I was only able to attend one hour of this forum as the latter part conflicted with the Research Bureau At-Large City Council candidate forum.
Everyone in attendance but Molly McC (who has a flooded house)
WEC/CPPAC candidate forum – introduced by Jennifer Davis Carey
David LeBoeuf keeping time
Dianna Biancheria – looks at this as a Get Out The Vote effort; talk to your family and friends about voting. Emphasizes security. When she was on the SC for the first time in 2010, had budget of $20,000 in safety; now $100k, plus additional items like doorbells and walkie-talkies. Also, academic excellence. “You will know exactly where I stand on issues.”
Dante Comparetto: business owner; founded Stand Up for Kids Worcester, served on CPPAC, WPL Board, WAC, various school-related boards. Is a father to an 11-year-old daughter. Raised by single mom, homeless as teenager, with right supports he was able to turn his life around, wants to make sure other kids have the opportunities/supports he did. Social/emotional supports, wraparound services. Expand early childhood education programs.
Jack Foley: completing his 18th year on the School Committee. When his children were young, served on PTO, part of successful Prop 2 ½ override in 1991, finally ran for SC in 1999. His work in Main South (working for Clark) has been for those who have not had opportunities/place at the table. Worked to create a lot of small learning communities in high school. Three items: strategic plan, hopes everyone gets involved in process; budget process – foundation budget ($95 million gap); trauma/adverse childhood experiences — effect on students/classroom.
Donna Colorio: as educator at QCC, advocated for lower student/teacher ratio. Opposes excess standardized testing. Started drug task force that has improved drug/alcohol education. Advocated for safety in schools. Been involved in strategic planning for more than a year.
John Monfredo: became SC member after successful 20 years as principal at Belmont St School. Education has been and will continue to be great equalizer. Education needs to be priority in the city. Sees public service as a trust, many parents without a voice in the system. As educator, he knows what works. Last 12 years, has not been shy about advocating for arts, strong curriculum, strengthening schools. Started and collected needed funds for CPR program in middle schools. Honored by American Heart Association for his work. He has been active in community – Worcester The City That Reads and many other activities.
Brian O’Connell: CFO for Haverhill Schools. Visible changes/plans easy to quantify (school renovations). Area of academics less easy to see: need to set more achievable goals. Wraparound services. Students can do better and work harder with this support. Do not underestimate any of 25,000 students. Arts and music programs are growing; language initiatives (including Mandarin); bilingual education; expanded school day and year; public speaking skills; more clubs; PEAK program for gifted students.
Two questions that each candidate must answer.
Q1: Strategic Planning process led by WEC and WRRB – expected to be completed in late February.
O’Connell: use as organic, operative document. Do not lose track of plan over next few years. Two major meetings they have had so far – major interest. Good strategic plan looks at what challenges are, how to address. Focus on facilities & expenditures, also on academics. Need to bring more people into schools to support (non-profits, business partners) – needs to involve the entire community. Need community to play role in the plan.
Monfredo: working on strategic plan has been goal of superintendent since day 1. Embraced strategic plan with community input. No silver bullet in improving student achievement. Pay attention to data, where needs are. School improvement plan. Every teacher should know plan and should be approach. Absenteeism should be addressed; best practices; parent involvement; involvement of colleges and businesses. Foreign language and math. Full-day preschool. Summer of learning activities. Need budget adequately funded every year.
Colorio: has been an active member of the Worcester Strategic Planning Committee . City fortunate to have many partners. Would like to see academic growth in all groups, all schools. Offer proven instructional approaches. Culture where admins/teachers/community groups work together to make Worceter best urban school district in the country.
Foley: strategic planning processes are important; process most important part. Hopefully build common ground and understanding, then plan for how to go forward for next 5-10 years, then accountability. Process is as important as outcome. Hoping that we will see not just what SC will do but what community will do. Most important part of process – build understanding in community about significant gap in funding from the state. If we had those state funds, we could fund myriad programs. Education…then political process. We need to reflect the community’s vision.
Comparetto: excited on strategic planning process. Has concerns about inclusiveness and transparency of the process. Good attendance from non-profits, didn’t see the community fully reflected. Looking forward to working with SC and Superintendent to get more community involvement. Best way to accomplish is with community buy-in. To implement recommendations of the plan, need to advocate for the funding; more than city minimum, improve foundation budget.
Biancheria: community people: neighbors, business owners – reminds her of being district coordinator for WPS. Partners that have a commitment is always a challenge. Need to provide internships for Ch 74 students. Programs for students in summer to visit college campuses. Goals and benchmarks. Plan will always be in process. Need commitment from parents, look at programs that are beneficial for all students. All contingent on how we look at funding.
Q2: Worcester schools compared to those of other Gateway cities, but parents comparing to those of contiguous towns. What do you tell parents?
Biancheria: we have wisely looked at what classroom really needed; items have been listened to by new superintendent. Nelson Place has brought technology to the forefront. As we look to repair schools, need to look at curb appeal. Older buildings is not what some people want – when you walk in doors, welcome. Libraries are open different times of day. Free lunch for every student. Worcester Tech open for Creamer Center students. Expanded Ch 74 courses. Looked at arts, STEM to STEAM.
Comparetto: SC members need to be cheerleaders for the district. We do a lot with a barebones budget. World-class educators turn out students who go to world-class schools. Look at upgrading school facilities.
Foley: 1 – look at opportunities that are abundant at WPS; tremendous opportunities for students and schools; 2 – rankings based on total population; look at where students are going to college; 3 – tuition and dual enrollments at various schools; 4 – your career will be with international workforce; diversity of WPS is great preparation for a successful career
Colorio: when she doorknocks, she tells them that she has taught at QCC, WPS is where she sent her children. She can talk about what Jack said; she told her daughter that diversity in city is one of its gifts. She tells people what she did and was happy with choice. Universal standards like Common Core are in private schools as well.
Monfredo: two children were products of the WPS. We need to market good things taking place in our schools. Work with Chamber of Commerce in making video about schools. Perfect superintendent to move things forward. One of key elements is strategic plan. Middle-school level: give parents reasons why the WPS should be schools of choice. Gamechanger for econ growth in city is public ed.
O’Connell: look at school choice program. Students from outside Worcester choose to come here, for diverse programs, whether AP calculus, lots of languages. Diverse population of students. Opportunity for students to get to know others from different backgrounds. Opportunities to help students with specialized needs. New schools state-of-the art.
Fishbowl questions (taken out of a basket).
Q for Foley: according to DESE, Worcester’s comprehensive district review, SC members make motions that require administrator comment, many motions not aligned with needs/priorities of district?
Foley: he agrees with assessment. Many agenda items could be handled with a phone call. Should be more judicious about recognition in meetings. One topic per meeting or month, reading material given, then we have a longer discussion/conversation about where school department could be going. Can talk amongst themselves and get more feedback from administration. We should take a different look at how meetings should be structured; should be more about strategic direction.
Q for Comparetto: gov of PR expecting exodus to mainland. Worcester likely destination for family of these families. How can WPS welcome and support these families/students?
Comparetto: as student population increases in number & diversity, look at dual language immersion programs. A lot of students from PR may need wraparound services, increase number of wraparound service coordinators. Better communication with families. Make sure schools are welcoming to these families. More ESL programming.