Wednesday, October 18, 2017

State Releases MCAS 2.0 Results

In the Spring 2017, Massachusetts rolled out what is calling the "Next Generation" MCAS exam which was taken by students in grades 3 through 8 (students in grade 10, on the other hand, took the previously designed exam). The Next-Generation MCAS includes aspects of the previous exam as well as items developed by PARCC and items created to assess the state's learning standards. According to the state, the Next-Generation exam was formulated as a method to better assess career/college readiness. Specifically, this was in light of data which indicated that more than a third of the state's public school graduates attending Massachusetts public colleges or universities were placed in remedial courses and that these remedial students often do not graduate on time or at all.

MCAS 2.0 is not without its opponents, however. Monty Neill of the The National Center for Fair and Open Testing notes the new exam is not necessarily an improvement as it blends the previous iteration of the MCAS with the PARCC which is not more predictive of college success. The Pioneer Institute in particular found the writing prompts on the PARCC exam did not elicit the kind of writing expected in college or work environments. Further there is ample research that suggests that standardized test scores are more associated with the test taker's socioeconomic status than aptitude (here here here here here). Moreover, this article points out that for teachers and administrators:
"the data that we collect from MCAS do not generally provide us with new insights about students strengths or weaknesses and it arrives...after we have completed the school year and have new students in front of us."
It goes on to assert that standardized tests are not the best or only way to assess learning using New Hampshire, which has instituted a system in which students are assess through projects and portfolios of content knowledge and skills (Performance Assessment of Competency Education).

On Wednesday, October 18th, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the 2017 MCAS results for both the Next-Generation exam as well as the 10th grade 'legacy' exam. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees notes that the new exam is more difficult and that the results will be reflective of this change. The state's education secretary, Jonathan Peyser, said that given that the Next-Generation MCAS is in its first year, the data should be treated differently from how previous results have been treated and that making comparisons would be akin to comparing "apples and oranges." Test results on the new exam range from 440 to 560 and will fall into four levels:
  • Not Meeting Expectations
  • Partially Meeting Expectations
  • Meeting Expectations
  • Exceeding Expectations
For more information from the DESE on the exam, see here.

Lynn

Below are the results for the Lynn Public School District. The percentages represent the proportion of students 'Meeting Expectations' or 'Exceeding Expectations' on the exam.

On the English Language Arts (ELA) exam, 32% of students in grades 3 through 8 either met or exceeded expectations. At the state level, 49% of students in these grades met or exceeded expectations.


There were some differences at the subgroup level with 46% of white students meeting or exceeding expectations compared to 28% of Hispanic students, 27% of Black/African American students, and 39% of Asian students. The results for male and female students were 27% and 39%, respectively. Students with disabilities and English Language Learner students met or exceeded expectations at much lower rates (5% and 6% respectively); this is compared to 13% for both of these subgroups at the state level.


On the math exam, 33% of students in grades 3 through 8 either met or exceeded expectations. At the state level, 48% of students in these grades met or exceeded expectations.



Again, there were racial differences with 48% of white students meeting or exceeding expectations compared to 28% of Hispanic students, 26% of Black/African American students, and 45% of Asian students. The results for male and female students were 31% and 34%, respectively. 


On the 5th grade science exam, which was not a Next-Generation version of the exam, 42% of students were Proficient or Advanced compared to 46% statewide. On the 8th grade exam, 28% were Proficient or Advanced compared to 40% at the state level.


As previously mentioned, 10th grade students took the previous version of the MCAS exam in 2017.



Given the implementation of the new Next-Generation exam and the state's new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, 2017 is considered a reset year on accountability levels with schools not being assigned a level unless the a school has less than a 90% participation rate on the exam (by grade or subgroup) or schools with both grades 3 through 8 and 9 through 12 may be assigned Level 3 for persistently low graduation rates. Lynn this year does not have an accountability level assigned for 2017.

