Wednesday, November 30, 2011

F&O liveblog

students who reside less than two miles from the school they attend (as discussed in August; referred back to subcommittee)
List is of places that have bus transportation that are closer than two miles
Question of whether there are places that DPW action could resolve the safety issue (largely, not)
Secondary students are not required to be bussed, but we do, thus all the buses are on the road already, and so this costs nothing extra.
Security cameras
list of current cameras, compiling list of upgrades
notes made of schools that have cameras only at the front door; considering recommended upgrades, as needed by principals

FY11 Budget
final numbers

NYCoRE call for proposals

NYCoRE (the New York Collective of Radical Educators) has issued a call for proposals for their third annual conference. The conference this year is Saturday, March 24; the proposals are due January 3.
From the description of the conference theme:

Conference Theme: Education is a Right – Not Just for the Rich or White!
In New York City, public schools have faced merciless budget cuts, resulting in growing class sizes, lack of materials, and huge layoffs. These cuts disproportionately affect schools in communities of Color. Meanwhile, our state and local government continue to award huge contracts to private consulting firms, charter schools, and other corporations. Patterns of resource distribution reveal the values of those making the funding decisions. These patterns are telling in their prioritization of profit over people, as well as in their disregard for communities of Color.

Losing kids in the transition to middle school

EdWeek has a report on a new study on the transition to middle school being the particularly tough one:
For the Florida study, Mr. West and Guido Schwerdt, a researcher with the Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich in Germany, used the state’s longitudinal database to track more than 450,000 students in the state’s public schools who proceeded from grades 3 to 10 between 2000-01 and 2008-09.
They found students who attended elementary schools ending at grade 5 had an early edge over those attending K-8 schools in mathematics and language arts, but their performance in both subjects dropped dramatically when they switched to middle school in 6th grade. After the 6th grade transition, middle school students fell by .12 standard deviations in math and .09 standard deviations in reading compared with students at K-8 schools, and then that gap continued to widen throughout middle school and into high school.
Moreover, students who had attended a middle school were 18 percent more likely than students who attended a K-8 school before high school to not enroll in grade 10 after attending grade 9—an indicator that they may have dropped out.
You can read the study here.

Increases in students on free and reduced lunch

Excellent front page article in today's New York Times, calling attention to the growing number of students on free and reduced lunch.

Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting tonight

The Standing Committee on Finance and Operations meets tonight at 5 pm at the Durkin Administration Building. You can find the agenda here.Note that it's a subcommittee agenda; click the highlighted number to get the item with backup.
We'll be closing out the FY11 year, and doing the first quarter of the FY12 year.
We're setting the rental rates for North High School (and if you've ever wondered how much it costs to rent a school, you'll find the answer in the backup).
If you have an interest in the transportation of elementary students, there's an item is for you.
There's also an item on security cameras.

We're also reviewing, prior to consideration by the full committee tomorrow, the Statements of Interests for the Mass School Building Authority this year. In addition to Nelson Place (which has already been submitted), we're submitting applications for:
Worcester East Middle, Doherty, Burncoat, South, Tatnuck Magnet, Clark Street, Goddard, Flagg Street, Chandler Elementary, Burncoat Middle, Union Hill**, Worcester Arts Magnet, Jacob Hiatt Magnet, Elm Park, Grafton Street, Harlow Street*, Columbus Park, Sullivan Middle, Belmont Street, Canterbury, West Tatnuck, Chandler Magnet, Vernon Hill, Thorndyke Road, McGrath, Lake View, Lincoln Street, Caradonio, Mill Swan*, and Millbury Street*.

In several cases, these SoIs including work already completed this summer, or work planned for this upcoming summer. It also includes, in many cases, windows for buildings that did not get them under the plan from Honeywell. It also includes the auditoriums at Burncoat Middle and Worcester East Middle.

We further are applying for updated science labs (these are a separate application process) for the three high schools and for Worcester East Middle (again, work already planned. Originally, MSBA was not going to consider middle school applications; they now are).

Again, 5pm, Durkin Administration Building, 4th floor, or on Channel 11!

*Head Start location
 **including a replacement for the now-defunct boiler

Monday, November 28, 2011

We have a new member!

Congratulations to Donna Colorio, who will take the sixth seat on the Worcester School Committee.

Hey, guess who's now a PAC?

