Friday, August 30, 2013

No, we are not applying to district Race to the Top

Should my anonymous postcard sender be reading: no, the Worcester Public Schools are not applying for a district Race to the Top grant.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Parent Portal offline for next few weeks

or why IT people are important and we need more of them!

If you have recently gone over to the WPS Parent Portal to add money to your child's school lunch account, you've discovered that it's offline.

Don't worry! It's temporary, and it's for excellent reasons.

If you aren't a WPS employee, you may never have heard of SAGE, which is the system through which information is managed by the Worcester Public Schools. I can't do it justice*, but suffice to say: it was written in house, it has saved us an enormous amount of money, and because it's ours, we can change it as we need to.
(which is how we could add the Parent Portal)
Like all such things, though, SAGE grew creaky and needed updating. That happened this past summer. We've had people working ridiculously long hours so most of this could get done before we had to get everything back up and running for the start of school.
The debugging part of that is still going on.
At the same time, our school nutrition system also needed updating.
Then, we need to get those two systems to talk to each other to make the online lunch payment bit work.

We have our (understaffed; our new person hasn't come on yet!) IT department working full throttle on this, but it's going to take a few weeks before this all shakes out and the software vendor (for the nutrition program) gets enough systems online to reach critical mass.
The hope is that we're back online for the end of September.

In the meantime, school lunch costs $1.65 this year, so set aside your change!

*my explanation here is probably giving the IT department hives

Let's talk about PARCC field testing

Last week, Commissioner Chester announced (or sent out in his weekly letter, which isn't exactly the same thing) that two-thirds of the schools in the state would be "selected" to field test questions for Pearson this coming spring for their new PARCC test.
Worcester has been notified that some of our schools have been selected to take part.
I have--and I know it isn't just me--a number of questions regarding this:

  • What sort of time is this field testing going to take away from our students' education?
  • How much staff time will be involved?
  • How is it that Pearson, a multi-billion dollar company, needs the (one assumes) free services of our students and staff to field test their questions?
  • How is it that the state justifies this use of public staff and student time?
I've put an item on the Worcester School Committee agenda for September 5, asking about the amount of time this involves; I'm going to ask that the report come back for our next meeting on September 19, so that we can hash out exactly what this means for Worcester and what decision we should make.
As always, please weigh in if you have a thought on this issue.

Happy back to school!

A few reminders:

  • While most students went back today, our kindergarten and preschool students don't start until next Tuesday (sorry, typo earlier!). All kindergarten students should have a screening appointment with their teachers this week; if your child doesn't have one, please contact your school.
  • Among the myriad of things that will be heading home for a parent signature this week is the Student Policy manual. You can find it online here in multiple languages. Signing it means that you've read it, so do give it a read and keep it around!
  • Remember that you can pay for school lunches online through the Parent Portal (YIKES! Which is down right now! I'll check it out and get back to you.).The price of school lunch for all students who pay full price is $1.65 this year; reduced price lunch remains 40 cents.
  • The WPS bus schedules are here. If you have a difficulty with your child's bus, CALL THE SCHOOL FIRST! There's a decent chance that whatever the issue is, it isn't just your child, and the school can turn it all in together. 
  • All schools have websites, 'though they vary WIDELY in how much is done with them. I've already today gotten some "I wish this was on there" type of comments; let me know if you have some to pass along!
  • If you text "follow @worcesterpublic" to 40404 on your phone, you will get the district's Twitter feed as text messages (just be sure you know your rate plan). What does this mean? School cancellations and postponements as a text message! 
As always, know that you can get in touch with the School Committee if you get stuck. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to school reminder

A reminder to all that the Worcester Public School students return on Wednesday (with the exception of kindergarten and preschool students).
Please keep an eye out for students walking, students at bus stops, students getting on and off of buses, and be attentive to school zones.
And yes, that does mean that the school buses will be back on the roads; plan your commute accordingly!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's teacher gift time on Reddit!

Over on Reddit ("the front page of the internet") it is redditgift time for teachers, and you should go sign up!
If you are a teacher and have some needs in your classroom (and of course you do!), go let them know!
If you are a person who'd like to make a random teacher out there in the universe happy, go sign up to be a gift giver!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

PARCC field testing announced in Massachusetts

According to yesterday's Commissioner's Weekly Update, districts were contacted this week if they were selected to assist with field testing the new PARCC test this spring:
Today, ESE emailed superintendents and charter school leaders in districts where one or more of their schools were randomly selected to participate in this year's Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) field test in English language arts/literacy and mathematics in grades 3-11. Pearson, the field test contractor, will follow up with a second email to those school leaders by Sept. 4 to provide additional details about the test administration, including the names of individual schools selected to participate. Our expectation is that schools selected to participate in the field test will do so. In the event that some schools are excluded from the field test for extraordinary circumstances, Pearson will need to select additional replacement schools in September or October. Those replacements schools may come from either districts notified today or ones that are not yet in the sample.

PARCC's goal in selecting districts and schools to participate was to draw a representative sample. For Massachusetts, nearly two-thirds of schools statewide (about 1,250 out of more than 1,800 schools) were chosen for the field test. The advantage of this sample size is that more schools and students are able to experience this new testing program while we limit the number of classrooms within each school that will have to participate. If you have any questions about the field test, please contact ESE at
I will save my commentary on this for now; I've asked if Worcester has been selected and haven't gotten a response back.
I will say that if this bothers you, get in touch with your School Committee NOW.

Congratulations, Mr. Allen!

