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School Strategic Plan Revised as ‘Target for 2010’
“2/3rds of initiatives on track or in progress” ~ Phil Totino
Teen Sex Survey Completed

By David Hamacher
April 8, 2007 At Thursday's School Committee meeting, School Superintendent, Dr. John Phelan introduced the presentation of the revised strategic plan by saying, “Because of the current fiscal situation, this mandated three year review of our ten year plan calls for no new thinking, no new initiatives to be considered.”

Started in 1999, the ten year plan called for updates and revisions to be made every three years so that proper adjustments could be made as needed. “When you look back at the first documented produced on February 1, 2000, and look at where we are today, it’s amazing the amount of changes that have been made since then,” Vice-Chair Phil Totino said. The plan was last updated in 2004.

“This document has been updated to show the current situation (current fiscal year) with comparisons to the original named “Vision of the Future” strategic plan. Because the original objective was to identify and complete school district goals by the year 2010, we’ve renamed the document as Target for 2010. And we’ve added a third column, ‘Status’ which indicates the current position for each named measurements,” Mr. Totino explained. “The three categories are On Track – to indicate that the target has been reached; In Progress to indicated that work is underway to reach target; and More $$ to indicated that significant additional investment will be required to reach the target.”

The plan is broken down into several sections of measurement: Academic; Curriculum and Instruction programs; Co-curricular programs; Instructional Methodologies; Staffing; School Culture; Organization and Operations; and Facilities. Improvement Benchmarks are also part of the plan.

“The good news is that 2/3rds of the goals are now ranked either in the On Track or In Progress status category,” Mr. Totino announced.

“But I’m still waiting for the however statement,” Ms. Burdick said. “What’s the other half of the equation?”

“The rest of the story is that 1/3rd of the goals need significant new investment and I’m not sure the schools can do this alone,” Mr. Totino replied. “Given the new charter, the upcoming town meeting and elections, and the special town meeting and separate election for the Weston Nurseries project, we need to get going on this plan right now. Last year we ran into the same problem; we were told to wait for the town meeting, elections, and before we knew it, it was summer and everyone was gone. I don’t want to repeat that this year. This is too important.”

“Based on what our esteemed colleague, Dave Stoldt, coined a few meetings ago, the ‘structural deficit’ needs to be addressed town wide,” Mr. Totino continued. “I was at the forum last weekend put on by the Land Use Study Committee and their consultant, and I was amazed to hear that their goal was to make sure the Weston Nurseries (WN) project was ‘revenue neutral. Why can’t we make sure that the outcome is revenue positive?

“We should address this now. We’ve had recent success working collaborating with other town departments, Board of Selectmen, Appropriations Committee, etc. I think we should publish this document as is and plan to get together with all parties between now and October 1st so we all are on the same page as we start the next fiscal year budget process.

“We had a two million dollar problem this year we had to overcome, and it looks like we’re going to have a two million dollar problem next year as well unless we address this issue now. Because our budget represents 75% of the annual town budget, we need to drive this process. Instead of us basing our plans and future on the outcome of the WN land, the School Committee working with the town should be able to dictate the outcome of the land. We’ve got this upside down. We should invite the Land Use Study Committee to our next meeting, and then get the other parties involved in this discussion,” he concluded.

Ms. Burdick replied, “I think we’re being pro-active by inviting the other committees to our meetings so we can have open discussions.

The structural deficit occurs when the operating budget increases outstrip the available revenue. Because of Proposition 21/2, towns cannot increase taxes more than 2.5 percent annually. Costs of health care, union salary contract commitments, and other fixed costs have been increasing at a higher rate than 2.5%.

“We need a couple of million dollar babies,” Mr. Totino stated. “Working collaboratively to build community leadership, we need to find other ways to leverage WN.”

Dr. Phelan presented an update on the FY ’08 budget by explaining how public input helped to drive several changes under the current situation. The proposed approximately $447,000 cuts facing the School Committee at their last meeting had been alleviated due to shared town costs coming from the water and sewer account. The infusion of approximately $493,000 to the town coffers does not mean all those cuts go away.

“We’re still faced with far less money to produce level services,” Dr Phelan said. “We are keeping the same amount of teachers at the High School, we’re not increasing the sports fees from $125 to $175, we will not be introducing fees for high school and middle school clubs, and all town departments we able to move forward with approximately 2% increases.”

Chair, Ms. Robak explained that Chapter 70 (school targeted) funding would “remain flat or perhaps a very modest increase for Hopkinton because the funding increases would now be made on financial need.”

