Overall evaluation: Unsatisfactory
The state regulations regarding educator evaluation (603 CMR 35.00) center student learning and student growth in the evaluation of all educators in Massachusetts. Additionally, the evaluation of the superintendent sets the tone and the standard for all professional evaluation in the district. This evaluation of Superintendent Maureen Binienda for the 2020 year thus centers the experience of our students and defends to the high standard we are told to uphold for our students and for our educators. To do otherwise is to harm our students.
It is a professional evaluation; it is not a personal statement.
The two overriding themes that arise again and again in this evaluation are the lack of capacity in administering the district in aspects from roles to ethics to leadership to professional learning; and the perpetration of a district climate for staff and students that too frequently is silencing, fearful, and discouraging, rather than collaborative, nurturing, and supportive.
Standard I: Instructional Leadership
Overall, this standard requires that “the education leader promotes the learning and growth of all students and the success of all staff by cultivating a shared vision that makes powerful teaching and learning the central focus of schooling.” That cultivation of a shared vision is lacking in the Worcester Public Schools under Superintendent Binienda. The functional administration of the education of 25,000 students and the second largest employer in the city is scattered, moving from one thing to the next with little sense of prioritization and no delegation. The smallest of decisions must be made by Superintendent Binienda; the smallest of actions must be done directly by her. This has, at times, virtually paralyzed the administration. While this has been touted as attention to detail, it is not; it is an unwillingness, if not an inability, to appropriately administrate.
During normal times, this is dangerous; during this pandemic, it is catastrophic.
This standard calls for “effective and rigorous standard-based units,” “well-structured lessons,” and “measurable outcomes” which the superintendent is to “ensure” all staff design. There is no evidence given by Superintendent Binienda in her self-evaluation of this indicator. To the contrary, this past spring vague school-wide or multi-grade lessons were required of schools which were not well-structured and were neither effective nor rigorous, despite the ineffectiveness of this being repeatedly noted by students, parents, teachers, and the Worcester School Committee. The expertise of teachers was cast by the wayside for weeks at a time.
The narrow district focus on programs like the Advanced Placement and dual enrollment programs pull attention away from the high expectations and engagement of all students required in the second indicator, accommodating students’ “diverse learning styles, needs, interests, and levels of readiness.” It is not clear that such diversity is recognized within the work of the administration, let alone supported effectively in the classroom.
One of the more troubling aspects of the self-evaluation is the lack of data backing assertions; there has, as well, been ongoing concerns raised by the community over lack of data access. How “multiple sources of evidence” are being used to improve “organizational performance, educator effectiveness, and student learning” is not in evidence in Superintendent Binienda’s self-evaluation, and it is a weakness in the presentations of this administration. Lists of things that happened are cited as if these are data; the impact of what was done on student learning is lacking. Organization performance, within this standard, is particularly of grave concern.
Multiple measures of student growth have not been shared with the committee; impact on student learning is thus extraordinarily difficult for the School Committee to assess. It is not clear that multiple measures are used for decision making; they are not cited when speaking with the Committee.
There are many improvements to be made in instructional leadership. Effective administration of the district is badly needed.
Standard II: Management and Operations
Management and Operations is the systems function of the organization of the district, “ensuring a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment, using resources to implement appropriate curriculum, staffing, and scheduling.” Superintendent Binienda’s performance is unsatisfactory.
The ”effective plans, procedures, routines, and operational systems” called for in the first indicator fall prey to the scattered instructional leadership described above. Focus and delegation are absolutely necessary in any school district, but most especially one of Worcester’s size. Instead, there is no ability to prioritize; central administration is “in the weeds” all the time. The inexperience of many in central administration further compounds this lack of prioritization and delegation. Objections raised by employees do not follow the line of authority, but go directly to the superintendent.
There is no systems thinking by the Superintendent in managing the district; everything is an individual problem to be solved, rather than viewed as part of a larger whole to which solutions can be created at a district and school level. This again is not a strength, but a weakness.
A single individual hiring and a small program are the evidence given by Superintendent Binienda for the second indicator, tying strongly into third district improvement goal, of creating systems for “recruiting, hiring, induct[ing], and develop[ing]” educators; the systems thinking needed to ask how we recruit and what our hiring process is, what our district culture is and where it is going, does not exist. Processes are what make change in hiring; shifts in culture are what change retention. Small numbers of people whose degrees have been supported is not enough. Even the framing of the response to this indicator itself demonstrates the weakness in administration in management. This must improve.
