FYI, The Hamilton Wenham Support Our Schools website (www.hwsos.org) is scheduled to go offline 4/23/2018 when the domain name expires. I will delete all the files on my server shortly after that.

It has truly been an honor to work with so many talented and dedicated people over the last 15 years.

SOS got its start in June 2003 as Support Our Students to raise money to hire back teachers that were scheduled to be laid off do to significant State budget cuts. It was so exciting to be part of this effort which raised $215,000.

Citizens for a Strong Community (CSC) was formed in August 2003. We published a newsletter called the Update, and our first issue said:

SOS was created with only one purpose, to raise as much money as possible in an attempt to make up for what was cut from our school programs in the 2003/2004 school years. Although it’s still possible to donate money for school programs, and money is still being received at the school department, our work is done.

What we did in such a short period of time was nothing less than remarkable. For those who were disappointed by the way the override votes went, there was in the end, some satisfaction when we saw how many people in the community care so much that they would contribute hard earned money to privately fund our school programs. Many concerned people attended our SOS meetings, and even more came out for the school committee, selectmen and finance committee meetings.

We realized that for too long, only a handful of people in our towns were really participating, and it became obvious that if we want to avoid this debacle next year, we need to be informed and involved in all our town and school planning processes.

S.O.S. is now changing its name and expanding its mission. The new name is Citizens for a Strong Community. Starting on the first day of the school year CSC will work hard to investigate how we got to this point and how we can address the current problem.We will continue networking and will work on a variety of issues in our community such as:

  • Tax relief possibilities
  • Involvement in the budget processes of our schools and our towns
  • Improving relations between parents and seniors
  • Creating a group of citizens to lobby Beacon Hill to increase state funding
  • Gain an understanding of our demographics and town priorities

We are looking for more concerned citizens to help in this effort. Please send email to: [email protected].

We live in two of the nicest towns in Massachusetts, and with your help, we can build an even stronger community.”

The Update was sent out to around 1500 people in the community, but after a while I decided a website would be useful as we had so much to share. The CSC website (hwcsc.org) was first published in October 2003. After a while, we announced the creation of CSC’s School District Study Group which embarked on a very ambitious study of 25 school districts. Meanwhile, a number of people volunteered to attend various town/school meetings, taking notes which were published weekly. It was a crazy amount of work, but it started a trend of cooperation that continues to this day. We published the Update until October 2007.

SOS Reboot

We had another significant school funding issue in the spring of 2007, and SOS resurfaced as Support Our Schools. We raised a total of $266,487 in cash, donated from 368 families and 6 companies. In September 2007 we had our first official meeting where 35 volunteers signed up to a number of committees. The current SOS website was first published November 6, 2007.

Looking back to 2003, the town boards didn’t communicate much. The Hamilton and Wenham Selectmen ignored each other, and the School Committee was dealing with a sea change as the State had decreased funding significantly. Over a number of years, there were a many override attempts to stave off teacher layoffs, some successful, some not.

Probably the craziest school related budget event took place on a really hot night in August 2003 in the High School Gym. For the first time in MA history, the towns of Hamilton and Wenham were required by the State to have a Two Town School District Meeting since two previous override votes did not yield a consensus for the FY 04 school budget. The historic “District Meeting” was held 8/5/03 where a budget of $403,532 was voted on by voters from both towns. The money appropriated at that meeting was not considered an override; it was an amendment to the budget. The two towns drew funds from their reserve accounts to cover the total budget voted by the citizens.

One thing remains through all these years. The residents of Hamilton and Wenham Support Our Schools.

To view snapshots of the websites, go to https://web.archive.org, and enter in www.hwsos.org, or www.hwcsc.org.

Best wishes,
Tom Rogers

Four school committee seats up for grabs
Hamilton votes at Winthrop, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Wenham votes at Town Hall, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Hamilton and Wenham both have elections this Thursday, with a majority of the regional school committee seats in play.

To learn more about the candidates, click here to view the recent Candidates’ Night, which was hosted by the Hamilton-Wenham League of Women Voters (http://www.hwcam.org –>Govt. Access–>HWLWV Candidates’ Night). Or read below profiles from the Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle:

Deb Evans, current vice chair, is running unopposed for a one-year term.

Four candidates are running to fill three 3-year terms. Incumbent Jeanise Bertrand does not have profile material. The other candidates are:

Michelle Bailey

Richard Boroff

David Polito

In addition, three people are running for two open seats on the Hamilton Board of Selectmen:

Current chair Scott Maddern

As well as Allison Jenkins

And Rosemary Kennedy

There also is a contested race for assessor in Wenham.

