Monday, February 28, 2011

This week's meetings

This week:
  • There is a meeting of the Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports subcommittee tomorrow afternoon at 5:30 pm at the administration building, fourth floor. The agenda is here. CPR, Tech school courses, curriculum review, and the federal dropout initiative are all on the agenda.
  • The Citywide Parent Planning and Advisory Council meets tomorrow night at 7 pm at the Worcester Public Library. I haven't yet seen an agenda for that.
  • The regular meeting of the Worcester School Committee is at 7 pm this Thursday at City Hall. The agenda is here. I'll do a summary later this week!
All meetings are open to the public.

Friday, February 25, 2011

MA Board of Ed meets Monday

The Massachusetts Board of Education meets Monday in Malden at 8:30. You'll find their agenda here.
Up for afternoon discussion is teacher evaluation. The morning meeting has presentations on the dropout rate and graduation rate.
The bulk of the meeting, however, is taken up with charter schools in one way or another. As the T&G has today, Worcester's Seven Hills Charter School is being recommended for probation due to MCAS scores. The charter for Seven Hills is up for renewal, and Commissioner Chester is recommending to the Board that conditions be placed on the renewal.
Also, Chester is recommending 17 additional charter schools for around Massachusetts (none in Worcester), including, at the petition of the Salem School Committee, a Horace Mann charter in Salem.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

more on Congressional funding

Just got this update from the National School Board Association on the appropriations bill passed by the House for FY11:
The House passed H.R. 1 by a vote of 235 to 189 on February 19, in an effort to cut $61 billion from programs, including education. H.R. 1 would reduce funding for more than 70 education programs by more than 16 percent, or $11.6 billion. The bill would reduce funding for Title I grants for disadvantaged students by $694 million, cut $337 million from Title I School Improvement Grants, and impose a $500 million cut to Teacher Quality State Grants.
...Other programs that would be affected by the funding cuts include statewide data systems ($70.7 million), school counseling ($55 million), education technology state grants ($100 million), and the high school graduation initiative ($50 million). In addition, H.R. 1 includes a proposed cut of $1.1 billion to Head Start and multiple cuts to programs that help support school-based health centers.
To translates some of the inside baseball here: Worcester gets nearly $25 million in federal grants each year. About half of that is Title I funds ($13+ million), which are directly tied to the poverty rate of schools. Title I pays for teachers and IA's, so a cut to Title I is a cut to Worcester's teaching staff (should such a cut get through; this passed the House), and, please note, a cut to the teacher staff at the higher poverty schools (which the administration would then have to rebalance).
As we have yet to receive actual grant funds for either Union Hill or Chandler Elementary (we've gotten transition funds), I don't know (but it's worth asking) whether a cut to the School Improvement Grants would cut the funds avaliable to the states. The cut to SIG was a trade for not cutting special ed money.
We also get school counseling funds, so that is a cut in guidance.
And Head Start is run entirely with federal funds. A cut here is not a cut in the school budget; it is a cut directly to services for those kids.
All of which is to say: keep your eyes on the Senate. And remember: this is THIS YEAR'S MONEY.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

And so it begins...

Dated August 10, 2010, this is the first email regarding the Goddard MCAS scores of those Dianna Biancheria and I received from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 
The email is from Matthew Pakos, DESE's School Improvement Grant manager, (while SIG became School Turnaround Grants, like those applied for by Union Hill and Chandler, up until last year, Worcester simply received SIG funds, and so Pakos would have some oversight for the district) to Robert Lee, Chief Analyst for DESE (he's the chief MCAS data guy).
Pakos refers Lee to the Goddard data (CPI stands for "Composite Performance Index" which is a sort of average of student performance) and calls the gain "extreme."

Providence lays off ALL their teachers

The City of Providence, Rhode Island has given pink slips to all city teachers this week in anticipation of massive layoffs (necessitating contract changes) for the coming school year. Rhode Island law requires that teachers be notified of potential changes in their positions by March 1. Superintendent Tom Brady (yes, that is his name; he's also a Broad Academy graduate, for those keeping track) says it was necessary to close a projected $40 million budget gap for FY12.

UPDATE: And yes, Providence did attend the Union-Management Collaboration Jamboree in Denver last week.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Federal cuts

(which I believe the former Secretary of Defense would characterize as "known unknowns")
The House passed a temporary spending bill over the weekend that substantially cut education spending at the federal level. Keep in mind, by the way, that we're still talking about THIS year's money; Congress hasn't done FY11 yet. The Senate is sure to block passage of this bill, but getting the two houses to some sort of middle ground is going to be a challenge, as the cuts are substantial.

"Gentlemen, I am besieged, by a hundred or more of the Legislators..."

