Superintendent’s Message Regarding the FY20 Superintendent’s Recommended Budget

I respectfully present to the School Committee and the Greater Reading Community the FY20 Superintendent’s Recommended Budget of $46,467,348 representing an increase of $1,607,073 or 3.6% over the FY19 budget.  Copies of both the Superintendent’s Recommended Budget and the MUNIS Accounting Ledger can be found at the Reading Public School website located here.  The increases are broken down by non-accommodated costs (all costs except special education out of district transportation and tuition and one community priority) which increased by 3.25% over the FY19 Budget and accommodated costs (special education out of district transportation and tuition and one community priority) which increased by 6.55% over the FY19 Budget.

This recommended budget aligns with the budget guidance that we received from the Reading Finance Committee on October 10, 2018 and subsequent discussions with the Town Manager and Town Accountant.  The Finance Committee’s recommended guidance is based on an analysis of current and future town revenue and expense projections of the Community.

Since the last Superintendent’s budget message one year ago, there have been significant fiscal changes in our district, most of it has been positive.  For the first time in my ten years developing and recommending budgets, I do not have to focus my introductory budget message on the funding challenges facing our school district.  This is because our most positive change, which has impacted the entire community, was the community support last April of a proposition 2 ½ override ballot question which restored and retained teaching positions, added curriculum materials, replaced outdated and aged technology, increased professional development and training, and provided additional curriculum and special education supports for teachers.  Because of this additional financial support, foreign language and additional language arts classes have continued at our middle schools, class sizes have been reduced at our elementary schools, and our high school is now able to offer more course sections, additional electives and Advanced Placement Courses for all students.  We are grateful of the work that was done by our community, town, and school leaders who worked together to accomplish this significant achievement.  I want to recognize the work of “Yes for Reading” under the leadership of Erin Gaffen and Michelle Sanphy for building the infrastructure and grass roots support necessary for this monumental task.  In addition, I want to thank Town Manager Bob LeLacheur and Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom for their leadership and the Select Board and School Committee for their commitment and support toward the override.  I also want to thank Chief Financial Officer Gail Dowd for the countless hours that she put in developing two budgets for last year’s cycle and her commitment to the detail necessary to explain the budget story to the community.  This was truly a team effort and the outcome would not have been possible without everyone working together.

Figure 1 provides an update on the override funding and Figure 2 reconciles the original FY19 budget as approved by the School Committee to the final budget approved by Town Meeting.

override2

Figure 2:  Override Allocation By Cost Center in FY19 Budget

override slide

The Superintendent’s Recommended FY20 budget, includes funding to primarily address the following financial drivers:

  • Funding of all contractual step and COLA increases for represented (based upon successful negotiation of all contracts for 3-year period) and non-represented employees.
  • Increase in known out of district special education tuition and transportation expenses due to increased rates, and types of placements.
  • Curriculum Updates in Social Studies to align with new Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.
  • Increase in athletic, regular day mandatory, and homeless transportation per transportation contract and an increased number of homeless students.
  • Anticipated increase in contractual cleaning services for RMHS (contract is in final year of 3-year agreement).
  • Renewal of software programs and maintenance programs based on three-year renewal cycle and completion of capital projects.
  • The net addition of 2.95 FTE Special Education Paraeducators, 3.5 FTE Special Education Teachers, 1.2 FTE Regular Education Teachers, and 0.6 FTE Districtwide Coach due to current and anticipated indistrict special education needs, programmatic needs and elementary enrollment needs.  The breakdown is as follows:

 

o    0.61 FTE Special Education Program Paraeducator at Birch Meadow (Hired in FY19)

o    0.76 FTE Special Education Program Paraeducator at RISE (Hired in FY19)

o    1.50 FTE Special Education Program Teacher at Coolidge (Hired in FY19)

o    0.70 FTE Special Education Teacher at Wood End (Hired in FY19)

o    0.30 FTE Special Education Teacher at Killam (Hired in FY19)

o    0.43 FTE Special Education Paraeducator (Anticipated for FY20)

o    0.30 FTE Special Education Paraeducator (Anticipated for FY20)

o    0.85 FTE Special Education Program Paraeducator (Anticipated for FY20)

o   1.0 FTE Special Education Program Teacher (Anticipated for FY20)

o   1.2 FTE Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers at Killam and Wood End (Anticipated for FY20)

o   0.60 FTE Behavioral Health Coach (Funded as a Community Priority for FY20).  Position is currently funded in the School Climate Transformation grant which is ending this year.

