Sunday, October 31, 2021

Important meeting on the superintendent search this week

 I know that much of our attention in Worcester is on Tuesday's election, but I do want to call your attention to something happening Wednesday that matters for the Worcester Public Schools.

You might remember that responses to our request for proposals for the firm to staff the superintendent search were due this past Wednesday. Those proposals were received--there were two--and the search committee is meeting this coming Wednesday the 3rd at  7 pm to deliberate regarding the proposals received and send forward a recommendation to the full School Committee, which is scheduled to meet on the 9th to make that decision. 

I'm not going to talk about my own views here--I have time for that Wednesday--but I do want to be sure folks are informed about process.

You can find the responses appended to the agenda (along with the link to the subcommittee meeting, which will be online), but I've also uploaded the proposals here separately: 

A very very important point: the School Committee is legally bound by the terms of the RFP. What that means is all the careful delineation we did in the original document now outlines how we will decide who to hire. We cannot just pick. The RFP outlines minimum requirements, and then gives a lengthy list of what we're evaluating based on. I have taken that information and put it into a rubric form for our use; it's here, if you'd like to do your own.

Do review the above if this is of interest, and plan to watch the meetings. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hearings on Worcester's way to elect the School Committee start Thursday

 who knew? h/t Steve Foskett

The City Council's Municipal Operations committee will hold a series of hearings across the city on the three options the Council is considering for the election of the School Committee. The first is this Thursday. The full list of dates are: 

• 6 p.m. Thursday, November 4, Great Brook Valley Recreation Center, 33 Freedom Way

• 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, City View Discovery School, 80 Prospect St. 

• 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, Union Hill School, 1 Chapin St. 

• 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, Belmont AME Zion Church, 55 Illinois St. 

• 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, Worcester Youth Center, 326 Chandler St. 

Please spread the word!

I haven't posted about this, because it would come off as trying to make it an election issue--which it isn't, beyond perhaps considering if you should vote for councilors who oppose a voting rights lawsuit--but I'll work on getting something up in the coming weeks. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A few updates from the F&O meeting on transportation

 I did a rundown of the report received this afternoon, but there were a few additions from new information received: 

  • Seven of the drivers currently CDL training are going through 7D training to be able to pick up when we lose the National Guard. 
  • As I noted in the earlier post, MassHires is continuing to train bus drivers; it's been great to see the response already to this. It takes 60 hours to get a CDL plus a couple of weeks to get a test date, so it's been taking about two months to train new drivers.
    Mr. Foley asked that WPS social media be used to spread the word; I'll share the info again here: 

  • The school bus bid closes tomorrow, and WE ARE GOING TO GET BUSES AS THEY COME AVAILABLE! In other words, we don't have to wait til next year; as we have drivers, they're coming on, and likewise with buses!
  • DESE APPROVED THE USE OF ESSER FUNDS FOR BUSES! Remember, this means savings FASTER because we've just bought the buses. Important long term note: we need to plan NOW for the replacement cycle (as you don't want to have to replace all 100 buses in 15 years). 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Here we go: WPS transportation is coming!

 I was looking through archived emails for something else this weekend, and I found one in which I was filing an item on changing school start times, and the response I got back referenced the transportation study. 

The email was from 2014.

You can perhaps imagine my delight, then, at seeing the following header in this week's Finance and Operation subcommittee agenda backup: 

That starts on page 23. We'll be getting monthly updates on this from now until we have all the buses on the road (and perhaps after?). 

What's in the update?

There are already 21 drivers in training: 15 getting the CDL license, 6 getting the school bus piece. There's an another 11 being screened for another class. 

And this isn't in the report, but yes, we WILL continue to add classes, so if you're interested, get in touch! 

Our buses are out for bid, which closes Wednesday (and if you're into school buses, the bid is interesting reading!). Out for bid are:
  • 100 Type C – 71 passenger School Buses (gasoline)
  • 38 Type A Mid-Size School Bus (gasoline)
    • (Both of the above are the same as what is currently used; "type C" is the kind with the engine out front, which is currently how you can tell WPS buses from Durham buses, which are "type B").
  • 27 Type A Wheelchair School Bus (gasoline)
Those are either going to be paid for through ESSER funding--after all, actually getting students to school on time reliably is a basic prerequisite for doing more learning in person--or through city capital funds. As of Friday, the state was still reviewing the ESSER application for this work.

Two things students and families will be interested on in the new buses:
  1. "Each bus will have new tablet technology providing automated route guidance and adjustments"; in other words, rather than turn-by-turn printouts, there are tablets in the buses that do that, and can be updated real time. 

  2. "The Versatrans MyStop bus location mobile access application will be operational on all WPS buses next year." In other words: YES! We will FINALLY have an app to track buses.
Natural question for both of the above: why don't we have those now? 
  1. On the first, we do: WPS buses that run in house have tablets that update real time with route information. Durham hasn't made the investment in the technology to do so. We've seen how useful this can be real time this year, when more than once, WPS buses have been rerouted by WPS dispatch to pick up kids from routes that Durham has dropped or slipped behind on.

  2. On the second, it's been in the Durham contract since at least 2015, The contract has never fulfilled that part of the agreement. That has been ongoingly noted by members of the School Committee ('though it wasn't enough to get the contract not renewed last time). If the Committee and/or the superintendent doesn't require that the contract be fulfilled, it doesn't get fulfilled. Consequences to not fulfilling the contract can be imposed, but that takes cooperation with the superintendent. 
And no, we haven't forgotten alternative fuels. The start-up costs are too great for the fleet expansion, but as we sub out the leased buses, "exploring" (which is the finance office saying "we're working on options and we'll be reporting back) alternative fuels is the plan.

There are two rounds of hiring beyond the drivers: 
Positions to be added During FY22:
 Human Resources Liaison (to be
called Transportation Personnel
 Transportation Systems Coordinator
(new position from budget savings)
 Transportation Safety and Training
Liaison (3) (from budget savings as
identified in report)
 Transportation Safety Supervisor
(from budget savings as identified in

Positions to be added for FY23:
 Four Mechanics
 Operations Supervisor
 Transportation Liaison

The HR addition is of course because we're bringing on a LOT of new staff, and that takes additional work in the office there. You can read more about the safety and training positions in the report. The systems coordinator is in part specifically to be sure that the routing piece works, including the tracking app. In other words, this isn't a lick and a promise; there's hiring going on to staff that work. 
I am really pleased about the mechanics, as another ongoing issue we've seen has been not as much preventative maintenance on the buses that are contracted out; buses shouldn't fail as often as theirs do. 

There's also a site map of 115 Northeast Cutoff, which is where WPS Transportation and Facilities are now, indicating the room for expansion for this project. They've not only got room: they've got the plan. 

This is not my subcommittee, so, while I will be on the meeting, I won't be speaking. 
The one thing I really, really want to know is what of the above we might bring on when! 

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.