Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Our IA's have been SAVED

Unanimous House vote!

Unanimous vote in the Senate to override Governor Baker's veto as well!

Thanks to all of those of you who joined me in advocacy, and thanks to our delegation who all voted for this! Advocacy works! 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Perkins funding

O'Connell notes that it's a well prepared grant
Biancheria notes that we were informed by a letter from the Governor, which is not what usually happens...yes, the new administration is sending out letters on DESE grants directly...
vote to accept

MutualLink grant not given to WPD

Biancheria asking for an update on what has happened since then
Boone: received a forwarded copy of an email
WPD was not invited into the grant process

What this means, of course, is we can now review this in light of the larger questions around security, and, if it's found we need it, consider all the other options available, neither of which was done earlier this spring. 

Community eligibility for lunch

O'Connell asks for information about applying for grants as part of discussion
Boone: why we haven't applied as yet, state has now addressed
sent to F&O

Nelson Place groundbreaking (round II?)

O'Connell: we've had a long term tradition to have a special ceremony when we have a groundbreaking of schools
people well notified in advance
groundbreaking that didn't reach out in advance, technology issue
invite those who were unable to join us
ceremony directly tailored to that group
Petty: work with DPW for celebration of next phase of progress

Strategic planning

Ramirez: unlike other School Committees that drive some policy direction, we don't have that
structure in place
sometimes we're chasing items, rather than setting the tone for the district
"really have a conversation"
look to this body as a governance body
improve the structure of meetings: create a consent agenda, leave some time for items that are more importance year have MASC trainings every year, regardless of who is on the committee
look at strategic planning and where the committee should go
not get distracted on where the district could go
working the superintendent: principal PD and mentoring
parent engagement and structure
lay out some of the research on this nationally
lessing the items and then look for involvement of the community
hope that we can take this and maybe discuss it again
Petty: suggests it going to Governance
Monfredo: something we could discuss
Petty: have meeting soon, bring it back to the full  committee
O'Connell: at the time we do meet in September, could ask superintendent for her goals
have some alignment with her goals
Biancheria: keeping in mind as we move forward with this
items that are placed on the agenda are from the public
"this is what we do as a School Committee"
"we are elected officials...issues of concern that arise...that need to be on the agenda"
Novick: professional development of MASC, as raised here, makes it clear that there parts that are our job, and parts that are not
"There are items that do not need to be on an agenda"
one real contrast with other committees in their levels of effectiveness across the state is the focus on what is our job, under state law
O'Connell: our meetings are quite brief, comparison
chance to watch us
"important that we don't get ourselves caught up in what is the Superintendent's job and our job"
"the more information we can share to the public"
Ramirez: agree that we do that quite effective on the budget "we have a great budget"
agenda is "very very dense with request for information without knowing where we're going"
division between informative and micromanagement
referred to Governance

South High pool

O'Connell introduces Palmieri
Councilor Palmieri speaks of community need for pool
"will work cooperatively and do any and everything that I can" to make this happen
Biancheria: thank for interest
hope that conversations of past can be packaged for use of building committee
Petty: difference of opinion around timeline (with Palmieri)
if we don't get invited to continue forward with building, we can talk about other funding for fixing current pool
Novick: is it the intent that we would raise this as part of a major rebuild? or is the intent to fix the current pool?
if it is to fix the current pool, it remains on top of the school's electrical plant. That is not possible, responsibly.
If the intent is to bring it forward as part of a major renovation or rebuild, we should be aware of the history of Newton North, the "Taj Mahal" of high schools, which caused a restructuring of how schools are funded in Massachusetts
Boone: the story of the South pool is the story of the South pool
"water and electricity just don't mix"
very valuable asset we are unable to use
in intial conversations with the state have indicated that we'd like to continue with this asset
"I cannot recommend the repair of the pool" as moving the plant would cost $200,000 plus fixing the pool
if the community is interested in that, we will have to discuss how to pay for it
Petty: send to F&O; if MSBA work fails to move, will look for private funding

Healthier food in secondary schools

Turns out that's happening. 

