Tag Archives: WPS

Connecting Worcester’s public schools to Worcester’s economy

By Morris “Moe” Bergman, candidate for Worcester City Councilor at Large

For far too long the connection between Worcester’s public schools and Worcester’s economy has not been fully realized. Perhaps, in part, because under our city’s charter “oversight” of our public schools lies within the jurisdiction of the school committee and  “oversight” for our economic policies lies within the jurisdiction of the city council that the city administration has acquiesced to routinely keep decision making between these two bodies apart.

Nevertheless, the importance of this connection has been understood for some time. Nationally, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (1999) asserted that, “. . . the economic vitality of a city is linked to the performance of its schools . . .”

As for the general public, in a public opinion survey the assertion that public schools “improve the local economy and attract business” was identified as the second most important benefit which schools bring to communities (the first being the benefit it brings to families). (Education Week and Public Education Network 2002).

One needs to look at only one example to demonstrate this:

According to the 2008 National Association of REALTORS’ profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 27% of home buyers listed school quality as a deciding factor in their home purchase.

Naturally, demand for residential real estate in Worcester includes buyers who have school age children. If these folks choose to not send their children to Worcester’s public schools they will not buy homes here. These creates a greater supply of homes then are demanded and results in lower residential property values.

Why should we care when this happens?  Well, lower residential property values means lower tax revenues. This in turn means that for our city to meet its budget needs property owners and residents will be asked to make up the difference in the form of higher property taxes and/or fewer city services-either way we the residents lose!

Adding further to this concern is that there appears to be a direct link between the decrease in residential real estate values and that of commercial real estate values. A white paper written by economist Joseph Gyourko in 2009 confirmed this historical correlation.

City government obviously wants and needs decisions to be made regarding our public schools that result in people with school age children wanting to live in Worcester.

There is no doubt that both our school committee and city council act to serve our city’s best interests.

However, only when the city administration recognizes the full potential of these two bodies by creating regular opportunities for them to “talk to each other” on decisions relating to issues, effecting both the quality of our public schools and their economic impact on our city, will the connection between Worcester’s public schools and Worcester’s economy be fully realized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooray for City Manager Mike O’Brien! Hooray for Worcester’s kids and families!

By Rosalie Tirella

Worcester City Manager Mike O’Brien is including branch libraries in his proposed 2014 budget! Well, sorta. According to his proposal, there are going to be branch libraries open once again in the city of  Worcester, but they will be run out of our public schools, many of which shuttered their in-house libraries years ago. When I attended the WPSchools – Lamartine Street, Providence Street Jr. High, Burncoat Sr. High – we had great school libraries in each school.  I loved and used all the libraries at all my schools. The librarians and their staff were great. I took out books for book reports, learned how to research term papers, checked out fun stuff for me. My mom used to make cupcakes for the Lamartine Street School library bake sales. Sadly, few kids in Worcester’s public schools have that experience today. Remember: our city branch libraries – except for Greendale and GBV – were shuttered years ago.

We say HOORAY FOR THE CITY MANAGER for wanting to make libraries and all their wonderful resources available to ALL the city’s children. America needs an educated, always-learning work force.  Libraries instill a comfort … a comfort with magazines, computers, i pads, technology, learning … .  HOORAY FOR OUR LIBRARIES AND OUR KIDS!!!

We have been blogging and writing in ICT about this issue for a long, long time. Thanks for listening, city movers and shakers! … We don’t care how it’s all funded, just get the branch libraries the heck open again …  slam open the doors and welcome all  kids (and their families!)!

From the City Manager’s budget proposal (public info):

” … the City Manager believes that the community can strengthen student outcomes with an unprecedented partnership and collaboration between the Library and the Schools. How can Worcester leverage public & private resources to achieve equitable access to literature, information, and technology for students, teachers, families, and neighbors? The solution is to have a Worcester Public Library Children’s Branch Library in every Worcester elementary public school.

Four pilot sites will be identified, which will bring the partnership between public library and public schools to the next level. Both Schools and Public Library are partners for success. When school principals/teachers and public librarians join forces, kids win and communities thrive! …”

YES!!!!!

This is what Worcester Public School students are eating at lunch?!

By Rosalie Tirella

We have eaten about 4 hamburgers in 25 years. We only eat fish these days – have jettisoned chicken from our diet. AND: I have never eaten veal, lamb, lobster, etc.

The way we (USA)  kill our “farm” animals is brutal (there are no real farms – just agri businesses/factories where animals are basically tortured). The way this country handles/preps  meat is horrific/deadly (e colli deaths, Mad Cow Disease, anyone?). No wonder Japan and other countries over the years have said NO to American meat.