Brian Allen, the Chief Financial and Operations Officer for the Worcester Public Schools, has been awarded the Distinguished Eagle Award from the Association of School Business Officials International. You can find the press release in our Friday letter from yesterday. Of Mr. Allen, ASBO says:
Allen is a hands-on leader who often is out in the field, on school campuses, evaluating facilities, talking with staff and students, and ensuring they have the resources they need. Throughout his 14 years with the district, he has continuously reallocated funds to safeguard dollars in the district's classrooms. His commitment has ensured funding for the district's alternative and special education programs.
 ASBO's annual meeting is in Boston this year at the end of October, and they'll be presenting awards then.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

status report on impact on Common Core

Colorio: not just the curricular changes, but the global and district impact
"financial impact on the district"
asks for a report
coming on September 19, which Ms. Colorio notes is her birthday

Act relative to dropout prevention: Senate 208

Monfredo: attempt to end the school to prison pipeline
notes that Rep. O'Keefe is here
early warning indicator system, graduation coaches, individualized family engagement plan
Biancheria: early warning system
"unfunded mandate, once again"
"we start now asking, what dollars are you going to invest in this?"
"that takes money...we don't have the funds"
available to us now, not at the end of this, not in the middle of this
"can't be something that we set up and not have the dollar amount beside this"
O'Connell: my concern with the statute is summarized by Ms. Biancheria
endorse but only by local option and separately dedicated funding source be established and maintained by the Legislature
this bill does not contain any mechanism for funding
program will incur costs for us; keeping kids in school until 18
requires workshops to take place
early warning indicator...costly in terms of time and effort
requirement for graduation coaches
individualized family engagement plans
Novick: While I admire the intent, we go to the state house and complain about unfunded mandates and then support this?
when I was at the State House, those who were testifying in favor were the outside agencies that were lining up to fill these jobs
I asked Senator Chang-Diaz if she'd come to Worcester to look at the work we do: the Creamer Center, etc...they didn't. We don't need to go to Georgia: we do good things here, but nobody comes from Boston to offer to fund these.
don't want Boston dictating our hiring practices, as is done in this regarding a graduation coach. We decide what sort of workshops we need for parents and kids. We don't need that legislated.
Monfredo: move forward on changing dropout rate to 18
Foley: dropout problem across the country
taking a look at how we do this on the state level
where was Georgia's rate relative to our rate?
Biancheria: when we are looking at confronting the problem, how many students were lost by other cities?
still have programs that come back to our building
Vote 5-2 in favor, Colorio and Novick against

also just a request from me connection with adding my name to a co-sponsorship, asking for clarification from the City Solicitor on co-sponsorship in light of the Attorney General's decision regarding it.
Mayor Petty says this is coming; further, Councilor Russell, chair of Rules, will be meeting with the state ethics committee on this issue.
Mr. O'Connell asks that the decision be forwarded to all of us.
sending this out there to the Open Meeting Law observers

request to improve Reach and Challenge

Biancheria: asking for an expanded cafeteria linking with a culinary program
also a culinary course in Nightlife

"if we are able to move forward with expanding part of the cafeteria...we could perhaps cover some of the costs"
"a project in the future"

One Library update

short version: still working on this , working with city on responsiblities, structural problems at Burncoat Prep, possible opening of others this fall
O'Connell: very grateful that there is progress being made on this
structural problems at Burncoat Prep
should there be an alternative location (as that neighborhood has a branch library)?
Boone: still discussing that; "haven't abandoned Burncoat Prep yet"
bring back operating principles back to committee as they're set
"I've not yet given the green light yet to these being operational"
improvements minor thus far
removed wall in Tatnuck Magnet
"not at a place where we're ready to declare victory and we're ready to open"
fundraising is well underway
also still working on the sibling of Libby
Biancheria: would we open one site without the others?
maybe rolling openings
Novick: appreciate due diligence, request to hold the item

Superintendent's self-evaluation and goals

Notes from my comments here.
You can find the suggested goals here.

on the evaluation process of the superintendent

The Ad-Hoc Committee had a brief meeting before this meeting to change  minor changes in the language of the contract and evaluation; it's just dates, because some of these things got bumped this year, with the mid-cycle review in July and goals being presented in August.
In future years, the mid-cycle report will be in May and the goals will be July.

Big news on net school spending

Mayor Petty announced during the F&O report that the City Council will have on their next agenda an item from City Manager O'Brien forwarding $177,000 for net school spending.
Mr. Foley reminds us all that meeting net school spending depends on charter reimbursement and enrollment, which is why the state always recommends not coming in exactly at projected net school spending.

Worcester School Committee starts...


Superintendent's mid-cycle review: notes from me

Because I can't take notes on what I are my notes for myself.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Update on health insurance and the foundation

More inadequate than ever.
Further, it’s worth emphasizing that in addition to ensuring that the foundation budget accurately reflects true health insurance and special education costs, there are likely larger adequacy concerns that need addressing, now that we’ve been using the same school funding formula for twenty years. Schools have changed dramatically during the intervening years—creation of MCAS, implementation of curriculum frameworks, huge technological advances, etc.—and, yet, the formula has the same basic structure it did back in the early 1990s. It may well be time to engage in a bigger picture redesign of the foundation budget, factoring in all that has changed and all that we now know about how to structure successful schools so that all kids have a strong opportunity to learn.
I should point out explicitly that it's the Mass Budget and Policy Center doing the number crunching,, again, here. Smart people doing seriously necessary work.

What kind of a test is PARCC (plus NASCAR)

Yes, really.
If you're wondering just how the state of New York decided that all those kids didn't do well on those tests, go read Jersey Jazzman on the Triple Lindy.

Connolly's not taking the money

Just following @universalhub on Twitter:

And yes that's a mistype on a phone...
More to come!

This from David Bernstein:

Five year computer lease

On last night's Worcester City Council agenda was a memo from Superintendent Boone outlining the five year computer lease being entered into by the Worcester Public Schools.
(In order to commit to something that long, the schools need Council approval.)
The Worcester Public Schools will replace nearly all of the 7,000 computers during the current fiscal year in anticipation of the end of life support cycle for Microsoft XP in April 2014. In order to maintain security and integrity of our operating systems we must upgrade our computers so that the system has current operating system that is protected from virus protection and other software support. In recent years, the technology budget of the Worcester Public Schools has been approximately $600,000 per year (plus additional network infrastructure funds that were available through federal e-rate funds). This level of funding did not allow for the replacement of computers in a six year cycle with new equipment. The district has been purchasing refurbished computers (1-2 years old) and then utilized an approximate seven year replacement cycle. At the end of use most of the WPS computers were over nine years old
The lease is for 7000 computers district-wide, which will go not only in places students will use them, but also will be used by teachers and administrators across the district.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Just a reminder on free cash

...from Rob Cohane at Council tonight. $177,000. Not on the agenda.

