School Committee Candidate Forum – with cookies!

I’ll liveblog the SC candidate forum for as long as my battery holds out!  Also, they have COOKIES!!!

At least 50 people in attendance as of 6:00pm.

Advisory Committee on the Status of Women – greeted by the co-chair of the committee, thanks to the other sponsors (I’ll try to scan the handout when I get home)

(Lots more people now — nice turnout)

Opening statements – I will only type items of interest

Dianna Biancheria: city depends on school committee members.  public schools are most important public resource.  She will ensure accountability, parents and students demand safe learning and teaching environment.  She lists her many qualifications.

Mariah Martinez: recently a lack of unity within the community.  school committee and community has a disconnect.  Parents, students, teachers need to be heard.  She is a recent product of the WPS.  Two top priorities: real-world curriculum (financial literacy, world civics, sex ed); improve communication between SC and the community.  Everyone needs to be heard.

Molly McCullough: very involved in the community, looking for her third term.  Her mother was an educator in the WPS.  Needs of students are greater than ever.  Need to follow strategic plan as intended.  It is our roadmap and can achieve many wonderful things through it.  Enhance acad and voke offerings, increase diversity in staff, alternatives to suspensions, increase tech curriculum, etc.

John Trobaugh: has two boys in the WPS and is a dad who cares.  All of our children deserve right to fair and equitable education.  Dissatisfaction with SC and how it works with each other and the community.  He has an MFA – product of public schools, became an EMT in high school, now works at UMMS in the office of diversity and inclusion.  SC could use someone who can see things through the lens of diversity.  Students need to be prepared for everyday jobs as well as for college.

Hermorne McConner: retired schoolteacher.  She is no longer proud to say she is a retired Worcester schoolteacher.  Hoping to make a change in special ed and cultural climate.  She understands how students develop.  First priority: special ed and getting students what they need in timely fashion.  Second: team with administrators, teachers, family for student success.

Jermoh Kamara: one person but represents all students in the WPS.  She came here from Liberia at age 11.  Her education has not been great – was kicked out of program, never called on by teacher, bullied as a student.  This could have held her back, but she changed the direction of her educational career.  She runs because it is personal to her.  Hurts that adults stand in the way of students’ potential.  Background in public health.

Laura Clancey: remained in Worcester after growing up here.  WPS parent perspective is missing from the SC.  Communication breakdowns between school system and parents/family.  Nelson Place PTO president for four years.  She has experience as ESL and GED teacher, licensed guidance counselor, currently counselor for DYS.  More vocational funding for students.

Cara Berg-Powers: grew up in Main South, graduated from WPS.  Parent, educator, alum of WPS.  Because of the opportunities she had, went to Clark for free and then got her doctorate.  She does not know if that opportunity would be possible today.  If her daughter is not getting the same opportunities Cara had, how many other kids have this experience?  Parents and educators who have experience should be serving on WPS.  There’s a real disconnect between people’s lived experience and what looks good on paper.

John Monfredo: upon retiring, became SC member.  He was a principal.  You all know what he’s going to say.   Education is a great anti-poverty tool.  Work ethic to get the job done.  Advocate for change.

Brian O’Connell: You probably know what he’s going to say, too.  We’re at a watershed time: stark choice to be adequate or state-of-the-art.  Two issues: equal ed opportunity to every student; strategic plan.  Work aggressively to bring diversity to the school system.  (You all know what I’m going to say, too, I think.)

Jack Foley: His engagement with WPS began when his three children attended schools.  Issues/priorities: funding (led educational and advocacy efforts for proper state funding; need to keep the pressure on even if it means legal action); data and trends need to be used to allocate budget dollars; SC that engages in strategic discussions and transparency (no inappropriate private discussions, bad bidding practices).

Tracy O’Connell Novick: certified MA school business manager as well as parent of 2 current & 1 graduate of WPS.  She knows what works, sees what works in other places…and then sees what happens in Worcester.  not about equality – it’s about equity.  Evaluate super, set goals that are spoken about at every meeting, pay attention to students (majority of whom are not English lang speakers).  Two issues: you’re not talking to parents and students, and SC is not listening.

Chantel Bethea: respect and listening.  Mother of three current WPS students.  (I will not be able to transcribe the experience of listening to her.)  She is tired because transparency does not happen in the city of Worcester.  Sex ed is why she is running.  Current SC needs to educate and then step back.  Cannot be as effective as you started twenty years ago.  Black mother that knows how to budget, rob Peter to pay Paul.  Accountability, responsibility, transparency.

Question 1: Do you believe WPS curriculum is inclusive of all women’s history?  If not, what will you do?

Chantel B: Advocate for change at state level.  More women than Shirley Chisholm and Harriet Tubman.  Give teachers room to be creative.  Parents are the first educators, teachers are the second.

Tracy: State adopted new history guidelines last June; has not seen any district-level work on this.  At the state, they are emphasizing local leadership and primary sources.  The standards include more native, Latino, black voices – that has happened at the state level, yet to see it in Worcester.

