Monday, August 31, 2015

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

The Worcester School Committee meets this Thursday, September 3. You can find the agenda here. 
We'll have the opening of school report at our next meeting, I'm told, once we get the numbers clear.
Our student reps are back! Looking forward to their contributions!

It's the hiring report! Thus while face of the agenda doesn't look very long, here's what the School Committee, with backup, version looks like:

And yes, I'll read every page! Thanks to the HR department for getting the information together!

We have a reponse on clearing up the grounds at City View (it happened).
We have a couple of responses coming from our budget session: the first clears up Miss Biancheria's query regarding the IT department; the third describes the school fruit and vegetable grant. The middle one is pretty interesting, as it deliniates school security spending. As you can see in the backup, more than double the designated school security budget is spent on security from the facilities budget. That's over and above what is spent on security out of the safety budget. 
We have the (now graduated) Doherty students coming to talk to us about their mentoring proposal.
We have recognitions for Mock Trial, for the library foundation awards, for the Boys and Girls Club awards, for Melissa Watson and the 1000 Watts barber shop, and for Mr. Twiss and the Burncoat Madrigals.
We're being asked to accept a donation from the Emerald Club for iPads for Belmont Street School.
We're being reminded of International Walk to School Day (October 7) and Manufacturing Day (October 2).
And we're being asked to appoint four school nurses.
There is NO executive session this week.

7 pm, City Hall!

Schools on the City Council agenda

This week on the Worcester City Council agenda, there are a few items pertaining to schools:

  • William S. Coleman, III request City Council place on the November 3, 2015 Municipal Election Ballot the following non-binding question: "Should Massachusetts rescind its decision to adopt the National Common Core Education Standard for Math and English, and revert back to the curriculum frame work that was previously in place? Yes or No."
Were this to go on the ballot, it presumably would be calling on the Board of Ed to reverse their 2011 vote in favor of adopting the standards (interestingly, I heard over the weekend that the Board vote on PARCC is projected to be at their November 17 meeting).

  • William S. Coleman, III request City Council request the City Manager provide an update as to the placing of a a plaque honoring Worcester Technical High School's Graduating Class of 2014 and President Barack Obama.
In Finance, they have the following:
  • Recommend the adoption of a Loan Order in the amount of Seven Million Twelve Thousand One Hundred Dollars And No Cents ($7,012,100.00) be appropriated to fund four building improvement projects of the Worcester Public Schools.
This is the funding for next summer's MSBA projects: Flagg, McGrath, Grafton Street, and Jacob Hiatt (all for windows, Hiatt for a boiler as well). The city has to borrow the entire amount of the projects, 'though the state will reimburse the city 80% for these projects, as they have all the others we've done.

  • Request City Manager forward a copy of the Worcester Public Schools' safety audit/plan to the City Council. (Lukes)
I'm assuming Councilor Lukes is referring to the school safety audit, which we discussed the Request for Proposals of at our last school committee meeting. We should have it back this fall.
  • Request City Manager consider updating City Council relative to the status of rehab/replacement projects for Burncoat Senior High School, Doherty Memorial High School and South High Community School. (Palmieri)
The only one of these the City Manager could update Council on is South, as we're in the first round of documents to prepare and committees to appoint for that, as South has entered into the MSBA process. Doherty has been submitted to MSBA, but we won't hear anything on renovation/rebuild submissions until this fall, and Burncoat hasn't been submitted to anything (note the Councilor's careful use of alphabetical order in his submission!)
  • REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON TRAFFIC AND PARKING Upon the Petition of Councilor George J. Russell on behalf of Patrick Donahue request installation of school zone speed limit and thickly settled speed limit signage in Crowningshield Rd.: recommend adoption of the accompanying Order to install “School” signage in Crowningshield Rd.
That's for Rice Square School.
  • REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON TRAFFIC AND PARKING Upon the Petition of Gina Tangney request speed limit signs and/or stop signs at the school crossing portion of Harrington Way, as well as toward the bottom of the hill, as a way to slow down traffic: recommend adoption of the accompanying Order to install “30 MPH,” “Thickly Settled,” and “School” advisory signage in Harrington Way.
That's for North High.



First day for our newest students!

It's the first day for our preschooler and kindergartners today! Please be patient around our buses and schools today, as goodbyes may take a bit. 

