Livable Worcester City Council Candidate Forum notes

The following are my notes from the Livable Worcester candidate forum, which welcomed City Council candidates.

Telegram coverage here.

Highlights:

I really enjoyed this forum; the topics went by smoothly and the choice of John Anderson as a moderator was excellent.  He’s one of the few people who can (mostly) intimidate candidates into keeping to their allotted minute.

There were times when I was distracted by the most amazing candelabra in back of some of the district councilors; it was straight out of Dark Shadows.  I half-expected Barnabas Collins to appear as a D4 candidate.

For a couple of questions, Paul Franco decided to focus on his support of the lowest residential tax rate, at one point being a bit pointed at Matt Wally.  I assume that this will continue at Thursday’s district council debate (7:00pm at Mechanics Hall).  It was completely irrelevant to this forum and frankly was tiresome.  Wally came out the better for it, from where I was sitting.

Moe Bergman made some interesting comments about homeownership versus Section 8 (that is, that we should encourage homeownership versus affordable housing in the form of Section 8) and a few candidates took exception to it.  I would have liked to see more discussion on this (which could not happen due to the format); here’s hoping we may be able to hear more about this in other forums.

And — there were more than a hundred people!  Standing room only!

Event Notes:

Welcomed by Deborah Packard of Preservation Worcester; we’re in the Park View room (bottom floor of the Fire Alarm Building).

Livable Worcester Coalition: MA Audubon, PW, Walk Bike Worcester, Worcester Tree Initiative, GWLT, Jane Jacobs in the Woo (let me know if I missed anyone!)

Paul Dell’Aquila: planning and design concepts – topics represent cross-section of concerns from their groups. Submitted as questionnaire to candidates. They will email responses to attendees.

Moderator: John Anderson

A forum is an occasion for discussing matters of public interest, making Worcester a more livable city. Almost all at-large candidates are in attendance. 9 issues in the list.

He will look for hands/efforts to be recognized, not call on people. Each candidate’s response should be about a minute.

In attendance:
D1: Moynihan, Rose
D3: Asare, Russell
D4: Rivera
D5: Franco, Wally
At large: Bergman, King, Lukes, Petty, Rosen, Straight, Toomey

Please let me know if you need a fuller explanation of the questions; I have them but my fingers are currently tired of typing.  You will note that I am missing a question 7; that was not asked because of time constraints.

1 – Complete Streets question.

Toomey: grateful that mayor appointed her as chair of public safety, before that on public works and an advocate of Complete Streets. Should have walkable, livable city. Number of meetings, manager has just brought a plan going to Public Safety subcommittee, will be pedestrian safety subgroup.

Moynihan: appreciate that Complete Streets has been initiated. As an urban studies prof at Worcester State, bikes, pedestrians need to have safe streets. Use Green Man Plus technology – mobility, visually impaired, elderly to have swipe card to have more time in the crosswalk. Helps traffic flow.

Rosen – Complete Streets policy allows everyone to share the streets. As most of you know, he has spent past 6 months at intersections and streets. Need police enforcement for distracted drivers, people who don’t know light is red, pedestrians texting in the middle of Kelley Square.

Petty: traffic anarchy out there. Complete Streets is important, topography of Worcester makes a good biking program difficult, but we can work on this over time. City has replaced 25,000 trees

Rivera: May 23, petitioned that administration give update about Complete Streets. As chair of public health, they have been discussing this. Accessibility of different modes of transportation, more that we can have pedestrians walking, will improve econ dev.

(Anderson doing an excellent job of keeping folks to 1 minute!)

Wally: too many streets that don’t have sidewalks: Clover, Moreland, Flagg, taking life into their hands. A lot of us have been knocking doors, I don’t think anyone will shed a tear if we get hit, but kids – important to keep them safe.

Franco: as a father of 6 children, have seen what cell phones have done for attentiveness. Driving, walking while texting is dangerous, need education campaign. All of the other items are good, but his

Rose: this is a city of hills and old design. People living in districts are knowledgeable, residents should have a say into how the designs are incorporated. Sidewalks to school not done yet, Millbrook has a sidewalk that stops, bottom of Clark Street does not have a sidewalk. For residents to feel that, must see forest for the trees.