We have also read that rejected meat makes its way to senior citizens via the MEALS on WHEELS program for low income elderly, and of course, this garbage, gets fed to the US prison population.

The insanity must stop.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/pink-slime-for-school-lun_n_1322325.html

Twice Vice? No way for WP school committe member Tracy O’Connell Novick

By Rosalie Tirella

Re: Worcester Public Schools Committe “Vice Chair” Tracy O’Connell Novick: we’ve heard this from John Monfredo, fellow Worcester School Committee member: This will be the last time Novick is VICE CHAIRMAN of the Worcester Public Schools Committee.

Monfredo is head of the Worcester Public Schools Committee rules subcommittee, and he is working to make it a committee rule that after each municipal election, second-place vote getters get the vice chair of the Worcester School Committee – not people who do backroom deals with folks like Novick did. Monfredo told me he was not planning to vote for Novick getting the vice chair slot, but Mayor Joe Petty (the Chairman of the Worcester School Committee – like all Worcester mayors Petty heads the school committee) went to him and told him to do so, to make the WPSC seem cohesive and positive.

Monfredo told Petty he was againt Novick as Vice Chair because she had alientated so many minority parents of Worcester Public School students with her Dr. Boone witch-hunt. Novick tried to destroy Dr. Boone, Worcester’s first black female school superintendent. The minority community had had it with Novick. Monfredo told Petty if Novick became Vice Chair of the school committee, it would send the wrong message to so many city parents and kids.

Petty didn’t listen – and Novick doesn’t care who she offends as long as she gets all the free publicity that comes with comes with the Vice Chair slot. She gets to “speak for” the Worcester School Committee via the papers, TV, etc.

So now the City of Worcester must live with this mistake – a slap in the face to minority WPSchools students and their families. Remember, Worcester is a majority minority school district, meaning there are more minority kids than white kids in our public schools.

But, thanks to John Monfredo, the WPSC rules will soon be changed – he is having a meeting of his subcommittee soon – to make this Novick’s first and last stint as Vice Chair. The process will be fair – the vice chair slot will be awarded to the second highest vote getter – just like the way it’s done with the Worcester City Council. Top vote getter mayor, second top vote getter City Council vice-chair.

Homeless children in the Worcester Public Schools …Ten percent of the student population

By John Monfredo, Worcester Public School Committee member

“I just can’t concentrate, and I worry about what the next day will bring, for living with two other families is very difficult.” … “I’m scared and afraid to tell anyone about my situation.”

These are statements from children who are homeless in Worcester and they are among the 2,400 students who worry about what is going to happen to them. These students represent 10 percent of the Worcester Public School population. The public only sees the buses rolling and sees the 44 schools in our public school system operating, but few can understand the changes that have taken place in our schools. Like all urban cities in this nation, we in Worcester have homeless children in our schools and it impacts their education!

One counselor told me about a student who received A’s and then unexpectedly his marks dropped. She finally was able to find out that this high school student was now living in a homeless shelter.

People living in poverty are most at risk of becoming homeless. In our city 71.8% of our students live under the poverty line.

Children experiencing homelessness face many barriers to education. Looking at the data, one sees a high absence rate, lots of moving from place to place, and poor health and nutrition. Again, according to the data, homeless children are likely to be ill four times more often than other children, with four times as many respiratory infections, and they are four times more likely to have asthma attacks. Unfortunately, homeless children go hungry twice as often as other children.
Unless you have your head in the sand, you realize that poverty has a major impact on academic progress. This is not given as an excuse but as a fact. Just think about it. Can you function if you’re hungry and have a tooth ache or are worrying about where you’re sleeping tonight?

Looking at the data on MCAS scores in grade three to twelve one sees that homeless children have a much higher percentage in the area of needs improvement and failing. Here is an example: In grade eight, the percentage of homeless children receiving a warning on their English Language Arts test was 23.2% with non-homeless children only 9.6%. In math, homeless children had a warning rate of 56.8% as compared to 34.0% of non homeless students.
Nevertheless, there are resilient students among the homeless and they are able to persevere for we do see students in the advanced and proficient range -but not many. So when looking at the scores of a district one needs to keep in mind the over-all circumstances of that district.

Another reason for those low test scores is the high absentee rate from kindergarten through high school for those children labeled as homeless. Common sense would tell you that it would be higher due to health issues, psychology issues, and hunger. Many of these children are bright but their physical needs have hindered their progress. Homeless youths are one of the most marginalized and victimized populations in schools. They experience more daily stressors and are more vulnerable to victimization than housed youth. Youth who are homeless have sustained higher rates of physical and sexual abuse prior to becoming homeless than the general population, and they are at continued risk for being physically assaulted and exposed to sexual exploitation. Similarly, rates of substance use, family violence, health issues and suicide are higher in this population.

