Monday, September 30, 2013

Diane Ravitch is coming to Cambridge!

Diane Ravitch is taking her book tour to Cambridge on October 24.
7:30 pm at Memorial Church, Harvard Yard
Tickets are $12 and are available here.

Anyone want to carpool in?

What does the government shutdown mean for education?

The short answer is not much for most of us, right away.The longer it goes, the more of an issue it will become, and for federally run programs--Head Start, schools on reservations and military installations or near large amounts of federally-owned land--it gets very serious very quickly.

More detail from ASCD:
1. What’s the bottom line for schools and districts? How would a government shutdown affect daily operations?Most schools and districts are unlikely to feel immediate effects of a shutdown because the advanced funding nature of federal education spending means that states and districts have already received much of their federal funding for the school year. In addition, the vast majority of school funding (about 90 percent) comes from state and local sources. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded dozens of competitive grants in the past several days so that it is not held up by a shutdown.
2. Will any education programs be affected in the short-term?Head Start (which provides early childhood education to low-income families) and Impact Aid (which helps fund school districts that cannot fully rely on local tax revenue, such as those on military bases or tribal lands) depend heavily on federal dollars that are not necessarily distributed at the beginning of the school year. Thus, these programs could experience more acute and immediate shutdown consequences. This is especially concerning because Head Start and Impact Aid have already deeply felt the effects of sequestration. More than 50,000 children have lost access to Head Start and many Impact Aid districts have been forced to eliminate positions and programming because of sequestration.
More detail at the above link and at EdWeek's K-12 blog

Contingency plans from the USDA, regarding government shutdown

It sickens me to have to post this, but I know there are those out there who need to know it.
Please be aware:  Massachusetts does have state-funded WIC and a state-funded emergency food program (MEFAP), so this may not have immediate impact on these programs. 

Specific program impacts of a lapse in funding are provided below. These impacts assume that the lapse is of short duration (i.e., less than one month). Should the funding lapse be longer, the FNCS contingency plan and these associated impacts will be re-visited and updated:

• The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will continue operations and eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October. The authority to make October benefit payments comes from the Recovery Act, through which Congress provided “such sums  as are necessary” to finance the SNAP benefit provided for in the Recovery Act. In addition, about $2 billion in contingency funding will be available and could be used to support State Administrative activities essential to continue the program and issue and process benefits. These contingency funds were provided in the FY 2013 appropriation and do not expire until the end of FY 2014.

 No additional federal funds would be available to support the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)’s clinical services, food benefits and administrative costs. States may have some funds available from infant formula rebates or other sources, including spend forward authority,to continue operations for a week or so, but States would likely be unable to sustain operations for a longer period. Contingency funds will be available to help States – but even this funding would not fully mitigate a shortfall for the
entire month of October. 

• The Child Nutrition (CN) Programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk will continue operations into October. Meal providers are paid on a reimbursement basis 30 days after the end of the service month. Limited carryover funding will be available during a lapse to support FY 2014 meal service. Once an appropriation is enacted, we expect additional resources will be available to reimburse October performance. In addition, most State agencies will continue to have fiscal year 2013 funds available for State Administrative Expenses (SAE). SAE funds are awarded to States for a two year grant period and they are permitted to carryover up to 20 percent of their allocation into the second year of the grant period. 

• No additional federal funds would be available to support the Commodity Assistance Programs (CAP) including the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) administrative funding, and the WIC Farmers’ Markets Nutrition Program (FMNP). Similarly, no new funds will be available to support the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). While there would be some inventory available for use in food packages, no carryover, contingency or other funds would be available to support continued operations.

"The winners of a rigged game should not get to write the rules"

Earlier this fall, at one of the community meetings running up to the election, I was asked something like the following question:
Children who come to this country as immigrants are required to take the MCAS in English long before they are fluent in English. A tenth grade student, an immigrant, required to take the MCAS and knowing well that he was unable to understand, let alone fluently respond to, the questions on it, refused to take the test. Because the tenth grade exam is required for graduation, he was required to sign a legal form in English that he understood what he was forgoing. What is your response to this?
My response is that it's definitely unethical, possibly illegal, and absolutely immoral.

But Dylan Garity says it better than I:

h/t Upworthy and all the people who posted this on Facebook this week!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Update from Superintendent Boone on Net School Spending: UPDATED

This morning, along with this T&G article, we've received the following from Superintendent Boone:
Attached is a recommendation from the City Manager to be presented to the City Council for the October 1, 2013 City Council meeting that provides an additional $172,000 of city contribution to the Worcester Public Schools for FY14.  Upon approval of the City Council, I will submit a supplemental item for next week’s School Committee meeting for appropriation of these new funds.  We currently are still looking to balance class sizes throughout the district, and these funds will immediately be used to hire three teachers at the secondary level.  I appreciate the work on behalf of the Mayor to get FY14 spending to the minimum level for net school spending, and this additional funding will achieve meeting the required level for the first time since FY10.  I also appreciate the efforts of the City Manager to meet our net school spending deficit by providing this additional appropriation.  I also appreciate the support of the City Council to provide an initial $255,000 to the WPS in June and I look forward to their support next week on these additional funds.  Both the City CFO Tom Zidelis and Chief Financial and Operations Officer Brian Allen have worked closely over the past several days and both agree that this additional funding will place the city approximately $130,000 above the required spending (to include the carry forward deficit). 
 I have a couple of outstanding questions on this (and it's time once again to be grateful for administrators who answer their email on weekends), including how $172,000 gets us $130,000 above when we were $177,000 below, and if the recommended teachers are additions to those we have or are already in the classroom.
I will update this post as I have more information, and clearly, we'll have this all much clearer by midweek.

