School Committee Forum – October 29

Telegram coverage here

This is one of my favorite forums, sponsored by a lot of community groups, including the Worcester Youth Center and Worcester NAACP, which is meets on the 4th Monday of every month at Central Branch YMCA and is always looking for new members!

Before we begin…

Someone asked me why I was late to last night’s forum.

I was spending my night at the Mustard Seed, a place many of you have heard of, some of you have visited, and which has, on occasion, been called “America’s Favorite Soup Kitchen.”

The Family Health Center of Worcester’s Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Program (HOAP) is currently raising funds to open a health clinic at the Mustard Seed!!

So I have two things to ask of you:

1 – Vote your conscience on November 5

2 – Please consider donating to build this life-changing clinic and share the link with your networks!

…and now…on to the forum…

Ground rules: each candidate will have one minute for opening & closing statements.  Also have one minute to answer questions. 

Opening statements:

John Trobaugh: Moved here from Alabama more than a decade ago; he and his husband both work for medical school.  They have two sons, both in 9th grade.  Evidence-based plans for parental engagement for child, school, district.  We can’t do same thing over & over again when parents don’t feel welcome in school or engaged.  Parents should have a voice in what happens in classroom, school, school district – key stakeholders.

Tracy O’Connell Novick: main reason she is running is that her work brings her to school districts to improve practices.  She does not see this work happening in Worcester and it should be.

John Monfredo: every decision he made as a principal was what is in the best interests of children, and that has carried forward into his work on the school committee.  He has received many awards, has filed many items, etc.

Jack Foley: has been on school committee for last 20 years.  (1) Funding – things looks good right now, but we need to think strategically, hold community forums on how to spend.  (2) Look at data (grad rates, achievement rates).  (3) Restore integrity and transparency.  Cannot continue what was done with school busing, sex ed.

Laura Clancey: parent in WPS system.  Child currently at Forest Grove.  Some problems with communications.  Licensed guidance counselor.  She is an ed advocate for DYS for over 14 years.  Has been advocate for over 14 years.  Happy to be at the Youth Center because she has done much work over the years.

Chantel Bethea: she is the nosy parent who will not take “that’s the way it’s always been.”  You hold our kids to a certain standard – hold the admin, principals, students to a certain standard.  Running to show children that when something is not right, it’s time to fight.  She fights when she is upset.

Cara Berg-Powers: has a 6 yo in the schools.  Has been student and educator in the WPS.  Has worked in educational fights around funding for the past 10 years.  Saw a lot of inequity as a foster parent.  Just because she won gains for her kids does not mean the battle is over.

Q1 to John Trobaugh: Sept 2 article in T&G: superintendent opposed in-house bus service.  What is your position?  Would you want 5 year proposal?  (Q from Worcester Youth Center)

Trobaugh: interactions with Transportation Department have not been good.  Durham is not good, but issues start with Transo Dept.  One of his kids was lost – took them a week to call him back.  Yes, it will save money – but we also need to clean house.

Novick: this has been in the works since 2006.  WPS already run a substantial number of buses.  Those are the buses that come – we can’t say the same about Durham.  Durham is not keeping the district apprised of where the kids are and lies.  As a parent, has no confidence in Durham.  (She spoke a lot more but I couldn’t keep up.)

Monfredo: We need to sit down and get it right.  Running a bus company is not the business of the WPS.  The superintendent would be the first to say let’s do it if it were to save money.  This is a serious decision that needs to be made carefully.  Wants to see the facts and figures before moving forward.  Are they flat-nosed buses, which are safer?  Retirement benefits, health benefits…we cannot do it by 2020.

Foley: As Tracy said, this discussion has been going on over 10 years.  This was a flawed process – not a level playing field.  Service from Durham unacceptable, continues to be a problem.  We can do a much better problem running it ourselves.  We run a lot of other in-house services ourselves (like food service).  $2-3 million could be put back into the classroom.

Clancey: as a parent, has had numerous bus issues.  We have their contract for 2, possibly 3 years.  As SC member, will not let something be worked on for 10 years.  Won’t say ‘we’ve been trying to work on this for ten years.’

Bethea: that’s the first thing I’ve agreed with you on.  It doesn’t make sense to keep a company that has bad service.  Parents have called her when they don’t know where the kids are – bus company refuses to answer the phone.  Accountability is one thing, responsibility is another.

