Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An open letter to the presidential candidates from PURE

The Parents United for Responsible Education (out of Chicago) are offering an open letter to the presidential candidates and asking people to sign on. The major things American schools need, from their letter:
  1. Safe and uncrowded schools with more counselors
  2. Smaller classes
  3. Adequate resources and teacher support for a well-rounded curriculum
  4. More parental involvement
If you agree, click the link above to read the entire text and sign on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reflections on last week's meeting

  • If you're going to wrangle with the administration over money, you've got to show up for every single meeting. I could be wrong about this, but I believe that there were no parents that spoke at the Business subcommittee meeting, so the School Committee got an earful from middle school principals interested in getting some of that new money, and those principals carried the day.
  • It's also clear that the School Committee and the administration are feeling pretty good about the lack of over-27-pupil elementary classrooms in Worcester now. I'm not sure why everyone decided that was an okay number to stop at. It wouldn't make me feel very good to be sending my four-and-a-half year old off to a kindergarten classroom next week with 25 classmates, especially if she had no aide. We really need the people making these decisions to spend some time in these rooms once in awhile. Imagine trying to teach that many kids, with all sorts of abilities, to read!
  • We're still choosing between heat and books. The health insurance money is on hold, pending our heating bills for this winter. That money was supposed to go for books. It's been ages since we've had new books, in many cases.
  • It was heartening to hear school district lines brought into the discussion. As much as this is sometimes a bit of a third rail, it's pretty dumb for us to have classrooms that are overcrowded and can't be split for lack of rooms in one school, when the school down the street has either open rooms or less crowded classrooms. There are neighborhoods where it wouldn't make that much of a difference, as the schools are so close together. Even making it a system where kids with older siblings stay in the same school, and the new kindergartener who's the eldest in a family makes the switch would help. We're sacrificing the actual education of our kids on the altar of family convenience and neighborhood comfort. Let's be more sensible about this one.
  • While it isn't clear that the gaping hole between the school and city administrations has been bridged by those parties in any way, it's clear that Brian O'Connell, at least, has heard that there is a hole. He's keeping abreast of what the City Council asks for and is putting straight on the School Committee agenda. That isn't the way it should work--there are people who do this full-time, Brian!--but it's a stopgap, and it certainly is better than nothing. I'd hope that the both administrations would be shamed that this is falling to an elected official, and pick this up to do themselves.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where are the additional teachers going?

For those wondering where the added teachers are heading, here's the rundown, as of July 29th:

(each of the following is one teacher)
K Belmont
K Chandler Magnet
1st Chandler Magnet
4th City View
2nd Goddard
4th Goddard
6th Goddard
K Grafton St.
K Heard St.
4th Midland
K Nelson Place
6th Nelson Place
2nd Norrback
6th Rice Sq
K Roosevelt
5th Tatnuck Magnet
6th Tatnuck Magnet
K Vernon Hill
3rd West Tatnuck
5th West Tatnuck

(pretty excited about the new label, below!)

that's it!

Sept. 4 is next meeting

on North High

on North High
Dr. Caradonio: SBA funding comes from a penny on the sales tax; when there's a tax holiday, no pennies come in
future of SBA funding in some doubt as a result
New way of funding schools? watching it at the legislative level
Mr. Monfredo says 80,000 sq. ft lost; a lot
Dr. Caradonio disputes the number of square feet lost
Reduction of common areas, other spaces
Classroom space kept, even increased
Gym can seat entire school of 1200; auditorium can seat 400 (school is three small schools); pushed for that (both became smaller, but were kept to useful sizes)
solar collector on top of gym
Mr. Foley asking for an update to School Committee: where are we? what have we lost? able to respond to public questions

