Public Policy Updates: December 2022 Board of Ed

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met for their final 2022 meeting on Tuesday, December 20; the agenda can be found here. The video can be accessed here.


Public comment, which opened the meeting, focused almost entirely on gifted and talented education, with most of the comments from students who have been a part of the Biggest Winner Math Challenge, in some cases for years. Senator Nick Collins expressed concerns regarding school safety in Boston. MTA President Max Page congratulated the state on passing the Fair Share amendment, asked when the state will be moving to end state receivership, and reviewed the MTA's legislative priorities for the upcoming session.

Vice Chair Matt Hills, who chairs the Commissioner's evaluation subcommittee, reviewed the work they've done. They worked to "set out a structure" for the evaluation. Hills said as "student achievement how we weigh our success or failure as a Board," student achievement would count for 50% of the Commissioner's evaluation. 

Chair Katherine Craven then gave the floor to outgoing Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, who reviewed what he saw as highlights of the outgoing administration. He also welcomed Secretary-designee Dr. Patrick Tutwiler.

Commissioner Jeffrey Riley gave some updates which were not on the agenda. The state has received the Boston Public Schools' equity analysis for what BPS calls "transformational" schools versus non-transformational schools. He noted the literacy focus in the district is gaining traction. 
He expressed continued concern regarding transportation, expressing "disappointment" that there are still transportation issues after public officials committed to making BPS systems work. He felt the timeline on bathroom renovations had been "blown" and noted that a school safety audit was coming. He said early indications are that Superintendent Skipper will be excellent. 
Chair Craven asked about special education; there is a process DESE is working through with regard to the complaint filed. Bullying was also mentioned.
Hills asked about how it was possible to go from 30 interested parties to a single bid on district transportation.
Riley said that the updated vo-tech admissions policies are still being reviewed. The Department is following up with some districts who have policies that continue to impeded equitable admissions.
The Commissioner observed he disagreed with the MTA on teachers' right to strike.

The Board then had a lengthy presentation (lasting several hours) on gifted education, which opened with a performance by the Lawrence High Theater Troupe; moved through review of the Abbott Lawrence Academy, a limited admissions high school program established while the Commissioner was receiver in Lawrence; and closed with a lengthy presentation from the Center for Talent Development.
There was no Board action on this item.

The planned report on goal setting in the state accountability system was postponed to a later date.

The Board voted to send out for public comment updated regulations regarding Commonwealth virtual schools.

The receiver of the Southbridge Public Schools Jeffrey Villars then presented to the Board. He likened the work in Southbridge to working to building a castle, with time showing if it was a sand castle or a medieval castle that will outlast us all. He said that schools are ecosystems, with adults having impact on climate and culture. He showed a series of dashboard with which the district is now tracking various kinds of student data. "I've had many meetings about how people feel and what people think...asking people 'well how do you know?' is a really important question," he said. Praised by Assistant Commissioner Russell Johnston for keeping schools open when, he said, others did not, Villars said, "it's pretty difficult, because you have to set conditions where people are forced to go to work, essentially, because it's right for kids, and in our district, they did, and they did a great job." Staff turnover has been quite high--the district peaked at 77.8% retention, now have dropped again to 65.8%--and Villars said it is"very difficult for teachers to go in every day...has made our hiring very difficult." He spoke of the addition of student advocates in the secondary school. He said, "clearly the gold standard assessment are the MCAS results...I try to create an environment where we don't teach directly to a test but we teach quality curriculum that are standard based and aligned with state expectations." In naming challenges, he noted that the town was funding about required minimum spending, but now is funding a little above it. He noted that the district has facilities needs. He also said, "never before in my career have I faced a struggle like this to attract individuals to come and work in a district...what frustrates me is I have the ability to create a lot of positions and do things differently in a receivership model, but it is all about talent."
Asked by Member Darlene Lombos what "the end game" is for receivership, Villars said it is to work himself out of a job, then said, "we need to show on dramatic improvement on all the indicators." He said, we "not only to accomplish that...but to get some roots in there."

Hills invited Secretary Peyser to close the meeting, at which his final meeting as Secretary adjourned.