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slides: 10 Ways to Fix Worcester Schools - The Candidates Weigh-In

Friday, April 17, 2015

 

As of earlier this week, 14 people had pulled nomination papers to run for Worcester School Committee. All six incumbents are running for re-election and will square off against at least eight other opponents this fall.

SEE SLIDES BELOW: 10 Ways to Fix Worcester Schools - The Candidates Weigh In

GoLocal Worcester reached out to the candidates and other leaders in the city to ask them what needed to improve in the Worcester Public School system.

Consistently, the top issues that need to be addressed in WPS are class sizes, rigorous and innovative academics, a safer environment and continuing to improve the drop-out rate.

"Worcester's high school graduates are accepted into many of the best colleges and universities In our country. The best thing we can do to continue this trend is to increase the number of teachers, so we can decrease the student-to-teacher ratio," said Gary Vecchio, Worcester resident and 35-year educator. "When you consider that English is not the first language of  47.6% of the Worcester Public School students, yet close to 70% of our students go on to college, this proves we have many hard working and dedicated students and teachers."

As it stands, Worcester's student-to teacher ratio is one of the highest in the state at 17.4 to 1.

"Class sizes do make a difference but again that is a budget matter that needs to be addressed.The scientific research on this subject has not been definitive but a few studies demonstrate that there is academic improvement in children enrolled in small classes in the kindergarten through grade three," said Worcester School Committee member John Monfredo.

According to Monfredo, one study in particular - the Tennessee State Department of Education's STAR program (student/teacher achievement ratio) - proved to work particularly well when schools focused on class size reduction in grades K through 3.

Monfredo said, "The analysis of the grade to grade gains showed that score gains in the first grade were about 15% more in small classes than in regular classes. The finding suggests that class size reduction should first be concentrated in kindergarten and Grade one, where effects will be greatest.  There are numerous possible explanations for larger effects in kindergarten and grade one.  One is that it is more difficult to manage students who are not well socialized to the classroom routines.  Another is that one year in a small class may serve to get a student on track or up to speed."

"I have always felt that the Worcester Public Schools has been top heavy with administrators. By reducing the number of administrative positions at Central Administration, we would have more money to hire new teachers. For several years a motion has been made at budget time to reduce these administrative positions by $500,000, but a majority of the school committee has voted against it," adds Vecchio.

For a complete list of the Highest Paid Central Office Administrators in WPS, click here: 20 Highest Paid Central Office Administrators

As GoLocal Worcester reported last week, Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone is attempting to put together an exam school, or Advanced Academy, in Worcester's school for the best and brightest students in the city. Last week, Boone admitted that the plan hit a snag when she told the Worcester School Committee that Doherty High would not be able to hold the Academy due to its lack of space and high enrollment.

"I think that it is critically important to offer Worcester Public Schools "customers"--i.e.--parents and students--the broadest set of options possible. Their choices should include exam schools, vocational schools, and concentrated math/science schools if possible. Academic rigor in all schools is important to satisfying the demands of the customers. Their children's futures are at stake," said former Massachusetts Speaker of the House Tom Finneran.

"It seems that what is working are schools that are allowed flexibility to meet their academic needs such as the innovation schools," said School Committee member Hilda Ramirez. "We need to assign resources in ways that will meet the needs of all students. Some need more time on academics while others need more rigor.  We have the resources in Worcester but need to agree on the direction of the district."

"As developments in recent months have made clear, we must also establish within each school, and maintain, a consistent environment and culture which offer all students a safe, disciplined, well-ordered setting for substantial academic accomplishment," said Worcester School Committee Member Brian O'Connell. "We will achieve this when all schools, and our central administration, encourage and support such standards on a consistent basis."

Worcester's drop out rate following the 2014 school year was 9.6%. Although in the bottom 20 in the state, the district has seen a steady decline in the dropout rate - 11% in 2013 and 12.9% in 2012. As GoLocal reported earlier this week, the Worcester Public School district is also one of the most diverse in both students and teachers. 

