Public Policy Updates: April 2023 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education had their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 25 at 9 am at Westford Academy, The agenda can be found online here. 

Seal of Westford Academy, founded 1792

Westford Academy is the home school of student representative Eric Plankey; the Board traditionally holds one of their spring meetings at the home school of the student rep. The public high school of the town of Westford, Westford Academy, originally one of the quasi-public academies that served as high school for the town through tuition, retains its name and its pride as having served, among others, John Revere, son of Paul, whose fifth cast bell is still at the school.

Revere bell at Westford Academy

The Board opened with public comment from Senator John Cronin, who urged the Board to use its authority to further reform admission to vocational schools across the state. He said this was “”local control as a license to discriminate with impunity,” and as a result, admissions “have moved in the wrong direction in every measurably category” since the changes. He called on the Board to intervene, citing Assabet and Worcester Tech as examples of schools whose admission had moved in the right direction.

Superintendent Patrick Lattuca of TEC Connections Academy also spoke, noting that several members of his community had testified before last month’s Board meeting, requesting that the Department grant their request to give the MCAS to their students remotely. He observed that this was not an item on their agenda this month and asked that it be an agenda item in May.

Secretary Patrick Tutwiler notes that Westford Academy is also his former home, from earlier in his career. In reviewing his recent activities, he spoke of their supporting the “necessary shift we believe should happen at the high school level,” specifically mentioning new innovation pathways and early college meetings.

Commissioner Jeffrey Riley likewise listed the recent events and visits he has made. He spoke of the “support and technical assistance” that the Department is giving the Boston Public Schools in a coordinated plan moving forward. He said that the Department is working on an “educational vision,” and is in the process of identifying key objectives and initiatives; this will be presented to the Board later in the spring. He said the Department will be presenting to the Board further on the use of technology, including artificial intelligence in the classroom.
He also announced that at the end of this calendar year, the Department will be moving out of 75 Pleasant Street, Malden and to 135 Santilli Highway in Everett, to a building that the Department will share with other state agencies. The building is on the Orange line and has more parking.

The Westford Public Schools welcomed the Board to Westford Academy, with high praise for student representative Eric Plankey, who administrators acknowledged for always thinking of others.

The Board then heard a report on the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative–MAICEI (“macy”)–which offers inclusive college options for students identified as having an intellectual disability, autism, or developmental disability. It is an alternative non-matriculated pathway, which is person-centered, with individual support plans, and a focus on employment goals. Those enrolled have coaches, and access internships. Two of the campuses–Bridgewater State and Salem State–have a resident life component as well. Two student spoke of their own experiences in the program, not only of classes, but of taking public transportation, participating in extracurricular activities, and getting involved in politics.

The Board then heard from Milken Award winner Leigh Beson, a reading interventionist in the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District.

The Board next voted to send out for public comment proposed revisions to state regulations on educator licensure. In sum, the proposed changes cover:

  • allowing a initial or professional license holder obtaining a provisional license in special ed or ESL
  • creating a new preK-2 license for moderate and severe disabilities
  • permitting “demonstrate of knowledge” as a way to prepare and maintain students with disabilities for general classrooms
  • creating a new professional license for school nurse

Member Tricia Canavan wondered if requiring the nurses to pass the MTEL was a barrier to more nurses working in schools, citing a labor shortage. It was noted that this requirement is in law not regulation. Member Michael Moriarty spoke of his strong belief that every adult in a school building having strength in communication and literacy, and regarding third grade reading as “a developmental milestone.” Member Darlene Lombos observed that what is being faced is not a labor shortage but workers “voting with their feet” over not being paid what they are worth and thus leaving professions. The Board voted to send the proposed amendment to regulation out to public comment.

The Board next heard an update on the state receivership of the Lawrence Public Schools. This was done by largely done by Interim Superintendent/Receiver Juan Rodriguez, and by Patricia Mariano, Interim Chair of the Lawrence Alliance for Education, with some remarks from Deputy Commissioner Russell Johnston, and DESE Strategic Transformation Director Lauren Woo. Currently, they’re working on science of reading modules for PreK-2 educators through HILL for Literacy; that will expand next year through grade 5. They have implemented what they call “Lawrence Leadership Consultancy Cohorts”: 26 schools with created instructional vision statements; targeted instructional priorities. They have increased co-teaching classrooms in special ed and multilingual learners. They’ve implemented monthly learning walks and professional development in coordination with the co-teaching classrooms.
They’ve been promoting educator diversity through a number of initiatives focusing on growing educators in house, through support for paraprofessionals and post-secondary education opportunities.

