Friday, November 19, 2021

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! 

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