Mandarin Class, iPad Initiative Among New Programs in Needham Public Schools
District Superintendent Dan Gutekanst talks with Patch about what's new for the 2012-13 school year.
When Needham students return to the classroom next Wednesday, they will see quite a few new faces—about 55 new teachers and administrators were hired over the summer—and participate in new classes and programs, such as a Mandarin course and one-to-one iPad initiative at Pollard Middle School.
In addition, one Needham school that was under renovation all last year will officially reopen with the start of the 2012-13 year—Newman Elementary School. The modular units have been cleared from the site and the building’s newly renovated classrooms and common spaces are ready for when students return on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
In preparation for the new school year, Needham Patch chatted with Needham Public Schools Superintendent Dan Gutekanst about what’s new and exciting in the district. Here’s what he had to say:
Do you have any new programs or initiatives starting up this fall? We’re going to introduce Mandarin Chinese at Pollard in the eighth grade this year. We’re also offering some new courses at the high school, including African American history. At the elementary level, we’re introducing a math coach at Broadmeadow as a pilot program. And then, finally, we’re going to provide every student in one of the clusters at Pollard an iPad as part of our one-to-one technology initiative. We really look forward to seeing how the use of that iPad and the one-to-one initiative can empower student learning.
How will the iPad program work? We’re picking one cluster in the eighth grade, about 100 students, and those 100 students will receive an iPad to take home with them, to use in school and to really engage in their learning. It will last for the full year. We hope to learn a lot about it, and we hope to see how we might be able to expand this for more and more students.
What is the status of the Newman Elementary School renovation project? Everyone’s busy and excited about opening up the school finally after what’s been over a five-year-long odyssey. We’ve installed a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system throughout the entire facility. We’ve done some site work to upgrade the facility and make it more handicapped-accessible. We’ve expanded the office area to make it more accommodating to parents, and every classroom now has an appropriate ventilation system.
We’re going to celebrate the Newman homecoming sometime in October. People can come in and see the new auditorium and kitchen area and classrooms.
How is the Newman playground coming along? The playground is moving along. The parents [of Support the Newman Playground] have done an unbelievable job. They’ve raised significant sums of money and Consigli, the contractor, is donating some time and labor to install the playground equipment, so we’re thrilled with that. Consigli has been an outstanding partner in this project along with the Building Committee. The playground committee has ordered equipment and I think that installation will begin sometime later in September so that the playground can be open by early October.
Pollard Middle School was also affected by the Newman project. What’s been done at the school over the summer? Kindergarten was over at Pollard and they’ve been moved back to Newman, and the classrooms they were in have been fixed up in preparation for the new school year. There wasn’t as much work over at Pollard, but there was some tweaking and retrofitting, and that’s all been accomplished.
Were there any other building projects completed over the summer? Chip Laffey, our director of public facilities, and his crew are unbelievable. I don’t think there’s any community that has guys like these working. They have been working throughout the buildings installing some new floors where appropriate, cleaning ductwork in different buildings and painting walls—a lot of work that goes above and beyond just typical maintenance. Needham’s doing this work because we want to avoid a problem like we had at Newman.
Where are you at in the planning process for the Hillside and Mitchell renovation projects? The MSBA [Massachusetts School Building Authority] lets the Commonwealth, the superintendents and the school committees know when we can begin to prepare an SOI [statement of interest], and they haven’t let us know that yet. But the prefeasibility report was completed in July, and it’s something that the School Committee has been asked to digest and consider.
I think the MSBA is going to push back some of its deadlines for the SOI, so there will be more time for the School Committee to work with the administration to think about what some of our different options might be. We’re eager to continue to look at some different options for renovating or replacing the schools. The report talks about DeFazio and Cricket as possibilities, but the School Committee has directed me to look very carefully at a variety of other sites, and we’re actively doing that now.
What kind of staffing changes have you had over the summer? We’ve had a busy summer. We’ve had to replace some folks who have moved on or have retired and we have some new positions in the budget as well. Altogether, we’ve hired about 55 new teachers and administrators.
For the first time, every building will have a special education coordinator, and we’re really excited about that because, first of all, it will allow us to improve student learning for our special education students, and, secondly, we think it can help our special education program be cost-efficient. The special education costs keep increasing and we’re looking to stem the tide of increased special education costs with the introduction of our special education coordinators.
Are you welcoming any other new administrators this school year? We do have one new assistant principal at Pollard, Megan Bonomoulo. She’s replacing Paula Martin, who retired this past June. She’s terrific, and she’s already started work and is looking forward to this coming year.