King: challenging in the city for those of us who are able-bodied. If you don’t have those abilities, difficult process. Was able to participate with Comm on Disabilities in wheelchair experience, eye-opening. He almost fell flat on his face. Need to keep those folks in mind.

Bergman: everyone here on board with Complete Streets. Sidewalks safe, streets need to be well-lit, curb cuts. Light sequencing, why can’t this be done here. Variety of ways to make choices better.

Straight: Pedestrian safety and bike safety is a traffic safety problem. A lot of unique things to Worcester that could be adjusted (lane markings through intersections), protecting green (green arrow, but might not understand if new to intersection).

Lukes: has been chair of traffic and parking – that’s when you learn what the neighbors who have to live with problems are concerned about. Cars go too fast in residential neighborhoods (that are not necessarily school zones). Last year, state gave municipalities right to review speed limits down to 20 or 25 mph, she filed in, no one did anything.

Asare: 25 years old, extremely nervous, running against an incumbent who has done a great job, but trying to get the youth involved. Complete Streets needed to be passed a long time ago.

Russell: I’m George Russell, I’m the guy he says is doing a good job. In a perfect world, we’d have Complete Streets, sidewalks on every street. When he was on the Planning Board, they made sure new developments did sidewalks. Hamilton Street, worked with DPW committee to make sure neighbors/businesses. If you put sidewalks on every street, would you take people’s land away? Some places where it is just not practical.

2 – Urban Design Review Committee; do you support, how would you have standards adopted?

Petty: thinks it’s time for a review panel. (Thinks Councilor Lukes filed it last month.) We have seen buildings in the past (St Vincent’s, one big block of brick). Different ways of having this committee. Has to be a balanced approach, don’t want to lose economic development. A lot of investment coming in, want to make sure things are right.

Bergman: can’t have helter-skelter approach and expect downtown to look good. The WRTA building is a terrible look. We can choose to be pickier, not have unattractive buildings next to good older building. We can do better job with design review.

Rosen: was going to mention the same building. Taking down Notre Dame church, thinks it’s terrible. Supports review board, would like to see city departments participate. DPW are not there for design, but they have to contribute much more. Public Health, Public Safety should be working together.

Lukes: glad everybody caught up with me, has been filing this for the last ten years. All she’s going to say because she overspoke next time.

Toomey: don’t need more bureaucracy but definitely need to take the silos down. Very important that public gets access to these plans as soon as they are submitted.

Moynihan: was able to attend an urban design conference via Jane Jacobs in the Woo, a model for urban design. Review is a way to increase value of surrounding properties, has to fit into historical integrity, needs to involve coordination and planning.

King: devil’s always in the details, want to do this in the right way. Design review enhances neighborhoods, not just buildings. Worcester is in a unique place right now for econ dev and interest. Building a consensus.

Asare: agrees with everyone. Engineers and architects – he is an engineer, sees a lot of lawyers at the table, he can bring a lot to help.

Russell: Site plan approval at Planning Board level, PB should be given teeth to review plans/deisgns of buildings. DPW is very involved – Hamilton St was from the engineers at DPW. Right now, exec planning office talks with developers. Washington Sq hotel was bragging about Inspectional Services.
(He tries to speak over a minute, goes on, the crowd is NOT pleased.)

Straight: likes Toomey’s ideas, would like to see crowdsourcing, online feedback from citizens.

Franco: urban design could have saved Notre Dame church. Webster Square – have to allow for some flexibility for neighbors/business to use their own ideas, innovation. Just ironclad rule could stifle creativity and development.

Wally: in favor of design review board. Have to see high expectations, we have to tell them our demands, high expectations.

Rose: urban design guidelines, little accountability about guidelines, if urban design board, there would be some accountability for traffic and other issues. Some incentive to developers for input from residents, other business owners.

