READING, MA — By a vote of 7-0, the School Committee, along with Town Manager Fidel Maltez, voted to approve a new contract with the Reading Teacher’s Association (RTA) last Thursday. The contract will be effective from September 2024 through August 2027. After thanking the RTA for the collaborative nature of the negotiations, School Committee chair Thomas Wise reviewed key terms of the contract, including cost of living increases of 2.75%, 3.25%, and 4%. Wise also highlighted added longevity bonuses, a reduction of after-school meetings in December and April, and extended parental leave.
Superintendent Thomas Milaschewski referred to the negotiations completed seven months before the current contract’s expiration as “extremely collaborative, extremely student-focused.” He also noted that the RTA already voted to approve the contract the week before Thanksgiving.
Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Jennifer Stys and Director of Special Education Alison Wright shared the results of a third-party review of the district Learning Centers. Stys explained that while the state requires an annual internal review of at least one special education program, Reading has chosen to take a more aggressive approach in the ongoing process, especially this year, by using third-party experts to review the program.
Wright continued, pointing out that the Learning Center services between 500 and 600 students and is designed to provide services for students with Individual Education Plans. She then indicated some areas in which Reading was commended, including commitment to training and data collection, a transparent and collaborative process with families, and effective para-professionals in the classrooms.
Stys reported that concerns were shared regarding differing team chair workloads between schools, the student support team process, especially with their tier two supports, and the number of students exhibiting executive functioning issues which may point to a lack of teaching in executive functioning skills across the district.
Stys and Wright informed the committee of several action steps underway, such as defining the identity and purpose of Learning Centers and refining the delivery of inclusion services for students.
School Committee member Shawn Brandt questioned how progress in transparency is being measured. Stys referred to several specific incidences as well as survey results. Brandt continued, pointing out that there seems to be a reliance on qualitative information to determine results. Wise also expressed concern about clarification of the various tiers of support, hoping that the Learning Centers are not a “catch-all type program.” He cited a lack of entrance and exit criteria as well as the lack of specific skill sets that they may enhance.
Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Sarah Hardy reported on committee work regarding math pathways. A working group of educators, parents, and interested community members have studied the issue related to helping students participate in higher-level math courses in their final years in high school. She shared the belief that a students’ math course trajectory should not be determined just at the end of sixth grade but that students should be offered multiple points for acceleration. Milaschewski noted that even experts in the field disagree regarding how much a student should seek to accelerate their math learning throughout their high school careers.
STEM Coordinator Mary Ann Lynne shared that Reading already has several different pathways for students to accelerate if they so choose, but these are often not emphasized. She also shared the concern that black and hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities, are not accessing higher levels of math at the same rate as their peers in other demographic groups.
“We have all the pathways,” Milaschewski added. “Whether or not we are leveraging them is another conversation.”
Hardy pointed out that options are needed to support student goals and provide strong math foundations for continued success. In this, she highlighted the need for rigorous math coursework for students not interested in STEM careers and that there should not be any “gatekeeping” for students who wish to challenge themselves.
Hardy offered six strategies that the district will begin to employ that will, in her opinion, lead to improved pathways for students. The first is to improve systems and structures, such as increasing time spent in middle school math classes, a middle school math curriculum review, and the return of the middle school and high school math labs.
The second strategy will seek to increase options for acceleration in middle school math, such as exploring an alternative acceleration point in grade eight. A third includes the aforementioned refinement of the content of courses available for seniors.
A fourth strategy of improving support for current acceleration points includes the offering of a summer geometry class in the district which should aid students who cannot “double-up” on math courses during their sophomore or junior years. There is also a plan to explore “integrated” math offerings for students in grades nine through eleven.
The fifth strategy to intentionally support students with disabilities and students of color will include investigation of a tool called “The Calculus Project.” Wise expressed enthusiasm for this program as it seems to give a specific plan with specific goals for increasing student access to higher levels of math instruction for all students.
The sixth and final strategy includes improved communication for students and parents about varied pathways for study. Wise agreed, “The marketing [of math pathways] needs to be every single year, not just in middle school.”
School Committee member Erin Gaffen expressed excitement that the topic of math pathways is being examined after years of discussion. She also indicated that the removal of remaining barriers needed to be addressed to “challenge students where they are at.” She further encouraged a message of support, rather than caution, to students on the middle school level when discussing accelerated math options.
The School Committee adjourned to executive session at 10:10 pm.