Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Familiar faces

In the news on Level 4 schools coming out of this week's Board of Education meeting, a familiar to Worcester name pops up in connection with the work on Dean Technical High School in Holyoke:
“It will take several years. If you see a school that turned around their test scores in a year, they cheated,” said James A. Caradonio, the new career and technical education director at Dean and former superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools.
Dean is unusual in that the state insisted that an outside agency take over running the school.

You're going to want to see this

If you have younger children, there's a decent chance that you're already familiar with Jarrett Krosocszka, who was raised in Worcester and is a proud Gates Lane graduate. Krosocszka recently did a TED talk at Hampshire College, telling his story of growing up and what art meant to him. I don't often recommend lengthy videos, but this one, entitled "Imagining Beyond Your Circumstances," is well worth it:

 You can read more about that talk, and the importance of art--and libraries!--in this post that The Atlantic did about him.
For the third year, Krosocszka is running an auction to benefit the scholarship he established at the Worcester Art Museum in honor of his grandparents. You can go bid---wouldn't you love for him to draw your Christmas card?--or send a donation to the Worcester Art Museum, memo: the Joe and Shirl Scholarship, 55 Salisbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609.
And from those of us who fight hard to keep funding things like art classes and libraries: thanks, Jarrett.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Education in early Worcester history

I'm doing some research for the final report of the exam/IB school Ad-hoc committee. Today's reading: William Lincoln's 1832 History of Worcester, Chapter XV: Education. It opens as follows:
When the original committee of settlement secured the support of the worship of God, they made provision for the education of youth At their first meeting, in 1669, when the untrodden wilderness spread over the territory of Worcester, it was agreed that a lot of land should be 'appropriated for the maintenance of a school and school master, to remain for that use for ever.' In the contract with Daniel Henchman, in 1684, this determination was affirmed; and it was enjoined, 'that care be taken to provide a school master in due season.' When surveys were made after the permanent settlement, a tract of forty acres was granted for the promotion of this object.
The circumstances of the first planters long prevented the commencement of public instruction. The earliest municipal action on the subject was April 4, 1726.In pursuance of a vote of the town, 'the selectmen agreed with Mr. Jonas Rice*to be schoolmaster, and to teach such children and youth as any of the inhabitants shall send to him, to read and write, as the law directs,' until the 15th of December. On the expiration of this term, it was peremptorily voted 'that the town will not have a school.'
(emphasis mine)
Yes, that means that, after it took them 57 years to start their school, they had a single year of school and CLOSED THE SCHOOL. 
But wait! There's more! In 1728, Worcester has to come up with money "to defray the charges of a prosecution, for want of schools;" the fine is suspended, as the town promises to mend its ways, yet it again faces the grand jury "for neglect of its grammar school" in 1785 and 1788. On this and more, Lincoln opines:
It had been well and wisely ordered by the fathers of New England, that each municipal community of sufficient ability, should afford to youth the means of acquiring the languages. The salutary effect of this regulation was little appreciated, and was even regarded as oppressive, in times less enlightened than the present. In 1766, the representative was instructed to endeavor, 'that the law requiring a Latin Grammar School, be repealed, and that not more than one such school should be kept in a county;' and, in 1767, to use his exertions to relieve the people from the great burden of supporting so many schools of this description, 'whereby they are prevented from attaining such degrees of English learning as is necessary to retain the freedom of any state.'
...because teaching those kids Latin...hmph!
In 1757 and several following years, Worcester's schoolmaster? John Adams. It looks a bit as though putting education and its fiscal stability into the Constitution of the Commonwealth may have been the result of first-hand experience!

*yes, after whom Rice Square is named.That area of Grafton Hill was the Rice family homestead.

Northside Independent School District : new challenges

You might remember that Northside Independent School District has implemented a policy of having students at two of their high schools wear a card containing an RFID chip--a tracking chip--so they might track student attendance (which is tied to funding).
A student who refused, citing religious objections, to wear the card was expelled; she is now suing the district. This brought the issue to the attention of the online cyber group Anonymous, who, over the weekend, hacked the school website. The district commented that the site was attacked, but was never shut down.
A judge has ruled in the student's favor and blocked the expulsion.

Heating after the long weekend

The Worcester School Committee received the following in an email from Mr. Allen regarding heat in the schools this week (underlining added):
Although the number of instances over this period of time is high, please know that the type of issues are very common that the Facilities Department faces with the schools throughout the heating season.
Columbus Park had a water line break in the boiler room and heating issues from the boiler.  Several of the technicians were deployed to address this issue at the school.  All of the issues have been resolved.
We had an unusual number of calls related to Canterbury Street.  This issue here was something that occurs in some of our schools not yet on full monitoring.  The custodian reported to Maintenance Services first thing this morning that the building was cold.  Since we had a number of personnel at Columbus Park, Maintenance Services was on site at the school between 9-9:30 a.m.  The boiler was reset and is again fully operational.  However, it is likely that it took several hours to regain normal heating temperatures to the entire building.
McGrath, Forest Grove, May Street, and Doherty had a variety of issues affecting heat delivery.  All of those overall building issues have been resolved.  There are instances of isolated classrooms issues at these site that will be addressed.
Burncoat High (B-Wing) has no heat and a replacement part is being shipped from Texas for the repair.  The repair should be completed by end of the week.  The school is fully aware of the status and will make adjustments to building usage as appropriate and needed.
Claremont, Roosevelt, Norrback, Quinsigamond, and Worcester Arts have new boilers through Honeywell ESCo program and each of these schools are having operational/technical issues associated with new boiler set-up and controls adjustments.  Honeywell and the boiler manufacturers are working these issues at the schools and we hopeful they can resolve them in the very near future.
As we progress into the cold winter season, it is not uncommon to have multiple heating issues at our schools on any given day.  Please be assured that the Facilities Department will respond to any and all heating issues that are reported by the schools.  They very are cognizant of the instructional benefit of having a warm and comfortable classroom and every effort is made to minimize disruptions to the learning process resulting from any facilities issue. 
And I will only add ('though this is somewhat repeating what Mr. Allen says above) that yes, you should always say something if you have a concern,and no, it is not okay for a building to be cold.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Homework fails another research study

