Worcester School Committee Forum notes – 10/6

Dr Déborah Gonzalez introduces the sponsors:

Centro

Youth Civics Union

Community Connections

WSU LEI

LEON

LABO

El Buen Samaritano

Worcester Interfaith

Expresso Latin Radio

WCCA-TV

//

Juan Gómez welcomes us

Someone from city econ dev speaks to census results.  (I am sorry, I missed his name.)  206,000 in population.  Despite negative messages from Washingon – 50,736 Latin (?); by 2045 the country will become white minority.  When you add the numbers in the city of Worcester, we are all quite a “minority” city.  We all belong to the same country. 

Segment 1: Youth Questions (Moderator: Andrea Delgado, Youth Civics Union)

YCU focuses on educational issues of youth, esp those of color

I think we are doing candidate introductions now (6:13pm)

Biancheria: 22,000 students – numbers of Latino students change daily.  Dual language programs, evaluations to look at whole students.  860,000 dollars for translations.  Seal of biliteracy.  IAs that work with students every day in our schools.

Clancey is not in attendance.

Johnson: lifelong Worcester resident, graduated from South in 1992, social worker for DCF.  He has worked with Latino community, WPS IEP, ensuring kids are safe and healthy at home and have everything they need.  He was involved in a fatherhood program (sorry, I missed this a bit as someone was in front of me).  Work with fathers to give back to the community. 

Kamara: born and raised in Liberia, moved here when she was 11.  Started public school – they wanted her to be in ESL class because her accent was very strong.  Her father felt that ESL tracked kids as “not smart” (not her exact words, but she is talking about the inequities).  Worked through LEI, sexual education.  Has been to Dominican Republic.  Massachusetts is one of the worst places for Latinx people. 

Coghlin Mailman: business owner in Worcester, chairs board of QCC, and has served on a lot of boards.  One issue on her mind – data and transparency.  Was involved in strategic plan as part of business community.  We have to strive for excellence for all students (shouts of agreement from the populace), in district this big, hard to get to the data.  Would like our leadership to make sure we are putting info out – that is what she will do.  Latino community wants this and it has been difficult to get.

McCullough: additional translation services for meetings held over zoom.  Not used for each meeting.  While agenda and backups can be read in Spanish and other languages, meetings themselves should be translated.  More participation, equitable access.  Work of impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.

O‘Connell Novick: mother of 2 WPS graduates, mother of a current Burncoat High sophomore.  Served twice on Latino Education Commission, particular experience of students and families across the city.  That has focused her attention – we are a plurality Latino district.  Experience as a parent shaped by that, youngest daughter in dual language program.  At least half of her homework she can‘t help her with (bc in a language she does not speak) – gave her understanding of what other parents experience.

Soucy: 70% of WPS students are currently living in low income households.  At 14, was raising her child, 15 was homeless and dependent on gov‘t assistance.  In spite of trauma and hardship, fought for better future for herself and children.  Graduated North, lic electrician, lic barber.  Built many relationships at barbershop.  Wants to be unique voice to add to SC.  Today her son is 25.  He is also an electrician.  Two other sons, 17 and 16.  Her role as Hope for Worcester – gives provisions, food, family portraits.  Leads follow-up team, prays with families, refers to partner churches, mentoring them, referring to services.

Segment 1: Youth of color make up 71% WPS students.  Questions influenced by this reality.  Three students will be asking the questions in this segment.

Q1: what is your vision for education in this community?

Biancheria: to make sure we are accountable, have transparency, every opportunity for students in school.  Career path programs through Perkins Funding – Ch 74.  We have almost 30 courses.  Safety in our schools. Looks forward to what the CM presents for SROs.  “We don‘t pay” under schools for SROs.  It‘s paid for from the city side.  She sees success for every student.

(there are translations after every candidate speaks, which is GREAT for someone who likes breaks for her hands!)

Johnson: safe and healthy schools.  He has two kids in WPS: 4th and 7th grader.  Struggled during COVID.  How lacking WPS was in certain areas.  Drinking water in schools is unsafe.  Schools were not up to par for ventilation.  Social-emotional supports.  Without that, academics will struggle.  As kids get older, invest in internships. 

Kamara: gives us another telling of her life story.  Kids should have same opportunities as their white counterparts.  Communication with parents/kids needs to be better.  Listen to kids bc they have valuable insights.  Community resources like LEI can be used to reach out to parents.  Technology accessibility in our schools.  We can do more to provide these programs to prepare kids so that they do not struggle when they go to college.  Graduation rates need to be improved – that they are able to carry on knowledge to college – succeed and graduate. 