In addition, we are closely monitoring our revolving accounts and are recommending the following adjustments to those accounts (see Figure 3) in the FY20 budget totaling a net overall increase of $62,000.  Refer to Figure 34 and 35 in the budget book for a more detailed description of these accounts.

override 3

Not included in this budget are funds for potential settlements, unknown student placements and unanticipated enrollment increases or extraordinary special education costs related to out of district placement tuition, transportation, or other services as required by a student’s individualized education plan.  We are closely tracking additional potential cost increases throughout the remainder of the current fiscal year including legal, consultation and program costs that we anticipate may occur later in the year as decisions are made regarding individual students.  These potential additional costs are not currently included in the Superintendent’s Recommended FY20 budget as the timing and amounts are not known with certainty.  As a result, we have made a conscious decision to budget less for out of district special education tuition and transportation than we normally would.  We are having discussions with the Town Manager and the leadership of the Finance Committee of these potential increases.  It is most likely we will need to ask for additional funding from April or November Town Meeting for FY19 and/or FY20 in this area.

In addition to the above financial drivers, the FY20 budget strives to help address our District Improvement Plan and other areas.  During FY20 (2019-20 school year), we will begin a new District Improvement Plan which will most likely focus on some or all the following areas:

•        Focus on equity and access for all students

•        School Safety (Physical and Psychological)

•        Closing the achievement gap

•        Social Emotional Learning

•        Addressing the capital needs (school security, educational, programmatic and athletic space) of our schools

This budget also prioritizes maintaining adequate class sizes of 18 to 22 students in kindergarten through Grade 2, maintaining the middle school interdisciplinary model, and addressing the results of the RMHS NEASC Self-study.

In Closing

In conclusion, we are grateful for the financial and community support that we have received and as a result, our district will be able to provide the necessary resources to stay focused on the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral well-being of our students.  The Superintendent’s Recommended FY20 budget reflects those priorities.  While we are proud of the fact that we are a district that is on the forefront in many areas, we have challenges that lie ahead, including addressing the needs of our students with disabilities, educational space needs and improving the social and emotional well-being of our students.   We are proud of the work that our teachers and administrators do every day to improve teaching and learning in our district.  In addition, we have enthusiastic and respectful students who arrive to school every day eager to learn.  This is a testament to our parents and our community who value the importance of education and the role that it needs to play in a community.   There is no question that a major indicator of the quality of life for everyone in a community can be measured by the quality of its schools and by a community’s commitment to its children.  In this way, the quality of a school district affects every single person in a community, and the Town of Reading is no exception.

We appreciate the support that we have received from the community in the past and we look forward to working with the School Committee and town officials during this budget process.

Reading Public School Weekly Newsletter and Superintendent’s Office Hours

Good Morning, Reading Public School Community,

We hope all is well and you are enjoying your weekend.  Attached below is this week’s Pathways Newsletter.   This week’s newsletter has the following information:

  • Superintendent’s Message and FY20 Budget Overview
  • An article from the Marshall Memo on Nature versus Nurture in Child Development
  • Information from the Office of Learning and Teaching regarding an SEI course offering in Reading
  • Stepping Stones
  • Blazing Trails

The Superintendent’s Office Hours for the next 2 weeks are as follows:

1/07     Superintendent’s Office  5:00 – 6:00 p.m.

1/17     Wood End  7:15 – 8:15 a.m.

1/18     RMHS  7:00 – 8:00 a.m.

Have a great rest of the weekend and week ahead.

pathways newsletter v6n17

Weekly District Newsletter and Superintendent’s Office Hours

Happy New Year!  We hope that you have had a restful vacation week and an enjoyable holiday season.  Attached is this week’s Pathways Newsletter.  This week’s newsletter contains the following articles and information:

  • FY20 Prebudget Overview
  • A story from the Washington Post about a teacher who posted on Facebook about a gift from a student who had nothing to give.
  • A story from Dr. Robert Brooks, titled, One Person.
  • 2019 Photographer in Residence Selected For Reading Public Library
  • RMHS High Five for the Week
  • Cards for Carly
  • Hour of Code at Eaton
  • Killam Science
  • Stepping Stones
  • Blazing Trail

The Superintendent’s Office Hours for This Week are as follows:

1/03     Superintendent’s Office     4:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Pathways Newsletter V6N16

Have a Happy New Year and a great week ahead!