The use of data has been diminished under currently leadership, as is apparent even from the organizational chart. Community calls for clarity and transparency in data, most particularly around student discipline, have been rebuffed. As evidenced both by the professional practice goal and by the second district improvement goal, the district’s use of data, as evidenced by the presentations of the Superintendent, is weak, incomplete, or missing.
The third indicator of this section, requiring both compliance with and understanding of the laws, ethics, and policies at all levels is of grave concern. The Superintendent has frequently made it clear that she does not understand her own role in her interactions with the School Committee, with other staff, and with the community. Employee privacy and student privacy are marginalized in her interactions in pursuit of solving or sometimes dismissing concerns. Lines of employee grievance and of employee oversight are set aside on an ad-hoc basis. More than once during my time on the Committee, district legal counsel has been enlisted to buttress the Superintendent’s arguments against Committee purview, in violation of the counsel’s actual line of authority to the School Committee. The administration’s advisory role in policy is unevenly carried out; at one meeting, legal counsel had not reviewed the policy being considered; at others, policies being reviewed had not had the legal review necessary prior to an update. Those both are the responsibility of the administration. At the same time, policies set by the Committee, after public deliberation and public comment, are not necessarily carried out; this spring’s waiver of the Advanced Placement testing requirement, for example, was not made clear on the district website until there were repeated inquiries by members of the Committee, and communication of that policy varied by teacher. Policy is not subject to the whims of the Superintendent.
The ethics under which decisions are made was publicly in evidence during last year’s decision of the transportation contract. A decades-long planning process to switch to district-run transportation was, for reasons still unclear, run aground by the Superintendent, leaving the district with an unresponsive transportation provider that is costing the district as much to have not run buses as it would to have transportation actually be provided in-house. That the January 16, 2020 motion by the Committee that clear metrics of on time performance be provided to the Committee and to the public still had not appeared two months later demonstrates not only how casually the Superintendent takes her role regarding the Committee, but more importantly, how the ability of students to get to school safely and on time is not a priority of this administration.
The mismanagement of our limited fiscal resources lies not only within Superintendent Binienda’s recommendation on the bus contract; the oversight and lack of transparency regarding the district use of grants remains troubling. It does not appear the administration is actually abiding by the fifth point of the Seven Point Plan for Advancing Student Achievement and Program Sustainability, the fiscal policy set by the Committee in 2014: new grant funding is not being targeted at supplemental support and staff development, but is frequently funding additional staffing or programs, and is being done without a multiple year budget. This is not sustainable. Most recently, that the Committee was expected to approve the allocation of $9.4M in federal CARES Act funding based on a spreadsheet lacking detail and a list of items without explanation attached to dollar amounts demonstrates the lack of regard those managing grants have for the funds in their charge as well as for the School Committee oversight of those funds. Grant funds like the larger budget are public funds for a public good for which we are publicly accountable. This is unacceptable.
Standard III: Family and Community Engagement
It should be noted that if Superintendent Binienda and the administration had provided some level of engagement commensurate with what has been provided over the past few weeks, this would be a very different conversation, and the district’s relationship with its stakeholders would also be very different.
As it is, we must evaluate based on the entirety of the past year, with a focus in my case on the past seven months. Our families and the community continue largely continue to feel alienated from the school district, in marked contrast to the “effective partnerships” envisioned in the statewide superintendent rubric.
The standard is clear: all families “are welcome members of the classroom and school community.” In the Worcester Public Schools, far too many families are left out at the district, school, and classroom levels. The administration must reframe its picture of the families the Worcester Public Schools serve: nearly 60% of families speak a language at home that is not English, and our families represent a multiplicity of cultures and races and ethnicities. It is not enough to post that as a statistic on our website; we must frame all that we do in that context.
Per the standard, collaboration must be continuous: it cannot be when it is convenient or when it takes the Superintendent’s fancy. Members of the School Committee asked for weeks that the Superintendent hold a town hall during the closure of schools this spring; we were put off and put off and it never happened. The significant attendance at the forums the week of July 20 give some indication of how much this interaction is eagerly welcomed, particularly because, as the next standard notes it was two way.
