WRRB/Chamber School Committee Forum – 9/21 – Notes

I won’t call this a liveblog as I didn’t have WiFi during the meeting — I’ll try to post a summary tomorrow.  Apologies for the notes.  This was a VERY quick format, and sometimes the candidates only had a few sentences’ response.

Tim Murray opens the forum.

Introduces Bob Kennedy of Mechanics Hall – 158th year of business (annual meeting going on upstairs). (Strains of Blackstone Cuil come in or out)

Tony E and Matt Wally in the house as well.

Format:

  • 10 candidates for the SC
  • Two-minute opening statement from each candidate
  • Then twenty questions will be asked. One candidate will get a minute response, another three will be able to respond for thirty seconds, with a rebuttal of 15 seconds from the first candidate.
  • Last segment – the same question for every candidate

Panelists:

  • Robert Johnson of Becker College
  • Jennifer Davis Carey of WEC
  • Sue Mailman, president of Coghlin Electric

Opening statements

Dianna B: believes public schools are the city’s most important public resource. Need to expand beneficial opportunities for all students. Priorities are: continue to improve school safety; academic excellence, increase and improve Chapter 74; GET OUT AND VOTE.

Cotey C: first debate, pretty excited. 18-year-old graduate of Worcester Technical High School and current student at QCC. Currently public schools are not safe, has experienced school administrator’s incompetence in school safety. From his experiences and challenges in public schools, can serve well.

Donna Colorio – educator at QCC in psychology and sociology. One daughter who attends Doherty High; other two have graduated. Her unique background of parent, educator, and lifelong resident of Worcester qualifies her.

Nick D’Andrea – currently works at Fallon Health. Has been a longtime city youth organizer. Relentless pursuit of the positive. Recently seen those his age move out of the city for “greener pastures” (scare quotes his). Priority: petition to get safety squared away in our schools.

Jack Foley: has been privileged to server on the SC for 16 years; three children who attended and graduated from WPS. They have created best educational opportunities for children of Main South; has worked on boards of many organizations. Focus has been on high expectations for all students. Works with families to raise bar for all children – access for those children with special needs. Worked with finances quite a bit in the WPS, lack of resources to put across the entire district. Strong public schools are critically important for city.

Molly McCullough – lifelong resident of the city of Worcester. When she returned home from college, continued volunteer involvement. Gained a lot of leadership experience on various boards. Getting $$ to schools. Success of schools today contributes to success of city tomorrow. Three priorities: safety, academic achievement, and facilities.

(BILL COLEMAN IS IN THE HOUSE TAKING PICTURES)

John Monfredo – passion to make a difference in life of children and families – children make up 37% of population but 100% of future. Discusses his experience as principal – looking out for the children’s best interests. As an educator, knows what works. Has advocated for change and has not been shy about filing items that would better the schools and community.

Tracy O’Connell Novick – this marks her 10th year as a parent in the WPS, 6th year on SC. This is a different system than the one her eldest daughter entered. Unprecedented level of funding for the schools – new Nelson Place, MSBA funding, new South High coming. Undergone a comprehensive curriculum review; many millions in federal funding for technology. Bringing autism programs and others back in house to save money and improve services.

Brian O’Connell – the next two years can be a watershed time to enhance the academic challenge for the students: academic attention and achievement. Can develop self-esteem by mastering skills, habits of academic excellence. Changing budget priorities from administration to classroom.

Hilda Ramirez – comes from diverse background. Spent many years in corporate background, changed to education (arts and youth development). WSU working with Latino families about improving educational outcomes. Came to this country at the age of 10 needing to learn English. Represents that population. All individually have great ideas, but we are not planning together. Proud of filing something to make the group work better collectively.

 

Robert Johnson, moderator.

First question to Ms Novick, responding Colorio, Collins, D’Andrea: School funding. Commonwealth Ch 70 program requires certain levels of state and local funding. 60% of city’s FY16 budget is for school.

Novick: Foundation budget review meeting again in September, report due in November. Impressed that preliminary report listed health insurance and special ed as specifically being undercalculated (not even underfunded). Other areas: technology not recognized, vocational ed, early childhood, dual language immersion either undercalced or not considered.

Colorio: We have to look at our own house first. We don’t allocate funding properly. Take money from admin and allocate it to the front lines of teaching.

(the respondents only get 30 seconds)

Collins: fiscally responsible choice by evaluating principals – accountability plan that has cap of principals and assistant principals.

D’Andrea: when he thinks about budget, agrees with Colorio that we are spending too much on central admin.

 

Second question: In 2016, innovation academy for academically gifted kids. Do public schools currently address needs of these children?

Foley: lists certain programs for gifted children. IB provides another opportunity for academically gifted students. Great job of increased rigor to the classroom. If we are successful with pilot, bring it to other schools.

