This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Voices Urge No Vote on Question 3

The above video features Briscoe teacher Jess Lague speaking out against ballot Question 3, which would roll back the state income tax to 3%.

School advocates, along with most city and state leaders, strongly oppose the measure which estimates say could take $823,000 out of the Beverly school budget, and as much as $2.5 million out of the total city budget next year.

Earlier this month, the Beverly School Committee officially announced their opposition to the measure, and Mayor Scanlon has also been a strong voice of opposition.

All of the Gubernatorial candidates, including Republican Charlie Baker, oppose the measure, as does Democratic State Rep Candidate Jerry Parisella.

And today Brett Schetzsle, the Republican Candidate for State Representative, who had stated previously that he was undecided on Question 3, issued a statement saying that he would "personally vote 'no' on Question 3." (Schetzsle, like Parisella, says that if elected and required to vote officially on the matter, he will honor the will of Beverly voters.)

Schetzsle states that he agrees with the sentiment behind the measure, but:
I do not believe that cutting the sales tax to 3% and have it take effect mid-year is the right way to deliver that message....

Unfortunately, the majority party on Beacon Hill has shown time and again that cities and towns are easy targets for devastating cuts without receiving some of the badly needed tools to control employment costs. In the short term, I see massive local aid cuts as the solution that they would pursue and it would result in ugly consequences here in Beverly.
When the Republican candidates, whose primary campaign message is cutting government spending and reducing taxes, say that this is too "drastic" a step, then its a pretty clear signal that, no matter your views on state government, this is a potentially devastating initiative.

Please join all of us who care about education in voting no on Question 3, and urging others to do the same. Even with all these voices opposing the measure, recent polls have indicated that it has a better than even chance of passing.

10/26 UPDATE: Today's Salem News, while endorsing Republican Charlie Baker for Governor, still endorses a NO Vote on Question 3, saying:
Beacon Hill has no one but itself to blame for the fact that a question with potentially catastrophic consequences is on the ballot this November.
Question 3 would roll back the sales tax from the Legislature-approved rate of 6.25 percent to an unreasonable 3 percent. Those going to the polls next Tuesday should vote no, but at the same time vote out politicians who refuse to take the difficult steps necessary to get the cost of government in Massachusetts under control.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

State Rep Candidates Debate Tonight in the Cove

The two State Representative candidates, Democrat Jerry Parisella and Republican Brett Schetzsle will debate for a final time tonight at the Cove Community Center starting at 7:00 pm.

This is a race that is of great interest to school advocates, because many of the budget issues that have plagued Beverly schools for the past several years have their source, or potential solution, on Beacon Hill.  Municipal health care reform, Local aid cuts, Chapter 70 reform and MCAS standards, are all issues on which the next State Rep could have an impact.

The two held their first debate last night at the Memorial Building, and, compared to the previous week's contentious Congressional debate and the current tone of American politics, it was a dose of sanity—a generally intelligent and thoughtful debate about the issues.

As the Republican, Schetzsle is clearly much stronger in his criticism of Beacon Hill policies and the need for reform, but on some educational issues such as charter schools, the two seem to agree (both generally support the concept, but don't feel that a charter school would be good for Beverly at this point). On other issues such as the recent decision to adopt new Federal testing standards over the current MCAS system, their positions again diverge.

Some in the school community worry about Schetzsle's position on Questions 3, which most strongly oppose (Schetzsle states that he is undecided on how he will vote himself, but if elected will support the will of Beverly voters), and his blanket no new taxes pledge.

But most acknowledge the need for reform at the statehouse, and worry about the heavily Democratic legislature's ability to ever make any progress on municipal health care reform or "plan design" which the unions generally oppose. Many see plan design as the best way to get a handle on the spiraling health care costs that are paralizing the city and school budget. Parisella has seemed less that fully supportive of the concept at times.

The Boston Globe has posted a questionaire with answers from both candidates that further illuminate their positions on the issues.

Last night's debate, as well as hour-long interviews with both candidates will be running repeatedly on BevCam between now and the November 2nd election. Check here for the latest schedule.

All independent-mined voters who care about education should give both sides a fair hearing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Is a New Middle School Still on the Horizon?

With a new $81 million high school just nearing completion and the district's operating budget facing annual multi-million-dollar deficits, any hope of a new middle school has seemed, at best, a distant dream.

But according to today's Salem News, the prospect is still alive, and the current batch of newborns at Beverly Hospital could see it in time for their middle school years in 2020.

Mayor Scanlon discussed it recently as part of his long-range capital expenditure plan.
The project would cost an estimated $33 million, a price Scanlon called "very much a ballpark number." Scanlon said he is assuming the state would pay half the cost. The city would sell the current Briscoe Middle School and use the proceeds to help pay for the project.

Scanlon acknowledged that spending on new projects "must be quite modest for several years" due to the debt the city is taking on for the nearly completed $81 million high school project.

