Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Board of Ed: dyslexia

 Peyser: is reading a whole series of test numbers and I can't possibly follow this
it's also weird he's the lead on this? 

upshot is current screening doesn't identify students who need assistance in a timely manner
Peyser makes a motion to approve draft regulation
not in order; motion to send to public comment

Moriarty: very accessible document that speaks to best practices in all early education settings
Morton asks if other states have taken this on and done it successfully
Peyser notes that some states have enacting laws, in fact
Moriarty: "small facet" of states have enacted laws; cites Mississippi
Carris Livingstone: think this is really exciting, hopes state will continue to engage in work in early literacy
hears stories of learning issues that are not caught early, goes beyond literacy
noted disparities among students who are learning English as a second language; very important that students have reading materials in their first language
Morton thanks Peyser, seconds motion
Fernández: will this allow us to set goals?
Peyser: short answer is yes
Stewart hope that those who comment bring forward broader goals down the road, to really strengthen that piece

motion passes

Board of Ed: Commissioner's evaluation

 Morton, who chair the evaluation subcommittee; he's referring to a report here
takes into account Commissioner's self evaluation
interviewed others
steadfast on getting students back in schools for reconnection
"it has turned out he was absolutely right"
"those relationships were and are critically important"
"commend Commissioner for his persistence on that issue"
"initiatives represent great imperatives on our part" which he lists
high scores for accessibility, for being a good listener
"all of his actions focused...on being student centric"
diligent in work
commitment to diversity equity and inclusion
continually engage with Board
vision: what's the end? is part of job of Commissioner
rated 4.75 on a 5 scale

consistent with increases announced in May, 2% salary increase effective July 3, 2022

Stewart: see more coming from others from time to time as they are doing the work
back and forth with Boston was touchy; "I felt very uninformed for past number of weeks"
question on custodian for public records at Department?

and...that is the only comment

Defer executive session to a later meeting; motion to adjourn

Board of Ed: state student advisory council report

Carris Livingstone runs through the regional councils and what each was working on in their workgroups
health and wellness workgroup:
educate students about mental and physical health resources
created a brochure including resources available to students
curricular reforms:
financial literacy student survey, research on need
history framework: need for Native American representation and Asian American history and supplemental information
college and career readiness program
much preliminary data gathering; follow up needed particularly in the curricular areas
DEI: want to diversify the Council
"have a lot of the same type of students that tend to come to our meetings"
emphasize that need diversifying the Student Advisory Council to ensure being welcoming to all types of students

regional highlights:
digital divide work: survey and a district brochure
financial literacy: focusing on online platforms
I think I missed one in here
curricular reform to increase representation
student government reform: resources including platforms to bolster leadership
mental health and wellness: social media page that outlined facts and disparities
college and career readiness: resources for receiving important information
"often there are resources; it's about students being aware"
climate change: how students can clean up their community
student representation: infographic to gain leadership skills and resources on how to make students grow
western group worked on shared resources: AP access

ongoing work on communication

Lombos asks for other feedback
Carris Livingstone speaks of greater communication between the advisory council and the Board
in a continual process throughout the year, not simply a report at the end

Board of Ed for June: budget update

 Bill Bell: update on working "with a business partner" on implementing pandemic relief and how working on SOA goals
ooh, there's a presentation
$219.6M Ch. 70 increase; $28.2M circuit breaker increase
new state funding for early college, c/t ed, adult basic ed, COVID 

awaiting final conference committee budget for FY23
expect to close to half a billion dollar increase in Ch. 70; $60+M circuit breaker
additional resources on impacts of education due to COVID

Simone Lynch on federal COVID relief:
$3B to administer
CARES Act expiring Sept. 30
ESSER II: expires Sept. 2023
ESSER III: expires Sept. 2024 

ESSER to 399 local agencies

Pulled from 1200 budgets (400 LEAs times 3 ESSER grants)

summarized into categories

(note that spending can change)

now a chart of percentages of districts in each category: note that DESE sent money to each district for mental health and the fed requires a set aside for unfinished learning

Fernández: where we're hearing about mental health shortages, concerns about shortages
Craven: $1.8B "still out there"
"very significant percentage" as compared to Ch. 70
Peyser: "much of it is unclaimed" but when we say "unclaimed" it means not drawn down as yet
Bell: "performance accountability" focused on 
Komal Bhasin: overview of how Student Opportunity Act funds "were spent this year"
...which is an increase in Ch. 70 aid
expected to see "whole picture"
"this is rough data after districts have revised their plan amendments"
this is now divided up into what the Department called their "evidence-based program areas"
we're now going to have a discussion which is completely removed from the fact that this was a resolution to a chronic underfunding of core areas of public education which districts are now making up for
West asks about tutoring
Bhasin: "it's been really important to us" on implementation of the plan
Hills: question on how many districts "have allocated below a reasonable total" on their federal spending?
I don't understand this question
Bell: I don't think we have a true standard of where a district should be
Hills: "if you were to pick a percent with some degree of arbitrariness, are there districts that are below that percent"
Bell: would be hesitant to give one; ongoing monitoring is a function of the Department
don't think there's really an concern with districts being on pace to use the funding
on SOA; to ensure districts both fully draw but also effectively meet their requirements to spend state dollars 
and Peyser cites the federal tracker online
Moriarty: hazy on the SOA plans
Bhasin: asked for updates including level of implementation 
Lombos: some of our conversations about budget
would love focus on DEI in consultants and budgets
"want to be sure we are operationalizing our concern for DEI in our budgets"

Board of Ed: accountability regs amendment

 which you can find more on here
suspend one year metric on schools meeting targets to reset the threshold
chronic absenteeism reset to 20% threshold
Moriarty: "very concerning"
"are we measuring on two tracks"
Curtin: will be publishing both "in the spirit of providing as much information as possible"
Moriarty: going to have students who are chronically absent "by October" but if you change the definition, he feels it doesn't give the information needed
a lot of the students chronically absent by October are out due to Jewish High Holidays
Stewart: growth and achievement?
Curtin: ratio; something that we always talk about, something we are always looking to see if there is a need for improvement
Lombos will abstain
West: welcome to team growth and I look forward to that conversation


Board of Ed: educator regulation amendment for flexibility

 which you can find the memo on here
Brian Devine: is providing some flexiblity
Stewart: training to help them be successful? 
Devine: induction and mentoring required to be provided by district
Stewart hope there is good support within districts and schools


The Board of Ed meets at 9: opening comments

 You can find the agenda online here; the meeting will livestream here.

updating as we go

The Boston Teachers Union and others are in Malden outside the meeting:

The Commissioner is remote, as he tested positive for COVID yesterday.