Take care.

FY20 Prebudget Overview and FY20 School Committee Dates

Good Morning,

Below is the presentation given by Chief Financial Officer Gail Dowd at the December 20th School Committee Meeting regarding the FY20 Prebudget Overview.  The School Committee dates for the FY20 budget process are as follows:

Monday, January 7, 2019              Overview of FY20 Budget, Administration, School    Custodians, and District Wide Cost Centers, and Capital

Thursday, January 17, 2019          Regular Day and Special Education Cost Centers

Thursday, January 24, 2019          Public Hearing on FY20 Budget

Monday, January 28, 2019             School Committee Vote on FY20 Budget

School Committee FY20 Budget Process Presentation Preoverview

 

 

Reading Public Schools Weekly Newsletter and Superintendent’s Office Hours

Good Morning, Reading Public School Community,

We hope that you are enjoying your weekend.  Attached is this week’s Pathways Newsletter.  Below are the topics and news for this week:

  • The Gold Wrapping Paper-An Inspirational Short Holiday Story
  • Graffiti Incidents at RMHS
  • RMHS Student Selected as Reading Public Library Photographer in Residence
  • Information regarding Deb Kwiatek’s Retirement Party
  • An Edutopia Article on 2018 Educational Research Highlights
  • A Press Release from the Ethics Commission about Gifts
  • RMHS High Five for the Week
  • Stepping Stones
  • Blazing Trails

The Superintendent Office Hours for the next two school weeks are as follows:

12/19   Parker                                                7:30 – 8:30 a.m.

12/20   Coolidge                                            2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

1/02     Killam                                                 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

1/03     Superintendent’s  Office               4:30 – 5:30 p.m.

On behalf of the Reading Public Schools, We hope that you and your family have a happy and healthy holiday season.  Enjoy your vacation!

Have a great rest of the weekend and week ahead.

Take care.

Pathways Newsletter V6N15

Reading Public Schools Weekly Newsletter and Superintendent Office Hours

Good Morning, Reading Public School Community,

We hope all is well and you are enjoying this beautiful, but chilly weekend.  Attached is this week’s Pathways Newsletter.

The newsletter contains the following information:

  • Graffiti Incident at Birch Meadow
  • RMHS Late Start Committee Update
  • A Message From a Holocaust Survivor
  • RMHS High Five for the Week
  • Wood End Hour of Code
  • Coolidge Holiday Concert
  • Stepping Stones
  • Blazing Trails

The Superintendent Office Hours for This Week are as follows:

  • 12/12   Barrows  1:00 – 2:00 p.m.
  • 12/13   Superintendent’s Office  4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
  • 12/19   Parker  7:30 – 8:30 a.m.
  • 12/20   Coolidge  2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Thanks and have a great weekend!

Pathways Newsletter V6N14

 

 

Pathways Newsletter and Superintendent Office Hours for This Week

Good Morning, Reading Public School Community,

I hope you are having a great weekend.  Attached is this week’s Pathways Newsletter.  Below are this week’s articles and other information.

  • RMHS Students Chosen For All Eastern Honors Choir
  • Author Visits Killam, Barrows, and Birch Meadow
  • Honor of Code Resources For This Week
  • A Marshall Memo Article about Choosing Words Thoughtfully When Communicating With Students
  • Reading Festival of Trees Information and Performance Schedule for This Weekend
  • RMHS Students Sign Letter of Intent
  • RMHS Volleyball All State Players
  • RMHS Students Audition for Senior Districts
  • Parker AWOD Students Hold Inspiring School Wide Assembly
  • Stepping Stones
  • Blazing Trails

Don’t forget that this weekend is the Reading Education Foundation Annual Festival of Trees at Parker Middle School.  This REF fundraiser helps support all of the grants that teachers receive from the Reading Education Foundation.  Information on schedule and times is in the Pathways Newsletter.

The Superintendent’s Office Hours for the Next Two Weeks Are As Follows:

12/4    RMHS  6:45 – 7:45 a.m.

12/7    Killam  7:30 – 8:30 a.m.

12/12   Barrows  1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

12/13   Superintendent’s Office  4:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Have a great weekend!

