Public Policy Updates: March 2018 Board of Education

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education had a two part March meeting, for which the agenda can be found here

Monday evening's presentation was on personalized and competency-based learning. The Department founded MAPLE, the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech Consortium, in 2016. The opening presentation spoke of the different learning speeds of students and of the struggle of classes that must progress on to the next thing at a standard rate while students learn material and skills more quickly or more slowly than others. The presentation was intended to argue that students can instead personalize their experience in education and move through material at their own pace. A panel of several students, a teacher, and a principal then spoke of their own experiences with personalized and competency-based learning. The degree to which technology was involved varied, with Revere High using Chromebooks to individualize students experiences and allow them to move at their own pace, to Melrose speaking of using online portfolios for students to present and preserve their work, to Boston Day and Evening not depending particularly on technology as students moved through material at their own paces. The student from Boston Day and Evening commented "it made me feel like education was way more important than I thought," relating that she earlier had planned to drop out of school, and responding to a question from member Margaret McKenna by stressing the importance of the personal relationships in her own and other students' success. Member Hannah Trimarchi (the student representative) noted the challenge in allowing for differing paces when "we have to teach to a test" and asked how they'd resolve that. The response was that perhaps a different model of testing was the answer, or to stress the progress made by each student, regardless of starting point. David O'Connor from MAPLE shared that their survey had found that what was holding districts back from such models was teacher professional development (first), then funding and time, then seeing in action. Those priorities direct the work of MAPLE as they work with districts. David Ruff of NESSC (New England Consortium of Secondary Schools) noted that if the Board was seeking evidence of thinking and expressing oneself clearly, the students before them were that.

 On Tuesday morning, the Board opened with remarks from Chair Paul Sagan, who noted that the prior evening's discussion didn't lead to action from the Board; he asked that it be taken up at a later date. He announced that incoming Commissioner of Education Jeff Riley will be sworn in on Thursday, April 5 at 10 am at the State House during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 Education Reform law. The public is welcome. Sagan reminded the Board that the May meeting will be in Marblehead; as is Board tradition, they will be visiting the home school of their student representative, and Hannah Trimarchi is a student at Marblehead High School. 
As this may be his final meeting serving as Commissioner, Jeff Wulfson took a moment to note that he had never expected to serve in this role and had been humbled by the experience. "It's been a very full nine months...we've dealt with transitions in Lawrence and Southbridge and hurricanes in the Caribbean," had the state's ESSA plan approved, and began the transition to a new MCAS. He shared his thanks to all who had assisted him, closing by saying the shared goal is "to make every one of our 1800 schools one we would be proud to send our children to." Secretary Peyser thanked him for his work. 

Public comment opened with one connecting the prior evening's presentation to adaptive assessment, letting students move at their own pace. 

The remaining comments focused on the two charter matters before the Board. A panel of students and a parent supported the request of Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School that the Commissioner's denial of their expansion be overturned, arguing that the wait list made it necessary, and that additional students would allow the school to expand needed programs and extracurriculars, including sports, which is one reason why students are leaving the high school. The mother of a fourth grader said that she was pleased that the school leveled the playing field for her daughter. Peter Demling of the Amherst School Committee ran through the reasons the expansion had been denied, reminding the Board that those reasons had not been addressed by PVCICS. Cara Castenson, chair of the Pelhem School Committee, spoke of the budgetary impacts of students at PVCICS to her small district; when Chair Sagan questioned if Pelhem had received their reimbursement, Castenson replied they'd received as much as anyone ever gets. Northampton superintendent John Provost asked if PVCICS had, as all of their sending communities had, taken in evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Greenfield Virtual Charter, whose conditions for probation were before the Board, related their work to the prior evening's presentation.

The opening presentation was on the Level 5 schools. The new receivership board for Lawrence opened; Lawrence Alliance for Education chair John Connolly introduced himself and the work of the Board, speaking alongside Ventura Rodriguez, DESE Associate Commissioner, who also serves on the Board. Currently, the Board is searching for their new superintendent; they plan to finalize their slate by the end of April, do interviews in May, and hire the new superintendent shortly thereafter. As Jeff Riley will be leaving the district in April, Wulfson noted that current deputy superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron will serve as the acting superintendent until a new superintendent is appointed. Member Ed Doherty asked the role of the school committee; Connolly said that two members serve on the Alliance for Education, and the committee has regular meetings. Sagan said that no one wanted to transition the district back to local control than the Board, but "no one will be more deliberate than us" in doing so, as they needed to be assured that the school committee "will be prepared to govern in a way they have not done before."

