this issue, including a comparison to other communities, and report back to the School Committee.  For a change to be effective in 2020, the School Committee and Town Council must approve a change by June 30 of this year. 

The School Committee continued its review of the Policy Manual.  It did a first reading on several sections of the Manual and will do the second reading and vote at its April 1 meeting.  In other news, the Superintendent announced that a second pre-K class will start at the Hosmer in the fall.  There is a waiting list with considerable interest in this class.  The Superintendent also noted that an organization called City at the Lab will conduct a study of Watertown businesses to see how high school students can be best prepared for jobs in the community and beyond. 

The next School Committee meeting is April 1 at 7 PM in Town Hall.  This meeting will include a public hearing on the proposed FY20 budget.  The School Committee will vote on the budget at a subsequent meeting.      

Additional information is available on the WPS website at:  www.watertown.k12.ma.us

John Portz

School Committee Chair

March 4, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, March 4, in Town Hall.  The meeting began with a moment of remembrance for Allison Donovan, a curriculum coordinator, teacher and interim principal in the district, who died tragically in an automobile-pedestrian incident, as well as Nancy Heffernan, the Town Treasurer/Collector, who also passed away in the last month. 

The Teaching and Learning Showcase featured an overview of the Middle School Turnaround process.  In the 2018 MCAS tests the Middle School results were lower than expected, particularly among student subgroups.  The state requires a Turnaround Plan in these instances.  With a state grant, the district has hired SchoolWorks to assist in this process.  An Instructional Leadership Team has been created to focus on this work, which will involve a variety of strategies, including an alignment of curriculum to standards, use of assessment data, and targeted instructional supports.  A Turnaround Plan is due to the state by June 30, 2019.

The administration also provided a preview of the FY 2020 operating budget, which begins July 1, 2019.   This preview focused on a “level services budget,” which estimates the costs needed to provide the same level of services next year as provided this year.  Typically, the main increases are projected salary increases for current teachers and other staff as well as any other increases, such as new teachers, needed to continue services if enrollments are projected to increase.  For FY 2020, the projected level services budget includes an increase of $2.23 million to cover projected salary increases, up to four new teachers in the elementary schools, several other staff adjustments, an increase in costs for students attending Minuteman Vocational High School, and a number of other adjustments.  The level services budget uses 93% of the total projected 5% increase from the town.  This leaves $173,000 for new initiatives.  The administration is proposing that these funds be used for Middle School instructional coaches, a social worker, and an increase in Spanish teaching capacity.  The School Committee’s review of the proposed budget continues with subcommittee meetings on March 7, 11 and 13, then another presentation at the School Committee meeting on March 18. 

In another budget related action, the Committee approved staffing adjustments for the current year, using already available funds.  This includes kindergarten aides as well as door monitors at the Middle and High Schools. 

The School Committee also discussed the status of rental fees for the use of school buildings by local non-profit organizations and other groups.  There has been some confusion and unintended consequences this year over the fee structure approved last year, although not fully implemented, which differed significantly from what had often been charged in past years.  The Committee did not take a vote, but it was expected that the administration would continue charging fees as it did in the fall, based on past practice.  The Committee will continue reviewing this issue and establish a new fee structure to begin July 1, 2019.

In the Building for the Future update, it was reported that the School Building Committee recommended to the town that Ai3 continue as the architect for the remainder of the elementary schools project, but that Daedalus not be continued as the owner’s project manager.  The Building Committee will seek a new owner’s project manager for the rest of the project.  At the High School level, a subcommittee of the Building Committee will soon review applications for the owner’s project manager for the High School project.  This hire will take place in the next few months and involves a different process that is controlled largely by the state School Building Authority. 

The next School Committee meeting is March 18 at 7 PM in Town Hall.      

Additional information is available on the WPS website at: https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/cms/one.aspx?portalid=190103&pageid=556557.

