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School Committee Grades Superintendent Boone

Friday, June 22, 2012

 

Thursday night, Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools Dr. Melinda Boone faced the school committee for her annual evaluation. The past year has not been an easy one for Boone, who has dealt with protests from parents, teachers, and students at Claremont Academy, allegations of political hiring, and another year of budget difficulties.

The primary issue voiced by school committee members was their need for adequate time to consider issues before deciding them.  Some reported being asked to decide on an issue in a matter of minutes after receiving the item in executive session.

Getting Graded

The evaluation graded Boone on key facets of education and administration, including aiding gifted students, high achievement and standards for students, retaining students, communication, family and community engagement, and school security.

While there was plenty of praise for her success in gaining funding for the 2013 budget and upcoming construction projects, many school committee members voiced concern about the lack of aid going towards children with learning disabilities and the need to lower the dropout rate.

School committee members also had plenty of pointers for Superintendent Boone in improving communication, something that many saw as the root of the Claremont Academy issue as well as other difficulties the district saw this year.

Adversities

The issues behind protests at Claremont Academy earlier in the year took center stage at the evaluation, and members of the committee highlighted the need for the superintendent to stop rushing documents and important decisions past the committee.

“Clearly there are areas for improvement,” Committee member Brian O’Connell said. “In so many ways, the Claremont situation, at least I feel, could have been avoided in executive session. It would have given time to think about what would have happened and avoided a lot of the anxiety and heartbreak that inevitably came from the situation.”

Some of Boone’s greatest difficulties surrounded Claremont Academy. Teachers protested the Superintendent’s actions and even headed to Boston to rally against her move that forced teachers to reapply for their jobs before returning next year.

O’Connell and many members stated the need to present documents in advance to school committee to give more time for them to react. “Truly, it needs to stop,” he said.

While committee member, Jack Foley stated that Boone had greatly improved the transparency, particularly through the extensive school budget, Dianna Biancheria, committee member running for State Representative strongly urged better communication and establishing an annual report showing aid received from colleges and local organizations.

“Prior comments failed to make a dent,” Biancheria said, adding that the school committee has had little time to review items in executive decision. “They are handed ‘rubber stamp this item’ which greatly diminished importance.”

This lack of time, Biancheria said, coupled with “holding on relevant information to discussions,” is creating many issues. The Claremont issue, Biancheria said, only shows the issue and its effects.

School committee member Tracy Novick voiced concern about AP classes. “It is time for us to have a real discussion about what data can and can’t do,” she said, citing test scores and where to go next. “We need to move beyond the minimum for academic excellence and make sure we are not just putting kids in AP classes just to put them in AP classes. I am concerned that they are vastly expanding. We are crediting them with being able to do too much.”

Limited Resources

For many committee members, a stronger focus on college and job readiness, graduation rates, and aiding children with disabilities were crucial issues.

“Something I was not able to do, primarily due to limited resources was developing a strong focus on gifted education,” Boone said.

Biancheria raised the need to increase ties in the community.

“Aid starts with the budget but needs tie to the community,” Biancheria said. The dropout rate was also something she touched on, citing recent data – “What do we do with this? There continues to be reasons for concern. Our job is not just ensuring students have access to a rigorous curriculum. That is what we should be doing for every child,” she said.

Highlights

Boone touted several successes in  her self-evaluation, which she submitted prior to Thursday night’s meeting.

“I look forward to entering in conversations with the committee following this evaluation to discuss matters brought up. There are expectations for the superintendent, teachers, and principals,” Boone said.  

For her successes, Boone offered the expanding Engineering Academy at Doherty High School, as well as a refurbished science lab at Worcester East Middle School.

Boone also mentioned the additional teaching positions gained through the city’s allocation of an additional $350,000 in funding during this year’s budget process.

O'Connell said that the Superintendent, “Directed most of her attention to curriculum and setting expectations for students” and has met her word. Jack Foley also highlighted Boone’s success in meeting a growing need with limited resources.

She hopes that this will result in additional positions for vocational and technical education and new career focus areas at Doherty High School, Worcester Technical High School, North High School, and Worcester East Middle School.

“I don’t stand alone in this district,” Boone said, thanking others for the district’s progress. “We’re far from being a finished product, but we can begin to see evidence of our work, moving forward.” She cited many new programs to help students achieve more, including new graduation requirements in line with Mass Core.

Looking to Next Year

“We now have a commitment to the level of funding we need,” she said. Boone said that although this year’s allocated funds from the city were not in the millions they had hoped, she is looking to the future to prove the city’s dedication to adequately funding the public school system.

Boone also said that it is time to share accountability, which needs to include administration, parents, and city council. She also called for rewriting the curriculum with teachers to maintain the city's education level and make sure they are on par with the state level.

"Together we stand. Divided we fall, and when we fall, our children hurt the most," she said.

Despite many upcoming projects and successes, many members of the school committee urged that without an improved system of communication and more time given to the members to look over important documents, things will not improve.

 

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