Mayor Michelle Wu and Chair Robinson of Boston School Committee speaking first

Wu quips that COVID can't be worse than what we've been going through recently. "We are ready and eager for the work ahead."
"local communities know best...and local communities are best" positioned to deliver that change
Thanks those who have weighed in, "this is not the end, but this is the point at which we are requiring you to stay at the table"
Sunday night meeting BPS "were never pushing back" on data oversight 
We "refused to enter anything less than a partnership because that's what our kids deserved"
"our standards are higher than" those outlined in this agreement
outside this agreement, focused on Green New Deal for BPS, many ways we'll engage with our students across the state
notes School Committee selects new superintendent tomorrow
Robinson: "has been quite a journey"
"has been long overdue"
"we know signing this deal is not just about what we will do internally in the schools"
"how do we help every single constituent in our city" see themselves in this agreement
"we've done done well by some, but we have not done well by all"
laser focused starting Thursday after selection
"this is a hundred years of inequities and problems"
"but we honestly have to begin and we honestly have to stay laser focused"

Gery Mroz on Commissioner's performance evaluation
"districts don't need to do better in Mass, because your policies say they don't need to"
"the complacency of this Board is one reason this education system hasn't improved"
Policy development isn't a school year thing; can't afford a summer vocation

BTU President Jessica Tang: "I'll just say: I didn't want to be here today"
"We have so much work to do in our district"
"this roller coaster ride we've been on has turned our time, energy, and resources away from that work"
"I'm disappointed, because these threats should have never been on the table in the first place"
"there's critical and important work to do, and we have solutions: you just have to ask us"
Things like inclusion done right, facilities, diverse staff, ratios that more adequately support our students
"we're going to continue to show up, because we care"
"we need to focus and get back to the work, and we'll continue to fight for the schools our student deserve"

BEJA ED Ruby Reyes
BEJA filed a public records request with DESE about receivership
at ten day mark, saying would receive in two weeks; now in week ten with no information
how are we to expect data transparency when they cannot complete a simple public records request
"there is a layer of hypocrisy that I would like to point out" given the data concern raised by state on Boston
BPS parents "do not trust you, Commissioner Riley"
ongoing lack of support for schools under state receivership despite being under state control
Commissioner Riley has clearly not moved the needle on these districts and schools
Citywide parent group was turned away from public testimony
voices have not been heard and valued

Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts: Nancy Duggan commenting on initial discussion on dyslexia today
early intervention can greatly change outcomes for students
asks that the Board move forward with public comment on the revised regulations

Chair Craven: we spent a lot of time on Boston, but there are 950,000 students we have to talk about in Massachusetts
learning loss, and how do we understand the impacts
"as a Board that doesn't have appropriation authority, we do have a policy seat"
listen to superintendents, principals, and "the disturbing amount of turnover we're seeing"
asking for a meeting in July to talk about the competency determination (aha!)
teacher turnover "it's a problem that we're not talking about at this Board"
know July meeting is unorthodox, but think it's necessary

Peyser: on Boston, engage deeply with one another
Do what was in the best interest of students and families of Boston
last meeting was day of Ulavdi shooting: thank educators for keeping schools safe

Commissioner: thank families and educators for "getting kids back on track"
continues to argue that the "disconnection" is why there has been mental health 
thanks all around
Boston: thanks superintendent and school committee
"at the end of the day, it's the mayor we need to thank"
"they think they can do it; we want to help them do it"
DESE "used to be all compliance all the time...but we also need to be a supportive organization"
think that during COVID "have been pivoting"
Russell Johnston: seven areas in plan...and I can't type that fast
DESE will provide certain levels of support: $10M, technical assistance and school support
"very defined timelines and very clear procedures in place" for a three year plan
Craven asks if the Board has any questions, noting that they've had very limited time with the plan
Stewart asks if section on facilities is full detail; Johnston notes Boston commitments beyond
Stewart asks for discussion at July meeting
Carris Livingston asks for what she calls "continued engagement"
Moriarty: "I don't celebrate the too long resolution of these negotiations"
and he's arguing that adults were fighting over money and power
urges Riley to "drop the other shoe" if needed
"I hope my skepticism is not" warranted
at home (in Holyoke) people ask what the steps are out of receivership: "I don't know"
but says they need to support the receiver
Lombos: didn't want receivership. Glad partnership worked out
my seat "represents organizations"
union members and families said "we support teachers and families and the mayor"
"I represent an organization" and don't know that we don't
"receivership is not okay for Boston Public Schools, for the state, or for any district"
state should be representing the best interest of parents and teachers and families
representing not just individuals
working class families 
Moriarty argues that he wasn't calling for a receivership
Craven: was our audit in 2020 "which was undisputed" (uh, not sure) and the update "which was basically undisputed as well" (not actually the case at all) that brought us here
Carris Livingstone says anything besides discussing moving forward is a waste of time
Fernández time is really challenging
would like more creativity in how we address these issues
"would like Massachusetts to do better and to be better"
"everyone needs to be held accountable" (this is interesting in light of the Commissioner's evaluation today)
would like Board to have better and more information to continue input
Morton: a lot of questions that remain; "I want to know these details"
"these are our children...think that this agreement is a reflection that everybody is doing the best we can for our children"

Newly elected student member Eric Plankey (?) from Westford Academy introduced by outcoming student representative Eleni Carris Livingston 
lots of praise for Carris Livingston at her last meeting; the Commissioner says she could be an administrator in the Department

Commissioner on COVID: 
DESE will provide self-tests for the summer; will not provide anything for the fall
recommends districts limit to "symptomatic testing only"
recommends superintendents put test kits aside in case there is a spike in the fall
co-signed letter with DPH which recommends vaccinations and boosters

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Two to read on the reversal of Roe and education

 As they used to say about the Yellow Pages: if it's out there, it's in here. If there's something impacting the larger society, it for sure will impact schools.