The two way communication called for in the standard—opportunities for the community to talk back to the district: to share concerns, to ask for assistance, to express opinions, to shape the future of the district—are lamentably few. Very basic protocols—having social media monitored and being responsive there, as other districts are; ensuring parent and student participation on site councils; creating community conversations, student forums, parent coffees—do not happen. When students, in particular, speak at meetings or other events, too often their voices and their experiences are dismissed. Those experiences frequently have and do reflect a lack of cultural proficiency among many in our district. Far too many of our students have had experiences in their schooling that demonstrate a profound lack of respect for who they are and what they are about. That starts at the top. The current environment for far too many of our students reflects what one student said earlier this year: “Would you want to go to school where you didn’t feel welcome?” No student should experience that in the Worcester Public Schools.
Family and community concerns, per the standard, are to be addressed “in an equitable, effective, and efficient manner.” This simply is not the case. Language, race, ethnicity, and various kinds of access all have a great deal to do with how concerns are resolved. Some families have access and are listened to and prioritized; others are not. Far too often, again, it is not equitable. Experiences this spring again were indicative of this: some families begged for technology for weeks, having no other access to their children’s education beyond a single packet that was sent out. The district posted work online, but the technology the district has, as in the first district improvement goal, was not granted. Families that didn’t already have access simply went without. This, too, is unacceptable.
Standard IV: Professional Culture
Much as the standards to which the School Committee holds the superintendent set a model for the evaluation of the rest of the district, so, too, does the professional culture created by the superintendent become that of the district. That culture does not just happen; it must, as the overall goal states, be nurtured and sustained. In the Worcester Public Schools, that is not being done by Superintendent Binienda.
The commitment to high standards and continuous learning is a value that must be modeled by the superintendent; in the Worcester Public Schools, it is not. The professional learning of the superintendent, the modeling of improving one’s professional practice, is nowhere in evidence in the evidence presented to the Committee.
I have written elsewhere in this evaluation of the lack of cultural proficiency evidenced far too often in the Worcester Public Schools. Rather than engage in the implicit bias work requested by the community and vital in being an effective educator for Worcester students, the superintendent has resisted and deflected into other sorts of training throughout the district, frequently addressing our families from a deficit mindset rather than one which recognizes the strengths and knowledge families bring to the schools and to their students. If we are, as elsewhere mentioned, to seek to retain a diverse workforce, our schools as workplaces simply must be intolerant of microaggressions, support those from all backgrounds, and constantly work to become actively anti-racist and anti-biased. Meaning well is not good enough.
Communication, here and elsewhere, is of concern. In particular, students are not spoken to as if they are human beings with independent thoughts and theories of actions. The administration’s habitual use of the district data bases to look up those who speak at public forums is, frankly, creepy, and it seems generally to be used to attempt to disprove what those speaking are saying. Interpersonal communication too often is damaging to our students. We have a responsibility to hear and believe children, and we have a responsibility of working with families. Too often the Worcester Public Schools do not.
Successful and continuous engagement with all stakeholders for the shared education vision referenced is simply not happening. Community groups have repeatedly noted their being shut out and cut off from work with the Worcester Public Schools. Like much else of this time, this was unfortunate before; now it is disastrous. The contacts and outreach efforts of community groups would have been invaluable during this spring of school closure. The losses resulting from this lack of coordination are immeasurable to our students. From the sharing of data to the coordination of services to simply meeting the needs of students, we should be working with our community. With a system as large as Worcester’s, again, this needs to be more than, as happens too often, asking for a check.
I noted prior to my rejoining the Committee the degree to which the prior low level paranoia among many who work in the Worcester Public Schools had skyrocketed over the past several years, and my time on the Committee has only confirmed this. Teachers not wishing to be quoted on the record for the Boston Globe article on the straightforward question of when technology reached students is only the most public of examples. Staff are convinced that retribution will follow the raising of concerns; when concerns are raised, too often it is the one who raises the concerns that faces consequences. It troubles me enormously to raise such a concern so vaguely in such an important document, but the simple fact of the matter is that under this administration, the members of this Committee cannot be more explicit without retribution falling on others.
Only this evaluation appropriately carried through can call this behavior to account.
Student Learning Goal
By June 2020, update and utilize the WPS High Quality Teaching and Learning (HQTL) framework to align and increase academic relevance and rigor across all grades.
The High Quality Teaching and Learning framework was updated and has been shared with us, and it appears to be a thoughtful document.
The Committee has been given no evidence of the larger work of utilizing the framework shared by the administration. The alignment and the increase of academic relevance called for in the latter part of the goal has not been demonstrated to the Committee. We cannot evaluate what we cannot see.
Professional Practice Goal
By June 2020, implement a comprehensive, district-wide approach to monitoring, measuring, and improving student math outcomes.
