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:

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