Public Policy Updates: April Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held their April meeting at Wellesley High School in recognition of their student member Ela Gardiner, who will graduate from Wellesley High School this spring. The agenda of the meeting is here; the video of the meeting is here.

The Board meeting opened with public comment.
Beth Kontos, president of the American Federal of Teachers – Massachusetts, speaking of the receivership in Lawrence said she had been pleased that former Commissioner Riley had told her that this would be the last year that Lawrence would be in receivership, yet “the school year is nearly complete. We don’t seem to be any closer to being out of receivership.” She said, “the policy is ripe for making the change now; the politics is getting in the way.” She said that politics was driving the current superintendent search, where four finalists were announced on Monday. The decisions of those invited to the search were being superseded, she said, with a finalist added not placed there by the community group. She said, “I believe it is time to bring Lawrence out of receivership” and that she would like to see Lawrence have an elected school committee. Part of the politics, she said, was the mayor working towards a charter change to make the school committee majority appointed, which is part of the reason for the delay.
Kim Barry, Lawrence Teachers Union, spoke next, saying that there has been reason for those who were on the selection committee to lose faith in the (superintendent) process: “the mayor had his own candidate” and that candidate did not make the second round, but has now been placed there.
There was a comment proposing the Department to reconsider its limits on the size of a class or group in order for it to be included in data.
There was a comment urging the Board to stop “worshipping the false god of local control” and put into place a more active vision of the Department’s work.
There was a comment regarding the options for gifted and talented students of color in receivership districts.
There were three comments regarding the Literacy Launch on the agenda. Mary Tamer of DFER, advocated for the literacy bill which would restrict districts’ selection of literacy materials to those advised by the state, referring to a “patchwork of programs and guidelines which do not ensure all students are reading by the end of third grade.” Heather Peske of the National Council of Teacher Quality advocating for balancing Literacy Launch “with accountability, saying that success would be “measured by its ability to compel districts…to shift…using evidence and science to give the best literacy instruction.” Beth Trivedi of the Massachusetts Teachers Association said the MTA supports Literacy Launch; the MTA has received a clear message from members have been that local districts need to flexibility to choose program or programs to meet their students needs, and further advocated for educators being involved in decision making.

Chair Craven said that she was working on scheduling a joint meeting with the Board of Higher Education in June.

Secretary Tutwiler emphasized the work on FAFSA, and thank districts that were working with their students on completion. He said that nearly $600,000 in grants are going to public schools for FAFSA completion events, and announced that the Department of Higher Education has moved the deadline for completion of Mass Grant from May 1 to July 1. He also noted the support in the House budget for universal free meals and for early college.

Acting Commissioner Johnston updated the Board briefly on the three receivership districts. As noted in public comment, Lawrence Alliance for Education (which is the receiver) announced the four finalists; there will be interviews in May. He visited Southbridge: visited Monday to talk about steps that they can take towards leaving receivership with a subquorum of the School Committee; town manager. He said, “I would characterize [the conversation] as open and honest.” It is for the School Committee to determine what steps they want to talk in moving forward. In Holyoke, the local control subcommittee has now met three times; they most recently discussed the role of the school committee in the budget process;. On that, Johnston said, “they came incredibly prepared.”
Regarding Felix Charter, their opening procedures are being moved through to address concerns raised by Board members at vote; in May and June, he expects six submissions to address concerns further. He plans to return in the fall with a recommendation about the tuition.
In Brockton, part 1 of the safety audit at the high school has been completed; part 2 taking place.
He also emphasized that there is still time to fill out the FAFSA.

There was a welcome from the Wellesley Public Schools, including much praise for Ms. Gardiner and what she has done in the district as well as statewide.The first presentation was on Safe Schools for LBGTQ students, which Johnston opened by remembering former Associate Commissioner John Bynoe, who recently died. Associate Commissioner of Student and Family Support Rachelle Engler Bennett opened by noting that during 2021-22 year, 83.1% of LGBTQ+ students faced harassment or assault. The Safe Schools effort focuses on four strategies known to be successful:

  • supportive educators
  • LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum
  • inclusive and supportive policies
  • Supportive clubs

The Department offers support through professional development and training, through on-demand technical assistance, and through student leadership initiatives.
Associate Commissioner of the Center for Instructional Support Erin Hashimoto-Martell cited of examples across standards in guiding principles, and in reviewing materials for inclusions of those with diverse identities, backgrounds, and perspectives.
Randolph superintendent Thea R Stovell spoke of her own district’s experiences in supporting LBGTIA youth, and requested more specific guidelines from DESE around gender identity and process. She said, “anything that this Board can do to push policy that makes it clearer” on process would be appreciated.
Boston Public Schools student Rowyn then spoke, saying they “sit here before you as a Black and queer student.” They noted that even student groups may not fully understand their experience. They said, “in spaces meant to be inclusive, people shouldn’t have to bring a chair to a table that should already have a space for me.”
in response to a question from Member Stewart, the panel said they are invited to schools. Member Moriarty said that it seems like demand has exploded, “as a result of the disruption in schooling” (WHAT?) and student dysregulation. In response, Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students Director Jason Wheeler said that schools are doing “incredible work,” and there is a heightened level of community concern being brought forward that I don’t know that our schools are always ready to respond.

The Board next moved to a report on the second of the three parts of the education vision and strategic objectives, promoting deeper learning, specifically looking at the Literacy Launch initiative and early college. Johnston said there would be such a focus at the meetings in May and June, as well.
Association Commissioner Hashitmoto-Martell explained that the intent of Literacy Launch is to increase the number of students reading and writing on grade level by grade 3, as well as equity in early literacy.
four things the Department plans:

  1. adoption and implementation of high quality instructional materials
  2. technical support coaching and professional development
  3. acceleration of program review of education preparation
  4. coordination with early ed

Director of Literacy and Humanities Katerine Tarca outlined the statewide professional development, and support networks for schools, districts, and educator preparation programs.
The proposed budgeted funding with allow for reviewing all education preparation programs in four years (rather than seven).
Member Moriarty said we should be thinking about vetting of curriculum in a very different way, and said the state’s CURATE effort is a “very valuable form” of review. It has the “the science of implementation behind it”. He said curricular review “can’t happen in 400 different places with no one to speak to it with one voice.”
Vice Chair Hills asked when to impacts; he said, “how will we know that we can feel really good about the effort?” Johnston noted that some work is dependent on the budget, as the major funding was proposed by the Governor in FY25. He said he would be coming back in June or September with more information.
Regarding early college, there are new programs at new programs: East Boston High and Fisher College; Southbridge High and Quinsigamond Community College; Taunton High and Bristol Community College. There are three different granting programs for this. There is a new public data dashboard for early college including credit information by program. Vice Chair Hills praised the dashboard, saying it was a terrific model on how to look at educational programs.

Finally, the Board had a budget update, regarding the House budget passed last week. Budget Director Julia Jou noted the $104 per pupil minimum increases among the changes. She also said that 60% of ESSER III funds have been expended. In response to a question from Vice Chair Hills. Jou said that all district grants are encumbered; DESE’s are mostly encumbered. The Department may be seeking late approval for DESE projects.

The Board then adjourned. They next meet on May 21, back in Everett.