"There are many factors why some students drop out or don't graduate from high school, " said School Committee candidate Cotey Collins. "Some reasons may include the issues of school budget shortfalls or even the lack of career opportunities being offered in high schools. In order to fix these issues we must prepare for budget shortfalls because when schools lose money classroom size will increase significantly which takes away the learning opportunities for some students."

 

Related Slideshow: 10 Ways to Fix Worcester Schools - The Candidates Weigh-In

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#10 Solve Chronic Absenteeism

"We need to address chronic absenteeism in our system for we have over 12% of our students absent over 18 times during the year. All students, but especially students in poverty, benefit the most from being in school.  Thus one of the most effective strategies for providing pathways out of poverty is to do all that it takes to get these students in school every day.  This alone, even without improvements in the American education system will drive up achievement, high school graduation, and college attainment rates." - John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member

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#9 Involve More Parents and Students

"I would like to get more of a voice from everyone in our schools. I would like the Parent Advisory Council to have a more comprehensive role in the way our schools progress and let them know they are being listened to. I would also like to create a city wide Student/Teacher Advisory Council for the middle school and high school level. Students in the middle and high school age group are more aware of what is happening at their schools than we tend to give them credit." - Nick D'Andrea, Worcester School Committee Candidate

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#8 Revisit Chapter 222

"The Committee needs to take steps to work with our state legislature on revising Chapter 222, so the students who want to learn are not deprived that opportunity by the ones who don’t." - Nick D'Andrea, Worcester School Committee Candidate

Chapter 222 is An Act Relative to Student Access to Educational Services and Exclusion from School. For more information, click here: Chapter 222

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#7 Appropriate the Budget

"Appropriating the budget for the Worcester Public Schools is the critical assignment for members of the Worcester School Committee. Committee members must make decisions regarding school safety and discipline, curriculum, professional development, physical plants, personnel, transportation and material resources that would provide optimum learning experiences for all of the students in our system.  There is never enough funding to address all of the needs and wishes of our school system so it is necessary to think critically to provide what is necessary for our students to be prepared for the demands of higher education and the workplace upon graduation." - Molly McCullough, Worcester School Committee Candidate

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#6 Offer Career Opportunities

"Some students feel that the public schools don't offer enough career opportunities for them. Offering more career opportunities for high school students will not only decrease the dropout rate of the public schools, but this will also prepare students for college and for the workforce. What works right now is the unlimited learning opportunities some of our teachers provide students." - Cotey Collins, Worcester School Committee Candidate

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#5 Improve Facilities

"Although we continue to confront an aging infrastructure, we have long taken advantage of the school construction opportunities which have become available to
us. We are well-positioned to make significant progress in the years ahead of us. Yet we can, and should, do more, and accomplish more." - Brian O'Connell, Worcester School Committee Member

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#4 Decrease the Student to Teacher Ratio

The student to teacher ratio is currently 17.4 to 1. It was one of the highest in the state and exponentially larger than the other major cities in the Commonwealth - Boston (13.6 to 1) and Springfield (12.3 to 1).

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#3 Stronger Leadership

We need strong leadership at the policy level that is working together to support a direction that is good for all students backed by best practices rather than individuals with great ideas.  I would like to see more open dialogue for making difficult decisions that affect 25000 families" - Hilda Ramirez, Worcester School Committee Member

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#2 Improve Safety Measures

"As developments in recent months have made clear, we must also establish within each school, and maintain, a consistent environment and culture which offer all students a safe, disciplined, well-ordered setting for substantial academic accomplishment. We will achieve this when all schools, and our central administration, encourage and support such standards on a consistent basis." -Brian O'Connell, Worcester School Committee member

Prev Next

#1 Retain Teachers

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the staffing retention rate in 2014 was 79.2% - one of the lowest in the state. 

The 2014 rate is down from 2013 (87.3%).

 
 

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