Finally, demographics should be kept in mind when reviewing the data. During the 2016-17 academic year, the Lynn Public School District enrolled 15,299 students in grades Pre-K through 12. Over half of those students (60.3%) were categorized as Hispanic, 19.9% as English Language Learners and 15.5% as students with disabilities. Additionally, half of LPS students were deemed economically disadvantaged by the state. The average number of absences last year was 10.5. 

All data taken from: www.doe.mass.edu

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lynn School Committee 2017 Q & A: Jared Nicholson

Incumbent Lynn School Committee member Jared Nicholson is running for re-election in this year's municipal election. Here he answers questions regarding his thoughts on the issues facing LPS.


One of the major issues facing the Lynn Public School System are current budgetary issues. What are your thoughts on the Foundation Budget review Commission's recommendations? Do you believe that the current funding formula needs to be revised?

I believe that the funding formula needs to be revised and I support many of the Foundation Budget review Commission’s recommendations. I especially support the recommendations to change the formula rates for English language learners, low-income students and special education students. We need more help from the Commonwealth to support the educational needs of those students.

I am not optimistic that the Commission’s findings will be adopted by the Massachusetts legislature in the immediate future. But I am more than willing to help our state delegation understand the challenges that the current formula creates for Lynn and advocate for change.

In my first term, I worked with my colleagues on the School Committee and the Lynn Teachers Union to write and send a letter to our state delegation on a change the state made to the definition of low-income students in the school funding formula that had hurt Lynn. I think it is important for the School Committee to speak up on issues that affect our public schools, even when those issues are beyond the scope of the School Committee’s formal authority.


Outside of changes to the funding formula, how else do you believe that the funding issues surrounding LPS could be addressed?

Beyond state funding, the city needs to improve its fiscal situation. In the long run, the best way to do that is to grow our commercial tax base. Responsible, inclusive growth will allow the city to make the investments it needs to make not only in education, but also in public safety and other crucial city services.

Another important source of funding is grants. We need to continue to push to find available grant funding. For example, when we started a middle wrestling team at Marshall Middle School, we were supported by private funding.

Finally, it is important that we make sure that the city meets its commitment under state law to adequately fund our schools. That is something that my colleagues and I on the School Committee have advocated for and something we expect to achieve this year. But it requires our focus and follow up.


In what ways, do you believe that LPS is doing well? In what ways is the district in need of improvement?

LPS has so many terrific educations, and there is a lot to be proud of in what those educators help our students accomplish. We are a large district with diverse needs, and consistently perform well in relation to our urban peers. In the long run, we need to keep pushing ourselves to improve to the point that we can say that we perform well in relation to all peers. That is a lofty goal and not something that LPS will accomplish by itself. But LPS has to lead the way.

Specific ways that the LPS is doing well include our expansion of programs to build pathways to college and jobs for students. We launched a program at Lynn Tech for students across the district to learn job skills after school and have expanded an Early College program at North Shore Community College that offers LPS students the opportunity to take free college courses for college credit. Lynn Tech has added vocational programs in IT and healthcare, two areas for which we know employers need people. Other examples of specific ways that LPS is doing well or is making progress is beginning to roll out a new social-emotional learning curriculum and targeted interventions to address the opioid crisis.

Specific areas that we need to improve include solving the problems we have with the physical state of our schools and the resulting overcrowding. Overcrowding is a strain on our teachers, who are asked to achieve more learning even as class sizes rise. It is also a logistical challenge, given the difficulty finding physical space in the city and resources in the city’s budget to build new schools. But the physical state of the schools in a community reflects the priority that it puts on education, and I know that our community cares more about education than the physical state of our schools would suggest. Other examples of specific areas to improve are reversing the decrease in the dropout rate and offering more after-school programs.


Why should Lynn voters elect you to a second term on the Lynn School Committee?

I believe that voters should elect me to a second term on the Lynn School Committee because I continue to bring a fresh perspective and have built a record of leadership in my first term.

