Thursday, October 21, 2021

Things I'm reading

I don't have time today for a long post, but I did want to share a few things I've read this week:
  • This piece on Colorado school board races reflects what is going on across much of the country right now. It hasn't, as yet, hit Worcester quite this way, but if you see me react strongly to accusations of ideological brainwashing and the like, this is why, 
  • Likewise, this piece on how the outpouring of...whatever it school boards is a continuation of, rather than something separate from, the January 6 storming of the Capitol is instructive. It's important not to minimize or to dismiss what is happening because it is "only" school board meetings.
  • This long piece in the Washington Post on why teachers are quitting, as well as this piece reflecting on what teachers need are part of what I'm considering as we move forward.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

October Board of Ed: Mystic Valley Charter

 ...asking for a waiver that it be evaluated under the same regulations 

Riley: thinks waiver is unnecessary and would require that the charter school be evaluated on a different basis than any other charter school in the state

probably good to link to this, for example, to give some idea of where this is coming from

lawyer for Mystic Valley: racism and discrimination are evils that must be eliminated
disagreement on how to get there
school believes focus on "our shared American culture" while in schools
doesn't mean differences don't matter
question of "emphasis and focus"
"heavily emphasizes the country's shared values and history"
philosophy "which it has practiced for twenty years with DESE's approval"
scripted curriculum, concept of core knowledge
"Great Books" approach
Mystic Valley's charter has been renewed every five years
"all that changed in 2018"
added culturally proficient and culturally competent
students individual cultures and identities
would require charter to change their approach and "not be faithful to its charter"
only "partially conducive to learning" according to DESE
"Mystic Valley has for years warned that this would be the result"
Mystic Valley has pursued "a waiver and a lawsuit"
"wants to educate students" not pursue this in court

share "what we believe to be misconduct" by DESE employees
"have targeted Mystic Valley for being a racist school"
did not know "the extent of the coordination" among state agencies "and a small group of vocal critics"
filed lawsuit for public records
"large scale and coordinated efforts of critics, the Mass Attorney General's office" the Commissioner's office
alum testimonials provided to AG's office and DESE
reports of these testimonials then were in the press
"to create a fictitious, scandal-like atmosphere"
I'm not writing all this down, but essentially, they're arguing that there's been a conspiracy against them and this is the result

I also don't follow how the school's lawyer is getting there, but somehow he is arguing that the district gets to go on its way whether the Board agrees with the Commissioner or not

superintendent cites MCAS scores
cites waitlist
"due to our popularity" school has been at or near sending cap in three of six communities
"implore you to take a very close look" at what has gone on so far

Craven calls up DESE staff to answer questions
"even though we're aware the charter school has sued us, we're really here to talk about the waiver"
reminder that much of what was said is with regard to the ongoing litigation
the question before the Board is that all charter schools be evaluated on the same basis

Hills: want to be sure he's understanding correctly
are there comments in writing that the school is out of compliance with regard to regulation
A: criteria is separate and apart from regulatory requirements
charter is seeking a waiver from one of the sections of the regulation, that all be evaluated by the same criteria
78 charter schools in Massachusetts; this charter school would be the only one evaluated differently
determinations of renewal are based on very clear criteria as well as governance practices
currently about 11 charter schools operating with conditions on their renewal
Hills asks if there are comparable situations to this
Chuang: do charter schools have to meet every aspect of their criteria? the answer is no
renewals can happen with conditions
Department has never expected schools to be perfect
reasons why conditions: don't see academic performance, governance practices not aligned with legal expectations, finance concerns, adherence to charter (for a school that is Montessori but was not implementing)

West: the Commissioner doesn't believe there is an inherent conflict between the charter and the criteria the state requires
Chuang: that is correct, there is no conflict
"the Commissioner has indicated that there is no need for this waiver"

Peyser: one question about timeliness" as their charter is not up for renewal
feels like this is premature
standards and expectations for all charter schools, but not an algorithm
"the case that's being made is a theoretical one" based on a midcycle site visit and report

Morton: challenging the legitimacy of two of the criteria in both the form of a waiver and the form of a lawsuit
"we have standards that have been adopted and approved" and they are seeking a different set of standards

to the Department's knowledge, this is the first time this has been sought

Hills: may be first time conflict with charter and criteria
"I'm sitting here absorbing information that's in conflict with each other"

Rouhanifard joked as sidebar that this could be a Supreme Court case
interested in that aspect

lawyer is back up
asks that they look at all the materials 
argues that the report that has been issued with be part of the renewal process in 2023

Craven: decision before the Board is if there is a conflict or there is not
other matters you've raised are not to the point

Carris Livingston asks for the definition of "American culture" that Mystic Valley uses
director: goes back to the foundation documents of the country
"all of these core traits that form the traits of our character education program"
helping our students understand "that we share far more than what might divide us"

Peyser asks if the Board is obligated to act on a waiver request
The Commissioner and the school have requested that the Board act
the Board "may grant a waiver in exceptional circumstances"

West asks for clarification
Morton reads the motion (which is written as "to deny")

Hills asks if giving reasons becomes part of a legal record
Legal counsel: "Mr. Hills, this is the motion the Commissioner is recommending"

motion to deny passes

Budget FY23: Board of Ed

 Hills: meeting before the November meeting
DESE budget and DESE priorities
understand the priorities the Commissioner has laid out

just missed the beginning of what Bill Bell said..will come back to this

Commissioner's goals for coming year

They're here
Riley says they fall under "recover" and "reimagine"
Morton asks about change in assessment
Riley needs to be more engaging, more collaborative, more reflective of outside of school
more coming
Moriarty "delighted" to see early literacy as one of the priorities

Hills: will you avail yourself of midyear assessments to see progress rather than just MCAS?
so does Hills just want to run districts directly? Does he know how poorly equipped the Department is to do that?
Hills: next mix of key objectives here, do you have the staffing you need?
Riley: believe in constant improvement

I'm noticing that there is literally no mention of the trauma of the past year, no mention of mental health supports, no mention of any of the "non-learning" parts of school

Stewart: don't want to let up on vocational admission issue
"to say that we're going to wait and see doesn't sit right with me"
Peyser just went piece by piece and dismissed concerns
Moriarty shouldn't comment without their being there (hm, they don't seem to apply that to Boston)
Hills effectively saying they should stay at their level 

October Board of Ed: opening remarks

 The Board of Ed meets today at 9; the agenda is here. The livestreaming of the meeting (assuming all goes well) will be here

updating as we go

Public comment: with a new note that interruptions will not be tolerated: one warning, and then they'll be asked to leave if there is a second disruption

comment on respecting "equity by respecting the unique needs of each child"
"flowery talk and... pilots while disruption reigns across the land"
30 years of disrespect for advanced children
personalized competency 

BPS student: receivership isn't the answer
MCAS shouldn't be the test of competency
disruption of different plans put into place
"real and sustainable changes"
PD, sufficient supplies, manageable workload, more support for students
"give us the resources, not receivership"

Boston Education Justice Alliance: here to address the ongoing bullying of the Boston Public Schools around receivership
"systemic disarray" of state receivership across the state
all came under between 2011-14: DESE has had time to provide support and improvements
Lawrence lacking supports for students in coming back
"this is the state's record of receivership and it is chronically underperforming"
know that this is coming when parents are pushing for an elected school committee
track record of takeover across the country in response to Black leadership
"receivership is a form of institutional racism"
"your record of leadership helps no one"

BPS parent: in Boston, communities of colors lost the right to elect their school committee just when those communities when they were gaining power
no coincidence that just at the same time, there is talk of state receivership
it is evident what happens when voices are left out of decision making
Lawrence makes it clear what happens when those voices are left out
"receivership is obviously not the answer"
DESE is not providing support that is needed
uplift community voices, cultivate trust, and close achievement gaps
all mitigation can be undone by the time they're eating together unmasked
need further guidance for when students are exposed and waiting for test results

organizer with BTU reading a statement from someone else about Lawrence:
Writing to call into question the efficacy of receivership
most often, "as I learned at Harvard," receiverships don't do what they've set out to do
"gathered in collective rage" in response to increase in student violence
just last night, DESE's presence was requested and it is unacceptable that no one could be bothered to go to Lawrence
"what exactly is DESE accomplishing with this experiment?"
varied magnitudes of violence; compounded trauma from last year
has gone unaddressed 
systemic failures and injustices
"receivership since 2011 has failed to respond to students social and emotional needs"
"racist and classist receivership law" rests power in hands of Commissioner Riley
Striping us of the ability to address needs of students and community 

Lou Finfer, vocational 
emergency admission policy from Monty Tech's new policy
continue to rank students through four sectors
"look, after you passed this new policy, they're passing it again"
DESE can intervene when there is non compliance: "isn't this non-compliance?"
doesn't align with the spirit of the regulation passed
request no ranking unless required for participation
intervene now if there is this ranking
ask Board to spend time in November on implementation
"something must be done rather than wait and see in a year"
"aren't they flaunting this when they pass it" again after two years?