But, he wrote, "a review of existing debt runoff indicates the middle school project would be initiated in five years and proceed through design and construction to be complete by FY (fiscal year) 2020."

Scanlon said the Memorial site is the best choice for a middle school because it has 17 acres, three times more than Briscoe, and the building is newer. The Memorial Building was a middle school until 2005, when the city consolidated into one middle school at Briscoe. Memorial is now used to house school and city offices and Northshore Recovery High School.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

High School Accreditation Process Begins

This week's Beverly Citizen reports on the upcoming evaluation of the high school by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which will begin this month. A committee of 15 educators will visit the school October 17-20 to begin their evaluation.

The high school has been on probationary status since 2003, primarily due to the condition of the building, which NEASC said "was interfering with students’ learning."  The designation was the driving force behind the city's decision to build a new school (or academic wing), which was authorized by the City Council in a March 2006 vote.

Superintendent Galinski says the district had hoped that the visit could be postponed until after students were in the new building (currently scheduled for late November), but that wasn't feasible. She says the group will hold meetings in, and tour the new facility, however.

High School Principal Sean Gallagher describes the accreditation visit to the Citizen:
"As part of the evaluation, the visiting committee will meet with all school constituents, review the school's self-study, visit a number of classes and examine examples of student work submitted by the school... During the comprehensive self-study, the faculty attempted to identify the school's strengths and determined those areas in which changes would be beneficial.”
Further details from the Citizen article:
School Committee Vice Chairman Maria Decker said the school will be evaluated in seven key areas: core values, beliefs and learning expectations; curriculum; instruction; assessment of and for student learning; school culture and leadership; school resources for learning; and community resources for learning.

“They come for the visit, then send follow-up comments with a two-year report after that, and we will do a progress report after a couple of years. It’s a 10-year cycle,” Decker said. “It’s a circle of constantly assessing who you really are. There’s always room for improvement, and we evaluate ourselves.”...

“We have every optimism that the probation will be lifted, since we have a brand new building,” Galinski said. ...

“The BHS staff has been working on the accreditation for over a year. Many staff members have been active on many of the various committees set up,” School Committee Chairwoman Annemarie Cesa said. “I am sure that the accreditation team will be impressed by the quality of education our students are getting here in Beverly.”
While past accreditation issues have been due mainly to the condition of the building, there was one point during last year's budget debate that the School Committee worried that proposed teacher cuts at the high school could jeopardize the school's academic standing.  Subsequently, many of those cuts were restored or otherwise mitigated.

BHS Wins Grant

In other BHS news, the Salem News reports  that the school has won a grant that could total as much as $2 million over the next few years from the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the News, the Smaller Learning Communities grant, "will help the school provide students with more personalized and supportive learning experiences."
Most of it will be spent on teacher training. The training will focus on different styles of learning and how teachers can meet the needs of all types of students, [Superintendent Marie] Galinski said.
Some money will go toward developing a "Freshman Academy" to help them make the transition from middle school, Galinski said. The money will also bolster the existing 8.5 program, a summer program that helps just graduated eighth-grade students make the transition to high school. Teachers will also get training on the school's 1 to 1 laptop initiative, a controversial new plan to have every student have an Apple laptop in school by September of next year.
The school is guaranteed  $756,000 for each of the next two years, and then must reapply to receive the remainder of the funds.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Waiting for "Superman"

My name is Julie DeSilva. I have been invited by SBS to post about education issues from time to time.

Recently I attended the Massachusetts premiere of the documentary Waiting for "Superman." Kris Silverstein and Deb Ploszay attended with me. The next day we shared some of our thoughts with the City Council, the School Committee, school administrators, and many concerned Beverly parents.

Following is an email we sent to this group to give more information about the movie, to share some information that was shared with us, and to keep the conversation going about this movie and the state of public education today. I hope you will see the movie and continue the conversation here!
We are happy to have heard from many of you with questions, comments, and information sharing regarding our thoughts after seeing Waiting for "Superman." First, many of you wanted to know where the movie is playing. It will be playing at Hollywood Hits in Danvers starting October 8.

For those of you who don't know, the movie looks at particular children in New York, LA, and DC. Fortunately for our children public education in these cities doesn't look the same here in Beverly. In Beverly the problems are fewer and different but the big problem is the same. The way we fund public education doesn't work and is unsustainable. We want to be clear that we left that movie feeling grateful for the education offered students here in Beverly. We want to see the quality of education preserved and enhanced here, and we want our kind of quality education for all children across the nation!

Attached are three documents:
  • a Public Education Funding brief from the Mass Budget and Policy Center—this is long and exciting reading, but even if you just flip through the figures, you will get the picture
  • a toolkit from the National School Boards Association
  • some talking points specifically created for this movie from the American Association of School Administrators
You should also read about a success story right here in Massachusetts that shows real change can happen through determination, teamwork, and a focus on the basics.