Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Not talking about it doesn't make it go away

Item I filed on the Worcester School Committee agenda 11/18/21;
and yes, "disregulation" is actually spelled with an "i"

I thought about opening this post with links to the dozens of articles from across Massachusetts of fights and injuries and community reaction. Driving more activity to those articles, though, isn't really going to help.
If you pay some attention to education news, you've no doubt already caught some headlines around our schools, so you don't need me for that. That's also just what has made the news, and we know that never tells the whole story (and sometimes is even manipulated or manipulative, as noted by Lawrence leadership). And fights are only one way of distress being acted out. Many are much quieter.

There's no doubt, though, that students are struggling. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) joined together to declare children's mental health a national crisis.

There was an argument made often last year that student mental health was suffering specifically from being home from school, and that sending students back to school would solve the issue. Now, there's no doubt that having students out of school buildings did separate many from various kinds of supports that they need or wanted, which range, of course, far beyond mental health supports.
But this ignores, for example, that student suicides are historically higher on school days and during school months. The default that schools = better for kids is not only not universally true; it ignores some data we really need to pay attention to.

Despite it having made some headlines, what I haven't seen crossover into action is the amount of death in the pandemic that has surrounded children. More than 140,000 children lost caregivers in the U.S. (as of June). As with so much else:
There were significant racial and ethnic disparities in caregiver deaths due to COVID-19. White people represent 61% of the total U.S. population and people of racial and ethnic minorities represent 39%  of the total population. Yet, study results indicate that non-Hispanic White children account for 35% of those who lost a primary caregiver (51,381 children), while children of racial and ethnic minorities account for 65% of those who lost a primary caregiver (91,256 children).

When looking at both primary and secondary caregivers, the study found that findings varied greatly by race/ethnicity: 1 of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children, 1 of every 310 Black children, 1 of every 412 Hispanic children, 1 of every 612 Asian children, and 1 of every 753 White children experienced orphanhood or death of caregivers. Compared to white children, American Indian/Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a parent or grandparent caregiver, Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children were nearly 2 times (1.8) more likely.
If we add to that the deaths that haven't been primary caregivers, but those of relatives of children, the loses--again disproportionately--are staggering. There are also the years of lost life that add up, that in many cases surround children. 
Then there have been the subsidiary impacts--food, housing, employment--which in the U.S. skew disproportionately by race and towards children. More than one out of every three people living in poverty in the U.S. is a child. That which hits poor Americans hits children, always.
And I also have been searching, without finding beyond some tweets, something that looks at how the younger generations have viewed the ways in which adults managed the pandemic. I know that many of us (adults, that is) had perhaps this idea that of course people would do what was necessary to keep each other safe and would stay home/wear masks/get vaccinated/etc as needed to make others safe. And yet, of course, that hasn't been the case. I wonder--and I don't know--if there is any way in which children and young people feel adults haven't done their jobs in steering us all through this. 

There are major structural issues to providing supports for children, from sustainable funding (ESSER goes away!) to lack of providers. I keep thinking back, though to Neema Avashia's piece from September about time for healing. The state instead has stressed "acceleration" for learning, with limited mention of mental health at all. Districts have, I think, responded with varying degrees of flexibilities and supports and staffing. 

I don't think that we as adults in education have done enough to acknowledge the death--really--that has surrounded our children, the losses far beyond social events, or the drop in trust in organized agency. 

We don't fix what we don't talk about. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Not *that* low income

The state has now posted state and district enrollment numbers (the October 1 count) for the current school year, and if you pay the close attention Cleo does, you're going to notice something on terminology: 

IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW: the former definition of low income is NOT something we're going back to; for what this includes, see the help section which has this:  

Low-income (prior to 2015): Indicates the percent of enrollment who meet ANY ONE of the following definitions of Low-income:
The student is eligible for free or reduced price lunch; or
The student receives Transitional Aid to Families benefits; or
The student is eligible for food stamps

Economically Disadvantaged (2015 to 2021): Calculated based on a student's participation in one or more of the following state-administered programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC); the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) foster care program; and MassHealth (Medicaid).

Low-income (2022 to present): Calculated based on a student's participation in one or more of the following state-administered programs: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC); the Department of Children and Families' (DCF) foster care program; expanded MassHealth (Medicaid) up to 185% of the federal poverty level, as well as students identified by districts as homeless and students the district confirmed had met the low-income criteria through the supplemental process and collected the required supporting documentation (SIMS DOE056)

This last one is the one I want to be sure folks are clear on; what the state is now using effectively is economically disadvantaged PLUS.

What happened last night at Worcester School Committee (11/18/21)

So what happened at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting? 

For those for whom the sound didn't work until a bit of a way in, Roger Nugent, president of the EAW, spoke first requesting that we amend an earlier authorization for sick bank use for an employee (extending it beyond days donated by one school to the larger employee pool, as some donations came from outside the school), and shared a petition from some members on "choice" around vaccinations.

