Worcester School Committee Forum notes – 10/13

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The Opt-Out people insisted on sitting rightnexttome because it was on Shanel‘s side so I moved to the other side of the room.  These people are really too much.

They also have a sign with many, many words.  Two signs, even more words.  They have been told to put them away. 

It appears that all the candidates are here.

Paul Matthews of the Research Bureau opens the forum…thanks the moderators (Kim Salmon and Liz Hamilton), thanks the two audiences (for a minute I thought he meant “the Opt Out people” and the rest of us – but of course he means those at home and those in person).  ELECTIONS MATTER. 

WEC, Chamber of Commerce, Mechanics Hall, Telegram & Gazette are also the hosts of this forum.

(While I listen to the intro from Kathleen Gagne, I just wanted to share that I thought Washburn Hall the most magical room in the world when I was a girl, and I was not wrong.)

More Opt-Outers.  I fear they are breeding.

This is a forum where someone will be asked a question, three other candidates respond, then original candidates will get a little rebuttal.  (This is typical WRRB forum format.)

Opening Statements:

Novick: running for fifth term.  Mother of three, two WPS grads, one soph at Burncoat in dual lang.  Former teacher, member of MTA at the time, works for MASC – focused on school policy and finance.  Advocate for a number of years.  Exciting times – will be appointing new superintendent.  Influx of federal funds.  Fought hard for Student Opportunity Act – big year for WPS.  Looking forward to continuing to serve on SC.

Biancheria: She is 6th on the ballot.  Public Schools most valuable resource.  Advocates for accountability and transparency.  Advocates FROM DAY ONE when she began her adventure as a SC member – for career pathways.  Working towards academic excellence.  Safety in our schools. 

[There is a super-obnoxious guy who has decided to set up a camera RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE AUDIENCE.  He is being moved.]

McCullough: success of schools today = success of city tomorrow.  Research & institute policies to prepare students for higher ed and workforce.  SHE ADVOCATED FOR A GOOD HEALTH CURRICULUM.  TAKE IT HEAD-ON, MOLLY.  Also updated dress code.  Listening to and collaborating with students, families, educators, community members, key.

Clancey: born and raised – stayed here to raise her two daughters, WPS students.  Volunteer with many orgs, for last 15 years worked with at-risk youth supporting them in their educational goals.  Just like every parents, wants best education.  Parents need to have a say in issues impacting kids. 

Kamara: early voting starts October 23.  We must create a strong ladder of support – so children can have opportunity parents didn‘t have.  Born in W Africa/Liberia, came here 2004.  Started at Canterbury, Sullivan Middle, South High.  Wants to advocate for those who have academic challenges – need more support for ESL students.  She participated in programs that allowed her to have a full scholarship for college, then get master‘s degree. 

Johnson: born and raised in Worcester.  Product of WPS, in 1989 he lost his cousin in the hallways at South High.  He learned the values of closeness, community.  He and wife have two kids, WPS students.  Social worker at DCF over 20 years.  Youth coach and mentor for Worcester Cowboys football, Jesse Burkett LL, other places.  SEIU local 509 shop steward.  Platform is safe and healthy schools, social / emotional supports, high quality education

Mailman: mother and grandmother, son graduated Burncoat in 2005.  Her family business for 140 years – our public education is the lifeblood, we need excellent schools for all students across all neighborhoods.  System should be more inclusive to all.  Involvement with Worcester Tech.  Talks about Innovation Pathways, which takes kids from comprehensive high schools to Tech after school for voke ed.  Strategic plan needs updating.  Have served/chaired numerous boards.  Must expand early education opportunities.  Grade-level reading. 

Soucy: very excited to be here.  Grew up all around the city, 5 diff elementaries, 2 middle, graduated North.  Grew up in poverty, trauma in early life, got pregnant in 9th grade.  Had son just before 20th grade.  Homeless at 15.  Lived in teen mom shelters, continued to strive toward education.  Took many buses to graduate.  Went to Becker for two years, then barber school.  Worked in urban barber shops, eventually opened her own.  Education is important, but have someone at table who understands poverty is long, hard road.  Someone who lived it and overcame it.

[We are told that candidates can take their masks off to speak.  This is, of course, inconsistent with the city mask mandate.]