For example, in my first term, we started a wrestling team in Lynn. We launched a program at Lynn Tech for students across the district to learn job skills. We have begun to roll out a new social emotional learning curriculum. We have been strong advocates for the full funding of our schools. We came to an agreement with the Lynn Teachers Union that is fair to all sides and moves the District forward.

The District also faces serious ongoing challenges that require leadership today, chief among them rising enrollment and financial instability. I feel like I have a lot to contribute to work on those issues as an attorney with a business background.

Finally, as a Spanish-speaker who is accessible and responsive, I believe that I have a lot to offer all members of our community in listening to their concerns and helping to find solutions.


For more information see

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lynn Councilor At-Large 2017 Q & A: Jaime Figueroa

Jaime Figueroa is one of eight candidates running for Councilor At-Large in this year's Lynn municipal election. Here he answers some questions about some of the pressing issues facing the city. 


 One of the major issues in the forefront during this year’s election is the current state of the city’s finances. What is your assessment of Lynn’s financial health in terms of the causes but also what should be done to address the issue?

I believe we can’t blame one administration for the current state of our finances. This is due to several years of incompetence and poor management. To address the issue, I would propose a comprehensive audit of every department and agency in the City. The next step would be to sit with every department head or team and adjust their budgets to fund what is needed, not what is wanted.


In terms of the budget, people often call for “an increased commercial base.” How specifically do you think Lynn should go about actually bringing in new businesses? Do you believe that TIFs (tax increment financing) make smart strategic as well as financial sense in this regard?

I believe the major problem is the selling off of our public buildings. It does not benefit the City - it's just a quick cash influx with no long-term gains. What we should be doing is renovating some of these buildings into shared-work spaces and invite start-ups being priced out of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville to make their home in Lynn. We are the biggest city on the North Shore and we should be the technological hub of the North Shore. Other buildings like the old Marshall Middle School, should have been kept by the city. The city should have put out an RFP for a 40-50-year lease and rights to build to the current developer. That way we keep the land, which will appreciate, thereby growing our net worth as a city and helping to grow our bond rating.


Another pertinent topic is the increase in violent crime as well as opioid overdoses in the first half of this year. Do you think this issue has been addressed appropriately thus far? Why or why not?

No. We need more preventative programs in place to deter people from engaging in these types of activities. Just increasing funding for the police does not guarantee a safer community. We must be proactive in our pursuit to change and stop violence and drug activity in our community. We need our community to actively participate with local officials to start changing the way we address these problems.


If you had to name three things that had to be included in Lynn’s ‘capital improvement plan,’ what would they be and why?

a. Increase tax revenue by not selling off public property and instead investing in these properties. We should be renovating some spaces for startups being priced out of Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge and help them to call Lynn their home.

b. We should be thinking about ways to expand our creative economy. We are the biggest city on the North Shore and should be the technological hub of the North Shore. We should be investing in shared, Incubator, and maker spaces in our city. We should have a waterfront full of businesses that represent innovation and technological advancements.

c. Lastly, we need a full-time city planning department to assist the city with its new vision. Also, a grant writing department to supplement city budget shortfalls.


Why should Lynn residents consider voting for you to City Council as Councilor At-Large?

The next City Councilor At-Large needs to possess innovative thinking to move this city forward. The next councilor should be willing to sit with other councilors in municipalities that have turned their city around, such as Salem, Somerville, Cambridge, etc. Your next councilor needs to be willing to protect and advocate for maintaining our cultural diversity. I believe I possess these characteristics and I’m willing to work tirelessly and full time for all the people in the city of Lynn.


For more information:

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Lynn School Committee 2017 Q & A: Michael Satterwhite

Michael Satterwhite is one of the ten candidates running for the Lynn School Committee this election cycle. Here he discusses why is running for the LSC.

Why did you decide to run for School Committee this year?

