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John Monfredo: Hidden Heroes of Public Education in Worcester

Saturday, January 19, 2013

 

The late Senator from Massachusetts Paul Tsongas, in a visit to Worcester in 1989 stated, “nothing is more important to the development of a vital downtown than the quality of the public education system.” That statement resonates now more than ever and as we move forward, for it is essential that education be a priority in this city.

Realizing the importance of an educated community, our city has been most fortunate that an organization like the Worcester Educational Development Foundation (WEDF) was established in 2005. The sole purpose of the WEDF was, and still is, to support students and teachers in the Worcester Public Schools. The organization uses the highly structured model of the Boston Educational Development Foundation that was founded in the 1980’s as its model. Like most models that support school districts across the country, it provides support for the enhancement of programs and facilities that address the many needs of a large urban school system.

Keep in mind that the Worcester Public Schools, as good as it is in providing a quality education for its children, has many needs and challenges just like any urban school district. The school system is looking at a student population of over 24,000 with over 70% of the student body from low-income families and where English is not the first language for over 40% of the student population. Over 80 languages and dialects are spoken among the students in this school system. The Worcester Public Schools also has a number of very old school buildings that are in need of work. In addition, there has been an increase in accountability and data collection requirements. Per pupil allocations have dropped, but the pressure for achievement is at an all-time high.

In its short tenure, the WEDF has been fortunate to have several outstanding presidents at the helm. The founding president in 2005 was Dr. Stephen Mills, then the Associate Superintendent of Schools in Worcester and now Superintendent of the Boxboro district in Massachusetts. Dr. Mills had the vision to initiate the move to get it started. Next came Sandra Mayrand, Executive Director of the Regional Science Resource Center; she was elected in 2009 and guided the WEDF through the development of a strategic plan, establishing financial policies and procedures to secure WEDF’s future.

Now in 2013, the reins have been given to new president Stephen Pitcher. Mr. Pitcher has previously served as President of the EcoTarium and has been an active member in the Worcester Community serving in a number of business enterprises—as Director of Finance and Systems for Norton Advanced Ceramics in Worcester, Vice President of Finance and Controller at Vetrotex CertainTeed, held positions at Saint Gobain and is the founding partner of Compass Partners. He is also a founder and partner in Leadership Transitions, which is dedicated to building the capacity of nonprofit organization before, during and after a leadership change.

In addition, Mr. Pitcher has been involved in a number of community organizations, serving as Chair of the Board of Trustees of Higgins Armory Museum and working with the Greendale YMCA just to name a few. Mr. Pitcher knows this school system well for he attended the Worcester Public Schools from kindergarten through high school as did his children, and now he’s interested in assisting his grandchildren, who also attend schools in the Worcester Public Schools.

You can expect that the organization will expand both its fundraising and its programs. President Pitcher said, “Our goal is to play a supportive role to enhance educational programs in Worcester so that the students obtain a well-rounded education.  Opportunities to go to the Worcester Art Museum and Old Sturbridge Village are key in broadening one’s horizons and providing teachers with the tools they need to foster our talented students is an important role that WEDF is able to play.”

Since the WEDF’s inception, it has continued to expand on providing resources for the school system. The group took the leadership role in the renovation of Foley Stadium at Commerce Bank Field, and that project has benefited the sports programs in our schools and in the city. They have supported mini-grants for innovative teaching ideas (up to $500) and last year awarded over $12,000 to teachers for their innovative approaches. To date, over $100,000 has been awarded in grants for teachers and their students.

The grant ideas are many: combining math with music, a Blackstone Canal project, Greek Gods and Goddesses, “I can with the iPad,” topics spanning engineering, fine arts, sports, Shakespeare, health and more. Programs range from students attending professional theater presentation to expanding the “Coats for Kids campaign” that now serves over 2,000 student. Also, the WEDF has an ongoing partnership with Hanover Insurance to coordinate the AVID program to prepare students for college. In addition, they have also provided funding for adult education programs, supplies for art and music, the purchase of musical instruments and the repair of the instruments, hands-on science materials in the middle schools, health and wellness equipment for many grade levels, and through the Foley 5K Road Race, the WEDF raised the needed funds for every elementary school to purchase new equipment for recess and physical education classes.

The WEDF looks to the generosity of a caring community to support its programs and annually receives contributions from corporations, foundations, organizations, and individuals.  In a few short years, the WEDF has been able to bring in resources from major donors such as Abbott Biorearch Center, Alden Trust, Commerce Bank, Good Works Insurance, Grafton hillers, Hanover Insurance, Nathaniel Wheeler Trust, TJX, Worcester Credit Union and a huge anonymous donor. In addition, donations have come from many fundraising efforts and from the general public to supplement the many needs of the Worcester Public Schools. Anyone wishing to make a donation small or large can mail their donation to: WEDF, Suite 224, 210 Park Avenue, Worcester, MA 01609.

This is an organization that has received very little publicity for all the meaningful activities that they undertake in the community. Without question, this group of dedicated individuals continues to expand their involvement in the Worcester Public Schools and has made a difference in the lives of the students. I encourage you to support their efforts.  

 

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