School Committee logo'We haven’t heard any issues.' 
-- Teacher Nicole Eidson regarding heterogenous pilot

The School Committee on March 2 heard positive reports about Arlington Public Schools’ athletics, preschool, mathematics/computer science and, especially, the pilot of heterogeneous freshman English.

“I have not had a single complaint about ninth-grade English this year,” said Arlington High School Principal Matthew Janger.

“We haven’t heard any issues,” concurred teacher Nicole Eidson.

The first of four planned semesters of the heterogeneous model has been completed. Students taking the course at the regular “Curriculum A” level and those opting for “H,” or honors all study with the same teachers in the same classroom at the same time; those in the latter perform assignments at a more rigorous level. 

Students choose their own level and may move from one to the other; for example, during the past semester, 12 moved from A to H while four moved from H to A, per Janger. No eighth-grade-teacher recommendations are sought or accepted for honors study. 

Watch the March 2 meeting on ACMi:

In making their decisions, students are encouraged to follow common-sense guidelines. That is to say, if they historically earn As or Bs in English, demonstrate excellent school attendance and do not feel anxious or struggling, success at the “H” level is more likely. 

Overall, the percentage at the H level has steadily increased, from 49.10 percent in 2021 to 49.27 percent in 2022 to 65.51 percent last semester to 67.77 percent currently.

Janger said he hopes to update the committee by about August or September with more data and feedback on the heterogenous practice.

Read the documents for this agenda subject >> 

Participation up in sports

With APS no longer charging students user fees for competitive sports, participation is up notably, Athletic Director John Bowler told the committee in this report >>

He said the change has been “huge for our programs and our students.” He said that some students now can go out for one, two or three sports over one, two or three seasons.

Committee member Bill Hayner asked how the athletics department monitors eligibility and academic progress. 

“Kids can miss practice if they need extra help in school – that’s a priority,” Bowler replied.

He also explained the concept of “no-cut” sports. That means that “as long as [student athletes] show up and work hard,” they can participate in a “no-cut” sport.

However, not every sport can operate that way; it depends on its intrinsic nature, the maximum allowable number on a team and where it is played. For example, basketball can have only 15 players on a roster, so that is a “cut” sport, meaning that not everyone who might wish to will necessarily make the team.

Committee member Jane Morgan noted that an assistant athletic director position recently had been added.

“Rich [Thornton] is doing a great job,” Bowler responded, saying that he “does a little bit of everything,” can cover night games and earlier in his career was an athletic director himself for five years in Vermont.

Mathematics, computer science 

Arlington Public Schools has “good, robust instruction” starting at the elementary level and embraces the concept of math being for all learners. 

So says Matthew Coleman, director of math and computer science, in this report >>

Five licensed interventionists support teachers and co-teach at Thompson, Hardy, Dallin, Brackett and Bishop; the other two K-5 campuses, Peirce and Stratton, have paraprofessional interventionists. 

Coleman said that teacher leadership and engagement is “awesome.”

About 38 percent of those in seventh and eighth grades take advantage of computer-science electives. “The computer science department is growing fast, very fast,” he said. 

However, he noted that it “still is a male-dominated field, with females under-represented with a capital U” and thus mirroring similar discrepancies at the college level and in the professional world. Accordingly, outreach is being done. For instance, at AHS, half-year electives for computer science and other subjects will, he hopes, make it more feasible for more females and others to enroll starting in ninth grade.

Menotomy Preschool 

The committee was told that the 98 littlest learners benefit from an evidence-based curriculum in a place where “joy is a priority” and the mantra is “We are kind, we are safe, we are engaged.” 

In 2017, APS became one of 17 districts commonwealth-wide invited by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to have its preschool participate in the pyramid model for promoting healthy social and emotional development.

More recent innovations at Menotomy include an art teacher, a music teacher, an optional eight-week parent workshop and an ongoing effort to ensure that books used in the program demonstrate diversity.

“People who have experienced your program are very happy with it,” committee member Paul Schlichtman said.

Superintendent Elizabeth Homan called it a “caring place” where “instruction is top-notch” and said, “It is one of my favorite places to go.”

Read the documents for this agenda item >>

In other business

The committee voted, 6-1, Schlichtman dissenting, to survey and appraise a small piece of wooded land near Appleton and Acton streets, known as “Zero Lot Appleton Street.” The approximately 3,000-square-foot area by Ottoson Middle School is believed to belong to APS, but this is not certain. Town Counsel Doug Heim said at the meeting that the town could do an independent title search, appraisal and survey, then give the committee -- in closed session -- an estimate of its value. The issue has arisen because St. Athanasius, the nearby Greek Orthodox church/school, has expressed interest in possibly acquiring the land, Heim and committee member Jeff Thielman said.

No one spoke during the public hearing on the proposed district budget for the upcoming school year of $88,947,334.

The annual budget generally is adopted in April.

Homan said that APS is entering an “exciting hiring season” and actively recruiting for principal of Bishop School and other positions. She also noted that the final day of the public-comment period on the district’s five-year strategic plan is Friday, March 10. That plan, including videos viewable in several different languages, is on the district’s website

Resident's objection

One person took part in the public-comment portion of the agenda that typically takes place at or near the beginning of each meeting. Julie Hall of Jason Street said she strongly objects to an aspect of a new curriculum in fourth-grade physical education lessons, saying she dislikes that it avoids gender-specific terms such as boy, girl, male or female in favor of clinical anatomical descriptions. As per their usual practice with public comment, committee members did not respond.

The next committee meeting, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, is scheduled in person at METCO in Boston. Given the location and a likely walking tour of the facilities, the meeting will not be carried via Zoom. However, it is expected to be broadcast, and recorded in real time by local public-television station ACMi as usual. METCO, or Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, began in 1966 to facilitate voluntary busing of children of color in Boston to suburban public schools including those in Arlington.

The consent agenda passed unanimously. 

The committee went into closed session at 8:45 p.m.

Feb. 18, 2023: Social-emotional effort progresses, facing challenges


This news summary reported by YourArlington Assistant Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

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