UPDATE: Superintendent Boone says this will be additional teachers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Net School Spending makes the Council agenda

Item 11b: Michael V. O'Brien, City Manager, transmitting communication recommending One Hundred Seventy Two Thousand Dollars and No Cents ($172,000.00) be transferred from Account #900-92000, and be appropriated to Account #500-91000, Worcester Public School Salaries, to fund school salaries, to address his commitment concerning the FY2014 "Net School Spending".

Not sure why the amount is $172,000; the last amount we had for the shortfall (on August 22) was $177,000. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall Mini Olympics!

Joint Education/Finance and Operations meeting October 8

There will be a joint meeting of the City Council Education subcommittee and the School Committee Standing Committee on Finance and Operations on October 8 at 5 at the Durkin Administration Building.
(4th floor; the door from the parking lot will be open)

Expect a facilities update (!) and maybe something on budget. Maybe.

To cheer your Thursday...

...go look at the photos by Steven King of the Union Hill second graders visiting the Worcester Senior Center for a lesson on Johnny Appleseed and apple pie!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Worcester School Committee candidates' forum TONIGHT!

I know it feels as though we've had lots of elections lately, but we have yet another one coming up: Worcester votes in municipal elections on November 5.
That's only about six weeks away!
Tonight is the first Worcester School Committee candidates' forum. It's sponsored by the Initiative for Engaged Citizenship, and it's at 7 pm at the library. Come down and figure out what you're going to do with your six votes!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Worcester East Middle update

I have just received the following from administration regarding the Worcester East Middle School science labs:
All construction documents are in place and work is scheduled to begin in the next two weeks.  Based on current schedules, the two rooms (science lab and teacher prep area) should be completed within 60 days of the start of construction.  The project consists of appropriate abatement, new flooring material, and new cabinetry in the two rooms.  Upon completion by the contracted construction company, WPS personnel will then add four working sinks to the classroom.  This additional work is being performed in-house because of the significant cost savings associated with plumbing and carpentry work.  All work is expected to be completed prior to the end of this calendar year. 

Chester lays out the options at the BoE

From the Globe today:

Chester is expected to lay out a two-year proposal for the tryout at a state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting on Tuesday. The proposal would require state board approval, with a vote likely in November.Under the proposal, schools chosen to try out the new exams would have the option in most cases of not giving students the MCAS. The exception would be any 10th-graders at those schools, because passing the MCAS will remain, for now, a state graduation requirement.About 15 percent of all students in grades 3 to 11 statewide, or nearly 100,000 of them, will be given the trial exams.In the following school year, 2014-15, all school districts would choose between the MCAS or the new exams, known as PARCC, for that year only. The idea behind the choice is to determine if there is any gap in rigor between the two tests by comparing the results
Two things I am not reading here that I am looking for: the "we're not doing the PARCC, only the MCAS" option and the freeze on the accountability (level) system these next two years. With some schools not reporting out results, and with two different tests in place next year, it's going to be meaningless. 
Also, kudos to my colleague Donna Colorio for heading in for the Board of Ed meeting today. With the board voting at their November meeting, we're going to need to watch this one closely.

More, no doubt, to come

Monday, September 23, 2013

From Commissioner Chester's mailbag

...we see that Governor Scott has directed Florida* to become the latest of states that had originally signed up with PARCC that now have dropped out.
Add them to Georgia, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alabama, Indiana, I missing any?
As of July, the following at affirmed their commitment to field test:
Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Tennessee and the District of Columbia.
That leaves Kentucky as still in but not having affirmed their commitment to field test; all other states that were in as of July that did not affirm--Florida, Indiana, and Oklahoma--since have dropped out of the consortium.

All of which will make Commissioner Chester's update on PARCC tomorrow at the Massachusetts Board of Education meeting that much more interesting!

*There's some question as to who has which power. There's no question of the political winds in Florida, though.

Jersey Jazzman's right: so don't give up

I'd recommend that you go read Jersey Jazzman's post from last week on the meeting the NJ superintendents had with Governor Christie. It's specific to New Jersey, but the point he raises is one we all should keep in mind:
Dr. McCartney has a long and distinguished career as an educator and school leader. He, and the vast majority of New Jersey's superintendents, have forgotten more about public education than Chris Cerf and his Broad-paid interns fellows ever knew. So it's not "kicking and screaming" to challenge the highly questionable policies that have been foisted on to New Jersey's excellent public schools; in fact, I would say that these school leaders not only have the right to challenge the nonsense Chris Christie is pushing, they have a duty to stand up and resist it. 
And so his title: "They only win when you give up."
As I said, this is something that applies well beyond New Jersey. Yes, right now it appears that there are few on the national stage who 'get it' on education. Just this weekend, I was depressed to get a letter from my congressman citing his vote in favor of Rep. Miller's ESEA re-authorization proposal as a mark in his favor; Miller, of course, wants to expand charter schools and thinks that evaluating teachers based on student test scores is hunky-dory. Our state commissioner appears to be under the impression that piling even more test time onto our kids is a) within his purview and b) a good idea. Far too many local authorities of all stripes--management, elected, unions--are cowed by the very idea of standing up and saying no.

But we have to.
Because they win if we give up.
So, whoever you are, don't give up.
Keep writing letters, keep publicly testifying, keep posting on social media, keep having those conversations at work and on the soccer sidelines, keep working for those in public office who DO get it, and whatever you do: DON'T GIVE UP!