Chair Craven: members to the budget committee: Hills, Moriarty, Stewart, Carris Livingston
Ed diversity: Fernández, Lombos, Rouhanifard, Stewart

Peyser: it's STEM week
theme is "see yourself in STEM"

Riley: Regina Robinson now joining department; per earlier note, "Special Services, Strategic Transformation, Problem Resolution, Curriculum and Instruction, Educator Effectiveness"
New org is over here

Moriarty for some reason is now talking about school ventilation, even though we aren't on that part of the agenda?
very often facilities don't know what to do with the new equipment

Mass Teacher of the Year: Marta García 
"this accent which is my super power...behind the accent is the story over overcoming struggle"
"a sign of another part of our identity"
students who have taught me more than I can say
like the student who brought her new kitten to school because she didn't have the words in English to tell us about it

and the student who talked about it being dark and cold in the desert and spoke of the border patrol
culturally responsive practices and assessments

Commissioner: shorage
brought in National Guard "to solve that problem" of bus driver shortage
that didn't solve the problem
now doing so with testing
mask removal is a local decision when hitting metric; districts may consider other things
Nine schools have asked so far
"by early next week, the decision will be made whether or not to continue masks" at state level
MEMA supplies for schools 

visited Lawrence last week and this: "continue to support administration as they enact a plan to strengthen the school and give students what they need"

Hills: on testing, is National Guard going to clear out a backlog, or are we constantly going to need help from National Guard
Riley: anticipate will be similar to buses: as companies train drivers, will be able to wean off 

Carris Livingston asks about masks with clear shields being provided

Rouhanifard: breaks spirit of law in new regs
Riley in process in reviewing this particular case and others
Craven "but it's fair to say the Department was aware of this before this morning"
Riley: "we had heard about it"

Lombos: asks about receivership process
Riley: multistep process he said more than that and offered to share more

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Pieces to read and reflect on

 ...should you have Monday off.

This ProPublica investigation into the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee is the sort of piece that wins prizes, and, one hopes, major reform.

The New Yorker rarely notes anything about school board meetings, so it is telling when it does. I also thought this piece from ProPublica, which also comes from a school board perspective, was useful. 

You may have heard of Dr. James Whitfield, the Black principal in a majority white school district who has been put on leave; here is how some of his students have responded.

Very relatedly, read this piece about the experience this year of Maryland superintendent Dr. Andrea Kane.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

SNL on school board public comment

 When you've hit a Saturday Night Live skit: 


A real 'great divide'

 It's odd to me that a newspaper that has an education section termed "the Great Divide" would write about the Republican governor being led by particular groups of parents on his decisions around masking in schools without addressing who those parents are. 

In a Boston Globe public records request found the following exchange:

“There has been considerable pushback from parents groups that feel that masks interfere with social interactions and speech and language development,” wrote Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director for the state health department’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences, in a July 30 e-mail to Dr. Regina LaRocque, his former student at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

For any of us who watch Board of Ed meetings, though, it has been clear who that "considerable pushback" is coming from. Note this from Forbes early last month: 

 The poll, conducted August 16-25 among 10,168 parents, found the biggest predictor of school mask mandate opposition was a parent’s political party, with 56% of Republican parents opposed to school mask mandates versus 24% of Independents and 4% of Democrats.

White parents are also far more likely to oppose school mask mandates, with 42% opposed versus 6% of Black parents, 15% of Hispanics and 25% of those of other races.

Parents’ opposition to mask mandates increases as their income goes up: only 19% of parents earning less than $50,000 per year oppose the mask requirements, versus 36% of those earning between $50,000 and $99,999 and 40% of those making more than $100,000 annually.

There is, very clearly, throughout the pandemic, a "great divide" in how we handle education. This has continued around masking mandates. Having a Republican governor from suburban Boston, whose record on racial equity is...not much hasn't helped.

Note further that, while the Globe elides this, the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education is not directly answerable to the Governor. As I have noted in the past, Commissioner Riley works for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Board deliberately is constructed such that the Governor cannot control their decision making: only the Secretary and the Chair serve at his pleasure. Other members have terms that, again, deliberately are not co-terminus with his.

It thus matters that the Board, again has been noted before, is made up of members from: 

Boston (again)
Holyoke (Moriarty)
Brookline (again)
Newton (again)

The overrepresentation of white suburban wealthy metro-Boston should shock us. It is also where much of the masking push back is based, at least from what can be derived from public testimony. 

Looking for a "great divide"? It's staring us in the face if we're willing to see it. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Yes, there are Worcester School Committee election forums!

 If you think of it as "if it's Wednesday, it's a forum," you'll have this schedule down!

  • Wednesday, October 6, 6 pm--Centro forum--11 Sycamore Street, Worcester

  • Wednesday, October 13, 7 pm--Worcester Regional Research Bureau forum--Mechanics Hall, Main Street, Worcester

  • Wednesday, October 20, 6 pm--YWCA forum--Salem Street, Worcester
In most cases, there are multiple other sponsors involved, but that's the highlights! Hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

September Board of Ed: competency determination

 Curtin: interruption of the pandemic has required a pause in work on resetting of competency determination
do need to further timeline of interim competency determination
extend through '24 and '25
would cover existing high school classes right now
this time next year, new competency determination would start with class of 2026, this year's 8th graders 
no public comment received
bringing back to vote on extension to classes of '24 and '25

Hills; what is enough notice? Curtin: don't want to overpromise
Stewart: what does it mean that there was no public comment?
Curtin: don't have an answer to that 
Stewart: has that happened before, recently?
Curtin: yes, accountability has happened

Board approves interim competency determination for classes of '24 and '25

September Board of Ed: MCAS

 Rob Curtin:
districts had several more weeks to give test
shortened grade 3-8 assessment and took one session instead of two
Grade 10 the same
remote administration option 
call out for districts and assessment staff for their flexibility in this 
Board has modified competency determination of classes of '20-'23
over a million assessments, 85% in person, 99% received a valid result
1% did not; some small number of classrooms being reviewed and grade 8 remote science was not able to be scored due to a contractor error
participation remained strong across; all at 90% or higher (save 89% at math grade 10); younger grades 97% in gr.3-5 in both subjects
Typically in 97% in grade 8 and under; 95% grade 10, so a dip, but still strong
Someone asked if there were higher pockets of non participation
Moriarty: 89% in math grade 10: harbinger of dropping out?Curtin: not as yet, provide ample opportunity for students to take the test to meet the competency determination
stacked bars of achievement; vertically within each grade an achievement level; horizontally comparing across grades
Blue bar of achievement in 2019: orange above the blue line in grades 3-8 is the drop in students meeting or exceeding expectations compared to 2019
2021 grade 10 OUTPERFORMED 2019 in ELA (so no orange over the bar!)
West asks if test was shorter, confirms it was not in grade 10 
Curtin: do have "tale of two subjects" as we look at math
Decreases in ELA for sure, "to a more significant degree in math"
concern with amount of red "not meeting expectations"
grade 10 did experience a decrease in math as compared to ELA
science drop more consistent with ELA than math
15% drop in meeting or exceeding expectations in grades 3-8
grade 10 7%
West: comfort in comparison?
Curtin: "what gives me comfort is numbers"
speaks of the numbers of tests given and results
and I missed a section here...augh
Curtin: looking at achievement gap
math change in achievement gap: "actually have a little bit of a narrowing"
"all in all, we end up with certainly declining results" but while we might have feared increasing achievement gaps, that isn't what happened (that last is totally paraphrase)

