School news: Tuition-free Kindergarten is official, Superintendent transition, school bus update, and district petitions

Above: Southborough’s youngest public school students congratulated Superintendent Johnson on her retirement (video by Southborough Access Media)

On the last day of public school, I planned to share some of the media coverage on the outgoing and moving up superintendents. In working on it, I came across more news on the school district worth sharing.

I stumbled across a new petition over the Northborough Middle School music program addressed to Superintendent Christine Johnson and Assistant Superintendent (soon-to-be Superintendent) Greg Martineau with over a 1,000 signatures. Since Johnson’s retirement is just a couple of weeks away, it’s likely something that Martineau will be responsible for contending with. (Scroll down for those details.)

I also followed up with Finn School to get the final word on the transition to tuition-free Kindergarten. The word was good.

Plus, recently the schools shared news on their new transportation plan. Clearly, the district is looking to avoid a repeat in August of the bus nightmares that plagued the start of this school year.

Here are the news highlights:

Full Day Kindergarten (free and mandatory) this fall

Kindergarten tuition-free letter
(click to enlarge)

Several years ago, parents began pushing for free full-day Kindergarten. Johnson looked at the issue and came back with support for transitioning to reaching the goal. Backed by the School Committee in making it a budget priority, she targeted this coming fall to introduce it. During the budget season, she kept qualifying comments with “plan” and “hope”, acknowledging that changes to state funding could impact the goal.

Today, when I spoke to Finn Principal Clayton Ryan, he was happy to share that Johnson recently issued an announcement to share with parents. Ryan confirmed that tuition-free full day was available. He further clarified that it means that they are abolishing the half day option.

That decision to eliminate half day makes sense, based on the justification for eliminating tuition for full day. Johnson had presented a case to the school committee that the educational expectations for Kindergarten, which have increased over the years, require a full day of teaching.

Click on the full announcement letter above right to open it.

Bus Transportation Update

Martineau sent a letter to parents on bus transportation for the next school year:

In preparation for the 2019-2020 school year, I would like to share important information regarding school bus transportation. The District continues to work closely with our contracted transportation provider, North Reading Transportation (NRT), to ensure efficient, safe, and timely transportation for our students. To ensure a smooth start with transportation to the 2019-2020 school year, the District has been engaged in significant planning, which includes:

  • The District taking back the responsibility of routing all students, which is a significant change from last year where all routing of students was completed by NRT. This change will allow the District to have more control over the routing process.
  • The Southborough School Committee Policy E240 Bus Transportation and Southborough Transportation Practices and Guidelines.
  • August 2019 meeting for all NRT bus drivers to meet with Central Office Administration and building principals has been established to communicate the District’s school bus transportation expectations.
  • A communication plan and timeline has been established to complete the routing of students and to communicate the 2019-2020 school bus routes to families.
  • A streamlined process for parent(s)/guardian(s) to request a bus stop change or to communicate a concern to the District will be established as well as a process for NRT to communicate bus changes to parent(s)/guardian(s).

I’m asking families to review the Southborough Transportation Practices and Guidelines. The District will communicate additional school bus transportation information in early August. In the meantime, I encourage you to reach out to the Superintendent’s Office at (508) 486-5115 if you have any questions or suggestions.

The new policy which simply points people to read separately posted Guidelines. You can read the guidelines here

Parent Petitions

Some past parent petitions have had success in changing administration’s decisions. But not always. Just this spring, Southborough parents circulated a petition to “Bring back Step Up Day“. That initiative appears to have failed, though the schools apparently made some communication adjustments to try to appease parents. But that petition only garnered a couple hundred signatures.

The “Keep the Northborough Music Program Strong!” petition posted a few days ago had over a over 1,170 by around 3:00 pm today. It focuses on a staffing change at Melican Middle School. Their longtime 7th and 8th grade band teacher is retiring. A parent complained about a plan to fill the gap with a part time private instructor for the jazz band and shifting the responsibility for the 7th and 8th grade band to the teacher already responsible for 6th grade band and ensembles. The claim is that this will weaken their band program and put students at a distinct disadvantage compared to Southborough as they head into Algonquin.

Looking forward

The Melican petition is hardly going to be the biggest challenge facing Martineau. This week’s combined school committee meeting will get an update on the School Start Time issue. The early start times for schools is an issue that Johnson and Martineau have been looking at for years. Last fall, a committee to delve further into the issues was created with hopes of coming up with potential solutions to consider and the associated costs.

Martineau will also be responsible for a new 5 year strategic plan to follow Vision 2020.

The Superintendent Transition

Algonquin’s The Harbinger interviewed the outgoing and incoming district chiefs separately:

Reflecting back with Johnson – Superintendent shares passion for education, looks forward to retirement

Fun Fact: The Algonquin school paper’s interview includes a fun flashback photo of Johnson as a new ARHS teacher in ’91.

After 32 years in public education and with retirement approaching at the end of the year, Superintendent Christine Johnson is still brimming with a deep-rooted passion for education and a genuine curiosity for the world around her. (read more)

Martineau steps up as new superintendent

Assistant Superintendent Greg Martineau will assume a new role as the district’s superintendent on July 1, fulfilling an aspiration he has held since childhood and hoping to make a difference in students’ lives. (read more)

The Community Advocate focused on the transition with a piece including interviews with both chiefs:

Martineau to take over when Northborough-Southborough Superintendent retires

“They have the right person for the job!” Johnson said. “It was a successful selection process and it was consistent with best practices.”

Martineau said he was humbled by the vote of confidence from Johnson and the selection committee, and the school communities of Northborough and Southborough have been very receptive. (read more)

At the top of this post, I shared a video by Southborough Access Media. It captures a congratulations and farewell to Johnson by Finn School students and staff.

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