Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All systems go!

Power was restored to Midland at 6am today.
All systems go.
Happy first day all. May you have an engaging, interesting, challenging year!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yes, there is school for Midland, too.

I've gotten some questions on if Midland Street School (which still has no power) has school tomorrow. I received the following answer from administration this evening:
Students should report to Midland tomorrow as usual.  Relocation will occur if necessary.  National Grid is working on the issue and predicting success sometime this evening.
Here's hoping! But they will have school, regardless.
Please pass it along to any others who might be wondering!

Useful links

Among the useful links now topping the Worcester Public Schools' main page is a master list of Know Your School Nights by quadrant. Helpful if your school hasn't let you know when your child's is!

Yes, school starts tomorrow in Worcester

The rumor floating around that somehow it's canceled? Sorry, kids, that's wishful thinking.

Worcester Public School students in grades 1-12 start tomorrow, as scheduled.
Preschool and kindergarten students start Tuesday, September 6.

Everyone else? Please drive carefully. The kids have had a summer to forget the bit about crosswalks and school buses, so please be cautious tomorrow!

Have a good year, everyone!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Worcester Public Schools post-Irene

This update came in last night from Brian Allen:

Power Outages:  During the height of the storm, there were 5 schools without power.  As of this writing, Flagg Street and Nelson Place continue not to have power.  These are National Grid  issues and will be restored when power is restored to these neighborhoods.  The Quadrant Managers will work with these two principals for contingency plans for staff for tomorrow if the power outages continue through the morning.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gym class reconsidered

Gym class is back on the Worcester agenda next week, as Mrs. Mullaney has filed for reconsideration.
Apparently much of what we were told during the meeting...wasn't the case.

Opting out

Per Jim Horn's post on increasing energy around opting out of state tests, I should point out that there is a very active Facebook group that's compiling information, state-by-state, on opting out of the state tests. You'll find the wiki they're compiling here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

North has a sign

If you were there yesterday, you might have noticed something missing. It came in today:
h/t to the photographer

Battening down the hatches at Worcester Public Schools

I've just received the following email from Chief Financial and Operations Officer, Brian Allen, regarding the district's preparation for incoming Hurricane Irene:

With regards to facilities:  we are currently taking proactive measures to make sure buildings are secure and roof drains are clear.  Immediately after the storm, we have scheduled mandatory building checks at most of our locations, particularly those sites that have historical issues with water infiltration during heavy storms.    We currently do not plan to activate building custodians until employees can travel safely from their homes to school facilities.  All schools will also have external checks after the storm as well by the key facilities staff.  Depending on the potential wind damage, we are prepared to inspect the all buildings for downed trees, broken windows, or other issues due to the storm.

You know your district is dysfunctional when... UPDATED

your superintendent stops speaking to your chief financial officer.
Things are continuing to be lively in Philadelphia, with the now-fired superintendent going on a large media swing to blame, well, pretty much everyone else for what's gone wrong. She's been encouraging parents to quit the system, as well.
The media and others are calling for more information on what she's saying, and they also want to know just who anted up for nearly half of her termination pay, information the mayor has refused to release.

UPDATE: And now Philadelphia's Children First Fund, which apparently solicted the donations for $405,000 towards her severance package, is having its tax-exempt status investigated by the IRS. You can't be a charity and solict funds to an individual "for her sole benefit."

Worcester 2011-12 Bus Routes are up!

You'll find them here by school.

What happened with gym class?

The T&G article covers what was a confusing conversation pretty well ('though the headline writer was going for cute rather than clear). For those who wonder what happened last night with the proposal to have sports (and outside activities, like dance and karate) count for gym credit in high school: it got sent back to subcommittee. Here's why:
Currently kids in high school in Worcester have to take a year (two semesters, four quarters) of gym in high school. The item proposed by some of my colleagues on the committee would allow team sports to count for that credit. This was done out of concern for kids who are maxing out their AP credits, for example, and are trying to pack more into the day.
The administration's response added outside activities--dance class, karate, anything where the student can get a "supervisor" to sign off--to count as well.
What was not clear from the written response to the item, but came out in questions, is the state requires gym in all four years of high school. Worcester thus has not been complying with state law. The administration's proposal would be available only to students who had already completed their in-classroom gym requirement. It thus would not replace the current gym requirement.
This came as a surprise to most of the committee--most of us didn't even know we were out of compliance--and clearly this is a different conversation. The administrative proposal is only due to staffing and (possibly) space issues, as we'd have to hire more gym teachers to offer gym for all four years.
Either way, we're going to need to change how we handle gym in high school.
So, back to subcommittee for more information!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

punch list for North High

aka: what remains to be done....
and Mr. Allen comes back to the center table....
punch list belongs to contractor, and some items won't be uncovered until the school is in use
the list is going to be ongoing; can update on status
Biancheria asks that we be kept up to date, then, by quarter
also application for Ch. 74 funding for North (that's vocational funding)

