Ottoson needs a guidance counselor. Special education seeks learning specialists not granted in the current budget. The high school needs a third dean, a position cut years back.
These are the highlights among a list of requests to the School Committee on Thursday, Dec. 15, for the fiscal 2018 budget. Overwhelmingly, the principals of the Ottoson Middle School and Arlington High School as well as the head of special education cited additional staff as their most pressing need.
As they had to elementary principals Dec. 8, committee members sought trade-offs and asked about administrators' top priorities.
A funding summary for the fiscal 2018 budget, still very preliminary, shows a grand total of $66,343,245, an increase of $3,170,163 from the current budget. See the key numbers here >>
Administrators for Ottoson, special ed and the high school pointed out that as numbers of students increase, so do students with social-emotional issues. The percentage of these students has not changed, but with enrollment up more than 4 percent over last year, and projected to continue to increase next year, the number of staff trained to deal with the needs of these students has not increased. Therefore, teachers have experienced greater difficulties in their classrooms.
Secondarily, and also critical to maintaining educational standards in their schools, the principals of the Ottoson and the Arlington High School asked for additional teachers to maintain acceptable class sizes and course offerings. They argued that the increase in enrollment from last year and the projected increase for next year made these additional teacher hires necessary.
Ottoson: Counselor, professional development for TAs, teachers
Eileen Driscoll Woods, interim principal of the Ottoson Middle School, gave the first presentation. She acknowledged that the School Committee was "working with a challenging budget year"; consequently, she said, her requests are minimal. She enumerated those requests for fiscal 2018 and gave rationales for them (see sidebar links).
First, she asked for a 1.5-time adjustment (guidance) counselor who would serve the social-emotional needs of students in the regular-education, special-education and ELL/post ELL programs. The 1.0 guidance counselor will help coordinate all of the counseling in the school while the 0.5 counselor will specifically serve the needs of students in regular education, such as those with 504s, plans that meet student needs and differ from individualized education plans.
Second, Woods requested professional development in social and emotional learning. She specifically requested for support for teaching assistants (TAs), whom she described as "the lifeline to our classes." They could most benefit from this form of support, she said. Julianna Keyes, Ottoson teacher and AEA union representative later supported this plea. Keyes explained that TAs are hired with no special-education training yet are placed in classrooms with students with multiple learning and social-emotional challenges.
Third, the Ottoson principal pointed out that the minimal increase in the teaching staff was necessary to maintain class size and course offerings. She said the following additions were essential: 1.0 reading teacher, .4 Visual Arts teacher and 0.2 teachers for digital media learning to expand program beyond the sixth grade.
World languages would need an increase in a 0.2 Latin teacher to accommodate an additional section of Latin in the seventh grade. Anticipating high levels of enrollment in French and Spanish next year, Woods requested a 0.4 teaching position in French and a 0.6 position in Spanish. Class sizes for those languages average 25 to 27 students, she said.
Committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe reminded Woods: "Our revenue looks the same as our [current] needs, and the bottom line is that we have to pick and choose what to fund." She asked Woods for her highest priority. An adjustment (guidance) counselor, the interim principal replied.
Committee member Jeff Thielman asked about world-language class sizes if no teachers were hired. The response: "They would be 29 [and] moving upward."
Special Education: Administrator, more teachers
Special Education Director Alison Elmer began her presentation saying that she recognized that the out-of-district tuitions accounted for the greatest strain on the budget; thus, she would make requests only for staff that would enable more special-education students to stay in the district (see sidebar links).
First, Elmer requested that the 2.0 learning-specialist positions not filled last year be granted this year. The number of students using the Supported Learning Centers in the elementary schools has grown with the increase in student population, she reported, and "two learning specialists serving six grades are not able to do this."
Second, Elmer requested the creation of an administrative position to
1.) oversee the implementation of the Social Emotional Learning initiatives,
2.) support the development of the Safe and Supportive Schools programs and
3.) supervise the guidance counselors and school social workers.
In response to questions from committee members about the current situation, Elmer replied that some of this work has been done by someone who is now retired and others who did part of the job were only on stipends.
Arlington High School: Reinstatement of 3rd dean
In making his priority requests, Arlington High School Principal Matthew Janger elaborated on the difficulties of managing the school with two deans. He referred to the deans as "the first line of coordination."
Each one is now responsible for 650 students. For these students, the dean takes daily attendance, attends to academic and social-emotional problems by discussing issues with guidance counselors, teachers and parents. Janger concluded that with such high numbers, the deans are not adequately able to provide service to students. Since the high school has grown by 80 students in the last three years and anticipated another 80 students in just the next year, and as the rate continues to accelerate, he expects a difficult situation to worsen.
A second request was for additional teaching positions because of the increase in student enrollment. Each year, Janger reported the high school has been given one-half of the instructional staff needed for the following year. The cumulative effect has led to larger-than-desirable classes and difficulty maintaining course offerings. Electives now are so overenrolled many students can never expect to take these courses.
Representatives of the AEA supported both requests. Chris Dangel, an Arlington High School English teacher, spoke of the "glaring black of administrators in the building." He pointed out that five years ago, when the high school had three deans, each responsible for around 350 students, "things ran smoothly." Now, with only two deans, students do not have the personal relationship with the deans that allows for problem-solving and handling disciplinary issues effectively.
In addition, the responsibilities of the deans have increased. For example, Dangel noted that 100 students have enrolled at the high school as part of new special-education programs and the deans are in charge of these students in addition to their regular duties. Moreover, Dangel warned, that the rising class sizes cause additional compromises in students' education, as teachers cannot give "quality feedback." Chemistry teacher Alicia Majid concurred that the greatest need was for a third dean and additional teachers (see sidebar links).
Internal search for principal
During the presentations, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie announced that the search for a new principal for the all-sixth-grade former Gibbs School would be conducted internally. The rationale for limiting the search was the need to have a current staff member around next year to take part in decisions about the school on Foster Street, but begin the job starting in fiscal 2019. She added that "there was some interest within the school system already" for this position.
In other business, the committee discussed the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Policy, and was updated on the technology program.
The public meeting adjourned at 9 p.m.
Dec. 15, 2016: 7 elementary principals seek assistants in new budget
This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Jo Anne Preston was published Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.
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