Riley says he sees recovery as a several year project

Morton: what is social emotional impact on students and on schools
"if we could get such data, that would be helpful"
Riley: "I don't think there is such data."
Morton: "then maybe there should be"
Morton: should focus on alternative assessments, "I'd like us to be sure that we're spending the same amount of resources on alternative assessments"

and then an alarm sounded and the floor? building? was ordered to be evacuated via an automated voice

Hills: wanted to make a comment "there's no perfect place on the agenda to make it"
Haven't looked at individual assessments, 
MOU and work that DESE wants to be able to do in Boston
"systemic and systematic and structural problems" in Boston Public Schools
"more skeptical now than I was a year and a half ago"
Don't know how you're going to address deep and wide options "without considering all options including receivership"
"beginning to feel complicit"
"not another day that goes by without another Boston Globe article that...amps my skepticism up a notch"
"I just want to raise this issue publicly, not just privately"
Riley notes it is "not on the agenda today" but hears concerns and notes "there is a process"

September Board of Ed: opening comments

 Today's Board of Ed meeting, coming to us (change of venue) from 1 Ashburton Place, starts at 9:30 am. The agenda is here. The livestream will be here

really choppy connection here today...missing large parts of what people are saying...after five restarts, we just jumped to what I assume is current in the meeting with a woman talking about a universal remote learning option during public comment

Commenter says her daughter's just been approved for home and hospital
school ventilation and distancing not possible everyone
children under 12 need time to be vaccinated
was so excited about children going back to school after last year being remote
watched as rates rose, safety protocols made optional 
"We aren't asking for forever; we're just asking for remote options until vaccines are widely available for children under 12"
"asking for ability to keep our children safe"
"all students have to be alive to be learning"

Commenter speaking about "normal childhood" being denied children
mitigation "no longer necessary"
policy must be made on "costs versus benefits"
encourage looking at data in other countries (erm, wow. Hospitalization rates in the UK right now?)

Commenter on MCAS 
"they are who they are and ready to learn what they need to learn next"
"system is not adapting to where the kids are and what they need to learn"
Better information about where students are achieving; adaptive assessments can do that; the current MCAS can't

Moriarty asking for information about ventilation systems across the districts
Riley: ESSER dollars, district responsibility to set up

another welcome to the new student member Eleni Carris Livingston of Wellesley

Peyser talking early college and STEM week

election of Board Vice Chair: nomination of James Morton (again)
elected unanimously

Riley on reopening: round of thanks for reopening
now doing multiple rounds of COVID data
He...really just spoke of requiring masks as a "difficult decision"
I'm also just going to note that so far I think all of these charts go up at the end
vaccines varied across the state; Chelsea singled out for having 81% of 16-19 year olds vaccinated
"we think the best place for kids is at school"
testing program
looking at needs of kids who have medical needs
kids qualified for home and hospital can be remote; individual remote bundles for remote students via virtual schools
National Guard help kids get to school "especially our special needs students"
173 drivers ready for service; currently in eight districts, more to come
test and stay program
"as one of the first penguins out of the gate" on test and stay
"with local control we were undermined by a few factors" on going back at three feet last year
he just listed mental health and suicide, as well as what I assume is a reference to MCAS scores as a result of districts being remote
MCAS in sum: Drops all over the Commonwealth, so not an opening of new gaps

Rouhanifard: high rates of vaccinations in state, mask not hill to die on
argues that we don't need to vaccine children to lift restrictions

Livingstone: distress and difficulties that adults in children's lives are having
encourage social and emotional supports for staff and families
resources to support faculty

Stewart: families and students and schools "a time to heal"
Has to be something that happens that's different
can't assume we go back to "some kind of normal"
She cites Neema Avashia's piece

Morton: effecting Black and brown children differently
"while I want to be optimistic, I want to be cautious"
want to know how Black and brown children and communities
"we during public comment heard two different stories, and that concerns me, that we're hearing two different stories"
our low income communities and our Black and brown communities are not

Moriaty: high needs special needs students and families "fell into a hole"
how much provision of compensatory services for those who have turned 22 since March 2020

Friday, September 17, 2021

Very quick update on today's search meeting

 Again, note that today was only to do two things:

  • to approve a timeline for the search
  • to draft and approve a request for proposals for a search firm
We did both of those things. The timeline approved looks like this (I will type this out over the weekend):

And my very quick (!) edit of the RFP (just making sure the text is all there!) is online here

Thursday, September 16, 2021

How does this work? On the Worcester superintendent search

Tomorrow afternoon, the Ad-Hoc Search Committee for the Next Superintendent--which I'm going to call the superintendent search committee--meets for the first time. You can find the agenda, including the Zoom link, here. I thought I'd take a bit today to outline what we know so far.

Who hires a superintendent? The school committee of a district hires the superintendent. It's one of the four core responsibilities of school committees laid out in MGL Ch. 71, sec. 71

The school committee in each city and town and each regional school district shall have the power to select and to terminate the superintendent, shall review and approve budgets for public education in the district, and shall establish educational goals and policies for the schools in the district consistent with the requirements of law and statewide goals and standards established by the board of education. 

Who is on the search committee? The School Committee members of the search committee are Molly McCullough, who has been appointed as chair; Dianna Biancheria; and me. The Mayor, who has the authority under the city charter to appoint subcommittees of the Worcester School Committee, said he was appointing the three longest-serving members of the Worcester School Committee who are also running for re-election. 

Why only three? There are of course four of us running for re-election, including Laura Clancey; the search committee needs to be less than a quorum of the full committee, though, lest it operate and make decisions as a committee of the whole.

Is this going to be the full search committee? No. The Mayor has outlined a process that will appoint further members of the district and the public for the search process. That will happen later on, as the full search committee has particular responsibilities (see more below!).

Does this committee meet in public? Yes, as the search committee, both as a subcommittee of the Worcester School Committee and as an ad-hoc committee reporting back to the full committee on something under its purview, is subject to the Open Meeting Law.
HOWEVER, the full constituted search committee will be conducting, as its job, the first round screening interviews of semi-finalists for the position of superintendent. Under MGL Chapter 30A, sec. 21, subsection 8, first round screening interviews may--and I assume here they will--be conducted in executive session. Those are not public.

What is the search committee doing right now? The first job the search committee has been assigned is to report back to the full committee for our next meeting--next Thursday the 23rd--with an RFP for a search firm for a national search and a timeline. Miss Biancheria also wants to define the word "national."

What's an RFP? An RFP is a Request for Proposals, which is how the city (of which the school system in this case operates as a department of) asks for submissions for a purchase the district intends to make. I won't go into huge detail here on municipal purchasing, but there is a strict process under which purchases are made by the city, particularly if they hit particular expense levels. 
In this case, the RFP will spell out exactly what the search committee is looking for from a search firm to work with the school committee on the superintendent search. 

And what's this about a timeline? The new superintendent will need to be ready to go on July 1, 2022. Ideally, new superintendents are appointed earlier in the spring, so there is a transition between superintendents, and the incoming superintendent is part of developing the next year's budget (that they will manage), the summer work (that they will oversee), and the next year's planning (that they will direct). Thus the clock is ticking on making sure we get this moving. 

So which school committee is appointing the new superintendent? The school committee that begins serving in January 2022, which will be elected November 2, will appoint the new superintendent. 
The work that will happen between now and the end of the year, though, will be outlining position descriptions and so forth, which will draw on the knowledge of the current committee. But it will be the next committee, which will have at least two new members, that will appoint the next superintendent. 

What are you/we looking for in a new superintendent? That's what gets decided next and where the community comes in! Part of the RFP will be laying out what we expect the search firm to do, and some of that is gathering community feedback! 
I'm not at this point, beyond what I said at our last meeting, going to lay out more about what I am looking for; right now, I want to push hard on making sure that we hear from as much of the community--and not just the usual suspects!--as possible. That, obviously, is going to have a real impact on what the position description that we decide on looks like. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Charter school application in Worcester

 It has been awhile since this has happened: the latest round of charter school applications includes one in Worcester (h/t to the MTA on this one, by the way; I still can't find this on DESE's website).

 The Ubuntu Excellence for All STEAM School is described as:

The Ubuntu Excellence for All STEAM School’s purpose is to serve historically marginalized students of immigrant families and families of African diaspora interested in STEAM. African diasporic communities in urban cities are often economically or socially oppressed and consist of Black and Brown families who continue to be underserved by the traditional public school system.