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the afternoon buses run a little later, as IDs will be checked for the adults meeting the kindergartners at the bus stops. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dyett High hunger strike enters its second week

As it wasn't getting national news attention for some time, you may have missed that twelve people have been on a hunger strike since last week to try to save Dyett High School in Chicago. Dyett is (sound familiar?) slated for closure in a neighborhood mainly served by charter schools; it is the last open-enrollment high school in that section of Chicago's South Side. Slate has a good summary and the larger parallels:
The story of Dyett is remarkably parallel to the one Jelani Cobb tells in this week’sNew Yorker, about the closure last year of Jamaica High School in Queens, Cobb’s alma mater and not so long ago a crown jewel of the New York City public school system. The death of Jamaica High, like the death of Dyett, can be traced not just to broader demographic changes in the community—higher poverty rates, more English-language learners—but to how the municipal powers that be deal with those changes. You can give the schools the additional support they need, or you can abandon them in the name of greater choice.   
The mayor (not surprisingly) is not exactly covering himself in glory with how he's handling the situation. Meanwhile, support rolls in from all over. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Universal free lunch (and breakfast!) for our first full week

The menus for next week are up!
If you go to a school with a full kitchen, you can find the full menu here.
If you go to an elementary school without a kitchen, you can find the menu for the full month here.

And did you see? Not only in Worcester, but nationwide, our school lunches are becoming healthier.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ending the "agrarian school year" myth

My hearty thanks to the Learning Lab from WBUR for taking on the "agrarian school year" myth in today's column. Most important point:
In the early 19th century, rural schools typically had two terms: winter and summer. Yes, summer.
That’s because spring and fall, not summer, were* the busiest months on a farm. So rural children helped with planting in the spring, attended school for two or three months in the summer, went back to work for the fall harvest, then did another two or three months of school in the winter.
If you'd like to talk about ending this model, maybe we can talk about how families aren't all summering at their cottages in Newport?
*still are.

Back to school queries UPDATED

A round up of answers to some of what I've gotten over the past two days:
  • Lunch menus: The School Nutrition page is found from the bottom of the main WPS page right now. The center menu is for schools without kitchens; the link takes you to the menu for schools that do have kitchens. Yes, you can just send in your child and have them get lunch! If all your child needs is milk, that's fifty cents. Parents, did you notice? No nutrition form to fill out yesterday!
  • Buses were a bit late coming home in some cases yesterday due to 7th graders and 9th graders (in particular) finding their way to them these first days (and remember, that backs up through the system due to our tier system). The same will probably be true on Monday, when we bring on our kindergartners!
  • Yes, it does say on the calendars that seniors may need to make up snow days. This has always been the case; we just put in on the calendar this year. It will depend on how many we have, and that would be decided in the spring. By state regulation, seniors can only get out of school a limited number of days early. 
  • Hoodies in the secondary schools: after a flood of tweets from high school students, I asked about this downtown today. From what I was told, in their meetings before school, the secondary principals agreed that the issue they've had is hoods being used to obscure who a student is (if they're in a hallway skipping class, for example). Thus the ban on hoodies (as we already have one on outdoor coats that might have hoods) has been implimented. That doesn't mean students can't wear other second layers (sweaters, sweatshirts without hoods, fleeces, etc); just no hooded gear. (And yes, I did pass along the astute observation that schools should probably stop selling them, then. Good point!)
  • Homecoming games: there's been a rumor going around that the homecoming games are cancelled this fall. I checked this with Davide Shea, WPS Athletic Director, on this, and here is his reply:

More questions? Send them along!

Subcommittee meetings scheduled

just posted
Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports meets Tuesday, September 22 at 5:30
Governance and Employee Issues meets Wednesday, September 23 at 5:30

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

BACK TO SCHOOL!

We have about 24,000 people joining the commute today, Worcester! Please watch for them and for their buses!
Best wishes for a great year. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Adding one day for seniors

...to comply with state law: projected last day for seniors (no snow days) is now May 23
(Last day for all with no snow days: June 9. I wouldn't put money on that)

Review Social Media Policy

Biancheria: anyone and everything posting on social media
refer to Governance

elementary schools

Request that the Administration review options for additional classrooms and instructional space, as needed, to include but not be limited to, the possible reopening of former elementary schools.

Referred to administration

students coming back from suspension early


Boone: none have as suspensions only extend to end of school year now, regardless
O'Connell: any predating change in Ch 222?
Boone: any student prior to July 2014, nothing changed
only students since then, thus no students affected
FILED

Human Resources

O'Connell: are there are areas in which we could share resources
go to the Standing Committee on Governance and Employee Issues
suggest that we could save some taxpayer resources
Petty suggests amending the motion
Monfredo: if we're talking about a merger, I'd be opposed to that
I want the HR department looking after the Worcester Public Schools
Novick: feel deja vu, as well: was last (and is repeatedly) done by Council
city has HR professionals in multiple departments; may or may not be best management, but a concern
if there is savings, it would be that we have gaps of time; underused staff; that certainly isn't the case on our side; I doubt the Manager would say that he does
motion to file
Foley: job posting for HR position
Boone: screening applications now
Foley: question do we really want to go there given the state of flux there
new set of eyes of new director looking at how we deal with HR
recommend how we hold the item or file
Petty: filed after person is hired? A good point
Biancheria: many of the costs we have is tax dollars
when there is an opportunity in tax dollars, save the money and put the dollars into our classroom
Motion to file carries.