These children live in shelters, doubling up (sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, and economic hardship), with some living in cars, parks, and many others awaiting foster care. There are many causes of homelessness for the economic downturn has forced more families into poverty thus jeopardizing children’s educational success. Other causes of homelessness according to the National Coalition for the Homeless are shortage of affordable housing, decline in public assistance, domestic violence and poverty. In addition, most people live a paycheck or two from having no money for a roof over their heads.

Congress attempted to assist homeless children in the 1980’s. In late 1986, legislation containing Title I of the Homeless Persons’ Survival Act was introduced as the Urgent Relief for the Homeless Act. After an intensive advocacy campaign, large bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress passed the legislation in 1987. After the death of its chief Republican sponsor, Representative Stewart B. McKinney of Connecticut, the act was renamed the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. Then in 2000 President William Clinton renamed the legislation the National Coalition for the Homeless and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act after the death of Representative Bruce Vento, a
leading supporter of the act since its original passage in 1987.

The goal of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act is to ensure that each homeless child or youth is able to benefit from their educational program in spite of the challenges of their living situation. In an attempt to stabilize the child’s education and cut back on the mobility issue transportation is provide to children if they have had to move to a shelter or another setting. The child may continue to go to the same school.

As the Worcester Public Schools flyer states, “To the extent as practical and as required by law, the district will work with homeless families to provide stability in school attendance and other needed services.” The one flaw in this act is that it is an unfunded mandate. The Worcester Public Schools pays out of their budget over $400,000 to transport homeless students but does receive $60,000 in grant money that pays for head start home visits…staff outreach and case management, student materials such as first aid classes and emergency supplies for families, some school vacation programs, administrative support, and professional development training for teachers. I believe that Congress needs to do more!

In Worcester, Judy Thompson who wears many hats in the Worcester Public Schools (Coordinator of Counseling, Psychology and Community Outreach Services) is the liaison person for homeless programs for our students. The Worcester Public Schools, under Mrs. Thompson’s direction, attempts to educate staff about the homeless including the following: Reminding staff that the start of a new school can be stressful and intimidating for students, emphasizing the importance of establishing rapport with the students to let them know that the school is there for assistance, informing students of school programs and extracurricular activities that the students may be interested in participating in, have clothing and school supplies available to provide for students as needed, coordinating with the liaison and other administrators to facilitate access to programs, activities and transportation, be supportive and encouraging the students to do well, encouraging parental involvement even while families are in a shelter, and having a mentor for shelter/foster children who are entering a new school so that they can adjust to their new environment. These are just a few of the suggestions given to schools as they attempt to do all that they can for students in need.

A city defines itself in the way we assist those in need of service. Therefore, we need to consider other ways of assisting our children, such as establishing a center coordinated by United Way and the Worcester Public Schools. This way the public could donate supplies such as clothing, soap and other toiletry items. Most importantly, we need to find mentors for those children so that they know they are not alone. If any of our readers have other ideas write to the InCity Times with your thoughts. Let’s not just talk about this situation – let’s do something about it! Let’s do it for the children.

Worcester Public School Committeewoman Donna Colorio – racist and homophobic

By Rosalie Tirella

It’s interesting: Years and years ago when Mary Mullaney was first elected to the Worcester School Committee there was talk that she was a Religious Right “stealth candidate.” Back then that was the term for Catholic/Culturally Conservative political candiates who, through the local Catholic churches and the Ralph Reed brigade, got their names in voter guides that were distrubuted to local Catholic churches. You got an “endorsement” if you were Pro Life, which Mullaney was/is.

It was a national movement. Mullany was the local example of the movement.

When Mullaney won election to the Worcester Public School Committee – a non-Worcesterite with no Worcester ties whatsoever (utterly important in a place like Wormtown), local political observers were nonplussed. They said to themselves: How did this woman – a gal with the personality of a speed bump – win a seat on the Worcester School Committee? What were her issues? Where was her appeal? Hell, where were her campaign signs? No one knew.

Sure, Mullaney’s Irish surname helped, and it was also the same surname as one of Worcester’s most beloved Irish mayors – Mayor Mulaney, dad to Elizabeth Mullaney (maybe some older folks thought they were voting for Liz when they were casting their ballots for Mary?). But Mary Mullaney’s win seemed too BIG. She came out of nowhere.

In the end, political observers credited the Pro Life/Catholic churches in Worcester County (as well as the Irish stuff).

Now Donna Colorio is on the Worcester Public School Committee – winning her seat by ousting Mullaney. She beat out Mullaney by a few votes. But she won a lot of votes and it was only her first time running for office. She had no Irish surname, no connections … but …

Could this be the equation? Donna Colorio = Religious Right Wing Nut Stealth Candidate #2? The new Mary Mullaney?

