Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chat with Nat on education video is up

Last night's "Chat with Nat" presentation from Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster was live-streamed over Facebook. You can now watch anytime. It's well worth watching all of it: Natalia Berthet Garcia regarding her own experience in the Leominster Public Schools, as well as her work on the No on 2 campaign is compelling, and Barbara Madeloni is, of course, encouraging us to ask some different questions about what we think of and ask of our schools. There was also a really solid Q & A with the audience for the last half hour.

If you want a  speed version of"how does the foundation budget work" primer, skip to about 4 minutes in and listen to me for ten minutes. You can find my PowerPoint here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Worcester School Committee this week

A quick post as there are two posted Worcester School Committee meetings this week:
  • There's a posted executive session for this evening in the Mayor's office to discuss collective bargaining for teachers. One assumes that this is to update the committee on the tentative agreement that was announced yesterday; the teachers vote on it on Thursday. It appears the outline is 7% over the next three years, plus 1% for last year, with the health insurance changes that other units cityside have taken.
  • There's also a regular meeting of the school committee on Thursday night. The executive session is for teachers (possibly to ratify the contract, I'd assume), custodians, nurses, and computer techs, plus a grievance. They're honoring Dave Perda, who was recently appointed the superintendent of the Roman Catholic diocesan schools. They're hearing the reports from Governance and TLSS earlier this month.The first item looks like an effort towards a consent agenda, though that falls apart over the course of the rest of the agenda.There are a series of donations and prior year payments, including one "in the amount of $2,082.59 for the Secretary to the School Committee," and I don't know who that is (the School Committee has a secretary?!). Mr. Monfredo suggests updating the staff cell phone policy in light of changes in school safety procedure; he also wants the City Manager to discuss bus passes for students involved in activities with the WRTA. Mr. O'Connell is requesting energy audits for non-WPS-owned buildings (so...St. Casimir and the YMCA?), would like a list of Know Your School nights and site council meetings. Miss Biancheria is looking for another round of advertising, plus possibly lights at Belmont Street School (that's the one that has the pedestrian bridge). Miss McCullough is requesting consideration of the use of work at home during snow cancellations; you can read more about such efforts here.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hey, central Mass! Want to talk about education and funding?

Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster is hosting a "Let's Talk" session at the Leominster Public Library at 7 pm on Tuesday, August 22. It looks like a good program, and I don't say that just because I am among the speakers!
UPDATE: you can see the full list of programs here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Board of Ed in sum

crossposted at MASC
On August 17, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held a previously unscheduled summer meeting, due to the untimely death of Commissioner Chester the morning of the June meeting. The meeting was called largely to discuss the process for hiring a new Commissioner.


In opening the meeting, Acting Commissioner Wulfson acknowledged the significant support he is receiving from all of DESE staff, most particularly the senior staff. All recognized the passing of Kathy Kelley, former president of AFT-MA (information regarding services can be found here).

Taking advantage of the Board being together, the Department gave an update on the state's ESSA plan (notes here). Matt Pakos reminded the Board of the process to date; Rob Curtin then reviewed the feedback received on the plan and the Department's planned response. The Board also received the proposed accountability indicators to date, with the repeatedly emphasized caveat that these will change once results from this spring's assessments are available. At this point, the major difference between the US DoE and the state is the measure on assessments for the academic achievement indicator: US DoE has insisted on grade level proficiency (that is, the percentage of students getting a score above the proficient cut off on testing), while the state has proposed the use of the average scaled score (averaging the scores of all students against a proficiency standard, which relates to where schools are starting at and increases over time). The state does not plan to change this in their submission later this week. Late yesterday, Connecticut received approval for their state plan that used a similar measure, which may indicate that a more positive direction for Massachusetts is possible.

