Tag Archives: Worcester School Committee

Meet WPS Superintendent Maureen Binienda

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Maureen Binienda’s new digs on Irving Street pic:R.T.

By Edith Morgan

Many years ago, one of our vice-presidents (Spiro Agnew, I believe) referred to the naysayers and critics with the unforgettable phrase: “nattering nabobs of negativity”. The phrase stuck in my mind, not only because of its unusual use of vocabulary, and its alliteration, which enabled me to remember it, but also because of the sound of the words. That phrase has come back to me repeatedly over the years, as I listened to the critics and pessimists run down everything that was proposed or planned.

But now it seems to me there is a new feeling the air, and new optimism. I credit much of that to our governing triumvirate: our mayor Joe Petty, our city manager Ed Augustus, and the newest addition to that team, our superintendent Maureen Binienda. All three are unabashed ly optimistic and hopeful for our city and its citizens.

I have to admit that when the superintendent search was narrowed down to local talent, I had some moments of misgivings, as I have always been in favor of finding new ideas, new solutions, new methods, to solve long-term problems. And more often than not, they come from outside. But as I see how our local government is now functioning, I have to admit that I was wrong.

We in Worcester are very fortunate to have chosen leadership that is positive, optimistic, and above all that has the quality that makes it possible to enlist the cooperation of others to accomplish their goals.

I interviewed Superintendent Maureen Binienda in her office on Irving Street on a Friday afternoon. And even though it was just after school began, there was a sense of calm and confidence in the whole office, an attitude of “what can we do for you”, that put me at ease immediately.

I have known Maureen Binienda for over 40 years, off and on in many settings – we both were teachers and then administrators for many years. Our paths crossed frequently in different venues – and I always found her to be a whirlwind of activity , always positive, and always ready to listen.

Maureen is small in stature, and looks so much like my image of the typical Irish colleen – with her blue eyes and black hair, though I am not sure she has the freckles….. But she comes by it all very naturally: those of you who have been in Worcester a long time surely know the Callans; Maureen comes from a long line of Worcester Public Schools employees: her grandfather was principal of the former Millbury Street Elementary School, he rmother secretary of WPS; both her husband and daughter are also teachers.
Maureen attended Catholic School after the eighth grade, , graduated from Fitchburg State in 1976 with a degree in Special Education, Her scholarship and other qualities were repeatedly recognized, as she was awarded full Jacob Hyatt Scholarship to Harvard to pursue her education. She says “it is nice to give back”, after having been given these great opportunities.

When I asked her what her main goals and dreams were, she mentioned first that she would focus on Pre- K literacy. We need to start the children out as early as possible . She also would like to bring back “community Schools “ which were so successful but suffered from the cuts that rained down on our schools when so much public money was little by little withdrawn from city schools.

She is also hoping to get more opportunities for high school students to get college credits while still finishing high school. And she mentioned that there ought to be more merit scholarships available . While we always need more funds to help poor children, she will not neglect middle class children.
While our schools have received many donations of instruments for our music programs, she would like to have instruments for all our schools, (Music and the arts have been cut too often and too much recently – ).
She says every child should have a Chrome Book, and our technology needs to be improved (constantly?) . And (still dreaming?) the system should have vans to take students to internship sites to practice civic engagement.

I am not sure how she finds time to pursue her hobbies: she loves to swim, has been a lifeguard and swimming instructor. She hopes to travel, especially wants to get to visit the Caribbean. She has been to Ireland three times already, but wants to see Italy still.

Maureen could have retired some time ago, but when I asked why she stays on, she said she would retire when her work is done – when all our schools are recognized by the State and nation as providing effective education for ALL our students . I would add that when all our students are assured that there will be enough , regular funding to achieve the goal of providing a quality education to all, for as long as it takes to get there.