Pathways Newsletter V6N13

Pathways Newsletter and Superintendent Office Hours for the Week of 11/18/2018

Good Morning, Reading Public School Community,

We hope all is well and you are having a great weekend.  Attached below, please find this week’s edition of the Pathways Newsletter.  In this week’s edition, there are the following articles and information:

  • Update on Parker Graffiti Incidents from last week
  • State of the Schools Address from November Town Meeting
  • RMHS Students chosen for All Eastern Honors Choir
  • An article from the Marshall Memo on Understanding and Supporting Transgender Youth
  • Barrows Elementary School holds Veteran’s Day Assembly
  • Parker students attend Nature’s Classroom
  • Stepping Stones
  • Blazing Trails

The Superintendent’s Office Hours for the next two weeks are as follows:

11/19  Killam  7:45 – 8:45 a.m.

11/20  Superintendent’s Office  4:30 – 5:30 p.m.

11/27  RMHS   7:00 – 8:00 a.m.

11/29  Birch Meadow  2:15 – 3:15 p.m.

On behalf of the Reading Public Schools, I hope that you and your family have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday!

Take care.

Pathways Newsletter V6N12

Superintendent State of the Schools Address at Town Meeting

Below is the State of the Schools Address that was delivered by Superintendent of Schools John Doherty at Town Meeting on November 15, 2018

Mr. Moderator, Town Meeting Members, Select Board, Finance Committee Members, School Committee, Fellow Town Leaders and Department Heads, School Building Principals, District Administrators, Members of the School Community, and Invited Guests.  It is my great privilege tonight to represent the hundreds of dedicated educators of the Reading Public Schools, and to deliver to you the annual State of the Schools address.  Tonight’s address will focus on both the accomplishments and challenges that face our district.  However, I want to begin this evening by focusing on our most important resource, our students, and to that end, I am honored to recognize three Reading Memorial High School Seniors who are the recipients of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Award for Academic and Community Excellence. It is always difficult to select these students, given how many deserving candidates we have here at Reading Memorial High School.    The three students being recognized this evening have demonstrated strong academic skills, participate in extracurricular and community service activities, and are currently in the top 5% of their graduating class.  I have had the opportunity to meet with each of them and they are genuinely great kids, which is a tribute to their families who are here this evening as well.  It is with honor and pride that I present this award to our first recipient who was a student at the Barrows Elementary School and Parker Middle School, is currently the Vice President for the RMHS Student Government, and participates in the Mock Trial Club. A member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society, this student has excelled in rigorous classes including AP Physics I, AP European History, AP Calculus, AP Spanish, AP English Literature, and Honors Accounting.  This recipient envisions a career in Political Science and Law, and has applied to Colombia University, University of Chicago, Northeastern, Tufts University, Boston College, Georgetown, Villanova, and Brown.  He has served in 3 internships; one for the Suffolk County District Attorney, one under Representative Brad Jones, and one for Richard Hegarty.  He is also a member of the RMHS Varsity Hockey Team.   When asked which teachers had the greatest impact on his educational journey, he said retired Barrows teacher Eileen Litterio, Parker Teacher Brian Cormier, and RMHS teachers Giulio Binaghi, Zac Broken Rope, and Jim DeBenedictis.

It is with great pleasure tonight that I recognize Michael Miele.  Michael, please come forward to receive the 2018 Massachusetts Association of School Superintendent’s Award.

Tonight’s second recipient attended Joshua Eaton Elementary School and Parker Middle School and is a talented cellist.  Academically, this student is a curious and engaged learner who is currently taking several high level courses including AP Calculus, AP Studio Art, AP English Literature, AP French, Honors Physics, and Honors World Issues. A member of the National Honor Society and RMHS Drama Club, this student is also very involved in community service activities, volunteering at the Reading Food Pantry and the Boston Food Market.  She also is a member of the BOLD Leader club which teaches leadership skills to girls in middle school.

Next year, she plans on majoring in Archeology and is applying to Yale, Boston University, Columbia University, Wesleyan, NYU, and Tufts.   The teachers who have had a significant impact on this student’s journey are RMHS History Teachers Kara Gleason and John Fiore.

It’s a great honor to introduce to you, Madeline Liberman!  Maddie, please come forward and accept the MASS 2018 Superintendent’s Award for Academic Excellence.