Berg-Powers: this is the issue that has come up the most in door-knocking and contacting voters/parents.  Some of these stories are for young children, where parents are not able to locate them for hours.  This is NOT a separate issue from whether to pay the company.

Q2 for Novick from Main South CDC: suspension rate from white and non-white students.

Novick: first, acknowledge that there IS an issue.  Having someone from DESE come – we needed state intervention for something that is a civil rights issue.  We need to clean up our act.  We need training – and look at where the ties are between students and various other things (long term absenteeism for example).

Monfredo: not a fan of suspensions.  However, the students are not disciplined based on racial profile.  There is a welcoming school policy.  A number of workshops have been held and will be held.  He lists them.

Foley: Own the data – we have to put the data out there and discuss it.  Let’s break it down by school, gender and understand what is happening.  Take a hard look at emergency removals.  What is happening and at which schools is it happening and why.  Look at schools who could be models.  Supports for teachers and professionals.  Need more trauma informed care and alternatives in school.

Clancey: We are not collecting data across the board consistently at every school.  Each school needs to document in the same way.  Implicit bias is important to be trained in.  Make sure that we are collecting the data.

Bethea: I do agree with her a little bit again – it’s weird.  Was at a city hall meeting with DESE.  Data is certified by superintendent.  You can look how you make it want to look.  How does that work?  [I am not sure what her concern is, sorry.]  She wants to see the raw data and have a third party put it together and identify the issues. 

Berg-Powers: make sure that we have quality data, and need to acknowledge that we have an issue.  Community deserves acknowledgment about what they are seeing on the ground, truth & reconciliation work is going to be a critical task of new school committee.  Many of these are deep beliefs that many have never interrogated.  Teachers need support – they deserve to support them as much as they love them.

Trobaugh: standardized reporting – that we don’t know what happened is a huge disciplinary problem.  One thing to affect change in a system – look at systems that are causing these problems.  We don’t have parental or community engagement – they could be part of the decision making process. 

Q3 to Berg-Powers from YWCA, do you support creation of diversity & equal opportunity officer?  If so, how to ensure that it addresses systemic racism and gender bias?

Berg-Powers: daughter’s principal has been hired for this role.  Some concerns about making sure that she is supported, but impressed with what she’s started.  Needs to be an office, cannot just be one positon.  Look at some of the entire community planning processes.  Also have transparency and accountability tracker on their website (Framingham or Boston – she may be talking about)

Trobaugh: thinks we need an office, but does not need to be just for personnel.  For employees and staff, but also at what’s happening with the kids.  Is there equity among different student populations?  Broader than just employment.  Should touch student performance.

Novick: believes that the position needs to be broader.  School Committee got bad legal advice – needs to involve hiring, curriculum, policies around equity – should be on the agenda all the time.  Districts have a report at every school committee meeting.  Should be a superintendent goal and we need to evaluate her on it. 

Monfredo: superintendent made a good choice.  She will look for opportunities to hire and recruit.  In addition, training will be given.  Teachers need to build on knowledge students bring to the classroom.  This can take place with good training.  Would like diversity office to work with Worcester Future Teachers Program.  Could be like the minor league where we bring students into teaching.

Foley: concerned about job description and autonomy.  Pleased with the hire.  This needs to be part of strategic goals of school committee and superintendent.  Professional development, looking at implicit bias.  We as a community – have to repair fracture.  We all need to work together to resolve the issue.

Clancey: supports the idea and the person who was hired.  Looking at recruitment and hiring policies is key.

Bethea: does not agree with it at all.  Chief Diversity Officer for the city isn’t doing anything either.  Hiring from within Worcester does not achieve anything.  She will not have leeway.  City CDO was not given the tools – current one ditto.  Doesn’t think schools CDO will do anything either.

Q4 for Bethea from Worcester Common Ground: affordable housing impacts educational outcomes.  What can SC do to improve neighborhood stability?

Bethea: involve organizations that work with families.  If SC and admin would let community inside schools and DAB, we could get a lot of things done on a cheaper scale.  We are putting the money and saying it’s most valuable…[in unimportant areas?]  Need to look at the whole child.