It would be, at its fullest extent, a PreK-12 518 student body; it would open K-7, then add PreK and 8, then a grade in high school a year. 

The primary applicant is Dr. Regine Philippeaux, who (interestingly) is the current Deputy Chief of Equity and Strategy for Boston Public Schools, the creator of the Boston Public Schools Excellence for All program, and lives in Upton. The two primary writers, Toni-Ann Williams and Rachel Jules, respectively, per the application, a special education teacher and the current program manager for Excellence for All, live respectively in Mattapan and Dorchester. 

While the school is being applied for in Worcester--which, as I believe I've noted, is back on the lowest performing 10% list as of 2019, and, with the freezing of the list, is on for this year again--I remember being concerned that just this would happen...--the application is a regional one which also includes Mendon-Upton, Hopedale, Milford, Millbury, West Boylston, Sutton, Grafton, Leicester. Worcester also has not hit the spending cap, which, as it is a lowest performing 10% district, has now been bumped to 18% of district net school spending; it was 9% when we were not in that lowest performing group. Such things, one notes, have consequences.

Boston, incidentally, is within 0.5% of its 18% cap; while it, per the February update from DESE, has a fairly complicated methodology going on around adding students, it's not a good prospect for a full school expansion. 

Because Worcester has always funded at net school spending, the balance of making the funding of a charter school in Worcester work has always been dicey--see Spirit of Knowledge, for example. Remember, however, that this school would be opening as the Student Opportunity Act will be boosting funding. 

The other schools applying--there are three--are two in New Bedford and one in Newton. 

I am sure more is to come on this. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

DESE organizational update

 If, like me, you were so irritated that DESE was posting chirpy "ready for school" videos on September 7, you may have missed that Commissioner Riley has reorganized his senior officials. To quote from the announcement (item 4): 

...the Commissioner is bringing back the two deputy commissioner positions and creating a leadership cabinet of seven members, six of whom are existing DESE employees. The seven are:

  • Chief Financial Officer Bill Bell
  • Chief School Officer Komal Bhasin (Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning, Statewide System of Support, Office of Language Acquisition, Office of Educational Technology)
  • Chief of Staff Leldamy Correa
  • Chief Officer for Data, Assessment, and Accountability Rob Curtin
  • Deputy Commissioner Russell Johnston (Special Services, Strategic Transformation, Problem Resolution, Curriculum and Instruction, Educator Effectiveness)
  • Deputy Commissioner Regina Robinson (who is new to DESE) (Strategic Initiatives, Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems and Innovative Assessments, Research and Planning, Educational Options)
  • General Counsel Rhoda Schneider.

The changes take effect Tuesday, September 7.

Aside from those of us who need to know people's titles in order to write about them, why should we care? Well, to me a lot of this seems to focus pretty heavily on the ethereal rather than the concrete. 

It's also never been clear to me if the DESE finance folks actually work for Bill Bell, so I'm not sure this helps with the funding piece. 

In fact, I think I now need to know who answers to who in this line-up, overall. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

But wait, there's more!

I feel as if I am back in the days when I started this blog, when there'd be the single article about the School Committee meeting, and anything else that happened, you didn't hear about. While admittedly both voting to move to fully in-house transportation and voting to start a national search for a new superintendent are news of the headline making sort, there are other things that happened at our meetings in the past two weeks. 

Here's a rundown on the highlights:

Over the past number of weeks, we've ratified contractual agreements with EAW units A&B (that's anyone classified as a teacher plus assistant principals and the like); drivers and monitors; custodians; computer technicians; 52 week administrative secretaries;  and educational secretaries. In every case, those contracts brought them at least up to date as of the close this past fiscal year OR brought them up through the end of this one (this last is the case with the teachers). As a result, the School Committee this past week voted an increase for the non-represented (non union) employees, which is everyone from administrators to crossing guards. 
I can't talk out of turn on the units that are outstanding save to say that negotiations are ongoing. 

We had an update on the dual language program at the August 26 meeting, which, among other things, noted that the state assessing our dual language learners only in English doesn't accurately assess their actual knowledge and skill in subject matters. We asked to be apprised of which districts are running dual language programs, so we might work with them on advocacy, though this obviously is larger than the dual language program.

While the report out on the August 18 Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting attracted attention largely due to the recommendation to move fully to in-house transportation, I don't want to overlook the closing of the fiscal year. Worcester had, remember, a $372M budget for FY21, after we cut $16M once we finally got a state budget. For municipal districts, anything that isn't spent--down literally to the penny--goes back to the municipality to be certified as free cash for the end of the year. That is a difficult and complex process. 
And how much did the Worcester Public Schools give back this year?

Thus, if a dollar went to the Worcester Public Schools for education last year, that's what it was spent on. 
And so when folks ask "how can you have confidence in the projections for transportation?" the answer is this: when you have a finance office that has been doing this (and the associated budget transfers) and the back and forth with RTTT and grants that disappear during budget seasons and all the other swings that we've seen over the past more than a decade, and yet year after year, these are the results, you trust your people and their work.

At our August 26 meeting, on Mr. Monfredo's motions, we voted to send mandating vaccinations of our employees to executive sessions to take up as part of negotiations. I'd note that the EAW leadership has already been public on their agreement with this, so it's largely a matter of working out the how and when. There are negotiations going on now regarding bargaining around issues related to back to school. 

Several of us have received concerns about how lunch is being eaten in this return to school in the pandemic time, so I had filed an item at the August 26 meeting, urging outdoor as possible and creativity everywhere. While some schools are doing some very neat things, I've continued to get heightened concerns from families around what looks a lot like regular operations at some schools, however. 

I had also filed at the August 26 meeting a request for the list of outstanding contracts the superintendent has with employees; that is, the employees whose contracts are not collectively bargained but are directly with the superintendent. We have a number of them that are expired for a year or more. That report was due back at our meeting on September 2, but we did not receive it. 

At our August 26 meeting, Ms. Clancey filed an item regarding the concerns the neighborhood around Lincoln Street School has had with community homelessness impact on the school. We heard something of an update at the meeting of attendance at the community meeting regarding this, as well as work going forward. 

At our September 2 meeting, Ms. McCullough filed an item regarding parking for students at Doherty during construction, which there are a few things going on with.

Also at our September 2 meeting, the Committee on a 6-1 (Biancheria opposing) vote agreed to send a letter to our delegation requesting that the state Department of Public Health mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students as it is permissible, and, if that does not happen, request that the Legislature do so.

We also asked the administration to look into the recently released update that districts may provide remote education to students who are ill or quarantining due to COVID. We were told, however, that the Department recently said that they'd bar districts from using remote learning for snow days. 

Next meeting of the Committee is September 23 (moved from September 16, which is Yom Kippur). 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

My remarks on tonight’s vote

First, Mr. Chair, I need to deal with a procedural matter. I want to be very public about my declaration of not having a conflict of interest under M.G.L. c. 268A, § 20(b) in this superintendent search. My employer, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, does conduct superintendent searches, but as noted in the memo I am filing with the Clerk this evening, MASC as a matter of policy will not respond to requests for proposals for superintendent searches published by districts on which a current staff member serves. This is deliberate, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and to ensure that school committee members can fully participate in their role as a member. 

I will this evening address the item before us. I have, in prior meetings, particularly in evaluations, addressed the performance of the current administration, as is our responsibility. I will continue to do so. That is, however, not the matter before us in this item.

I first think it’s important to note that this is our job. School Committees in Massachusetts under MGL Ch. 71, §37 are described as having four core responsibilities, one of which is “to select and terminate the superintendent.” This is not the job of interest groups, of business interests, of non-profit entities…it is the job of the Worcester School Committee, period. I intend, and I believe my colleagues intend, to do our job, as it is our job to do. 

It is the governance of the school committee that determines the direction of the district. I have heard it said that the superintendent is a reflection of the school committee. In selecting the superintendent, the school committee expresses a set of values and communicates the level of professionalism the committee expects of its employees. It ultimately also determines the quality of the education the district delivers to students. 

Second, the most important thing that any committee needs to do in conducting a superintendent search is tell the truth to their community. If they intend to appoint an internal candidate, they should say so. If they are going to do a full, inclusive national search, then they have the responsibility to not only say so, but to do so.

The Worcester School Committee will conduct a full, inclusive national search, period. 