Worcester School Committee meets this afternoon

As it is a summer meeting, please note that it starts at 4 pm. Also, it has been MOVED to the Durkin Administration building, 4th floor. You can find the agenda here.
We're starting off with a couple of recognitions: WEDF and the Worcester Cultural Coalition, and Hanover Insurance and Harkins Community Consulting.
There is no report of the superintendent.
Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports is reporting out on their June 23 meeting.
We have LOTS of congratulations and recognitions: AbbVie for the Burncoat Middle library; Nelson Place for a "Healthy Lunch for a Healthier Me" art contest win; Nelson Place for their donations to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp; Harvard Pilgrim, for their mini-grant to Thorndyke Road; Good Sports and Snapple for athletic equipment to Doherty; and the Department of Public Health, the Community Connections summer program; the Facilities Department, and the Hector Reyes House for their work on the Joint Use Agreement.
We have a $25.00 donation from Target to accept for Tatnuck Magnet.
We have our annual item to make FY16 budget transfers as required (which will go to F&O for our quarterly reports).
We're being asked to accept a donation totally $5000 for the Healthy Start awards for the Breakfast in the Classroom schools that received the EOS awards.
Mr. O'Connell is asking to review the teacher climate survey.
He also wants to "formulate a plan for restoration of the pool at South High Community School" (which is still on top of the school's electrical plant).
Miss Ramirez is asking that we work with the administation on strategic planning and goal setting.
The administration is sending our annual audit of the student activities funds to F&O.
Mr. O'Connell wants to look at redoing the Worcester East Middle auditorium.
He also wants to look at expanding grade 6 programming at middle schools.
Mr. O'Connell also wants to schedule (another) groundbreaking for Nelson Place. Silly season, people.
The administration is sending consideration of participating in Community Eligibility to provide free lunch to all students to F&O for consideration. Good coverage of this by Scott O'Connell today.
We're being asked to accept a grant of $135,000 for early childhood work with Head Start; it will pay for two teachers and two teacher assistants for extended day and family support.
We're being asked to accept a grant of $55,940 from the Perkins Act; it looks like it's going to purchase diesel equipment for South and welding equipment at Tech.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

About that public health grant

Among the outcomes of last night's marathon Worcester City Council meeting is that all of the eleven organizations, including Mosaic, that receive the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund grant will have that spending audited. That includes the Worcester Public Schools.
WPS receives approximately $14,000 for the nursing department and $8000 for Head Start as reimbursement (aka: we don't receive it as a separate grant item) for the work that's being done on asthma. This is a working group with local hospitals to collect data (working directly with kids) on cutting down incidents of absences among kids with asthma by keeping them healthier by being certain their treatments are followed. Given the incidents of asthma among our students--high--it's very imporant work, and we've already started to see results!
Thanks to the budget office for this. As I learn more about the auditing process, I'll post on it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

About portability?

Edushyster has a post up about Nevada's new portability plan.

"But what would we use if we DIDN'T have the tests?"

Yes, authentic assessment is possible. Look at what they're doing at East Side Community High School (and the rest of the New York Performance Standards Consortium):

Tiffany Mungin spent many nervous weeks researching and writing her paper about the Vietnam War. Her high school graduation was on the line. 
Unlike most New York state seniors, who vied for their diplomas by taking the state’s standardized tests, Ms. Mungin had to write a history research paper and an analytic essay in English/language arts. She also had to conduct an original science experiment and undertake an applied-mathematics project in order to graduate. The 18-year-old’s work would have to be evaluated by at least two teachers, and she would have to defend it in formal presentations to panels of educators.

PARCC on the City Council agenda

On this Tuesday's City Council agenda:
8mm. William S. Coleman III request City Council place before the voters on the November 3, 2015 Election Ballot the following non-binding question: "Should there be a moratorium on Standardized PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) Testing?" 
 While testing doesn't fall under the City Council purview, local ballot questions are. This looks to me like a misunderstanding of House Bill 340, which calls for a three year moratorium on all measures surrounding testing (of both MCAS and PARCC), which was called for by the EAW and the Worcester School Committee; that is, we wouldn't see accountability level shifts, state takeovers and the like. The idea is that the state could then have a reasonable, non-rushed conversation about systems of assessment.
A moratorium on PARCC alone would not have that affect, as, presumably, we would simply stay with MCAS.