teacher transfers

O'Connell: lots of transfers, many reasons to transfer
whether there are particular issues that need further attention

Incident report

O'Connell: report indicating per month the disciplinary action
report shows some interesting trends
seems like having completed a full year under this format, whether the report sheds any light on actions that should be taken
if it warrants any further action

FREE LUNCH

passes unanimously!
Come have lunch this year!
Questions about how this works? Check my FAQ here. 

report of F&O (to include free lunch vote)

I won't take notes on Foley's report; check my notes
Biancheria:
couple of questions on CEP
federal grants require data on free lunch; do we still have to fill out those forms?
Allen: other than not filling out forms and counting them, nothing changes
Biancheria: this provides snacks for after school?
Allen: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks for any programs we run in WPS and receive full reimbursement from the USDA
Biancheria: suggestion that we send a letter to our Governor and Lieutenant Governor, don't want to see this impact what we do
Monfredo: I don't see any drawback; we're going to be gaining $640,000, right?
Mayor responds yes
Allen agrees and responds that they've done considerable research on this
O'Connell: student activity funds question reviews recommendations of auditor that we discussed in subcommittee and thus already took care of
Allen: we discussed this at subcommittee; we do have a policy in place and have for 7-10 years; will make sure we forward that to the independent auditor

PASSES UANIMOUSLY
(and fails reconsideration)


School readiness report

...which is not online yet...
Facilities, HR, School safety, program modifications

Nearly all new windows in at Clark St., West Tatnuck, and Union Hill. Doing doorways, all interior work finishing in second shift
Goddard continues after school starts during second shift. Some will temporarily be boarded up and have fans and small operational windows. Doors and window interior work once all the windows are in
So don't panic; they're being fixed, and they're aiming for a finish by end of September
painting at Jacob Hiatt and Elm Park
Elm Park entry railing and security cameras (facilities funded)
WEMS classroom next to science labe, new floor, paint, lighting
HR work ongoing: still a few staffing positions we're working on
3 day new teacher orientation completed
Community Eligibility vote tonight! Nutrition is ready for it
Posting bus schedules TOMORROW! on the web and there will be a Connect-ed announcement

Safety: RFP is out for bid
ongoing meetings with CM, Mayor, Chief, WPS admin
school resource officer model and development and training
continuing officers in comprehensive high schools (and Tech)
meetings with principals
SRO: "nationally recognized model around training and citizenship"
currently support and share a portion of the costs of four liaison officers
City will shift resources to cover fifth officer (at Tech) and two additional
"relationship gap for" other schools (middle, 7-12)
training will include not only officers but principals and key district admin
"talking about the relationships and how we will begin to look at this"
"giving us a view into things we need to pay attention to"

Program enhancements:
New Citizens: grades 3-5 will go to Clark Street (so kids can socialize with peers and to relieve space crunch on New Ludlow)
Safety Center at Alternative School on Waverly now moving to Central Mass Academy at Harlowe (will also expand to include grade 6)
transition center at Woodward Day (kids lacking records)
Temporary Learning classroom grades 5-8 through Central Mass Academy (socially/emotionally disregulated students); also adds capacity for grades K-4 at other sites
Woodward Day now accepting grade six (long-term suspended students)

Mayor: "our schools are safe, our communities are safe places to live, to own a business"
"have some challenges, dealing with those challenges"
promised principals we'd get their input
"great model" having community resource officers in the schools
build that communication and relationship with the students
addressing community needs and issues
"they're interelated...not a school challenge...a community challenge"

Foley: "can't believe that the summer is over"
find dollars to do significant improvements to our schools
safety: acknowledge mayor's leadership in this
talked about safety: "sometimes productively on the floor, sometimes unproductively on the floor"
police presence in the schools not in a punative sense
make sure those officers are trained and really a part of the school community
thank CM, Chief, Deputy Sargent
really pleased to see it here; communication established and ongoing
youth violence facing every neighborhood throughout our entire community
looking at program enhancement for security
"really reflects a mayor who really gets things done"

O'Connell: potential to be very vital to the school
grateful for time
very important for us...to have right officers and best training
a sympathy for young people and the challenges that young people face
achieve well
principals be front and center in policy
vital to the administration and to us
challenge for us for the model as it evolves