Also, the only answer available on that mysterious $500,000 for a replacement for a Ford Taurus was "just a typo." Which part?

Why not just teach them in English?

Among the questions that I get fairly frequently, particularly from older people who have had different experiences with the school system, is why we don't just teach all kids in English (often, someone will add, "as they did for me/my parents/my grandparents!")

Here's why:
Systematic, deliberate exposure to English during early childhood combined with ongoing opportunities to learn important concepts in the home language results in the highest achievement in both the home language and English by the end of Third Grade and beyond.
 The full report is entitled Challenging Common Myths About Dual Language Learners. If this topic is of interest to you (and if you're involved in education in Worcester or any other community with a significant ELL community, it should be!), I would highly recommend reading it.
Great news about the cool things it does for all kids in dual language immersion programs like those at Chandler Magnet, Roosevelt, and Norrback, too!

Worcester School Committee meets on Thursday

Our August meeting is this Thursday at 4 pm at City Hall. You can find the agenda here.
For those who us who didn't get a chance to talk over Superintendent Boone's evaluation, that is back on the agenda.To that end, here's what I went through last week:

more on that to come!
A big chunk of the agenda is the end-of-summer "we had people retire/go on leave/get hired" lists (good place to check for news of your school, 'though keep in mind that in some cases, people bid to retain the position they had last year).
We also are getting a report back on the One Library system (no backup on that as yet).
There's also the array of items coming in from School Committee members that you'd expect after a month: submitting several requests for funding sources that we've had emails about (peer mediation at Claremont, a cafeteria and culinary program for Challenge and Reach, a peer mediation training through Non-Violent Solutions), thanking the Doherty Booster Club for the great new sign, asking the state to weigh in on the indirect cost rate assessment of the city, looking at a bill on the dropout rate, requesting an update on the implementation of the Common Core, and paying a prior year payment of $108.48.
Also, we'll be going through the meeting we had last week with the Education Committee.

4 pm at City Hall!

Stand for Children, DFER, pushing Connolly in Boston mayor's race

We've seen this happen from farther away in the past, but it now has come to Boston: the big money ed interests are trying to buy themselves the mayor's seat:
Stand for Children, a national nonprofit, said it decided in early August to back Connolly. The group is planning what one adviser called “a full-frontal assault” on his behalf, replete with advertising on broadcast and cable TV, direct mail, a phone campaign, and door-knocking by more than 1,000 of the group’s supporters.
The campaign is intended to boost Connolly above the field before the Sept. 24 preliminary election whittles the 12 candidates down to two finalists.
A person with direct knowledge of the Stand for Children strategy, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the advocacy group had told fund-raisers it plans to have between $500,000 and $750,000 ready to spend by Labor Day.
Having Stand for Children's Jason Williams say that you're "incredibly well-aligned" with their positions means you've given it all away.
Here's what Stand for Children has been up to Boston so far.
And yes, Boston's mayor does appoint their School Committee.
As for me, I'm not endorsing anyone, but I'd take a look at what the Indignant Teacher has to say about Rob Consalvo.

Friday, August 16, 2013

PARCC field test coming to Massachusetts in the spring!

The following is quoted in its entirety from Commissioner Chester:

PARCC Field Testing:

In spring 2014, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) will administer a field test in English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA/L) and Mathematics to more than 1.35 million students in grades 3–11 across 14 participating member states, including Massachusetts. The sample of students drawn for participation in Massachusetts will equal roughly 15 percent of the statewide enrollment in grades 3–11. ESE will notify districts of their selection beginning late next week. The testing contractor, Pearson, will then send a second communication by the end of August to those districts to provide more details about the field test, including the schools that have been selected, the grade(s)/subject(s), the number of classrooms, the administration mode (computer or paper), and the dates of the testing windows. We will also schedule several conference calls to answer any questions that district staff may have.


The field test is an important milestone in the development of our next-generation assessment system. The purpose of the field test is to understand how test items perform, to see how well those items measure student performance based on the new Common Core State Standards, and to inform test development in preparation for the planned operational launch of PARCC in the 2014–15 school year. No student selected to participate in the field test will take the entire PARCC test in both ELA/L and Mathematics. Most students who are selected will take either the performance-based or end-of-year assessment in one subject. A smaller number of students will take both the performance-based and end-of-year assessments in one subject.


As a reminder, PARCC will not generate any student, school, district, or state-level assessment or accountability results from the field test. The field test is an opportunity for states and the testing contractor to enhance the development of the operational test. It is also a chance for schools to experience the new test—through the field test or a practice test that all schools may access—a year before the operational launch. If you have any questions, please contact ESE’s Student Assessment unit


Kansas, Oregon, and Washington "high-risk" on their NCLB waivers

Eduweek has the latest in the NCLB waivers; three states have been declared "high-risk" due to their teacher evaluation systems:
Kansas, Oregon, and Washington have been placed on "high-risk" status and given one more year to get their teacher-evaluation systems on track. Specifically, each of these states is struggling with incorporating student growth into teacher ratings.
If you're following the teacher evaluation bit, it's worth reading the whole thing, as the states' reasons for being seen as high-risk by the Fed are different: Kansas hasn't yet done the pilot that it said it would; Oregon hasn't yet figured out how to push student test scores into the teacher evals (and may protest the whole thing, anyway); and Washington apparently has to change state law to be compliant:
 While its teacher-evaluation system is in state law, that law also leaves it up to individual districts to decide whether to include state test scores in teacher ratings. (UPDATE 8/16, 12:50 P.M.: It's important to note that the state law requires test scores to be a factor in teacher ratings, but allows for other tests—such as classroom tests—to be used. Thanks to a Washington reader for clarifying that.) Federal requirements say only state test scores are to be used, so Washington will have to secure a change in state law—which likely won't be an easy task given how controversial teacher-evaluation debates are in statehouses across the country. Nevertheless, the Education Department's letter says the state has "committed" to changing the law.
Or they could stay with the current law, which is a better plan.
Recall, of course, that all of this is due to Race to the Top madness, which only some states got money from and now? Well, now that money is gone.
And have we improved education any?