Superintendent John Kuhn of Perrin-Whitt CISD in Texas in his open letter to the Texas Legislature makes excellent use of historical reference. His letter reads:

Gentlemen,
I am besieged, by a hundred or more of the Legislators under Rick Perry. I have sustained a continual Bombardment of increased high-stakes testing and accountability-related bureaucracy and a cannonade of gross underfunding for 10 years at least and have lost several good men and women. The ruling party has demanded another round of pay cuts and furloughs, while the school house be put to the sword and our children's lunch money be taken in order to keep taxes low for big business. I am answering the demand with a (figurative) cannon shot, and the Texas flag still waves proudly from our flag pole. I shall never surrender the fight for the children of Perrin.


Then, I call on you my legislators in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy of public schools is declaring that spending on a shiny new high-stakes testing system is "non-negotiable"; that, in essence, we must save the test but not the teachers. The enemy of public schools is saying that Texas lawmakers won't raise 1 penny in taxes in order to save our schools.


If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and fight for the kids in these classrooms like an educator who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his community. Make education a priority!


With all due respect and urgency,
John Kuhn
Superintendent
Perrin-Whitt CISD
His reference--sure to be caught by native Texans--is the famous "Alamo letter" of William Barret Travis in which Travis pleads for reinforcements to be sent his aid. 

Irony

Yes, that is the [redacted] CD-ROM from the state containing Goddard and Belmont documents.
Just got back from a weekend away--more to follow!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Response from the state regarding Belmont and Goddard

I received the following cover letter from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this afternoon:
Dear Ms. O'Connell Novick:
On February 7, 2011, I received your public records request that seeks "documents from the investigation of the 2010 MCAS testing anomalies at the Goddard School of Science and Technology and Belmont Community School in Worcester." Enclosed, please find a CD-ROM containing all public records responsive to your request.

As you will see, we have redacted or withheld information that is exempt from the public records law under G.L. c.4 7 cl.26 (invasion of personal privacy); G.L. c.4 7 cl.26(d) (development of policy positions); G.L. c.4 7 cl.26(f) (investigatory material); and based upon the attorney-client privilege. To be clear, the information redacted pursuant to the deliberative process exemption, exemption (d), concerns an unrelated school in a different school district in a matter wholly unrelated to Goddard or Belmont. References to this other matter--which has not yet been resolved--have been redacted to the extent that they appear in documents that also contain information about Goddard or Belmont.

Please contact me if you require further assistance or any additional information. Additionally, please be advised that if you wish to challenge this response, you may appeal to the Supervisor of Public Records following the procedure containted in 950 C.M.R. 32.08.

Sincerely,
Joshua Varon
Legal Council
I will post once I've gotten the CD-ROM in the mail.

and that's a wrap

Parking

Biancheria: came up with parents and staff
"not only our winter parking issue, but parking in our future"
<> parking signs have affected our schools
parents, counselors not finding a parking space
"I don't see that changing, I see it increasing in the neighborhood"
there's no set policy; if they don't have a parking lot, they don't have a parking lot
request for report on parking from principals
"what can we offer our partners?"
If we are looking for parking spaces..is it possible that at some point...what we could offer them (in return for parking)
"it's taken a toll this winter"

MCAS postponement?

Boone says that the superintendents have been asking that as well
if there is a postponement, it will be days, not weeks (from conversations with the Commissioner)
there is a cost associated with that, too

Promise Neighborhood donation

Bank of America donation for $50,000
request that they be recognized for this donation

Counting sports as gym class

We've got a letter here as backup which says gym "shall be taught as a required subject in all grades for all students" (MGL 71, s.3)...does that mean they all have to take it?
It appears that the Commissioner is saying that sports cannot count as gym class.
Some conversation from Mullaney and O'Connell in the lack of understanding this demonstrates of students who participate in sports.

Secretarial coverage at dismissal

...so that someone answers the phone when you're not going to make it on time.

Finance and Operations

which I'm not going to put notes up on here, because my notes from subcommittee are avaliable below

Governance and Employee Issues report

  • asks for a report on use of social media in May 2011
  • school profiles online
  • draft exit survey for those leaving the school system
  • draft social media policy is being discussed with stakeholders and look at draft social media policies from other districts
  • rededication of the library at Union Hill; Union Hill wants to do that in the fall once they've fixed it up

Biancheria

transportation: we're going up $712,000 with no additional services?
there's a 3% contractual increase
AND we've added buses for special ed students (already this year)
Is there an avenue through which we can gather the information that the transporation is affecting the city and school budgets?
Boone: private and parochial school transportation, too. "Huge burden on our budget"
(it was also state funded until 2004)
"certainly an appropriate topic for our legislative change"
Allen: collaboration across districts for special ed and other transporation
Biancheria asks to put transportation on the agenda for the legislative meeting

