First School Committee Meeting of the Year

Comparative AP scores – Image (c) Bedford School Department, 2015 all rights reserved – Click image for larger view, or click the scalable PDF of the chart in the body of this story.

By Mitch Evans

SC-NewsReturning to school, when the temperatures are still in the 90’s is unusual, but with classroom fans running and water bottles at the ready, our children and their teachers are back .

So starts another 10 months of School Committee meetings. This year sees a new chairperson, Mike McAllister, and a new Assistant Superintendent, MaryLou Sallee.

Editor’s Note: This report includes details about funding for students; District Goals for the coming school year; Enrollment Study and review of space implications; an evaluation of Superintendent Sills’ goals; the Superintendent’s report; and 2015 Advanced Placement comparison.

Funding for High School Students

Approximately five years ago Hanscom Air Force Base (which is part of the Lincoln School District) began building new homes to be sold or rented to both existing military personnel as well as retired members of the armed forces. As a result, there is currently one senior level student at Bedford High School living in this accommodation whose family is ex-military; and this year there will be a second student joining BHS as a freshman, in the same position.

Due to the non-taxable status of federal land, the ability of our school district to raise revenue via property taxes is reduced and no impact aid is supplied for non-military families. The Federal government is supposed to cover 50 percent of the cost of educating these children and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by Lincoln Town and School committee, which stated that they would cover any remaining costs. However, Federal funding is currently only covering 10 percent of the costs and while the State Government provides some additional funding, budgetary changes have meant that not all of the $17,000+ per student costs are being recovered by Bedford.

While Superintendent Jon Sills expressed concern for these students’ position and said that he had made State Representative Ken Gordon aware of the situation, he made a request to the committee that our school district take a stronger position, stating :

  • Lincoln District must take responsibility for finding suitable schools for these students and Sudbury-Lincoln High School should be considered in future.
  • Any special education services used by these two students must be paid for by Lincoln Regional District.
  • Bedford District will make it clear that these are the last students our schools will accept from non-active military families.

District Goals for 2015/16

A copy of the full document presented at the committee meeting will be available to view on the district website after it is voted on at the next meeting on September 22.

However to summarize at this point, there are three main strategic objectives for the district. It was explained that the Improvement Plans produced by each of the four schools in Bedford  also align with these key objectives:

  • To develop a coherent, higher order thinking based curriculum which is measured by authentic assessments .
  • To continually ensure that all students meet the district wide learning expectations. To highlight the importance of attending to individual needs and placing an emphasis on closing achievement gaps. To improve cultural proficiency in our teachers to better help all of our students.
  • To nurture a professional culture based on the view that continual learning is essential for teachers and children.

There is also the continuing goal to employ skillful, passionate and knowledgeable teachers for our school system.

Committee member Brad Hafer asked if any of the goals presented were new for this year and Sills explained that rather than add new areas to the plan, staff were working on deepening and extending work started in previous years. However, one new objective was highlighted, and that is to encourage students to select, collect and reflect on their own work which leads to a deepening of their own learning. While this is currently taking place in pockets throughout the schools, Sills explained that a more systematic approach to this metacognitive learning process is now in the plans for the whole district.

Superintendent Sills received praise from McAllister on the way in which all four schools were vertically aligned and expanded that the four interviews with the principals published in the Bedford Citizen over the summer also reflected this.

Enrollment Study and Space Implications Review

The school committee reviewed the findings from the enrollment study carried out earlier this year by NESDEC. These results will now be formally presented to the Selectmen on September 21 and to the Finance Committee on September 24 the committee agreed that the report findings have implications for town services, and not just for the school system. A suggestion to invite the Planning Board to this presentation was made and approved.

The Bedford Citizen published an article summarizing this report back in June.

By agreement with the Massachusetts Secretary of The Commonwealth, the UMASS Donahue Institute (UMDI) produced projections for all Massachusetts municipalities. It projects that the cohort of residents living in Bedford aged 24-44 years (family bearing age) will increase by 20.5 percent by 2020.

In the meantime Superintendent Sills is awaiting the findings from the Massachusetts School Building Association (MSBA) review of the space available in our schools. This is not expected to occur for another 18-24 months. The MSBA is responsible for the design and construction of school buildings in Massachusetts and will use their own source of enrollment data when making recommendations for our district. A suggestion was made to set up a ‘task force’ which would look at current needs and create a draft of two or three alternative solutions to our long term space issues. In the short term however, modular classrooms will need to be added to Lane School to accommodate the increased class numbers in September 2017, and added to Davis school during the 2016 summer vacation.

If you would like to hear the full enrollment presentation, please attend one of the town meetings mentioned above.

Superintendent Evaluation and Goals

Sills presented his overarching goals for 2015/16, explaining that they were a combination of his personal and professional targets along with the district objectives:

  • To increase time spent in the four schools, observing and supporting leadership.
  • To increase the effectiveness of the central office administration team.
  • To continue to effectively address space issues at Davis, Lane and JGMS.
  • To mitigate the negative impact of external pressures on school and town budgets, and on teachers time and focus.

Under state law it is required that one student learning goal must also be included:

  • To improve math skills for all subgroups in grades 4, 5 and 6.

Superintendent’s Report

Sills reported that all four schools had a smooth start and everyone is energized for the new school year.

The Bedford Public school system was voted number 5 out of 125 Massachusetts School Districts, as reported in Boston Magazine. Sills acknowledged the support that the town provides for the schools and the commitment of the faculty and staff. An article, in response to these results, was written by Sills and featured in the Bedford Citizen in August.

In another study in, which used different indicators, it was reported that Bedford High School ranked 17th in the commonwealth and in the top 2 percent in the nation. Smaller class sizes was one of the areas highlighted. Sills emphasized the fact that compared to the other district in the top 10 list, Bedford has a more complex school structure. With 14 percent of students on a low income and 5 percent English Language Learners, the lower ratio of teacher to student was a benefit, allowing for more differentiated and personalized instruction.

Advance Placement Comparison

And finally, the AP (Advanced Placement) exam results were presented. Students performed exceptionally well last year, with average scores for Bedford across all AP subjects coming in higher than both the average for Massachusetts and for the USA as a whole.

Click to view a scalable chart of the 2015 BHS Advanced Placement scores

A few highlights:

  • With our new Calculus AB course, 33 students took the exam and scored an average of 4.182.
  • The 14 students who took the Calculus BC exam scored a perfect 5.00.
  • The 31 students who took the Psychology exam did so even though BHS didn’t offer an AP Psychology course

All in All

Excellent news for our school district at the beginning of what promises to be another successful year.



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