Thursday, December 5, 2013

Website updates and more

Sorry for the absence of news on this blog; I have been posting most new stuff on our WEA Facebook page with the help of Communications. 

The website has been updated with all relevant documents from the November and December board meetings.  Also, the board did vote unanimously in November to reject a proposed MoA on the Massachusetts Math + Science Insight grant.  The high school applied for this grant without performing the task of working with the Association.  Several members testified to the negative academic effects this program is having, distorting the educational progress at the behest of the grant's funders.  Since the vote, one member has come forward with a different opinion but at present the vote stands.

Unit C negotiations to succeed the contract that expired in August are still open.  Ground rules prevent discussion of the state of those negotiations in a publicly accessible mode such as this.

I am growing concern about the number and range of initiatives that seem to be implemented before the planning is complete.  The "Eighth Grade Academy" discussed in the recent School Committee meeting has potential as an idea, but it is curious to see a vote on something that remains so ill-defined.

Evaluations have had no notable change in form recently, and the evaluations committee has not met for several weeks.  As always, please contact me or another officer with concerns.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

October 17 venue change

A quick note that the October meeting with members slated for Decas has had its venue changed.  The new location will be announced shortly.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Oops! Sorry to the scholars of Wareham!

Whoops! In the process of recognizing the staff for their work in raising the bar in our MCAS scores, I unforgivably forgot to recognize the students for all their efforts!  Sorry to every last one -- it was your work that made the changes happen!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

L'Shona Tovah

Greeting to all members and friends of our WEA on the occasion of the New Year of the Jewish calendar.  Hopefully it will bring great happiness and satisfaction.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Welcome back

My colleagues,

It is an honor to serve as the president of such a talented group of educators as we embark on a crucial year for the enterprise of public education in Wareham.  A special thank you to all those who attended the opening meeting after school on Wednesday.  For those who did not, the presentation has been posted as a PDF in the members-only section of our website.  Also, the officers' list has been updated to reflect personnel voted in at the board meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

I'm hoping to spend more time in the buildings this year thanks to a more central location and earlier schedule.  The days I am scheduled to be in other buildings is listed on our calendar.  I'm hoping for a good year for all, for our students, our community, and this body of dedicated educators.  Rest up, and here's to a great year!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Some real talk about Level 3, Part II

Last week I wrote a review of how Wareham was labeled a Level 3 district. To review, one of seven schools in town is slightly on the wrong side of the 20% line based on myriad calculations based on MCAS results. But wait, there’s more!

As mentioned last week, Level 3 schools are in the bottom 20% in the state, a line of division based on the “hey, gotta draw the line somewhere” method successfully used by Europeans to set the national borders of Africa and the Middle East. However, being at 17% doesn’t mean that WMS just needs to “improve by 3.5%” to get to Level 2. It has to improve by a greater degree than the eight schools above it. If state databanks decree that Wareham Middle School improved by 10% last year, and the eight schools above do 12% better, WMS loses ground. This is the philosophy of the New York Stock Exchange – success isn’t what or how well you do, but how you compare to others. The Department of Education buys into it.

Unfortunately, the state stacked the deck against Wareham Middle School last year. A large element of the numerical gymnastics is comparing WMS to schools that the state labels as similar. In the case of WMS, this means nine others that are located in Amesbury, Billerica, Fall River, Medford, Middleborough, New Bedford (two), Plymouth, Rockland, and Taunton. So Wareham is expecting to keep pace with selected schools in these eight towns and cities, and loses points if it doesn't.

Ask if that truly is a representative group. Would you be surprised to learn that of these nine schools, only 3 have a higher percentage of low-income students? There may not be widespread shock that the average per pupil expenditure of these combined districts for the most recent year available is $12,756, compared to $12,241 in Wareham -- that's the red bar on the graph below. Does anyone believe things would improve if each WMS classroom had an additional $10,000 more to spend on education?  That's an updated set of books.  It's two classroom computers.

 ►The third item on the list of truths about Level 3: Wareham Middle School was placed on its level largely due to comparisons to schools that aren’t comparable. Now, there may statistical glimmers of hope. Wareham will be placed in a different group this summer, perhaps one that is actually appropriate. The “SGP” scores in recent fifth grade MCAS results, a group whose numbers will be counted as WMS students in reports issued starting in 2014, are a bit higher than those scores in grades 6-8. There is new leadership atop WMS and the public schools. This is a chance at a fresh start. Knowledge may be half the battle, but it doesn't have to all be pessimistic.