Our third and final recipient attended Birch Meadow Elementary School and Coolidge Middle School.  A member of the RMHS Drama Club, this student is also the Vice President of Finance for the Dance Marathon Club, and volunteers at the Reading Public Library where she serves as a Net Guide and helps senior citizens use the library technology.  Academically, this student is taking several rigorous high level courses including AP BC Calculus, AP Physics C, AP Art, AP English, and AP French.  A member of the National Honor Society, this student is also a National Merit Semi-Finalist which means that she is in the top 16,000 students in the country who took the PSAT last year.  She will be notified in February if she is a National Finalist.

Next year, she plans on majoring in Engineering and Architecture and is applying to Yale, Rice, Cornell, and Harvard.   The teachers who has had a significant impact on this student’s journey are RMHS Math Teacher Kelley Bedingfield and RMHS English Teacher Zac Broken Rope.

It’s a great honor to introduce to you, Megan Coram!  Megan, please come forward and accept the MASS 2018 Superintendent’s Award for Academic Excellence.

Congratulations, Michael, Maddie, and Megan!

These students, together with the dedicated educators who have supported them each and every day, are quite honestly the living personification of the state of our schools.  You will see many more specific accomplishments over the last year, highlighted in the two documents that you have received this evening.  The first document focuses on the accomplishments of our entire PreK-12 district and the other, the RMHS School Profile, is specific to our high school and is distributed to colleges and universities across the country.   Before I go further into my remarks, however, I would like most of all to say thank you…thank you to all of those who help make our schools—(and thus our entire community) a successful place to learn and grow.  This includes our dedicated and caring staff, a strong and committed leadership team (many of whom are here this evening), and the tremendous support that we receive from our parents and from each one of you—(truly from everyone in our community).  I am proud to work in a school district and in a community where this dedication is part of our culture and where we work together for the greater good and for the future of our children.

Without a doubt, the values and spirit of our town—including a commitment to community and teamwork—are alive and well in our schools.  They contribute every day to the success of our school district, and provide us the inspiration to continually reach toward our goals—regardless of the challenge.

Since I last delivered this address one year ago, there have been significant changes in our district, most of it has been positive.  For the first time in my nine years delivering the State of the Schools address, I do not have to focus my remarks on the funding challenges facing our school district.  This is because our most positive change, which has impacted the entire community, was the community support last April of a proposition 2 ½ override ballot question which restored and retained teaching positions, added curriculum materials, replaced outdated and aged technology, increased professional development and training, and provided additional curriculum and special education supports for teachers.  Because of this additional financial support, foreign language and additional language arts classes have continued at our middle schools, class sizes have been reduced at our elementary schools, and our high school is now able to offer more course sections, additional electives and Advanced Placement Courses for all students.  We are grateful of the work that was done by our community, town, and school leaders who worked together to accomplish this significant achievement.  I want to recognize the work of “Yes for Reading” under the leadership of Erin Gaffen and Michelle Sanphy for building the infrastructure and grass roots support necessary for this monumental task.  In addition, I want to thank Town Manager Bob LeLacheur and Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom for their leadership and the Select Board and School Committee for their commitment and support toward the override.  I also want to thank Chief Financial Officer Gail Dowd for the countless hours that she put in developing two budgets for last year’s cycle and her commitment to the detail necessary to explain the budget story to the community.  This was truly a team effort and the outcome would not have been possible without everyone working together.

Our accomplishments span over a variety of areas.  First, I am going to focus on some of our academic achievements. I am proud to announce that our school district has improved in several key academic areas of our MCAS, SAT, and AP results. We are now in the second year of the next generation MCAS in Grades 3-8 for literacy and mathematics and we saw significantly strong scores in both areas for Grades 3, 5, 6, and 8.  In addition, we saw significant increases in our Grade 5 legacy MCAS science scores.  This is a testament to the continued effort of our teachers and administrators to make the curriculum and instructional changes necessary to align with the State frameworks and the additional curriculum purchases that we have made in science and literacy over the last few years.  The SAT is also in its second year of the new test and we saw a seven point increase in the critical reading section of the test and a thirteen point increase in the mathematics section of the test.  Finally, our 2018 Advanced Placement Scores showed that 84% of our students had a passing score of 3 or higher, an increase of 4% from 2017.

