School Committee Candidate Forum (Research Bureau/Chamber/T&G)

Update – Telegram coverage here.

As often happens at these events, when it began, there were 40ish people, and I’d guess 60-65 were in attendance at the height.

I am not familiar with all of the buzzwords/topics discussed here so feel free to comment if there are any corrections/amplifications.  What follows are my notes…

 

Tim Murray welcomes attendees to SC debate

Electeds here: Tony E, Mayor Petty, Konnie L.

21 questions, 1 minute initial candidate response, 4 30-sec responses, 15 second rebuttal.  The questions are given by Jennifer Davis Carey; Luis Pedraja, the new president of QCC; and a gentleman from CPPAC whose name I didn’t catch.

 

Opening Statements

 

Dianna Biancheria – public schools are the city’s most important resource.  Need to be competitive, prepare students for future, expand beneficial opportunities for all students.  Expand school safety, academic excellence, AP course expansion, community partnerships.  Job readiness, alternative programs, preparing kids for work.

Donna Colorio – adjunct psych/soc prof at QCC for over 20 years, MTA member, lifelong resident of Worcester.  Three children who attended WPS.  Believes we have made progress, but a long way to go.  WPS should be a better system/district.  In 2012, she visited all schools in first 100 days.  Knocking doors, asking folks what they want in the schools.

Dante Comparetto – Humbling experience at his first debate, father, founded a couple of non-profits, served on some boards.  Raised by single mother, homeless as teenager, almost killed at 17, with help he turned his life around.  Wants to advocate for high-needs learners, more wraparound, safe and healthy schools, phys ed, health, everyone should have access to quality public education.  Need more real ed advocates on the SC.

[Lots of Comparetto supporters in attendance]

Jack Foley – Elections matter.  Has had the privilege of serving for past 18 years, first kid attended K 28 years ago.  At Clark, have created some of the best ed opportunities in the country.  His role has been to raise educational challenges.  Build leadership in the school, ID strong principals as leaders, engage teachers in strategic planning at schools.  Next few years are critical for Worcester, need to be sure that good public schools are great public schools.  Greatest challenge/opportunity – work at state level on foundation budget for correct funding for WPS.

Molly McCullough – lifelong resident of Worcester, daughter of career-long WPS educator.  As citizens, we should all be concerned about success of WPS.  Focus on superb public ed, public schools continue to be a source of pride.  People should vote for candidates who have knowledge and experience.  As member of SC, will continue to advocate for ed opportunities for all students.  Greatest learning opportunities and support for all.

John Monfredo – Public service has always been part of his life.  When he retired (as teacher/principal), ran for SC.  Every decision on what is in the best interests of the students.  Never been afraid to tackle tough problems.  Most passionate about ed.  Children make up 30% of population but 100% of our future.  Parents are children’s first educators, need to advocate for them.  Education is greatest antipoverty tool, Worcester the City that Reads program.  Focus on community involvement, continues to bring understanding of schools, putting children first, etc.

Brian O’Connell – Has served with a number of people on SC, works for Hingham PS as a CFO.  Next three years will be watershed time for Worcester Public Schools, quality staff, 2500 resumes of new employees, parents who are moving into the city, businesses contacting the SC to see what they can do to help.  10-15 areas that need to be worked on: foundation budget, strategic plan (too much for me to type)

 

Jennifer Davis Carey, question to Monfredo: Many have said that Ch 70 program is flawed.  What factors should be considered in establishing an acceptable foundation budget?

Monfredo: Inflation factor creates a shortfall.  Achievement gap has a lot to do with spending.  Low spending, low achievement.  Work with other district to bring back McDuffy and (?) decision.  City management has been great to work with.

Response 1: Biancheria – when you look at what we have for revenue in schools, would like to give appreciation to CM, Mayor, Super.  Funding from the state needs to be worked on.  Accomplishments can only be worked on with legislative team on board.  We can only hope their voices are heard.

R2: Comparetto – need advocates on SC that will do this work, he has worked on No on 2 campaign, knows how to lobby the state house.  Pass fair share amendment.