Finally, there is a sad, final truth to all this: students are barely part of this discussion. Some test scores in a couple subjects certainly are. A change in level can come by fairly grouping schools, or perhaps moving a new grade to WMS. It may or may not be coincidence that “education” has been stripped down to moving numbers around formulas in spreadsheets, and that “improvement” is the province of accountants and rather than educators. Even when WMS leaves Level 3, as long as this is public education, how much have things really improved?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Some real talk about Level 3, Part I

During the past spring’s interviews for superintendent, much conversation focused on the fact that Wareham is a “Level 3 District”. The state places districts anywhere from level 1 (the best) to level 5. It is worth taking a few moments to look at the previous year’s data to figure out what exactly how Wareham ended up there. To begin with, the state feels that each district should be assigned a level based on its lowest performing school. Since one of Wareham’s seven schools is a Level 3 school, the district is a Level 3 district. Using an analogy – imagine basing a baseball team’s record on the win-loss stats of its worst pitcher. Make the Red Sox’s record match John Lackey’s win-loss stats.

►One truth of Level 3 – Wareham is only a “level 3 District” using a bizarre system of classification. Less than one-quarter of its students attend a Level 3 school. For discussion, let’s allow the state its foolish methods. Let’s focus on the Level 3 school and ignore the 76% of Wareham children studying in schools with higher ratings. That school is my past and once again present place of work: Wareham Middle School.

Why is WMS a Level 3 school? According to an arcane MCAS-based formula* the department of education debuted last year, Wareham Middle School was among the lowest-performing 20% of middle schools in Massachusetts. Using only four or five days of testing in two subjects, WMS is placed in the bottom fifth. And just where is WMS in that group? Just below the line. Of the 58 middle schools in the Commonwealth at Level 3, WMS is ranked ninth. Eight schools or three percentile points away from Level 2.

►A second truth about Level 3 – while nobody is happy with the current level of performance, WMS is barely on the wrong side of the arbitrary line that divides Level 2 and Level 3. Under this cockamamie system, how does one get out? That’s the subject of next week’s post.

*This formula doesn’t rank actual test scores, or rate of improvement, or comparisons with other districts. It purports to do it all at once through weighting, averaging, and scaling. The best comparison is the Bowl Championship Series formula used in college football. The formula is purposely confusing, vulnerable to manipulation, an attempt to substitute complexity for authenticity, difficult to relate to what actually occurs. So is the BCS.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What’s the deal with Unit C negotiations?

After three meetings with the administration since Memorial Day, there isn’t much news coming out about negotiations to replace the Unit C contract due to expire at the end of this month.  There are two reasons for that:

1. As with most other labor negotiations, both sides agreed to “ground rules” that specified that details would be closely held until a tentative agreement was reached.  Unit C members will of course vote on that agreement, but until then these negotiations can only continue if both sides stay with the ground rules.

2. In late July, the superintendent and our WEA’s MTA representative left their positions.  This changeover necessitated a delay.

Our negotiating team is still vigorously pursuing a fair contract, and updates will continue until a tentative agreement is reached.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Of course, the NEASC report has been out for a while. I know that conversations at WHS about the report have been ongoing, but I ask any WEA member reading this to contact the WEA with recommendations that cause worry, or possible solutions. The recommendations numbered 16-20, and 43, are pretty tall orders. I know that the NEASC Committee shared a Google document with draft ideas. I want to hear your reactions and your ideas. The contract must and will be defended, but in the long run it would be helpful to find a way to calm NEASC down. Better we present our ideas than react to theirs...comment here, or send an email to the addresses listed on the website. Thanks for the time and help to make sure that this latest issue is resolved fairly to all members.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Yet more workload????