Lawrence diversity stats
statistics on educator diversity in the Lawrence Public Schools

They have added a family engagement specialist at every school in order to better work with families, raising their family engagement.

They have also made deliberate plans with the increases to their budget through the Student Opportunity Act funding, which Rodriguez characterized as being in four areas, as follows:

Lawrence SOA spending

Chair Katherine Craven said, “This receivership was basically a function of the town wanting to work with the state…and we know that a lot of the lessons learned can apply to other districts in the state.”
Member Matt Hills asked Rodriguez how he saw the current governance model helping him or not in what he wants to achieve? And also what he expected or was working towards over the next years?
Rodriguez said, “as far as the governance structure, to me it’s working well right now. I don’t see it inhibiting anything we want to do right now.” He noted that he continues to meet with the elected school committee, that he recently met with the City Council on school safety. Interim Chair Mariano agreed that it is working, and said she felt that moving forward, “we’ll be ready to take the district back.” In moving forward, Rodriguez underlined again the work on literacy as work of the coming years, saying it reminded him of work “30 years ago.” He also said he’d like to expand the After Dark programs.
Member Lombos praised the outline of the SOA use.
Lombos then asked, “Who decides when a district exits receivership?”
Riley responded, “That decision is up to the Commissioner of Education.”
Lombos said, “So, you.”
Riley answered,  “Yes.”
In response to Lombos asking what he needed and what the plan was at this time, Riley said the Department is “stepping down over time.” He said he hopes “that this will be the final step down…obviously will have to see how this works out.” He said updates to the Board were part of that, adding “yes, that’s where we’re at.”
Moriarty praised Rodriguez’s background in literacy. Canavan asked if goals were set for each year; Rodriguez noted that schools did that as part of their budget process, using student growth as an example, as well as SEL goals like out of school suspensions, mediation, training in restorative practices. Mariano said that she has seen the use of data in decision making grow in the district.
Craven, observing that Mariano had been on the empowered school committee before receivership, asked what “things you want to keep about the receivership model…what are those things you’d say we need to keep as part of the learnings of receivership?” Mariano said that she hoped that the district just continued to move forward with the successes.
Craven said that she was actually looking for the specific things that Mariano could not do under an elected school committee, but CAN do now. Mariano eventually said she’d like to keep the budget process and would like to keep curriculum focused on data when planning for instruction. She closed, “I just want to see the successes continuing.”

The Board closed their public session with a budget update from CFO Bill Bell. Bell noted that the House is currently in budget deliberations, with the House Ways & Means budget having been presented a week and a half ago. With 14% of state budget going to education, there is, Bell said, “no question the Commonwealth values investment in public education.” He said that the House budget follows many similar lines to Governor Healey’s budget, with the third year of the Student Opportunity Act likewise being funded, ‘though the House budget adds $60 minimum per pupil increases. The circuit breaker is similar with two slight earmark changes. The House did increase transportation reimbursements for regional and homeless students by a few million in each; the intent is 100% reimbursement. The House has continued to support universal free meals. Bell thought the line “somewhat underfunded,” but said we’d have a better idea once FY23 closed. He said there were continued investments in career and technical education arena as well as in adult education programming. One thing that was new, per Bell was the House asking Department to oversee $100M green school infrastructure grant program. He said, “it’s not our wheelhouse to oversee” infrastructure” but the House seems to want us to oversee” it. He said that as usual, there were some things that the House had chosen not to fund, that he expected the Senate to make different choices, and for it all to work out in conference committee.
In terms of ESSER spending, Bell reminded the Board that ESSER I is entirely done. He said that ESSER II is 70% committed as of March, with about $200M left to be committed; ESSER III is 27% committed.

The Board then moved into executive session to take up the following: