Monday, May 16, 2022

A round-up of coverage on the incoming superintendent

 An updating collection of the coverage of Worcester's incoming Superintendent Dr. Rachel Monárrez.

I'll update as there is more! 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Joint Committee (Education and Finance & Operations) meets Monday at 5

 Part of the structure of the subcommittees of the Worcester School Committee is that the Finance & Operations subcommittee periodically meets with the Education subcommittee of the City Council "concerning issues of overlapping interest," as the item has it. Councilor Thu Nguyen chairs Education. We'll be having our first joint meeting on Monday at City Hall at 5, and the agenda for the meeting is: 

  • gb #1-343 - To consider recommendations from the School Safety Task Force on the removal of the School Resource Officers. (the Education subcommittee also has a similar item)

  • gb #2-60 – Request that the Administration evaluate and update compensation practices whereby school committee members are compensated at 50% of city council level.

  • gb #2-115 - To request City Council ensure City Council and School Committee districts are parallel, so as to ensure public clarity.
Meeting link as follows:

Sunday, May 8, 2022

It's a three subcommittee week in Worcester! PLUS THE BUDGET IS COMING

  • TUESDAY, 4:45 pm, it's Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports : virtual tutoring, elementary librarians, social emotional learning, Night Life

  • WEDNESDAY, 5 pm, it's Finance and Operations : third quarter budget report, facilities update, transportation update, warrant policy, Doherty update, the student information system, sports game streaming, playgrounds, enrollment, ESSER spending 

  • THURSDAY, 4:30 pm, it's Governance and Employee Issues: several employee sick bank items, student handbook, strategic plan
And on FRIDAY: 

The FY23 budget is publicly released! 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

A few reflections on the Worcester superintendent search

 As always, of course, everything I say here is coming just from me.

Black background of the City of Worcester seal
in rainbow shades; this is my WorcesterWares shirt. 

One thing that I have found rather heartbreaking about Worcester, especially around the schools, has been the difficulty of dreaming. We've had so little money for so long, and we've been so stuck in other ruts, that we haven't really talked about what we'd really like our schools to be. What would we do for our kids if we could? How do we want our schools to work for, yes, our students, but also for our employees and for our larger community?

We also too often don't recognize who we really are as a district now, either. If the mark of a Cockney was being born within earshot of Bow Bells, too often the mark of what makes one "Worcester" or seen by some as able to serve Worcester well, has seen similar limitations.  

Superintendent searches, done well, are about hope. 

They're a chance for a community to take stock of where they are and who they are and who they want to be. Done well, not only those who think about district direction all the time, but plenty of people who have their heads down and their shoulders to the wheel on district and community, think about where the district is going and how they're going to get there, and to talk to each other about that.

I want to give credit where it is due: it was last term's committee that not only said we needed a search, but a full, professional, national one, and that created and voted the RFP that outlined that kind of conversation in the community, with that kind of work to follow over the search.

Worcester, further energized by an election that saw change, then saw that community conversation fully inform the position description that was adopted by the Worcester School Committee. What Worcester said we needed is what the Committee said we needed, and who Greenwood Asher went to look for. 

Mayor Petty appointed a large (and I say that as a professional!) search committee that drew from all over Worcester, from all sorts of backgrounds and connections, and charged them with doing the first round screening. That, again, is a courageous thing to do: you're giving over authority, and you're doing so to a group that is not under tight reins.

Search committee work is A LOT: reviewing all the applications thoroughly, doing what homework you feel is necessary, then working with a committee on evaluating people to interview. Then attending all the interviews--we did eleven, over two full work days!--with great attention, listening carefully for what makes each applicant different and how well they answer. Then doing another round of evaluation with the committee.

And let's be blunt: those discussions, if they're going to bring the community forward, are going to involve all the questions raised in the search: who is Worcester? Who do we want to be? What are the needs of the community and how are those best met?
Those are not easy conversations. As Senator Chang-Díaz said at Monday's YWCA Stand against Racism: “If this work is comfortable…you’re not doing it right.”
I am really grateful that we had a search committee that not only were who they are and worked hard, but were courageous in their commitment to our students. 

Also, they kept confidentiality. As the Massachusetts General Law notes, it is in the interest of the district to have the first round of screening be confidential, as the quality of candidates a district receives is enormously better if it isn't public until they have a real chance. This was a lot of people, and they have kept faith with the district, which shows integrity and commitment on the part of everyone involved. 

And I'd be remiss here if I didn't get a salute to Molly McCullough who chaired the search committee, which meant everything from being an ongoing conduit to and from the search committee, to creating schedules and agendas and question series, to responding to questions and queries from all directions. She did it with patience and thoughtfulness (and hours and hours of work!). 