Biancheria: IB will add to advocating for why WPS should be a school of choice.

O’Connell: Goddard Scholars already exists. IB is not just for gifted students but can help expand children’s opportunities.

Monfredo: South High – kids playing in the band. (Cut off – man, 30 seconds is tough)

Foley: covered it pretty well, interesting to see how IB plays out.

(note that they missed Novick’s rebuttal on the first question)

 

Third question: WPS are increasingly diverse. 35% of students speaking one of 90 languages as first language. How to adapt to student body and accommodate for students’ needs.

Colorio: raising bar for everyone, not closing achievement gap. Doesn’t matter what color, language, etc. Let teachers teach and stop data-driven environment.

Ramirez: filed item to create teacher residency program to diversify teacher base. ELL or special needs, need teachers who can connect with students.

D’Andrea: grew up in two-language household, educate teachers in diversity, make them understand diversity they would be teaching with.

McCullough: bring in more community involvement. Expose all students from 3-12 to AVID program.

Colorio declines rebuttal.

Fourth Question: Level 3 schools – while public attention on Level 4 schools, how can we focus on Level 3 schools as well.

Biancheria: Improving student achievement – whether you look at level 1, 2, 3, or 4, need to include opportunities of interest for 25,000 students. Measurements are from a variety of avenues. We need to look at all the reports. New programs and community partnerships to increase student success.

(She’s reading all her answers.   Super weird)

Collins: attended Worcester Tech for env science. Learned to expand education. Only way to expand achievement gap: educational opportunities toward employment.

Monfredo: more preschool programs, encouraging parental involvement.

Novick: defines level 1, etc. school. This is a ridiculous way of measuring schools – they just keep dropping levels. Need a better method.

Biancheria: new nutritional program needs to be evaluated.

 

Fifth Question: What steps should WPS take to improve family engagement considering that many kids come from challenging home backgrounds?

Ramirez: asking parents to come into schools when they can’t.   Need to meet them where they’re at. Rebuild relationships between parents and teachers – incentives for teachers to do more evening work, weekend programs for families. Not everyone has technology to connect.

O’Connell: provide training for parents to help kids. We are not doing well to bring parents to schools, having school councils with stronger representation. Community school programs to give parents opportunity

Foley: make sure using their language, inviting them into the school, etc.

McCullough: hosting social nights, family literacy nights, foster learning connection between parents and teachers and students.

Ramirez: need to see parents as a resource to the children.

 

Sixth Question: School Safety: how to ensure safety in schools.

Collins: supports temporary police presence in schools. Schools have their problems – in his safety plan, promotes properly training security guards. Retraining them to know what to look for in an educational environment. Principals and assistant principals also need training.

D’Andrea: Are school safe? For the most part. There are gaps, safety audit – need a fluid comprehensive safety plan. Dynamics change, need community’s input.

Novick: Yes, the schools are safe. I wouldn’t be sending my kids there if they weren’t. A number of the things floating around are things that don’t work. Becomes a larger budgetary issue rather than a separate one.

Colorio: schools are unsafe, we have a report saying so.   Need to be transparent so that we can deal with problems.

Collins: schools are not safe. Knows people at North.

 

Seventh Question: How do you balance working with and standing up to administration? (Didn’t quite get the question)

O’Connell: SC members should not simply be following what the administration can. When Superintendent does a good job, I let her know; when she’s not, I say so as well.

Monfredo: Continued to show growth, she must listen more to community. What is in the best interests of our children?

Foley: role of SC is to move in collaboration with administration. “Respsectful tension” – thinks Boone has done a fine job of moving schools forward.

Biancheria: primary role is to advocate for people; if you don’t have discussions, don’t have successful system.

O’Connell: when good communication, and Super listens closely, — that was 15 seconds

 

Eighth Question: Suspensions: you have expressed concerns about MGL Ch 222. In past few years, decreased suspensions, keeping kids in desk and in schools. What more would you like to see happen?

D’Andrea: Suspension rates have gone down because of Ch 222. This is where safety becomes an issue. Students act out, and sometimes they shouldn’t be there. When he was young, kids were in in-school suspension or sent home. Do we want schools safe? Yes. Do we want students educated? Yes. So – need to re-evaluate Ch 222.

McCullough: Students who want to get an education, smaller group who wants to disrupt learning environment. Need to work with legislators on Ch 222.

Ramirez: Worcester has a huge issue with suspensions. One of the challenges is that it is implemented poorly – does not allow for timely training of teachers.

Colorio: should be advocating for our students with state legislators.

 

D’Andrea: need to work with state legislature to stop punishing kids who want to learn.

 

Ninth Question: How should poor performing teachers be evaluated, high-performing teachers rewarded?

