Before I get into my forum notes…
I was sitting in the front row of this forum (because it makes it easier for me to hear and see candidates, though my head is usually buried in my keyboard). Because I was sitting up front, I didn’t notice the guest of honor, Maureen Binienda, until the forum was over.
In these notes, you’ll see that the last question asked was whether or not candidates would renew Ms Binienda’s contract. Considering the School Committee has extended her contract three years, it’s sort of a moot point — but a very important criteria for many voters.
I had wondered why certain candidates vociferously supported the superintendent – even more than they usually do – but after the forum was over, I wondered no more.
I try, as much as I possibly can, to accurately portray answers given in these forums. While I’m certainly sarcastic and have to conflate ideas, and very rarely give exact quotes, I’m interested in hearing what candidates have to say (otherwise this would be a really long couple of hours).
It is plainly obvious that many existing members of the School Committee feel that they work for the superintendent. Her coming to multiple candidate forums — because she also attended the WSU forum before the preliminary election — essentially acts as an intimidation tactic. (One that, sadly, doesn’t need to be used as most existing School Committee members, save Jack and Dante, will never hold her to account.)
Ms Binienda, stop coming to the candidate forums. Spend your time listening to students, figuring out why the heck we have so many kids being removed from school for non-violent, non-drug-related reasons, or any of a number of pressing issues that should be on your to-do list. It’s tacky, and we’ve noticed.
OK — on to the forum!
Telegram coverage here; (note that the first picture clearly shows I was having a great hair day)
Video available on Facebook
Moment of silence for Brian O’Connell
Luis Pedraja from QCC
Eddie Dumphy from CPPAC (I am sorry if I spelled that incorrectly!)
Jennifer Davis Carey
Opening Statements from Candidates
Cara Lisa Berg Powers – proud product of WPS, grew up in Worcester, parent in WPS, educator for 15 years. Parent in WPS – started two years ago when became foster parents. Child was not getting adequate services due to family trauma. He transferred to Chandler Magnet where he thrived. Disparities within district in what services a child can receive. Wants to make sure more kids have access to those opportunities, bring more voices to the table.
Chantel Bethea – mother of 4, very involved parent throughout the city. Reason running – a parent needs to be on the school committee, need parents that look like demographic, all that and then some. Having a disagreement does not mean that you don’t respect what they do – show your kids what it’s like to be an adult. Has only been here 11 years. Things she has come across wants to give to other parents. What she learns, gives to others – not about the person, it’s about the family.
Dianna Biancheria – over 25,000, over 4500 employees, and residents depend on schools. Has advocated for voke ed, including at comprehensive high schools, encompass STEM and STEAM. Advocates for safe schools. Continues to ask tough questions about funding. Seeking re-election to continue dedication and collaboration. Has seen impact of effective programs. SHE IS NUMBER FIVE ON THE BALLOT.
Laura Clancey – born and raised, one daughter in WPS, other still at home. Volunteered over 7 years at Nelson Place, 4 years as PTO president; saw disconnect between families and school district. Works for DYS for students in juvenile justice system. She will bring parents’ perspective, can have difficult conversations – will make sure she does what is best for students and staff.
Jack Foley – has served on SC for twenty years. His three kids attended WPS. High-quality educational opportunities for all students and all families. (1) Funding – need to have community discussions and think about how to spend new $$ strategically (2) Trends (3) Need to restore transparency – discipline, graduation rates, what will we do to address shortfalls. Bring community together to help all. (4) Transpo vote sucks from a service and financial perspective [OK, he said it better but that’s what he was saying!]
Jermoh Kamara – moment of silence for student who died at Belmont Community School. 100 Males to College program, serves underserved male students so that they can have WSU college mentors who look like them. Program has seen great success – will soon be implemented with HS/college girls. If this program can accomplish this, imagine what having her (Jermoh) on the SC will bring.
Mariah Martinez – running as voice for youth and community. We need curriculum that includes sex ed, current events, communication skills, and financial literacy. Need diversity in age and culture. Change in curriculum, suspension rates, and more community engagement.
