Wednesday, May 27, 2015

School Commmittee Recap - May 26, 2015

May 27, 2015

Recap from the May 26th School Committee meeting:

Welcome to Kate Tracy, our newest committee member elected to a two-year term last week.

As is customary after each election, the committee reorganized and filled various appointments:
  • Chairperson - Mike LeBrasseur
  • Vice-Chairperson - Joe Strazzulla
  • Secretary - Kate Tracy
  • Budget and Negotiations Subcommittee:  Mike LeBrasseur (chair) and Joe Strazzulla
  • Policy Subcommittee:  Michael Clements (chair) and Randi Zanca
  • PR and Communications Subcommittee:  Randi Zanca (chair) and Kate Tracy
  • Cable Corporation Board of Directors Representative: Randi Zanca
  • Building, Planning, and Construction Committee Representative: Joe Strazzulla
  • Green Committee Representative: Randi Zanca
  • Curriculum Committee:  Joe Strazzulla
  • Safety Committee Representative: Paul Halacy
  • Solar Committee Representative: Melissa Walker
  • Southern Worcester County Educational Collaborative Board Member:  Dr. Catherine Stickney
  • Warrant Approvers:  Randi Zanca, Joe Strazzulla and Michael Clements
  • Weekly Payroll Approver:  Randi Zanca
  • Student Advisory Member and Student Reporter:  Connor Nowlan

High School teach Mr. James Gorman and his NASA ICED (Innovative Conceptual Engineering Design) course were recognized for their work as part of this NASA-sponsored program to increase innovation within NASA, and encouraging STEM education in the United States. Northbridge was among three classes in the country invited to present at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia.

The committee unanimously supported the Adminstration's recommendation to move to a Humanities program at the Middle School which combines Social Studies and Language Arts.  The plans will continue for the first year pilot for the 2015-16 school year.

The committee was introduced to Mrs. Patricia Paine, who has recently been hired as the district's Transportation coordinator.

Additionally, just a reminder that Friday, June 5th is the deadline to sign up for busing for the 2015-16 school year.  If you are eligible for busing, whether free or for a fee, or are interesting in applying for any open seats, please complete your application by the deadline.  More info can be found here:  NPS Transportation

The committee was also introducted to Mrs. Kathleen Perry, Superintendent’s recommendation as the
Director of Pupil Personnel Services.  Mrs. Perry is currently the Assistant Director of Pupil Personnel Services in North Kingstown, RI.  The committee will vote to confirm Dr. Stickney's appointment at our next meeting on June 9th.

Instructional Coach Lauren Dolan, Principal Ross, and Assistant Principal Tringali shared some examples of the ELA curriculum in place (and in development) at Balmer School.  Among the topics covered were the Model Curriculum Units and the use of Word Study to provide more targeted instruction on spelling.  I'll share the link to the presentation when it is posted. 


Superintendent Stickney shared her proposal to restructure the Middle School Administration to include an Assistant Vice Principal, who would focus primarily on Teaching and Learning, and a Dean of Students who would work with students and families, providing a guidance role, work with School Adjustment Counselors and other staff to support students' social and emotional needs.  The Committee will formally vote on this new Dean of Students position at our next meeting.

The Committee meets next on June 9th.  Senator Ryan Fattman is scheduled to attend that meeting. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Thank You Northbridge!

May 20, 2015

Thank you for your vote!

I have been honored to serve as a member of the Northbridge School Committee for the past eight years.  I sincerely appreciate your support and your confidence.

There are incredible things happening in our schools each and every day. This is due to the hard work of our teachers, our administrators, and all our staff, as well as our students.

But as our school district motto states, ("Always More to Learn. Always Striving to Improve."), we still have much work to do to build on the progress we have made.

I am committed to working tirelessly on your behalf, and on behalf of our students to ensure we are providing them with a quality education every year.  I will continue to focus on the main points from my first campaign 8 years ago:

1.  Maintain open communications to parents and taxpayers
2.  Improve collaboration with all town officials
3.  Ensure fiscal responsibility

Thanks again for you support, and as always, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time with any questions and concerns that you may have.

Thank you!

Below are the various ways by which you can contact me and stay in touch with what is happening with your schools:

LIKE my page on Facebook
FOLLOW me on Twitter
EMAIL me at

Also, if you are not already a recipient of my "Mike for Schools" emails, please send an email to with ADD in the subject line.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

School Commmittee Recap - May 12, 2015

May 13, 2015

Some updates from last night's meeting of the Northbridge School Committee:

Thank you to the Brouwers:

Both Committee Member Sue Brouwer and Student Representative to the Committee Meagan Brouwer were recognized for their service to the committee.