Friday, July 17, 2015

We have a budget-- and a VETO!

This afternoon, Governor Baker signed the FY16 state budget. He vetoed $162M in doing so, including $34M from education...which includes $17M of the Quality Kindergarten grant.
Right. So.
Worcester has 21 kindergarten instructional assistants back on the line again. Give your legislators a call!

UPDATE: Rep. David Linsky of Natick is circulating a letter to his House colleagues, calling for an override of this veto. More as I have it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Mexico case against Pearson finds for them

The judge found that AIR, which brought the case, lacked legal standing to bring the case.

ESEA is moving

I haven't done an update on the Elementary and Secondary Education update in some time; for awhile it seemed as if it were going nowhere. The House, however, narrowly passed a version of it during the first week of July, and the Senate will probably do so today. A few things of note:

  • The House bill (which they called "the Student Success act") was unanimously opposed by Democrats and had significant opposition from some Republicans (27 voted against it). That was for different reasons, of course: in the case of the Democrats, much of the concern came around the perceived lessening of accountability provisions, particularly with regard to low income students and students of color (both of whom have not fared well in some states when such things are left entirely to the states). The conservative Republicans who opposed the bill in many cases did so due to concerns about federal overreach in general. Testing in every grade 3-8 and in grade 10 is still required, as is publicizing results as a body and for subgroups. The bill passed includes an amendment providing that students whose parents opt them out of mandated testing are not counted against the state; it also includes language that bars the federal government from requiring the Common Core be adopted (which it didn't. But...) It did not include an amendment that would change federal funding to block grants (which would have been a major headache for urban districts), but it caps federal spending, which is going to be a big issue, and it includes Title I "portability," meaning that the low income funding follows the child, even to a higher income district. More details on what was in it here and here.
  • While the Senate bill is more bipartisan to begin with, Senator Murphy of Connecticut proposed an amendment which would add in requirements that schools intervene in the lowest 5% of schools and specified subgroup reporting; it failed. I saw some debate yesterday on Twitter on just what that will end up meaning. At this point, there's not a lot of bargaining points in the Senate version of the bill for when it goes to conference committee; this would have been one. Also, watch the Burr amendment today, which would change how Title I works. 
  • At this point, the President has promised to veto both bills as proposed. While it may be possible to hammer out something that can make it through both houses (the Democrats don't seem to have the votes to block it in the Senate), it's not clear that they can come up with something he'll sign.
And an important point for those watching from Massachusetts: remember that "local control" when they say it in D.C. means the state. Whatever happens in Washington, we'll still be dealing with Malden. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Acting HR, acting Goddard principal announced today

We've just received the following from Superintendent Boone:

I am pleased to announce two acting appointments: Mark Brophy, Acting Human Resource Manager and Yuisa Perez-Chionchio, Acting Principal of Goddard School of Science and Technology. 


Mr. Brophy has served in the Worcester Public Schools’ Human Resource Department since 2000.  I will post the vacancy this week for the Human Resource Manager. 


Prior to this acting appointment, Ms. Perez-Chionchio served Worcester Public Schools as the Director of Supplemental Academic Programs and Services.  Goddard School’s progress the last several years reflects the shared commitment of teachers, families, students and community.  You are aware that we have been engaged in the search for a permanent principal.  However, that initial search did not yield the leadership match we were seeking to continue the progress underway.  Mrs. Perez-Chionchio has a wealth of experience as a K-12 teacher and educational leader including services for English Language Learners, curriculum and academic interventions that support high student achievement.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Nelson Place construction starts this week!

We've just received the following from Fontaine Brothers, who are building the new Nelson Place:
Construction at Nelson Place will begin this week.  Activities during the first few days will include

- Work on access roads around each side of the existing school
- Construction of a ramp to create access from the lower side of the parking lot to the upper play area
- Installation of construction fence and erosion controls
- Tree clearing at the upper site

There will be no blasting during this upcoming week or the week of July 20th, and we will continue to provide updates on upcoming construction activities so that you are aware of what to expect.  
The plan at this time is for work hours to be Monday-Saturday, 7 am to 5 pm.