Also, the mayor rises to speak of vocational options at other schools, including use of workforce resources

three years of calendars

approved through 2015
Make your vacation plans now!

Looking for a list

of what capital projects were completed this summer and what hasn't gotten done (along with when we think it will be done)
Biancheria cites the science labs at Worcester East Middle (which didn't get a first or second round bid), asphalt on Doherty's driveway (which is now done, due to free cash and state aid. All $50,000 of it)
Allen says all other WEMS projects are done
hoping that the science labs can be started during the fall
remaining paving jobs done during the fall of the school year
Allen: we have to work with the City Manager to get the additional $3 million for FY12 capital funds, for the next round of capital repairs
Biancheria asks for updates on the science labs at Worcester East Middle

kudos from the mayor to the plant and finance staff

Magnet schools

where do we have magnet schools, what are their programs, which ones are functioning
how are we balancing them

also some of our innovation schools maybe are revitalizing magnets (or could?)
This one is my item, and is connected to the previous one

Biancheria asks for a definition of a community school, a magnet school, and an innovation school

Deisolation plan report

...going to accountability...
How are we doing:? How were we doing? Where are we going?
How is this going to work, in light of our having a more segregated school system, nationwide, at any time since 1968?

O'Brien: magnet programs: a very peaceful integration of some schools
more and more schools majority students of color
talk about resources devoted to magnet schools (which is the next item on the agenda)

Summer school medical needs

John Trobaugh
son required summer school
has Type I diabetes
summer school application says children may not receive medication during summer school time
question on what they were to do to provide for his son, who needs medical attention during the day
recommendation that a private service be used instead of the public schools
finally did get the services for his son, after much calling around and pushing administration

Novick: provide for kids who need medical attention during a summer school program

Holding a grant

waiting to vote on a wraparound grant, pending more information on how it's been spent

three years of calendars

approved through 2015
Make your vacation plans now!

Mandarin Chinese I

at Claremont Academy
How cool is that!

School aged mothers transportation

shuttle from downtown to the School Aged Mothers program up at the Creamer Center (they're the only SAMs program not to have door-to-door service): this is new
looking at private transportation to get them from home, particularly challenged situations, winter months
Mayor O'Brien asks if we can look at finding the money for that
get data on if it worked or not
good deal!

various summer programs: thanks!

motion from Biancheria
Summer School
Building Brighter Futures
the College Community Connection
Summer YouthWorks

O'Brien rises to share thanks on those who gave us sites pro bono

water in cafeterias

We're working on fixing water fountains. Where we don't have them, we're refilling 5 gallon (or 2 gallon) containers.
And we're looking at adding them where we don't have them, but drainage is the issue.
And could we get kids aluminum or BPA-free plastic bottles?

Love it when I get a better answer in committee than I expected.

Finance and Operations reporting out...

Auditors came (as you know...)
mention of the dispute over the 1% v 3% grant fee: we're going to be cited as out of compliance again, because we're continuing to cite 1% as the admin cost and (one assumes) the city is going to continue to take 3%
We are also paying for the auditor as well as paying for the outside auditor
Auditing is part of what the admin fee pays for, so why do we get charged again for the independent auditor?
motion looking at that

back from exec

and starting up with a report from Finance and Operations

Teaching, Learning, and Student Support reporting out (with lots o' conversation around gym!)

(this includes both the question of kindergarten age and the sports counting as gym items)

 several motions coming out asking for information and funding formula changes on the kindergarten item, including a request that preschool be included in state funding, and that teachers have conversations in April with parents about potential holdbacks
report coming back in December

recruiting kids to Worcester

primarily around kindergarten, as we offer full-day
depends on space available
information on our website makes information accessible
people in the city or staff that wants to enroll their children

Novick: easily accessible and understandable information for parents on options for their children, both online and at the Parent Information Center
which schools are dual language? which have uniforms? extended day? what are the magnet programs?