Megan has been an active and engaged member of our committee as the High School students' representative to our committee.  Her insight and perspective was always appreciated.  

I've had the pleasure of working with Sue for (I think) six of my eight years on the Committee.  I've personally appreciated that experience and especially Sue's historical knowledge, passion for our town and the schools, commitment to the students and their families, and her willingness to always vote and speak her mind.

Thank you both!

Welcome Connor:

HS Principal Gauthier introduced the Committee to Connor Nowlan, who will serve as next year's Student Representative to the committee.  Connor will be a Junior next year, and we look forward to his input and contribution.

Humanities Program at the Middle School

Director of Curriculum Amy Allen-Magnan and Superintendent Stickney shared some updates to the planned implementation of the Humanities program at the Middle School next year.  While the intent is to still move forward as originally outlined, this first year will be a transition year to benefit both the students and the teachers.  Some key points shared last night:
  • There will be two humanities teachers per four-person team in every grade -- one will have an ELA focus and the other will have a Social Studies focus
  • Both humanities teachers (ELA/SS) will co-plan all lessons and work collaboratively
  • The Humanities teachers will each teach four classes of students (two (2) per day for a double-block). They will meet with each group every other day for two hours. Students will have Humanities/ELA one day, then Humanities/SS the next. 
  • Humanities teachers will be provided with professional development time and training prior to the end of the school year, as well as Summer and additional PD as needed, in preparation for this transition.
  • Implementation of the two-teacher Humanities model will also allow “Humanities” teachers an additional year to acquire necessary certification(s).
As a reminder, there has been an informational session for parents/community to discuss the current status of the humanities programming at the Middle School on Wednesday, May 13th at 5:00 p.m. in the MS library.

The School Committee will formally vote to approve this plan at our May 26th meeting.

District Accelerated Learning Plan

This is our final year of the District's 3-year Accelerated Learning Plan.  Principals and the Director of Curriculum walked the committee through their progress, including each area's "Vision for 2018."

The three primary goals of the ALP were:
  1. Develop/establish a data-driven culture which has consistency and fidelity throughout the school district which directs classroom instruction, leading to improved student achievement.
  2. Delineate and implement best teacher instructional practices within an aligned PK-12 curriculum to improve student engagement, in-depth comprehension, and achievement.
  3. Develop and implement a tiered system of supports and services that meets the academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs of all students.
I encourage you to review this update:  ALP Final Report

Before and After School Programs

The committee approved the following programs and fees for next year:

- Before School Program -- 7:00-8:25am -- $5/day
- After School Program -- 3:00-5:30pm -- $11/day

- Before School Program -- 7:00-8:15am -- $5/day
- After School Program -- 2:40-5:30pm -- $11/day

- Before School Program -- 6:30-7:30am -- $5/day
- After School Program -- 2:00-5:30pm -- $15/day

More info can be found in the meeting packet, starting on page 18 (please note, some of the prices differ to what was approved in the packet):  SC May 12th Packet

Superintendent's Evaluation

Dr. Stickney submitted her End-of-Cycle Summative Self-Evaluation.  Over the next two weeks the Committee members will be submitting their individual assessments of the Superintendent, and the summary of that will be reported out at our June 9th meeting.

District Dashboard

A new dashboard on the NPS website was shared with the committee.   This dashboard will track key statistics about our district and our progress, and continues the district's and committee's goal to be as transparent and communicative to the public as possible.

Check it out:  NPS District Dashboard 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Spring Town Meeting 2015 Comments

May 5, 2015

I would like to provide some context to the school budget for which you will be voting tonight.

There are many positive things happening in our schools, but we must face the reality that our budgetary challenges make the work our teachers and staff do more difficult each year.  The School Committee has been fiscally responsible but, ultimately it is our obligation to put forth a budget that provides the best educational opportunity we can for our students each and every year.

The budget we are presenting for FY16, however, will be the second straight year of reduced services, two years in a row that we are providing less to our students than the previous year.  In the last two years, our Operating Budget has increased by just over 1%.  This is very modest, to say the least, and not without the reduction of more than $1.5 Million Dollars in staff, services and programs over that time.

Last year, I informed you that without the passage of an override, the School Department would be faced with cutting 1.1M for FY15 (which we implemented) and potentially another $1.3M in cuts for FY16.  

While we have avoided that level of cuts for FY16, and I am relieved to be standing before you tonight not having to ask you to support an override, I must caution you that financial challenge we discussed at last year’s Town Meeting is still very real.