Berg-Powers: Schools cannot do this on our own.   We are asking schools to solve a lot of social problems that are bigger than schools.  Schools need to be part of the whole system conversation.  Band-aid programs (food pantries, clothing) – need to keep kids in safe, trusting school relationship – keep them with educators that they know and love.

Trobaugh: when you are not properly housed, affects your education.  Need to make sure that students are properly supported.  We need to have a Housing First model – we can work on that with the city.  Everyone who needs housing can have housing.  As far as schools go – school counselors/psychologists/clinicians are underutilized.

Novick: appreciates that people are acknowledging that schools can’t solve everything.  School Committees represent largest constituency that cannot vote with them.  Food pantries, washers/dryers are not enough – we need to go to the City Council and say that the policies they make are affecting students.  The priorities should be to those who already live here and who go to school here.

Monfredo: he agrees with Stacy [sic] on this.  If you just look at SC – not enough.  Need to make key decisions with social agencies.  There are lots of things to do – mentions Andy’s Attic, etc.

Foley: Clark has worked with Main South CDC on housing opportunities.  Bring together quality housing, make sure all partners brought.  It can be done with community partnerships but not by schools alone.  SC can push city for additional affordable housing.

Clancey: wraparound services are huge. 

Q5 to Berg-Powers from Worcester Coalition of Ed Equity: how should district and SC be assessed when community is displeased with inequities?  (Long question – you’ll get the point)

Berg-Powers: we really can look at what our goals/objectives are, right now the things we are talking about are not being measured.  She has committed to measures to being engaged – weekly office hours, ombudsman position, and have someone who can connect to solutions right away.

Trobaugh: relates to community/parental engagement.  Each school needs to be judged on how engaged parents are, as well as district.  Once you’re on the school committee, you’re part of the system and need to be judged as part of the system.

Novick: one of the standards of superintendent evaluation is culturally competent two-way communication.  School Committee has not made this more of a point.  This has been a real weakness in this SC.  Other school committees do self-assessments and ask for them.  Admin should not be developing policies (cell phone, dress code) without parent or student involvement.

Monfredo: school committee “in partnership” with administration.  [Doesn’t that just about sum it up]

Foley: we are assessed at the voting booth every two years, and people need to hold us accountable.  About community trust and losing it.  Lack of transparency and modesty.  One way to approach is more public forums.  We do this in Finance & Operations Committee – have convo with public about priorities.  Also needs to happen in eval of superintendent – which is also an eval of the SC

Clancey: we need to create procedures & goals for schools. Make sure we listen to everyone.  No one was listening or engaging in this.  [Slight technical difficulty]

Bethea: the relationship between district and school committee needs to be accessible.  Doesn’t need to go through six different channel.  Same people have been here for 39 years.  [BRIAN IS DEAD AND HE WAS ONLY HERE FOR 35 YEARS!]  If there are more black and brown people on the school committee, there will be more accountability.

Q6 from EAW for Clancey: what motivated you to run?

Clancey: first, being a parent.  She implemented communication and other things as a PTO president that she would like to implement at a district level.  Also, helping kids navigate through the system has motivated her.

Bethea: sex ed.   Her kids heard her say she was running at a school committee meeting and they pushed her to go for it.  You need to be able to respect other people’s values – she doesn’t agree with half the people up here but she can still be civil.

Berg-Powers: at end of 2018 school year, became foster parents unexpectedly.  They had learned that there had been several attempts at supports that had not been met and that he was going to be held back because of the lack of leadership.  Not enough to help one kid when there are other kids still there.

Trobaugh: in part because of his children.  As he has seen them go through the system, seen a lack of system to communicate with parents.  CPPAC and site councils’ recommendations fall on deaf ears.  A couple of community groups asked him if he would consider running. 

Novick: was on a panel this spring sponsored by Mass Inc.  Shift from federal accountability to local accountability.  She thought about what she was going to about it.  Site councils were intended to be a launching ground for school committees – but ours are very ineffective.  Thought she has a responsibility to do it.

Monfredo: has made difference in the lives of many children as an educator.  He lists many of the resume items you are well familiar with.  Focus on community involvement is about it takes a village.