What's going on in Philly

Philadelphia has borrowed $50 million to get their schools open in September.And that isn't going to do much more than get the doors opened and the lights on:
“The concept is just jaw-dropping,” said Helen Gym, who has three children in the city’s public schools. “Nobody is talking about what it takes to get a child educated. It’s just about what the lowest number is needed to get the bare minimum. That’s what we’re talking about here: the deliberate starvation of one of the nation’s biggest school districts.”
And debunking the "urban school districts are a waste of money" story is Bruce Bennett.

Obligatory election post

If you're reading on a government-owned device, don't worry: this post won't violate the law.

The Worcester School Committee and the Worcester City Council both serve two year terms that are up this year.

I am running for re-election.

I deliberately keep this blog as campaign-free as possible; it's certainly political, and personal, but I don't put my campaign stuff here.

SHOULD YOU BE INTERESTED in such things, you can find all of that at (or by clicking on this yellow sign >>>>). That's where you'll find information about this fall's campaign, how to volunteer, how to donate, and all the rest.

The only other thing I'll add is that I love what I do and I hope to continue doing it.
Thanks for reading!


Finished the fun with the capital budget post, for those looking for it!

City capital budget as it relates to schools

Foley: $2.6 million for accelerated repairs, plus additional for other repairs, plus $400,000 for master plan(or so we are told), and the $500,000 for capital equipment
but we can't find it
we need to know the money is there
Allen: can't answer the details of the question (as it's the city's budget)
$2.6 million for city side of accelerated repair projects
capital equipment $500,000: $150,000 for computers and technology (non PC items); $240,000 for four school buses; $110,000 for facilities vehicles
O'Brien: MOTION money on technology

Novick asks that Council be given the breakdown on how the schools spend the $500,000 on capital and the $2.6 million on building repair

City Historical Commission has waited two weeks the city's request for a waiver on replacing the Heard Street roof; wants to deny the waiver
it's a slate roof; proposal is to replace with imitation slate

Novick: where is the master plan money?
does the City Council receive a breakdown on the age and functionality of the DPW/WPD/WFD fleets?
much talk here about aging fleets across the board
$125,000 for playground inspections is just parks (not schools)
no money in here for snowblowers, lawn mowers
$110,000 for facilities "rolling stock" is not sufficient
Much needed that will never rise to level of accelerated repair or major repair/replacement:

  • removal of underground storage tanks (from when we used oil)
  • univent heating repairs throughout the system
  • intercom and phone issues throughout the system
...just for starters....

O'Brien: money in FY14 city budget for transportation study and for spending within the school department
Foley done quickly
Novick: when the rest of the state asks these questions, they come to Worcester. We're going to have trouble finding outside experts on this, as we already employ them.

We need a master plan

O'Brien: In meeting with MSBA, finding that we need a citywide master plan as we're making big submissions
"looking at all the facilities needs, all those needs, and all priorities"
"we've got the frameworks for that"
Economou: what are the priorities for that?
O'Brien: we're understanding that the City Manager has put forward $400,000 for a master plan in this capital budget
Foley: get it down, bring it back to the joint committee,then to respective bodies for discussion
hope to get it done by December
ask MSBA what they're looking to accomplish
how far ahead?
O'Brien: deferred maintenance needs list has been done
it was $72 million worth of work
set priorities of
Economou: why aren't parents sending kids to local high schools?
not getting any questions on high school
O'Brien: what sort of investment are surrounding communities making?
people are leaving to go to surrounding communities
Economou points out that West Boylston doesn't have a new building

Novick: note that MSBA expects master plans to include academics; buildings need to suit academics in building
want an honest plan: not by quadrant, not by district: what do we actually need?

Colorio: facade of school
want marketing: CD for good things that are happening in our schools
"perception is off right now"
may take five, ten years to get totally done; "in the meantime, great things happening in the schools"
Foley: falls upon all of us to market what is being done in our schools
suggests bringing CD idea back to Governance

Economou: if this is going to be in the hands of the Superintendent and the City Manager...has to be in the community
surveying of parents, talking to students and faculty in the buildings
formation of task force

Summer capital projects and Nelson Place

update from Bedard and Moosey
Mr. Moosey from DPW
boiler at New Citizens and Jacob Hiatt virtually done
new windows: Chandler is a two year project "very large amount of windows"
New Citizens should be done in the next few weeks (doors and such ongoing)
Lake View and May installed in the fall during non-school hours
those projects have to be done at the end of this year
October for Lake View, early December  for May Street

Finance and Operations: update on spending

Foley: where do we stand on Net School Spending, MSBA projects and other facilities projects, and close look at the city capital budget.
Long term plans: strategic plan for the facilities of the WPS, and a third party look at how WPS spends money, compared with local communities and peer communities.
O'Brien apologies for unusual time for meeting; meeting prior to Council on Tuesday.Meeting over the fall moving forward "to plan not just for the next year, but to plan for the future to make real progress" on facilities and operational needs.

Foley to Allen: where are we on Net School Spending?
Allen: not much has changed since our budget hearings in June, additional $255,00 provided by City Council due to reimbursement of McKinney-Vento on House (Senate number passed, which is significantly higher).
That leaves us at $177,000 under Net School Spending.
Report goes in October on last year's spending, state will get back to us late fall.
Plus change in calculation on charter school reimbursement in late fall, which DESE pointed out is what sends us under frequently.
O'Brien question of free cash to send additional funding over $177,000.
O'Brien: how high were we under? $2.5 million
Allen charter school reimbursement and report on last year's spending
McKinney-Vento: if it provides real reimbursement, 89,000-90,000 more than projected.
O'Brien free cash isn't all free cash...may actually just be partly reimbursement, not all coming from free cash
Economou "historically, is there a ballpark that it travels in?"
Allen: within 1% of required spending

Fun with the capital budget!

