A big “THANK YOU!” to our retiring Worcester School Committee members!

By Edith Morgan

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A Worcester Public Schools student and her mom. Worcester’s school system is a majority-minority school system. Photo by Rosalie Tirella.

One thing is certain: things will continue to change. But change for the better is not always assured, so this is a good time to take stock of the changes in the Worcester School Committee and thank those who have served. And to take note of the changes we should be watching for. (Remember, no one can help or harm you until you have empowered him/her to do so.)

On January 3, 2022, in the Great Hall at Mechanics Hall, beginning at 5:30 p.m. inaugural exercises will take place and the orderly transfer of civic power will take place in our School Committee and our City Council.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to two long-term School Committee members: John Monfredo and Jack Foley. They chose not to run for their seats again. Each brought something unique and valuable to their terms in office.

Jack Foley, through his connection in administration at Clark University, was able to help the Worcester Public School System to establish and maintain our unique and nationally recognized University Park School, a remarkable cooperative venture between Clark University and the neighborhood school, which has benefited so much over the years. Jack has always maintained his interest In special needs children and actively participated in efforts to raise funds for the system.

John Monfredo came up through the ranks, becoming a teacher decades ago at the old Lamartine Street School in Green Island and years later becoming very well known for being for many years the principal at Belmont Elementary School. He was well known for his ability to bring parents, students and the community together. He had a parents room, worked tirelessly to connect with the families of his students, many of them poor. But perhaps the best known of his endeavors, the one which touched and continues to touch the lives of so many children, is the project which he and his wife Anne Marie, a retired WPS teacher of Nelson Place Elementary School, have spearheaded for these many years. Worcester Reads…it is the getting into the hands of our city children more 970,000 books.

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Mayor Joseph Petty will still be chairman of the Worcester School Committee. Photo by Ron O’Clair.

You have probably heard that “Worcester is the city that reads.” I would not hesitate to credit that fact to the untiring efforts of the Monfredos. I am also certain that with the support of the community and the addition of at least one more bookstore, that legacy is safe!

Both of these members have taken an active part always to ensure that we provide the very best education possible for all our children, a task which has not always been easy. But both these men have exemplified the kind of unselfish community involvement that the public should expect and deserve. Both have always reached out to those with whom they did not perhaps fully agree but have maintained an attitude of respect for other viewpoints.

I have always made a point of differentiating between statesmen, who put country, their duty, those whom they serve before themselves – and these two men are examples of that. We have been very fortunate thus far that we have elected persons who aspire to be ‘statesmen and women’. That is especially fortunate, since local elections involve such a small percentage of the voters, so that so few voters can exert great power.

On January 3rd we will welcome several new faces to our Worcester School Committee: we welcome Jermaine L. Johnson, Jermoh v. Kamara and Susan N. Mailman who will join re-elected incumbents Laura Clancey, Molly McCullough and Tracy O’Connell Novick. The chairmanship will of course continue to be our mayor, Joseph Petty.

This new committee is the most diverse we have ever had, in many areas. So I will expect that there will be a great many new ideas presented and discussed. Several of the new members bring backgrounds in areas not before fully represented on the committee, and all are younger than the previous members.

Time will tell whether they will all be able to share and advance the vital concerns of our school system. I know they will get all the help they need from the outgoing members, as well as Dr, Helen Friel, who knows everything about it all.

The new members face some really challenging changes: the discussion about changing representation, and establishing 6 districts with one elected member from each, with two elected city-wide at large, would bring the committee to eight members, patterned on the city council. The idea is to get representation from all parts of the city. I recall that when I ran in the 90’s most committee members were from the West side: I was’ the only one from the north-east of the city.

The other major challenge facing the new group is the selection of a new Worcester public schools superintendent. It is no secret that I was a supporter of the present superintendent, Maureen Binienda, whom I have known for 40 years, and who had worked her way up in the system and whom I had always respected and admired for her total dedication to all her students.

While it is the job of the Worcester School Committee to provide the ideas, the direction and the basic goals of the system, it is the job of the school superintendent to carry out these goals and to act as the liaison between the public and the school system.

I wish them all well: these are very trying times for public servants. It is hard to keep your eye on the huge tasks entrusted to our public schools; to turn out, after 12+ years, a human being able to reason, know fact from falsehood, understand the history of this nation, and to be able take his/her place in our democratic society that was once the envy of the world.

Good luck to our new members!