Superintendent Melinda Smith maps out district-wide priorities with approval of school board

Thompson Public Schools superintendent Melinda Smith is diving into a three month plan that aims to address needs across the entire school district. Ms. Smith has worked closely with the Thompson school board  and staff to determine district-wide priorities that can significantly – and positively – impact the schools financially, academically, and socially.

A close look at finances

Her first three month plan extends through October 1, when student enrollment reports are due to the state’s education offices. In advance of that date, the superintendent’s office is conducting an analysis of revenue coming into the district.

“Student enrollment reports can have a significant impact on state aid,” said Ms. Smith. “We’ve already started to identify and correct some discrepancies between our student records and those reports, which will help us maximize the financial aid the state sends Thompson.”

One area that could see an increase in aid is the free or reduced lunch programs. We can qualify for more assistance by correcting the information in the enrollment reports we submit to the state, she said. Ms. Smith is also looking closed at Medicaid programs to make sure that Thompson is being reimbursed properly, and verifying that students who are being outplaced in other programs are still residents of Thompson.

Ms. Smith is also researching grants and other student aid that can positively impact the district, and she encourages all of the educators in the district to do the same. One such grant from the New England Dairy & Food Council is valued at $12,000 and could expand access to federal meal programs, particularly breakfast.

“The research is clear,” said Ms. Smith. “Students perform better when they have a good breakfast, and having a robust program for this in the school will guarantee that all students start their day off right.”

Growing academic opportunities

Ms. Smith also sees great academic potential in all of the schools. With the recent release of the Smarter Balance assessment results, she is working with teachers across all grade levels to see where students and how they can improve.

“I would like to start building a complete science curriculum, one that is comprehensive from kindergarten through high school,” she said. “Learning science is about more than learning facts and performing experiments. It helps teach curiosity and problem solving skills, and I’d like to add more curriculum supports at all levels.”

Ms. Smith has also started working with the high school administration to revise Tourtellote Memorial High School’s program of studies. As part of this, she would like to align coursework to create career pathways, and these pathways can ultimately be built out into internal academies of study.

“I’d also like to add more AP courses,” she said. “The beginning of that starts now, but it will be phased in over the next three year. Teachers will start training for those classes next summer, and we will also explore virtual classroom options for courses that we may not be able to offer yet.”

Academies help focus student education on specific interests. Ms. Smith will be conducting a student and parent interest survey to help determine demand for these focused programs.

For the middle school, Ms. Smith has reached out to the marine trades industry to implement and after school boatbuilding program. “As an after school program, we can gauge interest and develop the curriculum over the next year. The ultimate goal would be to evolve it into a tech ed program for the middle school,” she said.

Teachers to experience more student-focused professional development

“We want to refocus our efforts on building programs for students,” said Ms. Smith. “Many of the professional development days this year will be based around student-engaged assessments and student mastery.”

Hand-in-hand with this will be more personalized learning. Ms. Smith is putting together an internal group of educators to research the Summit Platform, a curriculum tool in which the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning. In this platform, a student can progress at their own pace. Because they can complete mastery subjects at their speed, they can spend more time on some areas while moving on in others. This can open up more opportunities in their junior and senior years of high school, including internships, college courses, and volunteerism. The research group will be looking closely at how the platform works and how it can fit into Thompson’s program of studies.

In addition, teachers are being trained to use the new Parent Portal, the secure online grading and communication system that parents will have access to beginning in January 2018.

Ms. Smith has been busy with community outreach and will continue to talk to Thompson residents throughout the summer.

“The community is the backbone of all of the work we do,” she said. “I want to tap into the ideas and resources in Thompson to make sure the schools continue to serve the needs of the town.”

As part of her introduction to the community, she has been meeting with the board of selectmen and representatives from town finance and other organizations. Ms. Smith will be hosting a parent engagement committee in August.

She will also be starting work on a new strategic plan for the schools, and will be establishing a community steering committee to help develop it. Ms. Smith said residents can expect to be part of the process, with community wide surveys helping to inform the plan.

“These first three months will help establish a good foundation for what we can accomplish in the long term,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s an ambitious plan, and I’m glad that I have the full support of the school board to follow it through. I’m looking forward to working with the residents of Thompson to grow the schools for them.”