Needham Times Interviews NEF Co-Presidents

By Stefan Geller from The Needham Times, August 28,2017

Sarah Winig and Kelly Partridge both joined the board of the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) three years ago and have since become co-presidents of the organization.

The NEF raises funds and awards grants to the public schools for programs and equipment that falls outside of public funding.

The NEF was founded in 1990 by Needham High alumni, who built a sustaining fund that helps the foundation today, though it still raises money each year. The grants have paid for all kinds of school programs, such as the DaVinci Engineering Lab, interdisciplinary projects and small grants to pay for authors or performers to come speak to the kids. Winig and Partridge sat down with The Needham Times to discuss the work they have done with the NEF.

What are you most proud of that you have helped bring to the Needham schools?

SW: The Greater Boston Project. A few years ago the board and the district worked together to come up with an idea for an interdisciplinary learning class. It’s a team-taught class with an English teacher, math teacher and social studies teacher. They studied a bunch of different themes about what made Boston the way it is. It has been a phenomenal thing for the kids.

KP: I was going to say the same, because it was a really big undertaking. Now that it’s been five years since we kicked the project off, the district has taken over the funding of the three teachers and the class is continuing, and now the high school is looking to offer more interdisciplinary classes. For so long kids have been taught English, science and math in separate rooms, but more studies show that that doesn’t work in today’s world and the NEF is helping the school move away from that.

Which program do you think gets far too little funding?

SW: Professional development is something the district asks us a lot about. At first we were nervous to fund it because it doesn’t seem to directly benefit kids, but if a teacher learns a new way to teach a subject or learns a completely new subject that will benefit them. And there are limited funds for professional development.

KP: I think new technology doesn’t get enough funds. Technology is changing so fast and for any school district to try to keep up is impossible. We’ve been trying to help here and there. All the classrooms have smartboards, the NEF funded the first ones a few years ago then the district got them for everyone. There’s so many pieces of technology and it’s hard for the district to keep up.

If you were back in high school what do you wish an educational fund could have provided you?

SW: The ones that excite me are the hands-on programs. Like the planetarium that we funded for the science center, or the sandbox at Pollard Middle School that has a projector that overlays a topographic map which changes as you change the surface of the sandbox. It’s hands-on things like that that I wish I’d had.

KP: I would have liked having cool new materials. And more in the sciences, to be able to have access to the equipment that professionals use as a high schooler is a really cool thing. And while we do big projects like the Greater Boston Project, the nuts and bolts of what we do are small things like that.

2015 Spelling Bee

New Elementary Round Results in a Tie!

Top Row: Emma Fleck, Brendan Szeto, Steven Qie from Eliot School Bottom Row:  Jackie Liebman, Lucy McHugh, Caroline Berney from Broadmeadow School

Fifty teams came together to compete on March 15th at the special Sunday edition of the 24th Annual Spelling Bee, including elementary, middle and high school students, teachers, parents and local business people. Due to some terrific spelling, the new elementary school round resulted in a tie between the Broadmeadow School and the Eliot School. The winning word was “ferocious.”

Congratulations to the 2015 Bee Champions:  High Rock/Pollard Teachers!

HR-Pollard Champs

Pictured, left to right:  Anna Kuebler, Gary Gillis (Bee Pronouncer), Caitlin Harding, Maryellen Shea

In the championship round, High Rock & Pollard teachers Caitlin Harding, Anna Kuebler, and Maryellen Shea came away as the victors after spelling “xerocolous,” which means thriving in a relatively dry environment.

See coverage of the Bee on the Needham Channel and in The Needham Times.

2014 Spelling Bee a Resounding Success!

2014 Spelling Bee Winners

2014 Spelling Bee Champs are Othographic Anthophilia (Chyten Test Pret) with Bee Co-Chairs Denise Bruno and Andrea George

On April 9th, 40 teams came together for the 23rd annual NEF Spelling Bee. Teams included middle and high school students, teachers, parents and local business people, all gathering to test their spelling knowledge. Chyten Test Prep came away as the victors, the most difficult word: “triskaidekaphobia”, which means fear of the number 13. It was a fun-filled evening, with hundreds of spectators cheering on the spellers. As co-chair Denise Bruno said, “It’s a fun community event! It brings so many community members together.”

Here are links to articles that appeared in the local papers:

Needham Times article
Needham Times Photo Gallery

NEF Announces Recipients of 2013-2014 Large Grant Awards

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of its 2013-2014 Large Grants. Three grants totaling over $40,000 were awarded. Two grants support iPad pilot programs at Newman and Hillside Elementary Schools. The third grant supports an interdisciplinary partnership between social studies and visual arts for 6th graders at High Rock School.

iPads for Learning

Newman Elementary School was awarded a $14,935.95 grant to provide 17 iPads (with cases, cart, and teacher’s iMac) to be used to enhance the literacy curriculum with connections to other curriculum when appropriate. The Media Center faculty plan to focus on digital storytelling applications to be piloted in at least one class per grade level in grades 1-5. The iPads will also be available to other classrooms. This grant will be overseen by Jennifer Murray (Media Specialist) and Mary Werlin (Instructional Technology Specialist) and is strongly supported by Newman Principal, Jessica Peterson, and Needham Technology Director, Deb Gammerman.

iPad Pilot Program at Hillside

This grant of $14,995.95 provides 17 iPads (with cases, cart, and teacher’s iMac) to further improve engagement, reading, written language, and math skills across all learning environments. The recipients plan to begin a phased approach to the iPads’ introduction to the school by focusing on English Language Learners (ELL) and Special Education students this spring. In September, they plan to expand the iPads’ use to grades K-2, and by the end of 2014/15 school year, they will include grades 3-5 and art and music classes.  Chanit List, Early Learning Center (ELC) teacher, and Jamie Singelais, ELL teacher, will be guiding the iPad use with support from Deb Gammerman, Needham Technology Director.

Deb Gammerman, Needham Technology Director, will gather and evaluate information about both of these pilots to assess how iPad technology can best be used in the Needham Elementary Schools.

Interdisciplinary Arts Integration Project

High Rock School was granted $11,775 to fund a pilot program adding an interdisciplinary learning component to the 6th grade.  The High Rock visual arts teacher will partner with the social studies faculty to co-teach interdisciplinary lessons designed to support both the Social Studies and Visual Arts curricula goals. The grant funds instruction, materials and planning. The pilot will be implemented in the 2014-15 school year in three clusters, with the remaining two clusters serving as a control group to determine the impact of the pilot on student growth and achievement.  It enjoys strong support from David Neves, Director Fine and Performing Arts, and the High Rock faculty.


Steve Kidd 002A one-man show, written and performed by actor Steve Kidd, was performed for 406 students in eighth grade at the Pollard Middle School. The play was originated by Steve following several summers of work at a camp for HIV-positive children. He wrote the play in an effort to inspire young people to do public service through telling the stories of some of these children and families. He combines actual stories of children living with HIV/AIDs with excerpts from Ursala Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

The performance ties into the students’ unit on short stories (which includes “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”). It also connects with the eighth-grade Community Service Learning program. Steve told the students about how he first volunteered to work at the HIV/AIDs camp mostly because he did not have anything else to do for a summer and how it has enriched his life more than anything else he has done in his career. One of the reasons that he created this program was to encourage public service. The students recently had their introduction to the CSL program and “Sigh/Omelas” will inspire them to understand their ability to make a positive impact, just at the time when they will be choosing their projects.

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