Maybe.

After all, Colorio was backed by the Tea Party of Worcester – a brigade loaded with cultural conservatives – people who were passionate about Colorio and VOTED FOR HER. Why? Maybe because she was as dangerously culturally conservative as a lot of the Tea Baggers are. After Colorio’s win, I bumped into a Christian conservative Pro Life pal of mine. He thanked me for not going after Colorio – she was his candidate, he told me! He said the local Tea Partiers loved Colorio! She was their candidate, too.

During the campaign, Colorio seemed racist when she said she would NOT renew WPSchools Superintendent Melinda Boone’s contract – even though she never worked with Boone – an African American from Norfolk, VA, and knew little about her. Most likely that got Colorio a ton of votes from the many racist/old boys network Worcster voters who can’t handle the idea of Dr. Boone – a black, woman from outside Worcester – leading the Worcester Public Schools. AND I am sure the Tea Party brigade liked the move. (After she was elected, Colorio did meet with Dr. Boone – hopefully to apologize to her/kiss up.)

Now recently (a few weeks ago) Colorio was outed at a local seafood restaurant for being at a fund-raiser held by the Woburn-based Coalition for Marriage and Family. These folks are against gay marriage/civil unions – believing marriage can only be between a guy and a gal. They have made it there mission to get a state-wide vote on the definition of marriage. It was intimated that Colorio was a member of the group – had a long history with it – “a long-time pro-marriage activist,” according to a CMF congratulatory Tweet after Colorio won a seat on the WPschool committee. So Colorio is also a homophobe. This would draw voters from the same Religious Right Cultural Conservative pool from which Mary Mullaney drew years ago.

Yup. A racist, homophobic woman now sits on a school committee that oversees policy for a majority-minority public school system, where there are gay/transgender kids just beginning to come out to parents/friends/society. Scary stuff.

Vote for Hilda Ramirez – Worcester School Committee!

Hilda Ramirez is working to earn a seat on the Worcester School Committee.

With her ivy league education, running the Worcester Youth Center and her business background, this savvy Latina may be just what Worcester kids need!

By Mara Sindoni

While articles in other papers debate the lack of diversity in spite of district representation in the Worcester City Council and resistance by current Worcester School Committee members to adding district representation to the Worcester School Committee – all eyes should focus on the exceptional candidacy for School Committee of Hilda Ramirez.

Hilda is just what the kids of Worcester need! Ramirez’s background includes a B.A. in Business from Lesley College and a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University. After 16 years in the financial industry in Boston, Ramirez became a home-owner in Worcester and, in 2003, founded Ritmos Academy, a Dance, Art and Music School with fully-licensed Preschool and Afterschool programs. Hilda is presently the Executive Director of the Worcester Youth Center.

Ramirez’s recommendations on ways to improve Worcester’s schools are based on her personal experience and professional expertise. While our cities flounder and our international educational rankings plunge when compared to 70 other countries – the USA kids are 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading – blame is unfairly set on the influx of foreigners.

How can it be, then, that a Spanish-speaking Hilda Ramirez could enter an English-only New York City 3rd grade and by 5th grade be advanced to 6th grade math and 8th grade English classes?

What was the magic here?

Hilda Ramirez knows from personal experience what Worcester’s two thirds Asian/Black/Hispanic student population needs to succeed academically.

Hilda’s first teacher in New York City was Latina. She went to Hilda’s home, shared experiences with Hilda’s mother, and made three specific recommendations on how to help Hilda succeed in America: (1) no Spanish TV, (2) complete homework daily and (3) go to the library.

Hilda’s Spanish-speaking mother did all three!

A disgruntled older brother chaperoned 10-year-old Hilda to the library every day. As a result, HILDA GOT HOOKED ON BOOKS – books in English! She and her brother won all the spelling bees. Hilda now emphasizes the need for teacher/parent communication and rapport. She proposes PARENT ACADEMIES. Studies have shown that consistent parental involvement is a major factor in determining a student’s academic success.

FULL-DAY PRESCHOOL WOULD BE IDEAL. Hilda had certain advantages that some Worcester school children lack. The daughter of garment-workers in NYC who wanted the best for their children, she had a happy, structured home-life. There was a rich culture left behind in the Dominican Republic and Hilda hopes newcomers to the US will retain the languages, arts and family and social values of their parents’ country of origin. But at the same time SCHOOL READINESS IS ESSENTIAL!

And that includes, not only intellectual and language readiness, but also patterns of behaviour, cooperativeness, structure, responsibility and expectations. Ramirez is hopeful that Worcester might zero-in on funding from President Obama’s ini-tiative for pre-schools.