Oh, and if you're in the Fifth Congressional District and are eligible to vote in the Democrat primary (you're registered as either a U or a D), go vote for Carl Sciortino October 15 (date corrected). He's been submitting bills in the Mass Legislature that "get it" on education since he got there, and he doesn't give up. 

Happy Banned Books Week!

You can read more about Banned Books Week here.
The hashtag on Twitter is #bannedbooksweek and there are some Google hangouts planned with challenged authors.
Of course, the best way to celebrate is to read a banned book!

And should you think this isn't still very much an issue, check out what happened in Randolph County, North Carolina last week  Since the news has gone national, the board is now reconsidering the ban

Friday, September 20, 2013

Did you have something planned besides testing?

If you did, you should say so, because Pearson has other plans for you!
Today as part of our Friday letter from Superintendent Boone, we received a list of the number of classes that the state wishes to take part in PARCC field testing for Pearson this spring with how long that field testing will take. You can scroll up from that link for responses by PARCC to Frequently Asked Questions.

And, my, doesn't Pearson need a lot of them!

Not surprising, really, when you remember that they started with 20 states and now are down to 13, but still need to run a field test.

Let's do a little math:
Each session lasts two hours.
Thus if you take the far right column and multiply by two, you get how many HOURS of testing these classes of children are going to spend being guinea pigs for Pearson.
In addition to whatever testing we usually do.
And instead of spending their time on getting an education.
And without compensation.

It looks as though the two groups who have particularly hit the Pearson jackpot are: 
two classes of sixth graders at Quinsigamond Elementary and 
two classes of third graders at Canterbury Street 
                                                  .....with TEN HOURS of testing each!

This is appalling in both cases but is particularly appalling for the Canterbury Street kids, as third grade is the first time kids face the MCAS exam, and these classes would be taking these field tests IN ADDITION TO the MCAS.

Their peers at Jacob Hiatt and Woodland Academy have it nearly as long, with eight hours of additional testing for two classes each of third graders at those schools. 

It also seems that Pearson's need for field testing is more important than: 
  • eight hours of fourth grade for two classes of City View students
  • more important than eight hours of fourth grade for two classes of Goddard students
  • more important than eight hours of fifth grade for two classes of Tatnuck Magnet students
  • more important than eight hours of education for two classes of Algebra I level students at Worcester Tech.

It goes on from there:
note that not all students will necessarily be tested
Six hours for: fourth graders at Elm Park Community, third and fourth graders at Flagg Street, fourth graders at Gates Lane, fourth grades at Grafton Street, fifth graders at May Street, fourth graders at Midland Street, fifth graders at Nelson Place, fourth graders at Norrback, sixth graders at Rice Square, seventh graders at Sullivan Middle.
Four hours for: eighth graders at Burncoat Middle, tenth graders at Burncoat High, fifth graders at City View, seventh graders at Claremont, ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders at Doherty, seventh and eighth graders at Forest Grove, fifth graders at Heard Street, sixth graders at Lake View, sixth graders at Nelson Place, eleventh graders at North, Algebra I students at South, sixth graders and eighth graders at Sullivan Middle, third graders at Vernon Hill, fifth graders at West Tatnuck, third and sixth graders at Worcester Arts, seventh and eighth graders at Worcester East Middle, and eleventh graders at Worcester Tech.

No results of these tests will be given to the schools or to the students or their parents. 
Neither the students nor the faculty and staff of the school will be compensated for their time doing work for the Pearson company.
The students will not be able to regain the time lost to testing (nor will their teachers).
We will not as a district be gaining any special insider look at the test, as the state intends to distribute sample materials statewide this spring.

No one--not the WPS administration, not the School Committee, not the teachers and principals, and certainly not the students or their parents--signed up to be Pearson guinea pigs.
I've had it. Enough of this. 
If you've had it, as well, you should let us know. We take this up on the 3rd. 

MCAS press release: WPS

If you'd like to see the full WPS press release on MCAS, including district results and school levels, I've posted it here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Contract with custodians

And tonight (first thing!), the Worcester School Committee voted unanimously in favor of a (ratified) contract with our custodians.
First contract settled. 

Co-sponsorship in line with the Open Meeting Law

O'Connell wants a process similar to what we do now
suggest a change different than that made by AG
suggests that filing items is "simply disseminating information"
hope items can include list of co-sponsors

going to Governance and Employee Issues
since we apparently are not going to be deciding this tonight which is what I just got up and said...the AG's decision is fairly clear on this

smart meters

...we do not have any in our schools now; they were proposed for seven schools, but demand outpaced supply. It will come up when we re-bid our contract.
Colorio wants a report on pros or cons on smart meters prior to moving forward with rebidding the contract.

E-rate declining

One of the reports back on the budget items is an update on E-rate funding; it looks as though it's fading. We aren't getting our priority 2 things funded.
O'Connell asking about a one-to-one tech; Boone "watched closely what has happened in those districts that have done so"
moving on BYOD (bring your own device)

Colorio accepts

...administration coming back with information as possible on the list of items.