While Maureen has the education, the dedication, and the experience, there is one more quality that I believe will be crucial to her success: it was exemplified in her “opening salvo”: it was when she assembled ALL staff together: not just teachers and professionals, but also aides, custodians, food services personnel – EVERYONE (I’m sure I left out someone –sorry!) . For the first time, all those who come into the lives of our children were all together one place, and all members of a team and all part of a larger enterprise, all with the same goal. The rest of the year, there is little opportunity to see the larger picture, and to meet face to face. So I believe this was a great idea –and one that will be repeated.

As a Worcester resident, and lifelong educator and supporter of the best in public schools, I wish our superintendent much success – I know she will continue to do great work as she has done in the past .
Just a quick commercial: I visited South High when Maureen was principal there, and saw what the students were doing with Andy’s Attic – as I recently saw that donations are needed of clothing and other items (they will take donations too), I end this article with an appeal for help to South High so they can pass it on…..

THE WPS SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS – PARENTS, GET INVOLVED!

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Future music major! pic:R.T.

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

As summer vacation comes to a close, I hope that our students have engaged in learning activities throughout the summer, especially reading on a daily basis. As school begins, many parents have huge smiles on their face – others become very apprehensive.

As a former school principal (Belmont Community), let me remind everyone that not all teachers are parents, but all parents are teachers. Parents are children’s first and most influential teachers, and all school systems must do more to involve parents in the learning process. Research has clearly shown that there is a critical link between parent involvement and student achievement.

Schools need to give more than “lip service” to involve parents in the learning process. Parents need to approach their child’s school and let staff know that they are interested in being involved! Parents, STAY INVOLVED!!

Let’s see what I can do to take away some of the stress of going back to school! First, it’s important that parents right now set up a bedtime schedule, for sleep is at the center of a healthy child and enables them to do well in school. According to research, it’s essential that parents keep a bedtime routine, especially during school time. Research suggests an hour before bedtime – put away all electronic devises to help kids wind down. Use that time for reading to them, or give them the opportunity to read for 30 minutes in bed.

Parents need to develop good management practices at home for their children such as homework time and packing their backpacks before turning in and placing them at the outside door. Speaking of backpacks, parents need to retrieve them as soon as their children come home and get those papers out … sign permission slips and add school appointments to the family calendar. Routines can be a potent force in keeping everyone on the same track. Consider a checklist for the simple tasks of who gets to use the bathroom first and what’s for breakfast. What you need to do is be organized – doing so takes the stress out of the day.

Let your child know that school is a number one priority for him. Do it by word of mouth and be setting up realistic schedules, such as for homework. Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit place to do homework. Avoid having your child do homework with the television on or in places with other distractions.

Make sure the materials your child needs, such as paper, pencils and a dictionary, are available.

Ask your child if special materials will be needed for some projects and get them in advance.

Help your child with time management.
Establish a set time each day for doing homework. Most important – don’t let your child leave homework until just before bedtime. Think about using a weekend morning or afternoon for working on big projects, especially if the project involves getting together with classmates.

Reading time at home…make reading for 20 minutes a day – a part of your child’s routine.

Show your child that the skills they are learning are related to things you do as an adult. If your child is reading, you read, too. Parents, your child was born to be a reader and a writer. Someone has to show them the way and that person is YOU! It is your job to help your child enjoy reading or to be motivated to read.

Every day is a learning moment. Here are some fun activities to do with your child:

Many children’s movies and television shows are based upon stories and books. Encourage your child to read books based on the story or television show. This is a good way to get adolescents and reluctant readers involved in reading books.

There are many wonderful children’s magazines available. Get a magazine subscription as gift, and this could stimulate your child’s interest in reading.

Encourage your child to write letters to friends, relatives – or even to Worcester School Committee members! (We love hearing from students!) Your child could also send a letter via e-mail to a friend or relative.

In addition, parents also need to make every effort to meet their child’s teacher early in the school year.

Teachers are always very excited about meeting their new students and new parents. It is always best to make an appointment to meet with your child’s teacher to introduce yourself and let them know you are there to support your child’s learning. Taking time to meet and introduce yourself and your child to the school principal is also a way to let your child know other adults at the school are there to help him/her. These are especially good ideas to use if your child has special needs or if the family is going through difficult times, such as divorce, an illness, death of a family member, or a recent or pending move.

