School Committee Forum – September 25

Lots of folks still congregated within & without the auditorium so I don’t think we’ll be starting for a few more minutes.

They will take questions from the audience via index cards.

Maria Rivera-Cotto (CENTRO) and Joanne Berry (LWV) will be the moderators. Ground rules: 3 minutes for opening statements; second round: 2 minutes to respond to questions from contributing organizations; third round: 1 minute to respond to questions from the audience.

Opening Statements:

Cara Berg-Powers: because of opportunities she had as a WPS student, she was able to get a full scholarship to Clark, then went on to master’s and doctorate. Has taught at college level for the past 8 years. Things have radically changed in the less than two decades since she was in school. Not enough play-based learning, recess, access to arts/phys ed. Not enough time to eat lunch. Some of the decisions can be made with the best of intentions, but fail because the right people aren’t at the table (parents, students, teachers). 1- Community voices should be brought to table. Subcommitees, site councils. Create opportunities to bring community members to brainstorm and strategize. 21st century learning opportunities, not just technology.

Chantel Bethea: Running because tired of being tired. She and other parents all had same issues. Turnaround was with sex ed curriculum. Mother of four, involved parents. Has volunteered for everything on everything. Her 3 sons are treated differently from their friends. We don’t have welcoming schools. Parent needs to be involved in order to succeed. Need to be a team and work together. Stop talking at each other. Open up and actively listen to one another. Need true transparency, not afraid to talk about hard topics (racism, classism, sexism). The reason you’re uncomfortable is because it’s about you.

Dianna Biancheria: lists statistics. I believe this is a similar speech to the one she gave last time. She emphasizes voke ed. There is a long list: safe schools, welcoming little kids, health educator position. We listened, we supported a diversity officer. You know what she’s going to say. She is now outlining her resume, including her close ties to Ray M.

Laura Clancey: One daughter at Forest Grove, another will be enrolled in a couple of years. Former PTO pres at Nelson Place, serves on DA’s opioid task force, a few other volunteer things. She is a career and education counselor. Advocate for appropriate ed opportunities for students on a daily basis. She will be the voice on the school committee to have difficult conversations. She will work hard to make sure provide good ed while being fiscally responsible.

Jack Foley: has been involved in a lot of community orgs. Committed to providing high quality educational opportunities. Many critical issues: funding (chair of Finance & Operations subcom and has worked on ensuring that schools will be funded. Need to keep pressure on state, even if it means legal action); look carefully at data and address trends; need SC and super that embraces transparency and engages in strategic conversations (much approval from the attendees). Cannot having bidding process about transpo – bidding process favored current vendor and there was no serious consideration of anything else (GO JACK OH MY WORD HE IS ON FIRE)

Jermoh Kamara: Came to US when she was 11. Education system for people who do not look like her; struggled through ed system and succeeded through perseverance. She has lived around the world. She is a lover of education and people – doing good things in this world starting with Worcester. Low-English-proficiency families have limited opportunities in the WPS. She believes very strongly in sex ed.

Mariah Martinez: Yes, she is old enough to run. Education lacks real-world situations. Need to know about credit scores. Class never learned about current events. 13-hour shift is something many young people are familiar with – they don’t know how to budget and have many bills to pay. Why are students only familiar with learning to be students?

Molly McCullough: Seeking a third term so that she can continue the work she has begun. Her mom was an educator in the system. Educating the whole child. Needs of students are greater than ever. We should follow strategic plan as intended. (I think this is similar to the last intro). Increase AVID program (and plenty of other ideas…) The four Es (sorry, I missed them but I think this was similar to last intro)

John Monfredo: about the best interests of children. Again, this is a similar intro to last time. Education is an anti-poverty tool. You know what he’s going to say. “For the children”, his motto, is what everyone should be for.

Tracy O’Connell Novick: Mother of 3, one graduate and two currently in WPS. Her work focuses on school finance. We deserve better. SC is not doing its job. Health care, equity in student discipline, basic accountability, hiring practices, transpo. Basic governance not being done. Super’s goals rubberstamped at a meeting – super’s eval was not based on anything it needed to be. Not a professional evaluation – it was a popularity contest. Who do you want managing your money? (Tracy as well was on fire; I captured about 1/3 of what she said.)

Brian O’Connell: he’s going to tell you about an article he read. Poor people fail in education. I am not making this up. Key issue is not ethnic or racial; it’s finance and economic opportunity. Take an active role for all children. Yes we can do more (THEN WHY AREN’T YOU, BRIAN!?! YOU’VE BEEN ON THIS DAMN SCHOOL COMMITTEE FOR NEARLY MY WHOLE LIFE!) We put additional funds into the classroom.