We had TWO student reps at the meeting last night: Stacia Zoghbi (who's our ex officio, as she was elected by the other student reps to be our official non-voting member) and Julianna Manxhari; Stacia goes to Tech and Julianna to Doherty. They sent out a survey to their peers across the district--students, PLEASE TAKE IT!!--and plan to share the results of that with us at one of our next meetings. They've also asked for a seat on the superintendent's search committee (and it sounds to me as if they're going to get it). 

The report of the superintendent was from Dr. Marco Andrade (whom I mentally refer to as "the data person") with a report that was framed from the perspective on the Office on Civil Rights (a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Education) around disparities in student data on social-emotional data, achievement information, absentee and discipline data, and post-graduate education and persistence. The report is here, starting on page 28. We have significant gaps, as was noted, and this is being referred to School and Student Performance for further discussion, because (as I said at the meeting) the data is only the start; the question is what we're going to do with it.

Reporting out were both Finance and Operations and Teaching, Learning, and Student Support standing committees. F&O had the transportation report, so we approved the new position descriptions (as budgeted for in the report, and as approved as part of the plan) for that department at the same time. And yes, we're hiring!
We also had the first quarter report, and one part concerned me: 

A $400K transfer from teachers to administration would raise an eyebrow, in any case, but it have it come in for the first quarter report--when we just passed the budget in June--and to have it explained as the conversation of five EL teachers to four EL administrators, particularly when we had just received a report from that department a few months back with no mention of this is simply bad process. 
I voted for the transfer, in part because it became clear that the administration had actually hired people ahead of the transfer, which is also bad process. 

TLSS had the vocational admissions policy, and Ms. McCullough noted that the deliberation also included discussion of the recruitment of more representative applicants (as the demographics of Tech become non-representative by who applies even with the new policy), as well as some discussion of the question of interest, which will be taken up during tours. The standing committee's report was passed, which gives provisional approval. Final approval will follow a public hearing next month.
Note that later in the meeting, we accepted a grant for $130K that is directed at this question of student recruitment to Tech.

We received back a report on an item I'd filed that had been bounced back and forth several times as incomplete regarding contracts that are directly with the superintendent. I'd heard concerns months ago that contracts weren't being completed, and so filed the item back in August. Eventually, the principal contracts largely were fulfilled, but there have been a number of outstanding administration contracts that were still not completed. I'll share here what we got last night: 

Beyond the contracts still not renewed, there are two things here that concerned me. The first is this group of people marked "N/A" who, I was told, simply do not have contracts. There isn't parity across administration in who this is, though, and I'm concerned that this not being based on something solid could open us up to discrimination allegations.
The second thing, from the far right column, is several contracts that now expire in 2026; that is, some people have recently been given five year contracts. This is itself unusual--five years for public contracts is covered for other circumstances by laws--but contracts given for five years by a superintendent who herself is leaving in seven months is particularly attention grabbing, as was my subsequent understanding that questions have been raised about extending contracts that are not yet expired.
As Mayor Petty noted, there is case law around the ability of executive successor, backed by the public committee, being able to cancel extensions in such circumstances, and he told Superintendent Binienda last night that he expected any updates not already included above to come before the School Committee.

We received back an updated report from Mrs. Clancey's motion asking for information on the transfers; this was the additional elementary teachers and the additional adjustment counselors. She asked for information to be shared with the school committee about what the adjustment counselors are finding in their discussions. 
I was concerned to learn that the elementary teachers, who we'd specifically transferred to lower class size, largely have not been assigned to do so; only three are classroom teachers. 

An additional position for the Chief Diversity Officer passed (6-1; I was the 'no' vote, as I think this office continues to be poorly defined, and I think that needs to be fixed first.)

We accepted at $12,500 grant from Mass Insight for AP teacher training.

The audits are coming to F&O! (That's all we know so far. They do every year.)

Ms. McCullough filed an item looking into playground inspection and repair, so expect to see that coming.

She also asked for a reassessment of the need for crossing guards at secondary schools.

We also had clarified, on her motion, that volunteers MAY be in schools, so long as they have provided either proof of up to date vaccination or recent negative COVID test (just like employees).

And she asked about virtual tutoring. Earlier in the meeting, Miss Biancheria questioned administration about part-time tutors who are retirees possibly being hired.

I filed an item specifically on bus 38, as I haven't gotten any response to my emails to the superintendent (who has directed that communication with Durham is hers) regarding it.

We're also going to recognize all the people who don't get recognized when you build a new school building for opening South (or at least we're going to try!).

And we're going to thank the National Guard, AA Transportation, plus WPS Transportation (per the superintendent's request) and the Lieutenant Governor (per the Mayor's request) for their work on transportation in October. Other amendments were not accepted.

And then a report I hope comes back soon: 

Request administration report urgently via school level staff on student disregulation, how it is manifesting in our schools, how staff is managing and coping with such disregulation, and what resources and policy changes from this Committee are necessary to better support students, families, and staff.
We next meet on the Monday the 22nd with the superintendent search firm! 5:30! 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Change in admissions for Worcester Tech on Monday subcommittee agenda

 Really important conversation happening in Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports on Monday at 5 pm: 

Go to page 10 of the agenda to find the presentation.

You might remember that back in June, the Board of Ed changed the regulations regarding vocational school admissions. This was due to, bluntly, ongoing civil rights concerns around equity of access and attendance at Massachusetts vocational schools. While Worcester Tech is an in-district school, the change in regulations do apply to Worcester Tech. 

The presentation does a good job of walking through where we're at and the alternatives being presented, along with projected outcomes. I'd note that demographic representation is something to which close attention is being paid at various levels.

The two part test to ANY admission requirement--in other words, doing anything other than drawing names out of a hat--is the district has to be able to demonstrate that the requirement, whatever it is, is necessary for participation in the program AND there isn't an alternative. 

I'll also note (and I'll stop with this comment): some of us want to know if students at Tech actually want to study in the programs themselves. 

It's a fully remote subcommittee meeting; you can find the link to the Zoom on the agenda. 
I have a superintendent search meeting that night, so I'll be elsewhere and catch up later. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

What happened Tuesday

  • The Worcester School Committee unanimously supported the recommendation of the search committee to contract with Greenwood Asher to conduct the superintendent search. That now goes to the city Purchasing Department, that has to be certain we've adhered to all necessary for a legal bid process; as we've been working with them right along, it is expected to move forward without complication.
  • The report on positions being filled was held, as it had no information regarding the hiring of adjustment counselors.
  • ...and as a result, the position description was held.
  • The five year contract masquerading as a donation of equipment that would charge families a fee to view livestreamed games was set to Finance and Operations for a report back from the Inspector General regarding if it is subject o bid laws. The superintendent said she'd been given a legal opinion that it was fine; the Inspector General has found that by recommending a particular vendor, the district has created a market for that item; "this market has an intrinsic value; there is value attached to this opportunity." As such, ch. 30B kicks in; further, in not sending such a proposal out to bid may also invoke the state ethics law, as equal opportunity to access the market was not granted to others.
  • The two grants, which, among other things, including the hiring of more than 20 positions on a single year grant with no plan for what happens after the funding runs out were also sent to Finance and Operations. As the School Committee adopted a financial policy in 2014 (part of the Seven Point Plan) of ensuring program sustainability particularly when adopting grants, adopting a single year grant that hires multiple people without either the note that the positions will be ended when the grant ends or specifically how those positions will be funded when the grant ends violates district policy. 
    You may recall from our budget deliberation our close attention to the use of ESSER funds either as one time funding or as funding that will be picked up through the first year of the Student Opportunity Act funding. Note that this only works one year at a time. 

Monday, November 8, 2021

The rest of Tuesday's agenda

 The report of Thursday's Ad-Hoc search meeting (which you can watch a video of here) is being reported out to the full Committee tomorrow (Tuesday) at 5 pm at a special meeting of the Worcester School Committee, so we can keep moving on the search.

This isn't a regular business meeting of the Worcester School Committee, which is why it's odd that we've somehow ended up with an agenda that has a lot of other things on it; the mayor, for example, is jamming this meeting in before the regular meeting of the Worcester City Council.

I have many thoughts on much of this, which I will share, of course, during the deliberation tomorrow.

On the agenda: 

  • A response to the request to provide an update on new hires from the re-allocated funds during budget hearings. That response reads, in its entirety, as follows:
    As part of the FY22 Budget, the School Committee reallocated 13 teacher positions for early literacy specialists / interventionists to class size reduction teachers.
These teachers have been assigned to the following schools:
1. Belmont Street
2. Canterbury Street School
3. Chandler Magnet
4. City View*
5. Clark Street
6. Columbus Park
7. Grafton Street
8. Goddard*
9. Lincoln Street
11.Rice Square
12.Vernon Hill*
13.Woodland Academy
*Classroom teacher.
The teachers are addressing significant gaps, working with the assigned teacher
and in some cases covering missing staff.

  • A new request to pass the "Job Description for Recruitment and Cultivation Director" which the Committee has said it will only consider once the above item is responded to in full.

  • A 16-page contract masquerading as a "donation," which is a subscription service for school sports broadcast (starts on page 13 of the backup, if you're interested).

  • A $1.7M ARP one year special education grant which would add 20 positions.

  • A $155K ARP one year early ed grant that would add two positions. 

Again,  I am abiding by our ethical obligation to keep deliberation for the meeting itself. However, take a look.