School Committee Considers “The Portrait of the Graduate”

Finance Director Dowd Leaving District

Reading, MA – Members of the School Committee weighed in on aspects of “The Portrait of the Graduate” on Thursday, February 6. This year-long process is being managed by a 30-member committee of local residents, clergy, educators, and business owners over the coming months and will produce a recommendation for the School Committee by the end of August or beginning of September. Doherty led the discussion by asking committee members to respond to three questions.

The first question was “What are the hopes, aspirations, and dreams that our community has for our young people?” School Committee member Linda Snow Dockser opened the discussion with, “That they are happy, healthy, empowered, motivated, and engaged.” School Committee member Jeanne Borawski added, “Ability to participate effectively in the democracy.” Chair Chuck Robinson believes that quality communication skills, with an emphasis on listening, is key for students. He also would like Reading students to be proud of where they came from. Member John Parks wants students who have, “an ability to reflect on oneself and make change.” Member Patricia Calley added that she would like to see students who can find their place in life. Member Thomas Wise concluded with, “Resilience, not afraid to fail, adventurous, self-starters, adaptiveness.” He also would like to see students able to go to the best schools.

Doherty then moved the committee to the second question, “What are the skills and habits of mind that our children need for success in this rapidly changing and complex world?” Several members agreed on the concept of students being taught to be creative and critical thinkers. How to use and evaluate technology and information also developed as key skills for students. Borawski suggested that healthy living skills would be desirable to which Wise added time management. Snow Dockser believes that making and valuing mistakes and taking responsibility for one’s actions are key components as well.

Doherty then shifted to the final question, “What are the implications for the learning experience we provide in our school system?” Snow Dockser began sharing that she dreams of an education system that was not so focused on test scores. She believes that the “multiple-choice, right and wrong” style of assessment teaches students not to be creative. Borawski added to this suggesting more focus on the individual and skills-based assessment in the classroom and on report cards. “I want students who find their own mission in life,” Borawski affirmed. Parks then spoke of more collaborative learning and involvement in the schools from the community. Wise took a more down-to-earth view of the question. “We may need to look at graduation requirements.” He stated. “We need to make sure the classes we are talking about are made available.” He also suggested that other structural changes such as moving from semesters to quarters may be needed to accomplish goals. Doherty concluded the discussion, thanking the committee for their input.

The School Committee also reviewed kindergarten enrollment and placement plans for the 2020-21 school year. As of January 31, 249 students had been enrolled for kindergarten for next year. At this time last year, 318 students had been enrolled. Only 28 of those students have enrolled for half-day kindergarten. Doherty stated that typically about 85% of the kindergarten students who ultimately will enroll are enrolled by this time. He also said that there are 35 known kindergarten families who have not yet responded to inquiries from the district. 

As a result, with the current projected enrollment for next year, there will be two half-day morning classes in the district, one at Joshua Eaton Elementary School and one at Killam Elementary School. Half-day students from the Birch Meadow, Wood End, and Killam districts will attend Killam, while half-day students from the Barrows and Joshua Eaton districts will attend Joshua Eaton. If the half-day numbers in either school exceed the recommended twenty-two students, then an afternoon session will be added. Killam and Wood End Elementary School will have two full-day classes and Barrows Elementary School, Birch Meadow Elementary School, and Joshua Eaton will have three full-day classes each. Students who are not in the Joshua Eaton and Killam districts that are attending half-day kindergarten at Killam and Joshua Eaton will have the option of transferring back to their neighborhood school in the 2021-22 school year when attending first grade. According to Doherty, the plan is similar to what occurred this year. Doherty anticipates no additional bussing will be required for this plan.

The School Committee voted 6-0 to approve an amended School Committee brochure and received the news that Director of Finance Gail Dowd has submitted her resignation to Doherty “for professional reasons.” Dowd thanked the committee for her time in Reading. No time table was provided for her departure.

Although Robinson indicated that there may be another meeting added this month, February 6 was the final scheduled school committee meeting prior to the March 3 local election, and this is likely the final meeting on the committee for Borawski and Snow Dockser as well as for Calley. Robinson thanked Calley for her help, jumping in at budget time. He also thanked both Snow Dockser and Borawski for their service, stating that Snow Dockser “has a heart the size of Texas” and that Borawski “approached everything with a level head and calmness.” Doherty chimed in stating that the leadership both provided was appreciated.

Snow Dockser responded by saying that she had been grateful to serve, thanking the committee “for this journey and experience.” Borawski chimed in thanking the voters for the opportunity and thanking members of her family for pitching in so she could serve. “I’ve made some great friends,” Borawski concluded.

The School Committee adjourned at 8:25 pm.

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