Thus the reversal of Roe will certainly hit schools. Both Chalkbeat and EdWeek took this up at the end of last week. I think the relationship between access to abortion and child poverty is not well known. The ends of pandemic assistance has removed some progress that had been made on combating child poverty already, and this will make it worse. 

And 76% of U.S. educators are women. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

SCOTUS did what?

Usual disclaimers: I am not a lawyer. This is very much a lay understanding of what's being sorted out here.  

The Supreme Court released their decision in Carson v. Makin yesterday, causing a good bit of concern, distress, and words of warning in the education universe. I think we need to answer two questions: what was decided, and how much do we in public education need to worry?

In understanding the case, you first need to know that Maine doesn't run public schools in every school district; about half the districts in Maine don't have a secondary school. The state has had a long tradition, then, of instead providing tuition to a school of the family's choice for secondary school. This means the state effectively then has a voucher system for much of secondary education. Until 1981, this included religious schools; in 1981, the Maine attorney general opined that public funding going to private schools was a violation of the Establishment clause, that is the First Amendment bar on Congress making any law "respecting the establishment of religion." The state then required that any state receiving the tuition payments from the state needed to be "a nonsectarian school in accordance with the First Amendment of the Constitution."

Two families brought suit. The majority (Roberts, writing, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett) found for the plaintiffs; Breyer wrote the dissent in which Kagan joined, with Sotomayor joining all but one part (that starts on page 23 of the link above); she filed a further dissent spelling out her objections to that piece (that starts on page 41).

I think the best way of explaining how the majority got there is what both Breyer and Sotomayor note in their dissents: the Establishment clause is held in tension with the Exercise clause which is the "prohibiting the free exercise of" phrase that follows in the First Amendment, but the majority breaks this tension and puts the Exercise clause over the Establishment clause. Congress can't make a law about religion; they also can't prevent people from following their own religion. Effectively, SCOTUS found that by not sending the tuition payments to religious schools, the state was not neutral. Roberts writes, "The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools--as long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion." (p. 10)

I have to be honest: it's hard for me to believe how just...dumb that statement is. What it is in fact is the state refusing to support religion, which is a principle as old as the Republic, and with good reason. Both Breyer and Sotomayer put this better than I have here, and I recommend reading the dissents if that's of interest. 

Roberts and the majority have rested much of their argument on the 2017 Trinity Lutheran v. Comer case, which you may vaguely remember had to do with playground resurfacing (no, I am not kidding); the church preschool sued because they couldn't get public funding for their playground resurfacing, and SCOTUS found for the church. There's been an attempt at a distinction between if the funds are being used for religious instruction, but it's clear that many of the schools in question--as it is their point!--infuse their religious perspective throughout their curriculum.

What then does this impact?

At this time, the case and its impact rests on state tuition payments to private schools, or vouchers. Thus it is the states that have vouchers that may need to shift. Matt Barnum on Chalkbeat noted that most states that have vouchers already allow for state funding to go to religious schools.

Coverage from Bangor notes that this then needs to be sorted out with anti-discrimination laws in Maine, as it is a teaching of some of the religious institutions in question to discriminate against, for example, LGBTQ students or families. 

What it does not do is require the creation of vouchers; as Chalkbeat has:

Critically, the decision does not require states to offer public funds to private schools. In his majority opinion, Roberts reiterated something he wrote in the 2020 case: “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Thus, this decision does not impact Massachusetts, for example, which is a non-voucher state.

However, Breyer (who doesn't have straight vouchers and charters in his dissent) does note the question this raises about charter schools that want to be religious schools, or religious schools simply flipping to being charter schools. Then they don't require vouchers anymore. That big mess was covered back in February by Chalkbeat. There was some discussion of this on Twitter yesterday; check on the school finance list I keep for some of that back and forth.

But that sick feeling in your stomach over the breakdown of church and state being separate in the U.S., stemming from a healthy concern over the religious wars of Europe? Me, too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

What happened at the last June Worcester School Committee meeting of 2022

 There were speeches and science awards and keys to the city, plus: 

Clock tower of Worcester City Hall at night
(Taken as I left last Thursday)

The agenda is here. Video of the regular session is here.

  • We settled a contract with our 52 week secretaries (NAGE R1-156)

  • We reported out on two subcommittees: the monthly F&O transportation update (which, note, is the final one at which there will be a "how short is Durham" report, as the contract ends on June 30); we also sent the transportation policies to subcommittee for redrafting, because they speak of contracted busing, and we won't have that anymore as of July 1.

  • ...and the joint meeting F&O had with Council's Education committee. This was the meeting at which we took up the outstanding MOU between the district and the Worcester police department (we don't have one), as well as questions of salaries and district representation. Bill Shaner (scroll down; you are subscribing to Bill, right?) covered at the time here; the T&G covered it here. The Council recently sent the district question to subcommittee with what I will call decided lack of enthusiasm. 
    I do, though, want to say it was encouraging to have now-Acting City Manager Eric Batista show up at the joint committee meeting to talk about the MOU issue. 

  • We renewed contracts with both of our legal district counsels; we have two: one for special education and civil rights, the other for labor law. And yes, they work for the School Committee, not the administration. 
Note that there are several items on there about the FY23 budget, which we passed at our 4 pm budget session. I want to take that up in a separate post. 

Also! Note that our transportation unit is currently voting on a two year contract; the School Committee has a meeting now posted for next Monday at 4:45 pm which will be just to respond to that ratification should it take place. That's to be sure it gets in before the end of the fiscal year Thursday! 

Monday, June 13, 2022

to our eighth graders

 There are parts of my remarks that I do sometimes reuse. This is what I said to Forest Grove today and will say to Burncoat Middle on Wednesday.