Mayor O'Brien

"there might not be a consensus number" this year
(there often is...might not be this year)
Spirit of Knowledge charter school: looking for the data on closing the achievement gap
information is requiring "a hand match"
"as they look to grow it's going to cost us dearly"
Boone points out that the Commissioner has recommended 17 new charter schools (none in Worcester); Board of Ed votes next week

Foley

appreciates state funding
talking about funding priorities...adminstration conversations, finance committee, full committee
Foley asks if that includes the deferred edujobs money
It includes the $1.4 million that we set aside from the beginning of the year
"there is the potential that this number could be reduced (further)" if those numbers hold steady (because edujobs is up to $2.I don't remember what million)
multiyear budgeting

O'Connell

"a figure that would be set by the school committee...figure that should be charged is 1% rather than 3%"
Allen: "that's actually not an easy question"
recent federal audit which is being sent to F&O tonight
asks for copies of the audit
asks that legal counsel be present at whatever meeting occurs
O'Connell talks about working out a payment plan with the city
and...back to Medicaid
O'Connell points out that this is a minimum foundation level, asks if they can go below foundation (I think?)
Allen says that $660,000 is over the foundation (for medicaid and something having to do with Charter...sorry, I have no idea what that was about)
O'Connell speaks of (my words) cutting of our nose despite our face by not applying for Medicaid so the city then can't have the money
"a sore which continues to putrefy"

Monfredo

Could we use school choice? Yes, $300,000 (I think?)
points out that we could save $1 million if the city grant piece was 1% rather than 3%

Mayor points out the difficulties on the city side (local aid was cut by 7.25%...awful)

FY12 budget update

...based on the Governor's budget
Boone: "this represents another difficult year in a trend of very difficult years"
notes elementary numbers up and the inflation factor being positive this year

Allen:
highlights of what has changed since the last update in December (where we were $8.3 million projected deficit)
cost areas increase by a total of $11 million ($4.7 million for health insurance; $2.8 million in salaries (with NO raises); $1 million increased in charter school change; special ed tuition up $1 million; $712,000 up in bus contract PLUS new transportation needs; all other $533,956)
WPS is increasing by 280 more students
shift in enrollment of 1316 to ELL
inflation increase of 1.78% (note that this is different than what the state was telling us in December)
ALL OF THIS is why the Ch. 70 numbers are changing

EAW petition to address the committee

EAW here to speak on PCBs
the Mayor points out that this involves ligation and a grievance, so there's a minimal amount that can be said
President Zalauskas: "you're deadbeat dads and deadbeat moms"
(this on the after-school pay of the Level 4 schools, actually; the grievance denied by the School Committee was on this issue)

Dennis Ferrante

recognized for 33 years in WPS
"partner is a word that we think of" when we think of Dennis (Dolores Gribouski is giving the administration's tribute)
"really tap on that expertise"
"a creative innovator...really innovator in the world of music"
students in the adult learning center: his "belief in the potential that they had...was really evident"

Plumbers and Pipefitters contract

...was approved tonight by the School Committee.

Another reason to know your Robert's Rules

No quorum=no vote

Worcester School Committee meeting tonight

sorry for the late posting on this one

There will be a regular meeting of the Worcester School Committee tonight at City Hall at 7 pm (or thereabouts). You can find the agenda here. Among the items on it:
  • This time for sure! We'll get the FY12 budget update, based on the House 1 (or Governor's) budget.
  • The EAW has petitioned for time to address the committee, and I am told that members will be in attendance.
  • We're honoring the  2011 scholars of the Worcester County Superintendents’ Association from Worcester.
  • Both the standing committee on Governance and Employee Issues and the standing committee on Finance and Operations (action sheet to come) are reporting back, including such topics as snow removal (and paying for it), social media, wifi, school nutrition, internships, and innovation schools.
  • a report back on expected travel
  • two that are snow-related: one on parking, and one on petitioning that the MCAS be postponed

Ways and Means Hearing on the FY12 budget

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means is holding a series of hearings on the FY12 budget for Massachusetts around the state. The hearing that is specifically on education is next Tuesday, starting at 10:

Tuesday, February 22nd
UMass Amherst
Lincoln Campus Center Auditorium, Amherst, MA  01003

Education and Local Aid
  • Dept. of Early Education and Care
  • Dept. Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Dept.of Higher Education
  • Local Aid
Representative Carl Sciortino has posted the full list of all hearings as a note on Facebook.
(And this is one of many ways that Rep. Sciortino rocks.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No school in Madison today: UPDATED (again)

...but it isn't because of snow! So many teachers called in sick today to join the massive protest (more here) against Governor Scott Walker's proposal to cut collective bargaining rights for teachers that the city of Madison could not hold school. The public hearing officially ended at three am, but public testimony was taken still being taken by the Democratic minority of the subcommittee at 7:30.
The subcommittee is expected to vote on the bill at noon; the two bodies will take it up later this week. The House is expected to pass it; last word was that the Senate majority leader was still looking for votes.
I should also point out that Governor Walker said he was prepared to call out the National Guard to ensure services were not disrupted. 