Q1: metrics to eval candidates for superintendent, top goals

Biancheria: What is your experience?  What are your experiences?  WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT OUR UNIQUE CITY?  If you are not from this area, then you should be learning about it.  If you‘re from here, YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN INVOLVED.  How would you work with principals in this district?  Principals are ALL VERY IMPORTANT AND ALL MATTER.  VISIT ALL THE SCHOOLS.  BIG SHOES TO FILL.  NEW SCHOOLS.

Johnson: ability to lead in Worcester.  Accountability, collab with parents/students/community.  Vision for city schools.  Next superintendent needs to be diverse, work with different cultures. 

Novick: she does superintendent searches for a living.  While Worcester is large for Commonwealth, not large by national school district standards.  Administrative experience that corresponds to the size of the district.  Strategic thinker who can break down silos, identify with student body.  A person of ethics and strong integrity.

McCullough: innovative, take us to the next level.  Strong communication skills, problem solver, someone who shares values of the community.  Role of super is not an easy one.  Need to be able to use the criticism that is reflective.

Soucy: super needs to be FROM WORCESTER.   It‘s a UNIQUE PLACE.  Strong advocate for parent involvement.  Knowledge and preferably experience with community schools.  High measurable outcomes on educational outcomes and grad rates.  Strong leadership, managerial and conflict resolution skills.  (There was more, there was a lot.)

Mailman: served at national searches at nonprofits.  Every time there has been a national search.  The process makes us better, regardless of who gets the job.  Listen to new ways of doing things.  There are people who are doing things better than us.  Strategic thinker, team builder.  Pay attention to student success metrics, academically.

Clancey: significant managerial experience in urban district.  Strong leader who is not afraid to delegate.  Wants staff to be able to share their ideas and implement solutions. 

Kamara: agile leader.  Change how many people in community see school district.  Worcester has had decrease in students from PreK.  Busing – sexual health curriculum – improve diversity / communication.  Community partners, parents, so Worcester can be equitable. 

Q2: discipline.  Overall number of suspensions, drawn attention of community.  How do you feel about current?  How to address disproportion of students of color being suspended?

Johnson: unacceptable.  His children, and all children, should have the chance to grow, not suspended at higher rates than white students.  Wraparound services.  More outreach/communication with parents at home.  To be able to talk to principals, they have different perspective on kids.

McCullough: we have begun to see some improvement, but more work needs to be done.  Adjustment counselors, restorative justice.  Safe/supportive schools – DESE‘s roadmap will help eliminate issues.

Kamara: need to look at how we are suspending kids in PreK-3rd grade.  For those above 3rd – use strategies like restorative justice, work with teachers so that they have the training / ability to support students.  Increase staffing, adjustment counselors.

Biancheria: increase programs that help students cope with anger, drug centers, give them a reason to come to school and learn.  MGL ALLOWS US TO SUSPEND LITTLE KIDS.  Unequal part of this – out of time.

Johnson, rebuttal: increase access to programs for youth.  Year-round jobs, community-based programs. 

Q3: busing.  School Committee will work to in-house busing model.  National bus driver shortage – how will this be a better model, more reliable service than third party?

Clancey: I don‘t know how we can get worse.  Has not just been in the last two years.  Now that we have funding available, take advantage.  Staff in transpo dept is wonderful, and they think we can do it.  Once we can train bus drivers, we will do a good job.

Mailman: In favor of in-house move.  Never thought she would say that, but there has been tremendous energy/work to do this – workforce development.  Maybe custodians also drive buses.

Johnson: has been dealing with this with his daughter.  Concern is with Teamsters who drive for Durham, will want to have a conversation to get them on the Worcester system.  Retain, train more drivers.

Novick: if the parents seem definitive about this, it‘s because we see it.  Her daughter was late for math class for three weeks.  She had kids who use WPS buses – those phones get answered.  If we can‘t get kids to school, we can‘t learn.

Clancey: Waiting for kid to come from school – not knowing where they are – all in agreement.

Q4: sex ed on opt-out, public debate was contentious.  What is your position?  Do you believe anything else should be done?

Soucy: IS NOT AGAINST SEX ED.  Against 3Rs and anything like it.  Continued agenda to confuse parents who would like to opt-out.  Online form deadline was Sept 10 and then taken down.  It was hard for parents to opt out.  Parents are still the most important.  [Opt Out section claps]

Biancheria: VOTED NO – Admin should have developed but they fell short.  You can opt out, take survey with students, standing committee worked hard.  After 1 year, can have additional discussion.  We have opportunities if we need to tweak or change.