I'm still working to get to the full paper (abstract here), but if the Maltese, Tai, Fan paper says what Alfie Kohn summarizes for Huffington Post, at best we are wasting a whole lot of kids' time:

But it was grades, not tests, that Maltese and his colleagues really cared about. They were proud of having looked at transcript data in order to figure out "the exact grade a student received in each class [that he or she] completed" so they could compare that to how much homework the student did. Previous research has looked only at students' overall grade-point averages.
And the result of this fine-tuned investigation? There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and "no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not."
This result clearly caught the researchers off-guard. Frankly, it surprised me, too. When you measure "achievement" in terms of grades, you expect to see a positive result -- not because homework is academically beneficial but because the same teacher who gives the assignments evaluates the students who complete them, and the final grade is often based at least partly on whether, and to what extent, students did the homework. Even if homework were a complete waste of time, how could it not be positively related to course grades?
And yet it wasn't. Again. Even in high school. Even in math. The study zeroed in on specific course grades, which represents a methodological improvement, and the moral may be: The better the research, the less likely one is to find any benefits from homework.
We've got an item on this one in subcommittee.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

And in honor of Thanksgiving: school nutrition

The online payment system of school nutrition has processed 400 payments since the beginning of the school year. Many are multiple child families. The payments average $40 a transaction.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FY13 First Quarter report: updated with notes

Find the back-up here
Account by account here

Update: sorry, I was asking questions, and so missed posting any notes. Here are a few from last night's meeting.

As per usual, the first quarter account has the "vacancy factor" for several accounts, as positions that became empty at the end of last year or over the summer weren't filled immediately. Thus several accounts have projected balances from salaries that did not need to be used for that time.

Currently, there are 12 custodians out on workers' compensation, which is why there is a projected balance in this account and is (partly) why there is a projected deficit in the workers' compensation account.

Personal services and tuition are both projecting deficits at this point (of $130,000 and $200,000, respectively) due to increased need and projected increased costs due to potential placements out-of-district.

Instructional supplies and materials is the account has the reserve we've set aside for changes in charter school assessment (this doesn't entirely get sorted out until the city sets the tax rate). There's $350,000 in this account for that; in looks as though we're going to get hit to the tune of $528,527 this year.

Facilities ordinary maintenance is projecting a deficit of $70,000 at this point, due to the increase in the trash removal contract. We're now paying $1.82 per cubic yard for trash and $.89 per cubic yard for recycling (and will be through July 10, 2015). In an effort to bring this cost down, we'll be piloting a program to cut down (or eliminate) liquids in the lunchroom trash, as liquids can be 20% or more of the weight of cafeteria trash. We also had a bit of conversation around increasing recycling and the implementation of composting (particularly at North High, which has a composter in their kitchen).

St. Peter-Marian's building

...we can't just lease a building; we have to bid out any property lease or acquisition.
Do we need more space?
Elementary space is going to become an issue
do maintain property for possible reuse as school (we did when we closed them)
do have some current options
master plan of facilities needs is warranted
do we need to redraw boundaries? Not there yet, will be soon
need (again) for a master plan of facilities
Foley: make sure the population growth is in the places where we can handle it
NESDEC: hoping to see projections from them in the early year or spring

Adding "highly qualified" IAs

to Negotiations

Clothing bins

RFP suggestions here
any funds collected would be general funds and would go back to the city unless it were done as a student activity account (as it is at Sullivan)
can we just ban this? Yes.
Is it worth Sullivan's while? Several hundred dollars per year
motion to hold so as not to surprise Sullivan by taking away a revenue stream

closing out FY12

We're closing the previous fiscal year with a balance of $2,723 (out of a $273 million budget).
Comments here from Foley had how close we run this closely.


We have a report here on the school police liaison officers. About half and half on activities that are specific to schools and many that are general policing.

Cable contract: Channel 11

You can find the back-up here, but we're having a presentation, as well
A reminder here from Allen that you can find what they do online here
Walton: professionalized staff of Channel 11 since 2009
changed to production assistants
two major studio upgrades at Doherty and South
complete overhaul at Channel 11 to digital
used to be tapes and DVD; entirely digital
mobile equipment has been replaced; three digital cameras; communication system; mobile studio
127 live events recorded last year
had to turn down events due to time constraints
now record all subcommittee meetings (done by Ch. 11 now, instead of city's Ch.12)
broadcast live at DAB, Tech High auditorium and Harrington Room at Tech
live-streaming of events as well as archived
Cable contract was a 10 year contract that was extended
March 8, 2013 is when it's up for renewal; in assessment
previous division was 20/20/60; now is 20/25/55 (channel 11, 12, 13)
asking for 25%, to add an additional production assistant (dedicated to subcommittee meetings)
was a big difference between channel 11 and 12 directors' salaries
20% grant for capital
currently broadcast on analog as well as digital; want language that it is on all cable packages
would like to see it in HD (without letterboxes)
Charter would need to provide a fiber connection to Sklyline Drive
North High was supposed to be a site to broadcast live from; asking that it be provided to us
Foley: look at more equity
Walton: much more labor intensive, going out and filming live events
majority of what we produce is locally produced