Stand for Children!
Not only that, they've now joined forces (check the addresses) with our old friends, Democrats for Education Reform (hereafter, DFER). You'll remember that this comes (not coincidentally) at exactly the same time as Stand's atrocious ballot initiative, tying all decisions around teachers to student test scores (it's called, with the ed reformers' genius for Orwellian language* "Great Teachers Great Schools").
Gee, you think they're planning on spending some money?

*and totally lack of attention to punctuation. But I digress.

Reading roundup

Here's a few that have come across my desk that I'd recommend reading:
  • If you've missed the New York state principals' rebellion over their new evaluation system, you can catch up on it here. Best quote:
    Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”
    “I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”
    She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.
    Remember that New York set a percent that test scores would count (40%). And yes, the "building the airplane in the air" analogy is in there, too. Should you wish to join them, you can sign here.
  • On entirely the other end of the spectrum, there's a good piece today about the renewed recognition in the importance of giving kids time with blocks.
  • You may have caught Thomas Friedman's column regarding the findings of the Program for International Student Assessment around successful parent involvement. It turns out it necessarily what you'd think: 
    ...on average, the score point difference in reading that is associated with parental involvement is largest when parents read a book with their child, when they talk about things they have done during the day, and when they tell stories to their children.
  • Seattle is reporting in on their fighting the good fight (and winning!) out there against the corporatizing of public education. Rock on, Seattle!

Recount day! UPDATED

I've got a huge backlog of things to catch up come!

It is recount day for the Worcester School Committee. Note that every city ballot will be counted for all School Committee candidates.
You can watch it live here.

7:30 UPDATE: And if you're awaiting results, I'm told they are currently adding totals, and it could be awhile yet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Trouble in the Wellesley business office

The Wellesley Public Schools business manager has been put on administrative leave, a week after the superintendent announced she'd be resigning the end of the year due to irregularities found in the business office.
Berdell, who has been employed by the town for 26 years, came under fire following the discovery last spring of about $169,000 in uncollected school lunch debt. An audit triggered by the discovery found sloppy bookkeeping practices in the business office. No misappropriation was discovered...
 Recently, the School Department came in for more criticism for approving payments totaling about $100,000 to two employees to compensate them for unused vacation time. Berdell was owed $86,000, which she will receive over a two-year period, said Wong.
As the schools were expected to ask for a Prop. 2 1/2 override this spring, they've got their hands full.

Why teach anything else?

If you only get judged on your English and math scores, why teach anything else?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

If the supercommittee fails

...the news isn't good for federal education funding:
According to the budget office, education funding would be subject to reductions ranging from 7.8 percent (in 2013) to 5.5 percent (in 2021).
What does that really mean for students?
In a letter sent last month to the supercommittee, the National Education Association said a 7.8 percent cut in fiscal year 2013 would mean a reduction in $3.54 billion in education funding. That includes:
*$1.1 billion from Title I, a federal program that provides additional resources to disadvantaged students. This would impact almost 1.5 million students
*$896 million from the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, affecting more than a half-million students, and
*$590 million from Head Start, affecting more than 75,000 young children.
Not good.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Waiver review board has one familiar name

EdWeek has the list, and it includes outgoing deputy commissioner for Massachusetts, Karla Brooks Baehr.
(widely regarded by those of all stripes as "getting it," so a good choice.I'll keep you posted as I learn more about the others.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Very much not liveblog of School Committee

I have not yet gotten the password to log in at Tech, so no liveblog tonight. (Also, the bronchitis has taken my voice, so not many comments from me tonight, either!) A few notes in retrospect, however:

 As expected, the reconsideration of  Superintendent Boone's contract failed, 3-4. (And should you wonder, Mr. O'Connell more-or-less made the arguments I would have regarding timing, previous contracts, and concerns.)
 The School Committee voted raises for non-unionized personnel of 2% effective July
We got the elementary class size report. Per previous conversations, the big classes are due to lack of space in those schools. Mr. Allen explained that we are not yet at capacity--there is still space in some schools, which the Parent Information Center is letting parents know of--but that we will need to begin having conversations around the space. We'll also get a middle and high school report on class size.
We voted to accept the (popular) Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program grant.
The teacher evaluation item was held (as we got to it at 10 pm) for the second meeting running...hopefully December 1?