3 – Blue Space/Green Space.

Rosen: for last 4 years, chair of Youth, Parks, Rec. Have done so much for parks, at Castle Park recently, which had been deserted/dilapidated for years. Coes Zone (have been involved in), fixed up the beach, the playground is packed.

Petty: we have invested $11 million in the parks last year. We brought someone on to coordinate the blue space. Hadwen Park is on the plan [he mentions kayaks there – my companion and I agree that this sounds crazy]. Crow Hill, Donker Farm. People even comment on how nice the parks are this year.

Rivera: Park Steward program for young people, started as neighborhood effort by Mary Keefe, not continuing strong, amazing residents in Castle Park who were using it, now new and improved. A lot of activity in University Park. Opening for Castle Park, outreach by Casey – partnerships are important.

Rose: efforts to put money into parks has been impressive. Will push for cost-effective programs in parks. Adjunct faculty at trauma center; these parks are opportunity to engage youth, health brain, exec function skills.

King: this is therapeutic, agrees with “Councilor” Rose. Able to get to calming place, helps everyone. Proud of parks program, has run summer league at Crompton for 22 years. Lives next to a park, brings everyone together.

Russell: past pres of Lake Quinsig Watershed Assoc, big promoter of water. Almost all parks/playgrounds in D3 have seen renovations. Proud of CM and programs with Recreation Worcester.

Franco: we do have some nice parks, still no comprehensive maintenance program. Folks that live on Patch Reservoir, Coes Pond, inflated assessments those folks have with no maintenance. Logan Field has divots, needs major renovations, need to maintain what we have.

Bergman: if you are affluent and live near a park, your property value goes up; if you are not affluent, you need a park. Parks Dept combined with DPW, now they are separate. Need to address problems earlier on. Give them some autonomy.

Toomey: has spent close to two decades supporting and advocating for parks. Calls out Dottie Hargrove. Seven year action plan, econ dev impact. Strength of public-private partnerships. Incredible beaches to sell Worcester.

Moynihan: Beth Proko and efforts to improve Indian Lake, has helped with that. Maintenance plan, bring back park rangers, get rid of trash. Roberto Clemente field needs a master plan.

Asare: not enough soccer fields. Someone shows up with a permit when he’s playing.

Lukes: sometimes we have to look at the vision of the city. She’s seen large projects forgotten or ignored. When Med City went up, she suggested that it was a good time to look at what Providence did and get it as a tourist attraction [we think she might be talking about canal?]. Green Hill Park has a failing golf course.

Wally: one of the benefits of Worcester is number of nonprofits: CDCs, Park Spirit, GWLT, etc., work with mission-oriented organizations to collaborate, meet our goals.

Straight: increased focus of maintenance around the entire city. Weeds taller than a person, trash stuck in the weeds.

4 – enhancing livability/affordability for entrepreneurs, students, immigrants, artists

Straight: about 14-16% affordable housing, above state mandated min, should increase to 20%, a lot of cities don’t have enough affordable housing for these people.

Wally: when you look at the perfect model of affordable housing, it’s 3 decker. Promote affordability of 3 deckers for new immigrants. Promote home ownership.

Bergman: agrees with Wally, what drives success is disposable income + leveraging home ownership. Giving more Section 8 vouchers promotes poverty. We need to help people buy homes, always a percentage of people who can’t, but we should help people buy homes.

Franco: maintaining current tax rate is the #1 thing for affordability. If you want immigrants, new buyers, have to have a low tax rate. He’s the only one supporting this – hopes the press is here to report that.

Moynihan: from aspect of artistic community, need live/work spaces. Save historic properties, repurpose as artist live/work spaces. If an artist can live/work in same space, have saved on rent. Perhaps if we had had some foresight, Notre Dame could have been one of those spaces.

King: inclusive redevelopment. We are in the midst of downtown renaissance but have to focus everywhere. Need to maintain supply of affordable housing. Doesn’t believe Section 8 perpetuates poverty, has helped family get out of poverty. We as Council have to support increasing the minimum wage.