Okay, as promised: let's have some fun with the city capital budget, shall we? This is mostly not going to be about schools, but not only is interesting to see how Worcester proposes to spend $41 million, it's also because, as you've heard before: a budget is a expression of community priorities. So what does Worcester value?

First, let's get it over with: there's about $10 million of the $41 million that's asphalt and traffic signals.
That's a lot of asphalt.
It appears that we're going to be having a new light put in at the (new) corner of Front and Church Streets and it's going to cost $200,000.
I am the first to admit that I know nothing about traffic lights, but that sounds like a lot.

But parks! Parks are fun. The perennial favorites, Elm Park and Green Hill* Park come in for $800,000 and a million respectively this year, but if you look down the page and onto the next one, you'll see there's also money this year for Blithewood Park (replacing the playground!), Ty Cobb Little League field, Blackstone Gateway Park, Indian Hill Park (including a new basketball court!), Logan Field (more on the ongoing baseball field work there), Coes Pond, Institute Park, Kendrick Field, Crompton Park, Castle Park, Greenwood Park, Burncoat Street Playground (right next to Burncoat Prep and used by the school!), Providence Street Playground (which is the only place I can find any mention of soccer, which is odd considering the acknowledged need for soccer facilities). PLUS there is money to cover the revised Open Space and Recreation plan, AND they're putting money in for playground inspection and assessment! Brilliant!
I asked at our subcommittee today and it appears that this will be inspecting ONLY parks (not schools) playgrounds.
Also, if your favorite park is not listen above, can I suggest that you look at the "out years" (that would be the following four years) and HOLD THE COUNCIL TO IT on the money planned for your park!
Also, remember that there are lots of parks not listed here.
For you cemetery mavens (and I know you're out there), there's $50,000 for new section development and $500,000 for water service for Hope (which is run by the city).
There's $600,000 for "Phase 3B" for the City Messenger division of the DPW, which for some reason is where they put Worcester Common improvements. No details on what's being done.
There's a million dollars for continued work on replacing the Beaver Brook culvert between May and Maywood Streets, and the city is going to create "an attractive walkway" on the surface.
There's a study on reducing the flooding in Green Island.

And now for TRUCKS!
For the DPW Water Division: crew cab truck 4WD w/ plow, 3/4 truck pickup, backhoe with plow, utility/meter truck, 2 1/2 ton pick-up, 5 ton dump truck...
For the DPW Sewer Division (same page as above): a jet flusher, catch basin (that's the truck that cleans the catch basin; it's $205,000, and they put a plow on it in the winter), street sweeper (if you're interested, that costs $335,000), claws, and a pickup truck.
In both of the above cases, take a look as well at the projected years.
I asked at our subcommittee today if the City Council gets a roster of the vehicle fleet with age and condition, as we do. They do not.
Also, inspectional services is purchasing three small sedans and a 4x4 pickup truck.
And the Worcester Fire Department is getting a 4x4 pickup truck and a ladder truck (actually, they're getting only half of a ladder truck; they cost over a million dollars, so it'll be spread over two years).
They aren't trucks, but the Worcester Police Department is getting six marked Ford Taurus Interceptors and eight unmarked Ford Taurus Interceptors. Interesting point: for six marked ones, it costs $200,000. For eight unmarked ones, it costs $232,000.
The list also has the WPD down for "ravens" but as far as I can tell, they're just getting new phones and new cell service.

There is a bit that I don't understand, though; on page 42 above, it says that the Worcester Public Schools are getting something "to replace a current ford taurus (sic) which will allow for easy access to construction sites."
It's for $500,000.
Odd on three counts: WPS doesn't have any sedans (check page 91 of our budget for the vehicles WPS owns). The $500,000 isn't shown  as being WPS anywhere else in the budget. And someone's getting a really lousy deal on a Ford Taurus (or its replacement) if it's costing a half a million dollars.
I really hope that didn't go out as an advertisement that way!

There's also renovations and upgrades happening for the two buildings at Elm Park for $250,000. There's $350,000 worth of work at fire stations. There's almost three and a half million dollars worth of work at the DCU Center (currently being done). And having the former Sh'Booms refitted for the new restaurant is projected to cost $140,000 for Fat, Oil, and Grease compliance refitting.

So, the Council votes on this on Tuesday. If you have questions, get them to your councilor over the weekend!

*It's not one word. It's named after the Green family.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How we're paying for accelerated repairs

A bit more on the school buildings through the capital budget:
First, a correction: our best estimate previously had been that the next round of accelerated repairs--windows at Columbus Park, Tatnuck Magnet, Worcester Arts Magnet, and Worcester East Middle, plus a boiler for Columbus Park, and a boiler and a roof for Worcester East Middle--that were approved in June would be somewhere around $15 million; the DPW is now estimating something more like $13 million, which is what here is allocated. (Still not going to cover the high schools in any way)

Now from a purely fiscal geek angle, here's where this gets fun: if you turn to page 3 (or page 5, if you go by the numbers at the top), you'll see this line halfway down the page:

School Rehabilitation   13,000,000     400,000    7,118,600    7,518,600

So, the first line is the "FY14 Loan Order" BUT the $400,000 is all that they are actually borrowing that's new, because:

in previous years, the City Council has authorized $7,118,600 in borrowing.
the City administration hasn't actually borrowed any of it.

So how are they managing that? Well, MSBA is very good at paying their reimbursements in a timely fashion. So when the City gets a bill, they forward it to MSBA, who pays their 80% and the city can cover the rest without needing the loans.
So when they have to do this next round of MSBA borrowing, they don't have to borrow the $13,000,000 or anything like it.They need to authorize it--MSBA requires that--but the city is paying for it out of (essentially) day-to-day operating money.
Pretty cool, huh?
Fun post on the rest of the capital budget coming up next!