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New round of Level 4s

Sorry for the lack of posting: I've come down with a doozy of a post-election, post-MASC bout with bronchitis.
The news of the day is the latest round of level 4 schools being announced by the state, including Worcester's Burncoat Prep. As Burncoat Prep was in the midst of creating an innovation plan (jointly with Lincoln Street), we are, as NECN explains, in a bit of a no-man's-land regarding the need for a turnaround plan. This after (as the T&G covers) a vote of no confidence in the principal. (I don't know what measures were taken in the building after the vote; I intend to ask.)
The big news on the Level 4 front comes from Lawrence, however, where Mayor Lantigua is calling for a state takeover of the entire school system after the state added three more schools to the two that Lawrence already had in that designation. Lawrence is between superintendents (their last one was indited), and, as of last Tuesday, has four newly-elected School Committee members.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some funny points from Parliamentary Procedure

  • there's no such thing as a friendly amendment (once the motion is on the floor, it belongs to the assembly)
  • tabling requires a majority, but the table is cleared at the end of the meeting 
  • a vote may be rescinded if the action has not gone into affect
  • the agenda is the property of the committee (not the clerk, the chair, or the superintendent)
  • if it "reasonably could not be anticipated" it may be added from the floor
  • any ruling of the chair may be overruled by a majority vote
  • a point of order is a "point of parliamentary inquiry"
  • parliamentary procedure is not a book called Robert's Rules of Order (there are other options)
  • the chair may participate and the chair may vote; it is traditional for the chair to yield the gavel when he wishes to speak
  • any member of the School Committee may convene the meeting and the first action of a meeting (in the absence of the Chair and Vice Chair) should be to elect a temporary chair
  • know the order of precedence of motions
  • passage of a motion to adjourn does not end the meeting; when the chair declares the meeting adjourned, the meeting is over
  • the chair needs to keep the order of the meeting (including during public comment)
  • draft minutes are public as soon as the meeting ends; executive session minutes are public as soon as the reason for it being in executive session is over
  • main motion, subsidiary motion, privileged motion, incidental motion
Rules of remote participation in meetings will be released Monday.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mass School Building Authority update

Katherine Craven, outgoing Executive Director (leaving December 1) of the Mass School Building Authority
Jack McCarthy, interm Executive Director
McCarthy comes from Inspector General's office
"no secrets at the School Building Authority"

Tony Wagner, Global Achievement Gap

Tony Wagner, Harvard Graduate School of Education, author of The Global Achievement Gap
 to help the public understand what it means to be an educated adult in the 21st century
there's some great stuff here! Worth it!

Suzanne Bump, State Auditor

she's pretty popular around here now due to her finding on the requirement on McKinney-Vento funding
Also, the work on the educational collaboratives
"it's all about integrity and public confidence"

President of the National School Boards Association

speaking here of public education being under attack
speaks of push to privatize, to pull money away from schools
Chester Finn on school boards:
"this sense of urgency provides a catalyst for us to move"
"cultivate a culture of caring...make sure our work is about cultivating curiosity, wonder, passion"
"not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire"
"we've got to start yelling about our successes"
"a great cornerstone of our democracy"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Posting from the conference

I'll be posting from the Mass Association of School Committees conference starting tomorrow. My colleagues chose to elect me as the Worcester delegate to the assembly on Friday.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


As much as one hates to correct the editorial board when they're praising your work...
Several times this campaign season, the notion of an independent audit of the Worcester Public Schools finances has come up; most recently, it was endorsed by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in their editorial regarding the School Committee race:
An independent audit of the school budget has the potential to break that impasse, giving school and municipal officials a single set of facts upon which to base future discussions and establish spending priorities.
 Would that it were true; if it were, this would have already happened.

The Worcester Public Schools are independently audited every year. In fact, it happens twice: once by a group looking just into school finance application of "agreed-upon procedures" (see my notes from that here) and once by the independent auditor that is brought in by the city annually (notes from that here). This was discussed not only by the School Committee, but also by the City Council.
You can find links to the reports here discussed off of this agenda.

This all costs the Worcester Public Schools more than two teachers' salaries.
This is also in addition to all WPS finances being under the eagle eye of the city's own independent (he is appointed by the City Council and explicitly does not report to the City Manager) auditor, which is part of what the city contribution is to the Worcester Public Schools.
Let's keep those suggestions on improving transparency and public accountability coming; let's just try to make them new ones, eh?

Turning around

Some excellent points here  from Philadelphia on turnaround schools:

The District should be convening public discussions and working seriously to address several key, unanswered questions:
  • Have communities embraced the educational models?
  • Are we seeing indicators of academic improvement on measures besides state tests?
  • What are the pros and cons of shuffling entire teaching staffs?
  • What must happen to sustain improvements over time?
  • Can some of these models be scaled up? How will we pay for that?
    How can we ensure that the students with greatest need are served? 
Also, I really hope someone's looking into that allegation of bullying leadership. That's no good.