(You can keep up on the latest with the Wisconsin State Journal's Twitter feed or look for the hashtag #notmywi)



The above is the statue "Forward" which is on top of the capital dome in Madison. Alas, I can find no good images of the badger on her helmet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Mr. MCAS" creating national test

Jeff Nellhaus (often referred to as "Mr. MCAS" for his role in that system) is leaving his position at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, where he serves as Deputy Commissioner.
He will not be leaving the testing world, however, as he has been wooed away by Achieve, Inc., the organization that won one of two Race to the Top grants for a common assessment. He'll be "the Director of the PARCC* consortium" according to an email sent out by Commissioner Chester earlier today.




*Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness in College and Careers. The other acronym is SMARTER, which wins, hands down.

Monday, February 14, 2011

North High circa 1940

While I can't take credit for finding these, there's some very fun photos of North High (on Salisbury Street) circa 1940.
Girls in Class at North High School, 1946 - Worcester, Massachusetts

Latest on MCAS testing investigation

...is over on Daily Worcesteria.
Let's just say there's a lot of black magic marker involved.

Wi-fi

23 schools currently have wi-fi, another 4 will have it by June 2011
Wireless can cost $40,000 to $300,000 per school
The fed reimburses by qualifying free and reduced lunch amount
Admin is recommending against implementation of public wifi, due to security concerns, largely
Principals can request a 24 hour public guest network be turned on for public events, however

gradual roll-out of wireless over the next three years citywide, with some difficulty around the schools that have the lowest amount of free and reduced lunch students
Not necessarily recommended by admin

Also, schools that have wireless have had all staff informed of sign-in
recommendation that admin allow parents to use sign-in for buildings that have wifi during school hours; admin says this is entirely possible

Facilities management

Custodians to be supervised by facilities management (rather than directly by the building principals)
web-based building management tool now being used, so central admin can review buildings and provide feedback
requested referral to the FY12 budget for a 2nd shift supervisor


Custodians clean 50+ buildings and over 4,000,000 square feet
The presentation around the building cleanliness program is online in the agenda
60% on entering rooms and buildings
mid-to-end March on everything entered
implementation thereafter

Building rehab update

Update on building rehab throughout the district (including ESCO projects from Honeywell)
proposed project coordinator position to oversee $18 million in city funds plus up to $18 million in ESCO funds (to be referrred to the FY12 budget)
timing on school vacations, ordering projects, summer school schedules, etc
Coordinator position to clerk the projects paid for out of project funds
considering also an independent contractor or city/school position
allow city to complete negotiation with Honeywell to see how much the projects will be going forward
with amount of work, cannot be done entirely by independent contractor or shared position

there's this fabulous chart that I'll take a photo of later that shows timeframes for projects throughout the city
goal is to have all bids out by the second week of April
first of June, contracts in place, so they can run straight as soon as school is out
most work needs to be done during the summer
paving has been done already at WEMS; Clark St and Union Hill contracts ready to go

grouped geographically and grouped by work for this summer
BRIEFLY: New Citizen Center, removing modular units
WEMS science labs (starting this spring!)
South High security system
for summer: back to WEMS, Union Hill, Chandler Elementary, Flagg Street, Goddard, Tatnuck Magnet, and Burncoat High, Doherty High, South High, and Clark Street
projects ranging from carpet to bathrooms to repaving
There are projects not listed here that are ESCO (like WEMS windows)

Security systems (Belmont)

Belmont just got new cameras; it has now been activated (as of last week).
As a result of the break-in, all devices in the entire system were tested with our security company. All worked and were verified.
Also, protocols were reviewed and verified (who gets notified and when)
Several other schools (secondary) are having their security systems reviewed and updated and changed as needed.