Central Mass Special Education Collaborative

audited for FY11
$4.5m in accounts, but had not entered encumberances for the summer
and had not entered OPEB
was (after that) $1.4m
surplus from last year; charge to Worcester is frozen, thus using up $1m of the surplus
currently undergoing an FY12 budget
Allen: that $1m freeze will go away; sped account will go up by $1m PLUS growth
one time freeze used to save teaching positions
double increase for next year
Foley: is this the first time the state has conducted an audit?
Dio: first time the state has paid any attention to collaboratives since their inception
5 out of 28 looked at...finished and moved on
issues uncovered at Merrimack were outside of anyone else's operating experiences
Foley asks how often we have people here: Allen says it seems like every week
audits should be instructive
Dio comments that most collaborative directors locally have been public school employees and are familiar with what is required of them, followed that even as not required

Bus stops, bus counts

where are the kids, how many are on which bus
if there are no kids at a stop, go several counts with a zero before the stop is dropped
slower to drop than to add; don't want to take a chance at missing a child
if we can make something more efficient
all WPS routes are posted on the WPS website
changes go to the school and to the bus company
a bus driver asks how stops are added?
typically that the school gets a request for a stop to be changed or added and that is sent to transportation
should there be a stop there, is there a child there, is there a stop that the child can go to?
sometimes we say no to new stops
"try to minimize the impact on the students who are already on the bus...what people have built their lives and their schedules around"
bus stops turned around a lot more quickly than previously
parents need to go through the principal, who does an initial evaluation, then contacts transportation
drivers need to go through their supervisors, who then contact transportation

Bus contract: student pick-up

Biancheria: issues on substitute drivers
substitute drivers said if students not picked up, radio in kids missed, kids not picked up
"Three times in three weeks, I felt it was something to discuss"
Hennessey: bus stops are put out that are then reviewed over the course of the year for capacity and actual student population
students capacity exceeded after certain stops; an additional bus then dispatched to pick up overloads
then routes reshuffled to have buses running that are at capacity (not over); juggle stops among buses
changes made, sent to schools, schools question why, to be sure buses are running full but not over
Foley: if we can get the information right away, we can track back what happened and why
Hennessey: this might not have been substitute drivers, even a regular driver, if they reached capacity, they had to stop putting kids on the bus
Biancheria asks if there is anything in the contract that says that substitute bus drivers need to be trained; Hennessey points to page 6 of the contract, thus routes, school locations and starting times, must be things that drivers must be familiar with
Biancheria points out that we pay $12 million a year for our transporation
bidding process for the drivers for who gets what route
Foley: how many buses do we transport daily? 11,000 students per day
nice job of picking up the contract and servicing our students
parents should contact transportation office with issues so that problems can be tracked back

City Auditor on actuarial benefits

Foley: increase in payments that are to our retirees?
What should we be aware of that's happening?
8% assumption on return, coming in much lower
Allen: the one account that seemed unclear to many, what the future looked like for the retirement account
"this is the assessment provided to us by the city...what the long-term projections would look like"
DelSignore: 2008 was a horrible year, it "could have increased 50%"
"assets moving" smoothing both gains and losses
anticipating investment income is going to be lower than it has been
formula based on when they were hire
"I wish I had good news for you, but I don't"
schedule comes out almost identical to last year, expect an 8% increase for this year (how much we have to make up)
28.25% of the City
"benefit increases have not gone on recently"
"we have one more year of smoothing to go...another $56 million to smooth out"
a couple of years of gains, another year of actuarial loss in 2011
whatever amount; over 8% or under 8%
Foley: is that 8% return a reasonable expectation?
DelSignore: city has always met its annual expectation
8% has historically been a reasonable number (not now)
others thought a discount rate of 4%; assessment rate would double
"should have faith in the markets"
problem with oversight agency; now has been resolved
alternative investments continue to do very well
"could already have been a lot worse if we didn't use assest smoothing"
$56 million to overcome...would have to earn 15% this year
probably going to increase 8% every year for awhile
impressed rating agencies were very impressed
stretched out the assessment, but you have to pay it sooner or later
"if the market recovers, does better, it won't"

City Auditor on unemployment benefits

Allen: reforms needed with regards to unemployment compensation
(this is in reference to a letter that was co-signed by our city auditor)

  • retirees who come back as tutors (for example), are laid off, and collect unemployment
  • teachers who are laid off and collect unemployment during summer months
DelSignore: reasonable expectation of being employed, cannot collect unemployment
those who work a 40 week year
"it would help the city and the school side if those things were passed"
Foley argues that cafeteria workers are not full-year contracts
Allen: can receive their pay over the full year just as teachers 
Foley: anything in the report that we should be aware of?
Allen: don't know if anyone is filing this in the new session
Foley: add to our legislative agenda
task force taken after that
Colorio: any teeth to this?

Allen: not any time soon
DelSignore: not as much as used to be

Finance and Operations liveblog

...starting soon. The agenda is posted here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

And since we're still forging onward in value-added measurements

(or, in Massachusetts, Student Growth Percentages, which are even more volatile)'ll want to go take a look at Bruce Baker's charts on how stable those measurements are over time.
A hint: they aren't!

I want my red pen back

Sometimes, you read something that makes you really want your red teacher pen back, so you can write in the margins comments like "This does not follow" and "You have no support for this conclusion."
And so it is with the latest report from the Pioneer Institute.