Petty: neighborhood corporations, Nacker (?) do this. Affordable housing means a lot of things, not just Section 8. As we looked at the issue with Puerto Rico, we don’t have affordable housing here to bring people.

Rivera: negative narrative regarding burden immigrants put on the tax base, myth of affordable housing. Enhance livable wage, wage staff, spaces that support business incubators, Worcester World Cup.

Toomey: we have a lot of elderly folks who haven’t been renting out the other floors of their three deckers. Firemen, police officers, etc, could buy these. Workforce housing is truly the issue. Teacher housing to get people to stay.

Rosen: get immigrants involved in community. Mentions dog parks and Hadwen Park. Welcome people to the city, we need their help.

5 – Nodes/ corridors of activity. How would you link these to activity in downtown?

Bergman: I wouldn’t. They’re unique, they’re not downtown. Businesses that thrive in his neighborhood are of that neighborhood. Encourage home ownership in those nodes. Sometimes capitalism works and if you tinker with it, it doesn’t. They have grown successful through capitalism and recommends we leave them alone.

Wally: Menino had started Boston Main Streets program to help commercial corridors. (Park Ave, Webster Sq, Mill Street) could emulate something similar here.

Moynihan: echoes Bergman’s sentiments. Look at W Boylston St corridor, what can we do to invest there. Putting splash park where there used to be a pool, then work on pedestrian safety and traffic in that corridor for people who live in the neighborhood.

Rose: Nodes – he thinks of shopping malls. Not every node has its specialty or “thing” – help nodes come up with their specialty. Bus ridership is down, no way to get to different places with the bus.

Toomey: wayfinding plan has been modified, links other parts of the city to downtown. There are individual neighborhoods that should be individual. People should be educated to get out of their own spaces. Challenge college students to create an app to find out what’s going on in the city.

Rivera: has been advocating for connectability of downtown to Elm Park. Segue to airport/JetBlue. Moving out of comfort zone to mom-and-pop restaurants in Main South.

Lukes: in 1984, had charter reform, provision for neighborhood councils to empower neighbors. Never happened, probably because more grassroots groups organized. People in neighborhoods started looking for solutions, inspectional services, police officers, other invited…sometimes gov’t can’t force a solution.

Russell: met with WRTA manager and Deb Cary to try to get a reroute for kids to be able to get to Broad Meadow Brook. All city residents can walk the trails for free, but if you don’t have a car, you can’t get there. Also advocated for bus stop at front of Imperial Distributors because people who work there need a ride there.

Rosen: at Webster Square, we’ve had meetings to make it a destination/popular area. Huge turnouts of businesses, non-profits, residents. Working on master plan, doesn’t address downtown.

Franco: our campaign about putting neighborhoods first. Unlike his opponent, against raising the residential rate. Keep the residential rate the same, [keep not answering the question]

Wally: we didn’t want to take from anyone here, Thursday night another forum for district candidates, will honor spirit of forum and not get into individual argument. Franco gets grumpy. DRAMA AT THE FORUM!!!

King: need to be pedestrian friendly, transit oriented, mentions the Big D on Mill Street, ask the neighbors, move forward.

6 – encouraging rehab/reuse of buildings, infrastructure throughout the city.

Petty: some failures (Notre Dame church), would be great to have a fund to purchase the buildings, Community Preservation Act like Springfield and Boston. These are all important issues. Has to be passed by residents of Worcester through a ballot initiative.

Moynihan: what happened at Notre Dame was a tragedy, need to do more planning, work with PW and others, look at how to effectively repurpose them. Might have to adjust zoning in certain areas. Entrepreneurs are already doing this. Key is planning, can’t rely on prayer.

Toomey: use data and statistics: Older, Smaller, Better: this is one of the things they do. We need to see the beauty of the architecture, be open to creating new space.

Bergman: one of the things that happens when a developer comes in is that it’s easier for them to tear down and build new, we need to give them second thoughts, successful design review will integrate existing building with new uses.