This past year was also the first year of the new state accountability system.  Although the state discontinued the number rating system, they added descriptors and new indicators such as attendance and percentage of students in AP and honors courses to give a more complete picture of a school.  There is also a greater focus on addressing the needs of the least performing students in each school.   I am pleased to report that all 8 of our schools received an overall classification of “not requiring assistance or intervention”, which means that all of our schools are on the right path to student success.  In addition, we met the requirements for special education and we did not need technical assistance or intervention.  I would especially like to highlight the work of the staff and students of Joshua Eaton, under the direction of Principal Lisa Marie Ippolito where just two short years ago, the school was designated as a Level 3 school and did require additional assistance and intervention.  Because of their hard work, Joshua Eaton had an overall accountability percentile of 81%, the second highest in our school district.

In addition to addressing academic needs, we have been continuing our focus on the physical and psychological safety of our students.  Each school has been implementing different social and emotional learning curriculum activities and programs that include Open Circle at the elementary schools, Advisory Programs which include Facing History and Ourselves at the middle schools, and developmental guidance activities at our high school.  The overall goal of our social emotional learning programs and curriculum is for each student to have at least one trusted adult that they can go to in our schools and that they feel safe.

The physical safety of our students has been one of our top priorities for the last several years and we have continued to emphasize it this year by working with police and fire to update our school emergency operations plan, having the facilities department, under the direction of Joe Huggins conduct safety audits of each school, and holding several evacuation and active shooter drills with public safety during the school year.  One example of these drills occurred after school ended last June when police, fire, and schools, implemented a joint active shooter exercise for two days at Killam Elementary School.  We are one of the few communities in the region that have done an active shooter drill of this level and complexity.  We are also fortunate that one of the positions funded in the override last year was a second School Resource Officer.  This additional position has already had a significant positive impact for our schools.  In the district wide PRIDE survey that was administered to parents, teachers, and students last May and June, the category of school safety received the highest combined scores of any other category surveyed.  This designation is due to the continued focus on this area, the emphasis on school safety drills, the level of behavioral health supports that we have at each level and the extraordinary teamwork between the schools and public safety.  I would like to publicly thank Police Chief Mark Segalla, Deputy Chief Dave Clarke, Fire Chief Greg Burns, and RCASA Executive Director Erica McNamara for their continued efforts in working with the schools to ensure a safe and supportive environment.

One of the ways that our students build a connection to adults and have ownership to their schools is through the numerous extra-curricular and athletics programs that are offered in the Reading Public Schools.  This past year, several of our athletic teams and extra-curricular activities had successful seasons with 4 Middlesex League Titles and 2 State Championships, one in Girls Swimming, and one in Boy’s Lacrosse.  Our middle and high school band and chorus programs are very strong and each year, several students qualify for state and regional level performances.  Our High School Jazz Band won the highest recognition possible earning a gold medal and performed at the Berkeley Music Center last May as one of the top Jazz Bands in the State.  Our drama club continues to offer outstanding performances, including Mama Mia, which is playing this weekend in this very performing arts center.  Our outstanding fine arts program, along with amazing student art work, is on display each year at our Artsfest in the spring.

Our schools, programs, and school leaders continue to be role models for other school districts in our state and country.  In September, the Assistant Secretary of Education for the United States Department of Education and the Associate Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Education visited Reading Memorial High School, Birch Meadow Elementary School and RISE Preschool to see and hear about the strong special education programs in these schools.  In October, Wood End Principal Joanne King and her staff presented at the National PBIS Conference in Chicago, the largest conference of its nature in the country.  Recently, Parker Principal Ricki Shankland spoke at the Anti-Defamation League’s 12th Annual Women of Valor Luncheon in Boston where she spoke about the strong partnership between the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Reading Public Schools and the support that they have given us over the last several months.  Finally, earlier this year, RMHS Social Studies Teachers Kara Gleason and Megan Howie had two articles published on Reading history, titled “Lives Lived Unfree: Stories of Reading’s Enslaved”.   In these articles they examined some of the stories of enslaved people who lived, worked, died, and were owned as property in Reading, Massachusetts during the 18th century.

I could go on and on about how the Reading Public Schools is a great place for students to learn, to thrive, and to develop the skills necessary for the next steps after high school.  This is due to the dedication of our teachers and staff, the commitment and leadership of our Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors, Team Chairs, and Central Office and District Administrators, and the support we receive from our community and our parents.  I am grateful for their efforts.