John Portz
School Committee Chair

February 4, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, February 4th, in Town Hall.  The High School was featured in two major agenda items.  First, the School Committee heard an overview of programs at the high school that provide a strong core curriculum as well as a variety of academic opportunities for students.  The major curriculum requirements covering math, science, English, and social studies are consistent with the Mass Core, which is recommended by the state.  In addition, the presentation covered a variety of other curriculum opportunities, including advanced placement courses, engineering in Project Lead the Way, Virtual High School, and industry certifications in graphic design, media broadcasting, and other areas. 

Second, the School Committee reviewed and approved changes to the High School Program of Studies for the next school year.  A common theme was creating more flexibility in the curriculum to meet the varied needs of students.  A prominent example includes revisions to the physical education/wellness requirements.  In this area, there are graduation requirements for the high school, which can be met through a combination of four semester-long courses related to physical fitness and wellness.  There also is a state requirement that physical fitness be taught as a subject each year that a student attends school.  This requirement can be met by the courses, but new for the coming year will be several other options to meet the requirement, including participation in athletics or a structured physical activity.  

In response to questions raised in the community, the Superintendent presented a report on actions taken across the district to ensure that all of our school buildings are safe for students and staff.  Of particular concern is asbestos in the buildings, which is typical for any building constructed at the time of our schools, which range from the Lowell in 1925 to the Hosmer in 1967.  In the last year, almost $400,000 was spent on abatement of asbestos at the High School as well as monitoring and addressing other conditions in the buildings.  The Superintendent’s report includes a list of proactive and remediation activities to ensure the maintenance of all school buildings. 

In the Building for the Future update, it was reported that the School Building Committee recommended to the town that almost $170 million be allocated for the construction of new elementary buildings to replace the Hosmer and Cunniff and major renovations/addition at the Lowell.  The Town Manager included this level of financial support in the Capital Improvement Plan, which is subject to a vote by the Town Council in the near future.  The next meeting of the Building Committee is February 6th at 6 PM in Town Hall. 

The Buildings and Grounds subcommittee met just prior to the School Committee meeting to discuss building rental issues, including fees.  A discussion of fees will continue at the next subcommittee meeting, to be jointly scheduled with the Budget and Finance subcommittee.  Also, the Committee discussed options to host school-community forums at each school as well as facilitate ways for School Committee members to observe teaching practices in the schools.  In other actions, the Committee approved a field trip, the disposition of surplus property, gifts, amended EDCO article of agreement, and a motion to not participate in the state’s school choice program.  Of particular note among gifts is the recent announcement by the Watertown Community Foundation of grants totaling over $29,000 to various school projects. 

Upcoming meetings include the Policy subcommittee on February 6th at 3 PM; Budget and Finance subcommittee on February 12th at 6 PM; and the Superintendent’s Coffee on February 25th at 9 AM and 7 PM.  The next School Committee meeting is March 4th at 7 PM.

Additional information is available on the WPS website at https://sites.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/watertown-k12-ma-us/.

John Portz

School Committee Chair



January 7, 2019 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, January 7th in its first meeting of 2019.  First on the agenda was the Committee’s annual reorganization.  The current officers were re-elected: John Portz as chair, Kendra Foley as vice-chair, and Amy Donohue as secretary.  Subcommittee assignments also remain the same as in 2018.  See the WPS website for assignments. 

The Teaching and Learning Showcase featured the Kingian Nonviolence program in the Watertown schools.  Students and faculty from the Middle School, along with Lieutenant Unsworth from the Watertown Police Department, provided an informative presentation on Kingian Nonviolence activities.  Kingian Nonviolence is an interactive training program in which shared values and engaged dialogue help people deal with conflict situations.  Since 2016, many WPS faculty and students, as well as community members and police officers, have engaged in this training program.  At the meeting, students from the Middle School spoke about the key principles of the program and how it has affected their lives.  These conflict resolution skills are being introduced to 5th graders, and training programs continue for the community.  Kingian Nonviolence integrates well with the social-emotional curriculum recently introduced in the Watertown schools. 