R3: O’Connell – 6 particular areas in foundation budget, state is not following constitutional obligation: Health insurance, special ed, English Language Learners, low income students, inflation factors

Monfredo, rebuttal – we need to advocate for strong budget with legislators.

 

Question 2, to Donna Colorio: over years, WPS has explored many ways to support advanced students.  AB Capstone initiative, some other name checks.  How to support high achieving students?

Colorio: Give them a reason to come to school.  We have to engage gifted students.  With academies, it creates a buzz, they were able to be challenged within the school.  Believes we have to raise the bar for all students.  Create curriculum that engages our kids, finances to supplement, partners in community to help.

Response 1: Comparetto: will make sure that we are making this access available to all students.

R2: Foley: create learning communities, capstone projects, so that students are getting accelerated programs.  Enrollment with higher ed partners.

R3: Monfredo: next step is AP Capstone program.  Most of any district in MA.  Helps students stand out in college admission process.  AP Seminar, AP Research.

Colorio, rebuttal – we have lost a lot of these students to private and out of district.

 

 

Question 3, to McCullough – people of color account for 70% of student body, 30% speaking something other than English as first language, how should school hire/develop more diverse workforce?

McCullough: programs such as dimensions of learning, TESA, and others, have introduced teachers to social differences and helped them appreciate/understand differences.  Fortunately, many of texts and ancillary materials have helped with these as well.  As far as hiring, always hire most qualified candidates for job.

Foley: cultural competence, teachers should understand students’ backgrounds.  Need to build next generations of teachers, esp at the hs/college level, hard to find students of color who are pursuing teaching as a career, need to find leaders and teachers who reflect.

O’Connell: two-way bilingual program has been very successful, to get kids to know one another.  Title III ELL grants should be expanded, Harvard University’s Coop program.

Colorio: we did add 19 additional teachers for English Language Arts this year.  Reducing class size is important for all students, including ELLs.  We have become a diverse community – need to educate our teachers who are not social workers.

McCullough – ESL classes for families, increase dual language program.

 

Q4: Level 3 schools – what would you advocate to stabilize these schools?

Biancheria: when we look at the next few years, the funding will be determined by the level of the schools.  As it stands now, the Super is focusing on schools who are a level 3, look at accountability reports, have discussions with particular schools that may need additional help/programs.

O’Connell: reach out to colleges/businesses for help, reach out to parents, strong principal with high guidelines, aggressive school councils, excellent teachers

Monfredo: 11 conditions for school effectiveness.  All of these should be part of level 3 schools.  High-stakes testing should not be emphasized.

McCullough – level 4 indicates that all students are not proficient over a number of years.  Incumbent on us to get students at least to level of efficiency.  Roll out AVID program, make sure all are reading on grade level.

Biancheria – district is accountable.  Level 4 doesn’t mean across the board they are not doing well, need to look at areas for improvements.

 

 

Q5: Wraparound services, what steps should WPS take to improve family engagement and student services?

Comparetto: current approach is inadequate.  Having 15 kids is a lot.  One wraparound coordinator for 300 kids is not good.  Since many kids have background in trauma, need to support them.  Communicate to parents in native language.  WPS need to be more welcoming to new families.

Monfredo: children with engaged parents are more likely to succeed.  Parents are the consumer, schools need to be parent-friendly.

Colorio: as a past psychotherapist, most of trauma is due to alcohol and drug addiction.  Need to educate students on this to empower them.

Biancheria: need to continue to look at education as holistic piece.  Constituents: washing machines coming to school can make a big difference in someone’s life.  Small pieces to help.

Comparetto: provide quality education to all students.  Give them support through social/wraparound services.

Q6: School safety, elevated, school resource officers expanding.  Is WPS addressing school safety?

Foley: they are safe now, they were safe two years ago, and when his kids were in school.  Some of this is public perception.  Hiring police officers and building relationships as another adult to support students and family.

Colorio: perception is everything.  When she was campaigning last time, schools were not perceived as safe, now they are on the right track.  Students are starting to feel better about coming to school.

