Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Worcester superintendent is evaluated this week: how does it work?

The Worcester School Committee evaluates Superintendent Binienda this week, so it seemed a good chance to talk about how this works.
This is a process that is standard (and mandated) across the state, so while there are elements of this that are locally decided, there are some that are not. Superintendent Binienda and every superintendent in Massachusetts are evaluated by their school committee(s) in a two part system:
  • Each superintendent is also evaluated on three or more goals, falling into the following three divisions (there has to be at least one in each):
    1. Professional practice
    2. Student learning
    3. District improvement goals
For each of the goals, the superintendent is evaluated as did not meet; some progress; significant progress; met; exceeded.
  • Every superintendent is evaluated on the same four standards:
    1. Instructional Leadership
    2. Management and Operations
    3. Family and Community Engagement
    4. Professional Culture
For each of those, the superintendent is evaluated as unsatisfactory, needs improvement, proficient, or exemplary. The state emphasizes that 'proficient' is a high standard that should be considered an achievement; an 'exemplary' rating means the superintendent is quite literally an exemplar in that standard. Any ratings other than proficient must be backed up with comments reflecting the evaluator's rating. 
Once that is done, the superintendent is given an overall rate, reflecting the parts taken as a whole: unsatisfactory, needs improvement, proficient, or exemplary. 
That is done by each member of the committee individually. Those evaluations are then submitted to the chair, who creates a composite evaluation, completing each part, reflecting the overall view of the committee. It is this single evaluation that is the official evaluation of the school committee.
The individual evaluations are, however, public documents.
You can find the state rubric used for this, filled out for us with this year's superintendent goals in Worcester, online here. 
The superintendent's goals for this year, as voted by the Worcester School Committee last July, appear on the third page of the evaluation, as here: 

Each of the four standards in turn has a number of indicators that further divide up the parts of what that standard looks like for a superintendency, like so:

Instructional Leadership:

I-A. Curriculum: Ensures that all instructional staff design effective and rigorous standards-based units of instruction consisting of well-structured lessons with measureable outcomes.
I-B. Instruction: Ensures that practices in all settings reflect high expectations regarding content and quality of effort and work, engage all students, and are personalized to accommodate diverse learning styles, needs, interests, and levels of readiness.
I-C. Assessment: Ensures that all principals and administrators facilitate practices that propel personnel to use a variety of formal and informal methods and assessments to measure student learning, growth, and understanding and make necessary adjustments to their practice when students are not learning.
I-D. Evaluation: Ensures effective and timely supervision and evaluation of all staff in alignment with state regulations and contract provisions.
I-E. Data-Informed Decision Making: Uses multiple sources of evidence related to student learning—including state, district, and school assessment results and growth data—to inform school and district goals and improve organizational performance, educator effectiveness, and student learning.
I-F. Student Learning: Demonstrates expected impact on student learning based on multiple measures of student learning, growth, and achievement, including student progress on common assessments and statewide student growth measures where available.
Management & Operations:

II-A. Environment: Develops and executes effective plans, procedures, routines, and operational systems to address a full range of safety, health, emotional, and social needs.
II-B. Human Resources Management and Development: Implements a cohesive approach to recruiting, hiring, induction, development, and career growth that promotes high-quality and effective practice.
II-C. Scheduling and Management Information Systems: Uses systems to ensure optimal use of data and time for teaching, learning, and collaboration, minimizing disruptions and distractions for school-level staff.
II-D. Law, Ethics, and Policies: Understands and complies with state and federal laws and mandates, school committee policies, collective bargaining agreements, and ethical guidelines.
II-E. Fiscal Systems: Develops a budget that supports the district’s vision, mission, and goals; allocates and manages expenditures consistent with district- and school-level goals and available resources. 
 
Family & Community Engagement:

III-A. Engagement: Actively ensures that all families are welcome members of the classroom and school community and can contribute to the effectiveness of the classroom, school, district, and community.
III-B. Sharing Responsibility: Continuously collaborates with families and community stakeholders to support student learning and development at home, school, and in the community.
III-C. Communication: Engages in regular, two-way, culturally proficient communication with families and community stakeholders about student learning and performance.
III-D. Family Concerns: Addresses family and community concerns in an equitable, effective, and efficient manner. 

Professional Culture:
IV-A. Commitment to High Standards: Fosters a shared commitment to high standards of service, teaching, and learning with high expectations for achievement for all.
IV-B. Cultural Proficiency: Ensures that policies and practices enable staff members and students to interact effectively in a culturally diverse environment in which students’ backgrounds, identities, strengths, and challenges are respected.
IV-C. Communication: Demonstrates strong interpersonal, written, and verbal communication skills.
IV-D. Continuous Learning: Develops and nurtures a culture in which staff members are reflective about their practice and use student data, current research, best practices, and theory to continuously adapt practice and achieve improved results. Models these behaviors in his or her own practice.
IV-E. Shared Vision: Successfully and continuously engages all stakeholders in the creation of a shared educational vision in which every student is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education and become a responsible citizen and global contributor.
IV-F. Managing Conflict: Employs strategies for responding to disagreement and dissent, constructively resolving conflict and building consensus throughout a district or school community.