In the meantime, she recommends that all early education teachers, including Worcester providers such as Edward Street Child Services, Guild of St. Agnes, Rainbow Child Development and the Head Start program be required to use the Core Curriculum used by Worcester Public Schools.

Her version of “no child left behind” is to move students forward when they are ready and be GROUPED BY ABILITY NOT GRADE, just as she was as a child in New York City. High school students should be pushed into Advanced Placement courses. As many as are ready should substitute college courses for high school classes, not just at Quinsigamond but also at Worcester State, Holy Cross and Clark.

In addition to college-readiness students need hands-on experience in the work-a-day world. We have many resources here. PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS with Worcester’s businesses, health industry, scientific, academic and cultural community should provide job experiences and internships. This too comes from Hilda Ramirez’s personal experience. At the age of 14, she was paid $8 an hour to work in the School Superin-tendent’s office doing chores such as filing, one evening a week during the school year and full-time summers.

Young Hilda knew how to work. Do Worcester’s school children know how to work?

On her first day as Executive Director of the Worcester Youth Center, Ramirez’s first action was to get the kids off the sofa and dump it! An old upright piano with keys that looked like someone had walked on or taken a hammer to them also got dumped. There is a new recording studio with a programmable keyboard. The place is spotless. The walls are decorated with recent student artwork. There is pride and a pleasant, cooperative atmosphere.

“When we were kids we were busy!” says Hilda. “We didn’t ‘hang.’ WE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT IT WAS TO HANG OUT!”

Hilda hired a tutor at the Youth Center to help teens get their diplomas. The tutor is a lot more than a tutor. She is a teen-talking teenager herself, not an authority figure but a role-model with good grades, She is herself being helped at a young age with a JOB, as Hilda was helped by working during high school in the school superintendent’s office. Hilda Ramirez wants Worcester high school students to graduate on time, fully prepared for college or a job.

IN THIS 21ST CENTURY GLOBAL ECONOMY A YOUNG AND DIVERSE POPULATION IS AN ASSET, provided that those that get an education work and stay here. Unlike Worcester, many American cities are on a downturn due to an increasingly elderly population and a declining tax base. Worcester, on the other hand, has fine colleges full of young people.

We have, in the WPS, a majority minority school system: Asian/Black (some African)/Hispanic school population, plus Albanians, Middle Easterners, Russians, with languages and a diaspora that amount to a significant POTENTIAL IN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS! We could and should have a downtown more like Harvard Square, with great restaurants on Main Street and things to do, books, films, music, clothing, crafts, art and more performances in our theatres of music and dance from other countries. Our location in the center of New England, with CSX and an underused airport is propitious. If Worcester educates its diverse public school population as it can and should, and retains these and our college graduates, Worcester will prosper.

We need someone on the Worcester School Committee who knows how to make that happen.

Hilda Ramirez is that person!

Course on nonviolence at Clark University for public school teachers

By Michael True

Twenty elementary and secondary teachers from Worcester Public Schools recently participated in a Professional Development Institute at Clark University’s Hiatt Center for Urban Education. Instructors for the course on Nonviolent Movements in the Modern World include faculty from Clark, Holy Cross, and Assumption, and local organizers.

Sponsored by the Center for Nonviolent Solutions, with support from the Massachusetts Humanities, the Institute meets weekly, offering instruction as well as resources for units and courses in various academic disciplines. In addition to carrying graduate credit, the program offers a stipend for each teacher to buy materials, books, and films for the classroom.

The Center for Nonviolent Solutions, initiated in 2009, provides education and resources for people in the Worcester Area to increase understanding of nonviolence as a way of life and an effective means of resolving conflict. For two years, it has offered a 10-week course on Peacemaking and Nonviolence for students at the University Park Campus School and Claremont Academy, as well as brief courses in nonviolent communication for junior high school students. The Center maintains an office and resource center at 901 Pleasant Street, Worcester, a website (nonviolentsolution.org), and curricular materials and DVDs for use by teachers, parents, and the general public.

Topics for the class meetings include the Origins of Nonviolence; Mahatma Gandhi; citizens’ resistance to the Nazi occupation of Denmark; the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the ending of apartheid in South Africa; the democratic uprising in China, 1989; the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland; and the history of nonviolence in Central Massachusetts.

The Institute emphasizes the history of successful nonviolent movements that demonstrate how crises and conflicts provide opportunities to build a civic culture of inclusion. It reslies upon informed discourse, including recent research and scholarship, that fosters community solidarity among people of different races, classes, and political ideologies

Teachers for the course include Co-directors, Paul Ropp, Research Professor of History, and Tom Del Prete, Director, Hiatt Center for Urban education, Clark University, as well as Predrag Cicovacki, Professor of Philosophy, Holy Cross College; Sam Diener, Education Director, Center for Nonviolent Solution; Michael Langa, Specialist in Cross-cultural Conflict Resolution; Janette Greenwood, Professor of History, Clark University; Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, St. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker; and Michael True, Emeritus Professor, Assumption College.