School nutrition

Numbers of children receiving free and reduced lunch
Update on the new federal regulation on school lunches (which currently is in public comment* until March  (?) 13)
due to our wellness policy, impact is mimimal (as we were following some of the same recommendations--now requirements)
We're getting six cents more per lunch; there has been no increase in breakfast reimbursement, though there has been a change in what is required for us (recommendation from admin that we comment on that)
equity in school lunch pricing: schools have to gradually increase lunch prices over time (starting FY12)...currently $2.75 is reimbursable, while we charge $1.50. We'll either have to raise prices or cover it through budget
Free potable water now needs to be available where meals are served (motion asking that admin look into where this is not currently the case and how much it's going to cost to make it so)

Assistive technology

Technology for special education needs: $243,432 spent since 2007
proposed expediture of $197,112 should funds be available at the end of the fiscal year
Foley points out  that anything can be used for students with or without special education students doubles the benefit

Second Quarter report

Notes from F&O:
no big change in the bottom line for this quarter: projecting 1/2 million for end of year, plus edu jobs (total of $2.4 million)
$250,000 normal attrition and vacancies in teacher accounts; nearly the same amount spent additionally in IA's (one-to-one aides)
vacancies for custodians $116, 710 with a $10,797 deficit in overtime (we haven't had to use a lot of overtime for snow clearing, due to timing of snowstorms)
added in moving costs for North High ($50,000; hoping to move this fiscal year)
people no longer collecting unemployment ($237,083)
$54,500 in snow removal (front end loader services, plus hauling, and some snow removal from roofs, and some replacement snowblowers)
$30,000 in chem lab clean-outs

releasing $10/pupil for the schools that had been frozen, with the caution that schools will want to pre-purchase supplies as much as possible

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jargon-aut

Jargon-aut


Those fond of using bureaucratic terms. (Also Jargonaut.)

To wit:
Our daily discourse is not only weighed down by the accumulated detritus of generations of recondite governmentese, it is also consonantly plagued by acronymous new jargon from MNREGA to JNNURM, CVC to CAG.

We would be one step closer to the universal goal of transparent governance once these jargon-auts are speedily banished. A brave new word order should not be a distant dream for plainspeaking folks.

h/t Ben Schott

Finance and Operations subcommittee Monday

The Standing Committee on Finance and Operations meets on Monday at 4 pm (what, you had other plans for Valentine's Day?). You'll find the agenda here.
A few things of note:
  • The quarterly account transfers (see page 28 or gb 0-215; the links don't work via external link. I should ask about that.) shows how much that weekend snow removal cost us: $54,000. 
  • The changes required under the new federal nutrition act are spelled out (gb 1-2 or page 46).
  • Curb appeal and clean buildings
  • a bit on the financial implications of innovation schools (final item)
Again, the meeting starts at 4 pm in the Durkin Administration Building!

If you're wondering how Worcester decides on a snow day...

...so was the City Council, and this backup is the answer.

FOIA request update

I received this via email yesterday.
(sorry for the bad link earlier)

Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 Massachusetts Budget Map

The Pioneer Institute has sponsored this rendering of the 2010 Massachusetts Budget.

Keeping Brown v. Board of Education alive in Raleigh


Thousands are marching on the North Carolina state capital tomorrow to (among other things) fight for integrated schools. As I previously posted (wonderfully covered by Stephen Colbert), the new Wake County School Board is fighting for resegregation ("neighborhood schools" is a sticky wicket here, falling into "this doesn't mean what you think it means" territory) of the county schools.
Brown isn't going down without a fight.

History of the MCAS

Just as philosophy is the study of other people's misconceptions, so history is the study of other people's mistakes.


-- Phillip Guedalla


Read Clive McFarlane's column today.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Special education survey for parents

The Worcester Public Schools administration is gathering information from parents of students with special education needs via survey. You'll find it in English here and in Spanish here. It opens today, and answers will be collected through February 25.
Answers are entirely confidential.
Please share this widely!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Legislative letters for FY12

I'm just finishing up my letters to the Worcester delegation on the proposed FY12 budget. If you have any thoughts on the budget, I'd urge you to do the same.
If you don't know who represents you in Boston, you can look up your representative and senator here.
If you're in Worcester, the delegation is:
  • Rep. John Mahoney, Room B2
  • Rep. James O'Day, Room 254
  • Rep. John Fresolo, Room 156
  • Rep. Vincent Pedone, Room 20
  • Rep. John Binienda, Room 166
  • Senator Michael Moore, Room 518
  • Senator Harriette Chandler, Room 312-D
In all cases, the rest of the address is:
The State House
Boston, MA 02133

And yes, of course you can also email and call. +

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Grant fees: updated, revised, and with new links

The report from the outside auditor coming back to City Council tonight has a bit of news bearing on the school department: the outside auditor discussed the difference of opinion on the amount assessed by the city to the Worcester Public Schools on grants. The auditor found:
Internal controls should be implemented to ensure that original contracts or contract amendments are filed with the granting agency that specify the actual indirect cost rate used to charge the indirect costs to the grant program, and that all salaries and wages expenses charged to the grant program are supposed by by the required documentation, as prescribed in OMB Circulars A-87 and A-133.