Clancey: as a youth worker, have sat down with 15-year-olds in sex industry.  Listen to any of their stories and tell me – 100% supportive if this prevents one student from their situation.

McCullough: not pornographic, go to WPS, read the actual curriculum before you make your decision [Opt Out people actively trying to argue with her]

Soucy: we need to give kids – watching porn, masturbation, exploitation – people hooked on sex, when do we stop?  What‘s the limit?

[much clapping.  These people need to just shut up at some point]

Q5: diversity in how students are taught, in workforce

Kamara: mechanisms that will allow Caucasian educators to work with diverse population

Novick: 16% nonwhite educators.  Number of models – we never look closely at what we are doing.  Boston/Cambridge work on retention.  Recruitment only gets you so far.

[The Opt Out people have their signs up.  I have complained]

Soucy: she was a barber for years, privilege of working with people in diverse demo.  Students at Lincoln Street (WHO ARE NEAR A METHADONE CLINIC) have a different experience from Flagg.  Community schools.

Johnson: more Black/Latino/Asian teachers.  When kids identify with someone they can relate to, builds core relationships.

Kamara: how to certify educators.  MTEL prevents some from becoming teachers in WPS.

Q6 for all: how should strategic plan be updated?  How to capitalize on community resources?

Novick: Strategic plan adopted when she was off SC – from parent‘s eye, she filed complaint because public was not allowed to attend some sessions.  We are now doing revision in governance (public meetings).  You would not get a sense of level of poverty or ELL if you read the current strategic plan.  Overdue for revision, need better one than what we have.

Soucy: talks about community school strategy.  It is, as always, unclear if she knows what a community school is.  School/staff/family strategic partnership.

Johnson: improving absenteeism of students.  ELL classes, Special Ed classes, increasing, and no teachers to meet their needs.

Clancey: pandemic made us achieve some goals, like technology.  Vision is to get this updated in 5 areas of focus, work with SC members to get community groups in those areas.

McCullough: more community involvement, accessible involvement.  Families, students should have a voice.  What she said was very mild, but the guy behind me insists that it‘s wrong.

Mailman: missed opportunity not having ongoing community engagement.  Hit tech goal because we had a pandemic.  New superintendent will have big impact on how we go.

Kamara: alternative school graduation rates, on time.  Use the support of students, have voice in the plan. 

Biancheria: FOUR PIECES: expand our safety dept, holistic approach for our students, involve stakeholders, align budget with strategic plan.  MISSING OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLEGE AND CAREER PATHS.  Staff trained, trauma services are available.

Q7: resource officers…what should be in school safety plan?

Mailman: agrees with CM and chief of police that we need to change way we do business.  Listen to communities who have been negatively impacted by police in schools.  Should actively involve those communities in new plan.  Mystifying why we don‘t have a new plan yet.  Other ways to engage police in schools that is favorably received by everyone.

McCullough: SROs have done a good job in schools, but time to change what that looks like.  Looks forward to plan by CM and chief of police.  Use SROs in ways that enhance the community.

Kamara: supports plan to look at other means for safety.  Some students come from civil war, need social-emotional support.  Never had SROs – had security guard, Carlos, at South.  Supports community policing.

Clancey: school safety office was one of her issues.  Arrest rates have gone down since we have had SROs.  Need to continue close relationship with WPD.

Q8: early education.  Many parents chose not to send kids to PreK or K during pandemic.  What should schools do to catch these students up?  How to expand preschool, other early childhood ed programs?

Biancheria: we have opportunity – presently very limited resources and haven‘t expanded the program.  We have to make sure we have the PreK programs, welcoming, new families in the city.  Yes, pandemic set us back, but opportunity once things calm down to have welcoming schools.

Johnson: offer more preschool opportunities.  Half-day doesn‘t fit working parent.  More preschool opportunities, early education – socially, emotionally beneficial in the long term.

Mailman: partner with existing child care agencies in city.  What do we do in WPS and what do we do with partners in the community?  We can do better job with community partners, early ed is a good place to start.

Soucy: one child had an IEP – direct correlation between poverty, poor reading, and crime.  Full-day preK, using tech to increase involvement. 

Biancheria: should look at in context of Student Opportunity Act.  SHE SEES MONFREDO IN THE AUDIENCE AND ACKNOWLEDGES HIM.