Duncan's most destructive legacy

Salon's response to the Washington Post piece on Arne Duncan goes in several different directions, but it hits the most important point last:
Congress, in its efforts to rewrite NCLB, has “moved to substantially scale back the federal government’s role in education.” The impetus for this scaling back is bipartisan and shared in both the House and the Senate. And should a new version of NCLB pass, it will limit the federal government’s role in our nation’s schools.
What’s particularly unfortunate about that policy direction is that the federal government historically has had a mostly positive influence in public schools. As the article reminds us, what we now call NCLB was “initially passed in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” a law that “was originally designed to protect the nation’s neediest students, and that the federal government must play a significant enforcement role to ensure that poor students, racial minorities and students with disabilities all receive an equal education.”
Because of that act, millions upon millions of impoverished children have had resources funneled to their schools through programs like Title I. Students who do not speak English as their first language have had funds sent to their schools to pay for specialists. Students who have physical disabilities, social-emotional problems and trouble with their learning and intellectual development have had more access to education opportunities and better supports in their schools. More girls and young women have been provided opportunities to play sports and experience a full curriculum.
Sure, this federal mission has not always been fully funded or adequately implemented. But that was the goal, and it was the goal NCLB took our attention away from and the goal this blundering oaf of a secretary refused to take up as his primary job, even though everyone outside his inner circle clamored he do so.
So the biggest tragedy of Arne Duncan is not only the millions of students and families ill-served under his tenure but the millions that will likely be ill-served in the future because it looks like his self-righteous, narrow-minded zeal will leave the federal government’s role in education marginalized for the immediate and foreseeable future.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

DESE on low income change to "economically disadvantaged"

I thought others might find DESE's presentation on the switch in classifying students from low income to economically disadvantaged (the free and reduced lunch change) interesting. I've gotten my hands on an electronic copy and posted it here (and the below are screen captures of a few of their slides)*. This was before the Board of Ed last month, then presented to others, including districts, earlier this week.

Two details that are good to know:
  • districts that have 40% of students qualifying through the state certification process (that is Health and Human Services plans) are qualified to switch offering free breakfast and lunch to all students. The count under which they were certified counts for four years, unless they go up, in which case their count goes up (it can't go down).
  • USDA reimburses those districts at 160% of the state certification count
So depending on their rates of fully paid lunch, some districts are still going to financially come out in better shape than they did before, even with feeding (possibly) all kids. (That sounds you hear is number crunching going on in finance offices of cities across the state.)

Here's the state's breakdown on the options for counting kids in Community Eligibility communities (the state is using option 4):

(I'll admit to being darkly amused by number 6; essentially, this means that if 40% of your student population was on some combination of MassHealth, SNAP, and such, ALL your kids would count as low income. And those who calculate Chapter 70 would collectively have a heart attack...)

So what exactly, beyond the break in the count of who is low income (and hang on to that, because we're going to come back to it), is going to be affected by this change?
Okay, so Chapter 70 has a low income increment. That's what gets REALLY WEIRD really fast on this, given the drop in the calculation. There's no change for this year, as that is written into the law on Chapter 70, but DESE is going to be seeking a change in MGL Chapter 70 for FY17. 
Federal grants are calculated by census data at by STATE, but then are distributed by low income calculation (and there's not a clean overlap on those). DESE is going to use the new Economically Disadvantaged (inevitable that we'll abbreviate this "ED," right?) for FY16 (this year), BUT there is a hold harmless provision in the federal grants. That means no district will actually lose money; it is very possible some districts will not get increases they were expecting.
UPDATE: Correction from DESE: Title I does have a “hold harmless” provision, but it’s not a 100% hold harmless the way Chapter 70 is. Districts can see reductions due to changes in population, Census poverty data, or enrollment; the hold harmless provisions set a floor on the reductions. 
The accountability system...let's come back to that, shall we? It's going to be a mess this year, anyway, because we're also using two testing systems.