What that means is the following, as much as it may disappoint the city rumor mill: 

The person who will be the next permanent superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools has not already been selected. I am telling you now, regardless of what you heard at the gym, at the grocery store, or in the Facebook comment section: that hasn’t happened.

Those who work for the Worcester Public Schools do not have an advantage in applying for this position. There is not, there will not be, a guarantee that those who work for the district will be forwarded in any fashion that is an exception to the rest. 

The above, incidentally, is also true of those who work for the larger City of Worcester, in any capacity. 

So much for what the Committee will not do. 

What it will do is the following: 

Conduct a fully comprehensive, inclusive public input process, as the item says. That means that all voices, particularly those of our students, our families, and our educators are involved very early in determining the needs of the district in the next superintendent. 

That means, Mr. Chair, that our input needs to be multilingual with interpreters and translators. It needs to be accessible by public transit and accessible to those with disabilities. It needs to be in different locations, not all schools, and at different times of day. It needs to involve childcare. It needs to go far far beyond any outreach that this district has done anytime in the recent past. It is absolutely incumbent on this Committee to ensure that this happens with this search, alongside whatever search firm is hired. 

Elevate marginalized voices. That means that those who have our cell numbers or who inhabit the Zoom sessions we most frequent do not have the ear of the School Committee more than those whose lives are most impacted by the decision we are about to make. I want to hear more from, and I want to prioritize the values and needs of, any elementary English learner in the district over anyone who works downtown in a tie. 

I also expect our ultimate choice will be reflective of that perspective. 

Conduct an actual national search. Worcester is one of the very largest districts in Massachusetts. We do not have points of comparison in this state. We have 25,000 students; we have nearly 5,000 employees.

This means, at ground, the first thing we are is a very large organization. Not just anyone successfully can run an organization that large. It takes training. It takes experience. It takes, as much as education often seems allergic to the word, an administrator. 

Does that mean we don’t want an educator? No. But it does mean that not just any teacher, not just any educational administrator can do this job. 

And let me very clear about my own perspective on this: it has been abundantly clear to me how much talent and experience this district has hemorrhaged over the past six years. 

We do not, in my view, have anyone currently employed in this district that has the level of experience, talent, perspective, and skillset to become the next permanent superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools. 

Draw on the experience of the current Committee while embracing the next Committee’s perspective. One of the smart choices being made here is timing. This timeline allows for the current Committee, including the experience of Mr. Monfredo and of Mr. Foley, to set the position description under which the search will take place. It then turns to the actual hiring, after the work of the search committee, being done by next term’s Committee, which we know will include at least two new members. 

This embraces the strengths in both directions. This is a wise decision, Mr. Chair. 

Finally, Mr. Chair, I want to say how very much hope, in this fifteenth year of my being a Worcester Public School parent, this vote tonight gives me. Superintendent searches are about looking forward to the future, something very much in line with what public education is about. They are about what matters most to our children.

I hope, will put my effort towards, and will vote in favor tonight of a comprehensive, inclusive public process driving a national search that results in the next superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools who will well serve our students and our city.

The Committee voted 6-1 (Monfredo opposing) to decline to renew Superintendent Binienda's contract to move forward with a national search. Mayor Petty appointed Ms. McCullough to chair the search committee, with Miss Biancheria and myself serving as the other two School Committee members. We are to report back with a timeline and an RFP for the meeting on September 23. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Worcester School Committee agenda for Thursday has a proposed superintendent search

 The agenda for Thursday just posted. As a member of the Committee, I will, as per our ethics, save my remarks for the floor, but I did want to note that this is the final item on the public agenda:

To consider options, if necessary, to begin the process and engage with a search consultant to conduct a national search to recruit and hire a Superintendent of schools for the Worcester Public Schools with an effective start date of JULY 1, 2022. Prior to the commencement of the search process, the School Committee, in collaboration with the consultant, will develop and implement a comprehensive, inclusive, public process to solicit input from all members of the Worcester community regarding the needs of the district and the characteristics and skillsets required in the next Superintendent of schools.

There is also, I should note, a back to school report.  

Monday, August 30, 2021

Just for the record...

 Tier one buses--the first round of pick-ups--were late today. 

Actual buses actually got to actual stops late. In some cases, very very late.

You can read here for my own family's morning. 

As a result of those late buses, many families--those who can--chose to drive their children. That did then cause congestion at the schools. 

But the families responding logically to buses that were late is not why those buses were late, even if the buses then got even later.

I had something to say about this here and here

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

And denying the lived experience of people is called gaslighting, and we shouldn't do it as a district. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Back to school call from Superintendent Binienda

 for those who didn't let it go to voice mail; I replayed it to get the main points

All students must wear face masks on the bus and inside every school. Masks are not required outside at recess.

All bus routes are posted in the parent/student portal as well as on the website:

Due to the shortage of bus drivers, WPS will *not* be dropping students off at after school programs. Students will be picked up and returned to the same location.

We'll be monitoring bus routes these first weeks, and we may have to make starting and ending time changes over the next few weeks.

There will be no transportation provided to student athletes for *in city* practice or games during the school week. Transportation to *out of district* game locations will begin at 4:30 pm. 

During the 21-22 school year, WPS will be implementing Rights, Respect, Responsibility, an evidence-informed sexual health education curriculum. The curriculum will be implemented in an age-appropriate manner by trained health teachers according to the National Sex Education Standards and the Massachusetts Health Education Frameworks. 

Online information sessions for families (dates and links) can be found here:

Dates as follows:

Kindergarten-3rd grade students - Tuesday, August 31 - 6:00-7:00 p.m.

4th-6th grade students - Tuesday, August 31 - 7:00-8:00 p.m.

7th-8th grade students - Tuesday, September 7 - 6:00-7:00 p.m.

High school students - Tuesday, September 7 - 7:00-8:00 p.m. 

The opt-out form is also on the website.

School starts Monday, grades 1-12; Thursday, preschool and kindergarten.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Board of Ed special meeting on masking

 agenda is here

Commissioner (coming in midstream; looks like he had a slide or two on rising COVID rates?)

Looking for "off ramps on masking"
"hopeful that this will be the final hurdle of the pandemic"
can't rule out that masking "may be required intermittedly throughout the year"
does not mean vaccination will be only measure for unmasking, but stress importance
"now recommend that we take this one additional" step

Peyser: thanks Commissioner "for his leadership in putting forward this proposal"
Smooth opening of school
"reinforce the importance of vaccination...create incentives" for districts to get all eligible vaccinated
moving to fully normal experience...get everyone vaccinated

West: acknowledge thousands of those who have written to us
"want to reject the notion is a simple matter of following the science"
questions efficacy of masking(?) and concerned about not seeing teachers faces(?)
concern about masking being imposed in schools "and not other places first"
question if the conditions exist such that such authority needs to be extended
"to prevent the need to quarantine large numbers of students in schools" (from your lips to God's ear as they say)
continued conversation with educators on how to 
lack of clear end date on masking
"I don't think the continued default of masking" can continue for elementary
unmasking around vaccinations: don't want students have to explain vaccination status or why they're unmasks

Rouhanifard: "I'm on a no on this vote"
"masking is not a hill worth dying on"
tying to vaccinations "is really bad public policy"
"ethically precarious" 
"a more reasonable off ramp would have been tying to community spread"
surprised Governor has endorsed this as usually supports his "technocratic policy solutions"
"if you look at hospitalization and death rates, it remains remarkably low"
"have an obligation the door til normalcy"
"I think erring on the side of caution loses sight of the bigger picture"
practicing social distancing and masking "sounds like a religion"
drives to the tendency of divisive public policy
"worry about where we're headed"

Hills: "people should vote the way we want...and be respected for it"
"regret some people on the Board" attacking another on how they voted at a prior meeting
move without regard to prior decisions
leaders "have done exactly what we should want them to do"
pandemic "which isn't over yet"
Commissioner "has been very deft" in how he has uses the power he has asked for
"as a Board member, Jeff is exactly the sort of person we'd want to entrust with this responsibility"
"straightforward to me, not because it's perfect, but we don't have the luxury of only voting when the situation is perfect"
hope we have a smooth opening to the school year and in a month "are talking about" relaxing the standards

Craven: thanks Board members "and all the citizens who have written to us over the last 72 hours"
Calls for vote

VOTE: all save Rouhanifard in favor, motion passes 9-1

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Let's talk about this Board meeting on Tuesday

 After 47% or so of public K-12 students in the state were already under mandatory masking for back to school due to decisions made by their local districts, the Commissioner announced Friday (at 11:16 am) that he was asking the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for authority to mandate masks in all K-12 public schools through at least October 1. 
They thus have called a special meeting for Tuesday at 10. It is a remote, public meeting, which you can watch here.