Other ideas for parents/guardians:

· Learn everything you can about your child’s school

· Review the school’s handbook and the school district’s web site

· Contact the teacher immediately if your child doesn’t understand an assignment or if you notice a change in your child’s behavior or school performance.

Worth mentioning: participate in parent meetings and conferences and special events at the school. Do join the school’s Parent Organization.

Best wishes for a great school year!

Should you need any advice, please feel free to contact me at monfredoj@gmail.com.

Education parked in YY … SUMMER READING + MATH ACTIVITIES = SCHOOL SUCCESS IN SEPTEMBER!

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Jett adjusts his reading glasses!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

Should school districts change the school calendar and eliminate summer vacations? That was a headline of a story I wrote several years ago for InCity Times. Obviously, it was to get the attention of the reader, but as you know more truth is said in jest! Since my days as a principal of Belmont Community School and then as a Worcester School Committee member I have been espousing the dangers of academic loss during summer vacation, known as the “summer slide.”

Summer reading and math loss is real. As readers, do you know that the best predictor of summer loss or gain is whether or not your children read during the summer? If your children don’t read during the summer months they’ll likely lose skills. But the good news is that you can prevent it! More on this to follow.

Let’s first look at the facts: low-income students lose substantial ground in reading during the summer, while their higher-income peers often gain. What I find most disturbing is that research shows that summer learning loss is cumulative year after year and this contributes to the student achievement gap that we all hear about. Figure it out: If children are losing two to three months of academic growth during the summer and if you look at that situation occurring year after year, it adds up to be a heavy loss by the time the student enters the seventh grade. According to researchers, the result of a “summer slide” in academic skills may account for 80% of the achievement gap by grade six.

Sure, everyone is excited about summer time, but it can be devastating to the young minds of our children in the inner city as we look at the data or just use some common sense. Summer can be the enemy of the school teacher, for students forget their math and they stop reading. In the case of those students with limited English skills, many lose their newly acquired words. The summer slide is real, for our schools see the decline in reading and math achievement just from being away from school. Often it is the students who can least afford to lose the reading or math gains they’ve achieved during the school year who fall the farthest behind when they return to the classroom after summer break.

I do hope that I have the attention of my readers! This is a very serious problem! Let’s see what we as a community can do about it:

First, a reading list was passed out to our WPS students during “Reading in our City Week,” urging parents to make sure their children read at least five books during the summer and do the writing activities that are assigned. Parents, I urge you to make reading a priority at home. I am suggesting that reading take place every day in your household. Make it happen, parents and grandparents! If we could get parents to read to their child just 20 minutes a night we could revolutionize public education! As stated in the reading pamphlet from the Worcester Public Schools, it is very important to help your child understand that summer reading can be fun and beneficial at the same time. Students who develop the habit of reading not only learn to be better readers but also achieve greater success in school.

Remember, readers are leaders!

In addition, the Worcester Public Schools sent home a “Summer Math Activity” pamphlet. Regular math practice over the summer will maintain and strengthen math gains made over the school year. The activities are fun and can involve the entire family. Also, think about opportunities through cooking to learn fractions or trips to the grocery store as opportunities to learn math skills, just doing measuring or tracking temperature. Play educational games.

The trick is how do we make this fun and motivating, while giving children serious opportunities to learn the skills they need? I would also advocate that our students practice and master their math facts through math games and flash cards during the summer break. Play cards such as “War.” When one turns over a card you need to call out the two cards with multiplication answer. Example 9 and 8 – call out 72 (same for addition and subtraction facts).

Please take the time to look at the suggestions from the schools and if you have any questions talk to someone at the Central Office, for there are 16 summer school sites open this year. Give it some thought: if there are any openings register your child for one of those programs. In addition, across the city there are a number of free or inexpensive programs for parents to consider for their child. So look into them immediately.

Another reminder: Remember that the best deal in our city is a visit to the Worcester Public Library or to one of its many branches. The library has lots of ongoing programs this summer. It’s imperative that our adults take the time to bring a child to the library!