However, like any school district, there are challenges.  We continue to focus on closing the learning gap between our most vulnerable students including students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English Language Learners.  Under the leadership of Assistant Superintendent Chris Kelley and the newly funded K-8 curriculum coordinator positions, curriculum guides are being developed in each curriculum area that align with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.  The aligned curriculum, along with the ongoing training, will give our teachers the tools and support needed to reach all students in the classroom.  In addition, this past year, we began doing a complete comprehensive review of our language-based special education program and specialized reading services.  The result includes developing and implementing an action plan focused on improving the program and services for students with dyslexia and other language-based disabilities.  We will be doing similar reviews of other special education programs over the next few years.  Having strong in-district special education not only benefits our students as they are given the opportunity to be educated with their peers in the Reading Public Schools, but also it is a more cost-effective way to educate those students which allows us to invest more of our educational funding to the general classrooms.

However, without a doubt, the greatest challenge that our school district is facing right now is the number and frequency of hateful graffiti that has been found in our schools.  Since October 12th, we have had 10 separate incidents, eight at Reading Memorial High School and two at Parker Middle School, which have primarily impacted our Jewish, LGBTQ, and African-American Communities, Since May, 2017, we have had 33 separate graffiti incidents in our schools.

If in this part of my remarks I come across as angry, frustrated, and disheartened, it is because I am…and so are many others.  I am not a member of the affected communities, so I will never know how they truly feel.  But I do know this…We want it to stop and we want it to stop now.  There is a population of students and staff that do not feel safe in our schools right now and that is disheartening.  The symbols and words that have been found written or etched on our walls, on our desks, in our bathrooms, classrooms, hallways, and stairwells have a deep meaning to those impacted.  These acts of hate will not define us as a community and it cannot defeat us a community.

The acts of hate are not just a Reading issue.  The anti-defamation league is reporting that anti-Semitic incidents have grown to their highest level in two decades in the U.S. over the last two years.  In Massachusetts alone during 2017, there were 93 reported incidents in schools, up from 50 a year before.  This year alone, there have been reported incidents of hate speech at schools in Malden, Melrose, Arlington, South Boston, Wayland, Newton, and most recently, Framingham.  History has also shown that these issues will escalate in a community before they lessen.

As we have in so many other areas, Reading can be a model for other communities. What I am optimistic about is the way in which our school community, in collaboration with Reading Police and the Town Manager have addressed these situations over the past two years.  In addition to all of the curriculum and program advances that the schools have made in the last few years, the Reading Public Schools, Town Facilities Department, Town Manager, and Reading Police Department have developed and refined a protocol for notification, investigation, and communication of these incidents.  This would not have been possible without all parties working together and understanding the roles and responsibilities that each have to play in situations like this.  This strong relationship, which is not always the norm in other communities, has only grown stronger and is built on communication, trust, and a sense of purpose to keep our students and staff safe.

In addition, we have developed a strong relationship with the Anti-Defamation League, who is providing our teachers and administrators with on-going support and training.  They have been providing student training at our two middle schools and the high school for our A World of Difference Clubs.  These clubs will lead the student response in creating a culture that promotes respect and embraces diversity.  Last year, the student club here at the High School created an RMHS Human Rights Resolution which was embraced by both staff and students.

             Along the same lines, we have formed community partnerships with Reading Embraces Diversity, the Reading Clergy Association, and the Human Relations Advisory Committee who are using their roles to involve our community and help educate them that this is a community problem which requires a community solution.  In short, through these challenges, we are bringing people together to forge new bonds and to model the values we hold dear for all our children.

I am also proud of how our administrators, staff, and students have responded to these incidents.  One powerful example occurred two weeks ago, when Reading Memorial High School, under the leadership of Principal Kate Boynton, led a Community Candlelight Vigil of over 300 people in support of human rights, in celebration of diversity, and in opposition of hate, racism, and bigotry.  The evening was inspirational and hopeful with stories and reflections from students, staff, and the community.  Here are a few examples.  RMHS Senior Talia Shor, a member of the Jewish Community, told her story which began on May 4, 2017 when she found the first of many swastikas that have defaced our schools.  Talia passionately talked about how her classmates asked why she was getting so upset about a “joke”, in reference to the swastika.  She said, “how can the deaths of 6 million of my people be a joke?  What is a joke about that…it is not funny” RMHS Senior Autumn Hendrickson, a member of the LGBTQ community talked about how we need “allies…we need teachers and students to show their support.”  She gave several examples of the support that she has seen in the last few weeks and how bridges are being built between different groups of people.  RMHS English Teacher Zac Broken Rope, also a member of the LGBTQ community, told his own personal story about how he grew up in Nebraska, came out as a gay teenager when he was 14 years old, and tried to kill himself in a Nebraska cornfield when he was 15 years old because of the way he was treated and bullied.  Fortunately, he was unsuccessful and has become a strong educator and role model for students and advocate for student voice.