Jack: additional funding from state could have women’s/gender students at HS.  Believer in storytelling.  Incorporate legends of local pioneers (Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, etc.) who led the women’s rights movement.

Brian: models of some other states are ahead of us.  Still have option to have our own local focus.

Question 2: WPS currently lacks sex ed curriculum.  What are your plans for sex ed that is LGBTQIA inclusive?

John M: issue that needs to be addressed.  Problem with sexually transmitted diseases.  Once they hear from the state, we can move forward.  This year health educators will continue to get training.  Grades 7-8 need expanding.  10 week course for grade 9-10.

Cara: As a parent, core issue as a parent and as a childhood survivor of sexual assault.  Endorsed by Planned Parenthood because of support for comprehensive sex ed.  Curriculum proposed in spring was dangerously inadequate.  If she had had that when she was 10, she would not have told her mother about her assault.

Laura: Need curriculum that represents diverse population.  Choose curriculum that helps students – we are working from frameworks from 1999.  We need to sit together openly as a community to find curriculum that works best for students of Worcester.

Jermoh: Even folks that oppose curriculum want it.  She will use her expertise to select curriculum that is based on best practices.  CDC already has a tool to help – National Health standards, National Health Sexuality Ed standards.

Q3: What will you do to help students identified as special needs, specifically those with behavioral issues?

Hermorne: change how we implement special ed services.  Teacher in classroom is important in documenting what she sees, let parent know, finding out what parent sees at home.  When that happens, meet with principal, who then meets with school psych, adjustment counselors, etc.  Informal observation.  SSP is so wrong.

John T: What’s happening is that we are only using part of resources.  School clinicians only at Forest Grove half-time.  Kids with behavioral issues: if kids get support like school psychologists, that makes a difference, not resource officers.

Molly: committed special ed teachers, but need to explore ways to enhance.  To help students with special needs, enhance specialized offerings (autism, reading issues).  Alternatives to suspension – needs to be expanded.

Mariah: teachers need to be properly trained.  Children with behavioral issues are misunderstood, need special curriculum.

Dianna: schools have obligation to educate students, and need to record and review and ensure that they are then able to go out successfully into the world.  Students with disabilities have higher rate of peer harassment.  There will be new programs on board.

Q4: Do you support creation of the diversity and equal opportunity officer position?

Mariah: Worcester has a lot of diversity.  If it is an officer and it works, she supports it.  If it doesn’t work, she doesn’t.

Jermoh: I am confused by her response.  I think she wants it.  Family engagement is important.  Racism has taken many refined forms.  In order to address racism, need to measure it.

Brian: Strongly supports the position.  Needs position added – add $500k to budget for the person to travel (for recruitment?) – will fight for funds for the position.

Molly: use role as chief diversity officer and not just for recruitment and retention.  Need prof development about racism and gender bias for existing staff.  As part of strategic plan, need 25% increase in diverse highers.  Position needs support to do that.

Q5: What would be your argument for whether or not school district should thoroughly review suspension and grad rates using student-sensitive data to accurately measure…

Hermorne: we need to do this, too many suspensions.  Children need to leave when ready — not quitting because they are sitting in classroom waiting for time to come up.  Not everyone is going to be able to go to Voke.

Jack: need to look at data, one of primary goals of SC.  We have not looked at suspension and graduation rates.  Need to do better.

John T: cannot change anything if you don’t track it.  Not just tracking racial and gender, but all measures of groups that may be at a disadvantage.  Concerned groups should also be able to see this.  Chief diversity officer not just HR, but also curriculum and general climate.  Employees are afraid to speak about themselves & their demographics.

Tracy: either we do it or the state does it…and they’re coming.  This exact question was asked in 2017.  Candidates agreed that it was important.  This term, the subcommittee has not met.  Civil rights issue – under purview of SC and the SC is not doing its job.

Q6: Please share your thoughts about ensuring disciplinary action is equitable across race and gender.

Tracy: language access and disability should be added.  Disparities exist and we need to acknowledge it.  State’s data comes from the WPS.  What is our trend line – a lot are going in worrying directions.  $100 million underfunded a year as Mr Foley said, but also prioritization of administration.

Cara: having a diversity and equal opportunity officer will not solve it – we need an office like Boston has.  The community plan they developed is the kind of action we need.  Opportunity needs to be equitable – we need an office.  If we are committed to serving the kids that are in our schools now.

Chantel: inequality is across all our systems.  Need to speak on it when it happens.  Nobody here trusts anybody.  someone in chief diversity officer position should not be hamstrung (my wording).

John M: school comm continues to work on solutions.  Poverty, chronic absenteeism, broken families, all contribute.  He mentions programs that exist and are coming.

Laura: WPS needs a better policy on how discipline actions are documented.  Not consistent across different schools.  Once accurate collection of data, there should be plans in place to make sure equitable across the board.

