HARVARD -- Pill bugs and lab reports made with sticky notes on folders were featured prominently at Monday night's Harvard School Committee meeting, as Bromfield A.P. and honors biology teacher Deb Pierce explained changes in the AP biology curriculum.

Due to sweeping changes recently introduced by the College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the A.P. exams, the new curriculum reduces the course load from a cumbersome 55 to 38 chapters, and reduces seven themes down to four "big ideas."

It still looks a little daunting, but I find it refreshing," said Pierce. "It has given the teachers and kids a lot more freedom. They don't have to do formal lab write-ups all the time--maybe three."

Pierce said that another beauty of the new curriculum is that students can create their own labs, divvy up the work, put it on Post-It notes on file folders, pick the variables they want to study, and determine how they want to put it together. They then do peer reviews and give presentations.

One group, she said, was looking at the effect of heat on pill bugs using a lab. "So, without me saying a word, they realized that the lamps also produce light, and that was another variable. They begin to see how to control their variables and determine which the animals are responding to."

Pierce said that the test time has been reduced, and that the questions are now more conceptual, promoting critical thinking and analytical skills over rote memorization.


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School Lunch Programs

Harvard Public Schools Interim Superintendent Joseph Connelly and Town of Harvard Finance Director Lorraine Leonard presented the committee with the school lunch program financial report through September. With both revenue and expenses up, the balance to date is a positive $5,483. A major expense not built into the budget, however, is the cost of implementing the Rediker Point of Sales system, estimated to cost $19,500.

Connelly said that because the Rediker system did not prove to be ideal, the district is still researching which software program would be best for Harvard.

It is a worthwhile program to improve the collecting and tracking of funds, but it comes with an expense," he said. With HPS Food Service Director Paul Correnty by his side, he asked the school committee for its support to appropriate the funds for the program.

Correnty described its benefits as two-fold. "It allows parents to deposit money in a lunch account like a credit-debit system, and also helps us vis-à-vis the state for those with free and reduced lunch benefits."

He said that one of the two systems being considered is more specific to elementary schools, where one class enters the cafeteria together, and students can use a "push screen." The high school model has a three-digit PIN to punch in, with a picture of the user that "pops up."

The systems are particularly useful to parents, as elementary school kids tend to forget numbers and lose their lunch cards, and parents can see what their children are eating. It also helps with accounting and reduces large amounts of cash, so students may get through the lunch line faster, Correnty said.

The committee voted unanimously to identify an amount, not to exceed $20,000, from the current operating budget for the system.

Five-Year Capital Plan

Connelly presented two five-year capital plans. One was developed by the school administration. The other is a modified plan that identifies only those capital needs with a cost that exceeds $10,000.

The total amount of funds projected to be needed for major building repair and replacement between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2018 is $6,134,190, excluding The Bromfield House.

One of the capital items identified for The Bromfield School is the renovation of the science labs. "It is a complicated process requiring an engineering assessment, so I am asking for $15,000 for year one for five science labs," said Connelly. "Then we would go for the funding to replace those items in a future year."

The fiscal 2015 projection for the actual renovation is $280,000, but it could end up being more. "That's why it is so important to do the engineering assessment," Connelly emphasized.

The projected expenses for technology are $384,000; capital expenses under grounds maintenance, about $700,000. Major curriculum initiatives are estimated to cost $579,813.

Sinks and Bathrooms at HES

Connelly said that a leak under a sink in one classroom at Hildreth Elementary School caused a mold problem and was repaired for $5,000, but now leaks have been identified in six more rooms, so those areas are being tested. If those areas need remediation work, the cost may be $20,000.

He later emphasized that the area is being tested for air quality every six months, and that, thus far, there has been no indication that there are any health risks associated with mold.

Another new item on year one are the (HES) bathroom partitions on the first and second floor. We could do one bathroom a year and replace all of them for $15,000," Connelly said.

Big Ticket Item

There was one major item that Connelly did not highlight, but that did not escape the eye of member Keith Cheveralls. "What about the $4.3 million? he asked, referring to the fiscal 2016 budget item to renovate the K-wing at HES.

Connelly said that there had been a placeholder amount of about $160,000 for work on the K-wing, but that it may be better to demolish and rebuild it, and he would like to have a design firm assess the wing.

His estimate was based upon the current MA State Building Authority per-square-foot demolition and renovation cost. "That would be based on the assumption that the assessment would be a demo and rebuild with the same square footage. We would bring that to the capital planning committee to decide what year to do the assessment," he said.

The Galeota Report

The major building repairs and renovation recommendations of the Galeota report indicate that The Bromfield House is in need of structural and exterior repairs estimated to cost $368,250. This includes roof repair and replacement, electrical systems repair and upgrade, insulation and ventilation repair, plumbing repair and upgrades, and disability accessibility.

Cheveralls said that a facilities subcommittee under the board of selectmen had investigated the current condition of seven town buildings, of which TBH was "by far in the worst condition in terms of immediate safety and repair."

Galeota Associates submitted the building inspection reports for the buildings late last year, after which HPS Facilities Manager Mark Force was asked to submit estimates for the costs of renovating and repairing TBH.

Cheveralls offered to look at alternatives to renovating the building to bring to the committee and eventually to the town.

No Padding

While Cheveralls pointed out that approval of the five-year capital plan does not guarantee funding, Connelly stressed that it is a zero-based budget that is far more comprehensive in identifying the needs of the buildings than previous budgets.

There is no padding or fudging," he said. "It is what we feel is necessary for funding, and it meshes well with the town's long-term financial planning goals."

This is a very thorough document that an incoming superintendent will appreciate because he will know what he has to deal with," agreed Cheveralls. "There will be no surprises. But it doesn't mean everything is going to get funded."

After the plan was amended to move the $20,000 for the engineering assessment for the K-wing to fiscal 2014, the five-year capital plan was unanimously approved. It will be submitted to the Harvard Capital Planning and Investment Committee on Oct. 26.