They are not taking public testimony.
The single item on the agenda describes the request as:

The Student Learning Time regulations provide that the Board may declare that “exigent circumstances exist that adversely affect the ability of students to attend classes in a safe environment unless additional health and safety measures are put in place.”   Upon such a declaration, I must then, in consultation with medical experts and state health officials, issue health and safety requirements and related guidance for districts. If the Board gives me this authority, having consulted with medical experts and public health officials, I will implement a mask mandate for all students and staff in all grades. 

The proposed motion reads: 

 MOVED: that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, in accordance with G.L. c. 69, § 1B, and consistent with 603 CMR 27.08(1), determines that exigent circumstances exist that adversely affect the ability of students to attend classes in a safe environment unless additional health and safety measures are put in place, and authorizes the Commissioner to require masks for public school students (age 5 and above) and staff in all grades through at least October 1, 2021.  

Note, importantly, that this authorizing the Commissioner to require this; districts are required to follow state regulations. 

While I never count out a deliberative body, I would be surprised if they didn't pass this. 
If you are brand new to hearing about the Board of Ed, you may find this post from 2017 useful. Currently, the chair of the Board is Katherine Craven; James Peyser remains Secretary; Jeffrey Riley is the Commissioner, having been appointed to that position in 2018.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Liveblog: Finance and Operations closes FY21 and talks transportation

 And the agenda is here

posting as we go once it starts

Foley: FY21, how did we fare relative to the budget, and how much did we give back to the city
$3 on a $300M budget
Allen: final spending in relation to the adopted budget, not the transfers over the course of the year
what happened in the course of the year
December adoption after $16M cut
used to "improve budget development practices moving forward"
very different: some additional extended remote savings, additional COVID costs
"despite these challenges...all credit to Budget Director Sara Consalvo and her team for a very successful close"
Foley: Questions?
Great work the budget office, an outstanding job
at August 26 meeting will make that public as well
motion to file

and on to transportation:
Foley: part of our conversation on Durham services and "some of the continuing problems with management at Durham services"
facing deadline for transportation for end of school year 2021, as well
items, plus direction on what plans are for next year
there had been a possibility of a one year extension or not
both C and D plus any comments on the backup material

Allen: bus drivers provided to School Committee at budget time
have had weekly meetings 
Durham reported each week; just received an updated email
available to us: 19 drivers short for big drivers for open of school without any coverage for absences
Foley: what is the plan to meet this shortfall?
Binienda: regional manager had said that, "the person who does some of the routing...what is her title" 
Allen: customer service manager
Binienda: "they were going to speak today...would like to speak with them. Contact them and verify with them."
McCullough: no questions per say, interested once we know the actual deficit and what our actual plan is going to be
Biancheria: when will we get a final count on what we have for the first day of school?
Binienda: "hopefully will get that tonight and will let School Committee know tomorrow"
Foley: will have to accommodate the shortfall
Biancheria: who is developing a plan to ensure our kids are going to get to and from school?
Binienda: Allen, Hennessey, myself, Durham
Biancheria: and when do we anticipate that plan is going to be ready?
Binienda: hopefully we could finish that this week
Biancheria: the 23rd?
to reroute what we need to reroute using our buses?
Do we have additional buses and drivers available?
Allen: the answer, hiring interviews tomorrow to get us to the level needed for this year
Biancheria: what are our vacancies under WPS?
Allen: filling 5 and 6 drivers, have people signed up and coming for interviews tomorrow
Biancheria: 6 for WPS and 19 for Durham; do we have any coming from anywhere else?
any available coming from anywhere else?
Binienda: two Durham drivers resigned today to come to WPS
general shortage of drivers, billboards hiring AA
shortage that Durham having, "in order to work it out, we'll have to work it out"
Biancheria: percentage is about the same on both sides
"if we don't have this plan ready for Monday, when are we going to inform parents that their child may not be getting a bus ride to school"
Binienda: do have ten buses that only do a first tier afternoon route
"an example would be not having transportation for athletics" (??)
Biancheria: additional traffic, additional coverage
"How do we resolve this issue, it doesn't seem as if we're going to have an opportunity to resolve this"
wondering if people being interviewed tomorrow drive today for Durham and now work for the Worcester Public Schools
do we know if they came from Durham yet?
Allen: looking at the current civil service list, there could be one, 
of the two mentioned, know of only one currently working for Head Start, not for WPS 
Foley: express concern, very difficult rerouting the buses, think seven days is the mimimum time needed
doesn't give enough time
really need a really solid number to make the plans
Allen: different from this year and last year is the number of students coming back
Foley: can't reroute
"the alarm from all of us that you're hearing"
"we have more confidence in our numbers in order to hire before schools start"
"problem with Durham numbers have fluctuated quite a bit"
number short doesn't include any support for absenteeism
Allen: ten drivers per day
Foley: more than 19 to cover absenteeism as well

Allen on ESSER funds: eligiblity for ESSER funding
So long as it meets any of the federal grants
IDEA can be used for special education buses; was not at that time clear on big buses
have heard back "if you can make it COVID related, then it would be approved for ESSER spending"

Foley: also provided the report from Sept. 2019 summary and recommendation from the last time the transportation contract was extended
along with additional analysis on buying buses
current status and deadlines?
Allen: two year contract FY21 and FY22 with option of third year FY23
third year at sole decision of city
city made that decision by October 1, 2021
Foley: recognize back seven years ago has become little competition for transportation for large school districts
not seeing competitive bid prices, not seeing level of service
"we have experience with significant difficulities wiht the management of Durham...not the bus drives, in many ways of drivers are exceptional, both those who drive for Durham and who drive for us"
"our concerns have been with Durham management"
continuing problem with the driver shortfall
continuing issue with getting credits from Durham
provided a breech on contract letter, as went for so long without drivers filled
"have been other issues as well"
have been waiting for at least seven years for family-friendly GPS routing for buses
"that hasn't happened"
we have GPS in our buses--Allen "We have the ability to launch that on our buses"
lack of communication, families trying to find where their kids
issue of communication with all of us on the public school side
have been planning for running as self-operation
Discussed back at 2015 contract; would begin to build support operation
"in many ways, we're running a very large transportation network already with the buses we are running"
moving to run self-operation, very confident that we can improve on the service, improve on the communication
"can plan for that, can improve those services, can improve communication with families"
"let them know what is going on with their bus systems that we have"
two years ago, projected savings of $3M a year
with purchasing buses, savings is now $4M a year
can improve service, can consider later start for high school, can consider reduction in two mile requirement, can help fund other WPS items
a self-operation would provide a significant reduction in field trips 10% reduction in costs
1. will not exercise a third year option in contract with Durham
2. will take responsibility for transportation services beginning with end of this current school year (2021-22) entirely
3. directs administration to begin immediately to ready to run an effective transportation network, including hiring drivers and purchasing buses
4. use ESSER funding to acquire vehicles necessary to run transportation network

McCullough: has never been an issue with the drivers, being on front line and bearing the brunt
otherwise have hit every other issue
GPS tracking and access, plus benefits discussed over the years

Biancheria: motion, as we proceed we take into consideration a priority the Durham drivers that would be filling out applications with the Worcester Public Schools
is that legal?
is not a reflection that they are employed by Durham
Feasibility of purchasing buses from Durham; what buses they own and how are they fueled, are they looking to sell buses to us at a reasonable price?
administration of transportation has moved to Northeast Cutoff, will need to use that for more 
where it will be located and how much it will cost
motion that job descriptions be in process and something we are reviewing as much as they can, with the possibility of who is going to run this and who is going to do this
Foley: report back monthly on progress being made on moving to self-operation would talk about administrative needs would talk about who is running it and progress, staffing, capital equipment, location, and costs
Biancheria: and costs, please make sure the costs are there
Durham is represented by Teamsters; our drivers are represented by EAW
Foley: "we would work with whoever represents the drivers"
clearly something that's down the road
Biancheria: don't want it to get lost; those with a good record will come over to the Worcester Public Schools
have two different unions that are under our umbrella
Foley: suggestion we deal with the essence of the contract, if it passes the School Committee, make a mention that night, but have see that this passes the Committee
Biancheria: need to recognize that WPS bus drivers are under EAW, Durham drivers are under Teamsters 170
"all I am asking is that we recognize this in this process"