Because you’re entering ninth grade in the fall, when you have those conversations with adults this summer--you know the ones: “how old are you? you’re so tall! you look just like your mom/dad/grandfather/big brother? what grade are you in?”--you’re going to hear a lot of this sort of thing:

“oh, HIGH SCHOOL! The best years of your life!”

Please listen to what I am going to tell you now, because it is crucially important:

You should not listen to these people.

They do not know what they are talking about.

They’re now predicting that someone your age is going to live, on average, into their eighties. If, in eight decades of life, the years between 14 and 18 are the very best, you’ve screwed it up.

I submit to you that the next four years are actually about establishing a balance between two ideas: carpe diem and amitte diem

Carpe diem, you’re probably familiar with, particularly if your parents subjected you to Dead Poets' Society: seize the day! Go, get ‘em!  Take the chance! Go for it! 

For high school, that means things like:

  • take the harder class
  • try out for the school play, for the school sports, run for class officer
  • raise your hand on that answer
  • apply for the more difficult job 
  • go ask her name. Go ask her out! 
  • take the internship
  • spend more time outside

Reach a little, stretch a little, try something you aren’t sure you can do. Because you are only in high school once, and there are things you’ll get a chance at in these next four years that you may never have a shot at again.


(you knew there was a “however” coming...)

High school is also--let’s be frank--a chance to do a lot of really stupid things that can possibly mess up your life forever. 

Your big job over the next four years, then, is getting right the time to switch from carpe diem to amitte diem--from “seizing the day” to “letting the day slip by.”

A few tips:

  • If it involves sex, drugs, or alcohol, MAKE THOUGHTFUL CHOICES AND PLAN AHEAD. You’d be amazed at the ways you can mess up the rest of your life with these.
  • Doing stupid things at stupid hours : skip it.  It’s a great way to get the wrong sort of attention from law enforcement. You do not want that.
  • Telling off your mom, giving the smart answer to the teacher, taking what is going wrong in your life out on your younger sister: when you can possibly manage it, take a deep breath, and don’t do it. You’re going to have a lot of very understanding people around you for the next four years, but even they have only so much patience. 
  • Yes, of course you’re going to post things online. Nothing online is ever really private and nothing online disappears, so unless you’d say it in front of your English class AND you’re quite sure you’ll still be okay with it when you’re thirty: don’t go there.

If you can successfully navigate the space between when to go for it and when it skip it, you will create a high school career that not only is successful, but is the foundation for the best years of your life...

...which are, I am sure, still to come.

Congratulations, and best wishes for your continued success.

Monday, June 6, 2022

The new year starts here: FY23 budget deliberations for Worcester

The Worcester School Committee deliberation on the proposed FY23 budget (warning: link is to the whole document, which is 444 pages!) began Thursday at 4 pm. 

Can I just say again how much I appreciate having a really good budget document from which to work? It is a TON of work to put together a document that is as comprehensive as the one we get, and it is largely the work of two people--Brian Allen and Sara Consalvo--and I just can't say often enough how much I appreciate it. It genuinely makes me better at my job. I'm also going to use a bunch of the illustrations from the budget as I talk about it here. 

The sequence in which we take the accounts is here; we got through the non-salary account on Thursday; we'll start with the salary accounts (specifically Custodial Salaries) on the 16th.

Here's the video of Thursday's deliberation: 

I haven't said much here on the blog about the proposed FY23 budget, which partly is because I've been swamped, but also because it comes at an interesting time: the new fiscal year begins at exactly the same time the new superintendent does. Thus we're deliberating a budget prepared by an administration that will not be the one overseeing it, and the administration coming in has not been consulted in its preparation.

As such, I, in any case, am seeing this as round 1, as I said on Thursday. I am sure that we'll have recommendations from Dr. Monárrez regarding changes once she's here; it's clear from the schedule she's keeping when she is in the district next week that she's preparing to hit the ground running. 

A few things to know about the budget:

It's the first time the Worcester Public Schools budget is over $500M. Keep in mind: that is all revenue sources, and $50.8M of that is ESSER (federal pandemic aid) spending. Even so, the general fund (non-grant and revolving fund) spending is $417M, which is a $29.3M increase over last year's general fund.

It's a lot of money. So where is it going?

this is page 143

Mostly people! I say this a lot: education is a people-driven realm of work, and well it should be.
(Editorial comment: Do note that much of the "employee benefit programs" line above is health insurance--it's $57M of the general fund budget this year--and if the U.S. were like many other countries, this would not be a cost carried by the schools.)

Who are those employees?

This is from page 25

One of the main questions of every budget is where is the increase going, and we have a handy single page image for that: 
This is page 132.

It's important to note that some of the above is one-time funding. You can find an updated account of what we're doing with our ESSER federal funding on page 162:
I am going to leave it there for now, lest I stray into deliberation ahead of budget passage. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

UPCS graduation address 2022

 My aim for graduations: show up where I'm supposed to, when I'm supposed to, dress as told, stand and sit where told, make the message to and about the graduates, relevant, and don't talk too long.

I was reflecting this week that it is a troubling time to come up with words to say to graduates. These past few years have been challenging already, but these past weeks have again brought more strain to anyone around schools.

As I went in to UPCS earlier this week to listen to a [marvelous!] eighth grade civics project, though, I noted again the building I walked into. 

Freeland Street School, as many of you know, was built in 1885 as a neighborhood elementary school in a rapidly expanding city. The doors you walked out of this week have sent forth students into times of trouble before: two World Wars, several pandemics, and a significant amount of local, national, and international strife. 

But those doors also have sent forth graduates (high school or otherwise) into the suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, local moves towards good government, and local, state, national, and international efforts towards making a more just, more sustainable world for all. 

And that is why, after all, we have public education in Massachusetts: to prepare you for your next role in creating and sustaining democratic governance that allows safety, tranquility, and the blessings of life for all. 

I am not making this up—it’s what the state constitution says.

And you, UPCS graduates, have an advantage. 

You, after all, are coming from a school that focuses less on what and more on how: 

not on what the calculation is but on how to calculate; 

not on what to write but on how to write; 

not on what science is but on how to do science; 

not on what happened in history but on how to make history.