The report is titled Enrollment Trends in Massachusetts: An Update and so far as that goes, it makes some reasonable points. Student enrollment across the state is recently down (you can find DESE numbers here). It is down more in some sections of the state than others. The Chapter 70 formula isn't constructed to handle drops in enrollment.
Population across the state is also down, of course, which is why Massachusetts lost a House seat in the last census.
However, if you look at the chart on page 6, Worcester isn't alone among urban districts in recently growing. That gets mentioned, but doesn't really fit the narrative, so not much is made of it. The report  comments "it is not clear why regional demographics are changing," which would seem to be somewhat important if we're going to make anything of enrollment changes, particularly as regional demographics have much to do with how Chapter 70 is allocated.
The real stunning leap, however, is in the conclusions around charter schools. Charter school populations are also not growing as quickly; how it is that this necessarily means that they are "bumping against the cap" (rather than just not gaining students) is not explained or cited.
Nor is anywhere anything made of the growth in urban district public schools, like Worcester, where charter school additions have been focused over the past several years. We are having more charter schools thrust upon us, in many cases schools of questionable worth, and the public school enrollment is increasing at the same time. No wonder these districts are not mentioned.
Pioneer makes the leap that enrollment across the state is dropping, therefore....we need more charter schools?
I suspect I need not point out the relationship with the previous post, but, seriously, people: you've got to do better on your leaps of logic here, or I'm going to dig out my red pen.

Charter schools looking to lift the cap...

This from the job posting from the MCPSA*:
In January, 2013 the MCPSA will launch a statewide grassroots campaign to raise the cap on Massachusetts charter schools. We seek an experienced campaign manager to join this exciting and empowering campaign.
Empowering for...?I guess I'll be putting miles in on the commuter rail again!
Responsibilities after the break:

Neighborhoods matter

Some thought-provoking insight in this article on urban poverty from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A few notes from the Commissioner

I just pulled these off of the weekly Commissioner's update*

  • The state Board of Ed is meeting on November 26 and 27. On the 26 in Malden, the Board will focus on Level 4 schools. On November 27, the Board will meet in Lawrence, to "hear a presentation from Lawrence Public Schools Receiver Jeff Riley on the turnaround effort that he is leading. The Board will discuss its budget priorities and will vote on its state education budget proposal for FY2014. The Board will also take an initial vote on proposed amendments to the regulations on innovation schools, vote on a charter amendment for the Match Charter Public School, and hear a report on the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School."
  • DESE is holding eight hearings across the state on the proposed new charter schools. The schedule is posted here
  • Commissioner Chester begins this week his term as president of the Council of Chief State Schools Officers. 
*If you want to subscribe, send an email to with the following in the body of the email: subscribe ESEUpdate Your Name.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Literacy Partnership grant

...for $64,000
O'Connell is asking about a literacy consultant at $2000/day and a word generator at $1500/day (4 days each). The state requires a "partnership" with those the state regards as experts, as we work at the K-12 ELA curriculum.

Congratulations to South High!

...on their Bronze level Wellness Award from the Mass DESE and DPH.
Setting a date to honor them on December 6.

Career and Technical Educator Questionnaire

Biancheria speaking of the ACTE questionnaire (which I can't find it this?)

Bus contract

I'm coming in partway through here, as we've done a switch in chair. Ms. Biancheria is speaking of concerns on substitute drivers over the past several weeks. She's asked that all members receive a copy of the bus contract, and we're having a discussion over what subcommittee it should be referred to. Transportation is under Finance and Operations.
Biancheria wants to be sure that the meeting is after 5.
Allen comments that we will add the item to the agenda for Tuesday's meeting of F&O (at 5 pm, 4th floor, DAB).

It might be a light blogging night

...I'm chairing at least the beginning of the meeting.
Starts at 7!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ron Ferguson: WEC annual meeting

Ron Ferguson is the featured speaker this evening at the Worcester Educational Collaborative third annual meeting. His talk is entitled A Twenty-First Century Social Movement for Excellence with Equity.Ferguson  is part of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard.
I may not make the whole thing here, as I have to duck out for a hearing. Posted without commentary for now.

Regular schedule, boil order continues

Worcester Public Schools will be running a regular schedule tomorrow. We will, however, be continuing under a boil order. As such, if you are able, please send in a bottle of water with your child. We are having water delivered from Polar (packed prior to the water break) for those who do not have it to have at lunch. Additionally, we are having hand sanitizer delivered, but, should you have any to spare, we could use it.
Thank you all for your patience and assistance!

Worcester School Committee meets on Thursday

The Worcester School Committee meets this Thursday at 7 pm. You can find the agenda here.
First up is honoring Worcester Arts Magnet School for their MCAS scores this past year. We're also getting a report on the JROTC programs in our high schools.
We're seeing some retirements coming through.
We've being asked to approve a prior year payment from June.
We have a number of items being referred to either administration or to subcommittee: the state ethics finding on teacher gifts, outside speakers, reducing absenteeism, school committee student representatives, the ACTE questionnaire, 21st century learning center locations, and mini-grants.
We also have a prior year invoice for a technician, and a literacy grant for $64,000

Note that we also have our quarterly (-ish) legislative breakfast this Friday.

Final exam/IB hearing tonight at Clark!

Mayor Petty's Ad-hoc committee on the possible establishment of an exam/IB school is moving ahead with our final hearing* tonight at Clark University. You will find us at 7 pm in Grace Conference Room in the Higgins University Center.

Please join us!

*How does it go? Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night....

Water system repaired, schools on a two hour delay

The DPW reports that the system is now repaired, that water is now flowing from the reservoirs, and that water is expected to be back citywide by 8 am.
Schools remain on a two hour delay. (Ignore Channel 11 scrolling "no school today.")
Schools do have water for children to drink and hand sanitizer for use after handwashing. If you can, pack those for your children, as well.
The city is under a boil order until water sampling can be done citywide: bring water to a rolling boil for a full minute and cool before drinking. Use this or bottled water for drinking, toothbrushing, mixing formula, or making ice cubes.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Worcester Public Schools will have a two hour delay tomorrow, Tuesday, November 13.