...goes right back to the state level

Biancheria suggests

...better information going out to the public for people to be better informed

Foley on Common Core

Haven't had a local option since 1993
"a good teacher can reach all around that"
floor, minimum standard
pushing our students to achieve at a higher level
motion for what's the financial burden for all of these motions
roll call on the motions
"what are the options in front of us"
not a decision that we're being asked to make

Mayor Petty on Common Core

already implemented 90% of Common Core
"already there...we can't do anything that"
"the City Manager isn't going make of the difference here if we decline to follow state standards"
motion to oppose list of motions
"at the end of the day it's going to be meaningless"
"I don't see the need to do all this work for nothing"

O'Connell comments on Common Core

appreciates reports
articles that appear on a weekly basis
changes need to be studied extensively by educational researchers, by teachers, by students
"devil lies in the details"
"there are many people that need to be educated by some of the minutie (sp?)"
teachers focusing spending time on how it works with the classroom
teachers being evaluated on the basis of student mastery of skills that they have not had to master in the past
"issues are not going to be resolved in Worcester"

Comment from Colorio on Common Core

I can't type quite fast enough here; she's typed it up so I'll ask for a link. And it closed with an 11 point motion requesting quite a bit of information.

Update: Ms. Colorio's comments are here after the break:

Presentation from Superintendent Boone regarding Common Core

Boone: information on the Common Core
"I do not see the need to defend the Common Core"
"Massachusetts met the Common Core and adopted it"
state board of education had four different analysis done on Common Core
"the state establishes the standards, and this is not new"
there are a number of states from which this is a significant departure
state board found that 90% of Common Core were aligned with Mass standards
there are other comparisons that have found different
Rodrigues points out that we were due for a curriculum renewal in Worcester, regardless
Boone cites "rigor" of Common Core as embraced by industry (see, for example, Exxon Mobil's commercial in favor)

Public testimony regarding the Common Core

Largely appears to the conservative side concerns regarding Common Core, 'though we're hearing some of the question regarding why Massachusetts would have adopted this despite our place in national standards
engineer by training married to a teacher: "always put something in the context of the problem being solved"
Massachusetts at the top or near the top
"what problem are we trying to solve by adopting the Common Core do we get better if we're going to share this with the whole rest of the country?"
"local control only accounts for 15% under Common Core unlike now when you have 100%"
(I guess that depends on what you mean by 'local'...we have to follow the state now)
Stotsky one of five on review committee that did not sign, names not mentioned and not included
"not coming for free...despite the fed has given waiver on Race to the Top money for a certain period of time"
I'm not sure what that means
has put together a package for each of us
can only conclude that "when the school committee voted in favor of the Common Core that they did so with incomplete information"
we didn't vote for the Common Core; that decision was made at the state level
former MCAS tutor now speaking: about LA Unified adding Ebonics being taught in the schools
"don't think parents know what's coming"
Bonnie Johnson, Activate Worcester, from Boylston
no ability to refine program
replace with national mandated standards
comparison with whole language learning
"not give up local control of our education"
Ron Matta, lives in Worcester
two grandchildren at Abby Kelley Foster charter
"one word why, why do we have to adopt this...why do we have to gravitate downward rather than spiraling upward"
"once this thing gets rolling, it's over"
parent from Grafton Hill: presentation at Worcester State failed to include some problems
"if teachers weren't included in the national level, let alone the state level, have some problems"
not internationally benchmarked
not benchmarked for our children and where they are developmentally

student safety in Main South

"to address the impediments to the safety and well-being of the students who walk to school, who wait at school bus stops, and who attend school in the Main South area"

Councilor Rivera: prostitution in the area of our students walking to school and around schools
"as a parent, that's a concern for me as our students are walking to school"
increase toward the end of the school year and again towards the end of August
"we really need to deal with this issue"
"there is some work being done at the Council level...does pose a serious safety issue for these students"
"I think sometimes things become a norm within an area, but there's no reason why we should be tolerating this in the vicinity of our students"
Casey Starr, Main South CDC
students need to be able to walk to and from school every day safety
"need an immediate and sustainable solution to this"
Mayor: been an issue in Main South for too long
Boone: schools have been a center of activity, caught in the middle: example where "community comes together"
"staunch supporters of the schools"
O'Connell: meeting on Monday morning on this issue
points brought up this evening were brought up at that meeting
question if there is more we can do: surveillance equipment, to cover in a more blanket way
mention of Department of Homeland Security
Claremont students reluctant to go to Boys Club because activity in area
I should note that our representative here tonight from Claremont is nodding; she lives by the Boys Club and agrees that this is an issue in the area.
Mayor says "many meetings to come on this"
"we are on the right track and this is going to be handled"

Note that our student rep adds that students should know that they can anonymously text a send  "TIPWPD" to the number 27463

Opening of School Report

Boone: thanks all those who did work throughout the summer and those who came back in August for "a very successful school opening"
to put it all in one place to address what it takes to open the schools
posting as we go: report here

Did you know the Pope had been a literature teacher?

His interview (published in English in America magazine) is going to make headlines for other reasons, but I liked the reflection of Pope Francis on teaching literature:
“It was a bit risky,” he answers. “I had to make sure that my students read El Cid. But the boys did not like it. They wanted to read Garcia Lorca. Then I decided that they would study El Cid at home and that in class I would teach the authors the boys liked the most. Of course, young people wanted to read more ‘racy’ literary works, like the contemporary La Casada Infiel or classics like La Celestina, by Fernando de Rojas. But by reading these things they acquired a taste in literature, poetry, and we went on to other authors. And that was for me a great experience. I completed the program, but in an unstructured way—that is, not ordered according to what we expected in the beginning, but in an order that came naturally by reading these authors. And this mode befitted me: I did not like to have a rigid schedule, but rather I liked to know where we had to go with the readings, with a rough sense of where we were headed."
 Like many (most?) Jesuits, Pope Francis taught prior to his ordination as a priest; in 1964 and 1965, he taught literature and psychology at the Colegio de la Inmaculada and at the Colegio del Salvador.