You should be leaving here, therefore, not only gratefully, but with confidence. Whether you are the first in your family to go to college, or are continuing a family tradition of higher education, you are ready. 

You can do this. 

You can read, write, calculate; you also know how to ask good questions when you don't understand. 

That last, by the way, may be the key thing to remember. No one is saying, when they hand you this piece of paper in a moment, “There, now, you know it all.” This piece of paper says that you know quite a bit, can do quite a bit, and know enough to ask for help when you don't. 

Too often those who are new at something (and college freshmen fall into this trap too easily) think they are supposed to have figured it out already. They think they look dumb when they ask. 

On the contrary: Always, always ASK. There is no shame in that. 

Smart people know enough to know when they don't know. 

And you, University Park graduates of 2022, are smart people who know how to think.

And take heart. There are great days ahead of you.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Kids aren't supposed to die


Slate gravestone in Worcester's Hope Cemetery
In memory of Mary and Harriet Moore
Daughters of Mr. Wm and Mrs. Mary Moore
Mary died Sept 9th 1796 aged 3 years
Harriet died Sept 19 1796 aged 1 year

After the city's memorial this morning at Hope Cemetery, I crossed the cemetery road from the Grand Army of the Republic's section to the section where those who were originally buried in Mechanics Street Cemetery were reinterred. The flags there on Memorial Day are for veterans of the Revolutionary War, those who came home from their service and died often long afterward. 

I was caught, though, as I often am, by the graves of children, like the one above for Mary and Harriet Moore, ages just 3 and 1, who died ten days apart in 1796. Given the spacing, it seems likely the same disease took them--there was a yellow fever epidemic in 1796, or smallpox was also raging, or any of the myriad of childhood diseases that regularly killed children could have taken them. 

Yesterday, I was at the vigil for Candice Asare-Yeboah, a kindergartner at Gates Lane School, who died last week of injuries after she'd been struck by a car, along with her mother, over April vacation. Her kindergarten teacher told us at the vigil that Candice wanted to be a doctor. Her family said she talked of her "sisters" and "brothers" at school; she didn't know a stranger. 

Today was the first of the funerals of those killed last week in Uvalde, Texas. Amerie Jo Garza was among those who had received her honor roll certificate earlier in the day; she used her cellphone she'd gotten for her tenth birthday to call 911 to ask the police to come during the massacre. 

Smallpox has been declared eradicated. Yellow fever certainly still kills people internationally, but the last major epidemic of it in the U.S. was in 1905. A significant number of the diseases that killed children don't now due to childhood vaccinations. As was noted once a COVID vaccine for those over five became available, childhood death has driven research and policy changes over time. 

Unless it means we inconvenience drivers. Then we have to fight like anything to get traffic patterns changed to prioritize the safety of pedestrians, including children.

Unless it means we regulate guns. 
Gun laws save lives. And the United States stands alone in not protecting our children

Saturday, May 28, 2022

When the paper of record is wrong

Headline of Friday's Worcester Telegram and Gazette 
with top headline "Speaking out on schools' needs"

We had the public hearing on the proposed FY23 Worcester Public Schools budget on Wednesday, and we had people COME which is always the first thing, and so we heard from parents, a student, and multiple staff about what we should be considering about the budget as we enter deliberations next week. 

As some of you know, this blog started because I was frustrated by the holes in the Telegram's coverage around budget in particularly, and so it feels either full circle or something more frustrating to note that the article gets what seems to me to be one of the core pieces of information--how much our budget is--wrong.

The third paragraph in piece says this: 

Two weeks ago the school department released its fiscal 2023 budget proposal, a $448.7 million plan that represents a $30.5 million, or 7.3%, bump up from the current fiscal year. That increase is driven in part by a $18 million increase in the inflation factor of the state’s school funding formula and a $13.2 million increase in funding from the Student Opportunity Act, which is giving significant state aid to Worcester and other Massachusetts school systems over the next few years. 
One of the things I take some pride in is that I spend time and attention to the budget (in fact, I'm writing this with budget materials spread around me, as it's how I'll spend yet more time today). I generally know pretty solidly what our numbers are. 
These I not only did not recognize: when I went back to our budget, I couldn't even figure out quickly where they were even coming from! The opening sentence of the executive summary of the budget is:

The fiscal year 2023 budget represents total spending for the Worcester Public Schools from all sources of $523,662,716, a $44.1 million, or a 9.2% increase from the adopted FY22 budget level of $479,522,996. Within this amount, the total general fund budget by the City Manager is $417,802,152, which represents an increase of $29.3 million, or a 7.6% increase from the FY22 School Committee's adopted budget of $388,472,088. 

I even went back to last year's budget to see if it was from there (it isn't).

When I pulled open my copy of the presentation by Mr. Allen from that night, I finally found it: slide 7:

Here's the problem: That's literally midway through the calculation to get us to our bottom line: 

The $448M is just...not the Worcester Public Schools' budget for FY23. It's not. At all.

That isn't, of course, the main point of the article, which is about some of the public testimony we received, particularly on student mental health and on pay for paraprofessionals. 

But facts matter. And it isn't my blog that's going to go forward as the record of what happened; it's the T&G.
This is a proposed budget in which total spending reaches over $500M for the first time in Worcester history. A substantial amount of that--$50.8M--is one time funding from ESSER, that either goes away or is proposed to transition into our Student Opportunity Act spending as it phases in over the next few years.
That also matters. It's core to budgeting in future years. People in Worcester need to have some understanding of that.

I am always going to recommend that you review the executive summary; it not only talks about where our money comes from, but where it is proposed to go. I hope to put something up here that talks a bit more about that; frankly, I'm still wrapping my own head around if it's doing what we need it to. If you need the proposal in one image, Mr. Allen has given you one:

But again...facts matter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Worcester City Council hears the Worcester Public Schools FY23 bottom line

 ...which means it is time for my annual reminder regarding authority: 

The vote of the legislative body of a city or town shall establish the total appropriate for the support of the public schools but may not limit the authority of the school committee to determine expenditures within the total appropriation.

