The first ever Watertown Public Schools Bulletin was released by Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald this week, with news, information and updates about the schools.
Here is the “The Superintendent’s Word,” by Fitzgerald, which is part of the WPS Bulletin. You can see more stories and view the complete WPS Bulletin by clicking here.
The Superintendent’s Word
Thank you for taking a few minutes to read the first issue of the WPS Bulletin.
My address in this Bulletin will focus on the learning environment in our schools. We are in a new world that requires diverse, flexible, and highly technological environments that can be customized for the different ways in which students learn. This environment has been coined the “The Third Teacher”, by author Bruce Mau.
Administration and faculty at all schools in the district have gone above and beyond expectations as they creatively use classrooms and other spaces to meet the current educational demands of their students.
Administrators and teachers at WHS continue to overcome space constraints in order to give our students excellent learning opportunities. WHS has a Massachusetts Institute of Technology recognized Fab Lab which is currently housed in the school’s library. While this space is not ideal, it is important for us to expand 21st Century programming to prepare our students for the world beyond Watertown. Adding an engineering program to our curriculum through Project Lead the Way (PLTW) required the elimination of a computer repair course. To remain a member of PLTW, we must systematically add additional PLTW courses, which will further exacerbate the space crunch at the high school. TV/Video/Radio is held in a small learning space at the Watertown Community Access TV Center as there is no dedicated space in the high school proper.
We are addressing the needs of the high school through the submission of a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The MSBA SOI process allows cities and towns to submit applications for renovations or the replacement of an identified building. In our case, the SOI was submitted requesting assistance with either renovating or replacing WHS. We should be notified by MSBA whether our project is selected for the next round of state funding in early 2017.
While not technically overcrowded, all educational spaces at Watertown Middle School are used during the majority of the class periods each day. Coordinators share office space and some non-educational spaces have been retrofitted for instructional purposes. The major facility issue at WMS is a serious problem with old and leaky window units. These units are slated to be repaired through the MSBA Accelerated Repair Program; 48% of the costs will be funded by the MSBA and the town will fund the remaining 52%. The first reading of the bond order authorizing the town to borrow the necessary funds to do this work is scheduled for the Town Council Meeting on May 24, 2016.
All elementary schools opened the school year at or above building space capacity. While class size averages looked relatively good, we did have pockets of concern. For example, although the October 1, 2015 enrollment showed the grade 4 district class size average at 21, the two grade 4 classes at the Cunniff were at 25 students each. In checking class sizes in late January, we noted that the Cunniff grade 4 enrollment increased which made those classes even larger. The reason for this increase is two-fold; the new students who moved into the Cunniff district happened to be in the fourth grade and the increase impacted the class size at the Cunniff because there are only two sections of grade 4 there. If the same number of fourth graders moved into the Lowell or the Hosmer, the class size impact would have been less, as there are more sections of the grade. If low class size was the only metric used to address space concerns, the changing from a neighborhood school model to a grade configuration model Prek-1, 2-3 and 4-5 buildings would address the issue. We recognized the importance of neighborhood schools to our community and dismissed this option for Watertown.
Of immediate concern is the need for additional elementary classroom spaces for the coming fall. Based on May 2016 enrollment data, class size projections for next year show larger than desirable class sizes at the Cunniff in Grade 3 with 25 students, the Hosmer in Grade 4 with 24 students and the Lowell in Grade 1 with 24 students. We also know that enrollment increases are likely. Various options to address the short-term space issue were researched, discussed and considered. The most logical short-term solution determined was to use the first floor of the Phillips School as the Early Steps Preschool.
At its May 16, 2016 meeting, the Buildings & Grounds Subcommittee of the School Committee voted to approve the development of architectural drawings for classroom spaces at the Phillips School. The work is being done by Gienapp Design Architecture. I would like to thank those community members who attended that meeting for their support. The general sentiment from the community in attendance was that we now have a multilayered, workable solution in place that would serve all of the elementary schools to alleviate and address our short term needs.
Everybody in attendance was able to give input and ideas to enhance the thought process and help us as we further examine our proposal for the best possible outcome for the community. Watertown Public Schools has many challenges to face in the short term. While we work to address all of these, it is important that we keep in mind all of the challenges we have faced and overcome in the past few years. WPS administration, faculty and staff are committed to working with the Watertown community to ensure that the children of Watertown receive an outstanding 21st Century education.