I want to walk through some numbers to make sure there is no confusion or misunderstanding as to how we got to this year’s budget. 

First, the Town Manager proposed, and gained the approval of the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen to increase the schools appropriation by $500k ($48K of which came through Chapter 70/State Aid).

Second, The School Committee modified our transportation policy, reduced the number of buses, and reduced our projected cost by over $225K.  We instituted a bus fee for students for whom we are not legally obligated to provide transportation, which could generate about $40K.  However, these two actions have made nearly 300 students ineligible to ride the bus, and another 300 eligible to ride, but only for a fee.

Third, The School Committee increased other fees and charges, including High School Athletics Fees, HS Parking Fees, Facilities rentals, and Pre-School Tuition which is projected to generate approximately $100K.

Fourth, The School Committee agreed to dip a little bit deeper into our Revolver Accounts by approximately $220K -- leaving us with a projected revolver balance of just under $1M.

And finally, the School Committee made an additional $250K in reductions from a level services budget.   Further details about these cuts, as well as additional budget information was included in the Booklet for this meeting.  

When you add up all these figures..500K + 225K + 40K + 100K + 220K + 250K…you come up with $1.34M…just about the amount we said we would need to cut.

It is important to note, that other than through the fundraising efforts of parents and the community to restore athletics and extracurricular activities, nothing which was cut from this current year was restored from our operational budget.  Without that great support, the climate and culture of our schools would be sorely impacted.

I’d like to thank the Town Manager, Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee for their partnership and support.  And I’m looking forward to ongoing collaboration with them as we set to tackle the FY2017 budget.

Thank you for your support.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

School Committee Meeting Recap - April 28, 2015

April 29, 2015

Some updates from last night's School Committee meeting:

High School Teacher Sheri Travers was recognized as Northbridge's Teacher of the Year.  Mrs. Travers was recognized for her excellence, dedication and commitment to the students of Northbridge High School. She's not only an excellent teacher, but is extremely involved in many activities outside the classroom including serving as Class of 2018 Advisor and the Community Garden project, to name just a couple.  Congratulations and thank you to Mrs.Travers.

Action Items:
- Accepted School Choice students for the 2015-2016 to grades at the discretion of the Superintendent (meaning  based on class size, some grades will not accept non-Northbridge students)
- Approved June 19th as the final day of school for this year
- Approved  June 16th as the final day of school for next year
- Accepted a donation for $250 to be forwarded to the Janet Stuart Scholarship Fund.

Before and After School Programs:
Currently, Northbridge offers Before School programs at Balmer and NES, and After School Programs at Balmer, NES and the Middle School (for 5th and 6th graders).  There are plans to expand the Middle School program to all grades, as well as to create a Before School Program as well.  This could potentially alleviate challenges created by the reduction in buses.

- Director of Pupil Personnel Robert Lynch shared the results of the recent Coordinated Program Review (CPR), as well as a Special Education Report.  The CPR is conducted every 6 years and Northbridge received an overall positive rating.  (I'll add links when these are posted online.)
- Director of Curriculum Amy Allen-Magnan provided an update on Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in the district, as well as the proposed transition to the Humanities program at the Middle School which incorporates Social Studies into Language Arts to help improve students' reading and writing competency. (Included in the meetings Info Packet online.)

There was some committee discussion on the Middle School Humanities topic. Overall, my assessment is that the committee is in support of the proposal, but there are concerns about timing, parent communication, as well as teacher preparedness.  More discussion is expected on this topic. 

Another Parent Information Session will be held next Wednesday, May 6th. I will post further details later, but I highly encourage any parents with questions and/or concerns to attend.  There is much misinformation circulating throughout the public and would like to provide parents with as much information as possible.

- I shared the results of the School Committee's annual Self Evaluation.  Overall the committee evaluated itself well, improving in 4 of the 7 categories, and above our benchmark in 5 of 7.  The full report will be shared on the School Committee calendar posting soon.