I decided to run for School Committee this time around because I felt I was able to be committed to such an important role in the City. Prior to running for Lynn School Committee I have had the opportunity to grow my law practice, I have been involved with the Lupus Foundation of America's Boston Walk to End Lupus Now (raising hundred of thousands of dollars towards research, a cure, and awareness), I have been involved with the Counter Influence and mentoring youth. I have been able to hire additional staff and I resigned from all but two of the boards or organizations I was involved with so that I can focus on my campaign. I am currently involved as Secretary of the Board for Good Hope, Inc and Chairman of the Steering Committee for Lynn Community Connections Coalition. Both Good Hope and Lynn Community Connections Coalition are non-profit organizations that focus and advocate for families and children. http://www.goodhopeinc.org/main-page.html & http://eccf.org/node/1395

How have you previously been an advocate for public education?

Prior to becoming a lawyer, I was a businessman. I have held leadership positions in nationwide businesses and have made it a cornerstone to give back to the communities in which we serve. I have always been involved with my community, receiving the Citizen and Community Service Award from the City of Lynn in 1999. My award was based on the work that I did with the public schools (volunteering at the library, peer leadership and helping the front office). In addition, I have spent several years mentoring our City’s youth. It has never been about me. As a lawyer, my business motto has been “Our community is our business.”

As a lawyer, I advocate for what is right: “Michael worked with my husband & I on a landlord-tenant issue in which we felt victimized by our former landlord. He immediately informed us of our rights & assisted in putting all of our paperwork & case together. He encouraged us to follow through and to not back down. Not only is Michael professional, but he is supportive & encouraging. Michael's passion lies in advocating for what is right & what his clients are entitled to. You should consider yourself very fortunate if you find Michael to represent your needs."

Tenant Client. "Michael handled the closing sale of my house, while I moved out of state. I was relieved to know that my affairs were in order, without my presence at such an important life decision. Michael is a great man of God and a great lawyer." David M. Real Estate Client.

I have received both the Teen Volunteer of the Year and the Volunteer of Year award from Volunteer's of America, always pushing for better public education. As an attorney, I have held public schools accountable under IEPs. Accommodating students with disabilities and special needs are a must and I have represented students who were not afforded proper accommodations. My involvement with the Lynn Community Connections Coalition has been working with organizations and agencies serving Lynn children to identify and address the unmet needs of Lynn families. I am very much an advocate for children in Lynn public schools. In addition, I have mentored many students who receive a public education.

On your website, you write that you want your kids to “have the best possible education, period.” What specifically does that mean to you?

It is tough to envision the goals for the Lynn Public Schools materializing without a team of school committee members that have the background, experience, and knowledge of how the school system works and how to deliver the needs of our students and educators.

Growth, which is sometimes slower than we want, must be steady and controlled. I firmly believe we have laid a solid foundation from which to grow upward with our Lynn Public Schools. Lynn Public Schools have some of the most qualified educators, some of the brightest students and a community that is hungry for growth. We must move forward from any initial trepidation our City government has had about our growing student population. We must be ready for expected growth and the expected transitions. We must not leave any student behind and we must provide all necessary tools to our educators. In the book I am currently reading it states “it is better to die trying than die dying”. We should not stay in the same place and do the same thing.

We have such a diverse body of students and we have the opportunity to truly integrate an education system that works for all students. The best possible education is not necessarily about the material that is taught, it is about the environment in which the education is taught. I have researched the thousands of pages on the middle schools’ material published in 2015-2016. I have gone back 7 years on the “State of the Schools” issued by Lynn Public School administrative offices and researched which implications and growth transpired. We need growth and that will happen with accountability. An example: We need focus on all educators and students throughout our school system and we must provide the best available tools. I have heard from hundreds of educators and parents about the current IEP system and have heard several complaints, in the 2015 "State of the School" the public schools stated "Explore possible conversion of Easy IEP to the eSchoolPlus “IEPPLUS”. Conversion has been explored and is not feasible at this time. Our current program is more comprehensive, less expensive and easier to use." If we are still using a system that is not user-friendly and parents are unable to interact with the said system, the educator and the student have to deal with the consequences. Several dozen school districts and parents praise the eSchoolPlus “IEPPLUS” system.

