Statement on a successor contract for Dr. Young, after six years.
(remarks prepared for the public meeting on Dec. 2, 2014 to vote on a contract for a one year extension. This written statement was amended in making the oral statement, to shorten it.)
This decision is hard. Very hard – since I will not be supporting a successor contract. It is sad too, since I was a strong supporter of Dr. Young when he was a candidate. I had hoped and expected after 5.5 years to see success in our district from his leadership. I had hoped, as all of us hoped, to see our district go from good to great. We have not. It is difficult for me to talk about this decision publicly, with Dr. Young here, and I am sure it is difficult for him to hear. This decision is likely not a surprise to anyone, since I have been clear throughout this process that I would base my decision on what is best for the district and that I had not seen the progress I expected. I did call the superintendent earlier to tell him that I could not support a contract extension of any length. It is with a heavy heart that I do this.
This vote is the most important vote we take, so I owe it to everyone to explain why I will vote no. I believe that five years is long enough to gauge success of efforts. There are many districts and schools that have had success in changing the trajectory of a set of schools in five years. In fact, Dr. Greer’s work here demonstrates convincingly that in one year, good management can make real positive change, including starting a shift in culture.
In reflecting on this decision, I started by looking at our district goals and data. Achievement has been our # 1 goal for years. Overall achievement, and closing achievement gaps. Most of the measurable goals relate to MCAS, which is a limited measure. However, it is one measure and since the administration has failed, despite five years of specific requests, to develop a more holistic way to measure achievement, it remains our main measure. And our district goals are clear and SMART in this respect. And we all agreed would be an important component of measuring our overall progress.
Two years ago we failed by a large margin to reach our goals, especially for closing proficiency gaps. So we lowered our goals – dramatically. This year, despite this lowering, we again failed to meet almost every numeric goal for proficiency and student growth.
- For overall proficiency %: goal not met, in ELA or MATH.
- Proficiency by subgroup: for both MATH & ELA- goal met for just 3 of 18 subgroups
- CPI by subgroup: goal met for only 2 of 18 subgroups
- The number of Level 3 schools went from 0 to 2 to 3 from 2012 to 2014.
And, the achievement gap for blacks, low income, sped: flat for the last 5 years. Comparing groups using the conventional definition of achievement gap is problematic. Yet however you measure it, the gap in CPS between AfAmer and white students is 30 points and between low income and non low income is 25 points. Most importantly, that gap hasn’t changed over the last five years.
Thus, we failed to meet most of our goals for achievement. We have worked hard and done a lot, but we haven’t fundamentally achieved our goals. Most of our success is the type of success we had in place five years ago.
Then I reflected on management practice and leadership. This year we had the advantage of an outside review of the management of our district, with the DESE district review. That report documented major lapses in management and administration. We briefly reviewed some of them, and they are relevant to this decision. In that report, the most salient finding was that only 25% of administrators had been evaluated the prior five years. And the evaluations that were done were “not instructive” and not of high quality. Which means nearly all of our top leaders – our principals, curriculum heads, and cabinet members – had not been evaluated. For five years running. In my view, evaluation is one of the most important tasks of a leader. It is a way to praise what is going well and offer help and advice on how to improve practice. Done well, and thoughtfully, it is a key lever for positive improvement, especially in educational institutions.
Other findings also paint a picture of missed opportunities. After five years of management under Dr. Young, the review identified many strengths of the district, and provided what I view as a significant critique of leadership and management. A few examples are:
- Despite spending three times the state average on professional development for years, PD was
found to be “ too fragmented, isolated and inefficient to adequately advance district goals and
priorities”. (p 40-42)
- Principals, who are our front line leaders, don’t have clear expectations (p.49)
- Structure of central admin – although not dramatically different from the past, except in titles – the
roles and responsibilities of top administrators are unclear, which leads to ineffective management
- Instruction: lack of evidence of ability to differentiate – yet that has been the focus of PD and
central admin. and a district goal for several years
- Student support, inc. RTI – despite being a district priority for 4 years, system not cohesive. “The
lack of a robust system of tiered instruction with timely provision of incremental supports to help
students overcome academic, behavioral, social, and emotional impediments to learning interferes
with improving student outcomes.” (p.43)
- Some school buildings “aged and poorly maintained, with missing ceiling panels, inadequate lighting and noise… not conducive to learning” (p.44) These issues exist despite spending more than twice the state average per student on operations and maintenance and our spending the highest in the state on our school building projects, on a per student basis.