Another presentation was the Superintendent’s mid-cycle self-assessment on meeting her 2018-19 goals.  The Superintendent’s report covered various action steps connected to each of six general goals.  The six goals are:  fair, effective educator goal setting and evaluation; effective communication with the larger school community; Building for the Future elementary and high school projects; increased academic achievement for all students; narrowing the achievement gap; and, shared vision for district improvement.  School Committee questions covered a variety of topics, particularly in the student learning area and prompted a good discussion on curriculum, assessment, and related issues. 

The main ‘action item’ was approval of the FY2020 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  The CIP covers capital-related expenditures, such as purchasing school furniture and painting hallways and classrooms, that are long-term in nature.  There are a variety of needs across the district that fall into this category.  The School Committee amended the proposal by removing $100,000 in technology costs since that amount will be covered through the district’s operating budget.  The total request of $1.6 million will be forwarded to the Town Council, which will hold a hearing on the town-wide CIP and prioritize items for the coming year, and the Town Manager will make recommendations as part of the FY2020 town budget process. 

The Building for the Future update included two important news items.  For the elementary schools, at the January 2nd meeting of the School Building Committee, the architect presented conceptual designs for new Hosmer and Cunniff school buildings and a major addition and renovations at the Lowell.  At the upcoming January 23rd meeting of the Building Committee the architect will present cost estimates for these projects.  If the Building Committee votes to proceed, a funding request will be forwarded to the Town Manager, who would then make a recommendation to the Town Council.  These are exciting opportunities to create state-of-the-art facilities at all three schools.  For the high school project, in mid-December the Massachusetts School Building Authority approved Watertown’s request to proceed to the next “Feasibility” phase.  Initial tasks are hiring an owner’s project manager and architect for the high school project.    

The Superintendent will hold her next coffee on January 28th, 9 AM and 7 PM; the Curriculum subcommittee meets on January 30th at 3:30-5 PM, and the next School Committee meeting is February 4th at 7 PM.      

Additional information is available on the WPS website at https://www.watertown.k12.ma.us/.

John Portz

School Committee Chair     




December 10, 2018 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, December 10th in Town Hall.  The meeting started with two interesting “Teaching and Learning” presentations.  The first presentation focused on an important addition to the elementary schools:  literacy and math coaches.  There are two coaches in each subject area who work with teachers to further improve the teaching and learning experience.  The coaches assist with professional development, model teaching practices, help analyze student work, and support in other ways the learning environment at each elementary school. 

The second presentation was on the new class schedule at the high school, to be implemented in fall 2019.  The current 7-day schedule has been used for over 20 years.  The new schedule is based on a 5-day cycle in which classes meet four times each week and include one longer block of 76 minutes for each sequence.  This provides a better opportunity for project-based activities and other teaching strategies that take longer than the shorter class sessions, which are typically 50 minutes.  This also allows the advisory session to meet once every five days rather than seven days.  This year teachers will be planning new approaches and strategies for this schedule.  A parent meeting is planned for January 16th to explain and answer questions about the new schedule. 

In the area of budgeting, the School Committee approved goals for the FY 2020 budget.  Draft goals were presented by the administration and cover four strategic areas:  Equity, Excellence, Community, and Building for the Future.  The first subcommittee meeting on the FY 2020 budget will be in January 2019.  The School Committee also approved an increase in compensation for lunch aides, to $12.50 per hour, as well as pay rate structure for auditorium technicians, who are used by outside groups that rent the high school auditorium. 

In other business, the Committee approved policies in Section K as part of the review of all Committee policies and heard a report from the Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee.  The Capital Budget for FY 2020 was originally scheduled for a vote, but was postponed until the January meeting to allow for more discussion with town officials.  The School Committee also approved a resolution requesting that the Federal Communications Commission reconsider a proposed change in regulations related to local cable providers.  This change would likely limit or end many in-kind contributions made by Watertown Cable Access in support of the schools and town, such as curriculum opportunities for our students, access to and donations of media equipment, and other activities that support local programming. 