Ramirez: was opposing police in schools, there were disruptions and fights in schools
then weapons, which is a different level
appreciate time and thought
other measures that we should be looking at
mediation techniques to address what we're seeing the community
"there are so many different ways that we can get what's going on in this community"

Monfredo: SRO model is an excellent one
all about prevention and building trust
public needs to know its been a collaborative effort on the part of the city and the school deparment

Biancheria: appreciate the report and update
physical improvements will make a difference
"windows are a large piece of how our buildings work"
matters to the neighbors, matters to the community
not quite clear on if dollars are being impacted by school lunch decision
"consider all of our meetings productive"
thrilled about this evening
leadership shown by mayor, CM, and police chief "want to congratulate more than you can possibly imagine"
would have appreciated more of a plan; how are we going to handle elementary schools?
"can only hope the first day of school and the rest of the days of schools are safe"
would like to have principals have more of a voice
glad they'll have training
Boone: coordination of meetings will be done by Rodrigues of SROs and principals
conversations with principals have been ongoing since June
always included in thinking
logistically we will addressing support through the floating officers, first
Boone: inference that the principals have not been part of this is concerning to me
principals have been part of this since June (and earlier)





Worcester School Committee meeting

The agenda is here.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Finance and Operations: Faciltiies staffing

Allen: in summary we have 30 trades people who provide service for what should be covered by 62 people
have about half the number of staff that we should have
Foley: consistent theme: approve budget, but do so knowing it isn't adequate in many areas
Allen: improving the foundation budget would allow us to put funding back into areas that have been
have been underfunded for past 12 years since increases in health insurance
"we know what we did well by what we cut" (Caradonino)
Martin: breakdown is in skilled staff
also this level of staffing is just to keep it at Level 3 "Managed Care" (which sounds like hospice)
refer this with custodial report to Joint Committee to inform Council
Ramirez: would that be a chance to do an apprenticeship program with students?
Allen: have used Worcester Tech to do projects as it is possible

Finance and Operations: Foundation Budget Review Commission

Allen: common theme: special education and health insurance
preliminary report in June
final report in November
thought it important Committee have it as work continues
have identified $684M underfunding in health insurance
Mass Budget has identified $1B; "we believe that there still needs to be even further analysis"
special ed was also over $1B from MassBudget
recommendation from FBRC is to change by 1/4 of a percent; $120M
"this is nowhere near where this needs to be"
"a lot of work still needs to occur even on these two items"
going forward, will still look at sped rate
but also look at all the components of the foundation budget formula
once report is complete, referred to Legislature, and then will move forward
"but more work needs to be done even on this report"
conversations we have with the delegation should focus on work still to be done
HELD at subcommittee level

Finance and Operations: closing FY15

Allen: final report of fiscal year
not much of a change from third quarter
use adopted budget in relation to actual expenditures
$82,000 out of a $200M salary spending
net positives are mostly vacancies; net negatives mostly overtime due to snow
health insurance savings due to senior plans not increases as much as others
freezes during the year to balance accounts
$69 going back to the city for free cash
millions of dollars still outstanding (include encumberances for summer salaries) when fiscal close

Finance and Operations: energy managment

Allen: wherever we can do the services ourselves and save money, we'll do so
Foley: signficant impact on funding as well as on responsiveness

Finance and Operations: Community Eligibility Provision (free lunch)

Allen: Boston has been doing this, has existed in state for two years
have been analyzing for that time
until state clarified, have not made a recommendation to the School Committee
now feel comfortable making recommendation
first on school lunch, then on rest
"regardless of what we do...has no bearing on impacts its going to have on grant entitlements and so forth"
School lunch: about 22 districts in MA already in CEP
54 districts are eligible to participate: 41% of student enrollment in the state (390,000)
CEP explained
financials of this makes it favorable for us to participate
increase in reimbursement of $1.2M
reduction in funds collected (to zero) from about $400,000
total net revenue increase of $647,862
anticipate between a five and ten percent increase in participation
will become an easy choice for parents: a state and federally recognized program, quality of program continues to improve each year
both due to benefit to students and minimally cost beneficial to district

Student has to take at least three of five components that are being offered each day; anything less than that would still have to pay cash
all accounting and auditing procedures are still in place

Foley: to our benefit to have students take three items out of five
Allen: principals notified that School Committee was considering this
will roll out FAQ
Foley: eliminates stigma
still need to collect forms for Medicaid; not a meal application
Allen: and could elect to revert back four years from now
Foley: financially beneficial to do this, operationally beneficial
should be faster to get kids through, as well
Allen: difference between what we charge versus what we're being reimbursed with; most of financial gain is due to paid meals being undercharged
Ramirez: impact of switching: is there a cash flow deficit? Now all reimbursement
Allen: DESE turning around funds through reimbursement
submit monthly reimbursement as quickly and accurately as we can
a couple of weeks, "7 to 10 days"
shouldn't present a cash flow problem
Ramirez: shouldn't encourage children to take food and then throw it away