"Shrug" on local use.
Public reporting is something we all need to be on top of. We're all going to have to get very, very used to pointing out that no, we don't suddenly have fewer poor kids.
MSBA...they don't know yet.
And research...well, there's the kicker, right? We just tossed out several decades worth of measurements, haven't we?

So, since the state has now taken away most (but not all) of the reasons why many districts were staying OUT of Community Eligibility, don't be surprised to see more districts moving to it. The state sort of just shoved the whole state into this calculation, anyway; we may as well take advantage of the part that feeds kids. More kids being fed is GREAT!

Let's keep focused on the other half of this, too, though, as there are still parts of this that need fixing and better working out. For one, I'm not convinced that the way the state is choosing to count kids is really going to catch every kid. For another, the Chapter 70 answer isn't enough yet. Worcester (for example) is going to drop from 75% to somewhere around 50%. While "hold harmless" will kick in on this one, too, and the state is airily talking of increases to the increment, I haven't seen much activity on this one, yet. That's worrying.
And, man, the accountability system is just it's own whole mess, isn't it? Two testing systems, a 30% drop in the number of kids in poverty (but only by percentage)...can we start over?

*without the seriously annoying little star person. And thanks, as always, to sources!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Not all good news on FY16

While we're still glad we've got our 21 IAs for this coming year, it's not all good news for FY16 coming out of the conference committee:
While Worcester avoided a budget hole with its kindergarten aides, it’s now facing another sizeable deficit after a cherry sheet released by the state showed the city’s fiscal 2016 charter school reimbursement money came in roughly $650,000 below what local officials had estimated, according to Mr. Allen. While he said the district had budgeted about $350,000 extra next year with the expectation there would be at least some shortfall, that would still leave $300,000 they would have to make up.
“That’s concerning,” he said, adding it was still too early as of Friday to say how the school department could close the gap.
Watch the quarterly budget updates. We'll have to find it somewhere.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Come play!

It's been a lot of work, but the papers are signed and our playgrounds are open to the public during daylight, non-school hours!
Come play!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Quality Kindergarden grant saved!

Great news in the conference committee budget: the Quality Kindergarden grant is in with the $18M House number!
Our instructional assistant positions are saved!
(If you check Twitter, I sent out some other education updates as well. I'll put them here as I have time.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Testimony regarding PARCC/MCAS

You are asking a multiple choice question when in fact it should be an essay question.
The question before us is not “MCAS or PARCC?”
The question is how to assess students in a way that “strike(s) a balance among considerations of accuracy, fairness, expense, and administration.” It should “employ a variety of assessment instruments on either a comprehensive or statistically valid sampling basis.” “As much as is practicable...such instruments (should) include consideration of work samples, projects and portfolios, and (should) facilitate authentic and direct gauges of student performance.”

Mr. Chair, none of that is my idea. That is what you are legally bound to do. That’s Mass General Law chapter 69 section 1I which has been sitting on the books since the education reform law passed 20 years ago.

This does not by any stretch of the imagination describe the MCAS. Nor does it by any stretch describe the PARCC.

There is no way around it, Mr. Chair: we are not following the law, we have not been following the law, and, should you indeed limit yourself to the “either/or” of tests, we will still not be following the law, whichever way your vote goes in the fall.
Thus while I would urge you take seriously the concerns that have been raised by those who have tested the PARCC-- from questions of age appropriateness (third graders don’t write essays) to technology issues (which, no, cannot be dismissed with ‘you should have magically already done this with an underfunded foundation budget that doesn’t include technology’) to sequencing and time (the amount of time an individual student may spend on a test does not well measure the impact it has on the school or the class)--the main problem of your choice will still remain.

While I have heard many of these concerned parried, and quite a few simply dismissed, what I have not heard is any attempt made to justify a system that continues to, at ground, measure nothing so well as parent income and education level. The exceptions to this are too often the result of school practices that none of us here would tolerate for our own children, and of attrition rates that I would respectfully suggest should have schools thoroughly investigated. As Deputy Commissioner Wulfson told you a few months ago, the SAT most reliably reflects parent income and education. That is no less true with our own standardized tests. So long as students, teachers, schools, and indeed entire communities stand or fall based on family W2s and diplomas, you will continue to have gaps, whether you refer to them as gaps of achievement or of opportunity.

