The Goddard School, MCAS scores and political grandstanding

By Rosalie Tirella

There they were – women who reminded me of my mom: first-generation Americans holding minimum-wage jobs, trying to keep their kids safe in a tough neighborhood – pinning all their hopes and dreams on their kids, realizing that if ever they were to become “something” in America it would have to be through public education. There they were – mostly Hispanic – going up to the mic and defending their beloved Goddard School after it was torn apart – brick by old brick – by a few insensitive Worcester School Committee members.

Goddard parents came up and stood before the crowd to tell the Worcester School Committee that Goddard School was tops in their book. The school’s teachers and staff were dedicated, the school-wide reading program – excellent. Some of the Spanish-speaking parents used their kids as interpreters. School Committee Mary Mullaney called the public hearing “a beautiful” experience – seeing the families and hear them all speaking so lovingly of their Main South grammar school.

What we all witnessed was a reaffirmation of America and what it means to be an American. It has nothing to do with being rich or connected – it has everying to do with how hard you try, how diligently you work. If your parents were from Equador – cool! Join the American family! Here is your grand school! Here are the teachers who want to see you read and write and grow up to be teachers and doctors and community leaders.

The American public school system. Books, learning, knowledge. Schools like Goddard that not only teach kids but feed them and welcome their families and anchor an entire neighborhood.
It was wonderful to hear a Goddard parent – a Ms. Ortiz – laugh and speak with pride about her daughter complaining that she is getting too much homework at Goddard. And that it is so hard. Hooray! was Ms. Ortiz’s response. Keep challenging my daughter, keep making her grow and learn!

But let’s back track: The Worcester School Committee held this meeting/public hearing because of a bad thing that happened: the state department of education’s decision to invalidate all of the Goddard School MCAS test results.

It was the kind of meeting where the “people” shone and the politicians bombed. I believe the meeting will make or break the political futures/careers of school committeewomen Tracy Novick and Dianne Biancheria. The two women – especially Novick – believe they have staked out some sort of moral high ground in calling for total access to the state’s Goddard MCAS investigation/findings. Long time (and popular) Worcester School Comittee member Brian O’Connel – who amazingly joined the two women in their foolhardy quest – will most likely come out of this creepy episode in WPS history relatively unscathed. And besides, he sort of backpedaled during the school committee meeting, sounding not half as harsh or accusatory as his two colleagues, even though he signed on to their misguided petition.

And what do Novick and company want? They want to SEE EVERY STATE DEPT. of EDUCATION DOCUMENT re: the Goddard MCAS test investigation that lead to the state chucking all of the Goddard students’ MCAS scores. Novick and company want to see every note, every name, every nuance in the case. They say they want to shed light on this “scandal” and that transparency is golden.

Poppy cock.

The state dept. of education has conducted a thorough investigation, remedies will be made and Goddard School will move forward.

That is all we need to know.

Not Novick and pals. Apparently, they are determined to discover which teachers at The Goddard School were a bit overzealous when adminstering the state MCAS tests. They want to know which Goddard teachers were nudging their student test-takers in the right direction (read: right answers), writing out more of an answer than what a child dictated to them (for the special needs kids with IEP plans) and encouraging students to put down more detailed answers.

Inquiring minds want to know!

Dr. Boone, Goddard School and four of the Worcester School Committee members have accepted the state findings and, like me, want to move forward.

This is not a cop out. The state, working with our school superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone, conducted an exhaustive investigation and has come up with a remedial plan for Goddard School. Months of interviewing teachers, confering with Dr. Boone, poring over the tests – and what Worcester got from the state was this: a reprimand, an official reprimand (not a firing) of Goddard School Prinicpal Mrs. Guerra, and a change in the way the test is adminstered in Goddard – from now on the district takes over. Also, the state is mandating a city-wide training program of all our public school prinicpals during which time they will re-learn how to properly administer the MCAS test.

Everyone accepts this, accept Novick and Company.

No one but Dr. Boone and (I’m assuming Goddard staffers) have seen the state paperwork. The Worcester community just knows the results – outcomes. This is fine with me. This is also fine with Mayor Joseph O’Brien, head of the Worcester School Committee, and three other Worcester School Committee members: John Monfredo, Jack Foley and Mary Mullaney. They have accepted the state’s findings, reprimands and want to move on.

Not Novick and Company.

Why torment an entire school? Why publicly point fingers at kids and teachers? Why make a school that is heroically serving poor inner-city families ashamed?