Russell asks about Worcester East Middle and the capital appropriation (which is thus out of order, because capital is not part of the WPS operating budget)
Augustus agrees that it is about $7M; some question on if the state ARPA funds could be used for that. "That would be my suggestion" rather than adding to the city debt. 
Just for some perspective on the municipal debt:

p. 427

Also discussed other needs, boilers and the like, and he'd defer to the district.
Russell asking what the dollar amount would be to get it started.
"as far as the capital plan for the schools, is there anything that can be done
Augustus: city provides $3.5M for capital, and $500K for equipment
$3M for Foley "we're taking that out of our budget, not out of the $3M of the schools"
$10M from ARP for schools requiring ADA for upgrades for work that has happened in the past
Russell asks if any of the parks plans could be postponed
urges others to walk through WEMS and look at the plastic on the windows
Toomey says she thinks plastic on windows is a fire hazards
Allen: all school buildings are code inspected every year
Toomey asks what is being done in capital budget
Allen notes that the $7M is the windows, but will trigger other costs
Toomey floats how much it would be
Augustus: I don't know that the $10M will be the biggest needs but we don't have a choice
"I don't know that this is the best use when we have boilers and things that are on their last legs"
maybe you'd be doing something else in another building if you hadn't triggered that cost
Toomey: can windows be phased in so as not to trigger ADA?
Augustus, they anticipated that
Bergman don't want to replace the windows only to build a new building
Council orders combining Grafton Street and WEMS (um what?)
Rivera: studies looking at economics and education
asks diversity in hiring
Binienda: CDO reports to superintendent, has added position
Rivera: not just hiring, but looking at equity in curriculum and equity all around
Binienda: that's correct (it is?)
Rivera talks about the UPCS science lab
King: remembers Binienda' s first budget hearing, now at her last
know Council role, not SC's role
"every budget hearing I talk about the need to increase social workers in our schools"
"for the last several years, you've consistently added school social workers"
student decreases in enrollment in Head Start and kindergarten: budget impact?
Allen: last year lost 1000, this year 250; up about 500 students since October
what that means for financial impact; 250 students is a loss of $2.5M in the FY23 budget
King: agree we need more social workers
data on quantifying data to access grants?
Binienda: we've been down 4 psychologists all year, can't find them
if when we interview, have more, come back to the school committee and ask for further (that...isn't represented in the budget)
most principals asked for wraparound coordinators
data that was presented came from the agencies that would have gotten the referrals
King: met NSS?
McGourthy: scheduled to break even
$334K projected for next year
King: what were we in FY21 and FY20?
McGourthy notes that FY21 was an outlier of $10M (due to COVID) and was $3M in FY20
Augustus OF COURSE interrupts to talk about debt service...remember it's in total still less that 30% of the city spending

King talks about mental health, Binienda talks about collaborative problem solving and how "teachers are key"
"we have data proving that collaborative problem solving has been very effective"
and the superintendent is now reading a whole section of the budget to Councilor King
"we're doing a lot but there's always more to do"
King asks about salaries of "lower range educators" but also asks about diversity
talks about ESSER funds for MTEL, teacher leader residency program
diversity position sits on hiring committee, says data is being kept
King: lower salaried educators in the WPS
Allen notes that wages are done through collective bargaining which is done by the School Committee
King: can you share the data on hourly wages...
we're in negotiations and it's NOT UNDER HIS PURVIEW AT ALL
recruitment in numbers?
Binienda: all positions for qualified certified staff to apply
CDO has been involved, network of CDOs: sharing best practices
King: "it's been a long six years...I wish you well"
Haxhiaj: one of the parents who has been frutrated by bus service encouraged to see buses 
coming in house; cost savings? service? alternative fuels?
Allen: about a $4M eventual savings
some will be used for additional service for additional staff
procuring buses; purchasing 165 buses, gasoline
don't have infrastructure in place for other alternative fuels as yet
some leased buses coming off will be looking at other alternative fuels
plan working towards
plan to have at least 13 vehicles in FY24 that will be alternative 
Haxhiaj: $2.5M in maintenance; how to increase further
Allen: $1M increase specifically to principal requests for building repairs
now built in $1M for school based facilities 
"as a result of the Student Opportunity Act" as that was one of the underfunded lines
Colorio: know "we haven't seen the last of you" to Binienda
asked a question about enrollment
Allen notes enrollment decline happened across state
rebound isn't happening
Colorio: was there an increase of mental health cases this year?
Binienda: more students exhibiting anxiety
being out of school 
May have skills that kids need to learn
recently looked at discipline data; "we already had had an analysis, will be presenting at next meeting"
"And it isn't true" (this about presentation on student discipline last week)
"are looking for community support...need families to have connections"
students who felt alone during the pandemic
"that's probably the wrong answer to what you're asking"
Colorio: huge proponent of parental rights and involvement; have them been efforts on this?
(remember; "parental rights" is a watchword)
Binienda: first half of the year, not as many parents in schools; second half of the year "especially since we removed the masks" more parental involvement
Colorio: "biggest hits"
Binienda: "math...because it's something you can't really teach yourself"
Mero Carlson: questions with regard to transportation
"do we currently have enough staff for the busing and when does that start?"
"I read in the newspaper that there were 100 and something laid off...are we offering them jobs?"
Allen: self-operation begins for summer schools, full operation for school year
Durham was required under the federal WARN Act to notify of future layoffs
"have discussed with Durham drivers" offering positions
"as of today, we do not have enough drivers...currently training drivers through MassHires and NightLife" and expecting drivers to come over
Mero Carlson: "is that same rate the same as it was driving for Durham"
Allen: were until most recent contract; taken care of through collective bargaining process
Mero Carlson: how will new transportation be communicated?
Allen: only change is that all buses will be operated by WPS; routes and distances will not change
"excited to launch the MyStop bus app next year so parents and students will be able to see where their buses are in relation to their house"