Mr. David Warner representing Larson Associates Landscape Architects presented conceptual drawings for the siting of the new Early Childhood Center on the grounds of Elmwood School. “Working with Dave Phinney of Design Partnership of Cambridge who has been involved with long-term planning with Hopkinton for a very long time, we were able to build this concept in conjunction with the master plan created in 2002,” he explained. “We’ve incorporated traffic control by bringing in access from Wood Street for the busses, created additional parking spaces, and account for additional playgrounds with minimal disturbance to the natural habitat.

Mr. Totino wanted to know what the configuration of the building would accommodate. Mr. Phinney explained, “12 classrooms for Kindergarten and Special Ed, and four Pre-K classrooms along with necessary core facilities. There will only be one service kitchen because the food production for both Elmwood and the Early Childhood Center can all be done in the current kitchen at Elmwood. This would reduce the need for another full-time kitchen crew.”

Chair Robak said, “I guess the next step is to reconstitute the building committee and get the design process going.”

Dr. Phelan said that the “design monies have already been made through the three million dollar granting from a few years ago.” Monies for the construction and potential reimbursement numbers from the state should be identified in time for the 2008 annual town meeting.

Wellness Coordinator, Ms. Jill Leach, along with Project Director for Youth Empowered to Act in Hopkinton, Renee Cammarata, co-presented the Youth Behavioral Survey recently conducted in the district in collaboration with Social Science Research and Evaluation, Inc. The questionnaire was administrated in April of 2006 with all public school students in grades 9-12. The total number of respondents was 798, which represents about 85% of the high school population.

“The survey, when presented as voluntary and confidential which this was, always results in higher responses,” Ms. Leach explained. “And it’s important to note that these issues we’re talking about are not just school issues, they’re also community issues.”

The survey process which has recorded results from 2002, 2004, and 2006 shows declining substance use of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines, steroids, and other illegal drugs such as LSD, PCP, mushrooms, Special K, Roofies, or GHBs. The only increased abuse was with marijuana and that increase was minimal.

However, current use of alcohol amongst high schools were tabulated for each grade showed 28% of 9th graders having drank within the last 30 days of the date survey was taken. 31% of sophomores drank in the same timeline, with 49% 11th graders, and 63% seniors. In a separate study of all respondents, several students admitted to binge drinking which amounts to one imbibing five or more drinks in any two hour period. 11% of 9th graders, 17% of sophomores, 37% of 11th graders, and 46% of seniors admitted to binge drinking.

Because of greater number of teachers being involved with the students outside of the classroom, the opportunities for students to join one of 48 sports teams, or 30 different clubs, and the introduction of coping skills programs, the percentage of students who reported depression or considered, planned, or attempted suicide in the past 12 months have continued to decrease from 2002 and 2004.

6.4% of all respondents who had ever had intercourse admitted to having used alcohol before sex. “This is important to consider because it shows that regardless of where the alcohol is acquired, sexual intercourse will more often happen,” Ms. Leach explained.

An increase of 16% of juniors and 23% of seniors had had intercourse since the last survey in 2004. When asked how often students had had direct conversations with their parents about pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), 49% of all respondents claimed they had had no conversation whatsoever with their parents. 29% stated they had had one conversation in the last 12 months; 15% said they had a conversation once in awhile, and 7% said they had frequent conversations of at least once a month with their parents.

During her presentation, Ms. Cammarata reported that, “we have a multi-pronged approach to our program. First it is corroborative with other districts involved, and we’re building awareness programs such as the recent ‘Sticker Shock’ campaign where students went into local liquor store and put on warning labels on alcohol. The campaign was so successful, package store owners asked them to come back at prom and graduation seasons.”

Ms. Burdick applauded the work and results of the efforts of both Ms. Leach and Ms. Cammarata by stating, “It’s nice that we now have this body of work and the mechanism to move forward. This is very important information that we have to put into use.”

The two year grant has now completed and funding for the next phase is still up in the year. When asked how she felt about her work in Hopkinton, Ms. Cammarata replied, “I’ve been involved in a lot of grants and I’ve never been in a more concerted effort with the community as I have been with Hopkinton.”

The committee approved moving forward with the design of the new Elmwood School boiler by agreeing in principal with the proposed agreement still being negotiated. Dr. Phelan explained that because the boiler will probably need to be assembled in pieces to fit into the area, and the fact that asbestos will have to be remediated, the proposed total figure for design and installation of $243,000 “may be a little light.” The design costs will be $25,700.00 and more firm figures will be available following the design process.

~File Photos

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