Pennies from heaven

There's a front page New York Times story today on districts being wooed by Apple:
In visits the officials described as inspirational, they checked out the company’s latest gadgets, discussed the instructional value of computers with high-level Apple executives and engineers, and dined with them and other educators at trendy restaurants. Apple paid for meals and their stay at a nearby inn.
The visits paid off for Apple too — to the tune of $1.2 million in sales. In September, Little Falls handed out iPads to 1,700 of its 2,500 students at a celebration in the school gym. And a few days earlier, 200 teachers got a pep talk via video chat from an Apple executive whom the school superintendent had come to know during his company visits.
This is part of a big trend by technology companies to make money off of school districts, even as there's some question about how much difference technology makes in how students learn:
The sales pitches come as questions persist about how effective high-tech products can be at improving student achievement. The companies say their products engage students and prepare them for a digital future, while some academics say technology is not fulfilling its promise.
I found this interesting in light of a press release that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt put out this week around the contract they have with the district around the innovation and Level 4 schools. Frankly, we've been seeing a lot of HMH people: they've been at School Committee meetings, press briefings (where they've provided the muffins), and elsewhere. (And if I'm seeing a lot of them, you can bet that our administrators are seeing even more of them!)
I don't at all mean that we've been bought by a basket of muffins; I don't think that's the case. There is a lot of money flying around (in this case, Race to the Top funds for the innovation and Level 4 schools), and companies are going straight after it. My fear is that what we're doing is spending the money as fast as we get it (or even faster; the RTTT money isn't actually in yet), without taking nearly enough time and care to make sure that it actually does what it's supposed to do. I raised this question (and I wasn't alone), but administration was definitely sold, as demonstrated in the press release:
"The opportunity to implement a comprehensive technology platform that gives students, parents and teachers greater connectivity is at the crux of our interest," said Dr. Jeffrey Mulqueen, Chief Academic Officer, Worcester Public Schools. "Pinpoint allows us to break free from time and place, allowing teachers and parents to work more productively."
That's the theory. We don't actually know that yet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

But wait! There's more!

Yes, there was actually a whole meeting that went on after that!
The Superintendent's goals were approved as previously posted.
We had a brief update on the Level 4 schools teacher evaluation process; there's more coming on this at the next meeting. And thanks to the teachers for their insights on this!
We also had a very interesting presentation on Advanced Placement in the Worcester Public Schools. Both Mr. Perda's presentation on APs in general and Mr. Orlov's presentation on the Mass Math and Science Initiative are up online.
The Teaching, Learning, and Student Support report was approved as written.
Along with several request for reports, we unanimously approved the ("ironically named") Strengthening our Schools amendment to the state Casino bill.This would set a floor in the amount of state funding that a school system gets: every system, regardless of community wealth and thus community ability to contribute, would get a minimum of 17.5% of their budget from the state. This is entirely contrary to the purposes of the funding formula in the 1993 ed reform law, and, at a time when we are acutely aware that there are only so many resources to go around, not wise. 
We also accepted innovation funding grant (of $190,000; a bit concerned about the $100/hr we're looking at for consultants there; we're getting more back on that) and the donation I mentioned earlier today of $50,000 to Union Hill.

Next meeting on November 17!

Late notes from 11/3/11: Superintendent Melinda Boone's contract vote

Two housekeeping points: another reminder that for the foreseeable future, our meetings are at Worcester Technical High School over on Skyline Drive. Also, we had a new rendition of the National Anthem last night, which I believe was recorded by the Worcester All City Chorus.
The first item taken up (coming out of executive session, where it has been for six weeks) was Superintendent Boone's contract. The contract as approved by a 4-3 vote is for three years, running through June 30, 2015. It has 2% raises for each of the three years, with the first effective July 1 of 2012 (and the July 1's thereafter). As Superintendent Boone's current salary is $180,000--she waived contractual raises on July 1, 2010 and 2011--that will mean a salary of $183,600 as of next July, $187,272 July of 2013, and $191,017.44 July of 2014.
A few other changes: goals are now to be proposed by September 30, approved by the School Committee by October 31, and the annual evaluation will take place by June 30, in each case annually. The contract continues to contain 20 days of vacation, but now includes bereavement leave, funeral leave, and 3 personal days. Termination by either party is now 120 days.
The School Committee meeting is not yet posted online, but it will be here once it is.I do wish I'd been able to liveblog the voting portion of the meeting, as each member explained their position. 