More time on paperwork=less time with students. It's really that simple, and if our priority is students achievement, it has to be taken to heart. Thus when there is mention of offloading central office tasks on individual members regarding professional development, tracking PDPs, and maintaining the district's obligations on teacher training to individual educators, one wonders "in place of what?" There is much to be said about allowing each educator greater control over their professional development, but adding yet another initiative, website, and forms to educators' workload is going to hurt student achievement. More time on paperwork = less time helping students. I look forward to hearing what the district is planning to take off educators' workload to achieve this, otherwise this constitutes an attempt to change working conditions without negotiation. Paperwork cannot shove its way in front of pupils for educators' attention.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My guiding principle on evaluations

I think we'd all known for quite some time that there were going to be a lot of questions this time of year regarding evaluations as the process completed for the year. The Commonwealth rushed through a new system before they'd thought it out, much less written it out. They're still doing that regarding "district-determined measures" meant to supplement the MCAS as a purported measure of educator impact -- a lassitude that would be unacceptable in a classroom but somehow okay coming from an education bureaucrat. Regardless, the system was new to everyone, from setting goals to writing up observations. Then a software package was layered on, all as the system is implementation spread across several buildings. Let's be clear: any chaotic, wobbly implementation is going to discover and create mistakes. That's foreseeable and understandable. Hundreds of people working together in good faith are still going to stumble badly under such circumstances. However, my guiding principle as president of the WEA is that these mistakes should not cost any person their job security, nor should an error of omission or commission bring into question the integrity and skill of an accomplished educator. This is not to question all negative evaluation results, but to set the highest standard for the way they are reached. If you have any question or concern, even the vaguest one, please contact a building rep or WEA officer including me. If a mistake costs you this year, your colleague may be affected the next. Speak up, and you will find help.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Health insurance rates

A word to clarify the recent email from the district about health insurance rates. The second column (100%) is the cost to the town of each plan, the third column (30%), is the total that all Wareham employees will pay for that year. The further columns divide that amount by differing numbers of paychecks. Those WEA members receiving a paycheck every other week, which is nearly all, would pay anywhere from $88.48 up per paycheck, depending on the plan. The full text of the signed agreement will be on the website by 5/13/13.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Deadline delay

Colleagues, You may have noticed a slight change in the WEA calendar. That is because of the revent weekend outage in TeachPoint. To ensure that summative reports for those on one-year plans reach the required standard of accuracy, rigor, and reliability, the deadline has been pushed from May 15 to May 20. This was upon a vote by the WEA Board of Directors.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Our next superintendent

In all likelihood, I met Wareham's next superintendent today. However, I also met four others who want that job and won't be offered the post. The afternoon was a valuable one, and a reminder of the range of people working for the best for Wareham's schools in the community. While the parents, business and non-profit leaders, staff, administration and town government officials don't all agree on how to get to success, or what "success" even looks like, it needs to be remembered that we're all on the same side. It is also a good opportunity to remember that there are so many routes -- and the different choices before the school committee are as much among different ways to envision and judge success as among different candidates for the post. The process of selecting a superintendent has changed even since it began earlier this year. The candidate slate wasn't too predictable, but neither are Wareham's challenges. It's not easy to pick the right person for the moment and the future. It's not easy to separate the right answers in an interview from the right person for a post. Here's hoping the school committee makes the right choice to find the best fit for the schools of Wareham, and everyone who is working for their success.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Upcoming RIF notices

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not sure I remember a spring that did not come with reduction in force (RIF) notices due to budget cuts in Wareham. This spring is no different. Below is a short explanation of why those notices are coming, and what is going to happen. This past Monday, Town Meeting voted to delay resolving next year's budget until June 18. At this point, the school committee is looking to spend $700,000 more than the town of Wareham is ready to give it. This move allows for further negotiations to close that gap. However, contracts between the Wareham Public Schools and the Wareham Education Association require that "whenever possible" notice of layoff be given by May 15. In practice, that means that the district provides laayoff notices on assumption of the worst-case scenario. In this case, that scenario would be that the schools cut the full $1.7 million the Town of Wareham required. During an earlier budget workshop, the principals of the elementary and middle schools gave specific plans for how they would implement these further cuts, and which positions would be cut. The high school principal did not. For details about your specific school, the video may prove useful. These RIF notices can be expected to implement the plans given at that workshop. Three final notes: -The Unit A contract is specific about the use of seniority in these cases. If a member's position is cut, s/he may have the right to "bump" another, more junior member out of a position for which s/he is qualified by dint of longer service to Wareham. This can result in a chain reaction of building transfers. This is why the seniority list is so important. -The schools plan for the worst, but that does not mean the worst shall happen. In several cases, recalls have gone out over the summer or just before the school year. If town meeting in June passes a budget in alignment with what the school committee has written, then the lion's share of those RIF notices would be reversed. -It is the intention of the WEA to meet with WPS administration to ensure the notices that go out conform with the contract to avoid the need for grievances after the fact. Updates will follow.