Q9: technology access.  WPS distributed chromebooks and hotspots…emergency response.  What to do beyond pandemic?  How to ensure funding is sustainable?

Novick: important to acknowledge that the district failed in March 2020.  We did jump in eventually.  One of ongoing gaps has been internet connection, glad serving on municipal broadband committee.  It‘s a utility and should be treated as such.  We need to budget in Chromebook replacements.

Clancey: when we shut down, we weren‘t ready for it.  Need to maintain technology – hopes to have money to do it in the future. 

Biancheria: our budget is $3.2 million, she‘s going on to talk about Chromebook budget, etc.  This is meaningless to me.  She is reading a list – we are switching from Microsoft to Google Suite. 

Kamara: agrees with Novick, need municipal broadband, part of her 5-point plan.  ARPA funds could be used to train teacher to use the various platforms they needed to help kids.  Also to help parents.

Novick: city but small enough to solve problems other municipalities can‘t – Research Bureau encouraged a lot of people to think in that direction.

Q10: classroom size, employee shortage, how to incentivize employment at WPS, how to recruit/retain?

McCullough: starting to see shortages in educators, diverse pop of educator in system.  Support from committee perspective, need to have advanced mentoring.  Crucial to retain educators who may be on the fence.  Ensure we are working to support them. 

Soucy: agrees with Molly.  Prior to pandemic, 70% of students in poverty.  She knows how important it is to support – COMMUNITY SCHOOLS is the only answer to all of our issues.  (Seriously, I am not making this up, she read the same thing she already said two times about community schools.)

Novick: maybe you need to pay people more.  MTEL has been a significant barrier, glad that Kamara mentioned that.

Mailman: look at what others are doing and adopt best practices

McCullough: good professional development!

FINAL QUESTION #11: Academics, for all, students learning has been declining, social/emotional needs significantly impacted, what policies to ensure students are supported academically, socially, emotionally?

McCullough: why was MCAS held last year?  Grossly unfair.  Addl adjustment counselors, wraparound, providing addl afterschool programs.  Roadmap to recovery – foster sense of belonging.  (There was more, it was good)

Clancey: saw social/emotional toll it took on her own child, advocated for admin to bring in outside counseling services.  They need to listen to us and our concerns and what will be best for our students.  We made reallocation for support services.  Will continue to advocate for that.

Johnson: saw impact it had on kids, their friends, and other families.  We need to listen to the kids and slow down a bit.  Very important that teachers get to know, establish relationships again.  First – stop, slow down, build connection again.  Adjustment counselors, social workers, increase wraparound services.

Biancheria: thanks everyone for covering issues.  THE SOCIAL MEDIA IS TELLING THINGS TO OUR KIDS.  Training for our students, but teachers had difficulty adjusting as well and should also be supported.  Mental/social factors: need solutions, not just symptoms.  NUTRITION – THEY HAD NUTRITION OFFERED TO THEM THROUGH WPS

Mailman: dear friend just retired and wanted a platform of field trips and recess.  Recess and interaction with their friends.  There are people in the workplace who don‘t know how to interact with each other.  [Is she talking about Opt Out Corner?  One can only hope.]

Novick: changes to WPS budget are the biggest changes any SC has made in two decades.  We took responsibility for kids‘ needs – that is our job.  Mental health supports for students and staff.  MCAS fell in line with the state.  That was not forecasted.  Our students did well – credit to teachers and staff.

Kamara: elimination of SAT/ACT at universities – can we find a way to adjust the MCAS?  Portfolios of what the students can do – more creativity.

Soucy: As mother of two teenage sons, one who just barely graduated: kids are struggling mentally.  WHAT‘S GOING ON ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS TOUGH.  Parents have a unique time right now.  Get them back into the school with their kids – COMMUNITY SCHOOLS BABY.  Use outside supports.  Need schools open at later hours.

Closing statements – I will only type items of interest –

The guy in back of me is cheering on Jermaine Johnson.  Do we need to say more?

Novick: we need people who make decisions based on research, not on emotion.  BURN

Mailman: people have wide range of views, it‘s our job to bring it together into one system

Biancheria ends with rapping on the table and demanding your vote.  I would expect nothing less.

One thought on “Worcester School Committee Forum notes – 10/13

  1. Amanda says:

    Thank you for this!

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