We got word yesterday that Mr. Zidelis, the City CFO, isn't available for the joint subcommittee meeting tomorrow in which we'll be discussing the capital budget.
---interpolation here--I don't know how the city schedules their subcommittee meetings. I know we always have to make sure the relevant administrators can be there before anything makes a calendar. I don't know if this is how it works cityside.
Since the meeting was scheduled with the express purpose of discussing the capital budget prior to the City Council vote on Tuesday, it does make it rather difficult to see how that's going to happen.
I know I have questions!
And another post to come on the capital budget (because I haven't gotten to the FUN stuff yet!).

Chandler Elementary fifth and sixth grade will be at the Y

We have just received the following from Dr. Rodrigues:
As you recall, we made provisions to lease building space to accommodate the increased student enrollment at Chandler Elementary School. A letter was sent to all parents of students in grades 5 and 6 notifying them of the location change for this school year (see attached). Principal Eressy is available to answer any questions parents may have and will host an open house for the students and their families prior to the start of the school year. Mrs. Eressy and her staff are working diligently to ensure a smooth transition to the Alden Building.

The letter reads as follows:
I hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful summer!  I am writing this letter to tell you about a change that is happening here at Chandler Elementary for the upcoming school year.  We are so pleased that the enrollment continues to increase; this means our families value our school and want to keep their children here.  We currently have 451 students scheduled to attend Chandler next year. Due to this increased enrollment, the Worcester Public Schools has leased space for us at the Alden Building of the Central Branch of the YMCA, 766 Main Street.  Our grade 5 and 6 classrooms will be located there for the upcoming school year.  It is a beautiful space, with large, air-conditioned classrooms, a nice, grassy playground, and plenty of parking.  Mrs. Merchant, Mr. Levesque, Mrs. O’Rourke, and Mr. Smith are preparing to move to the new facility.  I want to assure you that nothing will change for your children except the location – they will still have art, music, physical education, and of course, will continue to be provided with any services that they require for language or special education support.  Breakfast and lunch will be provided at the Alden Building. Students will enter the building from the Murray Avenue entrance and proceed to the third floor.  This door will be secured at all times.  School entry and dismissal times will be the same as the main building, with students reporting at 7:45 a.m. and leaving at 3:25 p.m.  If your child is responsible for walking with a younger sibling, we will hold those siblings in the cafeteria until the older student arrives. I would like to invite you to tour the classrooms at Alden building prior to the start of school.  We will host an open house on Tuesday, August 27th from 2pm to 4pm.  I will also be available on Wednesday, August 21st from 9am to 12pm to answer any questions you may have, translators will available during this time.  In the meantime, if you would like to speak to me, feel free to call me at 508-799-3574. Thank you for your support as we continue to work together to Chandler the best place it can be for your students!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Well said, Fort Wayne School Board!

Sorry for the flood of posts tonight; catching up on my reading!

Just had to share some of the excellent language from the Fort Wayne School Board, in their resolution disregarding the A-F school grading system brought to them by former Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett:
WHEREAS, the letter grade system is based upon student scores on the ISTEP examination without regard to numerous factors that affect those scores, including but not limited to the number of students living in poverty, the number of students learning the English language, the number of students with special needs, and the extent of parental involvement; 
and,WHEREAS, the Bennett A-F System ignores factors that the FWCS Board believes are of critical importance to parents selecting a school for their children, including but not limited to the school’s performance in narrowing the performance gap between various groups of students, the overall growth demonstrated by the students in the school, the skill and experience of the school’s building leaders, the attendance rates of its students and staff, awards won by the school’s staff, the extracurricular activities available to students, awards won by the students in the school, the disciplinary data collected for the school;
Good stuff; go read the rest!

Wrong scores, thanks to Pearson

And Pearson has done it again, this time in Virginia.

Another NCLB waiver

If you're tracking NCLB waivers, you can add Maine to your list.

How much time on testing?

I'd missed this AFT report sampling two middle-sized urban districts and how much time (and money!) they spend on testing. As Valerie Strauss reports:
*If testing were abandoned, one school district in this study could add from 20 to 40 minutes of instruction to each school day for most grades. The other school district would be able to add almost an entire class period to the school day for grades 6-11. Additionally, in most grades, more than $100 per test-taker could be reallocated to purchase instructional programs, technology or to buy better tests.
Among the items in the backup of Superintendent Boone's evaluation (which I started working through today, continuing tomorrow) is a master list of the standardized tests given here in Worcester. I've asked that it be shared (electronically) with us; I'll post it once we have it.

And while we're on the subject, here are five absurdities of standardized state assessments.

What data does the federal education department collect?

We may find out in November.

Want to help us build a playground?

Wawecus Road School could use your help this Saturday!

August 17

We need your help to put up the new playground!  Along with your handy work, we may need some of your equipment like rakes, ratchet sets, shovels.   So if you have them please bring them.  Invite family, friends, neighbors to join in on this special day.  On behalf of the Wawecus school community, thank you in advance and we will see you on August 17th!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