In Worcester government, Discrimination = Disparate Impact

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Dr. Carter – Worcester’s Chief Diversity Officer

By Gordon Davis

Disparate Impact discrimination is the legal term that describes discrimination without animus.

It usually is found as a policy that results in an adversely negative impact on a protected class based on a so called neutral or nondiscriminatory policy.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that criminal records disclosures can be considered disparate impacts.

It and other organization have created new policies to ensure that people who have been formerly incarcerated or arrested will get at least a chance for an interview when applying for work.

Another example of disparate impact is the so called School to Jail Pipeline which many people consider racist because it affects a disproportional number of Black Latino and poor students. The institutional mechanism and policies of the School to Jail Pipeline negatively affects all students.

The School to Jail Pipeline’s policies are racist, not because it is based on any negative animus but because it has a disproportional negative impact on Black, Latino and other students.

The solution to the disproportionally negative impact is a rewrite of policies. For Massachusetts the change has seemingly come in M.G.L. Chapter 222.

The opponents of the efforts to reform the policies leading to disparately negative impacts sometimes use the pretext of colorblindness.

We have seen this use by a local columnist to defend a lack of effective programs, the Worcester Police Department and people working in the Worcester Public Schools. In her recent column she said that white teachers are the victims.

A good teacher is a good teacher regardless of protected class or race. We should instead look at the policies that have the negative impact on our children.

It has been pointed out to me that the recent promotions of City of Worcester and Worcester Public School officials could be an example of Disparate Impact:

The present Commissioner of the Worcester Department of Public Works, Mr. Moosey, was, before he was appointed, the next in line to replace then DPW and P Commissioner Mr. Moylan.

Ms. Ledoux, the present Worcester City Clerk, was next in line when she was promoted and replaced her boss, David Rushford who recently retired.

The new City of Worcester Chief of Police, Mr. Sargent, was next in line when he was promoted to replace the retired Chief Gary Gemme.

All the people mentioned above are white and they were all well qualified for their experience and promoted to the top positions with in their respective departments.

There was one exception to this apparent policy of promoting the employee next in line: The Assistant Superintendent of our Worcester Public Schools was passed over in favor of a less qualified candidate. In this particular case the Assistant Superintendent is Latino and the less qualified candidate – now School Superintendent – is white.

In terms of unlawfulness this might not be disparate impact. The hiring process of department heads was not the same or similarly done, as was the hiring of the Worcester School Superintendent. The Worcester School Committee made the decision regarding the Superintendent. The aforementioned city department heads were appointed by either Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus or elected by the Worcester City Council.

Our School Suprintendent is hired by the Worcester School Committee.

However, the hiring of Maureen Benienda as School Superintendent certainly was not in compliance with Affirmative Action policies of the City of Worcester or their intent.

The policies were written to ensure that when a person in a protected class has the same or better qualifications as a candidate not in the protected class, the person in the protected class would be hired.

This Affirmative Action policy has worked very well for the Worcester Police Department for the protected class of armed forces veterans. One hundred percent of police cadets are veterans.

Is there animus in Worcester’s hiring practices?

Maybe there is.

Is there an adversely negative impact in Worcester’s hiring policies?

Yes, there is, as seen in the statistics.

All of the promotions to department heads have been white. The better qualified Latino candidate for School Superintendent is Latino and he was passed over.

Dr. Carter, the recent hire for the newly created Worcester Chief Diversity Officer position, does not seem to have any power to do anything significant.

I believe she is a good person in a position requiring moral courage.

Unfortunately, this was predicted during last summer Department of Justice “dialogues on race.”bThis writer said those “dialogues“ are a joke and that the position of Chief Diversity Officer would be just a token or crumb for “minorities” to fight over.

Gordy parked in A.I. … Charter Schools in Worcester – the real dialogue on race

By Gordon Davis

There was an organizational first meeting for the Worcester Chapter of Save Our Public Schools (SOS) June 1. There was a coalition of people who came together because of their concerns for the Worcester Public Schools.