McCullough: there were some perception issues in the campaign two years ago, continue to look at the safety of schools.  Agrees with Foley.

Comparetto: while schools are getting safer, there are a lot of educators who feel unsafe.  If a kid is acting up at school, something is going on at home.  A lot of issues are better dealt with socially.

Foley: declines further comment.

 

Q7: recent review by MA gov’t’l organization, the SC was criticized for too many legislative motions.

O’Connell: we set policy, hire, review Super, need to take active role in setting budget priorities, obligation to consult with superintendent.  Handle collective bargaining with administration.

McCullough: started to have a more streamlined agenda, believes it is job to support super in her agenda items, need to make sure the agenda items are not something that can be handled with phone call or email.

Biancheria: we are the voice of the constituents.  Elected, not appointed. We are able to put items on the agenda.  185,000 residents expect us to be a voice.

Foley: looking at steps to take for consent agendas for quick items, would like agendas to focus on strategic items and thrashing out issues that require a lot of discussion.

O’Connell – not interested in making agenda shorter, doesn’t like consent agenda to hide items from constituents.

Q8: WPS has increased emergency removals, esp among certain population.  How to handle disruptive students?

Monfredo: 2fold increase of dropout for students who are suspended just once in 9th grade.  In the past, many suspensions have been for minor infractions.  New research shows disengagement for kids who have hard suspensions. In-house programs are better.

Foley: top priority to look at this, impact of suspensions.  Starting to look at this, but we need to do a lot more, incl in staff development.  Lessons learned from Meers Grant (sp?), welcoming school env

Colorio: mixed because teachers are dealing with a lot in the classroom.  One disruptive kid sets tone for whole classroom, would like expansion of alternative program and drug programs.

McCullough: CH 222 didn’t give appropriate tools for educators/administrators.  What is causing problems, causing social/emotional learning impact?  For those that are truly disruptive, look at alternative programs.

Monfredo: Positive Behavior Systems, use commonsense approach for suspension.

 

Q9: what can be done to ensure that principals can hold poor performing teachers, reward high performing teachers, then student outcomes in teacher assessment?

Colorio: administration goes into schools and evaluate best practices, very important for consistency in the district.  We want people to choose Worcester as a district, not just certain schools.  Trying to go to progress in all schools.

O’Connell: principals do have authority to hire own staff.  Challenge comes with transferring between schools.  We often see very inflated evaluations.

McCullough: principal has moral obligation for student access…90 day trial period for teacher is often not sufficient to determine if the teacher is effective.  Targeted prof dev is good, but principals should have more say.

Biancheria: evaluations are done in-house, need additional feedback before we have more conditions.  Teachers may not be effective in particular classroom.  Need to look at best practices for prof dev.

 

Q10: Public ed good for econ vitality.  What role do you see WPS playing in city’s econ dev strategy?

McCullough: feels school system has a place, best public education system will help students take on jobs city needs.  So many wonderful opportunities, need students to be prepared.

Comparetto: education should be at the forefront of any econ dev policy.  Need advocates on SC for more than 5% of foundation formula, need to lobby the legislature

Biancheria: tell our story.  Teachers need to tell their story every day in our community.  Work with realtors, more press releases that are positive.  All our successes should be spoken about, competitions should be aired continuously.

Monfredo: When people move, first thing they want to know is about the school system.  Schools can’t do it alone, need advocates in community.

 

Q11: Educators/experts have raised concerns about testing, moratorium on high-stakes standardized tests.  Do we have too much testing?

Biancheria: testing is part of education, how we rate, who is accountable, comes into consideration.  We need to review what the dept of ed requires of us.  One performance is not what matters in a school.

Colorio: no secret that I am not a fan of high-stakes testing.  Testified in numerous places, advocated for not taking the MCAS test, because parents should have right to opt the kids out.  Less of an emphasis, we only tested certain grades, we should go back to limited testing.  Teachers are feeling forced to teach to the test.