Thank you!

Much gratitude from all of us for a $50,000 donation to Union Hill School for the basketball court and field trips.

I got to see part of the slide show of the lower elementary grades at Davis Farmland. Excellent stuff! Also, super quote from Marie Morse in the Telegram and Gazette.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


The lack of liveblog was not intention; I couldn't get on the WiFi at the Tech school. Notes to come!
Superintendent Boone's contract passed 4-3, but may be brought up again in two weeks, as the vote to suspend the rules to reconsider needs two-thirds, and went 4-3.

Draft of Superintendent Boone's goals

I've posted the updated draft of the superintendent's goals here, for those interested. This will be discussed tonight at the Worcester School Committee meeting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reprint those bumper stickers!

I refer to the Mass Teachers Association bumper stickers that say "Massachusetts Students are Number 1 THREE YEARS IN A ROW!"
Well, we're up to four:
According to the 2011 NAEP results, Massachusetts students ranked first alone among states in 4th grade reading and in 8th grade mathematics, and tied for first in 4th grade math and 8th grade reading. Massachusetts 4th graders scored higher in reading since the last test in 2009, and scores held steady for 4th graders in mathematics and for 8th graders in reading and mathematics.  
...Overall, Massachusetts 4th graders had an average scaled score of 237 in reading, higher than in 2009 (234) and above the national average of 220. In mathematics, 4th graders scored 253, holding steady since 2009 (252) and higher than the national average of 240. At grade 8, Massachusetts students scored 275 in reading, holding steady since 2009 (274) but higher than the national average of 264. In mathematics, 8th graders scored 299, the same as in 2009 and higher than the national average of 283.
(Sorry, this is all from the press release of the Department of Ed, which I got in an email. No link)
(New York, by contrast, has had a second year of going backwards.)
Hechinger has a good point on poverty.
The Quick and the Ed is worth reading, but misses that the concerns around standardized testing wouldn't be measured by an, ah, standardized test.
Valarie Strauss adds needed perspective.

Worcester School Committee meeting tomorrow

A reminder that due to the construction at the City Hall parking garage, this meeting will be at Worcester Tech, 4th floor, Harrington Room.
The Worcester School Committee meets at 7pm. You can find the agenda here.
There are two reports of the superintendent this week: one on AP and AVID, and one on the new teacher evaluation system. The backups are not yet up.
TLSS has a subcommittee report, at least in part regarding school safety.
We're getting a new math liaison.
The North High punch list is up.
There have been some suggestions made, and now there's a revised edition of the superintendent's goals to consider.
And we've got $190,000 up for an acceptance vote.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All schools are back up!

Clark Street and Norrback are back online!
Back to school Wednesday for all!

School tomorrow but stayed tuned

There will be a 6pm update on individual schools, as Norrback, Flagg, and Clark Street remain without power.

Tuesday morning update

I've just received the following message from Superintendent Boone. No word on tomorrow yet. 

Progress is being made with the restoration of power to schools.  As of this email, power has been restored to WTHS, Tatnuck, May Street, and Chandler Magnet.

Schools still without power are:  Flagg, Clark Street, Norrback, Nelson Place, Woodward Day and the Foley Athletic Complex.

All hanging limbs on school property will be addressed today.  Obviously, there will be piles of debris set aside on school sites until those can be removed.

Forest Grove Middle School continues to operate as a shelter for the city due to the number of homes still without power.

John Hennessy and several bus drivers are out not riding routes to determine any areas that may have street conditions that would create difficulty for buses to travel and any areas that may make it difficult for walkers to navigate.  There are some ongoing problems with traffic lights, mainly in areas where power has not been restored.

Brian Allen, Jim Bedard, Jack Navin and others in school plant are out visiting various school sites to monitor and support our cleanup efforts and other repairs/intervention that may be needed at schools.

Our Emergency Response Team is working very closely with Dave Clemons and the City’s Emergency Team to share information and receive updates.  We are also working closely with National Grid.

Kudos to all in Finance and Operations, including our custodians and tradespeople, who are assisting with our recovery efforts to reopen schools as soon as possible.

As indicated in yesterday’s message, I will be making a decision regarding school status by 4:00 pm today and I will provide another update at that time.