Worcester School Committee meets tonight!

sorry for the late agenda review...lots of running around this week!

The Worcester School Committee meets tonight at 7 pm at City Hall. You can find the agenda here.

First up, we have the annual Opening of School report from Superintendent Boone. Plenty of important things here, including preliminary enrollment information--yes, the district is continuing to grow!--the rundown on summer hiring, program and curriculum changes, the facilities and technology work, and more! We won't have an MCAS report tonight; the state is allowing the release of that tomorrow.

We have another round of retirements/appointments to take a look at.

We have four responses coming back from administration, all in response to questions that were asked during our budget hearings:

  1. a breakdown on team sport transportation
  2. a report on which schools have or will have smart meters (answer: None)
  3. an update on E-rate (not good news)
  4. a report on adult education funding
We've got a report back on the chapter 74 vocational funding by program.
We have a response on the query around the new nutritional regs (answer: the part in question doesn't apply to WPS).
We have a report on the Common Core standards (much of which I think we've seen before).
We have an item coming in on working with others to make Main South safer for our students walking to and from school (this in response to concerns raised by Councilor Sarai Rivera, who represents that neighborhood; I know that there was a meeting on this on Monday, so we should hear something tonight).
We're being asked to approve a prior fiscal year payment of $750 for translation, $350 for the UPCS NEASC report, and $2123 for a prorated alternative stipend.
We're being asked to approve a $75,000 grant from DESE for "technology innovation" in teacher evaluation; $60,000 of this is going to for consulting to ClearPond Technology who appear to be the group behind TeachPoint (honestly, can't find these guys online anywhere; is that weird or is that me?). TeachPoint " one of the fastest growing providers of Teacher Evaluation solution. We innovatively combine the power of cloud computing and mobile technology to create precisely tailored and intuitive solutions for K12 Schools Districts" according to their website. Yes, I will be asking about that.
Administration has filed an item about developing financial reporting requirements for parent-teacher and other associated WPS groups; that's going to F&O.
There are also are items to:

  • recognize Shelia Harrity on the NASSP principal of the year award.
  • review the promotion practices of WPS.
  • request the Body Mass Index measurement schedule
  • request a report on preschool (application, sites, numbers, timeframes, playground equipment)

We're being asked to approve the hiring of some nurses (yes, we do the nurses) and approve a timeline for hiring a new nurse coordinator.
We have an interesting response from City Solicitor David Moore on my query regarding filing items such that we comply with the Open Meeting Law.

And there you have it: 7 pm tonight!

Five local museums offering an EBT discount

Great thing a few local museums are doing for low-income families:
Five Worcester-area museums have joined together to offer a three-month discount for all Massachusetts residents with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. FromOctober 1 through December 31, EBT card holders can present their card for a discounted $2 per person cash admission at the EcoTariumMuseum of Russian Icons,Tower Hill Botanical GardenWorcester Art Museum, and Worcester Historical Museum. ...
The museum discount applies for up to four people per card, per visit during regular business hours and cannot be combined with other offers or used for special events. The admission fee must be paid in cash. Credit card or check transactions cannot be processed for this program.
Note that kids under 18 are already free at the Worcester Historical Museum; under 17 are free at the Worcester Art Museum; under six are free at Tower Hill; under three are free at the Museum of Russian Icons; under two are free at the Ecotarium.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

News on our first two Level 4 schools

Good news! I have just received the following from Dr. Rodrigues:

Superintendent Melinda J. Boone proudly announces the accomplishments of two Level 4 schools in the district.  Today, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released the new accountability determination for the 34 schools designated as Level 4 schools in 2010. Selected schools exited the Level 4 status to Level 3, 2 or 1, some remained on Level 4, and others became under consideration for Level 5 status.    Through a three-prong exit determination process, Commissioner Chester determined that Union Hill Elementary School has exited the Level 4 status to a Level 3 status. The dedicated and consistent efforts of Principal Marie Morse and her staff, parents and community partners have created conditions for student engagement and academic growth at Union Hill. The school’s focused Turnaround Plan produced significant gains in student performance over a three year period, earning them a new Level 3 status. Chandler Elementary School’s Turnaround Plan also produced notable gains in student performance but the school will remain on Level 4 status a little longer.According to DESE, 3 types of schools remain on level 4 status:1. Schools that have come close to their performance targets but need a little more time;2. Schools that are further from their targets and more dramatic improvement is needed;3. Schools that have struggled, but are now partnering with a turnaround operator.Chandler Elementary was identified as type 1, meaning that they have created strong structures to support student achievement but need a little more time to meet their turnaround goals. The DESE will continue to monitor the progress at Union Hill Elementary School and Chandler Elementary School. For Union Hill Elementary School, the district must submit an “Exit Assurance Application” providing assurances that the school and district will continue to strengthen the Conditions for School Effectiveness and District Systems of Support.Chandler Elementary School will revise its Turnaround Plan to reflect the actions that will accelerate student growth during 2013-2014 school year. According to the DESE, the school’s current level of performance indicates readiness for an expedited process to meet turnaround targets.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Education: WSC 2013 Q & A

An Education: blogs on Lynn Public Schools. She asked me some questions about Worcester this week and has posted the Q&A here:
 WSC 2013 Q & A: Tracy O'Connell Novick.

WPS Instrument Lessons!

One of the things we do that I'm most proud of: FREE instrument lessons during the school day!

The Worcester Public Schools is pleased to announce the In School Instrumental Lessons Program. Students may choose to study violin, viola, cello, flute, trumpet, alto sax, French Horn, or clarinet. Please see the attached brochures for more information about this exciting program.