Binienda: obviously don't agree with this
"if this had been done in 2019, we wouldn't have been able to close the budget gap"
(HAHAHAHAA: Later edit: let me explain why I am laughing. The superintendent's argument is, because we largely closed last year's budget gap by not paying Durham, that there would have been no way to close the gap if we hadn't been paying Durham. This clearly is false on its face. Moreover, it misses that if the district had switched to self-op back in 2019, the district would have first, been saving $3M a year, plus would have already had the added flexibility of those drivers being in house. So, as the old phrase goes: that dog won't hunt)
still have shortage of drivers (yes, but note the difference between Durham's gap and WPS's. Not mentioned at the meeting: the WPS gap is SUBSTITUTE drivers. WPS has all routes covered.)
also think people have gone out of their way that they have not been a partner, have come to the table
(this is poor comfort to any of us who have continued to have buses not come and phones not answered)
"don't know how we can say we're going to use ESSER funding, when we have needs in our schools every day"
" buses are not what kids need...they need to get to school, but I don't know what those needs are"
(well, first, they need to get to school. That itself is already something too often not happening)
"I talked to Durham today and said that I suspected that this conversation would happen today"
"even though everybody in this administration was not made aware of that fact"
it's been discussed since 2015; this was the plan since 2019. We made it clear this was the discussion on the table prior to renewal when we did the budget in June. This administration--or rather, the superintendent herself--absolutely has had every chance to be more than aware of this. 
even suggested that Durham runs half our routes
So...we continue to have the same headache without being able to fix it all?
"plan that was obviously hatched tonight"
Foley: have talked about self-operation for more than seven years 
when the contracts were issued we talked about that
"We wouldn't be here if Durham management weren't performing at a higher level"
"to say that it was hatched tonight is unfair, because we've been talking about this for seven years"
"would hope that Durham would work with us...we have a very important year ahead of us"
Binienda: got voted down in 2019, but never did the study, because "we struggled to find someone"
Biancheria: was against it, but as I've looked at Worcester Public Schools has done, all indications went in that direction to say to me that being respectful to Durham bus drivers and being respectful to Teamsters, their union is represented and has come to school committee meetings
looking for solid recommendations, look forward to the plan, complete with costs 

all four motions pass, Biancheria's motions to be written up and passed just prior to full committee meeting

Two to read on back to school

 Rachel Cohen in The New Republic is back with a round up on why what we thought was going to be a more normal year is looking a lot more shaky. 

And The Nation looks at the setup for the back to school year. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Worcester meetings this week: back to school, closing FY21, and transportation

 There are two Worcester Public Schools meetings this week:

On Tuesday, there is a back to school forum at 6 pm. Please note that you can submit questions to be answered (use the same link; the form is there in several languages) until tomorrow (Monday) also at 6pm.
As a side note, the School Committee didn't get asked about scheduling here, so not all of us can make it, including me.
As per usual, that will be streamed on Facebook, as well as via the Zoom link. 
Note also that Molly McCullough has been collecting answers we know already on this Facebook post.

On Wednesday, there is a Finance and Operations subcommittee meeting at 4:30 pm. There are two items on the agenda: the closing of the books on FY21 and a transportation update. 
The FY21 closure demonstrates, first, why I'm always a little confused by the question of how much funding the district 'gives back to the city': 

...and second, that the WPS Budget office is just damn good at their job. Remember that the school district is allocated a particular amount of funding--in our case, it is the MINIMUM amount of funding legally required--to education the children of the city of Worcester. Anything that isn't spent by June 30 goes back to the city to be certified as free cash.
If we have the money for education, it gets spent on education. Period. I've been searching for a metaphor for landing a $372M budget on $3--one doesn't 'land' aircraft carriers, I suppose--but take something very big and make it end up on something very small, and you're there. 
Thus, what is an annual h/t to the WPS Budget office.

Second, remember school buses? 
Maybe you also remember back in March of 2019, when the (then) Worcester School Committee received a report on moving to self-operated transportation, projected not only to offer better service (largely due to management)  but also to save the district $30M over ten years?
And then decided to renew with Durham instead?

Time to have that conversation again, as the contract with Durham is up this year. 
F&O has the full transportation report back on this agenda, but with an update, as we now have an additional opportunity within the self-op: We have money that we can use to buy buses. 
You may not be surprised to find that this means additional savings and more quickly; here's the financial rundown: 

Yes, that's up to $40M in total savings over ten years, or on average $4M a year.
That starts with FY24 at $3.8M.

As I've said before, it's against the state code of ethics to pre-deliberate before a meeting. I also think I've posted plenty about this before, (including my actually pulling papers right about when this decision was made, shortly after yet another morning when I was getting texts from my kids, wondering where their bus was).
But if you have something to say on transportation, now's the time. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

On trust

 Earlier this week, the man who was my first department chair, who first hired me as an English teacher, died. Fred was a just lovely person, who, as was mentioned today at his funeral, had a real heart for kids. He wanted students to do well, he worked to see them succeed, and he was always so happy when they did, in whatever context that was.

Lenny P. Zakim Bridge
Because bridges are about trust, too

I was thinking this week, though, that it wasn't only the students that Fred wanted to see succeed. As my first boss in education, Fred wanted me to do well. As I was hired a long-term part-time sub for someone who was out on medical leave, one could understand why maybe I wouldn't have gotten an investment in time from the department chair. But Fred, first, of course, cared about my students, and thus had to pay attention, but he also saw me, freshly minted MAT and licensure in hand, and he wanted me to be a good teacher. 

Among other things, that meant that he knew that I had probably the best teacher in the department next door, and he made sure I knew I could call on her anytime. It meant that he was in and out of my classroom a lot, unobtrusively. It meant that I knew I could call him in if I didn't know what to do, or needed help figuring how what to do, or if I just was overwhelmed or at a loss.

But the other thing that Fred did was trust me. I--wisely, given my experience!--didn't yet trust myself. But Fred and my other experienced colleagues were there to back me up, to give me feedback, to help me over the bumps, to answer my dumb questions and my hard ones, and to generally get me through those first months (and, eventually, first years). And that meant that I had space, also, to fail. 

I trusted Fred, and I trusted my colleagues. Ultimately, I also trusted my principal and my superintendent.

To get better at something, it has to be safe to fail. 

I see this said about students in classrooms: kids have to feel safe in order to learn. Kids have to know that they can try and not get it without that being the end in order to try again. It is, though, just as true when we are learning to do something as complicated as teaching, which juggles so many different kind of skills and practices. If you're a new teacher--or a new principal, or a new anything--you're going to sometimes get things wrong (hopefully, not in any way that's major!). You have to feel safe to try, and to fail, so you can get better.

And that's about trusting those who supervise you, and those who surround you, and those who supervise those who supervise you. 

Ultimately, education runs on trust.

As we prepare for the new year, I'd ask, particularly those of us in any kind of educational leadership: are we creating districts in which people trust one another?
And if not, what are we doing about that?

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Questions I have about the Massachusetts school guidance for fall

 I will continue to update this post.

  • How exactly is the "masks for the unvaccinated only" policy supposed to be implemented in secondary schools? Are you imagining an honor code system (which was such a failure when implemented nationally)? Are you under the impression that staff will have a record available to them of which students are vaccinated and which are not? Is the expectation that they then will individually tell students who are not vaccinated that they must wear masks, while not doing so for those who they have evidence are vaccinated? Will they have this list memorized for their over 100 students each? Who keeps track in the hallways? What is the consequence for a student who is unmasked who is unvaccinated in this scenario?

  • As all students are now required to come back full time and thus no spacing is possible (or even noted all that heavily in the guidance), how is lunch working? What about elementary student snacktime?

  • The guidance recommends continued student testing. Many districts have declined to participate due to how unmanageable the system is. What changes and additional supports has the state made to make the system more accessible to districts? Is the state dedicating funding to this for this school year?