Superintendent coming back with a report once we have fall enrollment
O'Connell asks for an update on status of waitlist of Tech school

John Trobaugh suggests a "new parent" option

Worcester School four

We'll have a meeting starting soon here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New playgrounds!

I didn't manage to post on the presentation we had yesterday in Finance and Operations subcommittee by Rob Antonelli, Assistant Commissioner of Parks for the city. There are (or will be as of the end of next week) two new playgrounds in the city of Worcester, one next to a school and one on school property.
If you've been swimming in Bennett Field Pool this summer, you've witnessed the first one. The Parks and Recreation Department has put together a new master plan for Bennett Field (from airport money), and the first priority was the playground. This is a parks playground, but the property lines between city park, state park, and public school run so crazy back there, you'd never know it; this is the Gates Lane School playground. It's brand new; there's a little kid section and a big kid section, and when I went by yesterday, it was full of kids!
The other playground, on school property this time, is at Quinsigamond School. This is paid for with Greenwood Street landfill funds. They are just missing the start of school for having it done; it should be finished next week. Again, two playgrounds, one for each age group, plus swings. Also, this one has the poured rubberized surface (for those who hate concrete and anyone who knows how quickly mulch subsides). Looking forward to seeing that one.
Abundant thanks due here to Councilor Eddy, Councilor Clancy (each of whom advocated for their district schools, respectively), and the Parks Department. Excellent work!
Photos to follow!

New North : we get the keys tomorrow!

There's a key ceremony at 11 am at North High tomorrow.

Adding a bus

due to the closure of Putnam Lane. This will cost the district $68,000.
In the money that came to the city due to the closure of Putnam Lane, it seems that this would be a reasonable use. Petitioning the City Council to that end.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Applying Agreed-Upon Procedures"

"what you're reporting in your end of year report to the Commonwealth": verification

statistical comparison with other districts
90% of children are staying in district (not counting private)
79.7% of expenses are managed through School Committee
amount of dollars that come from federal dollars into general fund

state average/Worcester/Boston
classroom and specialist teachers $4955/5766/6120
administrative cost per pupil: $446/465/654
in-district transportation: $454/354/1169
out-of-district (tuition and transportation): $20,826/16,714/11,036
per pupil expenses: $13,053/12,906;16,666

Foley asks who is included in administration

City independent auditors for FY09 and FY10

presentation by Sullivan, Rogers & Company for FY09 and FY10
FY09: electricity encumberances
student activity funds now being reviewed on an annual basis
major federal programs: nutrition, Title 1, sped, Title III, and ARRA
state changing dates applicable to things
federal money requested too far in advance
FY10: encumberance issue taken care of
student activity clean-up continued (being dealt with now)
indirect costs: city went to HUD and changed indirect cost rate from 1% to 3%
grants were written with 1%; 3% taken by city
Davis-Bacon act: construction projects of over a certain amount need certified payroll (for prevailing wage rate)
wages and salaries charged to a grant, procedures and documentation must be followed
Foley: to look at it, understand it from a management perspective
nothing here to concern me
keep finding in context

management findings even on WPS were provided by city treasurer...some were not written by WPS, particularly that having to do with grant funding

PCG consulting on our custodial services (at Finance & Operations)

free review of efficiency in custodial services
review of financial, staffing, operations data
interviews with CFO, Facilities director, 2 custodians (only 2?)
"key performance indicator benchmarking analysis"
cost per square foot, total workload, M&O expenses as percent of total, review work order history, comparision with peer district

Foley: below median on what we're spending as percent of general fund
are we behind the national average due to smaller schools (and needing custodians in every one)?
Yes, 35,000 to 40,000 sq foot for smaller schools
breakdown for smaller schools; how do we compare without the smaller schools in?
Foley cites painting as not a strong area, that's now been outsourced
different work orders take different lengths of time; considered internally
why did we get it free? Gives them the experience and work with us for a start
Foley quips that the next one might not be free

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Last Best Place

Montana just faced down the federal Department of Ed...and won.