District reps for the Worcester Public Schools NOW!

By Rosalie Tirella

Sick of Worcester School Committee member Tracy O’Connel Novick voting against the City of Worcester’s inner-city schools at every turn, every time she opens her mouth? For instance: Novick’s NO to millions of federal dollars because she didn’t like the fact that the Worcester inner-city schools in question may have to meet some federally mandated criteria.

Fortunately, the other school committee members disagreed and knew that Worcester’s poor families needed the federal money to make their schools stronger (libraries, longer school days, after school programs, etc). And who can forget Novick’s voting against school uniforms for a few of our inner-city schools because not every inner-city family had a washer and dryer? That’s what she said! Implying that poor folks can’t keep clean because they don’t have the right equipment.

When I was growing up in Green Island we were too poor to have a dryer, yet we were able to attend school wearing clean clothes. My sisters wore uniforms to their catholic school; my mom had me in simple slacks, shirts and dresses for Lamartine Street School and Providence Street Junior High. She would have been insulted if she had had to listen to Novick’s condescending PUBLIC statement! What would happen, asked Tracy, studpidly, if the uniforms needed to be laundered in the middle of the week?

Totally out to lunch. Totally out of sync with Worcester’s inner-city neighborhoods and the working class/poor/immigrant families that attend places like Chandler Street School or Goddard. Oh! And let’s not forget how Novick made Goddard parents, kids and teachers feel like crap when she and Dianna Bianchiria (another Worcester Public School Committee Fruit Loop) demanded names and classrooms be made public, when the state dept of ed. voided the students’ MCAS scores because of teacher “coaching” during the test.

 I remember watching that WPS committee hearing on TV and marveling at all the Goddard parents, students and teachers who went to the podium to sing the praises of the school’s staff and principal. It was so clear that the teachers loved the kids and the kids and their parents/guradians loved the staff. School comittee members were moved – committee member Mary Mullaney almost cried and said that listening to these inner-city families talk of Goddard’s teachers and principal was a “beautiful” experience.

The American Dream made visible.

Tracy Novick O’Connel was unmoved – too stupid to see what anyone who has any sensitivity could see: Goddard is a great school – back the hell off. Nope. Not O’Connel Novick. She went right on calling for names and classrooms, etc be released so the entire city would know who flubbed up and where. Can you imagine how some of those students and teachers might have felt if they had been outed by Novick? Novick used the Goddard School to vent her antipathy toward the MCAS and state/fed testing in general. (Most inner-city families want the public schools to take the education of their kids seriously; MCAS tests help do that!)

I bet the idea for district reps on the Worcester School Committee was born right then and there – AND after the fact that we – InCity Times writers – have been calling folks’ attention to the fact that Tracy O’Connel Novick, Dianna Biancheria and some old WP school committee hands don’t know squat about raising a kid in Main South or lower Vernon Hill or Grafton Hill or Piedmont and what that means for the teachers who teach them.

Novick is wrong when she pits herself against federal mandates and whines about school committee autonomy. What she and Dianna B. need to get right/acknowledge: the NEEDS – educational, psychological, economic – of inner-city students and their families. Our school system is a majority minority school system, which means we have more kids of color that whte kids attending our public schools. And yet all the people on our school committee come from the West Side and other middle class Worcester neighborhoods.

Mayor Joe O’Brien and the seven Worcester City Councilors who voted with him to put the school district rep queston on the November ballot have done a wonderful thing for Worcester’s inner-city/even east side/south side families: they want them to have a VOICE. A real voice in how their neighborhood schools are run, what programs they get, what programs their kids need.

Most inner-city families like the idea of school uniforms. Yesterday I saw some Chandler Street Elementary School kids get dropped off by their school bus. The students wore neat, crisp khacki slacks and blue Izody shirts. They looked fantastic! They looked like serious students! And no, Tracy Novick, no one looked dirty or unkempt – you know, you can buy two or three pairs of slacks and four or so shirts and be set for the year. Add a few navy blue sweaters and you’re golden! No slutty jeans and cleavage-bearing tees for the girls; no butt-hanging jeans with devil logos for the boys. Heaven! For parents and kids!

And when Tracy Novick says no to hundreds of millions of dollars for things lilke school libraries, etc, because the dough comes with a few federal strings attached and SHE WANTS TO CALL THE SHOTS there will be a cool Main South School Committee member and most likely mom/dad to say: WRONG! We’ll take the dough! We’ll go for the afterschool program so our kids will have a safe place to continue learning, so they will be able to keep up with the kids at Flagg Street school whose parents have the bucks to live in safe big West Side houses filled with laptops, IPads, etc.