Woodwinds and Brass lessons are available for students in grades 4,5 and 6 at the following schools:

Belmont St. Community
Jacob Hiatt Magnet
Burncoat St. Prep
Lake View
Canterbury Street
Lincoln Street
Chandler Magnet
May Street
City View
Clark Street
Nelson Place
Columbus Park
Norrback Avenue
Elm Park
Thorndyke Road
Goddard School
Wawecus Road
Heard Street
Worcester Arts Magnet

Strings Lessons are available for students in grades 3,4,5,and 6 at the following schools:

Burncoat St. Prep
Rice Square
Clark Street
Grafton Street
Tatnuck Magnet
Lincoln Street
Thorndyke Road
Vernon Hill
Midland Street
Wawecus Road
Norrback Avenue
Worcester Arts Magnet

Is your child's school not on this list? Send us an email and ask that we work on that! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Not another phase, please: a gubernatorial wish list

I see from today's announcement over on Blue Mass Group from Martha Coakley that she's seeking the Governor's office that education might actually be an issue in this race:
 And we need to launch the next phase of education reform in this state so that every child and every adult has the skills they need to compete in a global economy.
 Yeah, yeah, I know: it's a year off and you really don't want to spend the next entire year talking about this. If we're going to, though, wouldn't it be good if we talked about real things that matter? Besides, at least it's not the next Presidential election of 2016!

Let's first recognize that it would be nice to have the statewide governor's race involve education as an actual issue that people talked about in a meaningful and knowledgeable way. We haven't had much of that, and some of the decisions that have been made in recent years reflect that: the last round of educations shifts came entirely in response to the state seeking the federal Race to the Top grant; the 1993 changes came in response to a lawsuit over state funding brought by cities seeking funding equity. It's been dismaying to sit in state Board of Education meetings and hear presentation after presentation, each of which is simply lockstep with whatever the latest federal initiative is.

I mean it when I say "meaningful and knowledgeable," though. Some of what's circulating in the Boston press on the mayoral race out there is simply ignorant of research or of anything beyond "truisms" like "charter schools are engines of innovation" and "public school teachers resist change" and "public education spends too much money."
No, no, and no.
I would dearly love to see gubernatorial campaigns that actually knew the research, whether it's the attrition rate of charter schools (across the state), or the innovations that public school teachers have invented and embraced, or the enormous gulf that exists in education funding to this day.

Maybe it's a little early for a Christmas list, but I don't think it's too early to ask:

  • May we be granted gubernatorial candidates that know, understand, and can cite the Mass Budget and Policy Center report on Chapter 70 (PLEASE!). 
  • May we be granted candidates that have some clue of what twenty years of ed reform have actually done to education in the state.
  • May we be granted candidates that have a clear-eyed view of the impact of poverty on our children.
  • May we be granted candidates who don't believe the names of organizations (whether they call themselves Democrats or those who Stand for something), but look at what those organizations actually do...and from whom they take their money.
  • May we be granted candidates that don't talk to parents but LISTEN to them; that don't talk of teachers but LISTEN to them; that don't refer to children but LISTEN to them...about not just education, but those things that surround education

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A few back-to-school questions answered

A few answers to questions that have come up these past few weeks that I thought might be of general interest:

  • With the Parent Portal down for a bit, it is still possible to add money to your child's account! You just have to do it the old fashioned way: with actual cash. If you send in cash (not checks)  to school, in an envelope for "School Nutrition" with your child's name and a request to add the funds to their account, the money can be added. And good news! I saw new nutrition computers going in today!
  • Have a secondary student who has an unsafe trip to the bus stop? Requests for bus stop changes go to your school (not to Transportation).
  • Likewise, yes, you SHOULD PLEASE let your school know if there is something going on with your bus: it's repeatedly late or the like. The school turns those in and Transportation can deal with them as a group. So, yes, please turn those in!
  • Do please familiarize yourself with the Policy Handbook and reference it if there are actions being taken contrary to WPS policy.
  • Superintendent Boone will be giving the opening of school report next Thursday at School Committee, so please watch (or come!) if that's of interest. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Score one for the good guys in Bridgeport

You have to read pretty far down in the press coverage to get this, but score one for the local, small money, grassroots, non so-called ed reform crowd in Bridgeport, Connecticut yesterday:
The victory tips the balance against the mayoral-backed Democratic majority on the nine-member board that has supported schools superintendent Paul Vallas and his education reform efforts. 
Mayor Bill Finch and the three party-endorsed candidates all support Vallas, whose qualifications to keep the job will be weighed by the state Supreme Court later this month.The three challengers all indicated the district would be better off with someone else. 
Their campaign manager, Marilyn Moore, said she felt Finch's failed quest for a mayoral-appointed board led to the challengers' victory."They're saying we want people who are going to answer to us, not to the mayor," she said.
More from Diane Ravitch here.  You can get the full picture on how this fits into the larger picture of Bridgeport from Jonathan Pelto.

Superintendent Boone at CPPAC

speaks of successful opening of school
posting as we go

CPPAC tonight!

Reminder that CPPAC, the citywide parent group, has their first meeting TONIGHT at 7 pm at the Worcester Public Library.
Superintendent Boone is starting the year off, and the agenda hints that they will also be organizing for a School Committee candidates' forum next month. A good night to come!
I'll liveblog as it merits.

Happy birthday, Worcester State!