This event, along with the Community rally on the common in October gives me hope and optimism that our entire community can come together to solve this issue.  As Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  We can no longer remain silent on this issue in our community.  We are in uncharted waters as a school district and a community…in an area that very few districts have had to face.  We need to shift from being reactive and defensive to being proactive and working together.  I know that I speak for the Town Manager and the Chief of Police when I say we are already committed to that vision and direction.  For instance, at a time when communities all over the country are seeing an up-tick in hate crimes or in hate-related graffiti, the staff and students of Reading have responded strongly and proactively by bringing people together, forming new partnerships, and strengthening our community values of respect and acceptance for all.  Our plan focuses on response, communication, teamwork and education.

As a community, we already have a blueprint in place as to how this can be successful in our community.  The Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse was formed 11 years ago in response to the growing number of adults that have died due to substance use.  Over several months of discussion with Town and School officials and elected officials, the foundation of the coalition was formed.  This coalition consists of many sectors of our community, including town, schools, police, clergy, students, businesses, parents, and health organizations.  Each of us have a role to play in the coalition, with definite responsibilities and it is that interdependency that has led to the success of RCASA.  Refinements have happened over the eleven years – for example a strong partnership with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office created a diversion/restorative justice program for students that is now the model for other communities. Town and School staff have discussed how this blueprint might be used to focus on human rights and social justice issues.

We have shown as a community that when we work together, great things can happen.  The override is an example of that type of effort.  We have an opportunity to navigate these uncharted waters as a community and create a climate where everyone feels safe and respected.  The schools and town government are willing partners to make this happen.

I began my remarks this evening by focusing on the students and I would like to conclude with the same focus.  At the candlelight vigil, one of the emotional and inspirational highlights of the evening was the RMHS Chorus, under the direction of Kristin Killian, singing a song from the Broadway Show Dear Evan Hansen, called You will be Found.  The RMHS Chorus was unable to attend this evening to sing the song live, but I am going to share with you a video of them singing at the Vigil.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60YqXivP_Kc

Start at 1:01:53   Stop at 1:07:20

The examples of what you heard and saw this evening are just a sample of why we do this work in our public schools and why your support and the support of this community is appreciated and valued.  It is for all students…those who sing, who perform, who compete, who study, and who may require additional support and assistance.  It is for the students who are anxious, who need our guidance and support, and who have trauma in their lives.  On behalf of the four thousand, two hundred eighty-two students and over 600 staff who teach and support these students, thank you for your continued support of our schools… as together, we continue to make Reading a place where all students are supported, a place where we develop the leaders of tomorrow, and a place where our schools continue to provide the strong foundation for the future of this great community.

Press Release from Town Manager Regarding Tonight’s Town Meeting

Below is a press release from Town Manager Robert LeLacheur regarding tonight’s Town Meeting

To:      Town Meeting members

From:   Robert W. LeLacheur, Jr. CFA

Date:      November 15, 2018

RE:       Town Meeting tonight

Subsequent Town Meeting is set to meet tonight at 7:30pm in the Performing Arts Center at Reading Memorial High School. First, please be careful as we are expecting snow and ice, and the roads and walkways may be slippery.

Second, tensions in the town reflect an unfortunate divide in our country. Remarks made by a resident at a public meeting on Tuesday night were out of line and taken by some to be threatening in nature. The Reading Police department detective division has completed an investigation today and they find no credible threat to the public. However, that in no way validates the remarks that were made.

I have been in touch with Moderator Alan Foulds and kept him informed of these facts, and he may have a few words for you at the beginning of the meeting. In addition, I have requested more police presence tonight.

I want to underscore that every Town Meeting member should feel safe to attend tonight’s Town Meeting, and to conduct the business of the community for which you were elected.

Again, please do be careful with the weather.

20181115 Town Meeting members