City Capital Budget

(that's the budget that buys "stuff": trucks, buildings, sewer systems...)
Among the things being considered at this Friday's joint Education/Finance and Operations meeting (9:30 am Friday at DAB) is the city's capital budget.
As far as I can tell, it's still not posted on the city's website; that's a link to the agenda backup on the WPS website.
The City Manager's cover letter puts the total as $40.6 million, with the "net tax levy" at $24.8 million. A big chunk of the difference between the two numbers is the $10.4 million projected for MSBA reimbursement for school buildings off of the $13 million being allocated
What's a little weird about that number is that the projects that have been approved by MSBA are:
  • Columbus Park: windows and boiler
  • Tatnuck Magnet: windows
  • Worcester Arts Magnet: windows
  • Worcester East Middle: roof, windows, boiler
...which our best guess is putting at a $15 million total. Thus the $13 million already isn't enough. If you go into the description of the borrowing, though, the plan on page 51 lists not only the above, but Burncoat, Doherty, and South as well. None of those has been approved--South is the one that MSBA is considering, and we'll hear about that this fall--and the numbers on that one is yet to be calculated.
The City Manager's letter also (page 4) says that it "includes $400,000 to begin to address the design requirements of the second round of accelerated repairs submitted for approval to the MSBA." While it's a breakdown for $7.5 million in "public school building rehabilitation and equipment" (not sure where that number is coming from), I have heard elsewhere that this is money for a--much needed!--facilities master plan. If that's the case, that would be great, as we really need a plan of which buildings need what and in what (logical) order. I know the state would like us to have one as well. I just wish that I could find that in the budget somewhere.
Beyond the school buildings, the capital budget also includes the usual $500,000 for capital needs. You can find the expenditures recommended by administration on page 89 of the WPS budget; it is:
  • $150,000 for classroom computers and technology
  • $240,000 for school buses (that's 4 buses)
  • $110,00 for Facilities department vehicles
It's useful in this context to then have the rest of the city capital to compare that to. Recall that we are running 50 buildings spread across the city, serving nearly 25,000 students, with 4000 employees. We do our own snow plowing. We run our own technology. We have acres of land to mow.
Thus the page 33 list of assigned equipment purchases in the five year capital plan is oddly lopsided.
And you might compare the above with the list of new vehicle purchases being requested by some of the city departments.
Plenty here to consider! Please take a look at the budget and let me know if you have questions!

Want to coach?

Worcester Youth Soccer League needs coaches: right now their under 10  program is particularly understaffed. Can you volunteer to help?

Friday, August 9, 2013


A press release has gone out to the media; here are the details:

SCHOOL FOR ALL STUDENTS save kindergarten and preschool BEGINS AUGUST 28.
School for preschool and kindergarten students begins September 3.
Kindergarten students are being screened by appointment at their schools on August 28, 29, and 30.If your child does not have an appointment, please contact the school for one after August 19.

Breakfast and lunch will be served on the first day of school.

All new students can register at:
Dr. James L. Garvey Center for Parent Information
768 Main Street
Tel: 508-799-3450
Monday – Friday: 8:30 A.M. – 4:00 P.M

Alternatively, middle and high school students may register at their new school.
Transfer students need a transfer slip from their original school, which they can bring to their new school.

And no, the bus routes aren't up yet, but I'll let you know just as soon as they are!

Joint F&O, Education committee meeting

The Finance and Operations standing committee (of the School Committee) and the Education subcommittee (of the City Council) will meet this coming Friday, August 16 at 9:30 am at City Hall.
On the docket: there's sure to be a facilities update. We're also talking about the city capital budget ahead of the Council's vote on it, scheduled for August 22.

I know it's an awkward time, but trying to cram a joint meeting in ahead of the Council meeting caught up with us.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Testing, testing

You may have heard that New York, one of the first states to shift their testing to something (possibly) more reflective of the Common Core, released their district and state results yesterday. As expected, scores across the state have dropped precipitously. 
Let me repeat the beginning of that: AS EXPECTED.
New York radically changed the type of test and in many cases what was on the tests the kids were taking this year. Teachers hadn't had much time to prepare kids, and no one really knew what these tests were going to look like once they were out there.
Please take this as a given: when we switch tests, scores are going to drop. They are going to drop hard, they are going to drop fast, and IT IS GOING TO MEAN NOTHING ABOUT WHAT KIDS ARE LEARNING.
Get ready for this now, in any state where your schools are changing types of tests: when the first round comes out, the scores will be lower.
And it will be meaningless.

If you're looking more on what this does and doesn't mean, Diane Ravitch takes apart the "yes men" at the New York Times while pointing out that the NY state ed commissioner doesn't know how the NAEP works,  a principal from elsewhere in the state points out what NY state tests have been like lately and points to mismanagement at the top, the New York State High School Principal of the Year has advice for parents and pushes for sanity to prevail, and the Voorheesville* Central School District superintendent has a thoughtful, down to earth letter of perspective for parents:
Our community is sophisticated enough to recognize a canard when it experiences one.  These tests were intentionally designed to obtain precisely the outcomes that were rendered.  The rationale behind this is to demonstrate that our most successful students are not so much and our least successful students are dreadful.  If you look at the distribution of scores, you see exactly the same distances as any other test.  The only difference is that the distribution has been manipulated to be 30 to 40 percent lower for everybody.  This serves an enormously powerful purpose.  If you establish a baseline this low, the subsequent growth over the next few years will indicate that your plans for elevating the outcomes were necessary.  However, it must be recognized that the test developers control the scaled scores—indeed they have developed a draconian statistical formula that is elaborate, if indecipherable, to determine scaled scores.  I would bet my house on the fact that over the next few years, scores will “improve”—not necessarily student learning, but scores.  They must, because the State accepted millions and millions of dollars to increase student scores and increase graduation rates.  If scores do not improve from this baseline, then those ‘powers that be’ will have a lot of explaining to do to justify having accepted those millions.
(and her letter before that, on the Common Core, is excellent as well. Dr. Snyder, you rock!)

*suburb to the west of Albany. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Your input needed!

As you've probably noted, we're a bit off-cycle with our annual evaluation of Superintendent Boone. Like all others in public education, the evaluation of the superintendent is switching over to the new system (that was brought in to stave off the Stand for Children ballot initiative...). As such, we're doing a midyear catchup, with our more formal evaluation in late November (which will be the new time that it is done each year after this one).
As we didn't get the superintendent's self-evaluation until less than two days before the meeting (and didn't have access to the backup until later than that), several of us, myself included, didn't respond at the last meeting. The item was held intentionally so that we might speak to it at our August meeting.
You can find the superintendent's self-evaluation here. Should you be interested, the backup documents are publicly available in the School Committee office on the first floor of DAB.
I am, as always, interested in your input. You can comment on this post, email me (novickt at, send me a message on Facebook, DM me on Twitter, call me, or stop me in the dairy aisle* at the supermarket.
And thanks!

