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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 .

In addition, one Needham school that was under renovation all last year will officially reopen with the start of the 2012-13 year—. The 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 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 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 and 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.

Catherine Kurkjian September 01, 2012 at 02:13 AM
If the MSBA rarely accepts a two school plan, it is unclear to me why the School Committee is continuing to pursue such a plan. First, it will only delay the renovation time line.The timeline is of utmost importance; in that, taking advantage of the temporary decline in elementary enrollment could allow alternate swing space options. Second, given that the MSBA’s grant program is based on urgency and need; an invitation into the program would be more of a certainty for a Hillside project (building condition rating of 3 and environment of 2 (on a scale of 1-4). Third, “The MSBA does not limit the number of SOIs that a district can submit, provided the district only submits one SOI per school in any one SOI filing period. Each district will be required to select one SOI as its ‘district priority SOI’ for consideration and due diligence efforts by the MSBA.*” http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/building/prerequisites/SOI_FAQs That said, a two school plan does not seem to fit into the MSBA process. Also, how would the reimbursement rate be determined? Reimbursement Rate = Base Rate (31 points) + Community Factors + Incentive Points. http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/sites/default/files/edit-contentfile/Guidelines_Forms/Guidelines_Policies/RateCalculation.pdf In conclusion, it seems that submitting separate SOIs would enhance the ability for MSBA to work with our town to find the most educationally and financially sound solutions in the most timely manner.
Sarah Adams September 02, 2012 at 04:19 PM
The teachers should consider integrating Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies into their curriculum. The movies come with both Mandarin Chinese or English audio, AND English or Chinese subtitles to help kids understand better while not getting lost in translation. Search Chinese dubbed movies in Google, and you should find movies such as Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, Home Alone, Finding Nemo, or even Harry Potter, High School Musical, and The Chronicles of Narnia. Kids can even learn American history by watching Chinese dubbed Gone With The Wind, National Treasure, and others. The best thing these are the movies the kids have been watching already, and now with Mandarin Chinese conversation, and English subtitles, that really makes learning fun, and more efficient. There is also a great benefit when you use Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies. Our kids were in the Mandarin Chinese speech competition last year. At the suggestion of their coach, the team started watching these movies, and benefited greatly. They learned how the conversations are conducted in Mandarin Chinese, but with the content they are familiar with already. Google "Chinese dubbed movies" on the internet, and you can find a few sites that specialize such movies, including [ http://www.ChineseDubbed.com ] which delivers your orders in as little as 2 business days.
Anonymous September 04, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Why do we need Mandarin? We need German, please.
Gene Singleton September 15, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Kudos to the new Mandarin Chinese program! That's really great vision! This is to suggest that teachers can integrate Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies into their curriculum. The movies come with both Mandarin Chinese or English audio, AND English or Chinese subtitles to help kids understand better while not getting lost in translation. Search Chinese dubbed movies in Google, and you should find movies such as Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, Home Alone, Finding Nemo, or even Harry Potter, High School Musical, and The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Pursuit of Happyness for people doing business with Chinese companies. Kids can even learn American history by watching Chinese dubbed Gone With The Wind, National Treasure, and others. The best thing these are the movies the kids have been watching already, and now with Mandarin Chinese conversation, and English subtitles, that really makes learning fun, and more efficient. There is also a great benefit when you use Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies. Our kids were in the Mandarin Chinese speech competition last year. At the suggestion of their coach, the team started watching these movies, and benefited greatly. They learned how the conversations are conducted in Mandarin Chinese, but with the content they are familiar with already. Google "Chinese dubbed", and you can find such great sources. Kids will have great Mandarin Chinese immersion with these movies. The Mandarin Bees Program

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