Spotlight Series: April 8th Override and its Impact:  Needham Educators Share Their Thoughts
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Thank you to everyone who made our February 26th evening on Innovation and Extended Learning such a great event! We had incredibly positive feedback from those in attendance. Panelists Superintendent Dan Gutekanst, Mitchell Principal Mike Schwinden, Director of World Languages Deb Watters, Instructional Technology Specialist Kathy Martell, and School Committee Chair Joe Barnes each spoke on the educational impact of the Innovation and Extended Learning Proposal. This Proposal would be funded by a successful override vote at the upcoming April 8th Town Election.  


For those who weren't able to attend, CNS has captured the highlights of each speaker's perspective. We will share these with you in a series of newsletters leading up to the April 8th election. A special thank you to the Needham Elementary Principals and Kathy Martell for taking the time to share their thoughts in this first installment.  


Also, the Needham Channel is rebroadcasting this event - click here for a schedule; the event is titled "Citizens for Needham Schools Forum, 2/26."  

3/19/14: In This Issue
Q&A with Elementary Principals
Q&A with Kathy Martell
Election Day is April 8th!
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Q&A with Elementary School Principals

Elementary Principals Mike Schwinden, Michael Kascak, Emily Gaberman, Jessica Peterson and Roderick MacNeal shared with CNS a collective statement about the impact they expect to see from the Innovation and Extended Learning proposal.


As elementary school principals, why do you think the proposed changes are important? What are the benefits to students and teachers? 

As a group, we consider the extended day proposal to be the most progressive and comprehensive initiative in our collective administrative experiences. There are immense benefits to students.  
  • The STEAM classes in grades 1-3 create learning opportunities that truly tap into things that children like to do: building things, creating, performing, working, and designing.  
  • The proposal provides foreign language instruction in grades 1-5 and there is extensive research that this has educational benefits across the curriculum - even for native English speaking students who have difficulties in reading and writing. 
  • The potential for more physical education addresses childhood obesity, fitness, and stamina for learning.  
  • Adding music back into the kindergarten week fosters an early appreciation for song and rhythm and movement.  

The accountability movement, with its high stakes testing in language arts and math, creates pressure on schools to spend more time on those narrow "bubble-tested" areas at the expense of time that should be spent on science, social studies, fine and performing arts, foreign language, social and emotional development, and PE.  The extended day relieves some of that pressure and provides students with a broader, deeper, and richer educational experience - one that does prepare children with 21st century skills.

In addition to the considerable educational benefits for children, the extended day proposal will give elementary grade level teams an opportunity, for the first time in Needham, to have common planning time together. Teaching, in 2014, is more complex than it was in 1983 when "A Nation at Risk" was published. Yet even then, critics of public education recognized that teachers, like physicians in a teaching hospital, need to collaborate on challenges that are presented to them. Analyzing data as a team, planning lessons as a team, and discussing students as a team all create better learning opportunities for students and better instructional practices for teachers.  
Q&A with Kathy Martell, Instructional Technology Specialist

Kathy Martell is an Instructional Technology Specialist at the Eliot and Mitchell elementary schools. We asked her to offer her perspective on the benefits of the proposed changes to technology and STEAM instruction if the override is passed. 


Q: Briefly describe how we teach technology currently and how that will change if the override is passed.

A: We currently teach technology through an integration model. Technology teachers, also called integration specialists, meet and collaborate with classroom teachers in order to design and teach project based lessons that support and extend classroom curriculum. Students are learning and using technology skills and concepts for authentic work. This has been a very effective model for students and teachers and we will continue to support this model.  

The STEAM rotation will allow us to add scheduled time for grades one, two, and three students to work with the integration specialist to explore computer and programming skills. Students will be introduced to computer programming via sites such as Google's Blockly, MIT's Scratch and Botlogic. Students will also develop the basic computer and navigation skills needed to support their programming activities. Through computer programming, a constructivist approach to learning, students will have an opportunity to develop their critical and logical thinking skills and understand connections to the technologies that are part of their everyday lives. This exploration will expose students to a new literacy and fill a gap in their education.
Q: From your perspective as an Instructional Technology Specialist, what are the benefits of the proposed changes to students? To teachers?

A: As mentioned above, computer programming helps students develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills. It also allows them to create and construct their own knowledge. These are necessary skills for ALL of our 21st century learners. Building these skills through programming will also support students and their work in other classrooms.

In addition, nationwide there is a deficit of computer programmers.  Increasing students' awareness early may develop their interest in this underserved discipline.  Here are some facts taken from (March 5, 2014).
  • There will be one million more computing jobs than students over the next ten years (adding up to $500 billion in salaries).
  • More than 50 percent of all projected math and science occupations are in computing occupations.
  • Computing occupations are among the highest-paying jobs for new graduates. Yet fewer than 3% of college students graduate with a degree in computer science.
  • In 36 states, computer science classes don't count toward math or science high school graduation requirements
  • A.P. Computer Science is taught in only 5% of U.S. high schools. 
  • Fewer than 20 percent of AP Computer Science students are women. Fewer than 10% are Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino.
Election Day is April 8th - Mark your calendars!

Needham's town election will be held on April 8th this year. If you or someone you know will not be able to vote on election day, you may vote via absentee ballot. You can download an absentee ballot application for yourself, or for a family member. Absentee ballot applications must be received in the Town Clerk's office by 12 noon on Monday, April 7th.  


Please also note that polling locations for some precincts have changed. You can check on the location for your precinct here.       

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