Russell Johnston, serving as interim receiver of Southbridge, gave an update on work in the district (notes here). After reviewing the work that had been done on curricular alignment and work with technology and ELL students, he spent more time discussing the work on budgeting. In particular, he spoke of the centralization of purchasing, as too much authority had devolved to the schools on purchasing; the district was not, he said, "following best practices." The Department directly supported finishing the FY17 budget, such that the close of year balanced. Currently, the Department is in negotiations with a contractor for business management services; due to the previous high rate of turnover in the business office, Johnston felt that hiring an individual would not be best. The search for a new receiver will take place after local input on the characteristics needed in a new receiver. Johnston said the emphasis would be in "quality over speed." He will be reinstating the curriculum and budget subcommittees of the school committee in an advisory capacity. The district currently is orientating new teachers; this year, 70 teachers are new in a district of about 175 teachers. As part of their orientation, new teachers are touring the town on buses, meeting with parents, business owners, and other community members to be introduced to the strengths of the district.
The Board received an FY18 budget update, as the Governor signed the budget after their June meeting. From the Department's perspective, beyond flat staffing, the main concern is the conference committee's decision to budget the assessment line at $4 million less than the Governor's budget. DESE does not, at this point, plan to cut their spending; they are "moving forward assuming we will have that (higher) level." The federal budget picture remains, of course, unclear.
Chair Sagan then took up the search for a new Commissioner.  The Board is required to operate under the Open Meeting Law in their search; as such, final interviews, deliberation, and voting will take place in public session. An initial round of interviews will take place with an appointed subcommittee of the Board in executive session. The Department will be sending out an RFP with the intention of hiring a search firm to assist them in the search.  In response to a question from student representative Trimarchi regarding public input, Sagan proposed a small advisory committee, as well as encouragement of public input through their regular meetings.
Finally, the Board voted a 10% raise for Acting Commissioner Wulfson for the duration of his service as acting commissioner. Wulfson does not intend to apply for the permanant position.

The Board next meets on September 26.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August Board of Ed: Acting Commissioner

Sagan: wanted to give Wulfson a raise while he is in this role
raise by 10% (to $184,827.50)
"my only cavaet is I wish I could pay you twice for two jobs"
retroactive to when he started

Passes unanimously.

August Board of Ed: Commissioner Search

There's no backup on this one.
Sagan: "maybe the most important work the Board does"
Chief state officer turnover "at crisis level"
"covered almost half of the reform effort in the state"
"so much of that work is left to be done"
"challenge to find somebody equally great"
"really energized by this task before us"
entire process is subject to Open Meeting Law
final candidates will be interviewed in public
has heard that there are two main problems to confront: ability to apply anonymously, which they will provide for; question of current acting
Wulfson has no intent to apply, so clears second

Getting some third part help from a search firm
"that's pretty much an administration function, so I'll handle that with staff"
discussions on what Board sees as position qualification
sharing former description with Board

Subcommittee of Board to cull down to finalists; keeping confidentially in preliminary round
Commissioner recommendation requires 8 of 11 votes
Sagan hopes will be unanimously choice
candidate recommended to Secretary, who makes actual appointment
hopes that if Peyser votes yes to recommendation will also approve candidate
"getting decision made by end of (school) year seems reasonable"

McKenna: think choice of search firm is quite important
candidate you choose is not someone who presented themselves but someone the search firm sought out
concerned about firms that only go to Roledex; ability to go beyond that; bringing forth diverse candidates
"there are a lot of firms that cannot answer in the affirmative"
"there are firms that do superintendent searches where you're only going to get someone who was a superintendent"
Sagan: "we don't know where this person will come from; I'm very open to in state, out of state; I just want a good person."
Morton: "would go back to something Russell said earlier: 'quality versus speed.'"
Sagan: have a competent person in the role, hope we're making another ten year selection
Trimarchi: how input from community at large will be gathered?
Sagan: can have informal advisors, could put into advisory board, ten years ago there was a 25 person advisory board
think if there are areas where we want ongoing input
possible public comment in the fall
"small advisory board"
are some examples, and can pick and choose from recent history

From here and September, posting of RFP with hiring of search firm
hope is to have person in place for start of new (2018) year

August Board of Ed: budget

Wulfson: budget signed by Governor
update is here
Bill Bell: "in the process of actively implementing"
conference committee did not fully fund testing fund; continuing to pursue that funding
$4.1M
"doing our plan assuming we're going to have that level"
Sagan: not going to weaken our assessment program
Bell: staffing staying the same moving forward:
Wulfon: even looking carefully at backfill "there are some areas that just might not be staffed"
Bell: keeping an eye on federal funding