Foley: standardized testing here to stay, supports when it is used to support teachers in evaluating students.  Measuring different cohorts of students is concerning.  MCAS to PARCC, MCAS2.0, how can you measure growth and success when looking at different tests.

Comparetto: need to stop teaching to test and teach to the child.  We don’t get enough arts, phys ed, history, civics, due to teaching to the test.

Biancheria: would like to see funding for classroom and not testing

 

Q12: Worcester Tech, how can WPS leverage to increase work readiness at the comprehensive high schools?

Comparetto: lots of students applying to go to the school, not all getting in, so need voke ed in other high schools.  Ask partners for help in programming at other schools.  Emphasizes arts, etc.

McCullough: we need all students to have access to voke/tech program.  Imagining tech at North, Automotive at Burncoat, etc.  Ch 74 funding, mutually beneficial community partnerships.

O’Connell: Tech HS has a trust, involved business community in the schools, each school is capable of replicating

Foley: use folks at Tech HS to assist other high schools, use the school to make it a 16 hour day, provide additional course offerings for students around the city.

Comparetto: only candidate with experience in partnerships with businesses, parents, and looks forward to expanding the program.

 

Q13: forum with valedictorians, they mentioned lack of cross-cultural relationships, how can we improve this?

Foley: expand dual language programs.  would like to see greater cultural awareness, all students should understand the background of other students.

Biancheria: We become so focused on academic piece that we don’t look at what benefits are of the backgrounds of others.  We need to begin those conversations.

Monfredo: training on diversity should always be part of prof dev.  School events.

O’Connell: ?? program has been good at bringing students together, sports, cultural assemblies, dinners featuring ethnic food.

Foley: needs to start at elementary school level, students should feel part of the school at a young age.

 

Q14: US Dept of Ed encouraging school choice.  What can WPS do to make them attractive when compared to school choice, private, charters?

O’Connell: levels of skills and expertise for special ed that many school systems can’t, range of coueses that are available that other schools can’t match, if we publicize, can expand (currently $500k in school choice)

Monfredo: 9 innovation schools have been successful, charterlike autonomy.  Many opportunities can be achieved with this model.

Comparetto: school buildings are aging, serious health concerns, part of parental decision, investments in buildings and technology.  Tell our story better, need SC members who will be cheerleaders for the system

Colorio: transparency is good, let the best things we are doing be publicized.  Great results speak for themselves, word of mouth is best.

O’Connell: K-8 at elementary level, 6-12 program for associates degree, Doherty satellite, programs for gifted children.

 

Q15: Worcester struggles with voter turnout.  What role do schools play, how to put civic engagement in schools?

Monfredo: need to address as a system but also statewide.  Children need to know importance of being part of community, voting, community service/

O’Connell: Legislation about civics ed would help but is not all.  Monitoring elections, mock elections, etc., are good, but need more students involved.

McCullough: need to incorporate civics lessons in schools.  Has opportunity to look at April vacation city clerk program, looked at being active member of community.

Biancheria: engage parents, that will engage students and siblings.  More afterschool programs.  Looking for community service factor.  Do have voting coming up in our schools.  Hoping to build on each year.

 

Q16: WPS is one of largest corporate entities in Worcester.  Responsible for $380mil, 3900 staff, 25,000 students.  How to approach operational aspects, areas for improvement…

Colorio: budget to work within.  Not a lot of discretionary funding or wiggle room.  Consolidate some of administrative functions with City of Worcester that are duplicated.  Save some $$ on administrative costs.

Monfredo: Nelson Place was priority, then South and Doherty.  Fortunate to have Mass Building Auth funding

Biancheria: hard to estimate what/where because of long list of items that need to be done.  Boilers, windows, sidewalk repair are prioritized.  Has suggested on more than on occasion to combine law office with city law to not use outside consultants.

Comparetto: state of school buildings, need capital improvement plan.  Funding is essential.

 

Q17: WPS manage 62 buildings, 2.3 million sq feet on 400 acres, 11 buildings prior to 1900, only 5 built/renovated in last 15.  $3 million/year renovation.  How to increase funding for capital projects?

