School Committee Focuses on METCO

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READING, MA — Reading’s METCO program took center stage on Thursday as the School Committee traveled to Boston for its annual meeting at the METCO headquarters. Friends of Reading METCO Co-chair LaVonda Epps led the committee in a discussion, asking each member in what ways they are proud of the METCO program, what their hopes for the program’s future may be, and how they view their roles in making those hopes a reality.

Several committee members indicated being proud of the program’s growth over the past several years, both in terms of the number of participants and programmatically. METCO director Kurtis Martin shared that there were 45 Boston resident students in the program when he came to Reading; now there are 107, the maximum allowed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. School Committee member Erin Gaffen also shared pride in the “We are all METCO” campaign which has emphasized that, as a METCO community, all students in the district are METCO students, not just those who reside in Boston. “It has been a huge transformation,” Gaffen explained.

School Committee member Carla Nazzaro shared that she would like to see increased opportunities for students to spend time together as her hope for the future. At the same time, Chair Thomas Wise indicated a desire to see even more improvement in student outcomes. Several members noted that their role is to continue to provide both personal and budgetary support for the program. “We need to be listening more than talking,” member Chuck Robinson stated.

Martin provided the committee with an update, emphasizing the roles of the METCO coordinators in the district. These coordinators meet with Boston resident students regularly, help facilitate relationships between Reading and Boston resident families, and serve as part of the leadership team of their individual schools. Superintendent Thomas Milaschewski also pointed out that these coordinators all serve as school counselors as well, a partnership that allowed for the coordinators to be full-time employees.

Martin also pointed to several cultural events that have been a part of the school year, including lunch during Hispanic Heritage Month, door decor at Barrows Elementary School during Black History Month, and a Kwanza play at Roxbury Community College. Martin also noted that he was able to share about the program in Reading at the METCO Leadership Retreat this year, with Reading now being recognized by Martin’s peers as a “model METCO district.”

Martin also reported that the METCO program has been level-funded in the state budget for next year. He referred to this as essentially a cut due to rising expenses. Wise suggested that the School Committee draft a letter to Reading’s legislative delegation urging increased funding in the Fiscal Year 2025-2026 state budget.

Wise also led a brief discussion regarding the creation and implementation of a Children’s Cabinet in Reading. The Children’s Cabinet would be tasked with helping coordinate community agencies such as the schools, the YMCA, the Clergy Association, and others to help meet the needs of children in Reading. Several suggestions from parents at the meeting were offered regarding the mechanisms for reporting individual needs to the Cabinet. “The goal [of the Children’s Cabinet] is to remove all the barriers for student success,” Wise commented.

Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) principal Jessica Callanan provided the committee with feedback regarding the piloting of new RMHS schedules that occurred in February and March. After the four-week pilot, students, staff, and parents were given surveys to determine what worked and what needed adjustment. Callanan indicated that some form of schedule where all classes begin and end at the same time was likely to be implemented for next year, though final decisions are still being made. She expects to let families know about schedule changes for next year sometime after April’s vacation.

Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Sarah Hardy reported on the work being done to increase math pathways for middle and high school students. She indicated that those sixth-grade students seeking acceleration will be given greater access to advanced work, even if they don’t quite reach the current benchmarks for accelerated instruction. “We want to let families make the decisions,” Hardy stated. Hardy also reported that seventh and eighth-grade students will be offered summer modules that will allow them to accelerate if they want to open opportunities for advanced math work when they reach high school.

Milaschewski shared that 227 students have enrolled for kindergarten for next year. Though greater than the 220 enrollments reported last month, this still needs to be added to the expected numbers which are based on census data. As only forty-five students have registered for kindergarten at Killam Elementary School, the number of kindergarten classes will be reduced from four to three, with the extra teacher being reassigned to another grade level. Milaschewski also shared that it is too early to make similar decisions at Joshua Eaton Elementary School and Birch Meadow Elementary School.

The School Committee concluded the meeting voting 4-0 to set June 14 as the last day of school. It also voted 4-0 to increase participation fees for athletics, band, and drama. By a vote of 4-0, fees for facility rentals will also be raised. According to Director of Finance Derek Pinto, these increases will be effective for the 2024-2025 school year.

The School Committee adjourned at 9:20 pm.

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