You also advocate for an “improved” relationship between families and LPS. Do you currently believe that the relationship overall is currently strained? If so, why and how do you think it can be improved?

Our children are our foundation. Many of us view our children's lives as a measure of our success. To have a strong family foundation, everyone must be involved in the family unit and this includes involvement in our children's education. I want to improve Lynn Public Schools to help students find their value and understand that our City has not turned its back on them. This starts with opening a better dialogue between families and schools. We need each student to excel and be a great asset to the community and we must try our hardest for each student to find their value and their purpose. We can start improving relationships by establishing a new subcommittee on the Lynn School Committee focusing on community. The community subcommittee will focus on establishing stronger PTA/PTOs in our schools, working with local Head Start programs to establish a sufficient transition plan for our students entering Pre-K and Kindergarten, working with student governments to hear from our students, and working with North Shore Community College to ensure our students have sufficient path to further education or career training after high school.

Our School Committee policy states the following: http://www.lynnschools.org/documents/district/policy_manual/POLB.pdf#page=0

“In accordance with these principles, the School Committee, through its operations, will seek to achieve the following:

1.To concentrate the committee's collective effort on its policy making and planning responsibilities.
2. To formulate committee policies that best serve the educational interests of each student.
3.To provide the Superintendent with sufficient and adequate guidelines for implementing committee policies.
4.To maintain effective communication with the public it serves and with staff and students in order to maintain awareness of attitudes, opinions, desires, and ideas.”

How else can we better achieve the fourth paragraph without a subcommittee focused on the community we serve?

For more information:

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lynn School Committee 2017 Q & A: Natasha Megie-Maddrey

Natasha Megie-Maddrey is one of ten candidates vying for one of the six seats on the Lynn School Committee. Here Natasha discusses some of the major issues facing LPS and why Lynn voters should cast their vote for her in November. 



            You previously ran for School Committee in 2015. How have you stayed involved in public education  related activities since then and why did you decide to run again?

I have always been really involved in my children’s schools, as part of the PTO’s and helping in whatever way I can. I’ve also participated in several community events including community build days, clean up days, and the May Day March, to name a few. I have also talked to several parents over the last two years, many of which are concerned about communication, bullying, safety, and special needs. I decided to run again because I want to teach my children that it doesn’t matter if you fail at something, it matters how you get back up. I want to be a public servant and help to bring about positive change to the Lynn Public Schools.



Funding for the Lynn Public School district has been a key issue in recent years. What are your thoughts on the school systems current financial state and ways it could potentially be addressed?

The Lynn Public Schools should be funded at 100 percent, and anything less than that is simply unacceptable. I think this problem can be addressed by applying for more grants, and getting more money into our school system. The children are the future and we need to fully fund education.



There have been a few contentious votes recently in regard to education including the Question 2 ballot vote on charter schools and the Lynn vote to build a new Pickering Middle School. How would you approach taking a stance on issues that might be polarizing within a given community as an elected official?

I think it is very important to have community meetings when there are issues that might be polarizing within a given community.  It is also important to respond to voter’s emails and phone calls in a timely manner. I will always take a stance that is in the best interest of all the children in Lynn. I voted in favor of building a new Pickering Middle School. Clearly we needed to do more research into the location, but the Pickering Middle School is in disrepair and needs to be repaired or replaced. We also need to do a better job at maintaining our schools so they don’t fall into such disrepair. 



If you could spearhead any one initiative related to LPS, what would it be and why? Can voters expect actual leadership on this issue from you, if you were to be elected to the Lynn School Committee? 

If I could spearhead one initiative it would be special needs advocacy. I have two children with special needs, and through my own experiences, I have learned how hard the special needs system is to navigate. I want to have several know your rights seminars for parents and caregivers to ensure that students that need IEP’s (individual education plans) get them, and once they get them, to make sure they are being followed. Parents and caregivers are the best advocates for their children, but they must be given the tools in order to know how to best advocate for their children.



Why should voters consider voting for you for Lynn School Committee?