From the Superintendent:

Update:  Based on the most recent information from the City Manager, I am announcing a two-hour delay for tomorrow morning.  There will be no AM preschool. A Connect Ed message is being sent out and the information will also be on the website and local news media.
Donna Lombardi has taken action to adjust menus that will allow students to be fed given the water limitations.  Additionally, due to the limited water, DAB and 52 week employees will also be on a delay.  DAB will open at 9:00 am tomorrow morning.  This decision is based on restrooms not being accessible until water service is restored.
The pipe has been exposed and the area needing repair has been identified.  The city has also issued emergency calls to homes indicating that once water is restored early tomorrow morning that a boil water order will be in effect for 24 hours after that time.

Don't expect a call tonight

Commissioner Moylan is now hoping to have the water back on for 7 am. If we have water, we'll run school.
We can't run without it.
You'll hear in the morning if there's a cancellation.
WPS website has the following:

A major water main break in the city this afternoon may require an extended period of low or no water pressure throughout the city.  This may impact whether we can open schools tomorrow.  At 7pm, no decision has been made about school operations for tomorrow.  It is possible and likely that a decision is not made until tomorrow morning.  The Worcester Public Schools is in close communication with city officials regarding the repair and time frame.  Once we have a better sense of the time for the repairs we will make a decision about school opening for tomorrow.  Please keep updated with local media, our website, and our Twitter feed for any announcements.  We will also send a Connect Ed message to homes if we cancel or delay schools.  Thank you for your patience and understanding as we assess the impact on school operations.  

No decision as yet

We've just received the following from Superintendent Boone:
We have been in contact with the Mayor and City Manager regarding the situation created by this massive water main break. You are probably aware that in order to initiate repairs to the broken water main, water gates supplying the entire water treatment facility will be shut down this evening and most of the night.  The impact to residents and businesses will likely be low or no potable water flow at faucets, etc.  Once repairs are completed the main water lines will need to be flushed.  Residents and businesses can expect some discoloration in the water once the flow is returned and flushing is complete. We are monitoring this situation very closely with the city manager and the city's emergency operations team.  I am not making a decision to close schools at this time.  I will wait for updates during the evening before making that determination.  Obviously, we're concerned with the ability to prepare meals, flush toilets and bubblers available to students and staff.  We are in the process of posting information on the website and sending out through our twitter feed that no decision has been made at this time about school operations tomorrow and that any decision will be made later tonight or early in the morning.
Here's hoping we can be back up online for school tomorrow. We'll keep you posted!

Official city notice on water main break

A City 30" water line, directly off of a 40" main water line, on Chandler St in the vicinity of May Street, has failed.  The nature of the "break" is significant.  All options for repair have been assessed.  The size of the line and the required repair will require the City to shut the water gates off that feed the whole City at our Water Treatment facility.  These water gates will need to be shut down for this evening and most of the early morning hours as well. All DPW resources and talents have been brought to bear to make this complicated fix.  Too soon to tell when it will be repaired.

All residents and businesses will likely experience low or no potable water flow at their faucets, taps, etc.. during this period of repair.   Once repaired, DPW will flush main water lines where required.  Residents and business can expect discolored water once water gates at the Plant are reopened and water pressure and water flow are restored.

Residents and businesses should leave their faucets and taps on and observe water until it runs clear.  Do not leave faucets and taps on unattended.  Discolored water can stain laundry if done during this shut down and restoration period.

We will continue to keep City Council, WPS, Worcester State, residents and businesses updated via Twitter, Facebook,, Channel 12, and through local media.  We appreciate your patience and understanding.

Note from me: no word yet on what this means for WPS. They are talking. I'll post as soon as I know.

Water all over Chandler Street

There's a 24 inch water main break at Chandler Street right at Worcester State. The university has two buildings (thus far) flooded and is asking students away for the long weekend NOT to return to campus.
At this time, both WPS buildings in the area, May Street School and Chandler Magnet School, are unaffected.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Parliamentary procedure

"if you are the master of the rules, you are at a distinct advantage at the School Committee table"
"never go into a meeting where you might not get what you want without a plan to know how to get what you want"

Friday, November 9, 2012

Here's one for the numberphiles

Okay, geometry lovers, here's one for you: Nepal describes, in the country's constitution, how to make the flag:

Update on state revenues

I just got the weekly Commissioner's update and it contained the following:

Update on FY13 Budget:
Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez provided an update on state revenues earlier this week. Secretary Gonzalez said that state revenues in October 2012 were down from a year ago and came in $162 million below projections. The revenue report means that cuts to state spending could occur in the near future. We will provide you with further updates as we continue to receive guidance on the FY13 state budget from the Administration.
Heads up, folks!

Mass School Building Authority

The presentation is here:

(click to open)
I couldn't stay for the entire Q&A, as this ran up against the Delegates' Assembly (and if you're reading this, MASC staff, could we please avoid that?), but a few notes.
They have not yet set a due date for the next round of Statements of Interest.
There was a question regarding vocational school size; were there differences in space calculations? The answer is yes. There is not, as yet, a vocational "model school" through MSBA ('though they got a volunteer today!).
Regarding Commissioner Chester's comments on PARCC testing, the need for increased technology, and his hopes that MSBA would fund it, Executive Director McCarthy was not as hopeful. MSBA was created and is assigned to deal with infrastructure  They do technology in schools that they build, certainly, but they don't have the funds to fund technology across the state. He agreed that they are talking to the Commissioner, but...let's just say I wouldn't plan on money from here, folks. 