Good schools depend upon steady leadership and strong partnerships with town boards. Please support our schools and our towns by exercising your right to vote this Thursday. See you at the polls, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.!

Hamilton Town Meeting, 9 a.m., High School
Wenham Town Meeting, 1 p.m., Buker

Town Meetings are scheduled for both communities this Saturday, April 2. Please make every effort to attend and make sure school families are represented.

Specifically, please vote to support the FY 2017 HWRSD budget, a “level services” budget that includes no new significant spending or programs, yet continues to support recent initiatives like Middle School teams, full-day kindergarten, 1:1 iPads at the High School and more, while preparing to implement the district-wide Master Plan this year.

The HWRHS National Honor Society will again be offering childcare services for parents of young children who wish to attend Town Meeting. Details here. Thank you NHS!

As a reminder: There is no absentee voting for Town Meeting. You have to be there in person to cast a vote. Please come Saturday and vote on our important civic issues. See you there!

Hamilton Annual Town Meeting
Saturday, April 2, 2016
9 a.m.
Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School Auditorium

Wenham Annual Town Meeting
Saturday, April 2, 2016
1 p.m.
Bessie Buker Elementary School Auditorium

Upcoming: Town elections for both towns are next Thursday, April 7. Among openings are four seats on the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee has approved a budget that maintains level services for the 2016-2017 school year.

Final approval of the budget is the responsibility of voters at town meeting — which will be held in both towns on Saturday, April 2. Please plan to attend and show your support for our schools.

As part of the budget process, the School Committee and the Finance and Advisory Committees from both towns reviewed the current budget as well as benchmarking data from the prior four years. Here’s what the data showed:

* HWRSD staff decreased by same rate as enrollment decreased.

HWRSD enrollment has decreased by an average of 1.23% between 2011 and 2015.  In response, the district administration is projecting an average decrease in staff (FTE) of 1.20%. The administration reviews all school programs and services on an ongoing basis to right-size them with the district needs and student enrollment.

* HWRSD operating expenses increased by an average of 1.11% over a 4-year period.

The school district’s operating budget has grown at a modest rate in recent years. From the 2013-14 school year to the proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year, the budget will have increased by an average of only 1.11% per year.  Additionally, over this time the district managed to return over $4M in free cash to the two towns.

* HWRSD per-pupil costs increased at a rate that is half of the state average.

Statewide, the average per-pupil cost has risen by 2.20% over the past four years; by contrast, the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District’s per-pupil cost has increased by half that — at an average of 1.10%. All while HWRSD continues to be recognized as one of the top districts not just statewide but in the nation (search on Hamilton-Wenham).

* The bottom line…

When you attend your local town meeting on April 2, you can be confident in voting for a budget that is fiscally and educationally responsible.

Mark your calendars for Saturday, April 2, 2016. See you there, and thanks for all you do.

Four open seats on the HWRSD school committee
Nomination papers due back by Feb. 22

Our schools have had a fabulous run these past several years, thanks to visionary leadership from the superintendent and his team and thoughtful oversight from our seven-member school committee.

Now — in a situation that is unprecedented — a majority of the seats on the school committee are up for election at the same time: Three 3-year terms and one 1-year term.

Will you consider joining the school committee at this important juncture?

While citizens from all walks of life have served in the past — from grandparents to recent high school graduates — it’s especially important to have parent voices on the committee as it considers standardized testing, the School District Master Plan and facilities upgrades in the coming year.

It’s not hard to run for election. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to the school district’s main office on 5 School Street (next to Buker) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to pick up nomination papers.
  2. Take the nomination papers to your town hall (Wenham or Hamilton) and have the town clerk sign them to certify that you are a registered voter.
  3. Ask 40 registered voters of either Hamilton or Wenham to sign the papers. Often this part takes only a day or two — bring the papers with you to school pickup or dropoff, sports practice or your evening trip to Crosby’s. If you need help gathering signatures, send us a message via our contact form (http://hwsos.org/contact-us) — we’re here to help!
  4. Return the papers to the school district office (not town hall) by 4 p.m. on Monday, February 22.
  5. The town and state election is April 7, 2016.

If you have questions about what it’s like to be a member of the school committee, any of the current members would be happy to answer your questions and share their experiences.

Lawrence Swartz, Chairperson
[email protected]

Deborah Evans, Vice Chairperson
[email protected]

Stacey Metternick, Secretary
[email protected]

Dennis Hurley, Assistant Secretary
[email protected]

Jeanise Bertrand, Assistant Treasurer
[email protected]

Hannah Fraley
[email protected]

Emily Madden
[email protected]

One of the stated goals in Support Our Schools’ mission statement is to encourage cost-saving initiatives while maintaining a high standard of educational excellence in our schools.
In the past few years, one half of that equation — educational excellence — has taken a back seat to the other concern — cost savings — particularly in public and political discussions during budget season.