And kudos to City Councilor Ric Rushton for saying that the distance between the City of Worcester and Worcester’s inner-city parents/students will grow much shorter if inner-city folks can get themselves elected to the Worcester School Committee. By running for office in a DISTRICT instead of at large, like candidates have to do now, the city will make it much easier for inner-city folks to run for and win a seat on the Worcester School Committee. You won’t need as much money to campaign; most likely people in the neighborhood will know a candidate and most likely they will be more than willing to voice their concerns to someone they know. We many not always be a Rushton fan, but we are proud of him for this vote! He, like Mayor O’Brien and District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller, are looking at the REAL Worcester, the Worcester of TODAY – 2011. The city has changed – demographically – and we need to take those changes seriously. The new Worcester needs a new way to govern itself so more of its residents will be heard, will be served.

We hope the Worcester School Committee voting district break down is like City Council – with reps coming from District 4, District 3, District 2 .. with maybe a downtown district or Main South district so that families in our core city neighborhoods can have a more direct hand in their kids education, so that they thrive.

The case against summer vacation! Why? Because it means a “slide” for our students!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

Only kidding! But now that I have your attention, let’s look at why we should be concerned about students losing academic growth in the summer because literacy activities are not taking place. Yes, this is referred to by many as the “SUMMER SLIDE.” Deprived of healthy learning, millions of low-income students lose a considerable amount of what they learned during the school year.

A study by Johns Hopkins University adds to the mounting evidence of the “Summer Slide.” Inner-city or low-income students start out behind their more middle-class students and fall behind each year with most of that loss occurring when school is out. By the end of the elementary school years, Hopkins researchers found low-income children trail middle-income classmates, in some cases, by three grade levels.

“Children whose parents are college-educated continue to build their reading skills during the summer months,” said Karl Alexander, a Hopkins sociology professor involved in the research. “You go to a museum or you to a library or you go to the science center, and through osmosis you make some headway there.”

Professor Alexander, in his 2007 study at Johns Hopkins University, stated that two thirds of the reading achievement gap between 9th graders of low-and high-socioeconomic standing in Baltimore public schools can be traced to what they learned or failed to learn over their childhood summers. The study, which tracked data from about 325 Baltimore students from 1’st grade to age 22, points out that various characteristics that depend heavily on reading ability, such as students’ curriculum tract in high school, their risk of dropping out, and their probability of pursing higher education and landing higher paying jobs, all diverge widely according to socioeconomic levels. Does this happen in other advanced industrial countries? According to Mr. Alexander, the answer is NO, for those countries go to school 230 to 240 days a year as compared to 180 in the United States.

Low-income children actually keep pace with more affluent students during the academic year but slip behind during the summer. Researchers feel that during the school year, children in both affluent and lower–income communities benefit from the “faucet theory.” Learning resources are “turned on” for ALL CHILDREN during the school year, but in the summertime the faucet is turned off. Middle-class parents can make up the loss with their own resources, but working class and poor parents have a difficult time creating enriched learning experiences for their children over the summer months. All parents want the same things for their children, but low-income parents do not have the same access to opportunities for their children.

Summer deserves attention because when it starts, learning STOPS for many children. Children without resources spend their summer months playing on street corners or in front of the television. By the time the bell rings on a new school year, the low-income students have fallen months behind.

Given this powerful evidence, what can we do to turn on the LEARNING FAUCET during the summer? Experts believe that what is needed is a lengthening of the school year if we are to make a difference in the education of our low-income students. Due to the cost, however, it is just not going to happen. So what can we do about this intenable situation?
This year, the Worcester public schools system has expanded its summer program having it start July 5th and ends on July 29th. Academic program hours will be 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. In addition, five schools, Canterbury Street, Clark Street, Norrback, Elm Park and Quinsigamond, will offer programs from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Recreational activities will take place during those hours. The academic sites are as follows: Belmont, Burncoat, Canterbury, Chandler Elementary, Jacob Hiatt, Chandler, City View, Clark Street, Norrback, Columbus Park, Goddard, UPCS, Elm Park, Grafton Street, Heard Street, Lake View, Lincoln Street, May Street, McGrath, Quinsigamond, Rice Square, Roosevelt, Tatnuck Magnet, Thorndyke, Union Hill, Vernon Hill, Wawecus, Woodland and Worcester Arts Magnet.

I would urge parents to sign up now to attend one of those school sites!