Meira Levinson on civic engagement and empowerment

...catching up here. Professor Levinson telling a story regarding her experience teaching at an African-American reopened school in Atlanta. The School Board had brought in uniforms; the students did a social studies project on why. So far as they could tell, from their research into the history, no one had much thought about what they were doing; it's just what was done. The kids took it as an affront: that they were being separated from their neighborhood and they were making it impossible for the kids to go back and intergrate into their community, that they weren't trusted, that they weren't good enough or trustworthy enough, that they had in some way to be changed or fixed.

Legislative update

posting as we go...
Legislative update from Representative Alice Peisch and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, chairs of the Joint Committee on Education in the Massachusetts legislature.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

FY14 budget memo to Council this week

At the request of the City Manager, Superintendent Boone has forwarded to the City Council a memo regarding FY14. It is a back-up for next Tuesday's Worcester City Council agenda. You can find it here (if you can fight your way through Laserfische).
If you read the memo that came to the School Committee last week in response to the item on OPEB, you saw much of this. The concerns for next year--other post employment benefits, sequestration, the end of the special ed tuition freeze, MassCore, technology--are the same. This does add the recommendation we received orally for a joint meeting of the Council's subcommittee on Education and the School Committee's committee on Finance and Operations. It also extends the superintendent's continued willingness to collaborate on a long-term financial plan for the city and the district.

And I see that WoMag has also already picked this up!

Other Post-Employment Benefits

Brian Fox; Frank Colvario; Roberta McCollum
what are your requirements?
setting up plans, maintenance of plans, employment of an actuary
Kodak: judge determined that retirees from Kodak (which went bankrupt) now have to pay $400/mo for health insurance from having paid $100/mo

  • Other Post Employee Benefits; anything other than pension
  • health care, other things
Mass had state $16.2B liability
$29-30B liability at municipal level
auditor discloses amount of liability

GASB: part of compensation that employees earn every year; cost is constantly accruing
Statements 43 and 45: plan sponsors were not accurately calculating, disclosure now required
municipalities are not required to establish OPEB benefits
don't have to set up an OPEB trust fund, either

OPEB trust: MGL c.32B Sec.20: vote of proper authority (vote of city council in Plan E)
must establish trust fund, establish custodian of assets, establish funding
custodian can be Treasurer of municipality or Mass Health Care Security Trust

Trust requires a written document on how it may be used and how it will be governed; requires a board of trustees
trustees of the fund are fiduciaries;can be held liable
Irrevocable employer contributions
assets used exclusively for OPEB benefits

appropriations must be approved (as any appropriations must be)

Trust must follow Prudent Investor Rule (MGL c.203C)
Fiduciary must act in best interest of the beneficiaries of the trust; use due diligence in selecting investments and other vendors; use assets for allowed purposes only; avoid conflicts of interest

annually by December 31, OPEB trusts must submit a summary of OPEB benefits costs and obligations to the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission; PERAC must let the trust know of any concerns they have by June 30 

new actuarial valuation every 2 years for those with membership of 200 or more and every 3 years for plans with fewer members

Question: why not go "pay as you go" for now? We can't pay for what we have to do now. 

OPEB commission established by the state
wish for disclosure for long-term liabilities of municipalities and the state

engage an actuary to run projections of the benefit plan specifics you're contemplating
Note that there are costs associated with doing this: annual audit, actuarial estimates

AHA! Some towns are not doing it because it's going to even out. 
Need to look at actual costs projected, weigh benefits
example given of Central Falls RI and retirees benefits being taken away from them when the city went bankrupt

School Law 201

School Law 201: current issues

Post-election day panel

Moderated by Jim Braude; panelists are Michael Jonas of CommonWealth magazine, Jennifer Braceras a  (conservative) commentator and political columnist, and Robert Haynes, president emeritus MA AFL-CIO
Notes going up at the end...everyone's talking too fast to post as we go! Sorry for any typos; I'll clean it up later.

School Law 101: open meeting law and ethics

Posting as we go...

Open Meeting law:
  • Most violations come from lack of information, not intent to violate


School in Worcester is cancelled for Thursday, November 8.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

And remember how I couldn't find a Washington result?


Commissioner Chester at MASC/MASS

Commissioner Chester was the after-dinner speaker tonight at the Mass Association of School Committees/School Superintendents Conference. He'd brought along new deputy commissioner Alan Ingram, former superintendent of Springfield (and Broad Superintendents' Academy class of 2007). I livetweeted the question and answer session (most of them are tagged #Chester or #Ingram for who is speaking; start at the bottom and scroll UP), but I'll pull together a bit of a more coherent summary here.

The first question Chester was asked was on educator evaluation, namely, with all else that is on everyone's plate, can't we have more time to get it in place?
Chester passed this question off to Ingram, who said that educator evaluation is not another thing, but is tied into everything else (an answer that the audience appeared to find less than satisfying).

Next, with the PARCC testing for students requiring heavy use of technology in assessment, how are districts to fund this additional tech? Will there be assistance from the state?
Chester took a very long time to answer this, explaining a great length what PARCC hopes to be, why he thinks it's necessary, and so forth. Remember, he is chair of PARCC's Governing board. Eventually, his answer was that DESE has been in conversations with the state treasurer's office; Treasurer Grossman oversees the Mass School Building Authority. Chester is very hopeful that MSBA will fund the technology needed for PARCC out of their funds (remember, MSBA has a dedicated cent of the sales tax in Massachusetts). (I will say that I have heard elsewhere that MSBA is, to put it kindly, skeptical, but I hope that one of us thinks to ask MSBA when they're here later this weekend.)