Coghlin Mailman: our city is exactly the right size to come together and get it right.  Comes from children.  They will have all of our jobs.  This generation of people can be mentors to get us to that next level.  She has done much work with vocational school for many years.  One thing is about a welcoming school.  Tech – people are welcome there.  Takes a village – wants Worcester on a magazine that says we got it right.  COVID learning loss – any time people go through difficult times, gain some strengths as well.  Even with career tech, vocational programs – where are we going?  Thank God, Shanel, we will always need electricians.  We have new trades now.  All of us working together can make it happen. 

(While I wait for Dr Gonzalez‘s translation to finish, I‘d just like to note how everyone on this stage is either a woman or a person of color or both.  This is in stark contrast to what you‘ll see at the at-large forum, happening right now!)

McCullough: when your name is alphabetically towards the end, many of the things you wanted to say have been mentioned.  More access/connectivity with our families.  Options for families to get info in their own language, so that parents can actively participate in their child‘s education.  Would like to see so much more involvement rather than families feeling like barriers are being put up.  Mentorship, internships.  Parent liaisons in school buildings.  Appreciates students answering questions tonight.  The success of students in schools today determines the success of the city tomorrow.

O‘Connell Novick, who offers to pause frequently if better for translations: State Constitution is the first in the country that guarantees public education.  It was put there as the defence to why needed to continue to have a Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  We are supposed to make sure our students are voters, advocates, city councilors, fulfil all the parts we need to fill the body politic.  It is no less true now.  If we started from there, and made everything ancillary to that.  At WPS – you should be leaving to take your part in the civic life of Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.  Measure is what our students are able to do –

[Tracy, of course, said it much better than I can; but I do frequently tell my children, “John Adams said you have the right to a Chromebook.”]

Soucy: As an electrician in Boston, saw gentrification – saw people heading out this way.  Keeping in mind the number she gave earlier (70% in low income households).  Gap in WPS anticipates growing.  Reality is that we have a lot of monies – 110% imperative to focus on supports that our kids need.  Has been asked to speak at two schools to be a mentor.  For her, vision is community school strategy.  Success in NY.  Would like to see that happening here.  Combine quality ed with extended learning opportunities.  Gap between parents and the school.  If something going to change for kids, families need to be first and foremost in our lives.  Staff needs support – through community school strategy.

(I will type again during translation to note people in the creepy Opt Out t-shirts who make up half of the front row.  Unclear whether this is a Soucy cheering section or something else.)

Q2, to Johnson: what do you see as major issue facing the school district?

Johnson: many major issues.  1 – busing crisis.  My daughter is late to school every day – late back home every day.  2 – lack of diversity within school system.  The more representation, beneficial to Worcester.  He works on that as a social worker.  3 – MCAS.  Too much pressure to achieve on standardized test.  After you don‘t achieve in 4th grade – damaging for future grades. 

Q3, to Tracy Novick: what work have you done with youth of color?  (I think there was more but I didn‘t hear it)

Novick: one of the things that has been important to her in professional life and her time of service on SC – in MA, every SC is required to have student representation.  AND every SC is supposed to be meeting every other month with a student advisory council elected by their peers.  That part we haven‘t done well.  Has an item on the subcom that makes our own rules – specifically asked to change rules to make it part of our rules to have student representation, but also have bimonthly meeting with student advisory council.  Hopes to get it through by end of term.  We need to do both halves of what we are legally required to do.  We have had pieces of it, but can be more effective if we meet our legal obligations.

Q4, to Coghlin Mailman: how to use Worcester‘s portion of federal funding to improve educational system?

Coghlin Mailman: great news is that we have CFO, Brian Allen, leader across the region.  Federal dollars need to be thought of as an investment. They need to be spent in a short amount of time.  When we put numbers on things, it becomes challenge for districts to prioritize.  Worcester is supposed to get Student Opportunity Act money – that is our ongoing money about structural things.  Community schools (appreciates Shanel‘s talking about it, mentions blog favorite Frank Kartheiser talking about this 30 years ago).  Hopes students will be able to participate every other month.

Segment 2: Parent Questions

Q5: what will you be doing to improve school discipline, neg suspension rates in WPS? (to NOVICK but it appears all candidates will respond)

Novick: she has attempted to get policy that would bar suspension under grade 3.  Urges you to vote for people who would do that.  Need to look at ways to discipline students – currently alienates students, hurts the district.  It hurts the students‘ classmates.

[I find it AMAZING that we do not currently have 4 people who agree that little kids shouldn‘t be suspended from school.]

Soucy: weight of WPS with 70% students in low income households.  Statistics that says behaviors increase – when she grew up in single-parent household with financial strain, definitely creates a weight outside of school.  Kids come with a lot on their plate.  We need increase in counselors, community supports.  Difficult to teach and manage behaviors.