Although not immediately obvious, the SOS organization was set up to defeat the Ballot Initiative of raising the cap on Charter Schools in the State of Massachusetts. There will be door to door canvassing this Saturday, June 4.

The organization Jobs with Justice and the Education Association of Worcester are also supporting the defeat of the raising of the charter school cap. Members of the Msss. Human Rights, Progressive Labor Party, and Socialist Alternative also attended the meeting.

One of the officials from the EAW pointed out that this meeting of the SOS was a one-issue meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to defeat the increase in Charter Schools. She did not feel that the discussion of race or the racist school to jail pipeline was appropriate. Her comments were in response to the back and forth between several Black and Hispanic people and some people who called themselves teachers. Michael Jerry a local activist who hosts the Voice of the Voiceless radio show felt that the Public Schools were failing Black, Hispanic and poor students. Others in the audience mentioned the so called school to jail pipeline.

Ruth Rodriguez pointed out what she considered the racist draining of money from the public schools which caused the State to put into receivership three mostly Hispanic school districts: Lawrence, Holyoke and Southbridge.

Michael Lyons who said he was a teacher for 12 years in Worcester denied that there was a racism problem. He said all the students were treated the same. Many in the audience disagreed and a shouting match ensued.

Another person who claimed to be a teacher said the real issue was that the disciplinary measures taken against students were not harsh enough. He blamed parents. Again, like with Mr. Lyons, this man was shouted down.

It became clear the organizers and sponsor did not want to lose the teachers who seemed to be, at least in the eyes of the Black and Latino people in the room, anti-students and racist.

Councillor Khrystian King supports the cap on charter schools.

Brian Allen, Chief Financial Officer of the Worcester Public Schools, gave an all too short but very informative talk. He described the ballot initiative and the funding of Public Schools in Bill 2220. He said Worcester Public Schools will be underfunded by $60 million, compared to the recommendations determined by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. About $30 million of the shortfall is for special needs students.

A parent from the audience pointed out that when she wanted her special needs daughter to go a charter school, the charter refused to accept her. The parent said that the treatment of her daughter was discrimination.

A gentleman pointed out that Charter Schools in Massachusetts have their origins in the 1974 desegregation of Boston Schools. Because of desegregation, many White parents in Boston set up private schools. Kevin Bulger, brother of Whitey Bulger, pulled some legislative trickery to allow charter schools in Boston and Worcester. This was done in the middle of the night and no one from Worcester knew about the maneuver.

I am in favor of the cap on charter schools because those schools are separate and unequal.

Charter Schools have not shown that academically they are better than Worcester Public Schools. The charter schools have certainly drained significant resources from the Worcester Public Schools District at a time Worcester’s so called minority population of students is increasing.

In A.I. … CELL PHONES: GOOD FOR OUR SCHOOLS OR NOT?

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member

“Request that the School Committee review the policy on cell phones and gather information from all secondary principals.”

This was the item that I submitted after talking to many teachers and administrators.

The item was brought to the Worcester School Committee standing committee on governance and employee issues two weeks ago.

Having spoken to several administrators and teachers I found that many are frustrated because the Worcester Public Schools has a policy that is not being enforced or is unenforceable. The present policy is for students to have their cell phones in their lockers. Students don’t follow the rule because many fear that their expensive devices will be stolen, and not all lockers work. They don’t want to “chance it.”

Many researchers feel the cell phone is an addiction,for the students need to have it on at all times.

Many parents defend cell phones at school for safety purposes. They argue that in the case of an emergency, they want immediate access to their children. In addition, parents have stated to me that they want to communicate directly with their children about pick up time, scheduling and emergencies that come up without having to go through the school office.

Additionally, there are teachers who support 21st century technology because cell phones are handheld computers that could enhance learning. These proponents see the cell phone as a real world tool and feel schools need to teach students to use them for a constructive purpose such as taking notes to help with classroom research.

