I hope everyone has enjoyed the summer of 2015. We are excited to welcome back students in grades 1-12 on September 2nd, and our newest Kindergartners on September 3rd. There is quite a bit going on in our schools:
- The athletic teams at Dracut High School began practicing last week in advance of the fall season. We have over 300 athletes participating in football, cross country, volleyball, golf, field hockey, swimming, and soccer. Another season of Middie Pride to look forward is under way…
- In addition to our athletic teams, we are preparing once again to field academic teams in various competitions. A team from the Richardson Middle School will continue to participate in the regional Knowledge Bowl, sponsored by the Lowell Sun. A team from Dracut High will participate in the WGBH sponsored High School Quiz Show competition; and we look forward to a Dracut High School robotics team mixing it up in regional competitions.
- Of course, we will once again be well represented by our fine and performing arts programs and the wide variety of other student groups like the DECA club.
- We are in the final stretch of installation of interactive white board technology in all elementary classrooms throughout the district. In addition, all of the computer labs in the elementary schools and Richardson Middle School were upgraded with new machines.
- Also at the elementary schools, we are rolling out carts of tablets along with a mobile wireless connection to allow teachers to use technology in lessons.
- We continue our conversion to a Google Classroom environment, which allows teachers and students to create and communicate “in the cloud.”
- We are preparing for our second year as a Community of Caring district. This character development framework, centered around five core values: Respect, Caring, Responsibility, Trust, and Family, is supported in all of our schools.
Additionally, on the operational side, we are going live with a number of improvements:
- We will be fully implementing of our point of sale system for food service including the capacity for parents to utilize an online prepay system.
- We are expanding parent access to a portal that will allow parents to access a variety of information online including progress reports and report cards.
- Utilizing cloud-based platforms of FamilyID and PayPal, we have modernized the process of submitting payments for user fees.
- We are entering our first full school year utilizing Let’s Talk!, a web-based communications interface that allows the community to easily provide feedback, make suggestions, or ask questions. Please feel free to let us know what is on your mind: Let’s Talk!
In regards to the ever present concerns over the district’s finances, the final budget for this year included a reduction of 6.6 teaching positions. During the winter and spring, I regularly provided public updates on the state of the budget as it evolved. The budget process, which begins in October, and is only completed by a vote of the School Committee after June Town Meeting, is a dynamic process that includes conversations with the Town regarding expected appropriation levels, the State in relation to grant funding and aid, and ongoing assessment of other revenue sources (user fees for example). Projections change in each category regularly. It has been the operating principle of this administration and the School Committee to bring as much transparency as possible to the process. That transparency necessitates public comments about revenues and expense estimates that are constantly shifting.
I spoke at the June Town Meeting and indicated that estimates of revenues and uncertainty of the state budget (that was not finalized until weeks after the school budget had to be set) were likely to cause staffing reductions but that we were hopeful that state funding and an impending lease of the Parker School would resolve most of our shortfall. Indeed, subsequent to the start of the fiscal year, these matters were resolved to the benefit of the district. We were able to restore 5.6 of the positions lost.
The decision to find all opportunities to retain our teachers and continue to provide varied programming in light of budgetary constraints; most notably an appropriation for transportation significantly below our needs, forced the district to raise user fees for athletics and institute a transportation fee for elementary students living two miles or closer to their school. While we understand the fiscal strain placed on families, we believe that there was no alternative if we wished to maintain the integrity and robustness of our academic program.
I am confident that we are positioned to educate your children as vibrantly as always. I thank you for giving the Dracut Public Schools the opportunity to serve the children of Dracut, and look forward to a productive and eventful year.