Note that it was somewhat on a technicality, as Montana hadn't reset their numbers in 2005, so the fed is letting them do that this year instead. Nonetheless, Montana's numbers are not going to what the fed said they should for 2011. An analogy one hopes Secretary Duncan can get from State Superintendent Juneau:

If the game of basketball operated like NCLB, every student, despite her or his athletic ability or interest, must make the team; and then, the only way a student can score points is by a slam dunk," she wrote. "Under NCLB rules, free throws don't matter, lay-ups don't matter, three-point shots don't matter, assists don't matter, and rebounds don't matter. Only the slam dunk matters. And, over time, the basket keeps rising in height.

Finance and Operations meeting: Audits, Buildings, and Playgrounds!

There is a meeting of the Finance and Operations Standing Committee tomorrow afternoon at 1pm on the fourth floor of the Administration Building. You can find the agenda here.
You'll find it's a rather hefty agenda, not so much in terms of the number of items, but in terms of the backups!
There's the auditors reports from 2009, plus the auditors reports from 2010 (both sets of auditors are coming in).
There's the entire Mass School Buildings Associations report (some interesting stuff in here).
There's also reports on not one, but TWO playgrounds: one at Quinsigamond School, one at Gates Lane. Very exciting!

We're also reporting out on summer access to schedules, wifi spots, and how Putnam Lane closing is costing us an additional bus.

Ackerman's out

The Commission took her dare.
But don't worry, because she's nearly a million dollars richer.
As always, The Notebook is worth reading on it all.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011


If you're interested in reading more, per today's T&G article on deisolation, of the effect of magnet schools on students, I'd recommend this research brief from the National Coalition on School Diversity.
Two things of note:
  • magnet schools are schools that parents choose to send their kids to (usually due to the programs offered). Thus the desegregation and deisolation that happens occurs as a byproduct of parents opting in.
  • magnet schools generally improve results for all kids, including those who often would be more academically advantaged.

what the debt deal could mean for education

The short version, of course, is that we really don't know until the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has met, made its proposals, and had those proposals approved by Congress. Or if they haven't, the automatic triggers kick in that would cut funding for ed, among much else. For now, though, the budget cuts for education, specifically, are less than those of the budget passed in April.

Worcester East Middle science lab update

You might remember that part of the multi-million dollar overhaul of the WPS physical plant this summer is new science labs for Worcester East Middle School. We got this update last week:

Working in conjunction with the City’s Architectural Division, a design was completed and prepared for bid in the early Spring.  No bids were received in the initial bid process. A second attempt resulted in qualified sub-bidders but the one general bid, which was much higher than the budget allowed, had to be rejected due to the lack of a bid bond.  As a result, the decision was made to modify the design and re-bid it.

At this time, the revised design is complete and final preparation of bid documents is underway. The bid advertising for this project will be initiated by the end of August.  General bids should be received by the end of September resulting in a construction contract in October.  The anticipated construction period for this project is 14 weeks which is due to lead times on laboratory case work of 8-10 weeks

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dear Boston School Committee: it's not the public

This article on the Boston School Committee's push to make their meetings "more civil" was sent to me while I was away. The quote from Barbara Fields is exactly right:
“With this appointed board, we seem to be moving further and further away from the Democratic process, especially by stifling public input,’’ said Barbara Fields, a member of the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts, who has been an observer of the city’s School Committee meetings for three decades.
“I don’t favor people booing, but I think the committee needs to look at the root cause - why people are behaving that way. It’s systemic of the frustration people are feeling with the School Committee,’’ Fields said.
Boston has a school committee appointed by the mayor. The public thus has no recourse when it comes to the committee; they cannot vote out members, and the members have no reason to listen to the public at all.
And it shows.
If the committee wants more civility from the public, they might attempt, even in their appointed states, to act as though they were holders of the public trust.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Get those graduation rates up! they were told

so they did.

I should point out that Worcester Public Schools do have credit recovery. From what I've seen, though, it's being carefully used.

Neither here nor there

Springfield Superintendent Alan Ingram (Broad class of 2007) cannot be compelled to return the $30,000 granted him by the Springfield Public Schools for moving expenses, the city's legal council has found, despite his never having moved to the district.
The side letter seems pretty clear to me...

Here we go...