Receiver Steve Zrike updated the Board on Holyoke, speaking of the progress "by the numbers." The majority of his presentation was on the reorganization of the middle school level into three schools, one of which will be run by Veritas Charter as an in-district school. All with be largely neighborhood schools with some choice seats. He noted the budgetary struggle of a district that is funded at foundation, which piqued the interest of several board members, who plan to visit the district to hear more. 

There was an extensive discussion of school safety (find the backup documents to download here) with a panel including MASS President and Taunton Superintendent Julie Hackett and Massachusetts Chiefs of Police president and Dudley Chief of Police Steven Wojnar. Acting Commissioner Wulfson noted that the issue of school safety came from two very different dimensions: the physical safety of the building, and the social and emotional health of students.

The Department opened by reminding the Board of the multi-hazard planning that is required of every district, which is updated annually. Superintendent Hackett reviewed recent activities within her district as examples of the administrative handling of different security related incidents and how many different facets can be involved. Hackett noted the importance of children belonging, remarking that when it comes to mental health services, we "have the need and the mandate but we don't always have the funding." She specifically requested on behalf of the superintendents that the state create a central repository of best practices around all aspects of school safety, such that districts don't need to each independently do the same research. 

Wojnar spoke supportively of the use of school resource officers. He said that every community is going to allow for a level of risk, and it is up to the local community to determine that. 
It was noted that as part of the building process, new buildings under the Massachusetts School Building Authority have security experts consulted in the design process. In response to a question from Chair Sagan, however, it was noted that there is not a separate safety facility fund, 'though new doors and windows are included in the accelerated repair program. 

Member Hannah Trimarchi noted the platform the students from Parkland have put together extends outside of safety within school and asked what is done about that. Hackett spoke of community facilitators and youth crisis intervention teams. Trimarchi asked about the role of school resource officers; Hackett noted that they are jointly evaluated by the superintendent and the chief of police, with Wojnar noted that training is done in his district. Upon further questions from member Marty West, the Board learned that though a law was passed requiring such officers, it was subject to appropriation and there has been none. There is no state requirements or standards around training of such officers. Member Ed Doherty echoed Trimarchi's earlier mention of the full platform of March for Our Lives and commented that the Board should support the full platform. He also noted that among the most useful thing that the Board could do is support the implementation of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, such that districts have resources to provide mental health and other supports. 

The Board then moved to pass, after amending, a resolution as follows: 

WHEREAS the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was deeply troubled by the February 14, 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 14 students and three adults, and equally troubled by previous school shootings, including the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 12 students and one adult, and the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 students and six adults; and

WHEREAS there is no evidence-based research showing that arming teachers would reduce casualties in mass shootings; and

WHEREAS allowing guns in schools by other than law enforcement would increase the risk of accidental shootings of students and other bystanders; and

WHEREAS teachers are first and foremost educators and therefore should be employed solely on the basis of their educational skills and credentials, not their skills as a security officer;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education believes arming educators will make schools less safe, and the Board opposes any move to do so.

Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School's appeal was then taken up. After an extended discussion with the executive director, during which the Department made clear that their attempts to work with the school around their expansion in ways that were able to be maintained had not been accepted by the school, the Board declined to take action, leaving the Commissioner's denial in place. Chair Sagan warned the director:

"You've got to hear this Board. We like your school. We want more schools to function this way. But we need a more collaborative approach…Please don't keep doing it this way, because you're going to keep running into this wall. It's got to be through the Department."

 The pace of the meeting then picked up considerably, as the Board had a number of votes to get through and a limited amount of time. Greenfield Virtual School's probation was approved. Aligning state regulations around responsibility for special education services for those in foster care with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act passed. Proposed amendments regarding state accountability and proposed amendments around English learners due to the LOOK Act were voted out to public comment. We will share that information as it becomes available. 

 The meeting then adjourned. The Board next meets on April 24.