John Trobaugh: Father of two WPS kids. Works at UMass Medical School & Memorial System. Has an MFA in arts and is in a doctoral program at NYU. A lot of folks have talked about the things they would do. Think about the people who have been here the longest – they are responsible for where we are now. Every kid needs to be college or career ready. Tech is a great school, but there is a waiting list every year. Real parental engagement – don’t need involvement. Engagement means: when relocation of Doherty happens, engage the communities and parents. Parents are part of decision making process for transpo, comprehensive state ed. Current transportation department needs to be re-evaluated. He loses his place (“Oh boy, I shook myself up there.”)

(7.21 pm – We are never leaving tonight, I fear.)

Q to Foley: how to craft superintendent’s evaluation.

Foley: performance prescribed by state standards. Past few years, goals of super is based on inputs – not about data outcomes and trends. We cannot be afraid of the data. Need to hold SC, district, and super accountable. Transparency and feedback from parents – our discussions are open to the public but not really welcoming to the public. Perhaps need a more formal survey.

Q to McCullough: sex ed. What factors to assess curriculum.

McCullough: Last year’s conversation was heated, not done in the best way possible. Comprehensive, LBGTQ, consent, involve parents and community members. Bring back WISH task force.

Q to McConnell: in 2018, strategic plan. How should SC ensure plan is followed? Who is responsible? How will community be apprised?

O’Connell: if we do not watch plan and carry it out, shame on our committee. Quarterly hearings are crucial. We need to do it. Ideally have forums televised. This is the most BOC non-answer ever. Like he has been talking for 45 seconds saying the same thing.

Q to Novick: what is your idea of successful student and what will it take to get all students there?

Novick: we don’t act as if all students are not able to be successful. That’s the first step. Align resources in ways that this can happen. Worcester is a school district where 59% of students have first language not English. The district isn’t run in that way. When she looks at goals of WPS, attention paid to small minority of students. Not a lot of cultural capital, not a lot of attention, or admin resource/experience applied to students who need it most. Recognize the students that we actually serve.

Q to Berg-Powers: civic ed (Chandler bill) – project-based learning. How to ensure adequate funding and success?

Berg-Powers: excited to have this and piloted it in Boston. Participatory action based projects. Part of what you will see as her style is supporting behind the scenes, sharing resources, hold district accountable. Doesn’t assume that there wouldn’t already be plans, but she brings this to the table. Meet with folks who are currently doing that and share some of what she has done. As far as funding, that is making sure that we continue to fight for the Promise Act. Meet with City Council, who are used to hearing from me already, so that we have resources that we need.

Q to Clancey: data shows early childhood ed is important to equity. Half-day programs make it difficult to most. What proposals to strengthen Worcester’s offerings?

Clancey: could not send her child to pre-k because it was half-day. Full day pre-k. (Sorry, spaced and couldn’t tell if she talked about funding)

Q to Biancheria: how to get diverse voices heard in decision-making?

Biancheria: diversity is very exciting and interesting. At graduation many students were excited. Crowd was also very celebratory. Need to celebrate a bit more in the schools. We have a diversity officer. Have some training taking place for all staff. We have taken our first steps. Many credit to the teachers. They are looking for ways to bring this out. What are we offering every kid in our schools? Careet pathways, that is how you overcome challenges in schools. Another amazing non-answer.

Q to Kamara: action plan for school-to-prison pipeline

Kamara: data pretty self-evident. Disciplining students of minority background…we need more teachers that represent the population. We can do a better job of increasing value for the students. People feel not a lot of effort put into diverse hiring. Under past administration, we evaluated diversity and inclusion in hiring and maintaining staff.

Q to Monfredo: goals for chief diversity officer in the short term.

Monfredo: make every attempt to hire people of color. That’s why we have hired a diversity officer. We also have future teachers academy tied in with Worcester State University. More effort needs to be done. Is this the non-answer of the night? WAIT AND FIND OUT!

Q to Trobaugh : what kind of assessment for teachers about external factors

Trobaugh: teachers have told him about need for more professional development. Chief Diversity Officer should do training but also need to engage school psychologists, clinicians, adjustment counselors. If we are able to provide supports for students, they will be the most successful – then they will be economic drivers later. Investment now will pay off later (not his exact words but the general idea). Trauma based approach to education.

Q to Bethea: how would you work with higher ed assets without impinging on the superintendent’s authority

Bethea: we have every person & community org that can replicate stuff in WPS. Stop looking outside of us. No trust in WPS. We need to bring that back. We need to respect and listen to one another. Put an action behind it. Use ACE to work with different children.

Q to Martinez: poor behavior is often a symptom of trauma. Discipline can add another layer. Trauma-based approach; are there school systems that are leading the way?

Martinez: I hate suspensions. Horrible method of discipline. If you turn backs on kids and do not provide level of support from the start. We need to find models that work (Yes, I believe that’s what they asked you). (What she lacks in knowledge she makes up for in enthusiasm)

7.48 – part three: audience questions.

