Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Testimony regarding the Worcester Public Schools superintendent

That which is in grey cut for time.
Madame Chair and members of the committee,
My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick and I live at 135 Olean Street. I need to preface my remarks with the disclaimer that I speak only in my capacity as a community member and a parent, not in any other position I hold. I am a parent of three children in the Worcester Public Schools. The youngest is ten, and we are not going anywhere.
You have required that we limit our comments only to the characteristics and skills we’d like to see in a superintendent, rather, say, than that which has brought us to this point.
Very well, then:
A superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools would note, with a quick glance at this room, and at the room last night, those missing. Bluntly, those with true leadership and investment in this community would note that this room doesn’t look like the Worcester Public Schools. Appropriate leadership would be clear that two back-to-back weeknight meetings, both in locations with limited bus service, offering no childcare and no translations naturally limits participation quite significantly. Further, a superintendent of all of the Worcester Public Schools would be clear on the consequences of allowing only testimony that is spoken publicly on television and before the press. Those who—quite rightfully—fear retribution won’t speak, and those in leadership need to encourage the full participation of all.
I referred to the job description your colleagues will consider later tonight in z From that description, it sounds to me as though what the School Committee feels it needs is an expanded communications department and possibly an ombudsman. Both of those may well be the case. Neither, however, is the position you currently have open.
The job description you’re considering lists certification or the ability to be certified as “desired” rather than “required,” which is contrary to state regulation. The job description further doesn’t get to managing the day-to-day operations of the Worcester Public Schools until item 13, which is the central responsibility of the superintendent.
Madame Chair, the superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools is the chief executive of an organization that employees nearly 4000 people. The superintendent oversees an annual budget in excess of $370 million dollars and assets far in excess of that. The superintendent is the ultimate abitur with the state regarding the district’s adherence to state and federal education policy and regulations; those regulations run for pages on the state’s website. The education of 25,000 students is utterly dependent on the leadership of this individual, as ultimately is the future of this city.
Thus, more than anything else—and, yes, I will use the word--you need a competent administrator.
Madame Chair, the incoming superintendent must be acutely aware that:
·       the Worcester Public Schools have, by some reports, seen the largest growth in the graduation rate of any district in the state.
·       Worcester is beating the state rate in its dropout rate.
·       Worcester hosted the New England conference on dual language education last year, due to our leadership in that program.
·       How the Worcester Public Schools integrate professional development was held up as a national model at the Title IIA conference this year.
·       We have students go on to nationally and internationally acclaimed arts programs from our arts magnet program, top engineering schools from our engineering program, and become doctors right here in the city through our health program.
·       The in-district turnaround of Union Hill, Chandler Elementary, and Burncoat Prep made the front page of Education Week last month as a national model, not of privatizing, not of state takeover, but of local educators and the local community stepping up for their schools.
Any incoming superintendent must be ready, willing, and able to acknowledge, celebrate, and build on these successes.
Madame Chair, I was in Southbridge last week for the public hearing regarding the state takeover of that district. I listened to parents question their own ability to look out for their children by sending them to a district that cannot meet their needs. I heard teachers acknowledge that without the support staff, that they knew that they were not meeting kids’ needs. And I heard person after person acknowledge that it was lack of leadership—lack of organization—lack of proper administration that got them to that place.
I do not want to sit in a similar hearing in Worcester in the next few years.
This is not a popularity contest, Madame Chair. This is about absolutely, unquestioningly competent central administration leadership that can go toe-to-toe with the Commissioner and Secretary of Education and not blink.
We currently face an administration in Boston that has no love of public urban education. They will drive us out of a democratically and locally managed system if they can. You owe it to us and to our students to bring leadership to the district that will continue—and I do mean continue—the good work that Worcester is doing.

You owe us and you owe our kids no less. 

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