Novick and Company want to know who did what at Goddard and when – and why. They want to know what went on in each and every Goddard School classroom the day that the MCAS test was adminstered to the entire school. They say they aren’t conducting a witch hunt but that is exactly what they are doing. They say it is all information that the WPS committee and the public should be privvy to.

Oh, yeah?

And here is where Novick and company lose me. So they can do what? Say what? Recommend what? These people – the Worcester School Committee – set policy for the WPS. They do not run our schools, they do not adminster school tests to our students, they do not hire or fire school teachers or principals. Many of them are not school teachers – have never taught kids in a classroom. Novick and company cannot change (in any way) the manner in which the MCAS test is given or the tests’ content, test-taking rules, etc.

I believe this is all about a privileged, white, out-of-touch, stay-at home-Mom – Tracy Novick – and her quest for the spotlight. She is dragging Goddard School students into the mud with her on some self-righteous quest. A quest that serves no one, certainly not the students and staff at Goddard.

Novick took to the bully pulpit with a relish I have not seen in a long time: Yes! Good People of Worcester, she seemed to say, I will save you! Save you from the horrible MCAS tests! Save you from the horrible Mr. Chester at the state ed dept. I will fight for the autonomy of the classroom teacher! Help me dissect all that happend on the horriffic shameful day – so every one – especially the kids – relivesthe horror – the instances when it all went wrong. Then the enitre city will know who these imperfect teachers are and (let’s not kid ourselves) who the underperforming students are.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be the two or three or five or ten Goddard students who made the mistakes that cost the entire school their MCAS test results?

If the MCAS is as irrelevant as Nocick says, why belabor the state results? Why go over tests that she feels are pointless – even detrimental to the stukdents of WPS students? Maybe that’s the answer: This Goddard mini-scandal has given Nocik the chance to UNDO the MCAS and become a hero to families all thorugh the state.

Novick needs to cool her heels – and review the public access channels filming of the School Committee meeting. She looks shrill and immature.

Bianchiaria? God knows who put what in her Kool Aid. As I watched the school committee meetings and heard people testify for and against the state results – Bianchiara came off as the dopiest person in the room. By the end of the hearing, she could bearly talk – had lost her voice. We only wish it had happened earlier. Bianchiria kept saying she was out of the loop – intimating that she was not one of the favored school committe memembers who she thinks have a prtivate phone line straight to Dr. Boone’s desk telephone.

This could not be further from the truth. Other shcool committee members have told the disgruntled Bianchirai that Dr. Boone has a “call me anytime” policy and that all Bianchiria needs to do is to pick up the phone.

There are some observers who have this theory: Dianna Biancheria lost her great job at the Worcester School Department (she worked on Irving Street) and has an axe to grind.

Neither I nor any of these school committee folks are proponets of cheating, believe in cover ups or wish to harm the students of the Worcester public Schools. In fact, people like O’Brien and Monfredo, are passionate about inner-city kids and reaching them in any way they can to improve their lives.

Mayor O’Brien lives in the heart of Main South and said during the meeting that he knows many of the Goddard School students and their families. Monfredo, is one of the most selfless people I kknow. I had him as a fifth grade teacher in the old Lamartine Street School when I was 10. He was – and I can say this with all certainty – the best, the BEST teacher I ever had. He loved all the Lamartine kids and worked so hard to teach us and to help us grow as citizens of the world. Books, games, pocket pets, field trips, song writing contests, cool arts andcrafts projects, etc – this is what Mr.Monfredo did for all of his gradefive students – and the school.
Mr. Monfredo went on to become Belmont Community School principal – one of Worcester’s poorest schools in one of the city’s most challenging neighborhoods.

Mr. Monfredo retired and immediatley began writing a column for my paper – InCity Times – and ran for Worcester School committee – and won. Big time. Every parent in every poor neighborhod of Worcester knows or knows of the great work Mr. Monfredo has done for the neediest kids of Worcester. And did I forget to mention he and his wife, Anne Marie, a former teacher at Nelson Place School, run a county wide book drive, getting thousands and thousands of books donated to their volunteer group Worcester, The City That Reads. The group distributes the books to needy kids, families and schools.

Though I am no huge fan of Mary Mullaney, she had all of her kids (several – a gaggle of them) attend the Worcester Public Schools. She was very very involved in all her kids’ school careers.

Let’s side with these folks in saying NO to Novick and Company’s misguided crusade!

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