What does that mean in English?
When the schools (or an agency) file for a grant, they have to specify how much is going to be taken in "indirect costs." In the case of the Worcester Public Schools, that's the grant assessment taken by the City.
The legal opinion given to the School Committee by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education states that the School Committee has to VOTE grant assessment (you might remember that we've been doing that?). Thus, all WPS grants say 1% will go to the City.
And then the City takes 3%.
Thus the inconsistency.
The City--and I should note here that it is the City making the response, as the school department has not been allowed to weigh in--responds that, in essence, there's a difference of opinion (or that they're taking money the School Committee hasn't voted to give them; take your pick).
Councilor Lukes is looking for a legal opinion from the City Solicitor.
The City Manager, if I'm understanding him correctly, seems to be saying that he intends to move forward with the auditor's findings. (I think? Maybe?)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Turnaround Leaders

...and what isn't transferable (because sometimes Hess gets it right).
Remember this when the Race to the Top funds start going to "proven turnaround experts."

More useful things on the WPS website

There is a list of all street addresses in the city in alphabetical order, giving the neighborhood elementary, middle, and high school. I'm told a map is in the works.

There is also a new RSS feed for the main page of the site. So far, it appears specific school RSS feeds are limited to those working for the district (I'll try to find out more about that).
The most useful thing? If you sign up, you'll get a the "school is delayed/canceled" message as soon as it's posted!

Special education Basic Rights

Worcester's Special Education Parent Advisory Council will at their February meeting present a workshop on "Basic Rights."

It is designed to help parents learn how to be effective partners with their child’s school to decide the child’s eligibility for special education, and to plan, make decisions and monitor their child’s progress in school.

Location: Worcester Technical High School

Translators are available if requested in advance;
To request a translator please call 508-799-3056

Learn about :

  • State and Federal laws - What are children entitled to by law?
  • Special education eligibility – who is eligible for special education services?
  • What is an IEP and how is it created?   I want to change my child’s IEP, how can I do that?
  • What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 (accommodation plan)?
  • LRE (least restrictive environment) – what does that mean?
  • How do you ask for services, evaluations, reports, meetings? 
  • What are the timelines for assessments and IEP meeting?
  • What is due process?  What is mediation, what is a hearing?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

FY12 budget: the notes are online

Due to the length discussion around MCAS scores on Thursday night, the report of the superintendent--an FY12 budget presentation from the Governor's proposed budget--was postponed until our next meeting (on February 17). The update, however, is online.
A few items of note:
  • WPS foundation budget will increase by 4% next year ($11.1 million, with $9.5 million from the state and $1.46 million coming from the city). This is due to an increase in enrollment (of 280 students), an increased number of limited English proficient students, and a change in the inflation factor.*
  • The inflation factor (of 1.78%) does not reflect the actual increase in costs.
  • Special education circuit breaker funding appears (note the verb) to increase by $1.1 million
Currently, this leaves the estimated deficit at $6.69 million, equivalent to 134 teachers.**



*I should note that there's also some complications here with charter school reimbursement, enrollment, and changes. It probably deserves its own post, but read the bottom of page 2 to the middle of page 3 if you're interested.
**Also, those trucks and other equipment out clearing parking lots and driveways of excess snow during non-school hours aren't free. Watch the next quarter finance report on this.

And speaking of snow

Worcester Public Schools has people out today with heavy equipment clearing space.

Friday, February 4, 2011

2010 Bunkum Awards

And, as a special Friday treat to you data geeks, we share the 2010 Bunkum Awards, with special mention of the federal Department of Education this year:

This year’s Grand Prize goes to Secretary Arne Duncan and his U.S. Department of Education staff for the exceptionally disappointing low quality of their research reviews supporting their plans for the reauthorization of ESEA (aka, the Blueprint). Our esteemed panel of judges solemnly considered whether the federal government was even eligible for such an award. With so many resources at its disposal, the government seems to have an unfair advantage. But the Blueprint research summaries stood out in two ways that we felt needed recognition. First, they almost religiously avoided acknowledging or using the large body of high-quality research that the federal government itself had commissioned and published over the years. Second, they first raised our expectations with repeated assurances that recommended policies would be solidly grounded in research – only to then dash those hopes in research summary after research summary.
There's more!

Roofs and snow

Here's the WPS update from this evening.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

FOIA* request

You may have caught that Dianna Biancheria and I are filing (already have filed with WPS) a request for all documents related to Goddard and Belmont under the federal Freedom of Information Act (and MGL Chapter 66, Section 10). They're mostly boilerplate, but you can find the one for the state here, and the one for district here.