Foley: what motivated him 20 years ago was that he had kids in the district.  Last time he thought about no longer running – but it’s been a tough 12 months, and he has concerns about how things are going, lack of transparency and process, has decided to stay and work on this to push district forward successfully.

Q7: Worcester (?) Building Trades, to Foley: how to go to preapprenticeship, etc.

Foley: concerning that Worcester Tech is an exam school and prohibits kids who are interested and would benefit from attending.  Trying to involve other students in gaining expertise.  More Ch 74 programs.  Worcester Tech was intended as an 18 hour school, wants it opened up more for vocational training.

Clancey: her husband has been a union carpenter for 20 years.  Worcester Tech is not using its best capacity.  Comprehensive high school should retain college-bound kids and kids who would benefit from voke education should have access to Worcester Tech.

Bethea: no one can get into Worcester Tech.  All schools should have some form of tech training in it.  Choices for all families.  Not all kids are college bound and all of our families need to be familiar with the resources.

Berg-Powers: Last 15 years has been running youth programs in media & creative arts.  Bridge programs in our schools.  Need to get creative.  She has $200k in student debt and two mortgages – we should not expect this of every young person.

Trobaugh: big proponent of vocational programming.  He went to voke school, became an EMT, and put himself through college.  We do have a problem in that we have many kids on waitlist – need to increase vocational programming.  Need to think about what innovation economy needs, and adapt to system we have now. 

Novick: first year she was teaching high school, it was a comprehensive that had voke component with a GPA requirement.  One of her students really wanted to be an auto mechanic.  A Ch 74 program is not a full voke program – need to take it seriously.  We used to send “those kids” to Voke – now have gone in the other direction – and need to get back in the middle and serve all.

Monfredo: we all agree.  Not everyone gets into a technical high school, we have to follow state guidelines.  We are expanding Ch 74 in all comprehensive high schools.  More needs to be added on. 

Q8 to Monfredo from Worcester Community/Labor Coalition: do you support trainings around rape culture?  What to do to make sure we move forward?

Monfredo: first makes the comment ‘rape culture?’; unclear whether he has heard the phrase before. We are trying to address as many issues as possible.  Through sex ed, need for comprehensive sex ed program.  Have children learn as much fact information as possible.  We could address that in sex ed and move forward.

Foley: we need a comprehensive, inclusive, age-appropriate sex ed at the earliest age possible.  Curriculum will deal with all the issues including consent – people should know from a very young age about consent.  Not alarmed by sex ed curriculum – students need to learn at a young age.  This information will serve them well throughout their life.

Clancey: we need comprehensive sex ed. Discussions about consent and what’s appropriate and not.  There are certain games in the sex ed curriculum proposed by WISH that she did not agree with, but plenty that she did.

Bethea: we do need something that is comprehensive.  We use that word like diversity – means anything.  We need to believe students.  Lots of talk about curriculum and policies, but need to bring people to justice for things they have done.  State Rep Jim O’Day bringing forward a good proposal – need to make sure this gets passed.  Our kids are asking for this information.

Berg-Powers: describes how she had been sexually assaulted by a neighbor at age six – the same age her daughter is now. This is an important curriculum issue.  Dedham Teachers Union contract – wanted grievance process for sex assault.  WPS needs a safe environment for everyone. 

Trobaugh: need an evidence-based program.  We don’t have something that will reduce STIs, pregnancy, and will give kids more knowledge about sex so that they delay trying it.  Missing the evidence part.  We need to teach not just about consent but about healthy relationships (including LGBT)…

Novick: we need to have rape culture discussed.  We need curriculum that does not blame victims.  Not just about health education  School Title IX coordinator should not be Safety Coordinator.  We still have a dress code where girls are blamed for distracting boys.  That is rape culture.

Q9: are you in favor of LGBTQIA subcommittee?

Trobaugh: yes, equal opportunity officer.  We need to discuss diversity at each meeting.  We need to make sure we are protecting people who have not been historically protected.

Novick: concerned about governance structures – danger in getting too many subcommittees and then it’s someone else is responsible and we do not consider this as part of everything we do.  The notion behind this – that this is something for which there should be accountability – is right and we are not currently doing this.

Monfredo: chief diversity officer could discuss it.  Need to make sure that all students’ needs are being met.

