Novick Reports: March Meeting of the Board of Education

This morning, the Board of Education had their March meeting. The breaking news of the morning was the public announcement of the receiver for the Southbridge Public Schools, Jessica Huizenga, currently assistant superintendent in Cambridge. Prior to her time in Cambridge, Dr. Huizenga was interim superintendent in Freetown-Lakeville. She begins May 2.

This was announced at the meeting as part of Commissioner Chester’s extensive opening comments, which also included some discussion by the Board of the recent report of UP Holland’s high suspension rates, particularly in young children. Several members (McKenna, Stewart, Sagan) expressed grave concern regarding this report (as the school is under state receivership), ‘though Secretary Peyser rejected the idea that a high suspension rate itself was cause for concern, postulating that a low suspension rate might also be cause for concern. The Commissioner and Department will be bringing together districts with high rates of suspension and expulsion, together with those with low rates, to share best practices, as part of DESE’s responsibilities under the revisions of chapter 222.

There was also a presentation by Parthenon of their final recommendations to the Commissioner regarding the organization of DESE. My liveblog on that is here. I have also attached the June 2015 DESE org chart as well as the updated (but without names) org chart as discussed today. The Commissioner has more direct reports; there is a single deputy commissioner, and a more empowered Chief of Staff position. The new Strategy and Research department came up again later in relationship to spending; it appears the Commissioner envisions this department as having some oversight under the data management piece of the Foundation Budget Review Commission recommendations.

There was an update on Southbridge and an update on Holyoke.

The largest report was on ESSA (liveblog), and it focused particularly on the financial aspect of it. While some Title programs are going up in funding, others are going down, so DESE concludes that the net effect to the state as a whole is flat. They further pointed out that this makes up just 5% of education spending in Massachusetts. The other discussion of note regarding funding is the provision that school turnaround funding now is to come out of state Title I funding; it was noted that the 7% that ESSA calls for would be less than 4% plus turnaround funding (what is done now), though long term funding could be more than that. Ed Doherty requested that DDM’s be put on an upcoming agenda, as student work no longer need (by federal requirement) be part of teacher evaluation; the Commissioner noted that the law does, however, require that students have access to “effective teachers,” thus the state has to have some way of identifying effectiveness.

Finally, the Board received an update on the budget; the liveblog is here. The Commissioner spoke of a discussion he had with Treasurer Goldberg regarding technology: while there is as yet no official announcement, there is interest in MSBA providing no interest grants to districts to update technology. Also, as part of a discussion of if there might, as raised by Chair Sagan, be waste in the $16 billion of spending on education in Massachusetts, Commissioner Chester again raised the question of how new money might be spent, as he did during deliberations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission; he pointed to the new Strategy and Research department as a way in which the state would work to ensure (for example) that money intended for ELL students was spent on them.

As always, questions welcome and errors are mine.

Tracy O’Connell Novick
MASC Field Director 508-579-5472