NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 9, 2012

Mulqueen charts new course for School Committee

Subcommittees to meet on first Tuesday, full board on third Thursday

By Jennifer Solis Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket Regional School Committee instituted a new meeting format this month that it hopes will result in more efficiency and transparency.

Instead of meeting twice monthly as an entire group, members will spend the first Tuesday of each month in various subcommittee meetings and then hold a business meeting with the full group on the third Tuesday of the month. The discussions held during the subcommittee sessions are intended to inform and facilitate the agenda of the full committee meeting.

The brainchild of Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen, the new approach separates all Pentucket board business under four umbrella categories: business, finance and operations; human resources; teaching, learning, and accountability; and policy.

Subcommittee meetings are held in one-hour increments from 5 to 9 p.m. in the superintendent’s conference room at the middle school. Most of the sessions at the inaugural meeting in this format last Tuesday ran shorter than the full hour allotted.

Members of the Business, Finance and Operations subcommittee — Chairman Brian Page of Merrimac, Jill Eichhorst of West Newbury and Jack Willet of Groveland — met with Mulqueen and Business Manager Michael Bergeron to review a new pyramid approach to the budget format. The full board will get its first peek at the preliminary budget for next year on Dec. 18.

They also received an update on a $160,168 reduction in assessments for the district communities due to financial adjustments in ongoing school building projects at the elementary level. And they heard a pitch from Bergeron for a salary increase in the Central Office accountant’s position. Moving the salary up to a range of $60,000 to $65,000 would bring it more in line with an average salary for similar jobs in this area, he said. The current accountant, who took on considerably more work without extra compensation for several months while the district was in between business managers, earns $53,820.

Maria Gray, of the Pentucket Association of Teachers, joined Mulqueen, Eichhorst, Doug Gelina of Groveland and Jayne Broz of Merrimac for the hour-long Human Resources meeting. Gray had high praise for Mulqueen’s efforts to listen and work with teachers since coming to the district this summer. She called the start of the new school year “refreshing, energizing, and exciting” for teachers.

The subcommittee learned that Mulqueen has agreed to submit to the same type of evaluation process that, under a new state law, teachers’ performances will be rated this year. “I need to demonstrate that it is not to be feared,” he said. Describing the process as “a new way of looking at things,” Mulqueen stressed that the focus is on helping teachers improve, not punishing them. The teacher evaluations balance a consideration of student MCAS results with “district-specific” measurers.

Mulqueen made the case to the subcommittee for adding more support in the area of technology in the upcoming budget and talked about his desire to upgrade the middle school library.

A good portion of time with the Teaching, Learning and Accountability subcommittee was spent on discussing the most productive ways to use MCAS results. Chris Reading of West Newbury and Joe D’Amore of Groveland joined Gelina and Broz on this subcommittee.

Following changes in the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in one class over the course of several years may say more about the work being done at a particular school than noting which school scored highest in a particular category in a given year, the superintendent said.

A consistent drop in math proficiency between grades 6 and 7 over four years is an indication “the system needs to talk to other parts of the system more,” Mulqueen said.

Noting a decline in math proficiency in grade 5 at the Donahue School between 2011 and 2012, Mulqueen reminded the subcommittee that those students spent a portion of that year housed at the high school during an emergency mold and asbestos remediation at Donahue. When it comes to evaluating text scores, “context matters,” he stressed.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Hart spoke about ongoing professional development in the areas of technology integration, performance assessment work and ATLAS curriculum map training. And Mulqueen announced a community meeting on Oct. 27 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the high school.

For the final hour of the evening , the policy subcommittee discussed an intra-district transfer policy for non-special education students and a policy governing classroom field trips. Wayne Adams of Merrimac, who was joined by D’Amore and Chris Wile of West Newbury on the panel, stressed the importance of adding verbiage into the field trip policy to delineate the appropriate number of chaperones needed to accompany students and teachers on field trips based on grade level and type of activity.

The Pentucket business meeting is Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Modular Room 3 at the high school.