Monday, April 15, 2013


I've not done the best job keeping up the blog, getting into the habit of posting updates on WEA's Facebook page. However, many members do not have Facebook accounts. With that in mind, some updates are in order here:
  • An agreement in principle on insurance has been reached; details are available on the website.
  • The deadline for year-end observations -- summative evaluations for those on one-year plans and formative evaluations for those on two-year plans in less than a month away. Please email the WEA with any irregularities or concerns with the evaluation process as it has affected you.
  • The Unit C negotiations process will begin at the outset of May.
That's about it for the moment...but more will surely follow. Have a great vacation...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Insurance update

Here's what we know about insurance: - It's going to cost us money. This is being done to save the town money, and the rest will come from us as town employees. - There's no legal lever to stop this change, and I've not been made aware of an effective political lever to stop it. - We'll know the nature of the changes by mid-April. - The date any changes will go into effect is July 1, 2013. What we don't know: - How we'll be obtaining our insurance. Proposals mooted have included through the state's GIC, the county's Mayflower group, or remaining with self-insured Wareham. - From which providers we'll be choosing. Blue Cross may remain a choice, or possibly not. - What will cost more: premiums, copays, deductibles, or some combination of all of them. I will say this: Derek Sullivan has been working in good faith with the employees of the Town of Wareham, and has proven approachable and open-minded in finding ways to make these changes as smooth and accessible for members. The issue is that this question is outside everyone's area of expertise, so as we work with consultants obtained by the WEA/MTA and the Town, we discover, balance, and sometimes dispose of alternatives. Nothing is decided at ths point. I have changed my mind not a couple times based on new information. Often, we are not just comparing dollar amounts, but trying to put a value on non-monetary questions -- what is it worth to keep Blue Cross? What is it worth to remain with or leave the management of the Town of Wareham? I will be updating the Board of the WEA at our April 1 meeting at the WHS library and perhaps asking for a vote if the situation crystallized by then. The meeting, like all WEA Board meetings, is open to all members.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Insurance, budget, and evaluations

On insurance, a meeting has been scheduled for March 7. All indications are that the town is moving ahead with unilateral changes to our health insurance as allowed under the law. A further update will be on offer after the meeting. To my understanding the School Committee announced its perception that the current state of the budget will necessitate cutting 14 to 16 full-time equivalent positions in Wareham over the summer. This is an initial prognosis and experience shows that it is far too early to take this as a final number. Finally, please contact the WEA with concerns about evaluations. The Association cannot protect all of us without being told what is occurring in the hallways of the schools; I'm committed to ensuring that the WEA ensures everyone has a fair go, but cannot contest an issue about which I know nothing. As is often said in our buildings in other circumstances, if you have a question or concern, chances are other people have the same.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Superintendent Search

Colleagues, I hope you will be able to go to one of the focus groups in Wareham Middle School next week run by the firm tasked with helping hire the next superintendent of our schools. They are scheduled by level, but if you can't make "your" forum, feel free to attend the others. Monday 3:00 - WHS/West Tuesday 3:00 - WMS/Co-op Wednesday 3:30 - Elem./East Also, the firm has an online survey here: plese fill it out and encourage everyone else to do so.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Principal's Checklist

Note: There is a document on the Curriculum and Instruction website about evaluations with the title "Principal's Checklist". Initial response from the superintendent confirms that this document is outmoded and does not show changes made since the beginning of the year. While it is in your interest to allow time for evaluators to go through artifacts that have been submitted, January 10th is not a hard deadline for submission for inclusion in the formative assessment in one-year plans.

Principal's Checklist

Note: There is a document on the Curriculum and Instruction website about evaluations with the title "Principal's Checklist". Initial response from the superintendent confirms that this document is outmoded and does not show changes made since the beginning of the year. While it is in your interest to allow time for evaluators to go through artifacts that have been submitted, January 10th is not a hard deadline for submission for inclusion in the formative assessment in one-year plans.