Going green on North High

energy conservation in the new North High
Tech High cited as an example
wind power and solar power
to incorporate energy efficiencies in the plan (using grants?), assistance of Tech staff and students
Mass Energy grant $375,000; Mayor asks for an update on that

family booklet

Monfredo: recommend Family involvement booklet update by December 2008
booklet has been in curriculum committee for some time

reporting on what we'd lose

(it looks from this and other items as though Mr. O'Connell is closely following the City Council and jumping in to be sure the items they request get on the School Committee agenda)

report on ballot initiative to eliminate state income per City Council request, from Mr. O'Connell
refer to Business
make available to Council and community so they would know before they vote
Monfredo: $12 billion dollars from the state budget lost if it passes

on Readiness, Charter schools

item to "consider varied models of school governance and organization, for possible implementation in the Worcester Public Schools, including, but not limited to, Horace Mann Charter Schools and Readiness Schools" from Mr. O'Connell
Look at if this is something we want to implement, if welcomed by parents, staff, admin
if 'we'd like to be among the first to operate a Readiness School"

Lukes on paying for it all

Mayor Lukes recommending that administration make advisory comment on costs for new programs before referral to subcommittee
hearing that administration is overloaded with reporting on things
would like to do it up front, rather than after subcommittee reports
keep track of what we are demanding of adminstration on a continuing basis

(Mayor Lukes then continued to request a double referral for all items suggesting new or additional programs, both to the appropriate committee and also to the administration for a report on costs. This was periodically disputed by various committee members.)

Mr. O'Connell: question on ratios

Mr. O'Connell
is that the lowest ratio we've had in some years?
is the aggregate ratio down?
Mr. Caradonio answers: foundation budget is 22 to 1; we've been around it, this is below it
Acknowledge hard work of citizens for smaller classes
projection figures when we start planning for FY10 (looking ahead); should we look at that issue early?
how we meet needs of elementary students and secondary students?
Mr. Caradonio: Enrollment projections are about as good as census numbers; impact of foreclosures on enrollment numbers?
99.2% accurate, he'd say, and then people move
planning all year long
State is based on a per-pupil basis; enrollment increasing at lower levels, but not born in Worcester: moving in.
Not national birth registry
Motion: admin review with business projections for enrollment for FY10; take figures into account in FY10 budget planning
motion passes
Committee report accepted

Mr. Monfredo: question

Mr. Monfredo: question to Mr. Riccardi (?)
Every class over 27 addressed in some way? Yes
20.5 per teacher a few weeks ago (average: and remember that average means some are higher)
if there are classes over 30, they'll have a tutor
Motion: re-aligning districts for schools that don't have the extra classroom space (refer to subcommittee) for NEXT year
preventative programs in K-3 numbers
Goal that all children reading at grade 3 level by grade 3
motion passes

Standing Committee on Business report from Mr. Foley

one item on the agenda: the additional $250,000 made avaliable by the City Council
How those dollars should be spent? recommendation by admin. (June 10 memo) vs. for small elementary classroom sizes
Acknowledge City Council and Stand for Children in additional funds being around
"a better problem to have" (how to spend more money)
$1.25 million put aside: energy costs; if not, for textbooks and materials
$2.25 million for additional elementary schoolteachers
"every class size about 27 has been addressed in some way" (some with additional teachers; some with tutors if no additional classroom space is avaliable in the school)
15 teachers not been assigned yet, pending how many students actually show up next week
27 tutors not assigned
63 instructional aides are still being assigned (kindergarten)
Health pipeline academy at WEMS/North High
Engineering and Technology academy for Forest Grove/Doherty
AP classes (too late to add this year; additional support for those happening)
$125,000 for Bridge teachers at middle school
$10,000 for after school support for AP classes

Motion: $125,000 for Bridge programs
$10,000 for after school support

August School Committee meeting (not live-blogged)

School Committee meeting
(for lack of a wifi link, not live-blogged)

Lacking Mary Mullaney this afternoon

Summer Reading for the New Superintendent

The following ran in Worcester Magazine's education issue two weeks ago. The education section hasn't made it up on their website yet, though, so I include it here:

As all Worcester Public School students recently were reminded, summer means summer reading time. What holds for the students should hold for the superintendent, and so I offer the following list for the new superintendent (both interim and long-term):

The Odyssey Odysseus didn't get to choose his route home from Troy, but when it was up to him, he didn't stay on Calypso's island!

