PALMER — In a detailed presentation to the School Committee, Superintendent Matthew Francis outlined the Palmer Public Schools’ ambitious approach to enhance educational outcomes through the Student Opportunity Act plan.

The initiative focuses on addressing critical areas of improvement, with a particular emphasis on early intervention, bridging middle school learning gaps and increasing student engagement. Francis’ report underscores a comprehensive strategy, leveraging state-provided funds and local resources to foster an environment where every student can thrive.

Central to the district’s strategy are three evidence-based practices identified to support the plan’s objectives:

  • Collaborative teaching models to serve students with disabilities and multilingual learners better.
  • Expansion of full-day pre-K programming for enhanced early learning.
  • Various enrichment opportunities include arts, music, electives, athletics and world languages.

Francis highlighted the importance of these practices in creating a supportive, engaging learning environment tailored to meet diverse student needs.

The district has earmarked approximately $2.28 million to fund these initiatives over the next three years, demonstrating a significant commitment to enhancing educational access and quality.

The allocation reflects a strategic approach to improving student outcomes by focusing on access, inclusion and enrichment.

Beyond academic initiatives, the plan significantly emphasizes family and community engagement. Francis detailed the district’s efforts to ensure ongoing dialogue and collaboration with families and community members.
Through initiatives such as regular newsletters and open houses, alongside a proactive strategy of reaching out to families beyond traditional school events, the district hopes to foster a deep sense of community and partnership in education.

Feedback from various stakeholders, including school councils, parent-teacher organizations, and the teachers union, has been integral to shaping the SOA plan. This feedback process reflects the district’s commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that the voices of those directly impacted by the educational system inform decision-making.

Francis also noted the critical importance of third-grade education, underscoring its pivotal role in a child’s academic journey. The district’s targeted approach to third-grade education, grounded in evidence-based strategies, exemplifies its broader commitment to research-informed educational practices.

In discussing the financial aspects of the plan, Francis outlined the estimated funding allocations for the highlighted EBPs. Detailed financial planning is crucial for the transparent and effective implementation of the SOA plan, allowing stakeholders to understand where and how funds are being utilized to support student success.

The presentation also addressed the process for adjusting the plan based on data and feedback, underscoring the district’s agile approach to educational planning. Flexibility ensures that the district can respond effectively to changing needs and opportunities, optimizing educational outcomes for all students.

Moreover, Francis explained the process of gathering stakeholder input, which includes sharing the plan with school principals and the teachers’ union for feedback and presenting it to school councils and PTOs.

The thorough engagement process highlights the district’s dedication to inclusivity and collaboration in educational planning.

Addressing the committee’s questions, Francis confirmed the district’s compliance with state requirements for SOA plan submittal and discussed the importance of aligning district targets with state accountability standards.
The alignment ensures that the department’s efforts contribute to broader educational goals and standards, enhancing the overall effectiveness of the SOA plan.

Francis reiterated the plan’s focus on early intervention, the significance of third-grade education, and the district’s commitment to family and community engagement.

He emphasized the collaborative nature of the planning process, involving administrators, teachers, and community members in a united effort to advance educational opportunities in Palmer.

Committee Chair Bonny Rathbone said, “And everything flows very well. We are trying to get more family engagement and more community engagement. I certainly hope that we will get feedback from the families in the community so that we can see what they’re thinking, what their thoughts are and how we can act on it.”

Rathbone added, “This was a team approach, not just with Superintendent Francis but the administrators. You all had input into this, and it is an excellent document.”

The School Department’s SOA plan represents a strategic, inclusive approach to improving educational outcomes. By focusing on evidence-based practices, community engagement and responsive planning, the district aims to bolster student success.

Financial Update

Sara Menard, the finance director for Palmer School District, provided a financial update to the School Committee, highlighting budget expenditures up to Feb. 29. According to Menard, the district has utilized 53.8% ($4.17 million of $7.74 million) of its annual budget, aligning with expectations given that two-thirds of the fiscal year has elapsed.

Key spending areas include technology at 53.3%, facilities at 54.8% and transportation at 64.8%. Old Mill Pond Elementary spent 50.3% ($2.89 million) and administration expenses were 57.8%.

Teacher and paraprofessional salaries across the district hovered around the 49.7% mark, with substitute teacher expenses just under $40,000, consistent with the halfway point of the September through August pay cycle.

Menard also noted the performance of revolving accounts like food services, which saw revenues at 46.7% against expenses at 62.6%. However, she indicated that the account is stable, benefiting from surplus funds from previous years.

The Kids Corner before- and after-school program’s finances were also discussed. The figures showed healthy revenue and expenditure that did not raise concerns.

The finance director expressed satisfaction with the district’s fiscal standing, mentioning that current trends match projections and budgeting activities for the upcoming year have already commenced.

The district is now undertaking a detailed review of each budget line to ensure financial stability for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Collen Culligan announces retirement

Francis announced the retirement of Colleen Culligan, who served as the interim superintendent before his tenure.

Francis acknowledged Cuilligan’s significant contribution to the Palmer School District, particularly highlighting her role during the challenging 2022-23 school year. “What she did for the district, prior to me coming, was monumental,” Francis stated.

Dennis Hohenberger
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