As a system of assessment, that’s unacceptable. The massive infusion of investment that came as a result of the McDuffy lawsuit deserved a better partner than the current system of assessment. This is an opportunity to finally right that wrong. Adopting PARCC will not do that, Mr. Chair.

We could finally follow the law regarding assessment of our students. I would urge this Board to adopt neither of the assessments offered and instead adopted “authentic and direct gauges of student performance” that “include consideration of work samples, projects and portfolios.”

That is absolutely do-able.
And it is, Mr. Chair, the law.

We have a budget!

Or so it appears!

Posting from the PARCC/MCAS forum

Posting today from the final PARCC/MCAS forum in Springfield. From the cards up front, it looks as though Secretary Peyser, Commissioner Chester, Chair Sagan, and Board members Mary Ann Stewart, James Morton, and Ed Doherty will be hearing testimony today. I've put my name in to offer testimony, and I'll post it once I've done so. Open question of course is if we're going to do another hour or more of the called experts all being pro-PARCC.
As always, no promises on names and such, but I'll get what I can. Updating as we go once we start!

Introduction by Chair Sagan, as they're all here now.
"have invited expert testimony the beginning section...have tried to group that on specfic themes if you could...after that, public testimony"
"restrict topic of Board hearings"
will begin with testimony from invited guests, speak up to five minutes
public must keep comments to three minutes
will call two to three speakers at a time

Another round in the PARCC/Chester battle

As we head into the final PARCC hearing (starts at 4 at Springfield Technical College, Building 2, 7th floor), we've got another round in ongoing back-and-forth over Commissioner Chester's position as head of the PARCC Board. The Pioneer Institute--which you'll remember is about as big a cheerleader as the MCAS has--has issued a call for him to recuse himself from the decision over which test will be used. In response, this tweet just came out from DESE:

From a purely practical point of view, I don't know how you'd do this: assumedly, DESE will make a recommendation to the Board (or the Board will seek one). If it doesn't come from Chester, it will come from someone who works for him, so...

Monday, July 6, 2015

ALL HANDS ON DECK (with shovels and rakes!)

I'm THRILLED to say that we've hammered down the Joint Use Agreement between the City of Worcester and the Worcester Public Schools on playgrounds! This means that our playgrounds will be OFFICIALLY open to kids during non-school daylight hours!

BUT, before the big announcement splash, we have some work to do: as part of the agreement, the city is paying for NEW MULCH for our playgrounds! This will roll out over the next several weeks. To make this manageable, we'll have WPS oversight, but we need some volunteer labor to get the mulch spread.

We’re looking for volunteers who could serve at one of the 5 playground sites below on Wednesday July 8, 9am-1pm. You don’t have to come for the whole time, but we’re asking that the community pitch in to this important effort by spreading the mulch with us that day. So grab a rake or a shovel and come down to a playground to help support play in Worcester’s neighborhoods!
Wednesday, July 8th, 9am-1pm:
Flagg St Elementary School, 115 Flagg St
May St Elementary School, 265 May St
Lincoln St Elementary School, 549 Lincoln St
Norrback Elementary School, 44 Malden St
Roosevelt Elementary School, 1006 Grafton St
We will have opportunities at other schools on the following two Wednesdays. Please be on the look out for more information on those.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Two playgrounds closed due to window replacement

Just a quick note that the playgrounds at Union Hill and West Tatnuck are closed due window replacement work.
"Their close proximity to construction trailers, boom lifts, and increased truck traffic throughout the parking lots have made it necessary to take this measure.  The contractor will be installing temporary signage stating the playground is closed due to construction activity and will install temporary fencing around the playground entrances."
That last bit from Facilities...

The preliminary Foundation Budget Review Commission report is out!

You can find it here! (That's my dropbox; I'm assuming it's somewhere on the state website, too) Remember, this ONLY includes recommendations on health insurance and special ed, with a list of topics still to be discussed. So long as the conference committee grants them the extension, the final report will come out in November.
Next meeting is probably July 29th.