These are my questions: time to eat?
additional lines for where it can be done
school by school capacity
even if necessary to have mobile stations to get kids through in a timely fashion
medical documentation needed for gluten and dairy
vegetarian: at high school and it's the other option in elementary
Yes, they'll be prepared to feed all the kids next Wednesday if they all show up and want lunch

Allen: breakfast in the classroom in 23 sites to date
would allow us to expand to all schools
have already had a number of schools express an interest in doing that

Other impacts on the switch to economically disadvantaged
"has now replaced the low income catagory for all purposes"
solely direct certified students in the state
state has seen a decrease in the number of students
state overall decreased by 31.4%
Worcester fell by 30.4% (from nearly 18,000 to 12,5000 (about))
FY16 grants will show that in all cases, particularly in Title I: we saw a large increase, as we had a large increase in low income enrollment AND the state is now using the economically disadvantaged number for this change; we hadn't fallen as far: THIS HAS HAPPENED ALREADY
Accountability system: low income is a subgroup; state is now change to ED
state felt that they were making changes anyway and this was the time to make that change
state providing guidance to MSBA
Chapter 70 actually mentions low income; statutory change needed
state could no longer use the same numbers; districts that have already switched to CEP have been held harmless for two years
state provision for low income is $1.2B; 10% of foundation budget
state intends to use to CEP number but change the per pupil rate so as to have no change in the overall amount of chapter 70; this would be a positive change for difference
Foley: getting sense from state: why replicate work that has already been done
risk is minimal because Boston is in the mix
Allen: Boston and Springfield as well
aid couldn't go away due to low income hit
Ramirez: how would WPS keep track of impacts?
Allen: it'd be good for us to let them know what is potentially coming and what this change means for Worcester
make sure that they hold harmless the $1.2B and change the per pupil
recomendations that we forward information directly to delegation ASAP on other impacts
also that we send question of counting kids in poverty to accountability

Q: parents with money on account: parents can ask for refund or leave money on account for a la carte purchases
MOTION: adopt CEP
forward information about impacts on ch 70 et al
refer child povery question to accountability

all motions adopted unanimously






Finance and Operations: student activity fund audit

Matt Hunt, auditor (who also does the federal single audit) is here for this one
Allen: state never adopted regs on student activity accounts, but MASBO has suggestions, which we follow
student activity accounts at all of our secondary schools
we audit annually "above and beyond what we are required to do"
This is the FY14 audit; FY15 hasn't yet been done
because the FY14 audit was completed during FY15, some findings will be the same
many about reconcilation of accounts and such
Hunt: goal is to do FY15 in a more timely fashion, so things can be cleaned up for FY16
report breaks down by each school
summarize procedures performed by auditor
summarize different types of findings: for several schools, a separate fund created for interest income--those funds dispersed by School Committee policy; checking account reconciliations not signed and dated (creates an audit trail); checking account reconciliations to be prepared by month's end; graduating class funds still in existance after graduation (needs to be process for closing accounts); overarching reconciliation of student activity account balances with bank balance (variances, often timing oriented); very isolated issues in receipts and dispersements (tested 200; found issues with 5)..."most internal control issues...most important part are monthly reconcilation which are being done"
work was all done remotely due to assist from business office
Foley: really about driving us towards best practice
"some minimal human area...some policy areas"
consider a vote today on a policy that within 90 days funds..?
Allen: have an existing policy, just need to update
a number of options: can withdraw and create a new fund for reunions, can donate to upcoming senior class; must take a vote on their action before graduation
MOTION TO HOLD pending FY15 report

Finance and Operations meets at 5:30 today

The Finance and Operations subcommittee meets at 5:00 today at the Durkin Administration Building (4th floor). You can find the agenda here.
I've already posted on the big item on for consideration: the Community Eligibility Provision, which would mean universal free breakfast and lunch. Note that much the backup for this item is directed at the other impacts of the state changing how we measure child poverty. That's a big important discussion (which I don't think will end tonight!).
We also have a report back on the energy management contract (and how doing it in house is saving us money).
We have the close of FY15. This year, $69 going to city free cash.
We have the auditor for student activities accounts coming in.
We have what I assume will be our first consideration of the preliminary Foundation Budget Review Commission report. 
We also have a report I asked for our school plant staffing levels: it appears we have less than half the number of people recommended.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Community Eligibility or universal free lunch: (being updated asquestions come in!)

