Making Democracy Work

School Committee

Meghan Palanza, Observer

Submitted June 2019

The Town of Falmouth has a school committee comprising of 9 volunteers, who must be voted on to the committee during the town election. Each committee member is voted on for a rotating 3 year commitment. The Committee chair and vice chair are also newly elected every year by the committee members. Just recently a new chair and vice chair were elected; William Rider, chair and Kelly Welch, vice chair.

The Falmouth School Committee mission is "to educate students so that they are engaged in their education in a way which develops their capacity to pursue their goals and fosters lifelong learning". The members take this mission to heart, which is apparent in their interactions. In observing the committee, it became obvious that the committee members take their roles seriously. They are engaged and enthused about the work they do. The members are respectful of each and the multiple people who they interact with during the course of their work.

Every meeting is structured the same, with time for open comments from the public, new business and updates from administration. They are usually scheduled every second and last Tuesday of the month, however this may change depending on town meetings or other conflicts.

The Falmouth Public school website contains more up to date reflections of the committee meeting dates. The town website was updated with the agenda and notes of the meetings but the meeting schedule and locations were not updated as frequently on the town website.

This was relevant this year because the school committee and specifically, the new Falmouth School Superintendent moved the meetings to other locations in town in order to make the meetings more accessible to a wider audience. For instance, the committee meetings met in the elementary schools as well as the regular meeting location of the school administration building.

Each meeting also receives an update from the following individuals; School Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Director of Technology, Director of Human Resources, Director of Finance and Operations, Director of Student Services, Director of Curriculum K-6. Each director provides a short update on recent events, conferences they attended, curriculum, or staff updates.

The committee is kept abreast of most, if not all, initiatives within every school in Falmouth. Examples include but are not limited to; elementary success goals from the individual principals, No Guff week activities, senior projects and a new guide dog that attends Morse Pond with his new owner, the guidance counselor.

The topics that are addressed are vast. The committee discusses such topics as; School Choice, addressing chronic absenteeism, and offering school handbooks as well as other documentation for non-native English speakers. This year the committee is also undertaking the decision if advertisements should be allowed on the new fence that will surround the FHS new football field. What initially may seem like a simple approval decision becomes a well discussed and thoughtful conversation as concerns are addressed and debated.

The school committee is also responsible for approving various monetary costs and activities for the schools. For example; band and chorus trips, student foreign exchange programs, and provide an update on the new field that is going in at FHS, which was a significant item from last year's committee. They also discuss financial donations made to the schools.

This was the first year for the new Falmouth Superintendent, Dr. Lori Duerr, who immediately went on a `listening and learning tour' throughout town. That was also the premise of moving the committee meetings to other locations outside of the school administration building. Dr. Duerr also created a student `committee' that she met with regularly that comprised of student representatives from 1-12 grade. She wanted their input on matters facing the schools. She is also in attendance is many of the school related activities, for example, the Science Fair, and All Bands Night. The committee is currently undergoing the very thoughtful process of updating each of the school's policies which appears to be a significant undertaking, updating wording as well as reviewing appropriateness and modernizing.