Support Our Schools would like to right that balance by urging the community to “Remember the Quality” — both as we begin deliberations on the FY2013 budget, and in going forward with long-term planning.

At a recent SOS meeting, discussion came back time and again to topics concerning quality and leadership.  The list below reflects our shared concerns and priorities.

Curriculum:

Curriculum at All Levels

  1. Members are concerned about the strength of our STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programming, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
  2. Members are concerned that we are not adequately meeting the needs of students interested in drafting, mechanical design, and other “hands-on” disciplines, particularly at the middle and high schools.
  3. We wonder if we are adequately meeting the needs of gifted/accelerated students, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels,
  4. Members would like to see the adoption of a 21st century skills curriculum (collaboration, learning by design, critical thinking), particularly in the middle and elementary schools.
  5. Members question whether it’s acceptable that the district offers only one foreign language.
  6. We are concerned that the HWRSD offerings in the visual arts and graphic design are insufficient to nurture students talented in these areas.

Curriculum at the High School Level

  1. We are concerned that our graduated students have, in recent years, expressed the view that our science programs, particularly laboratory sciences, have not provided sufficient support for a strong start in college in the STEM disciplines.
  2. We are concerned that HWRHS does not offer a comparable range of electives as other schools of our size, makeup and achievement.  We are concerned that we do not offer an adequate number of AP opportunities, especially to juniors.

Curriculum at the Middle School Level

  1. Members support a return to academic teaching teams to the middle school
  2. Members support the restoration of a mechanical/engineering/building/shop type class to the 8th grade curriculum.

Curriculum at the Elementary School Level

  1. We are concerned about the lack of Language Arts writing curriculum in the elementary schools.
  2. Members are concerned that class sizes in the elementary school may be up against or exceeding district recommendations
  3. We are concerned that students in the same grade across elementary schools are not receiving a comparable educational experience.
  4. Members would like to understand the status of the math curriculum in the elementary schools and the benefits achieved by standardizing the curriculum in the past few years.

Delivery of Educational Services

  1. Members would like to hear from the current administration – interim superintendent, assistant superintendent of learning and student services director — a shared educational vision for our district.  This vision should be articulated to teachers, students and staff, and any gaps in resources and authority needed to ensure that vision is executed should be identified and addressed.
  2. We would like to understand whether department heads can ensure their teachers are functioning as a cohesive educational team with shared visions, goals and expectations from 6-12, and whether heads are encouraging and enabling opportunities for cross-departmental learning.
  3. We would like to understand whether Wednesday planning time for teachers and staff is being used as effectively as possible.
  4. We would like to understand whether HWRSD does an adequate job of identifying and supporting excellent teachers and effectively sharing their talents with their peers.
  5. We would like to understand whether expectations of teacher excellence are effectively communicated throughout the organization, and whether there is an adequate process in place for ongoing evaluation of tenured teachers.

Technology:

  1. We would like to understand whether our district-wide technology infrastructure is adequate to meet the needs of the administration, students, teachers and parents.
  2. We would like to understand whether technological expectations are effectively communicated to teachers.
  3. We would like to understand whether teachers who are in need of instruction and support around new technologies are offered adequate opportunities to improve their skills.
  4. With the rollout of Edline to the middle and high schools, we would like to understand what the next steps in our district technology plan are.

Organizational structure/operations:

  1. We would like to understand whether the current organizational structure – with a superintendent focused on business/finance and responsibility for curriculum placed elsewhere – is working for our district currently and whether this structure is the best way going forward to meet the educational expectations of the community.
  2. We would like to understand the articulated requirements for our vacant high school and middle school principal positions, and a timetable for filling these positions.
  3. We would like to understand whether there are plans to address our current structure of 100% user fees for sports, arts and educational extracurriculars.

Hamilton Wenham was ranked number #9 in Boston Magazine’s September 2011 issue’s list of best public schools in the region. The ranking reflects a variety of criteria, including graduation rate, sports teams, pre-K programs, AP classes and MCAS and SAT performance scores. HWRSD was rated number #12 in the 2010 ranking. Per pupil spending in HW is below average of both the top 10 and top 24 districts (we used the top 24, rather than the top 25 in order to exclude the 25th ranked district, Cambridge Rindge and Latin, which has a unusually high spending level). As in 2010, it is clear that HWRSD is spending at a level that, while slightly above the average of all districts in the state, is less than many other high performing districts.

Comparing HWRSD to Boston Magazine Top Districts

Click image to enlarge

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