NORTH READING – The School Department and Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly have taken steps to update “NRPS 2025: A Strategy for the Future” to reflect the realities of an increasingly diverse population in the school system, the town and society at large

“We’re hearing from some of the marginalized voices in our community,” Daly said at the School Committee meeting January 23. “We need to provide a forum for them in which they’ll feel comfortable to speak up and create a comfort level for them to bring forth their ideas. Just because we’re not hearing something doesn’t mean it’s not a concern.”

Part of this process includes holding forums with school families and the community at-large “to listen and hear input from all stakeholders,” Daly explained.

School Committee member Jeff Friedman agreed that hearing from “these additional voices” has value.

“Belonging” added to DEI

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion section of the plan has been amended to include Belonging (DEIB). It is one of three “rocks” of the plan, the others being Teaching and Learning and Student Support Services.

In the DEIB area, the school system is working toward diversifying its workforce and has hired its first Human Resources Administrator, Morgan Soares, to “review hiring data and protocols and make sure inclusive protocols are followed.”

“DEIB is at the forefront of NRPS 2025,” Soares said. “We’re not expecting things to happen overnight, but, as a district, we’re trying to think about how we move the needle so diverse families feel respected.”

Fourteen percent of North Reading’s students are people of color while only two percent of the school district’s staff are people of color. “We’re trying to get our staff demographic to reflect the student demographic,” Soares said.

This involves getting the idea of working in the town to teachers and students studying to be teachers outside communities similar to North Reading. “We’re making sure we’re part of recruitment events,” Soares said.

Daly said Soares “brings a new lens to hiring and recruiting staff.” She came to North Reading from Charlestown High School and he feels her being hired was “triggered by wanting to have a person to drive that work.”

In terms of the Climate and Culture of the school system, efforts are being made to designate bathrooms that will be accessible to various people, be they gender neutral or accessible for the handicapped, with appropriate signage. “We’re not only making sure we have spaces that are safe, but making sure everyone knows about them,” Daly explained.

Hate crimes response review

Perhaps most importantly, responses to hate crimes are being reviewed. “We still have a lot of work to do,” Daly admits. “Every unfortunate incident leads us to learning and we have learned and grown over the years. We have an opportunity to indicate we’re very clear we have no tolerance of this type of event and won’t let things go unaddressed.”

Related in the Student Support Services area of the plan are disabilities awareness programs at the elementary school level.

In the Teaching and Learning section, efforts are being made to identify data being used and needed to gauge student achievement, such as MCAS results. “We’ve spent a lot of time taking a deep dive into MCAS data,” Daly said.

In addition, work is being done to add or modify classroom technology at all levels, with the distribution of devices for students continuing.

College and career readiness efforts

Courses of Study are also being reviewed and expanded for “college and career readiness,” including arts-related courses. “I’m thrilled to see this coming to fruition,” Daly feels. “We’re giving our students a range of options. Some of the additions have been a long time coming.”

More generally, Daly added, “A lot of work has been done this year to focus on alignment of administrative and educational goals.” District and school plans are written with feedback from multiple stakeholders, including goals and assessment tools, followed by school leadership teams working with teachers to implement those goals and integrate them into overall district goals.

“This is being done by all our teachers and staff working together,” Daly said. “We’ve received feedback on our feedback and will continue to incorporate that into our practices.”

Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Sean Killeen hopes “NRPS 2025” will “make sure our schools are safe places where all teachers and students feel like they belong and can access support when it’s needed. I appreciate the feedback from the community that represents not only their own interests, but the interests of marginalized groups as to what our school system can and can’t do.

Plans like “NRPS 2025” are constantly being updated or should be. “We’ll continue our work on multi-tiered systems of support and DEIB,” Daly said. “At the end of the year we’ll review our progress and make revisions. We’ll look at our outcomes and actions. We’ll reconvene and talk about what we want to focus on in 2023-24.”

Daly feels the town has a “good balance of conservative and liberal political points of view. There are people who want to make sure we’re not going off the rails and others making sure we’re being responsive to the needs of our families out there.”

“Family University” March 25

The “Parent University” sessions to help parents of students navigate the educational expectations of their children at every grade level, is being renamed “Family University” and is scheduled to be held Saturday, March 25.

“I like the rebranding of the concept,” Daly said. “There are other caregivers at home who are part of a family. We want to make sure we’re engaging everyone.”

There was no additional comment from School Committee members. “NRPS 2025” is the Superintendent’s plan and not something the School Committee creates or votes to approve. Daly provides periodic updates of his plan.