Q to Bethea: will you listen to educators on how to spend more $$ from the state?

Bethea: I would listen to educators, but I would listen to the students as well. Needs to be put into schools and not into administrators’ pockets. Nurses, transpo, after school programs.

Q for Trobaugh: how to support minority educators get into admin postions?

Trobaugh: he’s trying to do this in his job. You have to build supports. In addition to building supports and finding out what they need to be successful, teacher pipeline. Also need to look at teaching aides/assistants – support them to become teachers as well.

Q for Biancheria: change is needed. What is most important thing you are going to change?

Biancheria: expanding voke education. She is going to answer the question she wishes she had, and mentions AP classes.

Q for Berg-Powers about safe schools and emergency drills? Firearm free zones are invitation to terrorists

Berg-Powers: not wanting to traumatize the drills themselves. Her six-year-old was discussing this with her last night. It is really unlikely. Teachers should not be exposed to more trauma, and can use age-appropriate language to explain things to kids. (Her answer was better than I am expressing here.)

Q for Clancey about institutional racism.

Clancey: implicit bias trainings are eye-opening. Should happen in WPS.

Q for O’Connell: what is stand on standardized exams and discrimination that occurs.

O’Connell: significant problems with MCAS, cultural bias, teachers need to teach to the test, alternative testing isn’t great, don’t measure higher-order skills. He is now on number 9 and I can no longer type. Brian O’Connell is clearly smarter than you are.

Q to Foley: how to meet needs of students in understaffed, underfunded schools?

Foley: you can’t. With trauma, homelessness, are external and come to school with these challenges. Fight for funding we deserve – these dollars need to be spend wisely on support systems, more school counselors, lower class size. Teachers have to teach large classes with different levels.

Q about facilities for Monfredo – accessible and safe for all

Monfredo: he talks to facilities about what needs to be done. We can do things if we know what the problems are.

Q to Kamara about transpo issues (late buses, time without extra pay)

Kamara: look at current bus contractor. Need to re-evaluate. Something we should be looking at – find opportunities for a contractor within the city.

Q for Novick: would you vote on extension of superintendent’s contract?

Novick: super contract is based on evaluations, and that is why I was talking about it earlier. You have to take a step back and have SC evaluate superintendent. My evaluation would have been very different. My vote on contract renewal would also have been very different.

Q for Martinez: further development of social/emotional learning?

Martinez: need better training and push forward in having training implemented.

Q for McCullough: what to do to support additional needs of students?

McCullough gives the answer of the night, which is of course training/professional development.

Q to Kamara: 10% increase of students of color, but teachers only 3% over same period. WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO?

Kamara: create platform for teachers to apply, instituting career fair for all students. Folks of color are hired but then they leave. Need to focus on hiring and retention.

Q to Foley: given divisiveness in community, how would you bring about healing?

Foley: openness, trust, transparency. Current system has not been following a [good] process. Way bus contract was handled speaks to integrity of the district. Need to be genuine and open to what the issues.

Q to McCullough: how to ensure true accountability of the superintendent?

McCullough: we need to have additional public fora where we have parents who can come talk about policy issues and then we can work with the administration. [Biancheria is currently talking to one of the moderators and it is completely distracting]

Q to Clancey: how to plan to support educators in fight for the living wage?

Clancey: make sure teachers make pay scale that they should. You deserve every penny that you get and you deserve more.

Q for Novick: are there racial inequities in the Worcester Public Schools.

Novick: Yes [beat] – to deny that (and she’s seen that happening in the past few years), we can’t fix things that we don’t acknowledge are an issue. We’re several steps removed, because we haven’t even acknowledged yet.

Q for Martinez: much focus on hot-button issues, not on day-to-day student success. What issue?

Martinez: lack parent/community engagement. We don’t push for it further. You need to seek it now. Don’t wait until you’re just trying to be elected.

Q for Monfredo: do you support sex ed curriculum that includes info about condoms and birth control?

Monfredo: needs to be age-appropriate, and so parents don’t opt out. Expand classes in grades 7/8/9/10.

Q for Biancheria: recently SC voted to renew super contract.

Biancheria: I voted to extend contract because I believe she has commitment I am looking for but commitment in community & schools. Not easy to be a leader. She supports our teachers. She works well with mayor and city manager. When we look to our future, we want people like Maureen Binienda. (Hey, at least she’s comfortable with her decision…I guess!)

Q about district seats?

Trobaugh: district and citywide. Districts..then the schools in the district become the only one that the SC member worries about. Mixed method (like CC) might not be a bad idea. It’s very tough to run as a challenger with at-large. (Not his words, but essentially his idea)

Q about homeless students

Berg-Powers: I teach sociology of ed at Worcester State. Number of things to support students: housing stability (can students start and end of year in same classroom), out of classroom supports so it’s not on teacher.