The State Normal School in Worcester was dedicated this day in 1874 on Prospect Street. 
That's the first name of what today isWorcester State! 

h/t: @WHMuseum

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

And today in terrible ideas

Thanks to those who called my attention to the Glendale (CA) school district which is not just keeping an eye on what their students do in school; they're watching online, round the clock. The local press reports:
Glendale Unified, which piloted the service at Hoover, Glendale and Crescenta Valley high schools last year, will pay the company $40,500 to monitor posts made by about 13,000 middle school and high school students at eight Glendale schools.
Free Range Kids has reaction as well.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A local note on opting out of state tests

As this AP article on parents opting their kids out of standardized tests runs across the country today (including on the front page of the print edition of today's T&G, 'though I can't find that online), I would call your attention, Worcester parents, to an addition to the 2013-14 Policies Handbook in the Standardized Testing section on page 18:
Students whose parents opt them out of state or district standardized assessments will not be academically penalized or face disciplinary action except as prohibited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or of the United States.

(I think the last "of" should be a "by" any case...)

Al Ganem new Manager of Staff Development

I have just received the following from Marco Rodrigues:
I am pleased to announce the appointment of Albert Ganem, Jr. to the position of Manager of Staff Development effective Monday, September 16, 2013. Mr. Ganem has served the Worcester Public Schools for many years and brings to the position experiences and a full understanding of the direction of the district's instructional focus, as well as the support necessary to continue implementation of the new educator evaluation system.
Patricia Gaudette, retired principal of Jacob Hiatt Magnet School, has agreed to serve as interim principal at City View Discovery School for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year. She will work with Mr. Ganem beginning Tuesday, September 10, 2013 for transition the remainder of this week. Ms. Gaudette was tapped because of her successful tenure as principal, along with her experience in working with extended learning time, which is a component of the academic program at City View. The principal's position at City View will be posted in January 2014 and a full search will be undertaken to staff that position for the 2014-15 school year.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thank you, Hanover...

...for that new playground over at Wawecus Road School!

Attendance awareness campaign

Biancheria: would have appreciated having this information ahead of time
concern with this is we've declared it, we've set the pace for it
"I'm not quite sure what is going to be different"
a number of programs that help us in the attendance area
"I don't have a problem with us joining this crusade"
"when we take additional steps with partners, we as school committee members need to be well-informed"
how this connects with our existing programs
"how do we take all of this and make it new and innovative?"
Boone: community forums, last one on truancy and attendance
looking at the companion issues on student achievement
"work that we are doing is about awareness"
"awareness is the operative word here"
"we know the significant impact that a day or two a month can have"
"we know that there are a number of students who miss significant school time due to the impact of asthma"
"chronic absenteeism in elementary students is usually an adult problem"
"we've treated the symptom too much"
Biancheria: how would we be bringing any suggestion changes in policies? Would hope it would be brought to a standing committee
process and time to consider
Boone: very concerned to hear this idea seeming attacked
Biancheria: articles, not something that we should look at
not always when a press conference is held is the public or all the members of the public given the information
Monfredo: when looking at the data, chronic absenteeism; 3000 students who were more than 18 days absent
particularly acute in low-income families
partners in the community
Novick: would argue that the absence is itself a symptom: sometimes kids are sick
24 hours fever free is the policy of the Worcester Public Schools
glad to see the focus on asthma, but kids who have asthma get bronchitis and sometimes that turns into pneumonia
it's not hard to get to 15 days out if someone gets that sick
what level of coordination is there with the medical community? with our nurses? with pediatricians? with DPH?
Boone: outlying factors
would never encourage children to come to school sick

PARCC field testing

request for report regarding the schools chosen for the PARCC pilot testing in Spring of 2014, including amount of staff and student time such a pilot will take.

request the report back for the September 19 meeting; Superintendent Boone said there's a webinar scheduled soon, so if we don't have it by then, she'll let us know

Colorio: concern that the data from PARCC will be shared by PARCC with the federal government without parental permission
new tests to cost more (after MCAS)
infrastructure needed (which we had as a report in Accountability)

O'Connell: additional state test, loss of instructional time
many tests that are taken by students already
"at some point, how many tests must our students take?"
recommends concerns be placed before Board of Delegates at MASC
this committee also "perhaps taking a vigorous advocacy role"

Boone: "please don't interpret this as in favor or against"
not unusual for new tests to be field tested
"we don't know enough about the structure, the requirements, the goal of the pilot"
we have not heard yet if this is informing what the state will do next or if it will represent what the state will do next
"we will provide the appropriate updates to the School Committee as we have them"
"a field test of very large scope"

Monfredo: how other superintendents feel this is moving?

District Systems of Support review (report of the Superintendent)

Boone: "great opportunity to share a report from an outside entity"
redesign the district systems of support plus at the Level 4 schools themselves
"as part of our turnaround requirements...district redesign plan"
throughout the three years of Level 4 schools, a number of site visits by SchoolWorks "as they are an outside observer and data collector"
"external validation of all of our alignment of resources"
should know in the next few weeks if first two schools exit Level 4
"this is one prong" of what is considered in the state making that decision

Purpose: to collect evidence that will assist the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in determining if a district has established systems in order to sustain the improvement of schools designated as Level 4 in 2010
Standards: effectiveness, efficiency,and intergration of system-wide in six areas:
Leadership and governance
Curriculum and instruction
Human resources
Student support
Professional development

three ratings: embedded, developing, not present

in leadership: district anticipates, addresses, and differentiates school staffing and operations: embedded
in curriculum: district strengthens instructional leadership capacity by supporting the development of school-based instructional best practices: embedded
in curriculum: curricula and instructional practices in the district are not developed to attain high levels of achievement for all students: not present
Rodrigues reminds that the district is in the process of reviewing curriculum and is creating unit models and common plans
definitions of reading, writing, and discourse not happening in our classrooms
principals charged with ensuring that the teachers knew about those documents
in assessment: district delivers data to schools: embedded
in assessment: district and school leaders use data to drive some of their decisions: developing
claim is lack of time and people to "complete rigorous evaluations of important programs and initiative"
in HR: to select, develop, and support staff: embedded
in HR: employment of administrators is linked to evidence of effectiveness: developing
in student support: district provides what schools need to address student needs: embedded
in student support: district ensures students have services and supports: developing
in financial management: district acquires and uses financial resources to provide for all students: embedded

Why no free lunch?