Then I turned to the Innovation Agenda, which is held up as the signature accomplishment of the last five years, if not decades. More than three years after the vote, it is not clear that our district or our middle grades students are better off. While we all hope the restructuring will become successful, it is not yet. For some students, instruction is better. Extracurriculars are better on the whole, yet the promise of far greater opportunities has not been realized yet. And for many students, the educational experience is worse. No matter how daunting a reorganization, with our resources by now we should have unequivocal proof that the disruption was worth it. We do not. We spent far too much time on the logistics of the restructuring and only now have we focused on teaching. That should not have been the case – there are districts and schools that have moved faster in similar turnaround situations – with better leadership and management.
In keeping with good governance practice, goals and outcomes were established to measure the success of the IA. Most of those goals have not been met, or, tellingly, the measures not reviewed.
- MCAS SGP: the goal set was for 55 SGP overall and for subgroups. We did not meet that goal
for our high needs, Af Amer, SPED or low income students in either ELA or Math.
- Percent of 8th graders successful in Algebra 1: we set a goal of increasing by 5% a year. I, along
with many of my colleagues thought that goal was far too low – since it meant it would take until
2030 to have 90% of our 8th graders complete Algebra 1, a standard that most high performing
surrounding districts are meeting now.
- School climate survey outcomes – though the surveys were done in the Spring of 2014, the data
has not been released. I asked for it, but we don’t have it yet so we don’t know how we did for the
family and staff goals. A lack of attention to mutually developed goals suggests that the outcomes
and measures are not taken seriously.
- Mass TELL survey data by teachers: there were three items selected to be SMART goals: only 1 of the three goals were met; 2 were not met.
We have serious ongoing leadership and morale issues in several of our elementary schools and two of our upper schools. We have not sent a strong signal for parents and teachers that we understand and are working to resolve those concerns.
I also worry that there has not been evidence of excellent collaborative management in other areas: math coordinator search: we failed to hire someone, so math and science were combined – at a time when we are replacing our entire K-8 math curriculum. How is it possible that a district paying over $100K attracted so few candidates? How is it possible that national math organization, the Young People’s Project (was The Algebra Project) was not consulted for names? Generally when few candidates apply, it is a leadership issue.
Responding to the results of the MassTell survey of teachers which show problems in some schools
While we talk family engagement, far too many parents do not feel respected and included and invited.
Despite having amazing staff who know how to teach all students, and who do project based learning that is exciting and engaging, we have relied on expensive outside consultants. Instead of tapping into our best practices, too often we don’t even document our best practices, then pay outsiders extremely high fees.
The community, including the School Committee, is often left out of planning and developing of initiatives, instead of being treated as full partners. A key example is how the extended school day discussion was not inclusive or transparent.
Finally, our enrollment has grown, and that growth is pointed to as a success. However, our enrollment of 6700 is still below what it was when my oldest entered school in 2001. Our decline was steeper than most surrounding communities, and we are now gaining back enrollment, which is excellent. However, our increases are in line with most districts around us – in the last five years, CPS enrollment has grown at about the same rate as most neighbors – Arlington, Belmont, Brookline, Lexington, Newton, Waltham. That fact suggests that we are keeping our own, not excelling, on this dimension. And most of our growth in K-12 enrollment the last few years is at the high school level, which has not been an administrative focus for the last five years.
I have focused on a review of more quantifiable reasons for an extension or not. However, the decision incorporates other factors as well. These measures mesh with my overall sense that what would be best for the district would be to start seeking new leadership soon. The data confirms my sense that a new leader would be best for our students, and that guides my every decision.
I wish we had released the contract earlier. It is good practice, and in this instance we were not transparent and open about the proposed contract, which includes a large raise.
I am not comfortable voting a new contract of any length in light of the factors I summarized. Plus, we haven’t finished our evaluation of the superintendent. His own midyear self-evaluation showed that he understands that performance could be improved.
I am especially not comfortable voting a raise of any level when we already pay far more than any other district – currently $275,000 total combined salary and annuity — higher than Boston pays. I cannot support a raise of $14K. While the raise is spread over two years – a retroactive raise for this year and the same salary for next year, any raise when the district failed to meet our goals, failed to close the achievement gaps, and our leader failed to do the primary job of a manager, evaluate staff, seems like the wrong message. Plus, it is a greater raise than all the contractual raises for all our unionized staff. As I said, it is with a heavy heart that I will be voting no.