Q about systematic racism and training.

Bethea: if elected, she would find for it. At the end of the day, we have to break the wheel that has been spinning. We’re not going to get anything done by saying this is what we are going to do – needs action. You need someone who has been fighting for 39 years.

Q – how to encourage students to be involved in arts and music?

O’Connell: arts and music are not frills. Groups like Worcester Historical Museum, Preservation Worcester…kids need to be involved from a young age.

Final round – closing statements – I will only type what is interesting as I am tired!

Trobaugh: evidence-based parental engagement program. Lack of effective parental engagement. This is his highest priority.

O’Connell is selling himself as a collegial, forward-thinking School Committee member. I got nothing, kids. He’s still smarter than you.

Novick: much like federal gov’t, your school committee can be ignored until it doesn’t work anymore. It can be ignored until your kid’s bus is later, until you’re an English Language Learner, until your daughter gets sent home for having a head wrap. Making speeches and putting stuff on agendas doesn’t get stuff done. We need four votes on the school committee.

Martinez: you have 6 votes, you can vote for experience and new ideas.

Kamara: bring 50 people with you to come and vote. Leadership needs to advocate for every child. Programs for all students will not implemented if we don’t change the school committee.

Foley: does it really matter what he says? You know you’re going to vote for him.

Clancey wants to move things in a positive direction. Most of the students we’ve been talking about – she has been doing more with/for them than anyone else in the room.

Biancheria: She is number 5 on the ballot. Keep that in mind.

Bethea: What do I say after all of that? What was is past, what’s new is better. We understand what you did in the beginning, we also know what we can do now. You need to reach back and let others lead. You fight for what you want. Everything is not yours at the end of the day. Our future needs to look like our children now.

Berg-Powers: thanks for listening to us talk at you for the last two hours. When elected, I’ll spend a lot more time listening. Facilitate listening sessions with current social workers, teachers. Sit around a table, not line up in front of a microphone.

Update: Telegram coverage here

Candidate Forum Schedule

Here are all the candidate forums I’m aware of. Let me know if I missed any!

This week:

Livable City Candidates Forum – Monday, September 23 at 6:30pm at the Park View Room (across the street from Elm Park). All at-large city council members were invited. This was my favorite forum from the last election cycle. Sponsored by: Greater Worcester Land Trust, Jane Jacobs in the Woo, Mass Audubon, Preservation Worcester, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Walk Bike Worcester, Worcester Common Ground, Worcester Urban Planning Partnership and Yes for a Better Worcester – hosted by the incomparable John Anderson. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend this forum. If you can attend, I’ve appreciate your taking notes & sending them to me to post…leave a comment below.

Worcester School Committee Forum: Putting All Children First – Wednesday, September 25 at 6:30 pm in the Worcester State University Sullivan Auditorium. Sponsored by League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area (LWVWA), The Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition (MAWOCC), the Worcester Education Collaborative (WEC), YWCA, CENTRO, Worcester State University, and Worcester Youth Center.

Next month:

School Committee ForumWednesday, October 23 Tuesday, October 29 at 6:00pm at the Worcester Youth Center.  Sponsored by Worcester NAACP.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, and The Research Bureau, in partnership with Mechanics Hall, are hosting a series of municipal debates to hear from the candidates seeking public office in Worcester. Each debate will be held at 7:00pm at Mechanics Hall. The debates are all free and open to the public.

The debate schedule is:
• Thursday, October 3 – Candidates for Mayor
• Tuesday, October 22 – Candidates School Committee
• Thursday, October 24 – Candidates for District 5 Council this will be at Worcester State, Foster Room, Student Center, 3rd Floor, Building #12
• Monday, October 28 – Candidates for Council at Large

City Council Candidate Forum – Wednesday, October 30th 6:30 pm in the Worcester State University Sullivan Auditorium. Sponsored by League of Women Voters of the Worcester Area (LWVWA), The Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition (MAWOCC), the Worcester Education Collaborative (WEC), YWCA, CENTRO, Worcester State University, and Worcester Youth Center.

Candidates Night – Monday, October 21 from 7-9 pm, Talk of the Commonwealth at Redemption Rock Brewing, 333 Shrewsbury Street.

City Council Candidate Forum – Wednesday, October 23, 6:30-9:00 pm at Worcester State University – Blue Lounge in the Student Center. Shades by Worcester Pride in partnership with the Diversity and Inclusion Office of Worcester State University, YWCA, Worcester chapter of the NAACP, and Worcester Pride is hosting a City Council Candidate Forum. The City Council Candidate forum is developed to educate voters on issues centering and affecting Worcester’s LGBTQIA+ and Queer/Trans* People of Color (QTPOC) communities.