Coming up on tomorrow's subcommittee agenda (5:30 pm, 4th floor of the admin building) is the Finance and Operations' members consideration of voting the Worcester Public Schools into Community Eligibility, which would give us universal free breakfast and lunch. It will then go before the full committee on Thursday night.
You can find the notes from administration specifically on the school nutrition change here. The rest of our backup items have to do with what the state's changes on measuring low income students means for measuring the amount of poverty in the students of the Worcester Public Schools (this was one of the reasons we haven't applied earlier and remains a major concern at the statewide level; you can find my post on the statewide information here).
Setting that aside for a moment (as that's moved to a level where all we can do is advocate), a quick rundown on how the Community Eligibility Provision (yes, CEP) works: Kids who are enrolled in state benefit services--specifically SNAP, TAFDC, MassHealth, and homeless kids and kids in foster care--are considered "direct certified;" that means that the state counts them directly, without further district action. If 40% or more of students in a district (or a charter school) are direct certified, a district qualifies for CEP. If a district votes to go to CEP, they are reimbursed for meals at 160% of their direct certification rate, to a maximum of 100%.
You can see my other posts on how this might miss kids in the counting.
The link to our subcommittee backup above gives the math, but suffice to say that it works out that we can then feed ALL kids for free through federal funding (and remember: WPS already was fully self-funding the school nutrition department; they don't get any money from our regular budget).
Because the 40% (plus) of qualifying children are already being processed through other programs, WPS will not have to process any forms (and parents won't have to fill them out!). That not only saves time; it saves money. Any district that has 100% reimbursement through CEP is certified for the next four years (so no forms for at least that time).
A few quick FAQ (which I will add to as I get more):
  • Which kids would get free lunch? ALL kids in the Worcester Public Schools. That's kindergarten through grade 12, at all of our schools.
  • Anything else? Breakfast, too! (And snacks at the schools that do snacks for their in-building after school programs).
  • What will I have to do? Just send your kids to school, and when they count who wants lunch, have them raise their hands! Secondary students should just join the lunch line.
  • Are the schools prepared for the possible increase in lunches served? Yes, I'm told that they are. And the lunch ladies I've spoken with are VERY excited about it!
  • Can the cafeteria handle food allergies? Yes. We already are peanut free; we have options that are dairy free. If your child has a gluten allergy, please send in a doctor's note to that effect; there will be a lunch created just for your child (that may take a bit for processing).
  • What if we are vegetarians? The secondary schools all have a vegetarian option. We're expanding that in elementary school, 'though sunbutter and jelly sandwiches are also available. 
  • My kid usually buys milk at school; now what? If you send your kid in with a sandwich, have them pick up an apple and carrot sticks as well as a milk (all free), and you have a free lunch (or most of lunch, depending on your kid!). Kids will need to take three items for it to count. Should they take anything LESS than three, they will still need to pay for what they take. Milk will still cost fifty cents, if that is all they take. 
  • I had money on account; can I get it back? Yes, your child will come home if there is money in your account; fill it out and return for a refund. Alternatively, you can leave the money there if (as above) your child will buy milk or individual items. 
  • What's the catch? Part of the idea is that if EVERYone gets lunch for free, no one gets singled out for having or not having money, for being a free lunch kid, or what have you. So the catch is that more kids, we hope, have a full and healthy lunch (and breakfast!).
  • Where did this come from? This one comes to us courtesy of the oft-maligned Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010. Yes, that would be a federal law actually doing what it says in the name of the act!
Keep the questions coming! We meet at 5:30 on Tuesday, and at 4 pm on Thursday (that's at City Hall). Both meetings are public (so come by if you're interested) and both are televised as well as live streamed. 

With thanks, as always, to my tireless sources in Nutrition and Finance. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Agendas for next week

...are posted (I'll do a review later):

One school district resegregates in Florida

If you want a picture of why policies around district lines and busing, and decisions around budgeting matter, go read about the Pinella County school district. It's horrible, and it sure looks as though it's entirely due to school board actions.

Credit where due

A new trend we've noticed in Massachusetts education: whenever any district gets a grant, there's a press release from the Governor's office. So then, we had these articles yesterday about extended day grants, even though the grants aren't new, aren't necessarily going to different districts, and aren't adding new programs.
This was particularly silly when we were notified about our federal grants, something for which we as districts apply to the federal government, and thus have nothing (save oversight) to do with the state at all.
In other words: the Governor's laying it on a little thick when it comes to taking credit about things in Massachusetts education. Proceed with caution. 

BACK TO SCHOOL INFORMATION!