As a former school principal I am convinced that the research on the “summer slide” is real and we need, as a school system and as a community, to do something about it. At the Worcester School Committee level, I have advocated for more reading for our children during the summer time and have asked that some school libraries give our parents and children an opportunity to take out books for summer reading. Many parents, due to transportation or work, cannot get their children to the Worcester Public Library. Allowing our children to take out books at their neighborhood schools will put books into their hands. I have also asked that through Connect Ed, (a way of calling all parents in Worcester), we call during the summer to remind our parents and students about their summer reading assignments. I have also asked that math ideas be given to our parents for summer practice. I would advocate that our students practice and master their math facts through math games and flash cards.

I have also advocated that we remind our parents about the importance of reading to their child EACH and EVERY night. With that in mind, I filed an order to have our schools talk about this issue with our parents. If we could get our parents to read just 25 minutes a night, we could revolutionize public education. Finally, I have asked that every school have a “Summer Reading Kick-off” during the week of June 12 and invite our parents to attend. Parents need to know the facts about the summer slide and what they can do to assist their child during vacation time. At the “kick-off” the schools will give students books from the “Worcester: The City that Reads Committee” as mentioned in our last issue and alert parents about our mandatory summer reading program. Children from grades K to grade 8 will read at least FIVE books during the summer. Parents will get instructions on how to choose a book and about writing a summary paragraph about the books. In grades 9-12, the students will read three books and write a multi-paragraph response for each book read.

Other ideas for parents to consider:

• Visit your Public Library and participate in Public Library summer programs; make sure that your child is reading a book each and every day. Use opportunities like the new Harry Potter release to get your child to read or take out a book based on a movie that he may want to see.

• There are many summer camps in almost every price range. Check with your school, the YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Club, Friendly House, Rainbow Child Development, for these organizations offer programs that can assist your child in learning while they have fun, too.

• Take educational trips, which can be low-cost visits to parks and museums in Worcester. If you have a car, visit educational sites such as Old Sturbridge Village. Check with the Worcester Public Library, for they have free passes to local museums.

• Work with your child on a hobby. If they are interested in comics or technology, you may want to expose them to as many opportunities as possible.

• Practice math skills every day. Think about opportunities through cooking to learn fractions or trips to the grocery store as a way of learning math skills. Also, every time you’re going for a walk or for a ride in the car ask them some math facts or make it into a game. Just playing cards on the grass could turn into a math game. Example: you turn over a card- 9- and your child turns over a card – 6- you could multiple, add or subtract. As you travel or walk in the city, do you think you’ll be stopped by more red lights or be able to go with more green lights? Keep a tally to check your guess. Pizzas offer a chance to talk about shapes and fractions. As you cut a pizza into equal pieces, count the pieces and describe the pieces with their fraction names. For example, if you cut it into 4 pieces, then each piece is 1/4th of the whole pizza.

• Limit time with the TV and video games. Just like during the school year, there should be a similar strategy over the summer months. It always makes sense to provide structure and limits. The key is providing a balance and keeping your child engaged.

Parents can also sneak some academics into summer for their child from pre-school to middle school with the activities below:

• Family Night each week. Bring out the popcorn and read a book. Try once in a while to get a book based on a movie. Then, show the movie and see if the book followed the movie script. Many movies can be obtained at the Worcester Public Library.

• Let the Games Begin – Janet Braverman, math specialist from Reston, Virginia, recommends playing board games and cards with children. Anything with numbers or counting helps. She plays Monopoly Junior and feels that it’s a fun way to learn addition, subtraction and counting money.

• If you are able to go to the beach, try collecting seashells and count them. Try drawing circles in the sand, size of a dinner plate, and have children place the shells in the circles by fives, and then have them work on counting by five or whatever number you come up with.

• Build your child’s comprehension listening skills by having an adult read and then discuss the story with them.

• Be sure that your child has a diary in the summer time, and have your child write the highlights of his day each evening before going to bed. Other writing activities could be writing a letter to a friend, relative or even to a member of the School Committee, – me! It’s important that your child writes, for the more that he writes, just like reading, the better he will become with this skill. In addition, be sure to have your child write about their favorite book that they read this summer and send their essay to me – John Monfredo, 8 Cherokee Road Worcester, Ma., 01606. I will select the winning essays from grades K to three, grades 4 to six, and from seven up. The winners will be awarded new books.

• Listen to your child read. Use strategies to help your child with tricky words. For example, when your child comes to an unfamiliar word, you might say, “Skip it and read to the end of the sentence. Now try again. What makes sense and looks like the word that you see?”
I sincerely hope that I have raised parents’ awareness of the importance of supporting their children’s learning in the summer time in reading and math and by providing ideas that can be done at home. Parents, you are the child’s first and most important teacher. It is up to you to provide the needed guidance during summer time. You can prevent the “summer slide” – I have the confidence that you will do it.