McCullough: improvements are made on priority basis, so much tied into what we need, esp tied into foundation budget.

Colorio: a lot of buildings that may need some work.  Noticed that schools are different.  Some schools where windows didn’t open.  Some schools in better condition than others.  So many buildings reviewed every year by the state.

Monfredo: every year four schools go through MA school building authority review.  Curbside appeal, inside improvements.

Foley: not enough $ to maintain buildings.  Have been able to leverage the $3 million/year to $12 million through state funding.  Strategic funding for where to invest $ going forward and to be able to justify funding from the state.

McCullough: custodians need appropriate training and resources, proactive with preventive maintenance.

 

Q18: many schools use online tools to keep parents informed, commonwealth moving to e platforms for testing.  How should WPS incorporate technology?

Biancheria: regardless of career, you need technology.  We are looking at all of the tools that will be necessary for students to be successful.  Laptops, online courses, digital projectors, growing industry, STEM ed is putting this forward.  Some of tools we need, but need additional tools.

McCullough: internet = technology, have become dependent on it, students need access.  They need computer skills that will help in every endeavor.  Continue to work for additional funding.

Comparetto: fully resourced 21st century classroom, libraries with 3D printers and makerspaces.  Online classes to be done at home, evidence just isn’t there – might work for some kids, but most need structure of classroom.

O’Connell: Category 2 funds, we need to look at 10 year plan for internet connectivity.  Need more wireless, and highspeed, connections.

Biancheria: robotics program has expanded –millions of $$ will be available from feds for STEM.

 

Q19: recent report highlighted chronic absenteeism.  17% of students absent for at least 10% of school year.

Comparetto: key is wraparound services.  Poverty is a major issue.  If they are not coming to school, something is going on at home.  There could be real issues that are best dealt with by social workers or wraparound services.

Biancheria: report specific for each student, will be calling parents, if you are not in classroom, we need to know why.  New super and SC have discussed numerous times.  We are taking a holistic view, we need funding.

Foley: starts with connections to families and students, need to be in school and they are welcome/supported in school.  Engaged principals know what is happening with students & home, have to take hard look at what is impacting families and why students are not coming to schools.

Monfredo: students will be identifies, progress report will go home to parents, program to encourage/inform parents.  Can’t just have program about why they should be in school, must be more comprehensive.

 

Q20: innovation school.   Worcester has implemented in a handful of schools.  Should this be replicated throughout the system?

Foley: look at success of level 4 and innovation schools.  Principals have toughest job in district – held accountable, but can’t always choose who works with them.  Principals can create team within these schools, really taking team approach with teachers to decide on new team members.  Ownership of success of all kids in the school.

Comparetto: we have pretty good examples of great schools in the district.  WAMS incorporates all subjects, engage parents, these are all best practices urban school districts use to improve student outcomes.

O’Connell: principals can reach out to parents, apply resources well, have extended day.  Prof dev focused on specific teachers, collegial approach.  All of those work in collaborative approach.

Colorio: served on turnaround school at Burncoat, people collectively made a commitment to make it the best school.  Look at best practices, key is commitment level of all partners.

Foley: have created team in innovation schools that have allowed them to attract new teachers who want to work at the school.

 

Q21: Worcester community has public/private collaboration for strategic plan.

O’Connell: look at what school system should look like in 5 years, 10 years.  What programs/resources needed, empower people to b einvolved in WPS.  Steady and ordered approach to progress.

Foley: has to do his homework tonight for tomorrow’s meeting on strategic plan.  We are underfunded from state, crippling ability to compete with suburban districts around us.

Colorio: active member of Worcester Strategic Advisory?? Committee, likes strategic planning.  Some of challenges are establishing priorities.  Would like to see growth in all groups, give students a reason to go to school, everyone works together, make it best urban district in the nation.

McCullough: thoughtful process for all stakeholders … [Sorry kids, I’m losing it on the last question]

Transportation should be provided, diverse membership

 

(I’ll skip the one-minute closing statement – as nothing can get me to write any more after 1.75 hours of typing.)

 

 

 

 

 

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