Monfredo: We don’t need to look at MCAS as the be-all, end-all of teacher evaluations. If done properly, evaluation should provide teachers with areas to improve and ways to get there. Principal must discuss with teacher and set meaningful goals and progress. To improve qualitiy of instruction in our schools.

Novick: Telling that as part of RTTT agreement, we agreed to evaluate on test scores, we can’t figure out how to do that without getting sued.

Biancheria: need to have effective teachers, but make them confident, that culture is working well in schools.

Collins: Believes in teacher evaluation – couldn’t hear the rest because of the peanut gallery.

Monfredo: Goes right back to the principal.

 

Tenth Question: You argued that WPS served an econ development purpose. What role do you see WPS serving in that role, strengthening in that role?

McCullough: State of schools is extremely important to her. Need to bring in more corporate partnerships. After being mortgage industry, saw how important schools were in keeping people in the city. Need to provide employers with top-level employees.

Foley: One of the first questions families always ask is how the schools are. Critically important to employers for workforce development.

Ramirez: she is a homeowner in Worcester, important that we generate a good workforce. Students should be civically engaged, part of community.

O’Connell: train students in areas that will be economic drivers. Encourage families to stay here, businesses to bring people into Worcester.

McCullough: Important for success of city that students be successful today.

 

Eleventh Question: Testing. You have expressed concern about efficacy, etc. of testing in schools.

Novick: Best way to measure success is by day-to-day work in the schools. We want students to write well, so we have them writing every day. When parents ask about school system, they run far better than the test scores. Two of her children are at level 3 schools. That does not represent education they get at the schools.

Ramirez: Need to be thoughtful of assessment, grew up taking Regents Exam in NY.

Colorio: It’s a federal law, whether opinions differ or not. Opposed to PARCC – MCAS on steroids. If you think the MCAS is teaching to the test, wait ’til you see PARCC.

Foley: supports testing that measures student’s academic progress, gives student and teacher feedback.

Novick: under the waiver of ESEA, we do not need to be doing standardized testing.

 

Twelfth Question: Vocational ed question. How would WPS use expertise at Worcester Tech to improve career readiness at all schools?

Foley: Worcester Tech has been an incredible success. A number of students are not able to get into Worcester Tech. Putting Ch 24 programs in some schools. Would like to use Worcester Tech more efficiently, with an evening program for certificate for those at other (comprehensive) high schools.

Collins: that’s my school. Strongly believes in career opportunities – carry on tradition to other public schools. Yes, there’s a price tag on it. Other ways to restructure budget.

Biancheria: College and career readiness has been something she worked on as a school-to-career coordinator. More opportunities we have in comprehensive schools, better for everyone. Our high schools will then have Ch 24 available for everyone.

Colorio: Doesn’t want to diminish Worcester Tech – programs in other schools need to be strengthened. Public education is not pipeline for private industry, they can pay for training their own employees.
Thirteenth Question: Common Core. Part of curriculum since 2011. You are leading ballot initiative to repeal Common Core.   MCAS scores have increased in Worcester. Why return to standards from 15 years ago?

Colorio: Common Core has failed MA. On some test kids take in 4th grade, they went down. In next education poll, teachers do not want the common core.

O’Connell: Common Core has been successful for Alabama, Mississippi, and states like that. Not as aggressive as standards MA had from Ed Reform of 1993.

Ramirez: Sometimes the challenge is not what we are doing – we do need a revamp of curriculum – thinks Common Core provides higher order thinking skills. How do we train teachers and educators how to implement and improve Common Core?

Biancheria: One of our biggest challenge, need to look at options. MCAS set a standard in MA, created testing in all our schools. Common Core, different academic standard.

Colorio: It does not help critical thinking at all. Decreased literature 60%.

 

Fourteenth Question: Purpose of public schools is to improve outcomes for minor children, how to balance with transparency? (Mentions closed-door meeting at North)

Biancheria: WPS needs to work with everyone. Not having press closes the doors. Can’t afford to close the doors at any time. Parents should protect our kids’ privacy. Question of safety in schools, academic excellence, need to open the door.

D’Andrea: there was a private meeting on a public issue, where public issues were utilized. It takes a village to raise our children.

Collins: believes school administrators at DAB should be re-evaluated, have been covering things up. More public meetings regarding school safety and how to address school safety.

Ramirez: Often difficult to invite people to a public meeting – there are those who have put out incorrect information, jeopardizing lives of kids in school. Screaming disaster in city does not help anyone.

Biancheria: Transparency when it comes not to safety, also about budget.

 

Fifteenth Question: How can SC improve coordination and engagement with administration and public?

Ramirez: Collective will to do better. Set strategic direction, personal agendas holding us back from moving district forward. About strategic planning, aligning goals with superintendent, managing goals on yearly basis.