The marks on each of the indicators are those used for the standards (Unsatisfactory/Needs Improvement/Proficient/Exemplary). 
A Committee can agree with their superintendent at the time of the goal setting to limit the number of indicators actually evaluated, choosing ones that tie specifically into the goals of the year. That does not mean the superintendent is less required to do the other required pieces of the job, but allows the Committee to focus the evaluation. As Worcester's Committee last July did not choose to do this, the Superintendent will be evaluated on all of the indicators.

The Worcester School Committee members' reports were due in Thursday. Mayor Petty is writing the composite. As yet, it is not public; I'll post when it is.
This will be discussed at our Wednesday meeting at 5 pm.

Friday, July 31, 2020

More on FY21 numbers

Yesterday, the Division of Local Services in the Department of Revenue released the following email from the Secretary of Administration and Finance:
Dear Local Official, 
I am writing to share that information about Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) funding for Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) and Chapter 70 education aid is now available on the Division of Local Services website. 
While critical information from the federal government is still needed in order to finalize a full fiscal year budget for the Commonwealth, the Baker-Polito Administration and the Legislature are committing to no less than the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) level of funding for UGGA and Chapter 70 education aid as a baseline amount for FY21 funding. 
The FY21 funding commitment also includes Chapter 70 increases for inflation and enrollment that will keep all school districts at foundation, under the law as it existed for FY20, providing an additional $107 million in aid over FY20. This increase comes in addition to approximately $450 million in new federal supports for K-12 schools to assist with educating students during the pandemic. Please click here to view the UGGA and Chapter 70 amounts for each municipality. Local officials with related questions can email databank@dor.state.ma.us. 
Sincerely, 
Michael J. Heffernan 
Secretary of Administration and Finance
This was followed up by an email from House Ways and Means Budget Director David Bunker, sharing this spreadsheet with House members, and writing: 
The attached spreadsheet, put together by the Executive Office of Administration and Finance (A&F) for greater context, displays the main sources of funding that would be available to districts at this time through both the tentative agreement on local aid and the larger distributions of federal funds previously announced by the administration. The fourth column of that sheet shows FY20 Chapter 70, which for most districts becomes the FY21 baseline Chapter 70 funding under the tentative agreement. Under the agreement, no operating district would receive less funding than in FY20. The next column shows, for districts which receive additional funds as a result of increasing the foundation budget by inflation and adjusting for enrollment trends, how much more those districts would receive as baseline Chapter 70. The following column shows the distribution of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grants, using the Title I formula. The seventh column shows the $202M of Coronavirus Relief Funds distributed by the Governor to meet school reopening needs. The final two columns are: a) the total of all previous spending amounts, and b) how much of an increase that total is for each district above FY20 Chapter 70. This is not intended to imply that these distributions of federal funds are a substitute for our statutory and constitutional Chapter 70 commitments, but they do provide important resources to school districts at the opening of the school year while we continue to take stock of the economic and revenue changes wrought by COVID-19. and our capacity to make more expansive investments in education and local aid. 
In addition to federal ESSER and CRF funds identified in the spreadsheet, A&F has identified the following smaller sources of funding also made available to districts in recent months: • $16M for ESSER Discretionary Funds; • $25M for Remote Learning Technology Grants; • Up to $15M for Competitive Federal Funds. 
Despite the almost unprecedented fiscal climate, the amount of state and federal aid allocated thus far ensures the administration and the legislature, as well as municipalities and school districts, can continue prioritizing significant investments in Massachusetts students. 
While the tentative agreement was intended to provide a baseline for school district budgeting, and a clear commitment to maintaining the central promise of Chapter 70 to keep every district at a minimum funding level as defined by the foundation budget, it should not be interpreted as abandoning the key commitments to equity made by the Student Opportunity Act (SOA). We remain committed to full implementation of the SOA Act, and its historic investments in increasing foundation budget assumptions both to more fully reflect actual school district spending, and to more fully meet the educational needs of our most historically under-resourced students. As we work towards finalizing an FY21 budget, we will continue to examine all opportunities to meet that obligation, including any additional federal funds made available to the state. Upon completing that review, we will reexamine our ability to move forward with the SOA, and will use the first available additional dollars, if any, to begin moving forward with the implementation of SOA.
If this is all sounding rather defensive to you, then I think you're right. 