However, teachers on the other side of the issue have written to me and stated that cell phones are a distraction … citing cheating, texting, and even parents calling their children during school time, which takes the focus off learning. One teacher said, “I truly believe that cell phones are interfering with school progress. Never mind the social media drama they bring to school because of what they say to each other via Facebook or text. .. a good amount of school mediations in our secondary schools are social media related. We really need to work at this situation – the cell phone is interfering big time with school progress. Unfortunately, technology is hurting us on this one.”

The distraction data backs up what teachers have acknowledged in looking at the infractions this year within our secondary schools. W find close to 300 cell phone viollatons. It’s time consuming and a loss of learning for many students.

My agenda item calls for our secondary principals to come up with a clearly defined cell phone policy for the next school year and provide consequences for violations of the policy.

We need to meet with our students and explain to them what the policy is and without a doubt discuss the policy with parents and ask them to support it.

At the meeting several principals volunteered to serve on a policy committee, and during the cell phone discussion suggestions ranged from creating three separate policies for elementary, middle and secondary schools … retention of cell phones in lockers for middle school students … considering ways to use cell phones in an appropriate ways for 21st century learning … placing restrictions on video and audio use … teaching proper phone etiquette … and examining what other districts have for a policy.

Not that there is a clear cut answer on this issue, but one state compared student exam records and cell policies from 2001 to 2013, and researchers noted a significant growth in student achievement in classrooms that banned cell phones, with student test scores improving by 6.41 percent.

Our Standing Committee, with the assistance from our principals, hopes to come up with a clearly defined and enforceable policy by the end of this school year.

The Supreme Court’s Road to Redemption

By Gordon Davis
 
I have been following my former friend from Holy Cross college (we were undergrads there), Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, since Justice Scalia’s death. Thomas voted on April 4, 2016, with the “liberal” Justices on the Supreme Court without comment. I believe that the individual can be redeemed and that Thomas is on the road to redemption.
 
On April 4, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that being registered to vote does not make us persons. As you know, the Supreme Court has the legal right under the Constitution to determine who among us are persons. In 1860s it said that freed Black people and their children are persons. Later in the 19th Century it said that corporations are people.

In this most recent case it ruled that people not registered to vote can continue to be persons.

A person is usually a human being. However in the USA it is what the Supreme Court says we are.

The recent case heard by the Supreme Court involved a challenge to the so called One Person One Vote principle found in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The number of persons has traditionally been determined by the U.S. Census, which takes place every 10 years. The states usually follow the U.S. Census when determining redistricting of state legislatures.

A right wing group, that some consider racist, in Texas challenged the constitutionality of using the U.S. Census to determine the number of persons and the One Person One Vote Principle. This group wanted a separate census in Texas based on voter registration.

As relatively more persons are registered to vote in the rural areas of the United States than in the urban areas the change sought by the right wing group would make the state legislatures more white and more rural.

However, it had other implications as well. It would mean that children would become non-persons as they could not be registered voters. It would mean permanent residents would be non-persons as they could not register to vote. Anyone who could not meet the difficult voter ID laws would be a non-person, too.

Fortunately for humanity, the Supreme Court without Scalia voted down the right wing challenge and took the road away from perdition.

The Supreme Court in a back-handed manner has affirmed that like corporations, children, immigrants and those of us who do not have a birth certificate or can afford a government ID are still persons.

As persons we (all residents of every American town, city and suburb) are entitled to representation by our state legislatures.

There is a message here for Worcester and Massachusetts which hold that only citizens can vote in an election. We should allow adult residents the right to vote. Adult residents could be able to vote in Worcester School Committee and Worcester City Council elections in Worcester – if there was a home rule petition allowing it.

The voting results of our November 2015 elections for Worcester School Committee suggest a need for residents, not just citizens, to vote in Worcester. The Worcester School Committee is entirely White, while the Worcester School District is majority Latino, Black and Asian.

In 2016 Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus, at the urging of a City Councillor, wrote a Home Rule Petition for the eviction of certain lesees. This petition lacked substance. 

The Manager should now write another petition that allows residents of the City of Worcester to vote in City of Worcester elections. I hope he has the moral character to do so. 

Gordy’s parked in yum yums: What Would You do with $91 million a Year?