*it's always the dairy aisle. Don't ask me why.

Lies, Damn Lies...

Good post over at The Indignant Teacher on the "Dam of Lies" around the Common Core and Race to the Top here in Massachusetts:
Except one day suddenly there were people in decision-making roles in Massachusetts who weren’t the “smartest” in the group. They traded in our “smartest” state standards for RTTT and CCSS, knowing it was a weaker system. Over time, NAEP data evolved into something that would ultimately remove the “smartest” title from Massachusetts students. This year’s data shows Massachusetts having dropped to #2, after Vermont, in terms of “smartest” adults based on education attainment demographics.

Clearly there’s a pattern, and it’s not a positive one. We are losing status as “smartest”, and it wouldn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to determine why. So why do we, as a state, allow the pattern to continue? Why can’t we do what we know works – what’s proven to work? And really, why did we sign on to this in the first place?
Scrolling back through the history, it's worth noting this speech from Governor Patrick, expressing reluctance to adopt the standards "if it means compromising our values." That was after we'd lost in round one, but before we'd won in round two: just when the decision was being made to cave on the Common Core. I'd also note some of this interchange with both Chester and Ingram after Massachusetts had been announced as a winner.
Beyond the push about needing the money (which was questionable at best, particularly when you consider how strictly spending it was structured), there was definitely a lot of political pushing going on around Race to the Top. For our bluest state to refuse the much-touted educational policy initiative of a Democratic president would have looked bad. It would have been smart, but it would have looked bad.
And it sure does look as though political expediency was put over educational attainment.
And should you need a revamp on my take of why Race to the Top was a bad idea, here you are

Rebellion in the ranks

In case you missed it: there's a rebellion going on in the alums of Teach for America. Previously known for going on to law school or med school, or (more destructively) becoming the next wave of ed "reform" leaders, there's now a growing movement of those leaving the TFA ranks and fighting against much of what TFA does and stands for. TruthOut has good coverage of not only the "what" by the "why."
Go figure: you take a group of college grads who have just spent the past four years being trained by elite colleges in research and critical thinking, indoctrinate them in non-researched based education theories that don't stand up to critical thinking, and then send them out to experience how poorly those theories work on the ground. And then they come back and argue that it's not working. Who could have foreseen that one?
And while you're reading thoughts on TFA, you might take a look at this--angry, and rightfully so--post from Jess Yarmosky, who has finished her TFA time and has some thoughts to share.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fall 2013 charter school applicants

Just in from Commissioner Chester:
ESE has received charter school prospectuses from ten founding groups seeking approval to open new charter schools in Andover, Cape Cod, Central Mass., Fall River, Fitchburg, Greater Boston, Lynn, and Springfield. After reviewing the proposals, in mid-September, ESE will notify the founding groups whose prospectuses show the most promise and invite them to submit full applications. Final applications are due on October 25, 2013. After a comprehensive review by ESE staff and external reviewers, Commissioner Chester will decide which finalists to recommend to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Board will vote on the Commissioner's recommendations to award new charters in February 2014. 

Anyone know where the central Mass one is?

UPDATE: I found it:
Central Massachusetts Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics via Language Immersion Public Charter SchoolWestborough, Hopkinton, Marlborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Northborough2014K-8675

So...we're already down to a 64% reimbursement rate on low is the Commissioner going to recommend that we drive it?

Remember Marshall Elementary?

...and their impassioned principal?
You won't find much mention of it in this laudatory report about the charter takeover from the Globe this morning.

And from Chicago

From last night's meeting in Chicago:

Florida needs a state superintendent

...again. This will make four for Governor Rick Scott in Florida, who brought Tony Bennett in as state superintendent in January. 
Bennett was voted out of his elected position as state superintendent in Indiana last year due to the unpopularity of his "reformiest" policies, from teacher evaluation to the statewide school grading scheme that brought him down.
Associate Press reporter Tom LoBianco broke the story earlier this week that Bennett had altered the Indiana statewide grading system that he brought in for schools when a favored charter school run by a major Bennett campaign donor would have received a C:
...trouble loomed when Indiana's then-grading director, Jon Gubera, first alerted Bennett on Sept. 12 that the Christel House Academy had scored less than an A.
"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012, email to Neal.
Neal fired back a few minutes later, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved."
By Sept. 13, Gubera unveiled it was a 2.9, or a "C."
A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a "C'' to an "A," including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high "B'' look like an "A'' and changing the grade just for Christel House.
(The AP has posted all of the emails, received through a public documents request, here.)
 Despite tweets from Michelle Rhee, statements from the Fordham Institute, and a general attempt to circle the "reformy" wagons, the damage was done and Bennett resigned Thursday.
I'm just going to interject here and point out that, despite Secretary Duncan's comment, it wasn't the transparency of the grading system that worked here; it's the public document laws and a press that has its eye on the ball. Score one for Mr. LoBianco, but it shouldn't have been necessary for him to request the documents. This never should have happened in the first place.
The new Politico Education blog is asking today what this means for school grading formulas. There's also this connection:

I'd also point out that this continues the theme of perceived miracle workers who fix the system when the miracles don't happen.
Education is hard work. There are no shortcuts.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fence sitting

This morning, Diane Ravitch posted the news that North Carolina has become the latest state to drop out of inBloom:
Guilford County, N.C. told POLITICO on Wednesday that the state decided to stop using the service...
Guilford schools’ departure doesn’t put the project in any kind of jeopardy, inBloom said, although Louisiana withdrew in April and other states once affiliated with the project no longer are. That leaves New York, two Illinois districts and one Colorado district as firm participants for now; Massachusetts is on the fence.
emphasis mine

After I tweeted this earlier today, I urged Secretary Malone to reconsider Massachusetts' position:

After asking what I was talking about, he replied:

All right: bonus points for running with the fence metaphor, but clearly, the Secretary still needs, shall we say, a push.
Keep up the pressure, folks.

With the new tests come new legal issues

...decent coverage of some of them can be found here.