Molly McCullough – lifelong Worcester resident, founded Planting the Seed Foundation. She does have two stepchildren who attend public schools outside of city, and understands how important communication is. Has made every attempt to be responsive to parents and students. Wants to move strategic plan forward, more opportunities for advanced, special ed, and voke students.
John Monfredo – He retired from being a principal and ran for SC, everything was based on the best needs of children. Education has been and will be greatest equalizer and anti-poverty tool. All his life has been strong activist for education. Has been filing agenda items that have been effective in schools. He has won many awards and is involved in many organizations. Two top priorities: reducing chronic absenteeism and addressing achievement gap.
Tracy O’Connell Novick – Works for MASC, has two kids in WPS, one recent graduate. Breakdown in her experience as parent and what she sees going on around the state. In Worcester, living in a state of denial when it comes to equity. SC is failing on all four of the jobs they have right now. Parents need to be at the table. Absolutely imperative that WPS is able to do self-governance. We will see vast increase in state level- House keeps asking if we can actually do it.
John Trobaugh – moved to Worcester a decade ago. Grad degree in art, MFA with emphasis in education, two kids in WPS. Lack of parental and community engagement. A lot of parents do not have time. Would like to see Worcester have more parity among the schools. Evidence-based family engagement plan needs to be implemented. We can increase graduation and attendance rates – but also buy-in.
Q1: SEX ED BABY. What must sex ed contain and exclude for you to approve?
Berg-Powers – like handful of colleagues, endorsed by Planned Parenthood. To her, what is critical is consent. She is college professor – info that kids receive before they get to me is important. Not abstinence based, include LGBT
Bethea – no one saw the actual curriculum being proposed. Our kids need to be educated age-appropriately. Parents, students, and teachers need to see it.
Biancheria – Mayor Petty mentioned in inaugural address need for sex ed. He proposed it, removed it, he is within his rights to do this. They’re waiting for DESE. She is going through bullet points at the moment and I’m not sure what is important.
Clancey – knows firsthand that students need comprehensive sex ed – high rate of teen pregnancy and STIs. Students have misinformation that they are getting from the internet. Contraception, healthy body image, consent, STI prevention. Needs to be reviewed at roundtable.
Foley – community discussion needed. WISH Committee made recommendation of Making Proud Choices. Students need more time to learn this. Data supports students needing complete sex ed curriculum.
Kamara – she has a background in public health. Teaches at Clark. Looks at curriculum proposed – mentions many of the other things others have (sorry, not to disparage her – it’s really a problem of addressing this to all candidate. This q isn’t needed for EVERY SINGLE CANDIDATE to answer. We know what the incumbents wanted or didn’t want, and all other challengers are basically for something better than nothing!)
Martinez – Google should not be students’ sex ed teacher.
McCullough – fully in support of comprehensive sex ed. Right teachers need to be teaching the classes so that students feel comfortable asking questions.
Monfredo – wants a curriculum where parents won’t walk out of. Grade 9 and 10 should be in elective 10-week course. Safety, STIs, pregnancy, and requesting rights.
Novick – state will issue standards, but will not issue curriculum. Districts have had comprehensive sex ed FOR DECADES PEOPLE. Sex ed needs to start early. “Age appropriate” can be used to avoid conversation until last possible moment. (She said a lot of great things about the previous process violating the law but I couldn’t get to it.)
Trobaugh – on Planned Parenthood board. Erosion of trust with students and teachers because of lack of decision on this. Supports evidence-based education, would exclude anything not evidence-based, including abstinence.
Q2: last year there was strategic plan. What would you prioritize and how would you engage community
Berg-Powers: diversity and equity. hopefully smaller class sizes can help us bring in more diverse teaching staff. Strategic planning is where are we going, where are we now, how do we get there. Adjust priorities accordingly.
Martinez: give students leadership role in strategic plan.
