Monday, July 15, 2019

Worcester School Committee meets Thursday

The Worcester School Committee has their single July meeting this Thursday at 4 pm. You can find the agenda here.

For it being a summer agenda, it has some really important items on it (which one fears consequently will not get the attention they deserve). Most notably, Superintendent Binienda, who was evaluated by the School Committee back in December and never then had updated goals, is proposing her goals for I guess? the upcoming year; she also includes her self-evaluation from November; the full committee evaluation is posted at the first link above.
Goals are proposed by the Superintendent, but, just as with any educator evaluation in Massachusetts, are determined by the evaluator, in this case the School Committee. Those who are evaluated under this framework know that goals must be SMART: Specific and Strategic; Measurable; Achievable and Action-oriented; Realistic, Rigorous, and Results-oriented; Trackable and Timed. They also should be tied to the district (in this case) improvement plan and district strategic plan.
The goals proposed by Superintendent Binienda, along with some commentary based on the goals and benchmarks (in the link), are:
  • By June 2020, update and utilize the WPS High Quality Teaching and Learning Frameworks to align and increase academic relevance and rigor across all grades. 
Note what this and isn't: this is revising the frameworks by January and then "implementing it" by distributing it. Whatever the relative virtues of revising the benchmarks, there is literally NO implementation strategy or system described. It's this old cartoon in action: 

  • By June 2020, implement a comprehensive district-wide approach to monitoring, measuring, and improving student math outcomes.
What's this? New and continued district-level testing: STAR in K-9, enVision in K-6, quarterly "check-ins" in AP math are the first three benchmarks. There is what could be good professional coordination among teachers in the fourth item, but then there's just a new math program at two elementary schools, and then supplemental math for those with special needs.
Look, this isn't even a good goal or strategy if your only focus in on improving MCAS scores (which it pretty clearly is: note that no supplemental testing extends into high school if it isn't AP). As the classic line has it, weighing the pig doesn't make it heavier; if ALL you do is add the assessment, without their being anything beyond "analyzing," you don't FIX anything.
  • By June 2020, implement a district technology strategy that prioritizes and supports student learning and achievement through increasing the digital fluency skills of students, staff, and district administration.
There's a nod here, through a survey and then"begin(ning) research on best practices" to the ongoing issue of students simply not having home internet access, despite the push at the secondary level of all work being online. This section looks to me as though it has been written by the department that's been pushing everything online; note the giveaway "advocate" in adding positions: administration doesn't need to advocate, as they create the budget. Most of this is online technology training, with the budgeted switch to third party data management by the end of the school year. The data privacy (which needs to be much more pervasive, incidently) note is good, but this is largely adding positions and training for specific kinds of technology (it's not a coincidence that the keynote speaker for the beginning of school is coming from Google). 
  • By June 20202, identify and implement strategies to address social and emotional needs that impact student school performance.
Again, the goal is vague and then the benchmarks go in several different directions. Implementing a multi-tiered system of support was done several years ago (can we check that off or did it fall apart?). While the leadership institute dealing with student discipline could be promising--see here for who is being cited--that isn't supporting this goal, nor is the final item on analyzing disciplinary data. The culturally responsive classroom, likewise, could be useful (why only a handful of schools?), but isn't under this goal and doesn't involve further implementation. The bimonthly series on resilency could be more promising--one off training is notoriously difficult to follow-through on--but is is required of all?
  • By June 2020, develop a plan for staff recruitment and retention and implement strategies that will increase access to well-qualified diverse candidates.
Once the Chief Diversity Officer is hired--and note the deadline here of October is well after school starts--and the "Real Talk" network (this is intended to be a group for educators of color, currently being running by the English Learner manager) is expanded (how? by whom?), there are a few concrete items: 29 IAs for licensure, 25 IAs for continuing education. The only difficulty? The administration didn't budget for that, so where is the funding coming from? 
Also, the continued stress on the Worcester Future Teachers' program without supporting data on its relative success (or not) does us all a disservice. 
Note that the goal only "increase(s) access" to candidates; it doesn't actually diversify the teaching corps.
  • By June 2020, support the development of advanced and experiential learning opportunities for students to develop intellectual agility, (the ability to think and act well), social acuity (the capacity to communicate well), and personal agency (the ability to know yourself and the capacity to act towards specific ends). 
Someone read a book, I'm guessing? This is mostly specific "we're doing more dual enrollment, innovation pathways" etc catchall for a list. 

There is no goal that focuses on equity of discipline, access, graduation and the like.
There is no goal that pulls out the need for greater work with our English learners, the majority (at one time or another) of our students.
There is no goal that focuses on the over $100M owed by the state to the school district.
There is no capital goal. 
There is no mention of the growing number of schools that have dropped into the bottom 10% of schools in the state. 
We need to focus here.

There is also an update on implementation of the strategic plan, which doesn't seem to interelate with the Superintendent's goals (I also think it is supposed to be in color, if I understand the indicators of tracking correctly.) This probably also warrants its own post; in the meantime, the PowerPoint backup is pretty straightforward. 

There is a report of the Governance committee (on handbook language).
There are responses to FY20 budgetary motions. 
The annual review of innovation school plans (do we know if these are getting funded?) is on the agenda: 
The contracts of both school attorneys are up for renewal (proposed for three years; there is no backup given).
There is a 61 page report on the proposed Chapter 74 (that's vocational) program at Doherty. UPDATE: It was announced tonight that these new programs, which would add substantially to the enrollment at Doherty, are intended as part of the new building, and in fact the new building is being designed in part around these programs.
There is a request for acceptance of donations:
There is a request for acceptance of a career and technical grant for horticulture at Burncoat (why Burncoat? Does it actually involve the greenhouse? These grant backups are so weak). 
There is also request for acceptance of donation of musical instruments from Berklee School of Music. 
Items proposed by members include: 
Ms. McCullough would like to look at pickup and drop off policies. 
Mr. Monfredo wants (again) to know about cursive.
Mr. O'Connell suggests school supplies being used to pay parking tickets as is done in Las Vegas.
Mr. O'Connell asks for coordination around gas leaks (something which adminstration has already been doing for some time). 
Mr. O'Connell wants to offer "training in domestic skills' and personal financial management" through after school and summer programs.
Mr. O'Connell has also submitted the following:
Request that the Administration review “Creating the Will: A Community Roadmap to Achieving Educational Excellence for Latino Students in Worcester,” and to consider both progress made, and topics which require further attention, since issuance of the report in July 2011.
This of course remarkably overlooks that the Mayor's Commission--the group that issued the 2011 report--has been meeting for months and has been asked, at the request of both the Mayor and the School Committee to update the report in August.
More troublingly, that item is cosponsored by Monfredo, McCullough, and Biancheria. This level of disengagement with work on the plurality of students in the district is concerning.
Mr. O'Connell, with the same cosponsorship, also has requested:
interact with the Harvard Teacher Fellows Program, and Teach for America, as to placement of prospective teachers in the Worcester Public Schools.
I hope that I don't need to go into the issues with Teach for America; in any case, I have done so before (Yes, that's from 2012). Also, if one of the concerns of the district rightfully is the diversity of its teaching staff, let's note that TFA's relationship with the diversity of the national teaching corps is 
There is also an executive session (scheduled for after the meeting) for two grievances and a workers comp case.

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