Districts in the spring had, in many cases, to shut down and deep clean their buildings. They had to push out a ton of technology. They ran a lot of professional development for teachers. They emptied their buildings of protective equipment when the hospitals had shortages.
And per the Commissioner's directive? We paid everybody.
For fall, districts are having to buy a large amount of protective equipment. They're buying plexiglass and other separations. They might be buying furniture. They're scrambling to staff additional nurses and custodians. They need signs and cleaning supplies.
But we also might go remote and many are going hybrid, so we still need technology, and PD for teachers on that, and supplies for students at home.

So, should you be wondering where that CARES and COVID funding is going, you have your answer. And those, let's recall, are grant funds. They're one time. They're spent and they're gone. It's pretty infuriating to have them all added up nicely on a spreadsheet as if those numbers all were equivalents. They aren't.

Actually running the system--more to the point, actually staffing the system--isn't any less expensive than it was last year. In fact, of course, we need more staff than we have.
And no, it doesn't only cost 2% more than last year, either. That's not how much insurance or transportation went up, for certain, and it doesn't cover most other cost areas, either.

The commitment to SOA is nice, but districts start schools in six weeks. We can't staff based on promises. By the time the state passes a 'real' budget, we will have finished the first quarter of school. Classes are not only assigned, but have been running. 
And, always remember: most of a school district's costs are in staff. 

You might remember the warnings from earlier this spring that flat cuts disproportionally hit higher poverty communities. Having state aid only go up by enrollment and inflation across the board does, of course, hit the districts that are more heavily dependent on state aid. If most of your money is local, you didn't lose that much off of June yesterday.
Worcester lost $14M in operating costs yesterday.

So, it's nice to have numbers. These aren't numbers that help us.

You'll be hearing more about this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Four months of a budget, but what is the Chapter 70?


This afternoon, the House and Senate both passed a four month budget, the single page document of which is here. It does not contain allocations, but does say this:
SECTION 2. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, items funded through this act shall be funded in a manner assuming not less than the lower of the general appropriations act for fiscal year 2020 or the operating budget submitted by the governor for fiscal year 2021 pursuant to section 7H of chapter 29 of the General Laws.
I am not clear on what "assuming not less than the lower" of level funding from last year OR the House 2 budget from January means!

We are given a bit more via Senator Adams Hinds on Twitter, the following, which I am quoting from State House News for reasons that will become apparent:
Hinds: Budget Level Funds Local Aid, Chapter 70
As lawmakers rush a $16.5 billion three-month budget to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk, the Senate Revenue Committee chairman indicated Tuesday that the bill level funds local aid to cities and towns.
In a tweet posted Tuesday afternoon and then later deleted, Sen. Adam Hinds also said the budget bill level funds Chapter 70 education funds to school districts, plus $107 million for inflation.
As the state delays its annual budget deliberations, cities and towns have been awaiting word on local aid levels, which pair with local property taxes to form the basis of revenues for local school, public safety and other municipal services.
Beacon Hill leaders have been gearing up for an announcement about local aid levels for fiscal 2021. - Michael P. Norton/SHNS | 7/28/20 3:01 PM
UPDATE: And THEN State House News Service added this from Senator Hinds:"I defer to the chairs of Ways and Means. The reality is, the details haven't been finalized."

 So, what would $107M mean? The inflation rate for this year is 1.99%, with 2.34% for health insurance. That isn't...far off what $5.1B would be over last year. So that would be JUST inflation, but the SOA inflation.
And it would be that for the full year, not the one third of the year.

Over the full year, it would also be $14M less than what the Worcester School Committee passed in June.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Commissioner waives time on learning regulations, allowing for 10 days of teacher preparation

This afternoon, the Commissioner announced that he is waiving the time on learning regulations (603 CMR 27.00):
To provide sufficient training for educators and staff, I will reduce the 180 day and student learning time requirements for the 2020-2021 school year to 170 days and 850 hours (for elementary schools) and 935 hours (for secondary schools), so long as districts begin providing instruction to students no later than September 16, 2020.
In conjunction with this, the Department and the MTA/AFT-MA/BTU have jointly signed an agreement which says: 
WHEREAS: The safety and well-being of students, families, and staff has been and continues to be our top priority as an educational community.
WHEREAS: The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-MA), and the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) are working together collaboratively to support a successful start to the new school year.
WHEREAS: DESE, MTA, AFT-MA and BTU recognize and agree that in light of the COVID- 19 pandemic, providing additional time for our educators and staff to prepare prior to the start of instruction of students is important for a safe and successful fall reopening.
NOW, THEREFORE:
1. DESE agrees that school districts will have 10 additional days at the start of the 2020-2021 school year before instruction of students begins, to work with educators to prepare for the new school year.
2. The Commissioner will reduce the 180-day and student learning time requirements for the 2020-2021 school year to 170-days and 850 hours (for elementary schools) and 935 hours (for secondary schools) so long as districts begin providing instruction to students no later than September 16, 2020. If a district is unable to meet the September 16, 2020 requirement, it may apply for a waiver.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Worcester Public Schools Back to School planning FAQ

This will not be exhaustive and at some point it will be replaced by an FAQ on the district website, which will no doubt be more comprehensive. Note that anything subject to negotiations is something on which I cannot comment; it's both an ethics and an Open Meeting Law violation for me to do so.
In the meantime, though, a few of the questions I am fielding most often. Updating as more is known or asked.