Here we go! This just in from Superintendent Boone's office:

ALL STUDENTS – GRADES 1 - 12
STARTING DATE: August 26, 2015

CAFETERIA
The cost of the paid lunch has been increased from $1.65 to $1.75, reduced price meals will remain at $0.40. Note from me: stay tuned, however: the School Committee takes up universal free lunch and breakfast next week. 
All schools will be serving breakfast and lunch beginning on August 26, 2015.

PRE-SCHOOL STUDENTS will report on August 31st, 2015 as stated in the individual notification letter sent to parents.
HEADSTART STUDENTS will report as stated in the individual notification letter sent to parents.
KINDERGARTEN STUDENTS will begin school on August 31st, 2015. The Worcester Public
Schools will be screening Kindergarten children by appointment on August 26th, August 27th and August 28th. If your child does not have an appointment for screening, contact the school your child is registered at after August 17th.

STUDENT TRANSFERS:
Elementary: Please call the Parent Information Center for additional information regarding documentation needed for student transfer:
Dr. James L. Garvey Center for Parent Information
768 Main Street
Tel: 508-799-3450
Monday – Friday: 8:30 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.
Middle and High School: Students transferring between Middle and High Schools: parent/guardian must go to their child’s school to request a transfer slip and to return any books and/or materials. Parent/Guardian must take the transfer slip to the new school to complete the registration. (Please see school hours)

NEW STUDENTS:
All registration for Elementary Schools, Pre-K, Kindergarten through Grade 6, will be conducted at the following location:
Dr. James L. Garvey Center for Parent Information
768 Main Street
Tel: 508-799-3450
Monday – Friday: 8:30 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.
Registration for middle and high school may also be conducted at the above OR at the home school. Please call the school for an appointment.
Burncoat Middle 508-799-3390 8:00 am – 12:00 pm Mon – Fri.
Claremont Academy 508-799-3077 8:00 am – 2:00 pm Mon. – Fri.
Forest Grove Middle 508-799-3420 7:30 am – 2:30 pm Mon. – Fri.
Sullivan Middle 508-799-3350 8:30 am – 1:30 pm Mon. – Fri.
Worcester East Middle 508-799-3430 8:00 am – 1:00 pm Mon. – Fri.
University Park Campus 508-799-3591 8:00 am – 12:00 pm Mon. – Fri.
Burncoat High 508-799-3300 7:00 am – 1:00 pm Mon. – Fri.
 Doherty Memorial High 508-799-3270 7:30 am – 2:00 pm Mon. – Fri.
North High 508-799-3370 8:00 am – 2:00 pm Mon. – Fri.
South High Community 508-799-3325 8:00 am – 2:00 pm Mon. – Fri.

I would expect bus routes to be posted next week. Questions? Send them along!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A few summer operational updates

A few updates on WPS operations (largely gleaned from emails and conversations; sorry to be link-less!):
  • Regarding the website: yes, I know, I miss it, too...here's what's going on: Because Erate is no longer funding webhosting, we either had to spend significant money to continue to have the site where it was or start to host it in house. To save money, it's being hosted in house, but that means migrating all information over. And it isn't just being migrated over; it's being checked for accuracy as we go. IT started that July 1, so we could fully finish the school year before anything came down; the last estimate I had was that we should have it all over by the end of the month. In the meantime, last year's bus schedules were something parents were looking for and now are back up; I'd expect this year's the week before school starts, as usual. And while right now, information is just being moved, the website will be changed and updated once that's done.
  • We have windows going in! If you've gone by West Tatnuck, Clark Street, Goddard, or Union Hill, you've seen the windows come out, the plywood go up, and now new windows going in! I've been told that the windows themselves are all expected to be in at West Tatnuck, Goddard, and Clark Street; we expect that there will be remaining trim work to be done once school is back in session (I'd expect second shift). Goddard, which is the biggest project, may take some time into the school year to get all the new windows in. And it wouldn't surprise me to have an official update on this sometime before school starts; the above is the unofficial version that comes from asking questions.

And in this week's episode of "Which Committee Is This, Anyway?"

...we have not one, but TWO items on this week's Council agenda!

11c. Request City Manager consider the expansion of the JROTC program to include the Army and Marine programs. An expansion would give our children an opportunity to experience the programs provided by each branch of the military. This would also help them with the direction and discipline that the military provides and further our efforts for youth intervention and involvement. (Gaffney) 
JROTC programs are not under the purview of the City Manager; they're public school programs, and thus under the purview of the Superintendent.