By Gordon Davis
 
The Worcester School District is being underfunded at least $91,000,000 per year. This is according to the calculations found in M. G. L. Chapter 70 and the statutes for special needs education.

The purpose of this money is to ensure that school districts with low incomes and property values receive resources similar to those of wealthier school districts. This makes sense, especially in terms of the low classroom sizes needed for quality education and for the intense educational effort needed by some special needs students.

However, for years – or decades – Worcester has been shortchanged by millions of dollars. Thinking of it as a tax refund might bring clarity. The State owes you a $2,000 refund, but only gives you $1,500. This is certainly unfair and possibly unlawful.

The excuse I most hear is the money had not been proposed in the Governor’s budget. This go along to get a long mentality is objectively harmful to the children of Worcester. I understand that several legislators have raised a fuss about the Governor’s education budget. Good for them!

I was surprised when a person who supports the Worcester Public Schools asked me what our School District would do with the money.

The answer I had for him was fairly easy, but also incomplete:

1. Ensure that special needs students get all of the resources that are required for them to be successful.  
 
2. Reduce the student-teacher ratio so that all students can get more individualized instruction.
 
 
3. Institute additional Advanced Placement courses to ensure that the students who are seeking college preparation get it.
 
4. Establish a school similar to the Nativity School in the Worcester Public Schools for children at risk.
 
5. Repair and modernize the school district’s buildings.
 
6. Establish an exam school for science and mathematics.
 
There does not seem to be any urgency in our delegation to the State House, members of the Worcester City Council or Worcester School Committee to get this money. In fact, I have heard only four people in the City talk about it and two of them are in CPPAC.  Another person is in the teachers’ union. State Rep. Mary Keefe is the fourth.

This money would not only help Worcester students be successful, but it would also add to the economy of the City. It would be a net gain, as more money would come in than leaves.

It would also mean scores of new jobs.

Hopefully, most of these jobs would be obtained by Worcester residents.

The additional money and the improvements to the Worcester School District would have the additional effect of helping to stop the drain of money to the charter schools.

A new exam school in Science and Math, a middle school based on the Nativity School model, additional Advanced Placement courses, and smaller class sizes should make the Worcester Public Schools even more attractive to students outside our District.

The students of Worcester would benefit more when the Worcester City Council stops its pipe dream of making Boston “jealous” and when the Worcester School Committee stops selecting candidates based on popularity.

I hope this wish list comes about within my lifetime.  

The Worcester Public Schools and the Drug Fantasies of the State House

By Gordon Davis
 
First, let me start off by saying that the opioid crisis is real and something needs to be done about it. Overall, it is a good thing that the State House recently passed an opioid bill.

The bill mandates drug screenings for public school children. However, there does not seem to be any evidence that the crisis is particularly acute in public schools. In fact, the statistical evidence is that drug use of any kind among high schools is declining.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse in a recent report said the following:

2014’s Monitoring the Future survey of drug use and attitudes among American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders continued to show encouraging news about youth drug use, including decreasing use of alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription pain relievers; no increase in use of marijuana; decreasing use of inhalants and synthetic drugs, including K2/Spice and bath salts; and a general decline over the last two decades in the use of illicit drugs. 

Misuse and abuse (or “non-medical use”) of prescription and over-the-counter drugs continues to decline among the nation’s youth. Past-year use of the opioid pain reliever Vicodin has dropped significantly over the past 5 years; 4.8 percent of 12th graders used Vicodin for non-medical reasons in 2014, compared to 9.7 percent in 2009. Past-year use of narcotics other than heroin (which includes all opioid pain relievers) among high school seniors dropped from 7.1 percent in 2013 to 6.1 percent in 2014; 9.5 percent of seniors had reported past-year use of these drugs in 2004.

Private schools are not required to carry out drug screenings. Given that this is a medical issue, it seems prejudicial that the state Legislature was silent on drug screening for private schools. There are state laws on vaccinations that apply to private schools.