The Superintendent provided a report on class sizes in the middle and high schools, which led to an interesting discussion on the structure and course offerings in the secondary curriculum.  The Curriculum Subcommittee will follow-up with more discussion. 

The Building for the Future update included two important news items.  For the elementary schools, the Town Manager has agreed to explore the option of building two new schools – replacing the Hosmer and Cunniff schools – along with smaller additions and major renovations at the Lowell.  This is an exciting opportunity to create more new learning spaces that are state-of-the-art and energy efficient.  The Building Committee will review this option at its January 2nd meeting (6 PM in Town Hall).  For the high school project, the Massachusetts School Building Authority will meet on Wed., December 12th, to approve Watertown’s participation in the next “Feasibility” phase.  Initial tasks are hiring an owner’s project manager and architect for the high school project.    

The Superintendent will hold her next coffee on December 17th, 9 AM and 7 PM, and the next School Committee meeting is January 7th.    

Additional information is available on the WPS website at  https://sites.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/watertown-k12-ma-us/.

John Portz

November 19 School Committee Meeting Update

The School Committee met on Monday, November 19th in Town Hall.  The lead presentation was on MCAS scores and accountability determinations at the High School and Middle School.  Test scores from spring 2018 were reported for English language arts (ELA), math and science, by school and by various subgroups, such as English language learners.  At the High School, the percent of students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" increased from last year in ELA and science, and stayed the same in math.  All scores were above the state average.  Subgroup performance varied, with several groups showing achievement gaps of 20 percentage points or more.  The accountability determination, based on targets set by the state, was “meeting targets.” 

At the Middle School, MCAS test performance showed a decline in the percentage of students scoring "meeting" or "exceeding" expectations in all test areas compared to the 2017 scores, although ELA scores in 7th and 8th grade, science in 8th grade, and math in 7th grade remained above the state average.  Achievement gaps were significant with a number of subgroups.  The accountability determination was “partially meeting targets.”  For both the Middle and High Schools, principals and curriculum coordinators described a number of changes to improve student learning, and Committee members asked questions on a variety of issues, including curriculum alignment and teacher practice.  This was the third presentation to the Committee on 2018 MCAS scores and the new state accountability system. 

Another topic of discussion was Watertown’s participation in Minuteman Vocational School District.  Watertown is not a member of Minuteman, but it currently sends and pays tuition for 56 students.  At several previous subcommittee meetings there was discussion about the pros and cons of joining Minuteman.  Citing several factors, including higher costs in the long term and the continuing availability of space for Watertown students, the Committee voted to continue its current status, while reviewing this issue again after completion of the feasibility study for a new Watertown high school and in consideration of possible changes at Minuteman and other area options for vocational education.    

The Committee also heard several other reports:  a summary of recent professional development activities on election day (when students were not in school); review of capital improvements completed this past summer; and an update on the current budget.  The Committee also completed a first reading on a set of policy revisions.  At the beginning of the meeting, two Watertown seniors, Nathan Follett and Robert Leonard, were congratulated for being commended by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation for their performance on the 2017 PSAT exam.

Building for the Future updates included comments on the recent community forums at the Hosmer and Cunniff Schools, as well as a presentation by the Superintendent on the High School process, which is completing the Eligibility stage and will seek approval from the state to hire the architect and Owner’s project manager for the High School project.  The Town Council recently approved $1.6 million for this next phase of the project.

Upcoming events include a community forum at the Lowell School on proposed building changes, on November 28th at 6 PM; Superintendent’s coffee on November 26th at 9 AM and 7 PM; and School Committee meeting on December 10th.    

Additional information is available on the WPS website at  https://sites.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/watertown-k12-ma-us/.