I am running for school committee because I want to be a voice for parents and fight for the education all the children in Lynn deserve. As a parent of 5 children ages 10-21, I have a vested interest in ensuring that we are providing not just a good education, but an excellent education regardless of the particular zip code you happen to live in. I will be a tireless advocate, and will be responsive, and always vote in favor of what would be best for all the children in Lynn.


For more information:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

2017 Lynn Municipal Candidates


The candidates for this year's Lynn municipal election are set with many newcomers running for various city offices. The Ward 2 Councilor race is the most competitive with four candidates vying to make it to the General Election.

The primary will be held on September 12, 2017 and the General Election on Tuesday, November 7, 2017. 


Mayor
  • Judith Kennedy (Incumbent)
  • Thomas McGee

Councilor At-Large (Maximum of 4 Votes) 
  • Buzzy Barton (Incumbent)
  • Brian Field 
  • Jaime Figueroa
  • Richard Ford
  • John Ladd
  • Brian LaPierre (Incumbent)
  • Hong Net (Incumbent)
  • Taso Nikolakopoulos

Ward 1
  • Wayne Lozzi (Incumbent) 
  • William Shea III

Ward 2
  • Peter Grocki
  • Christopher Magrane
  • Gina O'Toole
  • Richard Starbard

Ward 3
  • Darren Cyr (Incumbent)
  • George Meimeteas

Ward 4
  • Eliud Alcala
  • Richard Colucci (Incumbent)

Ward 5
  • Diana Chakoutis (Incumbent)
  • Marven Hyppolite

Ward 6
  • Peter Capano (Incumbent)

Ward 7 
  • Jay Walsh (Incumbent)

School Committee (Maximum of 6 Votes)
  • Cherish Casey
  • Brian Castellanos
  • Donna Coppola (Incumbent)
  • John Ford (Incumbent)
  • Lorraine Gately (Incumbent)
  • Elizabeth Gervacio
  • Natasha Megie-Maddrey
  • Jessica Murphy
  • Jared Nicholson (Incumbent)
  • Michael Satterwhite

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Lynn Schools Facing $3.5 Million Deficit in FY17

The Lynn Public School district was in the news recently as the city continues to deal with a school spending deficit that has led to the threats of decreases in Chapter 70 state aid. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's most recent report indicates that the $825,689 shortfall mentioned in the Daily Item article was for fiscal year (FY) 2016 which ended on June 30, 2016. For FY 2017 which ends at the end of June 2017, the DESE is currently reporting a shortfall of over $3.5 million.

FY 16
FY 17
Total Net School Spending Requirement
$194,183,410
$199,700,697
Actual Net School Spending
$193,357,722
$196,198,787
Shortfall
($825,689)
($3,501,910)

In order to avoid penalties, the city would have to allocate the additional monies to the school budget by the end of June. It is unclear whether the state would permit carryovers up to the customary 5% below the net school spending requirement as Lynn was under that threshold for FY16 but the state opted to enact an $825,689 penalty as opposed to carrying that amount over to FY17.


As previously reported (here here here), this is not the first year that Lynn has dealt with deficits related to its net school spending. 

Since FY11, Lynn has had school spending deficits in varying amounts.


Looking ahead to FY 18, which begins on July 1, 2017, Lynn is expected to allocate just over $200 million on public education based on preliminary DESE reports (excluding any potential carryovers from FY17). This is based on a student population of 16,852 (including students attending charter and out of district schools).



Approximately, three-quarters of that allocation is to come from Chapter 70 state aid, while the other quarter will come from the city. This has been standard practice in Lynn's education spending as the majority of Lynn's required net school spending has come from Chapter 70 state aid. The House Ways and Means budget currently puts Lynn's Chapter 70 funding allocation slightly higher than the initial projection at $153,442,426 (Sections 2 & 3).

Compliance with net school spending totals is continuously in flux as the fiscal year has not ended and review of spending amounts occurs on an ongoing basis. While this is subject to change, Lynn is still facing a considerable under-funding of public education.


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