The next question dealt with the new college and career report that the state has issued: will the state be funding that, or will it be an unfunded mandate?
Chester spoke at some length about pilot programs (including a 9-14 program that leads to an associate's degree and vocation certification), documenting and evaluating what was already being done, and so forth, before commenting that this "is not an agenda mandate; it's a 'here's what's possible mandate." (and no, I don't know what that means, either)

The current president of the superintendent's organization is Paul Dakin, Superintendent of the Revere Public Schools. He asked about meeting (and funding to meet) the needs of the "newcomers" to his and other cities: immigrants of upper age grades who need much assistance. He furthermore asked how we are to do so without compromising the high standards that Massachusetts sets, and without making it look as though we are slipping as we serve a more varied population.
Ingram cited changes in teacher training as being most important, and he also specifically cited Brockton as a place with good practices in handling this. Also, he talked about families needing to be connected to community resources. 

When asked about the end of the Race to the Top funding, Ingram spoke at some length about RTTT being "an unprecedented opportunity" and about how much money it was. He talked about the need "to build capacity," not pay for "positions and people," and the need to monitor investments wisely. At this point, Chester jumped in with something I need to ask about: setting aside funds within RTTT for a sustainability effort?

Dakin spoke of the contrasting needs of districts under the new ELL teacher training regulations: some districts need to train hundreds of teachers, some only a few. How can this best be managed? Chester suggested training with other districts or dropping other professional development to do this instead. The comment was made that one way DESE could assist would be to take some of the regulatory reporting off of districts plates, to audience applause. This was rejected, after a discussion of the changes that had been made this past summer, and we were told that Chester is "committed to customer service." No editorial comment.

When asked what two or three reforms made the biggest difference in student achievement, Ingram said having "high expectations" which he further commented doesn't cost much. Chester thought this was a good answer, and further answered about reorganizing classrooms, likening them to egg crates (does he mean egg cartons?), where we put one teacher and so many kids in each classroom. He suggested thinking more creatively about teacher assignments. He further commented that he had great hopes of the new student evaluation of teachers, commenting that students are good at identifying good teachers. At which point, an educator at my table responded, "And I never, in all my years in the classroom, thought of THAT!" which summed up much of the reaction from the audience on much of this, I would say.

And that's it for this evening!


Nor'easter coming our way: nothing after school or in the evening today!

Fair warning: MASC posts coming!

This afternoon, I'm heading down to Hyannis for the annual Mass Association of School Committees/School Superintendent Conference. I'll be there until Saturday morning.
Notes to follow!

Elsewhere on the ballot on election day: a wrap-up UPDATED

So we know the news from the top of the ticket--and there's a good letter here to President Obama this morning--but there were a number of other education-related issues and positions of interest nationwide.
Mixed, but not a bad night for education. And Mr. President? We're holding you to that promise on sequestration not happening.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Five extra years

If you ever wonder why some of us keep harping on recess and gym class:


If you want to know what you can do to tackle this, read here.

Thomas S. Green nominations are due!

The Worcester Regional Research Bureau's annual Thomas S. Green awards are open for nominations!

The criteria for the Thomas S. Green Awards, which are open to all city and town employees except department and division heads, are as follows:
  1. Municipal employees in Worcester County
  2. Exceptional competence and efficient handling of all assigned responsibilities.
  3. Willing performance of tasks above and beyond the call of duty.
  4. Friendly, helpful, and cooperative attitude toward the public and fellow employees.
  5. Volunteer community service outside the scope of job-related responsibilities. (Important, but not required.)
I have it on good authority that they rarely see teachers for this and don't seen nearly enough nominations of public schools employees. So: that teacher who has been so great to your child; the custodian who goes above and beyond; the secretary who is incredibly helpful...nominate them! We need to celebrate people who do this work.

Friday, November 2, 2012

No, not input

Be sure you read more than the headline of today's coverage of last night's Worcester School Committee meeting in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. The article is accurate; the notion that anyone on the committee is "seek(ing) council's input" is not.
Statutorily, as we were reminded last night, the ability to allocate funds within the Worcester Public School's budget belongs to the Worcester School Committee.
It does not lie either with the City Council or with the City Manager.
Do we have to fund Other Post-Employment Benefits? Yes.
Have we been doing so? Yes.
Do we--legally--have to do so ahead of time? No. We need to identify how we're going to do so ahead of time.
While there has been a great deal of discussion of the municipal bond rating, how good it is, and how paying for OPEB up front assists with that, there has yet to be any numbers associated with it.
In other words, we have been given no information that says that our superior bond rating is saving us more than paying for the OPEB is costing us.

And yes, the irony of having a superior bond rating in a city that continues to not meet its legal obligations on minimal funding of education has not escaped me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

OPEB, FY14, and the five year plan

You can find the report here.
and apologies, I asked the first questions here so I'm summing up
In sum, the City Manager is working with the operating number of $5 million for FY14 towards Other Post-Employment Benefits, with $3 million of that funding in the WPS budget
Note that the School Committee allocates funding within the WPS budget not the City Manager...
We've also got a rather daunting list of projections for FY14, including:
  • sequestration, which would cut all of our federal grants by a projected 8.5%
  • $1 million special education freeze with be gone
  • all collective bargaining is due; each 1% raise will cost $2.2 million
  • implementation MassCore
  • increasing enrollment (which hits both facilities and staffing)
  • Windows XP, which is on all existing computers, is done in 2014; estimate of $7 million to replace

Allen: need to recognize the expense, you don't need to fund the liability, you can pay as you go
recommendation that we have joint meeting of the Council education committee and of the SC finance committee
"I don't want to be Jackie's headline about 'we started the budget wars' but maybe it's 'we've started the budget conversation'"
part of continuing conversations between the superintendent and the city manager, and the CFO's
('though I think that Mr. Monfredo may just have done so, with questions on Medicaid and grants)

Going to Finance and Operations

MSBA Statements of Interest coming soon

referral to Finance and Operations
O'Connell wants to know if we know which schools we're filing for
Allen: we're starting with the schools that we submitted last year that were not approved

Constitution Day

Colorio: a more aggressive plan to really educate our students on the Constitution
O'Connell: who won in the mock election?