And also:
11d. Request City Manager request the Superintendent of Public Schools to consider allowing St. John’s Food Pantry to pick up “excess” food from the Worcester Public Schools that would be disposed of for the purposes of serving the same to the poor and needy rather than throwing it away. Currently, the Worcester Public Schools dispose of “excess” food at a significant cost and waste of resources. We are throwing away food while people struggling to feed themselves and, in many cases, feed their children. Donating the “excess” food would help the St. John’s Food Pantry feed our residents in need. The Bill Emerson Act permits the same without liability and St. John’s Food Pantry has the ability to pick up the food. *“Excess” food is that food prepared or in process that the children do not eat. It is not to be confused with food that has been handled by anyone other than those in food preparation, placed in the trash or otherwise. (Gaffney, Lukes, Rivera)
While this one catches a referral, it's simply incorrect in its assertion: there is not "excess food" being thrown away "at significant cost and waste of resources" in the Worcester Public Schools. We don't have much food leftover after serving kids, bluntly speaking, and what we do, we compost as we are able (this has been an ongoing work during the years I've been paying attention), and there isn't a significant cost involved.

 I always find it's best to check my assertions before filing such items, particularly if one is going to editorialize within them.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Finance and Operations meets August 18

Just posted today: we have a Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, August 18 at 5 pm in the 4th floor conference room at DAB.
On the agenda (at least): the close of FY15 (!) and the consideration of universal free lunch.
(This will then report out at our August 20th meeting.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Vouchers aren't the answer

Last week, the Pioneer Institute hosted a forum and released a report, touting vouchers as something Massachusetts should chase down. The proposal, specifically, is:
school vouchers, worth $6,000 per year for grades K-8 and $8,000 for high school, be offered to 10,000 students with household incomes below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
Note that, per the Private School Review:
The average private school tuition in Massachusetts is $11,847 for elementary schools and $29,049 for high schools
..leaving families that are below 200 percent of the poverty rate to somehow come up with nearly $6000 per elementary student and $21,000 per high school student. Private schools, particularly, the parochial schools Pioneer seems to be targeting, aren't going to be able to scale up their financial aid systems to that level for additional kids.

Additionally, voucher systems are coming under wide criticism across the country, as they aren't doing what they were touted as doing: they don't improve student performance, they don't create "better" schools...they just don't do what they're said to*.

And while harkening back to the "Know Nothing" laws is clever ("we wouldn't want to be perceived as anti-Catholic, now, would we?"), I suspect that the Catholic schools don't really want the degree of state regulation and oversight--and testing--that the public schools now have.
We wouldn't, after all, want to give up "accountability," now, would we?

 *this last link is from 2008, demonstrating that the failure has been going on for some time. And these links are only a few of the plethora from which one can choose with a quick look at voucher research.

Yes, they're putting in the ballot question on charter cap lift

Per State  House News:
Rather than lifting or eliminating the cap on charter school seats, the organizers behind the ballot campaign are proposing to allow the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to authorize up to 12 new public charter schools or existing school expansions each year.
Preference for new charter school openings would be given to applicants seeking to expand access in the 25 percent lowest perf

Nelson Place neighborhood meeting

Monday, August 17
7pm
at the school
This is an update on construction and scheduling, as well as presentation of the 60% construction documents. 

New MA Charter School applications

The list of new Massachusetts applications for charter schools is now up. There are several that involve central Mass, but only one that lists Worcester:
Massachusetts Biotechnology Charter School; Region: Auburn, Berlin-Boylston, Grafton, Leicester, Millbury, Northbridge, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Sutton, Wachusett, West Boylston, Worcester; Grades 6-12; Max. enrollment: 936; Open: 2016
We'll point out that there is a whole Biotechnology department at Worcester Technical High School.

In other news, there are more that are suburban this time; Springfield is totally getting creamed; and it looks like the same Brockton applicants are back for another round.

Monday, August 3, 2015

We are not Tom Brady, either (UPDATED)

I got a couple of questions last week about WPS's being listed as a partner with Sposato Graduate School of Education, which is coming out of the MATCH charter school....is 'empire' too grand a word to use?
This was at least partly in response to a piece "I Am Not Tom Brady," posted last week by Jennifer Berkshire. In it, Amy Berard, who taught for the Lawrence Public Schools under their state receiver, wrote of a teacher training technique that involved her being coached through an earpiece while she was actively teaching. If you haven't read it, please do. There are some ties between the organizations that did this and Sposato.

I didn't know anything at all about it, so I sent off a couple of inquiries to administration. I was told that Sposato (which is collaborating with the Harvard Graduate School of Education) had had a preliminary meeting with some in Human Resources, who had been favorably impressed by the support given to new teachers through such a program. A second meeting with our Human Resources Director was to follow to get more information and discuss further, but it never happened. And now we're between HR directors, and not likely to add something like this to what is being juggled, at least at this point.
I was also told that WPS would ask that Sposato remove WPS from their "partners" list, which has not as of this morning happened.

UPDATE: WPS is no longer listed. We've been told it was a typo; you'll note "Waltham" is now up.