Foley: does have some structural worries because there are only so many SC members.  There are some existing committees that could take this on.  We need to work about a number of issues relative to inequity and achievement gaps.  Should be district-wide initiative and not necessarily part of a committee.  Would like it as major function for existing committee.

Clancey: agrees with Foley’s comments.  Strengthen site councils at each school.  If we use them the way they are supposed to, can be dealt with at school level.

Bethea: this needs to be in the chamber.  Someone from Shades should be sitting at that table and have a vote and it’s always there.  In the forefront, live on TV at all times.  There should be a parent at that table at all times.  Someone who represents our community at all times and not behind closed doors.

Berg-Powers: is open to this and the structure is something we can figure out. If we are not measuring something, it’s not happening.  Opportunity here to make sure we have an eye to how all the other pieces are fitting in – opportunity for every young person in our schools to become whole, healthy adults.

Q for Monfredo from Carpenters Local 336: district school committee members – in favor?

Monfredo: no, every school committee represents all districts, all neighborhoods.  If not, they shouldn’t be running.  Voters should vote for those they feel best represent.

Foley: we have talked about this – still not in favor.  Solve the problem at the ballot box.  Worries that if it’s district rep for schools, may be a battle neighborhood by neighborhood as we see city councilors now.  Opportunities for students to travel across the city to go to school – at that point, who represents them?

Clancey: has seen district councilors fighting – should not be done at SC level.   Vote for people who know school district.

Bethea: doesn’t have a full answer.  If we were to do it, then have at-large and district.  Doesn’t know how this would actually work.

Berg-Powers: No idea.  Look at how it works in other places.  Our schools do not align with our city council districts.  In D4, where she lives, people do not feel served.  Question speaks to larger issue of transparency, community engagement.

Trobaugh: if we had a mixed model similar to city council, would probably be best to go.  You have to raise A LOOOOOOOTT of money to run citywide.  This excludes a LARGE portion of our population.  A mixed model might work well.  Our school committee currently does not reflect the diversity of the community.

Novick: the school committees she sees with a district model or hybrid model ends up with one member fighting for “their” schools – unhealthy for everyone.  Relegating “those kids” to “that” committee member.  Can’t pretend that ballot box is the answer.  But RANKED CHOICE VOTING could be – because you could run a smaller campaign.  LOOK INTO IT – RANKED CHOICE VOTING.

Final Q from NAACP, to Clancey: would you be interested in providing incentives for male POC to be teachers in WPS?

Clancey: No.  Basing incentives on color of skin should not be done.  Does not think this is a practice we can get into.  May be illegal to pay someone more money based on the color of skin.

Bethea: I don’t know.  There needs to be a bigger pull – more ways to help or assist those who are trying to be teachers.  Always a disadvantage in paying for MTELs, there are still wage gaps.  We need more teachers/administrators who look like our students.  We need quality over quantity.  We need to open the door for our people who look like our population.

Berg-Powers: question is about incentives.  We need to provide incentives.  Pay is not usually an incentive for people who go into teaching.   But incentives can be cohorts to build a school community, create spaces where they can be safe in how they experience school.  Retention is particularly of concern.  How are we recruiting all teachers of color, but esp black and brown men?

Trobaugh: whoever is responsible for hiring should be responsible for numbers.  If super is evaluated based on the numbers, that will help.  Pipeline programs should be expanded.  Get support staff to become teacher, be eligible for exemption, get ed to finish the certification.  Mentoring, etc.

Novick: people work in schools because they are comfortable in schools.  Experience in K-12 makes you want to continue to spend time in schools – or not.  Things that cause problem for students make them less likely to become teachers.  Students need places to LIVE – some colleges are trying to work on that, people can’t afford to go into teaching right out of college.

Monfredo: Worcester Future Teachers – students go to Worcester State, major in education, and they will be hired in WPS.  IAs – are given free courses, can get help, will get assistance in exam, and then will become teachers.

Foley: would support incentives.  We have to compete.  But that’s not enough – we have to create a really welcoming community as well.  Do a lot more in the city to support the requirement.  We need to do hiring much earlier than late springtime.

There is a statement from Jermoh Kamara read

Closing statements – I will hold on typing.  (If I can confess something – it’s nice to just listen to candidates for a few minutes instead of desperately typing and muttering their words to myself like some sort of incantation!)