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.