The committee's next meeting will be Tuesday, May 12th. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Updates from Senator Fattman to Board of Selectmen

April 28, 2015

Thanks again to Senator Fattman for attending last night's Board of Selectmen's meeting. Below are some notes that I captured:
  • The Legislature will adjourn on Thursday, April 30th in honor of Corporal John Dawson
  • Restoration of the Kindergarten Expansion Grant remain a #1 priority during the budget process
  • Legislation filed to allow cities/towns to opt out of the "Pacheco Law" which increases costs:  an editorial on this law.
  • Mentioned that Rep. Muradian has filed a budget amendment calling for a $450K matching grant to fund a turf field in Northbridge (I'll need to follow up for more info on that.)
  • Working on increasing the funding for supporting ELL (English Language Learners) support
  • Selectmen Nolan asked about revenue use from casinos...the Senator indicated some would go to the general fund, and other revenue will be earmarked to programs focused on substance abuse and domestic violence.
  • Was told by the Dept of Transportation--if the Olympics come to Boston, money for Central Mass will definitely be diverted to fund infrastructure projects in and around Boston to support the games.
  • The Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House have agreed to fund a study on the impact of the Olympics
  • Also working on funding transportation costs for students who attend out of district vocational school (in the case of Northbridge we spend about $25K to bus students to Norfolk Aggie)
  • Selectman Ampagoomian asked about a Quinsigamond Community College campus in Northbridge -- looking at the Linwood Mills, funding to support it is currently only good through June
  • Ampagoomian also asked for grants to support municipal building projects such as DPW and Fire Dept facilities as Northbridge needs
  • Thanks to Town Manager Kozak for empahsizing the important of and asking for continued support of Local Aid, and specifically Chapter 70 and Special Education support for schools
By the way, also in attendance was Ryan Chamberland from the Governor's Office.  Mr. Chamberland is the Director of the Governor's Western/Central Mass Office and has met with more than 40 communities since the Governor has taken office.  He indicated his role to support and work with local government bodies. He's also a former Selectmen in Blackstone and understands local challenges.

Friday, April 10, 2015

School Committee - April 7th Meeting Recap

April 10, 2015

Quick update from this week's School Committee meeting...

Thank you to our Legislators:
The committee appreciated the attendance of Senator Michael Moore and Representative David Muradian at Tuesday's meeting.  As the state budget process is still in development, it was great to get some updates from them on what they know, and what they are working on.  The House version of the budget comes out on Wednesday. 

Representative Muradian shared two letters with the committee which he has signed to advocate for increased funding for our schools  The first was to reinstate the Kindergarten Expansion Grant (which was a $75K loss in revenue to Northbridge).  The second letter advocated to increase the minimum Chapter 70 increase from $20 per student to $50 per student.  The past few years, the minimum increase was $25 per student, but the Governor reduced that $20 in his proposed budget.  An increase to $50, if supported in the final budget, would bring an additional $72K to our district.  Representative Muradian has also proposed legislation that could increase the reimbursement to school districts for the cost of tuition and transportation nor students requiring specialized services outside of our schools.

Senator Moore mentioned an upcoming meeting he has with a Life Sciences organization which could lead to some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) grants for districts.  The Senator agreed to follow up with Dr. Stickney after that meeting.

Finally, I wanted to provide an update on Senator Ryan Fattman.  Unfortunately, he had a conflict for this week, but is tentatively scheduled to attend our meeting on June 9th. 

If you missed our meeting, you can find it on YouTube.  The Legislators were at the start of our agenda:  April 7th SC Meeting Video

Public Comment -- Special Education Costs
I also appreciated Mr. Brodeur coming forward during our Public Comment part of the agenda to express concerns about the costs to our district for Special Education, and particularly the costs for students who require "Out of District" support.  The legislation referenced above that Rep. Muradian has filed, is hoping to help that funding process. 

Currently, school districts are reimbursed for these costs at 72% of the amount over 4x the state average per pupil expenditure.  So, for example, if the average per pupil cost is $12,000, then only costs higher than $48,000 are reimbursable.  If a student's Out of District tuition is $50,000, then the school district would receive just a $1,440.  (72% of $2,000, which is the difference between $50k and $48K).  Representative Muradian's legislation proposes reducing the multiplier to 3x, which in the scenario above would results in a reimbursement amount of $10,080.  When you consider that more than 10% of our budget goes to out of district placements (roughly $2.8M) these type of a change could have a huge impact. 

Transportation Policy approved
The committee voted to approve the updated transportation policy, which details the new bus eligibility guidelines.  The full policy will be posted online soon, but in the meantime, it was included on page 14 in the packet from our April 7th Meeting.

Upcoming Meeting
Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, April 28th. Two items that will be included in that agenda include:
1.  Committee vote for School Choice for the 2015-16 school year.
2.  Update on the Middle School plans for the History and Language Arts classes. 

Budget Update
The Board of Selectmen voted on Monday, April 6th to support the proposed FY16 town budget, including the appropriation for the schools.  Next step is the Town Meeting vote on Tuesday, May 5th.  I hope you will plan on attending to support the budget and other articles on the warrant