Monthly Archives: November 2012

Youth Risk Behavior Survey

November 26, 2012: At the meeting of the Belmont School Community on November 20, we released the Report on the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered to Belmont students in grades 7 through 12 last April. The survey is an instrument development by the Northeast Health Resources in Haverhill and is used by many Massachusetts school districts to gauge the emotional and social health of students. NHR bases its surveys on instruments developed at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are inevitable limitations to self-reporting surveys. I believe the YRBS versions are as good as any, but I have concerns about the length of the surveys (99 questions on the high school survey; 71 questions on the middle school version), the possibility of students losing interest in the instrument and caricaturing or exaggerating responses, and variations in the administration of the surveys. Furthermore, some of the questions are without a context and can be ambiguous.

All the reservations aside, the survey provides a community—not just the school district—information about the health and habits of students to complement anecdotal and other social evidence within a town and the state. In light of the responses, the community can bring to the fore concerns about student behaviors that are harmful or self-destructive in order to engage community-wide efforts at prevention, intervention, and recovery. There are student behaviors revealed by the survey that are of particular concern for citizens of Belmont. Students report an increase in cyber-bullying. Suicidal ideation affects 12% of middle school students and 11% of high school students. Both tobacco and alcohol use remain problems although there is a reported decrease since 2010. Use of illegal drugs and alcohol tends to increase as students become older.

In consultation with the Advisory Committee on Health and Safety, the School Department hosts several forums and presentations to help all citizens—teachers, parents, students alike—to confront dangerous behaviors. On December 5, for example, 6:00 pm, Chenery Auditorium, Dr. Elizabeth Englander will present a workshop on prevention and intervention strategies to deal with bullying. In January, the Advisory Committee plans to offer additional professional workshops and community forums to address some of the more prominent concerns that arise from the survey report.

A copy of the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey is available on the School Department website. Hard copies are also available on request from the central office of the School Department, 644 Pleasant Street.

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Class Size Advisory Group

November 13: In response to district-wide concerns about class sizes, we have assembled a parent/administrator advisory group to advise the department about managing class sizes in Belmont. The group will be meeting for several Wednesdays at the Winn Brook School and will be chaired by Principal Janet Carey. Here is the charge set for the group:
The Belmont Public Schools have witnessed an increase in the student population. We are adding some additional support staff within available budget resources for this school year. The current year’s school budget is fully committed, and additional new classrooms and teachers are not possible for 2012-2013. We have frozen for this school year new enrollments at the Wellington and will redirect students to the three other elementary schools where class sizes might be smaller. We have attempted to level enrollments at the middle school and high school. However, all these adjustments are short-term. As part of long-term planning and as part of the annual preparation of the school budget, the district must propose responsible strategies.

Therefore, the Administration is inviting a small group of citizens and educators to explore various options for improving class sizes throughout the district and to propose various ways to manage the student population within available financial and physical resources and in light of the district’s educational priorities. The parent organization leadership at each school is invited to designate one individual willing to be a member of the advisory group. Also on the group will be three district educators, one member of the School Committee, and representatives of the Belmont Education Association (the teachers’ union). The advisory group should meet more or less weekly between November and the end of January (Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks excepted), solicit counsel from the community, conduct appropriate research, review physical and fiscal boundaries, and help inform the Fiscal Year 2014 School Department Budget Request and staffing plans for subsequent school years.

The topics we are asking the advisory group to address are as follows:

A summary review of the research about class size and instruction. The best accessible, comprehensive, and reasonably brief summary of the research was published by the Brookings Institute and is available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/05/11-class-size-whitehurst-chingos.

A review of the NESDEC Population Projection completed in January 2011 and updated this fall. As well, a review of the student population trend over the past decade.

Comments and concerns submitted by parents and other citizens to the School Department, including suggestions they might have.

A review of existing space and programming.

Discussion and exploration of different classroom models such as split grade combinations.

A review of available revenue and the costs of various adjustments to improve class size.

A review of existing elementary school boundaries and recommendations for realignment if necessary.

Perhaps most important, strong rationale for any recommended changes, adaptations, additions, and adjustments.

We would anticipate that the study group would issue findings and recommendations to the Administration. As Superintendent, I would then pass on the recommendations and incorporate them as possible and reasonable into the FY 2014 budget planning.

We are most appreciative of the volunteer efforts that help promote the high quality instructional program in Belmont. We do not expect that the work of the advisory group will be long-term, and we realize that not every member will likely be able to make each meeting. I have asked Winn Brook Principal Janet Carey to chair the group, and she will establish the agendas for each session.

Again, I thank you for your interest, commitment, and good faith.

Study Group Members

Jane Ewing (BHS)
Angela Chan (Wellington)
Heidi Johnson (Chenery Adm)
Janet Carey (Winn Brook Adm)
Patty Soliozy (BSH Adm)
Christina Ramey (Chenery PTO)
Rosalind Kabrhel (Winn Brook PTA)
Mark Sivers (Burbank PTA)
Martha Brown (Butler PTA)
Lisa Connell (Chenery Faculty)
Laurie Graham (School Committee)
Selina Moeller (Burbank Faculty)

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Partners and Friends

BAR Contributes $10,000

November 5, 2012: The Belmont Public Schools have the good, great fortune of working with many partners who help provide supplemental programs, activities, and resources to support the academic, social, and emotional education of our young. On October 23 at a meeting with METCO parents in Boston, the Belmont School Committee received from Belmont Against Racism (BAR) a generous gift of $10,000 to support transportation and after-school activities for Belmont’s METCO students. The attached picture shows BAR Board Member June Roberts presenting the check to School Committee Chairperson Laurie Graham. Without the contribution from BAR, the opportunities for Belmont METCO students would be considerably less rich.
The school district has a wonderful array of partners and donors who support the district’s mission. The Foundation for Belmont Education, which recently completed its highly successful annual student spelling bee, provides substantial supplemental funding for activities ranging from the iPad innovation classrooms at Belmont High School to complementary science research field programs like Earthwatch. Helping hone the quality of instruction and extracurricular activities are other groups like the Special Education Advisory Council, the respective PTOs and PTAs, the Athletics Booster Organization, and numerous civic organizations and corporations. In this month of Thanksgiving, we need be especially appreciative of the part these groups play in supporting the community’s efforts to educate its young.

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