McCullough: need to work on ways to decrease discipline in schools.  Wraparound coordinators, adjustment counselors.  Collaborative problem-solving training.  Trauma-informed care and resilience building. How can we keep them within the school? 

Coghlin Mailman: data – for past year and a half, suspension rates are going to come down.  How are we going to track this data, how to support teachers, make sure kids are taught every day.  Measure across each principal.  More energy spent on measuring can make us see problems in individual buildings.

Kamara: from firsthand experience, school adjustment counselors need to be used.  From firsthand experience, kids have to fill out certain paperwork.  Those papers should be given to school adjustment counselors, they can begin working with kids who need extra support.  Classroom – kids had behavioral issues that needed addl support, kids were suspended or had to do in-house, from her experience in WPS.  We need to use the counselors we have more efficiently.  We need bias training for educators in WPS.  Kids of color get punished for the same behaviors white kids do not.  Restorative justice.  

Johnson: Social-emotional supports, wraparound services, trauma-informed practices, part of platform he is running on.  On the front line every day, sees the trauma and what the kids are going to.  He has sat with principals when there is discrimination going on, involve the parent for a meeting. 

Biancheria: we need to continue with justice practices that keep people from inappropriate behaviors.  K-3 has emergency removal.  Superintendent and safety advisor are there with parents.  Counselors in drug programs, safety for elementary and secondary.  Nurses need to start to participate in some behavior, they can see meds and look at behavior.  We have started this and need to expand on it.  Alternative education – at some age, question about why do I go to school – we need to have additional opportunities.  Perkins funding allows schools to have alternative programs for kids.  Our students carry a very heavy load. 

[There is always a deluge from Biancheria, and I am sorry if I didn‘t write all of the highlights.  I think what she was getting at is that MA Law allows for K-3 to be suspended, and there is a hearing process (?) for that, and the appeal goes up to the superintendent and the safety advisor (?).  But what I got is that she‘s comfortable with little kids being suspended]

Q6 – also from a parent, wearing a creepy Opt-Out shirt: part of group called Empowering Parents.  Wants to clarify that Shanel and we are different entity!  Do you know that 600 students already opt out of this EXPLICIT CURRICULUM PEOPLE !!!!!!  ALL CAPS BABY!!!!  Do you support this pornographic sex ed in this system?  If you don‘t, what will you do to remove it?  AND SHOULD KINDERGARTENERS KNOW ABOUT SEX?!?!?!?

(Maybe that wasn‘t exactly the question, but you can watch it on a replay and see how I toned it down.  THEY ARE NOT THE PAWNS OF SHANEL, OK!)

Directed to all

Soucy: she appreciates that.  She supports the Opt Out parents.  She supports parents‘ right to choose and be involved in all aspects of their child‘s education.  WRT question: she had a child at 14.  She lived in shelters with teen moms for three years.  In all of the group therapy they had, lack of sex ed was never mentioned as a way that they could have avoided their circumstances.  Living in poverty, many repeating same cycle.  Safer sex no match for generational issues.  Statically, sex ed is weak at best in preventing pregnancy and STDs – NO 3 Rs – inappropriate, pornographic.  Children need guidance.  Single-parent homes creates a huge weight in the house, children have huge amount of alone time.  CDC lists poor mental health on having impact on sexual health.  There are people making money off people‘s struggles.

Novick: that may be the most biased mischaracterization she has heard.  Not pornographic, not age-inappropriate.  Age-appropriate, health-informed, – as a parent you teach children about appropriate touch at a young age.  We intervene by giving children education at a young age.  If we leave that out of the curriculum, not doing our job.  We cannot bar from the public schools.  Concerned about fear-mongering, basis in which this comes from.  Actively harmful to children.  Her interest is for WPS children to get education that they need.  What she taught as an English teacher would not safe a kid‘s life, what the health teacher teaches WILL.  LGBTQIA students esp need this. 

[There was more, Tracy is awesome, but you all know this already]

McCullough: Tracy has covered many of the topics – fully supportive, was chair of subcommittee and approved of the curriculum.  WPS had sex ed when she was a student in 1994 in middle school.  The 3Rs consistent with what she learned at that time.  Concerned about misinformation.  Supports family‘s ability to opt out.  Her two stepsons, nieces, nephews – she feels comfortable with them having these lessons, but understands that not everyone is comfortable.  No pornography in kindergarten.  You have the right to have people not touch your body.  There‘s a sheet going around – for lessons not in WPS.  There was a consultant who came around and shaped lessons.  It‘s clearly on the website.