You may well have caught the news earlier this week that the Boston Public Schools are offering free lunch to all of their students, regardless of parental income:
The meal program, more than a year in the making, is part of an experimental federal initiative that aims to make it easier for students from low-income families to receive free meals by eliminating the need to fill out paperwork, including potentially invasive questions about income.
Cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, and Chicago have been or will be participating in the free-meal program. Starting next school year, the program will be open to any school district across the country with high concentrations of students from low-income families. The cost of the free meals will be covered by the federal government.

Sounds great, right? Everyone eats, no one gets singled out, there's less paperwork, and the fed is picking up the bill.
So naturally, several people have asked, "Why not Worcester?"
Turns out that it's not at all that simple.
The way that this works is that Boston is counting as "free" all kids whose families qualify for food stamps; in all districts, a qualification for food stamps automatically gets any kids in the public schools free lunch without anyone needing to fill out any further paperwork.
We know from our own experience, though, that there are families that qualify for food stamps who don't get them. They are, however, willing to get their kids lunch at school for free. Those kids are missed as "free" if you don't ask separately.
Note also the number of families that either have been or well could be cut from food stamps due to federal sequestration. That would SEVERELY cut the number of kids that are directly certified.
And that matters because we don't only use our count of free and reduced lunch for lunches. On this blog, I reference it for Title I, for E-rate, for grants, for all sorts of things. So having a very accurate count really matters, well beyond getting kids fed. Thus the urging these first weeks of school to get those nutrition forms in! We need them!
The problem is that by signing up for this program, Boston will not be counting kids for the next three years; they're tied to the current rate of kids registered through food stamps. And that's it.Any expansion of those numbers will not be seen, as they aren't counting, and these years will be lost in their tally of the kids.
Further, it turns out that the Fed isn't necessarily covering all costs, as the Globe has it above. Right now, DESE is telling districts that it is a formula, that it's the total of the kids that are directly certified multiplied by 1.6. I haven't done the math on that, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't cover all of the kids in Worcester.
All of which is to say this:

  • please return your school nutrition form
  • if your family qualifies, please let us know through the form
  • let's keep an eye on this to see if they work it out in a way to feed more kids without socking the district in a myriad of other ways.
Because feeding kids is important.
As I say all the time, we're only as good as our information. Thanks to School Nutrition for once again coming through on this.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Checking in on the Level 4 schools

It turns out that's what "Worcester Public Schools' Systems of Support Review" is on...
Among the things the state did in filling the requirements around Race to the Top is hiring SchoolWorks, LLC to come into the schools declared Level 4 by the state and investigate how and what they are doing.
Note that the state paid for this--not Worcester--one assumes thus adding to the millions spent on outside consultants from Race to the Top dollars.And you might do some looking around the SchoolWorks website if this sort of thing interests you.

SchoolWorks came into the district as well as our three schools and looked at a few things that the state (and SchoolWorks) deems important in Level 4 schools improving (beyond test scores, which we should have in the next month or so).
You can find the district report here.
You can find the report on Wraparound Zone services here. (interesting reading here)
You can find the report on Burncoat Prep here.
You can find the report on Chandler Elementary here.
You can find the report on Union Hill here.

Superintendent Boone is presenting on this tomorrow night, and discussion will follow.

How Messalonskee High School opened the year

Not sure what I love more about this: that the faculty started the school year at Messalonskee High School in Oakland, Maine like this:

Or that the principal then posted it on his blog.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Worcester School Committee meets this Thursday!

The Worcester School Committee has its regular first Thursday meeting this week (and we're back to the 7 pm meeting time, too!). You can find the agenda here.
I'm still sorting my way through the Superintendent's report (which has four back-ups; check the agenda) on "District Systems of Support Review." post on that to come
We'll get an Opening of School report at our meeting on September 19.
Much of the bulk of the agenda---and why it'll look so think on our desks this week!--is the retirements/resignations/hires that are on this week. We have a resume for every new staff person hired, and it's quite a list!
There's a request for the formal agreement on the Regatta Point boathouse.
I'm asking for more information on the PARCC pilot this spring.
We're being asked to approve prior year invoices of $4,399.64, of $12,765.34, and of $1719.96.
We're being asked to accept an innovation school grant of $30,000 for Woodland Academy; we didn't get a backup on this, so I've asked for one.
Ms. Biancheria (et al) is asking for more information on the new attendance initiative; there's also an item further down asking that we accept (in advance) donations for this initiative.
And several requests for recognitions, plus we're supposed to have Mr. O'Neil from the WRTA in to thank him for putting those great reading posters on his buses this summer.

7 pm, City Hall!

Welcome to our newest students today!

Today we welcome our newest students: the Worcester Public Schools preschoolers and kindergartners start today!
Please be patient around our bus stops and school zones, as goodbyes may take a bit longer today. 
And welcome! 

First CPPAC meeting next week!