💕The Worcester Public Schools – always in style! New column from John Monfredo …


By John Monfredo, retired Lamartine Street School teacher and Belmont Community School principal and former Worcester School Committee member

This September on Highland Street: a dad walking his son to school. photo: R.T.

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, CECELIA asked students in Worcester County to write about their “Three Wishes for the Holiday.” In staying with that theme, I thought that I would write about my “Three Wishes” for the WPS administration and the Worcester School Committee, for our students, as we enter 2023.

Let’s start with School Safety!

The WPD police officers were removed from the high schools this year because the Worcester City Council, with the approval of some members of the Worcester School Committee, removed the funding. The move was opposed by former WPS Superintendent Maureen Binienda and our secondary school principals because they felt it was not in the best interest of the students. This was considered a preventative measure. As a school committee member at that time, I opposed the move – not only because of the safety concern but because I had witnessed the positive interaction between students and the safety officers in the schools. Having the police in the schools gave students the opportunity to interact with them and build trust. I felt – and still do – that it was a mistake to eliminate the police officers, especially in this climate of gun violence within our society. According to recent police records, there has been more violence taking place in our WPSchools since the SRO’s were taken out of the schools. In addition, the bonding with the students is a missing ingredient to other plans mentioned by some city council members. At one of the meetings some citizen stated the students are fearful of the police. It is all the more reason to build a partnership!

How best to build a partnership than to have police in the schools and ensure the safety of the students? As a former WPS school principal, I had members of the police department serve as mentors, and we had special nights for the police, students and parents to get together. Many of my former students still talk about this positive relationship. As we move forward, let’s get input from our principals and staff, those in the schools, as to what is working and what needs to be changed. That’s wish #1!

Second Wish

As a school district we need to address the achievement gap starting in the early years. We need more prevention programs. Closing “the gap” is widely considered to be one of the major challenges facing public education. The gap refers to the academic achievement between students whose families who are of low-income and students from middle and upper-income families in Worcester. Despite everyone’s interest, the gap has continued to persist, and only modest progress has taken place.

We, as a community and school district, need to address the problem and make it a top priority. Yes, parent involvement and reaching out to parents is essential. Every school needs to have parent involvement as their number one priority. We need to teach parents and encourage them on how to help their child at home. As part of that process, we need to start early and can’t give up on our parents.

First, we need to expand our FULL DAY preschool programs. I made that request dozens of times as a school committee member but was told it was a money issue or we didn’t have room in the existing schools. Both answers are unacceptable. We have the money – we just hired 17 new school administrators! And there is room in many of our schools.

We also need to work with private pre-school organizations and get our students to attend a full-day pre-school program. I can attest that full-day preschool programs work, for as a principal I had a full-day program for several years and my first-grade teachers told me that they could pick out the students who were in the program. These children were ready to read!

Along with that issue is the problem of students enrolling in kindergarten at the age of four. Many of the four year olds entering school are not emotionally or socially ready! In Worcester, unlike ALL districts in the state of Massachusetts, children can start the year off at age four for the age cut off is December 31st. Other districts in Massachusetts have the cut off date August 31st.

Why is Worcester the only district with an early starting date? As I proposed several times in the past, why not change the date to August 31st?

If you are not going to change the date here is another plan: After screening our four-year olds, consider a Kindergarten 1 classroom or a pre-school program for those students not ready. Many of those children can then be in a full-day two-year program in the kindergarten. They will have ample time to acquire readiness skills and mature. Thus, they will be starting off grade one with the necessary skills to be successful and not be frustrated at an early age. There is NO REASON that this can not be done in Worcester!

In summary, my second wish is for the starting time to be pushed back to August 31st – or that we enroll our four-year olds in a full day pre-school program or a K1 program. Adding more full-day pre-school programs is part of this wish. Let’s do it NOW! Early education is important for our children. Investments in quality childhood education more than pay significant returns to children – our future citizens. Again, this is a preventative approach that is long overdue!

My Final Wish

This is a tough one because I did have several wishes … more after school tutoring, additional training on the teaching of reading, raises for our staff, more Instructional Assistance in the elementary schools … but I’ll stay with the theme of three wishes.

Next, let’s change the starting time in our secondary schools!

This has been an on-going discussion across our nation and, as research continues, more conversations persist. Researchers in the field of health see very early a.m. start times as harmful to teenagers. They concluded that poor sleep has been linked to increased reliance on caffeine, tobacco and alcohol, and they also discovered a link between sleep deprivation and poor academic performance.

While it may seem the solution is for teens to simply go to bed earlier, researchers say that isn’t a viable solution. Teens experience hormonal shifts that make falling asleep earlier difficult. Their biological clocks simply won’t allow them to fall asleep at 9 p.m., even when they’re tired.

Schools that have shifted to a later school start time have seen positive results, such as:

… increased attendance rates

… a decrease in disciplinary action

… a decrease in student-involved car accidents

… an increase in students’ GPA

… an increase in state assessment scores

… increase in student attention

… decrease in students sleeping in class

… increase in quality of student-family interaction

One school, according to the research, saw a decrease in tardiness, substance abuse and symptoms of mental health issues.

The evidence is indisputable and, in the past, the administration in Worcester did agree on this – but the problem was how to do it. My recommendation is that we discuss this issue at the next school committee meeting or at a standing committee meeting with a deadline of March 2023 to come up with a plan.

I am asking that we review this issue creatively to see if we can come up with a starting time of 8 a.m. and research what other large school districts that have changed to a later starting time have done to accomplish this goal.

We as a school district need to make healthy policy decisions for all students. So let’s move away from the talking stage and see what can be accomplished. We know the benefits from the research, but we are always stuck in neutral. Let’s be creative and see what can be done!

Those are my three wishes for our Worcester Public Schools students in the new year. If you have any thoughts on the subject, let me know. Email me at monfredoj@gmail.com.

Happy New Year!