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Principal Marilyn Rodahan's presentation on Weber Middle School took up the main portion of the Nov. 16 board of education meeting.

A highlight, however, was the board's acceptance of a grant of more than $100,000 from an anonymous donor that will be used for four new outreach programs.

The meeting began with awards of certificates of excellence to Schreiber students. Students were recognized as National Merit Scholarship Contest semifinalists or for receiving letters of commendation, for recognition by the National Council of Teachers of English and for being published in the Concord Review, a historical journal that prints student papers.

Rodahan's school report included news coverage of classroom integration techniques and a PowerPoint demonstration by Weber students. Rodahan also cited several programs and reforms, including the principal/student cabinet, at which students meet directly with administrators; monthly curriculum council meetings for parents; improved communication between parents and the guidance department; and the Character Education Committee, which created the"responsibility and respect" slogan seen in classrooms and at activities.

The presentation detailed some problems at Weber, including drops in assessment scores, notably math; an infestation of lice and curriculum alignment with elementary and high school teachers. Rodahan said she has reached out to communities that have not traditionally felt welcome at Weber by printing materials in Spanish and Korean and by taking care to avoid the formation of socioeconomic strata in the student population.

Community comments about Weber included questions about scheduling advanced math and science classes at Weber, with many parents asking the board to remedy the competition for entrance into certain courses, such as earth science. Comments were made that students who do not get into advanced classes "are made to feel like losers," a point that board member Mark Marcellus took issue with during the board's discussion.

"Although kids who aren't in the advanced classes may feel left out, and they may feel like 'losers,' that's not a curriculum problem," Marcellus said. "That's a problem for guidance."

Referring to an earlier point Rodahan had made, Marcellus argued that if gym classes can be grouped by ability without damaging student's self-esteem, the same should be possible in the core curriculum as well.

"As long as we are providing an appropriate education and a safe learning environment to every student, we are doing our job," Marcellus said.

The board rejected an amendment to the budget schedule that would include additional meetings. It agreed to contract with Spectra School Aid Services for the completion of old capital-project reports and a review of state aid for special education from 2000 through 2005. No amount was given for the contract.

The board approved a contribution from an anonymous donor, not to exceed $114,586, for outreach programs at Manorhaven School: the Parent-Child Program, ESL After School, the Vera Hill Institute for Cultural Understanding and Teaching Tolerance. [By e-mail, Mary Callahan, the assistant superintendent for business, provided brief descriptions of the four programs, which, she explained, are being developed by Manorhaven Principal Linda Welles with Emma Fraser Pendleton, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, and outside agencies. The Parent-Child Home Program is an early in-home intervention program. The Vera Hill Institute will be an evening program for adults focusing on understanding a different culture each year. It is named for a former employee of Manorhaven who engendered such understanding, Callahan wrote. The third program is an after-school program in English as a second language for fourth- and fifth-grade students. Teaching Tolerance will provide professional development and an arts-based focus, using drama and improvisation to address problems.]

The board rejected, on a 2-3-1 vote, a late transportation request from a private school.

The board authorized the following change orders: $24,150 for repair and installation of lighting at Salem; $45,148 for roof and other repairs at Daly; $72,020 for plumbing systems at Weber.

The Gambol Committee's request to sell bricks as a fund-raiser was approved.

The board approved the following books for 11th and 12th grade English courses: Drown, by Junot Diaz, and two books by Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake.

Board goals, formulated at meetings earlier this fall, were approved.

The board approved formation of a Saturday Academy to be held in January. The academy, which was offered for the first time last year, provides extra help to children in danger of failing the state's fourth-grade assessment tests.

The board approved Superintendent Geoffrey Gordon's recommendation of a special $5,000 stipend to his secretary, primarily for increased informational services to the board.

An anti-idling policy for school buses was read aloud, as required by state law for new district policies. The policy will come up for a vote at a future meeting.


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