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Monfredo: Let’s be The Best in Public Education

Saturday, September 15, 2018

 

It has been over two years since talks began about writing a strategic plan for the Worcester Public Schools.  Thanks to leaders of these groups … Worcester Education Collaborative, Dr. Jennifer Davis Carey,  the Worcester Regional Research Bureau, Timothy McGourthy and the support of Worcester Superintendent Maureen Binienda the written plan went before the School Committee and after a month of public debate the plan has been moved to the next level … implementation.

The report calls for the creation of a strategic plan to guide the district’s decision-making process in the coming years.  Much input from the community took place in the writing of the over-all plan.  The end goal is to make public education the best that it can be.  Keep in mind that the last strategic plan was implemented in 1992.

The Superintendent early on embraced the plan and stated, “I feel the strategic plan is a strong document that includes the input of families, students, educators, and the community and business leaders.   I thank the school committee review of the document and now we must move forward… I am appreciative of the work of the Worcester Educational Collaborative, the Regional Research Bureau and the Rennie Center in helping us in the writing of the plan.”

As mentioned a few months ago in GoLocal the plan has five broad goals…

  • CULTURE OF INNOVATION – Evidence-based practices and support of school leaders in making improvements.
  • ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE – All students will have access to rigorous and personalized learning supported by technology.  Part of the plan calls for the district to improve early education to ensure all students have the knowledge and skills to become lifelong learners.
  • WELCOMING SCHOOLS – All students will gain a holistic set of skills and be supported by a network – inclusive of their families and the community – to realize their personal, academic and professional goals.    The schools will support students’ social and emotional health and foster collaboration with the families and the communities.
  • INVESTING IN EDUCATORS – All students will be supported by effective educators who demonstrate leadership and commitment to enhancing student learning and development.   It recommends that the district enhance its educator workforce by recruiting top candidates from diverse backgrounds and support educators through training and instructional support in social-emotional learning, and integrated instruction with technology and cultural competence.
  • TECHNOLOGY AND OPERATIONS – Worcester will come together as a city, community and school district to prioritize and support success for all students.  This includes more public participation in school policy discussions and new strategies to advocate for state funding.

 

From the start, I have endorsed this plan for it is not only a roadmap for accomplishing excellence in education but education is the key to economic engine within our community.  The plan is good for our city for it highlights the importance of education and when middle-class families look to move into a community they are always looking to settle in a city that has education as a priority.

The plan calls for the district to begin this school year with the goals to be completed by 2023.    Looking at just a few of the statistics – MCAS scores in reading on grade level by the end of grade three are at 31% and the goal is to be at 47% by the end of 2023… The district has an enrollment in postsecondary opportunities now at 65% with the goal being 76% … chronic absenteeism is at 17% with the goal of reducing it to 14%  …  other goals include increasing per-pupil expenditures by 8% and increase diversity of new hires by 25%.

Looking at the statistics on grade level reading we know that is a must for improvement.  We need to do move the needle forward and it all starts with the readiness skills starting with pre-school to kindergarten.  It would be great if we could somehow expand our pre-school program to a full day and give our kindergarten classes a teacher assistant as we have been requesting for several years but due to budget problems have not been able to do it.  We need to examine our needs in the early years as we move forward.  If we want to see improvement we need to look at prevention first and it all starts in the early years.

However, the reality is where will our resources come from?  Again, it’s up to our leaders and the community to lobby our state legislators to support the changes in the Foundation Budget that school committee members have urged the state to do for several years.

Another concern mentioned in the plan has been chronic absenteeism (see last week’s column) and that has already been addressed by our superintendent for the goal by 2023 was to reduce it to 14%.  The good news is that it has already been reduced fewer than 14% but more work still needs to be done on this issue.

The plan also calls for parents to be welcomed to the schools.  As a former principal I couldn’t agree more for parents are a child’s first and most influential teachers and the role of the schools is to embrace that partnership and work with our parents.   Let’s communicate the positive with our parents… I did it as a principal and I can tell you it changed the culture of my school.  Another idea is to have positive welcoming signs at the front of the door and office.  In addition, in many schools we do have wraparound coordinators and that’s important for their job is to reach out to our parents.

When asked what will be the first step in the implementation of the plan, Superintendent Binienda mentioned that she has already started the process by having principals and staff at the schools start looking at the plan and making suggestions as to what can be done at their school.

Much work will be taking place during this school year and many of the suggestions have started to be implemented by our superintendent.  The plan’s movement will be transparent with periodic updates given throughout the school year.

This plan is a moral document for the city of Worcester and we need the community to embrace it and have the state make the necessary changes in the Foundation Budget so that we don’t have any barriers to the success of this document.  Let’s get the plan moving!

 

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