Get out of your office. Kids are not learning in the Durkin building. Get out to where they are learning. It's a big city with lots of schools, but there's no excuse for kids not seeing your face until they graduate from high school. Spend time at places other than your office and school committee meetings. You'll have a much better idea of what's happening in the schools. And take notes while you're there. They don't have to be in dactylic hexameter.

Our Town As Emily says in Act III, "We don't even have time to look at one another." Wilder calls our attention to each other and the importance of those around us, urging us to recognize this while we still can.

Be approachable. This is a corollary with the above, but every teacher and parent in the system should know that she can call you if need be. Yes, going through principals and quadrant managers has its place, but when no answer is forthcoming, they should know they can go straight to the top. This takes work on your part to make it happen. When they do get in touch with you, pay attention.

Waiting for Godot Waiting and waiting for someone who never comes...

Move ahead today. We can wait for NCLB to be reversed, for the state to change the funding formula, for the system to recognize the number of challenges facing kids outside of school...or we can educate the kids we have today. Twenty-four thousand children go to school in Worcester during the school year, and their education moves from day to day regardless of what happens elsewhere. They can't wait for next year or the next decade. They are in school now. Don't wait. Work and fight for their education today.

Pride and Prejudice Is Mr. Darcy really proud or is Miss Bennet really prejudiced? A bit of both. Leaving things there would rather have ruined Austen's novel, however, wouldn't it?

Work with the city administration. The current level of mistrust between the city administration and the school administration is enormous. This hurts no one more than our kids. Fix it. For all that the superintendent is an independent administrator, answering directly to the elected school committee, the superintendent gets money from the city administration. They resent giving you money when they don't trust you. Be part of the City Manager's cabinet, go to City Council meetings, give answers as soon as they are requested, be complete when doing so.

Great Expectations : The title here says it all. While Pip's expectations aren't fulfilled, the striving forms the basis of the novel. Pip would never have gotten as far as he had without expecting more. And neither, for that matter, would Dickens.

Don't be satisfied. When a city councilor asks, "Are you satisfied with this level of funding?" unless that budget includes enough money to have kids in small classes, in safe schools, with libraries open and nurses in offices, with enough paper and books for everyone, the right answer is "NO." To say otherwise betrays the kids who are living with those daily conditions.

The Tempest You could substitute here almost any of Shakespeare's comedies, concerned as they are with authority and succession. Shakespeare was thinking of who was in charge in England. Living during the bumpy times of the Tutors, he was right to be concerned.

Do your own job. This means knowing what, exactly, is your job, as opposed to other people's jobs. The superintendent does not set the general policy of the district. The superintendent does not determine the budget. There's been a bit of confusion about this lately. It's hard to do your job if you're trying to do someone else's. Oversee the day-to-day work of the district. That's more than enough for any one person to do.

Read well and take notes. There will be a quiz.

This afternoon's meeting

According to the School Committee agenda, this afternoon, in addition to taking up the report of the Business Subcommittee, they'll be making some appointments, moving forward on that report on impacts if the income tax is rolled back, putting some things forward on student obesity, and look at creating Readiness Schools, per the Worcester Municipal Research Bureau's report.

They also will be creating the "Strategic Goals and Benchmarks" for the coming school year.

4pm this afternoon!

Monday, August 18, 2008

While you were out...

Even the bloggers go on vacation sometimes, and the past two weeks were when this one was away.

Unfortunately, this meant I wasn't even in this time zone when the Business subcommittee met regarding (among other things) the use of that extra teacher money. I've checked in, and they are recommending that the money be used to fund two middle school positions (to the tune of $135K), per the administration's recommendation, with the remainder being held until September, to keep elementary class sizes down.

If you feel the money should be spent otherwise, or have any other interest in this, you might drop them a note before their meeting Thursday.

And that's Thursday, August 21, in the City Council chamber at 4pm.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Column on the Readiness Project

It isn't posted online yet, but if you go here tomorrow (?), we've got a column on the Readiness project in the Telegram and Gazette today.