Clancey – welcoming place for educators, students, outside agencies.
Kamara – STEAM/STEM, diversity
Berg-Powers – restore community trust and accountability. At Chandler Magnet, top 3% of parent engagement – make sure that we are looking at evidence-based models to bring community together.
Q3 – current state budget formula underfunds by $90million. How to increase public school budget?
Biancheria – budget book in April. Has 24 years of finance experience. Many discussions about lawyers highlighting deficiency in funding. Super and CFO have traveled throughout the state to advocate. Foundation budget can change. How lucky are we!
McCullough – continue to get more from the city side. 58% of city budget goes to the schools. Need additional funds/reimbursements from the state.
Berg-Powers – will be at the statehouse tomorrow with MTA colleagues from around the state to finish the job. Wear Red for Ed tomorrow. City contribution is growth in dollars, but not above minimum contribution, will work to change that.
Monfredo – Student Opportunity Act. One more change for state to get it right. We need to support foundation budget through the act. Call your reps!
Biancheria – under Perkins Funding, expansion of voke ed, safety grants, increased funding for middle school supports. Look to partners, not just budget. Discussion needs to be through the administration.
Q4 – student discipline policies. How would you rate current rates? How to decrease suspensions and make more equitable?
Foley: numbers are concerning. Worcester is an outlier for emergency removals and for non-violent, non-drug offenses. We need to own the data, engage community, and then dig deeper, see where we are doing well and where we need to make changes. How to find alternatives to emergency removals.
Kamara – interested in helping teachers/students in declining discipline rates. Reiterate providing training for teachers and supporting students.
Biancheria – we need to review and implement (what?) sorry this answer is not really making sense. You need to look at the students and take it one issue at a time.
Bethea – see raw data, educate teachers that kids are not a threat. Training on how to see students as students and not a color. Work with students/parents on same training.
Foley: if we have new funding from state, we can do more training on trauma informed care. Meditation in school to get away from challenges. Also, difficult for teachers with huge class sizes.
Q5 – Unreliable bus service. But SC extended the bus contract. What is your position?
Martinez – the vote was wrong. Bring it in, save millions of dollars, more accountability
Monfredo – two separate issues. Both parties needs to sit down and get it right. (Sounds like he wants parents to get together with the bus company…um?) WPS should not be in the bus business.
Foley – whole process was flawed. Have been planning for self-operation for nine years. We run several programs in the schools that are non-academic (like food service) and do it well.
Novick – I’m among the parents who complained. If you’re getting bad service, you don’t re-up with the same company for more money. We’ve been having the same problems since 2016.
Q6 – Schools with worse academic outcomes than others. How to fix (essentially is the question)
McCullough – teachers need resources to improve students’ outcomes. Variety of students with different situations. Instructional leadership very critical. When there is a teacher, use existing mentor system.
Bethea – schools with best test scores need to teach those who aren’t. (This is confusing to me) Nelson Place could be teaching other schools at the same time.
Martinez – additional staff with one-on-one teaching. More focus on handling situations and following action plan.
Trobaugh – we rely far too heavily on standardized tests. How well is school doing engaging parents, community – versus spending half the year doing standardized testing. More instructional time.
McCullough – focus on testing is extremely heavy. Focus on what can improve quality of experience during school time.
Q7 – additional opportunities for high achievers
Kamara – as a student who loved education, benefitted from AP courses and teachers who were engaging. Project-based learning for all students. Need public schools to prepare for college (not her words, but sort of the idea). Have partnerships so that kids can have high-achieving opportunities.
Novick – a lot of traditional measurements of high achievement – like tracking by MCAS scores – skews in racial and economic ways. 770 teachers short.
McCullough – quantity AND quality of education. Are seeing improvements in results/test scores. Would like to focus on academies. [NICOLE ON SOAPBOX – WHICH ARE COMPLETELY BASED ON MCAS SCORES – INHERENTLY INEQUITABLE – OFF SOAPBOX]
Clancey – responds but I was on my soapbox. Something about the strategic plan.