Here's the report:
We're actually not doing a terrible job for a district that has not had elementary librarians full-time since 1991. We now have part-time librarians at Union Hill, Burncoat Prep, and Chandler Elementary.
There's a few of our schools that have taken library space for classrooms; asking for information on which ones no longer have space
question on if the library at Woodland/Claremont is big enough for both schools (as it was built to do); understanding is that it is not
Monfredo speaks of wanting to get books into the hands of children and parents over the summer
O'Connell long-term goal to have staffed libraries with frequently updated books that are open for the full school day
"that we take this report as a beginning...plans for enhancing libraries, books, and supporting materials"
"what we can do to see that every school that's on this list is open 30 hours a week..."

Mary Clifford

entertaining a motion from North High to name science lab 302 after Mary Clifford
O'Connell asking for an recommendations from North on carrying over names from previous buildings
Petty asks if we can make the same motion for Worcester Tech
O'Connell says we did that, but we should look into it
"Naming decisions that should be preserved"

Special Education student survey overview

You can find the results of the report here. posting as we go
Report coming from Marco Rodrigues:
Report is required by the Office of Special Education Program (in US DoE); this is the parent involvement survey
Survey goes to all parents/guardians of students receiving sped services in WPS
To evaluate how well districts are parenting with parents, helping students transition from grade to grade and to adult life, providing training for families in areas of interest
Response rate of 6.1%, thus results need to be interpreted with caution
In many areas, we did better than the state on particular questions
Levels of parental satisfaction generally exceed or are equal to that of parents across Massachusetts
additional areas for improvement

Monfredo asks what we can do to increase participation?
Rodrigues comments that it's a state survey; all we do is provide parental contact information
What is our next step?
celebrate that the areas that need attention are ones where we are very close to the state level
Boone comments that participation is a difficulty that the district faces on surveys as well

Foley: is this the first time? Do we have comparative numbers?
Rodrigues: not the first time, can research previous data
Foley would be curious if urban districts have different answers than suburban districts; comparative with like districts
lower on Latino respondents, lower on non-English or ELL respondents
lower rankings seem to come on training in special education law and organizations that do that families
may be a matter of communication; we are doing it, need to let parents know

O'Connell: "a very fine survey"
"a more favorable response from our respondents than the state"
hope we will focus on : interaction with parents, giving them information, background "to make them focuses advocates for their children"
"anything we can do to train parents, to train families"
"we can well work to enhance what we do for our children"
sometimes someone gets up and makes the point you were going to...and thus you don't have to speak
working with Sped-PAC on this (also asks for their meeting dates and agenda, which we haven't been getting)

Colorio: is there a percentage that needs to be met in order for this data to be indicative of the population we serve?
Rodrigues: state surveys all of the districts
Perda: "certainly the low response rate is an issue here"
some of the differences highlighted by Foley
"take the results with a grain of salt...don't jump too much that this represents the districts"
Boone: we are looking at this as themes not trends; places where we need to redouble our effort
Colorio: do we know what the response rate is statewide? (it isn't in the report)
Perda: as it becomes easier and easier for groups to collect information, people are just being inundated with requests for responses to surveys

Biancheria: hoping we can get some information as a reference point of what we provide (to students and families transitioning out of the school system)
planning for students starts at age 14: each one is individualized, is part of IEP meetings
next steps for that child
asks for the number of students from age 18-22 in WPS and how many have internships; also how many are still on site in WPS
Rodrigues: about 45 students are currently placed in work and such placements outside of our schools

Milton Cordeiro, retired compositor

Brian Allen: "one of the Worcester Public Schools unsung heroes"
also a DJ and has been for 30 years on WCUW; now on a day shift 9-12
"before the age of desktop publishing...really an art and a true gift for the needs of the school district"
has been doing the work that six people used to do with no loss of service
"dozens and dozens of letters...congratulating him or a note of appreciation or thanks for helping them get that last minute deadline"
"seemed like he was honored to have his job, when in fact, you brought much honor TO your job"

Mr. Cordeiro: "it is the best job in the world"
"I helped educate the students of the Worcester Public Schools."

Worcester Tech on Education Nation

We're off...posting as we go...
You can find the bit we're watching here.

First of November Worcester School Committee meeting

The Worcester School Committee meets tonight. You can find the agenda here.
First up are several honors: we're honoring Mr. Milton Cordeiro for his 27 years of service to the school district; Hanover Insurance for the amazing number of things they do for the schools; and recognizing Worcester Tech for their recent Today show appearance (which, if you haven't seen it, is on the website).
We've got the results of the state's survey of parents about special education.
We're being asked to open contract negotiations with our custodians and our computer technicians.
North High would like to name room 302 after Mary Clifford.
Elm Park Community School is petitioning for uniforms.
We have another batch of retirements/resignations/appointments.
We've got a batch of reports coming back:

We are being asked for permission to prepare the next batch of MSBA statements of interest.
We've also got a rather interesting report from Finance on the City Manager's Five Year Plan, particularly as it pertains to Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB). 

We'll be at City Hall at seven (or thereabouts).