Russell: City of Worcester charged people with “sewer connection fee” to convert a building to restaurant, food services, he changed that to raise threshold so that most who are converting for new use will not pay that fee.

Rose: one of issues with the building he works in, doesn’t have good internet connectivity. Building owners need help with connection to fiber optic. Incentivize.

Straight: short term tax incentives for developers, homeowners.

Wally: need to tell our story. There are developers who want to develop – but they may not know that there are buildings to develop (example of courthouse).

Franco: would like to spearhead development of various vacant properties in D5.

Lukes: authored the one-year demolition delay ordinance. Money is the driving force here. If we are serious about saving buildings, must have local incentive for architectural design, part of process for negotiating, outside the TIF process.

Rosen: Franco mentioned Diamond, Krock property on Park Ave, Big D on Mill Street. City has no $ to take by eminent domain. We don’t want to own the properties, we don’t want to inherit issues we can’t afford.

8 – increased citizen participating in master planning process

Toomey: surprised that not all these meetings are being videotaped. Not everyone can go to city hall, but we can bring CH to community.

Lukes: they had posted questions on website, limited success. We have been pretty good in making info available to public. If not as responsive as we should be, she wants to know about it. The question on Open Space and Rec reminded her of the program, thanks whoever wrote the question.

Bergman: new website will make things better, need other languages represented on the website. One area weak on: tree removal (without notifying neighbors). Argument – apathy begins in schools, need to engage children at a young age.

Franco: texting, twitter, facebook can be used to spread the word. Even folks who are not involved in social media, we still have robocalls. Robocall technology could be used more.

Moynihan: vital that we reach out to every community – the plan will not work if we do not reach out. Council needs to be the people to listen and bring people into the planning process.

Petty: people need to be notified when there is a project. (DPW projects) We do have Alert Worcester that notifies people of projects in their neighborhood.

Rivera: in her district, there were some issues with tree removal. Came back with report – conversation has continued to happen. When construction is happening, need to continue to support mom-and-pop businesses.

10 – Open Space and Rec Plan – what goal is most important and why?

Lukes: enhancing natural resources. When she was mayor, leaking gas lines destroying shade trees. Just learned that there are still 900 leaking gas lines, need to recover trees. Deal with garbage and dumping in the city. Ban plastic bags, has supported and wanted this in the past.

Rosen: biggest need is rectangular fields, many more youth playing field hockey, rugby, soccer.

Petty: improving public access to water resources. Mentions various ponds. Supports Green Hill Park golf course, not failing whatsoever.

Moynihan: has talked a lot on his Facebook page about this. Promote community gardens, where we have a chance, promotes open space and provides food to community. Food deserts are a growing problem. Worcester is no different than other cities where there is a lack of fresh food.

Rose: over 50% of WPS are considered economically disadvantaged. Need to work recreationally in our parks, between 3-6 pm, affordable programs for families, asking teachers to do more with less, need to bridge gaps. This summer space between when school ended and summer programs begin. Had basketball program this summer.

Toomey: need to do overview of the whole plan. Evaluate new open space opportunities for the future.

Wally: upgrade park and open space maintenance. No reason we can’t have the best urban park system in the country. Public/private partnerships. Commerce Park Field, other opportunities for partnerships. Deferred maintenance will cost more in the long run.

Rivera: Castle Park worked with senior facility next door. Connecting and supporting community garden. Support programs like Recreation Worcester and park stewards.

King: new open space opportunities. Access to water resources. Critical life skills on how to use blue spaces. We lost our pools, need kids to learn how to swim and take lifesaving courses. Need to use those resources smartly. We have young folks who need things to do.

Franco: can’t believe it, but agrees with Wally. We don’t have a comprehensive plan for maintaining the parks. Logan really needs an upgrade. If we don’t maintain parks, won’t be used, become urban blight.

Straight: Matt Wally hit nail on head. Access to waterways, these are clean, not pumping sewage into Lake Quinsigamond.

Closing Statements – I didn’t record these as my fingers were giving out!

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.)