The district now is using STAR and districtwide common assessments, which meets the measuring portion of the goal. There was a bit of evidence shared with us of the monitoring work: the monthly department head meetings would appear to be that. There does not seem, from the evidence shared, to be larger monitoring work being done by the administration or by schools; if it is, it has not been demonstrated. Two curricula are now in use throughout the district; it is not clear how this interacts with the district-wide approach called for in the goal. The Committee is required to evaluate the superintendent based on evidence presented; time logged into a program, as in the graphs given of student time online, is not evidence in support of the goal.
As for improving math outcomes, a single year does not give us enough data to mark a trend, but it is gravely concerning that, in the single academic data piece shared with the Committee in the Superintendent’s evaluation, the average grade equivalence for grades 7 and 8 actually fell, and fell significantly, between the fall and winter measures. Of course, without a spring measure, it is impossible to say if that trend would have continued this year. The mathematics achievement of our middle school students have been of concern for some time; in recent years, less than a quarter of our middle school students have met or exceeded expectations on the two middle school years of mathematics MCAS.
District Improvement Goal 1
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.
Did not meet
At the time when we most needed a “district technology strategy,” we did
not have one. The district, and this administration, failed catastrophically.
The community was told back in October that the administration knew of the
major gaps in student access to online learning, and we were assured that the
work of the TechEquity committee would be coming forward with solutions that
were community based. Yet when schools closed in mid-March, the
administration’s only answer to work for students was to push work online and
mail out a single packet. Students went weeks without any access to an
education unless their families already had internet access and a device on
which to do work. Repeated and increasingly desperate calls from students,
parents, community members, and members of this Committee for this chasm to be bridged
were ignored, dismissed, and finally met with excuse after excuse that blamed
There is simply no excuse for this. We had the technology, we had the information, we had the resources, and we did not use them. That fault does not lie with our teachers or with our families, but with the administration. This was the year for the Worcester Public Schools to have a priority and support for digital fluency, most particularly for students, and particularly with a focus on equity.
The administration did not.
District Improvement Goal 2
By June 2020, identify and implement strategies to address social and emotional needs that impact student school performance.
A number of strategies have been identified by the district—various
trainings in collaborative problem solving and resiliency; the districtwide
stabilization team; internal review of disciplinary data—to address social and
emotional needs of students.
While the data shared on attendance and discipline was marginally improved over last year, it is unclear how much of this work is reaching the classroom or if the rates will continue to improve. There is a great deal of work to be done in this matter, and it is the day-to-day classroom experience more than anything that impacts student performance of all kinds. There also is much more to social emotional learning that bringing up attendance and bringing down student disciplinary rates; that is not in evidence in the Superintendent’s self-evaluation or in evidence given to the Committee.
District Improvement Goal 3
By June 2020, develop a plan for staff recruitment and retention and implement strategies that will increase access to well-qualified and diverse candidates.
Did not meet
The goal is for a plan; there has been no plan shared for staff
recruitment and retention. There has been minimal implementation of
strategies—an internal diversity committee, of which no details have been
shared; a pathway to teaching licensure for paraprofessionals, with a small
amount of information on staff involvement; the “Real Talk” group—with no data
shared as yet on the impact of those strategies.
Are we hiring well-qualified and diverse candidates? Are they staying? Without actual data, we cannot judge the success or failure of these endeavors.
I echo the concerns expressed from the beginning on the Chief Diversity Officer position. There is a well-documented history of such positions being created, being given limited purview, receiving little to no backing from administration, and being classified as a failure. I have great respect for Ms. Perez, but she can do little unless Superintendent Binienda, as directed by this Committee, sets this as a priority.
As yet, there is little evidence that this is the case.
District Improvement Goal 4
By June 2020, support the development of advanced and experiential learning opportunities for students to develop intellectual agility, social acuity, and personal agency.
It is clear that the district administration has prioritized dual college enrollment and the innovation pathways program. As was discussed during the deliberation of the Student Opportunity Act plan, the degree to which this has in fact extended such participation across the student body—most particularly among traditionally less-reached groups of students such as those who are learning English, are poor, or are students of color—is not clear and not demonstrated in any evidence shared by the administration.
These are “advanced and experiential learning opportunities” of a kind. What is not demonstrated through the evidence presented is the degree to which they allow for students “to develop intellectual agility, social acuity, and personal agency.” These are sophisticated things to assess, but they do require some student data beyond signing up for and completing a class to be in evidence. The Committee has not been provided with that information.