  • For districts that are doing testing, the guidance imagines that districts will do a 'test and stay' policy for students who we know have been exposed to COVID. As we also know that tests aren't positive immediately upon exposure, and that those in that stage can still spread it, how exactly is this cutting down or even stopping the spread of the illness?

  • Obviously, students not attending school when they are sick is more important than ever. It is also clear that quarantine will still be necessary in some scenarios. How is the state adjusting a) remote learning options and b) attendance accountability status to reflect that students may well not attend school for appropriate health concerns?

  • What further efforts is the state making to get those who are ages 12 and up vaccinated? When can we expect DPH to require such a vaccination for school attendance?

  • What is the state doing to get staff vaccinated?

  • Will there be further guidance coming regarding sports, particularly those held indoors or requiring close contact among participants?

Saturday, July 31, 2021

What I want from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

 At Monday's Joint Committee on Public Health hearing, Rep. Mindy Domb asked the school committee panelists what they could use from DESE this year. I asked on Twitter if she'd take that input from others, and she said yes. Here, slightly edited from Monday, is what I sent in. 

train platform at Union Station, Worcester

In my capacity as a member of the Worcester School Committee and a parent of a high school sophomore, I am leaping at Rep. Domb’s request to send in what we could use from DESE this year. As I write this on my train homebound to Worcester, fully masked and looking at a smoky Massachusetts from western fires, I am wondering, I have to say, about what sort of world we’re arranging for our children.

I do want to start, however, by thanking you with all my heart for today’s hearing. It was the very first—and I am not exaggerating—time I have felt that any organized state level public body or group of officials in Massachusetts has acknowledged just how local districts have been profoundly misserved the past eighteen months. In all the reading I have done of the various types of challenges schools have faced for centuries, never did I imagine that when the challenge came for Massachusetts public education that the state leadership would abandon its responsibilities. And yet they did, and they have continued to do right up through their non-appearance today. Thank you for hearing and acknowledging that; thank you even more for working to change that.

Rep. Domb asked what we would want of the Department in our capacities at the local level, month by month. Let me start by saying that I want the Department to center my kids—and those of Boston, and Chelsea, and Lynn, and Fall River, and Springfield, and Pittsfield—in their decisions. It has been exhaustingly clear that the Governor lives in Swampscott and the Secretary in Milton and (more to the point) they never leave. We cannot and will not have equity in this state unless and until we first acknowledge the profound segregation of school districts and what impact that then in turn has on absolutely everything we do. The community health leadership who testified today are entirely correct: we have had our response to this pandemic backwards from nearly the beginning. The question should never be “is it okay for the kids in Swampscott?”; it should always be “is it okay for the kids in Springfield?”

Those children—my kids in Worcester—have parents who have been working front line jobs throughout the pandemic. Those are literally the people that Worcester has depended on to keep our hospitals open, crucially, as they are the custodians, the food service, the CNAs and more of our hospitals on which the central Mass health system depends. They have worked long hours and have been worried about COVID throughout. Some of our families ran small businesses, and some of them have closed. The hunger, the concerns about homelessness, and all of the cascading impacts of the pandemic have hit our families.

This hasn’t been a “shift to take out and Amazon” pandemic for most Worcester Public Schools kids.

So first, yes, as soon as the shots were widely available to school staff (and what a mess that was!), the state should have mandated for them. If it meant quite that much to them to have our kids in schools, then they should make it as safe as absolutely possible. 

Likewise, as soon as the vaccines were available for our students, we should have seen a profound push first for city kids to get them vaccinated, with the expectation that all would be required, down to age 12 for fall.

And then the state should have spent the entire summer at every single possible space at which people have gathered in cities—farmers markets, outdoor church services, festivals of every kind—having vaccinations there. They should have rolled out PSAs with any and everyone who has any kind of following—sports, music, and more—having them use their social media to magnify that anyone who was anyone was getting vaccines. They should have worked with the Statewide Student Advisory Council, first, to make sure they’re vaccinated, and then to have them use their social media reach, and those of their student government peers, to reach out further to their peers. Make teen vaccination a constantly trending topic on Instagram.

As you note, Rep. Decker, we’re now five weeks out. How much of this can be done now? I don’t know. But we shouldn’t give up the weeks we have. DESE should absolutely be using its reach and messaging to push as many as possible to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

And then, yes, it should be mandated at the state level in partnership with DPH. I don’t want to be the test case for a district mandating vaccinations of students, but if I have to (and if I can get the votes), I absolutely will. This is not my job as a school committee member. It wasn’t my superintendent’s job to cancel school in a pandemic, either, though, and she had to do that. 

It also, as it long since should have been, should be mandated for all school employees. We’ve been told that this is something we’ll need to negotiate with our collective bargaining units. If DESE wanted to be useful, they could make it embarrassing for the unions to fight this; as a former member of the MTA, I will find it horrifying if my former union argues that this isn’t in their members’ interest. 

The state should also absolutely mandate masks for all in school buildings for the coming year. This is, I agree, a no brainer. And there should be no exceptions for wealthier white communities that don’t have front line workers and have managed early high rates of vaccinations, either. Lines between communities are invisible; so is the virus. 

I would like the state to give solid research on just want kinds of realistic improvements we can make to ventilation in the buildings we actually have with the time and money we actually have. Stop sending us pie in the sky idealized and expensive options when our floor plans and our building ages are available to the state. What should we spend time and money on and what is a waste? This, again, would have been more useful months ago, but I’ll take it now. Give it to us in phases: what can we do now, what could we do if there are two weeks off in December, what can we plan for next summer?

I would like the state to do what they should have done this summer (but again, here we are): create a statewide mobilization of after school programs. Yes, let’s run some in schools, but we also have plenty of community resources. How do we make sure that any student who needs a place to be after school has a safe place to be? Cross reference those with the school districts to ensure those students also have what schoolwork support those students specifically need as part of their after school hours. That should, though, only be part of that. 

(This isn’t what you asked, but I’d further extend that to making sure every student of a particular age—fourth grade?—also got swimming lessons.)

The state should create and staff statewide affinity groups for anyone who will be dealing with students emotional and social impacts of this year. I am very worried of how much we’re pushing onto our adjustment and guidance counselors this year, and I’m certain that some of that is going to end up on teachers, too. Yes, we at the district level should be supporting them, too, but the state has capacity to create common support groups. They often can better point to resources.

There also should be common catalogues of resources: online, easy to access, well organized, for any school staff to access as they have need to for their students. 

Heading into teachers going back to school, the Department should use every channel they have to emphasize that the first job of schools is not reading scores or math scores; it’s supporting students. There should be no question in anyone’s mind who walks into a school building this fall as to what we’re about. That will need repeating over the course of the year, particularly once we get into spring and what traditionally is test prep season. In general, the messaging on academics has been less than stellar. Students are in very very different places right now, and that is to be expected. That should be the first message from the state.

As we head further into fall, the danger of students showing up sick to school will grow. First, we certainly need a flu vaccine mandate this winter (and one that sticks this time). We also, though, need a clear message that showing up for school sick (whether you’re staff or student!) is a bad idea. We need flexibility with DESE on outreach to students who stay home (as there’s no easy switch to remote this year), and we need a hard discussion on accountability accordingly. We can, if we are smart about it, emphasize the importance of school without encouraging “presenteeism” as your speaker today had it. 

We also need the state for the holidays—first the long weekend in October, then Thanksgiving and forward—to create real mandates on testing after traveling, even discouraging traveling as needed depending on what things look like around the country. We have to be consistent that we are endangering unvaccinated children when we aren’t strong on these standards. 

Should we have under 12 year old students eligible for vaccinations by the turn of the calendar year, then, yes, we must be more than ready to go. It must be mandated but in concert with vaccinations being in schools. This should be, as you noted (and as we already should have) Rep. Domb, multi-lingual resources for families that respond to frequent questions and misinformation about vaccines in children. Again, that should be anywhere there are families, should be culturally responsive, should be easy to find, should be above all accessible. We will know this is a success if the rates in Chelsea exceed those of Brookline. 

I am certain that as soon as I send this, I will think of much more. This is the first time that someone has asked, though, and I want to send this right in so you understand how much it means to be asked. Contrary to what the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said in their evaluation of the Commissioner, this was not, has not, been well handled for any of us at the local level. 

I would be more than glad to speak with any of you regarding this at any time.

Thank you again for asking the question.