This seems to be another instance where public school children are treated in a disparate and maybe an unlawful manner.  The issue of mandatory drug screening certainly raises Fourth Amendment issues of searches by government agencies without probable cause. In this matter, it is a search without reasonable cause.

The drug screenings are to be conducted by school nurses or other medical personnel. 

I do not think each high school and middle school in Worcester has a school nurse; many of them were eliminated in budget cuts while ago. It is likely that there will be more layoffs next fiscal year due to school underfunding.

In theory, the parents of a child are able to opt out their child from the drug screening. This raises process and procedure questions as to how the parents will be informed about the substance and implication of the drug screening and how to opt their child out.

There are also questions about medical records. From my experience in discrimination law, every “oral“ warning was actually written down and placed in the employee’s file. I am pretty sure that the same will happen with these drug screenings.
 
I cannot imagine what the process would be if the nurse or other interrogator came to the conclusion that a child was abusing drugs. Such a conclusion is likely an automatic suspension from school.  Although the conversations with medical personnel are “confidential,” it is not the same as the lawyer-client privilege. Medical personnel can be summoned to give an affidavit or to court.

The Mass Human Rights and PLP plan to raise these issues with the Worcester School Administration and the Worester School Committee.

It seems like an issue other groups should be interested in – groups such as CPPAC and Jobs/School Not Jail.

With the transition to a new WPS Superintendent Worcester might not get to these issues for a while. How other school districts handle this new drug screening mandate could prove helpful.

Perhaps the Worcester legislative senators and representatives and the governor’s office can sponsor an information session on how to carry out this mandate without violating children’s civil rights. 

With new WPS super, Worcester should consider district representation on the Worcester School Committee

By Gordon Davis
photos by Gordon Davis

What is to be done now that Maureen Binienda is the new Worcester Public Schools Superintendent?

The success and education of our children are the only issues now. We have to work together to effectuate these goals. Any division or animosity within the Worcester School District must be put aside.

Dr. Binienda_1
Dr. Binienda

Since the search was internal to the Worcester School District, the candidates for the schools superintendent job still have important jobs to do and must continue to do their good work: Dr. Mulcahy teaching English, Dr. Allen running Norrback Elementary School and Dr. Rodrigues continuing his work as Assistant WPS Superintendent.

Dr. Rodrigues faces a test of character, as he has to teach his replacement the ropes.  I am sure he will pass this test and be of great help to Dr. Binienda.

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Dr. Rodrigues

I think Dr. Rodrigues will eventually be scooped up by some school district which has a better appreciation of his talents, experience and education.

I think Dr. Binienda will do a good job until she retires in a few years.

As I have pointed out before, there seems to be something irrational or illogical regarding this WPS superintendent selection process. The irrationality became more evident when the two progressive Worcester School Committee members – Hilda Ramirez and Tracy Novick – were voted out of office this past November. They were replaced by at least one ideologue.

I also have to say that I was surprised by the votes of some long-time Worcester School Committee members who I thought were more level-headed.

One time, several years ago, then Worcester Mayor Joseph O’Brian suggested that there should be regional or district representation on the Worcester School Committee similar to that found on the Worcester City Council to ensure minority representation, to reflect the diversity of the students/families of the Worcester Public Schools. To ensure their voices, needs and perspectives were heard. I was skeptical at the time, as there is a so called minority majority State Representative district in our area that has never been filled by a minority.

After the recent events, I may have to concede the point to our former mayor.

The Worcester School Committee is entirely white – even though most of the children in the Worcester schools are not.

I do not think that this should last for long, for the good of the city.

For years the Worcester School District has been underfunded. It should be receiving at least $90 million a year more than it is now receiving in accordance with Chapter 70 of State statutes. Yet I have seen no urgency by the Worcester School Committee to fully fund the schools.

There has been no effort to organize parents or teachers or the community in general to demand full funding.  

Compare this to the student walk out in Boston.

The children once again lead the way.

There is a definite need for a change in leadership in Worcester.

It is not clear to me that the Dr. Binienda choice is a symptom of this lack of leadership. I wish her good fortune in running our public schools; our kids’ lives depend upon it.