*technically, not a FOIA, as it's being filed with a state agency and a local one. Cited here as it's recognizable. 

Referrals

Lots of items being referred...

Race to the Top vote

Money accepted 5-2

sorry, losing track here: Race to the Top

I had to look up the Act Relative to the Achievement Gap
Mayor O'Brien argued that much of this is going to happen to us anyway (even if we didn't take the money)

Joyce:

Makes or breaks your high school career
wonder whether it measures how much a student learns
how much does a student retain...a greater emphasis on retention
(note that this is David Joyce, our student rep from Tech)

Biancheria on Race to the Top

Biancheria: large room, filled with people who expressed how they felt about staff at a school (in January)
tonight we did again
Race to the Top money was voted on (it wasn't...it was School Transformation Grants)
about how the MCAS has become the measure of people's careers

Accountability

  • three trend analysis on enrollment change from gr. 6 to gr. 7 and gr. 8 to 9
  • questions around innovation schools
  • Race to the Top: Mullaney explicitly requested a vote on Race to the Top funds
"I am not a fan of the US Department of Education. If it closed tomorrow, I wouldn't be upset. I don't like the direction that the country is going vis-a-vis education. I don't like accepting money with all these strings attached."

Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports report

  • regular review of curriculum: held for April 4 meeting (of subcommittee)
  • student slots per high school allotted for Creamer Center: model of expansion of services to students in alternative services (this is a plan to increase the amount of places avaliable to kids in the Creamer Center)
teacher at Fanning (which would be dropped under the proposal)
director of Fanning was not contacted, did not know of subcommittee meeting prior to the day of the meeting
"every day we make miracles"

Mayor asks if we have to make this decision tonight
might be good to have more information before making decision
Mulqueen: budget considerations
"expand opportunities for students"

continue conversation about this issue before making a decision: recommitted to subcommittee

Under suspension: parents from Plumley Village

parent from Plumley Village
thanking those who got the bus to Plumley Village

another mother whose child goes to Belmont
difficulties with getting children to and from school (particularly with snow and ice)
appreciate getting the bus for the kids to get there safely

Mullaney

.".feels that I've lost touch with what's going on in schools"
"one of the most moving evenings"
"you're real live people who have children and you love them"

votes

full investigation: fails 3-4
plans of superintendent: filed
revealing information about investigation: fails 3-4
Belmont information: fails 3-4

Guerra

signed an official letter of reprimand from Commissioner Chester
will be attached to her license
waived rights to a hearing
"disclose this information in a public forum"
"thorough and fair investigation" by state
"our children are remarkable, our faculty is remarkable, it's time to move forward"
Standing ovation from the crowd

Members of the public

very concerned about the process...Level 2, 3, 4....innovation schools
"they supress these MCAS tests...what are the results? Do the kids get to take the tests again? Do they restore their points?"
Answer: no retake, no impact on students graduating

Boone on the test thing

Boone cites the press release on what the concerns were
Rules must be followed, will be followed
"uphold every aspect of the protocols..."
"focuses, aligned, coherent..."instruction
"districtwide protocol...for MCAS administration"

Mullaney rises again

Mullaney makes an argument which I think says that teachers want to stand together

O'Brien rises again

O'Brien rises to defend the Commissioner
...and the kids (I think?)
and ties Boone and Commissioner together, I think?

Novick on Goddard

It's here.

Foley

says he's glad to see people here in defense of their school and defense of their principal
partnership with United Way and Clark
Principal walking kids home at night
"we have to go back to the facts...a little concerned about" state investigating
kids in poorer neighborhoods doing well

Mullaney on Goddard

agrees with everything the mayor said
"seems like the makers of the item are sort of retreating from that word" (investigation)
"in my opinion the MCAS is a state test...they have final say over the test"
"they came to a conclusion"
"could have been much worse, it isn't...our duty to point that out"
"our job is say it is not cheating, it is [pause] something else"

Biancheria on Goddard

"certainly compliments Goddard's staff"
"my issue with this is not only the 'no caring, no sharing' of Worcester School Committee members"
all did not receive the same information
"following a joint investigation" she quotes from the press release from the state
"yesterday's rhetoric is not going to work in 2011"

Mayor O'Brien

O'Connell takes the chair
"disappointed to hear" Chester's decision
"we are going to be working to address the concerns" of the state
"I personally have tried to express my strong support" for those who work at Goddard
"countless numbers of children...remarkable reputation"
"remarkable progress" over the past few years
believe this year's MCAS scores with reflect great work being done
"how did we get to where we are now?"