Kamara – hands-on resources are needed.
Q8 – for all candidates. Doherty High School is talk of the town. What is your preferred location?
Berg-Powers – neighbor of Doherty School and her daughter will likely go there. Chandler Magnet parent, which is one of preferred sites. Minimize any additional land taking – use existing site.
Bethea – agrees with Cara. Look at where we currently are and make it more self-sufficient. More walkable city. Keep school where it is and more cohesive for everyone living there.
Biancheria – had forums but still further discussion needed. What is ed plan for that school? What are we going to do in that school? How to expand robotics and engineering? A lot of talking about the voke programs and whatever.
Clancey – likes current site but limited infringement on Newton Hill.
Foley – I think we should put the school in Holden. [MANY LAUGHS] Concerned about the cost and ground stability of Foley Stadium and athletics impact. Chandler Magnet does not seem tenable. Existing site seems best. Academic component is critical.
Kamara – rely on testimonies from families. Need to keep in same site. Sadness if Chandler Magnet were used for new site. South High has done a good job of involving students.
Martinez – agrees most with current location. Chandler Mag should be off the table.
McCullough – ditto on everything. Taking one school to build another is not great. [We are getting to the point where we should perhaps start from the other side of the table for these one question for all moments…] Safe and efficient drop off and pick up.
Monfredo – three groups have come forward to oppose a site (not sure which site or which groups). Will there be room for an athletic field? [There’s not one now…so…] There is no answer here…
Novick – South High wasn’t the talk of the city. We are a city of 180,000 people – we’re not going to build a Shrewsbury High School. Why do we need so many parking spots? Did we need that much space that was added? Long history of taking park land for schools – and we don’t have a facilities master plan, and that’s part of why there is no space for the school and we are only focused on reconstituting Doherty as is versus a larger evaluation of ed needs. [As always, she spoke better and faster than I can type]
Trobaugh – a lot of community anger because of the lack of effective communication. NO TRANSLATORS at any of the public meetings and that should be a given.
Q9 – diverse student body, but not adequately reflected in how students are taught, including employment decisions.
Monfredo – could we do more with additional resources? Yes. Expanding ELL services, students with disabilities. Clothing stores, food pantries, social/emotional learning for students. More outreach to parents and have them as part of process. More afterschool and summer school opportunities.
Trobaugh – when we think about improving education – parents reflect diversity. Without parents as key stakeholders, will not reflect diversity.
Kamara – strategic plan says to 17% diverse teaching staff by 2021. We need to make diversity by race but also languages spoken.
Berg-Powers – all teachers need to get prof dev they deserve.
Monfredo – parents are first and most influential teacher. Welcoming committee at school helps meet need of all students.
Q10 – preschool programs key to students’ long-term success. How to expand?
Bethea – Head Start needs to be expanded. More funding. More parents want it – but no transpo, and Head Start needs so many paying families. This needs to be changed at the state level. Gets students and parents involved in schools.
Clancey – investing in this – return on investment for taxpayers, every dollar spent on early childhood ed can save $4-13 in the long run
Monfredo – as principal, every student in preschool could read on grade level by grade 3
Biancheria – when we look at leg delegation, this is a major discussion that we need to have. Need new committee to look at this and it’s on our list of priorities.
Bethea – not about prevention, it’s about parents having equitable resources. This is first stepping stone into what school system is, gets kids to understand what school is.
Q11 – Technology increasingly important. What are issues you think need focus?
Novick – We have inadequately funded this. Many students required to use their own cell phones, but ban students from having them into class. Most of our families do not have technology at home that is required for their education. Kids should not have to pay to do their homework.
Berg-Powers: changing tech has been her whole life. What are core values about this?
Bethea – likes that we want to use tech, but access is definitely an issue. A lot of kids do not have access to the internet when they leave school. Not everyone has it and we need to give equal access to everyone.
Foley – clearly students have cell phones and access to the internet – parents/teachers need to come up with policy. With new $ coming in, hopefully can provide more tech to our students.