Coghlin Mailman: will be brief, because these guys are the experts.  Remembers speaking to a family who had a lot of questions, attended some school forums.  Tremendous misinformation.  Would echo Tracy‘s comments about high-risk kids like LGBTQIA, human dignity and human right to be accepted by larger community. Because the emotion is in your souls, and I understand that, those on SC will follow through, to make sure we alleviate your concerns.

Kamara: how many of you here had sexual intercourse when you were 10-15?  There cannot just be one hand.  How about not you, but someone you knew?  With social media so widespread, how many of you know that your kids, friends, on OnlyFans?  If the argument is on the images that we are seeing, and if argument is on sexual health education not reducing pregnancy, STI, STD, as a public health educator, we should be questioning PhDs from Harvard and all around the world.  Sexual health education works, and what I am concerned about is that I support opt out.  She supports curriculum, wants to see reports of decreases in pregnancy, STI/STD, based on curriculum.  In next few years, we need to evaluate it and see decreases in our city so that we can show to the state.

[Man, if only my parents could have opted me out of gym class!  Or pre-calc.]

[True confession: I did have them opt me out of sex ed so that I could take music.  AND LOOK WHERE THAT LED ME…to a life of fame and fortune in local political blogging!]

Johnson: everyone has spoken.  He believes Worcester needed, and should have had, sex ed.  Supports opt out.  Sat down with wife for 4th grader and 7th grader, made the option to opt in.  Supports for all parents moving forward.

Now there is some conversation between Biancheria and a member of the audience about whether we are talking about this particular curriculum or sex ed in general.

Biancheria: voted no because she wanted the admin to write their own curriculum.  We had three years, there was COVID, other priorities.  She supports sex ed, just wanted something that was Worcester-sex-specific [OK, she didn‘t say that, but can you IMAGINE this admin‘s program on sex ed; I always get punchy during her parts of any candidate forum…].  She had a number of concerns, worked with unwed mothers.  [Does NO ONE work with unwed fathers?]  LGBTQ needs support.  Need tweaking of program, see how it works, then take it up as a SC?  Additional forums, actually speak to parents whose kids went to class, and parents that opted out.  [One wonders why you would need to involve the parents who opted out to talk about how well a curriculum worked.]  Sex ed is a small piece of curriculum, what is talked about in the classroom.  We need to be concerned if we have different types of ailments that our kids are getting because of sexual contact AND WE NEED TO COME UP WITH SOME SOLUTIONS HERE.  That doesn‘t mean we as SC members, we as a community.

[Speaking as the kind of person who forwards the DVR through kissing scenes on my soap opera – I have rarely been so uncomfortable in a candidate forum.  And that includes any forum that involved Mike Germain.]

We are out of time.  There are many audience questions, candidates can respond via email.

(Yes, there are final remarks, but if you‘ve read me for any length of time, you know that I can‘t deal with final remarks)

Kamara: WE CAN SHAKE IT UP – two open seats – the other four are up for grabs, too!  A lot of people in this city want new leadership. 

Coghlin Mailman: (Jokes about having to follow Kamara alphabetically in every forum; Kamara was very enthusiastic) this is the energy that we will all bring in many different ways to this job.  Governance, policy, budget.  Has experience in all those areas.  Not afraid to listen and change her mind.  Need respect for each other as we go through these very difficult topics.  Thanks everyone for listening tonight.

McCullough: so many important topics that we couldn‘t get to tonight – hope to get to them and asks people to reach out to her.  Many wonderful candidates running, working together we can do great things.

Novick: thanks Gonzalez for translating.  [OH MY WORD AMAZING.]  so many things in district that we did not touch on: new superintendent by end of school year; if you participated tonight, over month of December talk about what you need in community forums; federal funding and additional state funding in future years.  In both cases, those are on a feedback loop – be active in those conversations as well. 

Soucy: genuine love for people, spent life working hard at everything she‘s done.  Running in hopes of bringing authentic advocacy/representation to SC.  Knows firsthand what families/students are going through, voice would be unparalleled.  Life experience, work in residential programs for youth, Hope for Worcester, etc., – live with, serve, mentor, people from more diverse backgrounds than she can count.  Hopes unique life experience will get your vote.  We can push forward together to improve our children‘s education.

2 thoughts on “Worcester School Committee Forum notes – 10/6

  1. Derrick says:

    Appreciate the work it took for this. Thanks!

  2. Andy Howarth says:

    I continue to be amazed at the way you try to be fair to those who would take us back in time to the 40s (or earlier) without bowing down to them. I congratulate Soucy for getting through an entire debate without mentioning demons.

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