Superintendent searches are also one of the more difficult things for a School Committee to do. It is a very big decision to make. It is a lot of trust to put in someone. It is always going to be second-guessed by someone (who does the second guessing tells you something about the choice you made). Our Committee trusting each other enough to go visit the finalists' districts--a core piece of a professional search--and report back is really a hallmark for me of the working relationships being established among this Committee, which I'm so grateful to have as a member. 

I have sat in on many votes for superintendent. This is the first time I voted for one. I said what I said about Dr. Monárrez on Thursday, bringing nearly 30 years of my own experience in and around public education to this decision, which, as I said then is "a description of someone who met, in a myriad of ways, exactly what the Worcester School Committee, and, more importantly, the community of the city of Worcester, wants in their next superintendent."

What I heard from across the district both Thursday night and Friday morning was a level of rejoicing I don't know I've ever heard in Worcester. What is most meaningful to me is the number of places where voices that are not accustomed to being heard felt that now, finally, they were. 

I'm very excited about what the new superintendent means for the Worcester Public Schools.
I am also hopeful for the future of my city, given the sort of search that got us here.

Dr. Rachel  Monárrez is our next superintendent, Worcester.
It's up to all of us to make this work. 
Know hope. 

joy cometh in the morning...Psalm 30:5

Saturday, April 30, 2022

You should watch the interview with Dr. Monárrez

Particularly if you're in Worcester, but really, if you're involved with our educational system, I'd urge you to watch this interview.

(and look, I say this as someone who sits in a LOT of superintendent interviews!)

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Remarks on Dr. Rachel Monárrez, next superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools

Tonight on a unanimous vote (made unanimous on the motion of Member Mailman, who voted first for Dr. Savoy-Brooks), Dr. Rachel Monárrez was appointed the next superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools.

As I was the Committee member who went to visit her home district, I had the responsibility of reporting out on that visit. Here are the remarks I made this evening.

Turquoise whiteboard marker on glass, handwritten:
"It's all about the children and the adults that serve them" in a heart
In Dr. Monárrez's San Bernardino office

I visited San Bernardino City Unified School District for finalist Dr. Rachel Monárrez, the deputy superintendent. SBCUSD is the seventh largest district in California, with 48,000 students, 72 schools, covering 163 square miles, with a FY22 budget of $918 million. As Deputy Superintendent, per the superintendent, she runs the day to day operations of the entire school district. 

My first meeting of the day with Superintendent Dr. Harry Ervin established several themes regarding Dr. Monárrez that were repeated and confirmed over the course of the day:

She is a strategic thinker: She thinks in terms of structures and systems, how those are established, how those are working, what changes need to be made, and more than anything else, how those structures and systems impact students. When a staff member saw an upcoming operational issue that crossed silos and would be politically unpopular to raise, he took it to Dr. Monárrez, as he knew that she’d recognize the issue, that she would be prepared to plan next steps, and that she wouldn’t let the politics of the concern stop the work that needed to happen. I was given examples of this again and again over the course of the day.

Her first priority is always what is right for kids: The structural is in support of children, first, and the staff who serve them, and the community, including the families surrounding them. She continues to ensure that the systems of the school district are working to be supporting the best interests of kids and of those who serve them. In fact, on the table in her office where meetings are held, she’s written, “It’s all about the children and the adults that serve them.”

She leads with others: Dr. Monárrez actively models leadership for others; her walk-through of a classroom (which, I was told, is never for only a moment) closes not simply with the usual question ‘what did you see?’ but the follow-up ‘and what will you reflect back to that teacher to raise their work to the next level for students?’ She is actively reflective in her own practice, seeking feedback from those with whom she works. Those who report to her trust her (and I heard this phrase more than once) with “the real story,” knowing that she will not spread information with which she is trusted further. She is trusted and she is trustworthy, and she also extends trust to others. She is not a gossip. She also is known for working with those needing to solve a problem, reflecting to them their own best thinking and what will work best for their own situation. She not only, as noted above, brings structural support to challenges the district is facing; she ensures that those doing the work are themselves supported personally. One termed this “leading with grace.” One staff member summed it up as “I wanted to make her feel proud of me.”

She is gifted at creating and sustaining the relationships that are a community: As one parent related to me, Dr. Monárrez’s frame is “Let’s make this a better school district for our kids.” She is skilled at working through difficult conversations, including those across race, class, and language lines. She is a skilled listener, and, while always does her research and comes prepared, if she does not know something, she will say that and then follow up with the one who asked. She has broken down barriers between and among groups in the school district, and she has cultivated key partnerships for the school district. One parent described this as “leaving headaches outside the door and bringing everyone to the table.”

I could go on at length, but in short, Mr. Chair, what I heard from the district was a description of someone who met, in a myriad of ways, exactly what the Worcester School Committee, and, more importantly, the community of the city of Worcester, wants in their next superintendent. 

As I was also told repeatedly: San Bernardino’s loss will be Worcester’s gain.