Novick – need to teach students on appropriate use of technology – we teach them everything else in school but somehow miss on this.
Q12 – national convo on school safety. How do you rate current level and what will you do to keep students and staff safe?
Trobaugh – change through parents and community. We don’t need police officers inside school buildings. If you have good clinicians used effectively, you can make schools safer, increase attendance and grad rates.
Biancheria – her initial work was on school safety. Doorbells, walkie-talkies, how we monitor school sites.
Novick – our schools are safe. If we are approaching school safety by removing kids with non-violent, non-drug “offenses” at the rate we are, we’ve got a problem. Need to treat kids with respect (not the wording she used)
Martinez – went too quick for me
Trobaugh – disproportionate discipline rates need to be looked at as a systems issue – look at schools that have lower discipline rates and address the issues that are arising. Children of color are disproportionately disciplined.
Q13 – How can we get rich white residents to send their kids to public schools? (Essentially the question – it was about getting people to go to urban schools)
Clancey – we have things to work on in the city, but need to change the dialog. Use asset-based language. Get good things out in the media, spotlight students, better communication to parents.
Foley – good opportunity to highlight diversity and benefits of diversity. Make sure money goes to programs (like challenging, co-curriculum, etc.)
Trobaugh – business value students who come from diverse areas; work with local biz / innovation/tech economy for additional voke opportunities.
McCullough – misconception that private school will be a more rigorous experience. Acknowledge what we are doing right, and opportunities for students in the WPS and how it makes them successful.
Clancey – she wouldn’t put her kid in the school system if it weren’t great. Get that message out to others.
Q14 – question for all candidates. Administration accountability. Do you have confidence in the superintendent?
Berg-Powers: one of first priorities of new SC is to repair confidence from the community. Has experience in this. Need to have a lot of difficult convos as entire city. One of biggest challenges is that the students share their experiences and be told that they were not experiencing that. She can be a supportive leader in this.
Bethea – we use words like ‘diversity’ – in order to keep black and brown parents here, we need to use the parents who live. WPS uses this word to gain funding. People are not being held accountable – she will see what the super does over the next three years that would warrant her contract being renewed.
Biancheria – she is PROUD to have voted for Binienda and would do it again. She has 40+ years in the system, she builds support through her network. She works with the mayor, CM, and partner, and she brings opportunities to our schools. It also appears that the voke school is completely Maureen too.
Clancey – complete confidence in Maureen Binienda. She is always willing to give students a second and third chance. She looks forward to reviewing her progress on the 14 points.
Foley – from initial vote 4 years ago to vote this springtime, his voting history speaks for itself – integrity of system, lack of transparency, etc. say it all. THAT’S A NO, FOLKS!
Kamara – need to hold everyone accountable. Because she was my principal, perhaps I couldn’t speak/sway her, that is incorrect. As a super and principal, she has the qualities to provide opportunities and help students. On the other hand, we need a super that can listen and be engaged and come to community’s level and ask how can I be of service to you.
Martinez – she was HER PRINCIPAL TOO. [What is it in the South bubblers?] When children stand up for what they believe in, you should listen to them.
McCullough – their job to support admin, but also to speak up. Need to hold super accountable, and will be doing so going forward.
Monfredo – SHE RECEIVED AN OUTSTANDING EVAL FROM EVERYONE. The community speaks about her passion for education, she’s an innovator, thinks carefully before making a decision…honesty, integrity, good listener, skillful communicator. Not afraid to deal with difficult problems in district.
Novick – most important decision SC makes is hiring superintendent. You are hiring a central administrator with over 4,000 employees and 25,000 students. The majority of SC blew off their job. Things have gotten so terrible in the WPS that the rep from DESE got a standing ovation for giving us our own data. That’s why I’m running.
Trobaugh – has heard she was an excellent principal. But he’s seen a lack of transparency. We do not evaluate her performance appropriately.
Closing statements – I did not record