May Board of Ed: on student mental health

 students speaking on student mental health on the Greater Boston Student Advisory Council
student survey from all five regions of the state, all four grades
vast majority of students reported struggling with mental health issues

about 77% of those surveyed said that there was an adult they could turn to, but most are only "somewhat aware" of student mental health
"for teachers to be available to their students"
for teachers to reach out and check in 

suggest that school create posters around school and classroom promoting resources
add block for students to choose where to go
send out information on resources to students

nightly workload: many students spending 
more than 1-2 hours on weekends; quite a few spending more than 5

active promotion of social and mental health resources 
suggestion box for what would be most useful

SLEEP: around 50% of students get 6-8; 30% get 4-6
CDC recommends 8-10 hours for teens

stress: physical safe space in schools
few minutes to check in during class
promote mental health resources in school

May Board of Ed: on Boston

Riley: "my assessment very briefly"
then Curtin, then back to Riley

May Board of Ed: The Boston one (opening and public comment)

 The agenda is here. Livestream will be here. Looks like public comment might be something:

Friday, May 20, 2022

What happened at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting: May 19, 2022 edition

 What happened at last night's Worcester School Committee meeting (agenda; video)? Here are the highlights:

First, the headline news: 

We have a contract! 
This is the final page of the contract of the 
Worcester School Committee with Dr. Rachel Monárrez;
signed by us Thursday night, in the mail to California Friday morning.

We have a contract with Dr. Rachel Monárrez for three years starting July 1. Signed, voted, voted down reconsideration. 

We also voted a three year contract renewal with Kay Seale, who is our director of special education. 

We're in contract negotiations, so I don't want to say too much, but we did have some of our WPS bus drivers speak to us. 

...which gives me a good excuse to share this photo! 
Yesterday, I got to ride a morning set of bus routes on S-29,
with driver Tina Mansfield (left) and monitor Justa Fernandez 
as part of the EAW's Walk a Day in Our Shoes initiative.

We also had--and, honestly, I can't tell you how proud I am of this--a strong showing of school psychologists and school adjustment counselors, who spoke on their petition regarding student mental health, in response to the report of the superintendent at the last meeting of the School Committee (also covered behind the paywall here). It takes courage to show up at a meeting and say, "No, it's really this way," when the dominant narrative has been otherwise. As covered in the WGBH piece linked above, our staff strongly argued, and gave data supporting, the need for additional resources and connections in our schools. Staff also used the public comment portion of our meeting--which is new this year!!--to make additional remarks on this issue.
Also Mayor Petty had an item on this agenda to set up a meeting between our mental health staff and the Mayor's Task Force on Mental Health. 

In reporting out on two subcommittees, I do want to note that there are ongoing discussions in TLSS on elementary libraries, and Governance is continuing to chug through our student handbook, as well as do some preliminary work on our revision of our strategic plan.

The COVID update was not good. The latest meeting of the medical advisors, as transmission remains high and the local hospitals are becoming concerned, yielded a "strong recommendation" that those in schools (and elsewhere inside) wear masks. The district's student vaccination rate is 35.5% double vaxxed, with another 6.74% with the third shot. That's lousy. 
This week's positives: 252 students, 84 staff.

We got a report back on principal succession planning, which didn't include which principals are leaving and being replaced--we aren't being given this information at all--but did have a bit of an outline on school-level involvement, described as follows: 

Candidates are screened by Human Resources for the appropriate DESE license. Licensed candidates are reviewed by an administrative team which selects candidates for the school-based committees to meet. The Site Council and the principal at each school identifies family and/or community members for the interview panel. Each committee consists of representatives from schools, central office administrators, the Chief Diversity Officer, members of the Superintendent's Advisory Committee, and school leaders. The committee meets the candidates, reviews resumes, asks questions and discusses the candidates responses. The Superintendent receives the interview committee's recommendations, meets with the candidates and makes the hiring decision.

After asking, we're going to receive a list of which principals are being hired.

We also filed some new items, to wit: 

  • a request for a report on CORI reports on student volunteers. My colleague Sue Mailman put this one on, and, as CORIs effectively bar some parents and family members from volunteering, asking the grounds is super important.
  • a request for a report on teacher shortages and substitute coverage this year (also Mailman)
  • a request for a report on specialized programs by quadrant and student access to those (these from Jermoh Kamala)
  • a request from me that we get a report prior to the end of the fiscal year next month on district adherence to MGL Ch. 32, sec. 90 and 91, as operational under the waiver passed during the FY22 budget process. This is hiring former employees who are now retired; there are caps on hours and pay. 
  • a request from me that we look at our sexual harassment policy and its alignment with federal requirements (which are in a weird state of flux, as the rules from the Trump administration largely remain in force, but the Biden administration has said they're revising, plus Attorney General Healey has reminded us that Massachusetts has a higher standard). This one stemmed from some considerable concerns that have arisen among students on how the district handles sexual assault and harassment cases, in some cases. At the meeting, Superintendent Binienda passed out to us paper copies of a proposed revised policy in light of some of the issues that have been raised locally (which I'll share on here once we have it electronically). That goes to Governance for revision.
  • A request from me that the Superintendent and her staff and the other employees of the district follow policy GBEBC and the state ethics law in refraining from using district resources, including district emails, from private fundraising, however good the cause. Enough said.
  • And I'm really proud that my colleagues unanimously passed a proposed resolution for the MASC Delegate Assembly in November. If five committees across the state pass the same resolution by June 1, it automatically goes to the Delegate Assembly for consideration as part of MASC's state priorities. The resolution asks that the Legislature pass sanctuary laws like those proposed in other states for those who are trans and their relatives. It reads as follows:
    WHEREAS The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a long history of standing for civil rights, including advocacy for a bill of rights in the U.S. Constitution, and
     WHEREAS Massachusetts codified gender identity as a protected class in the 2011 Act Relative to Gender Identity, and
     WHEREAS All children deserve a safe environment in which to grow up, and
     WHEREAS Some state governments are now criminalizing supportive medical care for trans individuals; moving to bar families from traveling to access such care; and otherwise violating the civil rights of trans children and their families, and
     WHEREAS The defense of the civil rights of the historically marginalized is contained within the first article of the Massachusetts Constitution right of “seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness,”
     THEREFORE the Massachusetts Association of School Committees call on the Great and General Court to join with other states in the passage of so-called “sanctuary” laws to ensure such children and their families have “the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights and the blessings of life,” as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Commonwealth.