So, what's going on with planning?
Every district in Massachusetts is required to submit three plans to the state by July 31: one for bringing all students back full time, one for doing a hybrid (part at home, part in school) model, and one for fully remote (at home), plus additional planning for students who are the highest need.

I don't hear anyone in Worcester talking about bringing all the kids back. Why?
Because we can't fit all of our students back into our buildings with any sort of physical distancing. About 15 years ago, Worcester closed eight elementary schools, and we now have about 2000 more students than we did then, in those same buildings. We are a crowded system with not a lot of extra space, so our 25,000 students cannot come back to their buildings all together. 


So then what is being planned?
You can take a look at what is mapped out so far over here. After taking a look at our buildings, the administration has laid out a plan for students to come back to buildings two days a week (split in groups; they're calling this 50%) or one day a week (split in groups; they're calling this 1/3) with the other days being learning at home, one day synchronous learning (online "in class" live) and the other days being more independent work. Students in highest need groups--our subseparate special education students, our newest English learners--will be back in buildings for four days. Fridays are for deep cleaning of buildings.

What's the difference between the hybrid models?
 Space. The 50% model gets students in by working at a four foot interval; the 1/3 model goes out to six feet.
The administration is also working on an entirely remote plan.

I don't want my child to go back into buildings. Can I keep them home?
Yes, every district in Massachusetts is required to provide a fully remote option for families who wish to have their child/ren home. There is no requirement for documentation, and there is no negative impact on the child's record or enrollment in a school, program, or district.

When will we know more of what is being planned?
Today's guidance on facilities and transportation were some of the pieces that were missing in figuring out if we have any hope of being able to get students back two days a week. From those bus diagrams, I would say--and this is me saying this, not the district--that hope looks faint. 
The one thing that is still up in the air, though, is family choice. Were enough families across the district--remember it has to be in every building!--to choose to stay remote, we'd have a small enough number of students wanting to be back in buildings that we might be able to run two days. 
I am not sure that is going to happen.
The district, as I said above, has to submit the three (ish) plans on July 31, including what the district is leaning towards. 
The School Committee votes a choice on August 5; the plans are due August 10.
UPDATE: There will be a public session on August 6 for administration to present the plans; the School Committee will vote the plans August 10 (I am assuming the Commissioner is taking them late, because last I heard, that was when they were due!)

What about this change in time on learning I'm hearing about?
The Commissioner has waived the 180 day/900/990 hour learning requirement, rolling it back to 170 days of students in class (850/935 hours). He said this is so long as classes begin by September 16. 
What this does is provide for a way for districts to bring their teachers back and give them ten days of additional training and professional development before school starts without having to change the teachers contract (the number of days teachers are working remains the same).
This does mean that it is likely that Worcester and may other districts will be changing their calendars. Look for that on the August 5 meeting as well.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Know how difficult this is?

Shamelessly swiping this from David Bernstein's tweet: 

You can find the full Albuquerque Journal article here, though the tweet captures the essential point. 

Massachusetts documents released this week

Two documents released by DESE this week of interest:
  • Last night, the superintendents received guidance on "COVID-19 events" which includes this quick reference:
    Image may contain: text
    This also includes elsewhere in the document this sentence:
    “Before a final decision is made on a school or district closure, the superintendent must consult with DESE for further guidance.”
    But in consulting with DESE, it is NOT the Commissioner the guidance connects to.

    Thus the Commissioner:
    A. does not want districts to make the call to close themselves, but also
    B. does not want to make that call himself.

  • Earlier this week, the Department sent out this guidance on the submission of fall plans.
    Of note:
    • By July 31, districts must "must complete and submit a preliminary reopening plan summary to DESE" which includes "district’s contact information, key findings from the district’s feasibility study on in-person learning, and the district’s preliminary thinking about which of the three reopening models it may use to open the school year this fall." Then each of the three models needs to be described further (400 words) which "include support for High Needs students." Emphasis added.
      That means that, indeed, some level of decision-making at the local level IS being made prior to July 31. I have argued and will continue to argue that it should be shared locally.
    • By August 10, districts have to post their plan for the fall. This needs to be "plans should be written in a parent-friendly format, translated into the primary languages of students’ homes, and posted on the district website." This includes what the choice is, with a summary, out of time plans, health and safety information and more (see page 2 for the full list).