Q7: What is your opinion of the current SC’s handling of recent controversies in Worcester?

Cara: Many of us impacted by lack of transparency.  Lack of community engagement is what has brought a lot of us to this table.  Real misunderstandings of discipline, best practices and how we apply to kids in schools.  Decisions need to be made with active community participation.

John T: If I thought the SC did their job, I wouldn’t be here.  Transparency is important.  From ed research, you must include community, parents, and have back-and-forth.  You must engage parents about what they want.  You can’t sit from 8-3 and say ‘come see me’

Dianna: When we are talking about recent pieces, we have bridges and gaps.  Number of discussions over last 6-8 months, need to be broader: transparency, review of information, that was what was missing.  Strategic plan should be utilized – this should help us move forward in areas of improvement.

Jack: SC has had a worse year than the Red Sox.  Health ed was not a public discussion – was inappropriate.  Student transportation, we had to fight to get competitive bidding.  Students reporting bias needed to be listened to without being defensive.

Mariah: situation was not handled.  No one was heard in this situation.  There was no solution to the issues that were brought up.

Q8: Do you believe in an inclusive teaching model (or inclusive teaching practices)?  And if so, how would you ensure WPS’s leadership in moving in this direction?

Chantel: I do, as long as teachers have freedom and creativity to implement.  Diversity pool of teachers needs to be diverse.  Need to hire qualified teachers that look like the community.  Principals should welcome parents they don’t understand into their doors.

John M: defines inclusive teaching model.  Teachers don’t teach to homogeneous group but individuals.   Many best practices addressed in professional development offerings.

Tracy: had internship at better-funded school system.  The classroom had 18 students, 3 adults, co-taught inclusive classroom.  So far removed from anything she saw in Worcester…because they had the money.  It’s about wanting, but partly a money thing.

Hermone: it is a money thing, but people have to want to be there.  Children with so many different learning styles.  Support staff for teacher.  Everyone needs to be learning.

Q9: How do you weigh the priority of interest from parents, students, teachers/administrators, and members of the community when those interests do not align?

Laura: most of the time, people’s interests will not align – more people need to listen to various stakeholders.

Molly: our job to educate ourselves on the issue, then speak with parents and community members.  Each member must make decision that they think is best for students.  Voters elect individuals.  There were miscommunication and missteps on the SC side, esp for sex ed.  We need to do better.

Jermoh: Southbridge superintendent said that he can’t do it alone – he needs students and parents to help.  Include student voice because they are in the classrooms all the time.  Families of low income status need to be reached out to.

Brian: responsibility are our students.  Curriculum is adapted for what students really do need.  Career opportunities, structure buildings for what students need, build community support.  Students are our first and final concern.

Closing statements: as you look across candidates, what differentiates you; what are 2-3 strengths that WPS can be proud of?

Chantel: WPS can be proud of being a global community, we are all talented in our own ways.  I’m the black woman that’s angry all the time, I fight for mine and me fighting for my children means I’ll fight for yours.

Tracy: What sets me apart is not that I’m a mom, which is refreshing.  I know what the job is and where the lines are, and what impact those decisions make on kids.  My kids went to WPS and got a good education, but we need to be fighting for everyone’s kids.

Jack: Worcester has many exceptional principals and teachers, but they need our support.  Ensure success for all students and all families.

Brian: he went to Union Hill and still lives in the area.  Knows what we are capable of when we want to work at it.  Knows how to get maximum $ out of what we have.  Quiet progress in terms of curriculum.  Community has not given up on the schools.

John M.: SC members are face of the district. Advocate for change when needed.  WORKING ON A PLAN FOR CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM.  A school is a building with four walls and our future inside.

Cara: the people in our schools and our community are our greatest strength.  I am not a huge fan of the question of what differentiates me because she has spent her career building teams.  She brings fresh eyes and a strategic perspective.

Laura: parent and educator with wealth of experience in different school districts.  Knows how the system works – Worcester can be very proud of teachers and staff.

Jermoh: foreign-born US citizen, got to college successfully, has an ngo based in Liberia.  She knows that when students have opportunities they can do so much more.  Wants to help students be the best they can.

Hermorne: tells folks don’t let anyone tear you down.  We can be proud of Voke school.  Several diverse principals.

John T: all decisions will be about what’s best for students.  He’s a dad who cares.  With community engagement, we can accomplish great things.  With diversity & community engagement, that will make schools the best possible.

Molly: will follow through with strategic plan.  Equity, Equality, Efficiency (and I missed the other E…) – Top notch arts programs, our teachers & students.  Voice of community is important.

Mariah: I am diverse: not just my race, but also my age.  Can relate to the children.  WPS should be proud of diversity, of students who stand up for themselves.

Dianna: It’s established that we’re all different.  Has taken care of kids in family who have gone through WPS.  Loves being a SC member.  Using tools we help support – unbelievable experiences for our kids.  Honored to speak at graduations.

(And I think that’s it)