Monday, May 16, 2022

A round-up of coverage on the incoming superintendent

 An updating collection of the coverage of Worcester's incoming Superintendent Dr. Rachel Monárrez.

I'll update as there is more! 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Joint Committee (Education and Finance & Operations) meets Monday at 5

 Part of the structure of the subcommittees of the Worcester School Committee is that the Finance & Operations subcommittee periodically meets with the Education subcommittee of the City Council "concerning issues of overlapping interest," as the item has it. Councilor Thu Nguyen chairs Education. We'll be having our first joint meeting on Monday at City Hall at 5, and the agenda for the meeting is: 

  • gb #1-343 - To consider recommendations from the School Safety Task Force on the removal of the School Resource Officers. (the Education subcommittee also has a similar item)

  • gb #2-60 – Request that the Administration evaluate and update compensation practices whereby school committee members are compensated at 50% of city council level.

  • gb #2-115 - To request City Council ensure City Council and School Committee districts are parallel, so as to ensure public clarity.
Meeting link as follows:  https://us06web.zoom.us/j/96739569567

Sunday, May 8, 2022

It's a three subcommittee week in Worcester! PLUS THE BUDGET IS COMING

  • TUESDAY, 4:45 pm, it's Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports : virtual tutoring, elementary librarians, social emotional learning, Night Life

  • WEDNESDAY, 5 pm, it's Finance and Operations : third quarter budget report, facilities update, transportation update, warrant policy, Doherty update, the student information system, sports game streaming, playgrounds, enrollment, ESSER spending 

  • THURSDAY, 4:30 pm, it's Governance and Employee Issues: several employee sick bank items, student handbook, strategic plan
And on FRIDAY: 

The FY23 budget is publicly released! 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

A few reflections on the Worcester superintendent search

 As always, of course, everything I say here is coming just from me.

Black background of the City of Worcester seal
in rainbow shades; this is my WorcesterWares shirt. 

One thing that I have found rather heartbreaking about Worcester, especially around the schools, has been the difficulty of dreaming. We've had so little money for so long, and we've been so stuck in other ruts, that we haven't really talked about what we'd really like our schools to be. What would we do for our kids if we could? How do we want our schools to work for, yes, our students, but also for our employees and for our larger community?

We also too often don't recognize who we really are as a district now, either. If the mark of a Cockney was being born within earshot of Bow Bells, too often the mark of what makes one "Worcester" or seen by some as able to serve Worcester well, has seen similar limitations.  

Superintendent searches, done well, are about hope. 

They're a chance for a community to take stock of where they are and who they are and who they want to be. Done well, not only those who think about district direction all the time, but plenty of people who have their heads down and their shoulders to the wheel on district and community, think about where the district is going and how they're going to get there, and to talk to each other about that.

I want to give credit where it is due: it was last term's committee that not only said we needed a search, but a full, professional, national one, and that created and voted the RFP that outlined that kind of conversation in the community, with that kind of work to follow over the search.

Worcester, further energized by an election that saw change, then saw that community conversation fully inform the position description that was adopted by the Worcester School Committee. What Worcester said we needed is what the Committee said we needed, and who Greenwood Asher went to look for. 

Mayor Petty appointed a large (and I say that as a professional!) search committee that drew from all over Worcester, from all sorts of backgrounds and connections, and charged them with doing the first round screening. That, again, is a courageous thing to do: you're giving over authority, and you're doing so to a group that is not under tight reins.

Search committee work is A LOT: reviewing all the applications thoroughly, doing what homework you feel is necessary, then working with a committee on evaluating people to interview. Then attending all the interviews--we did eleven, over two full work days!--with great attention, listening carefully for what makes each applicant different and how well they answer. Then doing another round of evaluation with the committee.

And let's be blunt: those discussions, if they're going to bring the community forward, are going to involve all the questions raised in the search: who is Worcester? Who do we want to be? What are the needs of the community and how are those best met?
Those are not easy conversations. As Senator Chang-Díaz said at Monday's YWCA Stand against Racism: “If this work is comfortable…you’re not doing it right.”
I am really grateful that we had a search committee that not only were who they are and worked hard, but were courageous in their commitment to our students. 

Also, they kept confidentiality. As the Massachusetts General Law notes, it is in the interest of the district to have the first round of screening be confidential, as the quality of candidates a district receives is enormously better if it isn't public until they have a real chance. This was a lot of people, and they have kept faith with the district, which shows integrity and commitment on the part of everyone involved. 

And I'd be remiss here if I didn't get a salute to Molly McCullough who chaired the search committee, which meant everything from being an ongoing conduit to and from the search committee, to creating schedules and agendas and question series, to responding to questions and queries from all directions. She did it with patience and thoughtfulness (and hours and hours of work!). 

Superintendent searches are also one of the more difficult things for a School Committee to do. It is a very big decision to make. It is a lot of trust to put in someone. It is always going to be second-guessed by someone (who does the second guessing tells you something about the choice you made). Our Committee trusting each other enough to go visit the finalists' districts--a core piece of a professional search--and report back is really a hallmark for me of the working relationships being established among this Committee, which I'm so grateful to have as a member. 

I have sat in on many votes for superintendent. This is the first time I voted for one. I said what I said about Dr. Monárrez on Thursday, bringing nearly 30 years of my own experience in and around public education to this decision, which, as I said then is "a description of someone who met, in a myriad of ways, exactly what the Worcester School Committee, and, more importantly, the community of the city of Worcester, wants in their next superintendent."

What I heard from across the district both Thursday night and Friday morning was a level of rejoicing I don't know I've ever heard in Worcester. What is most meaningful to me is the number of places where voices that are not accustomed to being heard felt that now, finally, they were. 

I'm very excited about what the new superintendent means for the Worcester Public Schools.
I am also hopeful for the future of my city, given the sort of search that got us here.

Dr. Rachel  Monárrez is our next superintendent, Worcester.
It's up to all of us to make this work. 
Know hope. 

joy cometh in the morning...Psalm 30:5