Duncan is overriding NCLB. Note that he's issuing waivers; administrations and school boards had petitioned for "regulatory relief," which is not what we are getting.
The Ed department offers five answers. If you can get beyond the "rah-rah-reformy" tone, The Quick and the Ed has a decent rundown. Hess has the (worth reading) counterpoint.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"*

Excellent news. After an incredibly terrible, difficult budget year, the city of Worcester has a $5.37 million surplus.
Note that some of this was a local aid restoration from the state; the rest from revenue being better than expected  (and a bit from expenditures being down).
So, what does Worcester value? When money we weren't expecting comes in, once we've made sure that we're fiscally stable, what do we spend it on?

I read this earlier today on a phone, and I honestly kept skimming down, down, down...where were the schools? And what did the Manager think was important?
Secondary school tech labs: that's good. Wireless for a few schools. Good.
And...pavement. Again.

Coming to a grand total of somewhere in the ballpark of $400,000...out of over $5 million.
Less than 8%.

Hoping that the Council will see better than this.

*Matthew 6:21. But you knew that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I have no idea what this means

The big news here is that Bloomberg is now going after teacher tenure in the city entirely (speaking as a former teacher for whom the First Amendment was not going to be enough, yes, I see the value of tenure!), but the quote from the NYC Chancellor of Ed on whistleblowing is mystifying:
“I’m a person who wants to make sure we have a system that is honest, which it is,” he said. “And so there’s no public call where I want you to out your principal, I want you to out your assistant principal. I want to be very clear about that. It’s up to all of us to make sure that any cheating that’s taken place at any level, that we know about it because we will follow up.”
The best I can do is you don't need to call them because they're going to...magically, somehow...know? that something is wrong, and they'll fix it.

Mad, Bad...

If you thought that the notion that we should be evaluating teachers by student test scores was bad enough, it just got worse.
Stand for Children in Massachusetts (note to former MA members: read this. It will sound hauntingly familiar) is continuing its alliance with big money by advocating not only that teachers be evaluated on student test scores, but that districts be forced to rate this information above all in decisions around hiring, firing, promotions, and...pretty much anything.
This comes from State House News who report that Stand plans to mount a 2012 ballot drive to this end.
Thankfully, it appears that the Secretary of Education is not on board this one:
“For the first time ever we’re including things like student performance and student voice in the evaluation process,” he said. “I’m not ready yet to talk about all the consequences that will flow from this until I have confidence that the instrument is effectively implemented.”
Reville said the evaluation criteria approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in June will be applied in 35 underperforming schools in the upcoming school year, and other schools will adopt them a year later. He said it’s unclear yet whether the new criteria will produce valuable data.
“My sense is, let’s give the instrument some time to prove itself. Then, if it does, we should quickly have a conversation about what are the consequences that ought to flow from the results,” he said. “It’s a conversation we need to have. I’m not sure we need to have it now.”
(Note to the Secretary: actually, the time to have the conversation was back when you were being told by many, including actual education researchers, that this is an ineffective way of evaluating teachers. Ruling it out now would also not be inappropriate.)
Paul Toner, president of Mass Teachers Association, pegs this one right:
“Our problem has been a failure of supervision and administration in the evaluation process,” he said. “There’s plenty of teeth in the new regulations we have. Our major problem with evaluations in Massachusetts is people haven’t been doing them regularly and consistently across the state.” which I would also add, inadequate training of those doing the evaluation, something still not dealt with under the new regulations.
Darkly amusingly, Stand says they want to work with the teachers' union on this one. They also speak of "building a coaltion" to support this, which one supposes they've already done, as their board includes officials..."from Bain Capital, Fidelity Investments, Fisher Lynch Capital, and other major businesses, as well as a member of the Newton School Committee" (that last also from the SHN article).

One expects that Stand will run this the way they ran Illinois on Senate Bill 7: throw a ton of money at it, and wrangle everyone else with plenty of lobbying. The one bit that may be different than in IL: they've got some newish members in Massachusetts that they presumably will be again trying the "if you want good teachers, you must support this" line on, as they did with the new teacher regulations here in Massachusetts. In that case, it was done without reference to actual data or research, and without asking for input from actual average citizens, except in response to spun poll questions.

And should you be approached by anyone wanting you to sign something about "teacher effectiveness" anytime soon? I'd strongly recommend saying no thanks.

*the quote finishes "and dangerous to know." Lady Caroline Lamb speaking of Lord Byron