"it has been a disturbing time for me as a member of this body"
"what are the facts? ...they're pretty clear here...state exhaustively looked at this issue"
their job to do this...at the end of that process...had three basic choices
  1. done nothing
  2. significant sanctions
  3. "mistakes were made"
"that should have been it"
"we're entering...with some members...a dark and concerning place for me..insert themselves into the role of the state and the superintendent"
"I don't think it's right...does a disservice to those who teach and work in our system"
"People work hard every day...dedicated staff deserve better than what this is about"
"a lesson learned by what this is about..roles of superintendent"

Monfredo

thanks the superintendent for working "in lockstep" with the state
"that should have been the end of the story"
"We have that information"

"they have been penalized and they have learned from their mistakes"
"have been most impressed with the hard work of their principal and their staff"
data walls, books sent home
"it's a school with high expectations"
partnerships within the community...applied to become an innovation school
"a shared expectation for student achievement"

Belmont not in executive

O'Connell

can agree that the quality of the Goddard program is one of the hallmarks of the city
"brought out the very best in their students"
"very strong, very intensive ties to its community"

intervention of state in invalidating scores is a serious one
"clearly is not good company for Goddard"
"the state in its intervention has given a compliment to the superintendent...done only when the state truly believes in" the superintendent

how do we address these?
"cannot go into the future...unless we deal with the challenges of the past..full disclosure..use the letter that the state had given to us as a starting point"
"what actually occured is something we need to discover"
"we need as a School Committee to know that...the public needs to know that...they should be entitled to know..what the situation is and how it is addressed"
"we could find..that the scope of things is very minor"
"we need to clear the air...we need to have direct answers"
"for Goddard, we need to restore its public confidence...give Goddard the support it needs"

"if we draw a curtain of silence over this issue...we allow it to continue to fester"
Have a choice: can do nothing (save what the state asks for)..."will look at the future, not at what put us in this situation"
"cannot move on unless we look at what put us in this situation"
"whether we do will depend on what the vote of the School Committee is tonight"
"curative approach"
"black cloud hovering over the school...could be disappated"
"bring the paperwork up to the surface...very simple issue..finding out what the state said about the school...very simple step, very obvious step"

Brandeis: sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant

Taking Goddard/Belmont out of order

due to the public being here

Recognitions

Finn School in Southborough for boots and books for Chandler Elementary
Mohan and Suren Nannapeneni for bookbags for Chandler Elementary and Union Hill

Full house tonight

Lots of parents, kids, teachers, mostly on or about Goddard

Worcester School Committee meeting tonight!

The Worcester School Committee meets tonight at 7pm at City Hall (or you can watch on Channel 11 or off the school website).
Liveblog to follow!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two hour delay on Thursday

Worcester Public Schools will open on Thursday on a two hour delay.
No morning preschool.

On competing for federal money

You may have read Philip Pullman's stirring words in defense of the libraries of Oxfordshire (if you haven't, please do!). The following, on the eve of Worcester's vote on accepting Race to the Top funds, seemed appropriate:
What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses. I’ve always hated it. It started coming in when I left the teaching profession 25 years ago, and I could see the way things were going then. In a way it’s an abdication of responsibility. We elect people to decide things, and they don’t really want to decide, so they set up this bidding nonsense and then they aren’t really responsible for the outcome. “Well, if the community really wanted it, they would have put in a better bid … Nothing I can do about it … My hands are tied …”

A few snow day misconceptions

To clear up a few rumors and misunderstandings:
  • No one in Worcester is talking about taking away either April or February vacations.
  • There's no need to extend the school day, either.
Worcester schedules 180 days of school for students. Any snow days are added on to the end of the year. Originally, school (with no snow days) would have ended June 14. We've had seven snow days, so we're now ending on June 23, the following Thursday.
We have to end the school year by June 30 (there are few sure things in life; the fiscal year is one of them!). So long as we don't run into that, none of the above will change.
Two years ago, we and many other communities, were running up against that date. After the Commissioner of Education denied the request for a waiver of the 180 days, districts added time onto the day instead.

Kindergarten registration

Both kindergarten and preschool registration are now open for the Worcester Public Schools. To register your child, go to the Parent Information Center at 768 Main Street. Bring proof of child's date of birth, proof of guardian's residency, and proof of immunization and lead testing (aka: a birth certificate, a utility bill, and that blue immunization book). A child must be 5 by December 31, 2011 to enter kindergarten this fall. Preschoolers (unless there are special education needs) must be 4 by the same date.
Preschool and kindergarten parents are welcome to visit schools during regular school hours on the following weeks:
  • February 14-18: South Quadrant
  • February 28-March 4: North Quadrant
  • March 7-11: Doherty Quadrant
  • March 14-18: Burncoat Quadrant
You can find a map of the quadrants here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011