Mea culpa, moving on, and what’s next

cross-posted from Who-cester 

First, my apologies. For those of you who have grown used to being able to find out “what does Tracy say” on what’s happening in the Worcester Public Schools, I let you down yesterday. When the news broke aboutSuperintendent Boone’s acceptance of the position of Norfolk Superintendent at about 10:30 yesterday, my phone blew up with messages, and from that point on, I was returning calls, being interviewed, and otherwise running. I never got to a full keyboard. It’s the first time I’ve experienced quite that as a headlong collision, and yesterday, blogging lost out. I’m sorry.

As much as I know everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, I feel honor bound to point out that Norfolk has had three superintendents in the past five years, with the most recent having his contract terminated in March after 70% of Norfolk’s schools failed to earn certification and the district missed deadlines for Title I, resulting in the fortiture of $1.6 million. The board bought out that contract for a full year’s pay. Theposition was posted in May, with applications due in July. This wasn’t a recent decision (or reaction).
And, yes, in Virginia, the entire process can take place in executive session.

As a side note, I should point out that the current Norfolk school board is appointed by their City Council, though this current board is the last that will be, as Norfolk voted overwhelmingly to move to an elected board starting this coming spring.

So did I know? No. Am I surprised? No. I follow the national press on school districts, and Norfolk has had a rough couple of years. It’s the district in which Superintendent Boone had much of her prior experience, and it’s where her family lives. Seeing that district struggle would I think give any of us cause to think twice.

Let’s be really clear: the Worcester Public Schools are an excellent argument for hiring anyone involved in what we’re doing. From the graduation rate gains (nine points in six years) to the dropout rate declining to the largest number of innovation schools in the state to the pulling schools out of Level 4 status (ourselves, not by outside providers) to gains in kids taking APs and going to college to rising enrollment (yes, they’re rising) to millions of dollars in building repairs to expanding programs (and I could go on, and that’s all in the budget…)…we’re a good argument for hiring her. We–any of us involved in public education in Worcester–should be proud of the job we’re doing here. We’re a city with a strong parochial school system, two charter schools, and a homeschooling community, and we in the public schools educate 85% of the kids who live in the city. That’s an argument of itself.

And anyone telling you otherwise doesn’t know much about education.

So what does that mean for us now?

If you look at the agenda that was posted this afternoon for Thursday’s meeting, we have two items in executive session. The first is to discuss Superintendent Boone’s contract, as there’s a clause regarding notification of her leaving that a December start date in Norfolk conflicts with (I should perhaps point out that’s my assumption based on what I’ve seen reported from Norfolk; I know no more than is the item). The second is connected to Mayor Petty’s recommendation, which appears on the public section of the agenda, that Marco Rodrigues be appointed interim superintendent. We also have items on the public section to send out an RFP for a search firm and to set a timeline for the search.

Only a bit more from me, lest I stray into predeliberation and thus violate the Open Meeting Law:

The Worcester Public Schools are the third largest employer in the city, with nearly 4000 employees. We have 50 buildings, 44 schools, 25,000 students. We have a budget of $350 million. That’s a lot to oversee. More than anything else, the actual administration of all that is the job of the superintendent, and it needs to be done, daily. It can’t be put off. It can’t be ignored. And it isn’t something you can pick up overnight.

Executive session is scheduled for 6 on Thursday night, with the public meeting scheduled (I use the word deliberately) to begin at 7.


Moving on school start times

My item regarding secondary school start times is moving! The Accountability and Student Achievement standing committee took it up this week, where we reviewed the extensive evidence on the benefits of secondary school students starting school later in the morning. These include: better academic achievement, more stable mental health, more alertness, fewer disciplinary infractions, safer driving, and improved interactions with parents. You can review the research we did from the second item here.

Our discussion was covered by the Telegram and Gazette. I also had a chance to talk with Telemundo Boston about it. 

The parallel items in Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports and in Finance and Operations standing committees will next be taken up.

GO VOTE (but not for School Committee)

Today is the preliminary election here in Worcester: polls opened at 7 am and will be open until 8 pm.

Worcester has a preliminary election across the city for City Council at Large, and in District 2 for the District Council. School Committee does not have a preliminary election.

Do go vote today. And vote for those who have positive visions for the city of Worcester and for those who have done and have shown they will do the hard work of bringing them to pass. Don’t vote for the fearmongers.

Mass Education Justice Alliance: “amazing testimony”

Thanks to the Mass Education Justice Alliance for their recognition of my testimony before the Board of Education on PARCC and MCAS.:

Tracy O’Connell Novick, a member of the Worcester (MA) School Committee, delivered this incredible speech earlier this month strongly urging the school board to adopt neither MCAS nor PARCC- and instead adopt “authentic and direct gauges of student performance” that “include consideration of work samples, projects and portfolios.”

Foundation Budget Review Commission: special ed, health insurance underfunded

From a Telegram and Gazette report regarding the preliminary Foundation Budget Review Commission report:

“I think it is really important they (the Foundation Budget Review Commission) are honest about the gaps, instead of worrying that they will be attacked,” Ms. Novick said. “That is their job, to give the Legislature the information – make it accurate, be honest.”

She said the startling numbers are partly a reflection of waiting so long to undertake the research.

“That’s what happens when you let things go,” the school board member said.

21 kindergarten IA’s saved!

Regarding the conference committee budget:

Ms. Novick was a member of the committee’s Finance and Operations Standing Committee that sent a letter this past spring to Worcester’s legislative delegation seeking action on the issue, and on Friday said such local activism around the state likely played a role in the conference committee’s decision to restore the funding.

“It’s fantastic news,” she said. “We had really good advocacy from our delegation on that.”