Monfredo: Cooperation among all of us is essential. Doesn’t think we have personal agendas, should be for what is best for students and community. This community depends on strong workforce.

O’Connell: have committees that go deeply into certain topics, invite public in, research topic deeply, and have discussion. Solid, transparent process.

Collins: SC needs more open-minded people. More rubber-stamp voters. Only two open-minded people on the SC currently.

Ramirez: people putting the children in the middle of every decision you make will help move Worcester forward.

 

Sixteenth Question: as a recent graduate of Worcester Tech, certain members have been “out of school way too long”. SC not just about education, but funding, etc. How have your experiences qualified you for managing a major public corporation?

Collins: Currently, teachers get paid $71k a year, that hardly increases. Every year, administrator salaries increase. Cut principal salaries to increase teachers’ salaries.

McCullough: doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of school, doesn’t affect how you are as an SC member

D’Andrea: balances community and private life every day. With students every day. His project management skills…

O’Connell: as SC member, we get to be in school frequently. He’s COO for a school district, etc.

Collins: most of these SC members don’t have kids in public school.

 

Seventeenth Question: School facilities. WPS manages many facilities. 11 built prior to 1900. Only four renovated in the last 15 years. Where should WPS look to increase funding for capital projects?

O’Connell: look to state for capital assistance, really have been taking effective approach wherever we can attain them. The city has taken a strong level of support.

Novick: We have not spent as much time on capital budget. City’s budget for schools vs. other projects is out of whack.

Monfredo: MSBC helps with 80% of windows and doors.

D’Andrea: we have a lot of schools, everyone wants new schools, updated facilities. Need to come up with way to prioritize plan to modernize and improve schools.

O’Connell: We need to maintain a long-range plan to improve facilities.

 

Eighteenth Question: Improving Academic Achievement

D’Andrea: Better student engagement through community engagement. WE can always achieve better together.

Foley: pre-natal to age 5 is not funded, need kids to hit school ready to learn.

McCullough: more tech in classrooms, smart boards, all in grades 3-12 exposed to … program.

Monfredo: has been advocating for full-day Preschool. 12% absenteeism. Need to look at that and come up with a program.

D’Andrea – bring creativity back into teachers’ lesson plans – not teaching to a test.

 

Nineteenth Question: Improving ELA test scores.

Monfredo: putting books in kids’ hands are important, but having parents learn importance of reading aloud to kids is also important. Summer slide – need to engage United Way, Interfaith Groups, social service agencies, to make sure we’re on the same page.

Colorio: Cutting down on literature and drama. Increase IAs and tutors.

Novick: first, we’re not cutting back on literature. MCAS scores and literacy are not the same thing, are you being surrounded by reading you actually enjoy.

McCullough – we have three libraries in schools (can’t hear because of the peanut gallery)

 

Twentieth Question: administrators have regulatory and hiring flexibility. Should this be expanded and replicated in WPS?

McCullough: decision should not be made arbitrarily or in haste, principal work with others to make this happen.

Biancheria: Principals need additional professional development, not on the level as human resource professionals.

Foley: Schools create culture of school-based management (talking about Level 4 school). Best fit for school, hold principal responsible for what happens in school without letting them pick team.

Novick: question about involvement of staff; when Claremont plan was being considered, was being actively lobbied by Claremont teachers to approve the plan.

 

Final Question: about primary responsibility.   SC is responsible for oversight of superintendent and administration.

Biancheria: Encourages public to contact her with questions.

Collins: in accountability plan, will redefine responsibilities of superintendent. Her contract should be bought out if she can’t work with SC and teachers.

Colorio: voted for more of a communication between SC and superintendent. First step when she was on SC.

D’Andrea: transparency seems to be the norm. Plans to have office hours, go into community even more to discuss with superintendent.

Foley: communication is important. Will encourage further collaborative effort to bring families, etc., together with SC and admin.

McCullough: clear channel of communication is essential. Very clear that community wants this communication, lack of it from Superintendent.

Monfredo: communication and transparency mentioned tonight. Must all be engaged in spirit of cooperation.   Job is not to rubber-stamp, but to ask tough questions. Enter into a collaborative partnership.

Novick: MA Association of School Committees code of ethics – will continue to bring concerns of community to admin, always available on social media, thinks it’s crucial that we follow open meeting law and public records request.

O’Connell: recommendations about Super’s transparency still stand.

Ramirez: strategic goals, staying on top of it, will bring results

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One thought on “WRRB/Chamber School Committee Forum – 9/21 – Notes

  1. Again, thank you. Did Colorio read all her answers?

    This doesn’t necessarily make me want to abstain for voting for any of them; it’s just depressing. What school do your kids attend?

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