Working Together to Build Better Schools
The prosperity and promise of Worcester depends on the future of Worcester’s schools. An educated workforce, possessing the critical thinking and analyzing skills that will be necessary in the 21st century is absolutely crucial for the future well being of our city. Anyone who lives or works in this city has a stake in Worcester’s public education system. Robust property values are tied directly to vibrant schools and a skilled, educated workforce helps our community attract the businesses we need to keep our local economy strong.
In my six years on the school committee and in my first year as Mayor, we have made great progress in improving our public schools. None of these accomplishments were achieved in isolation. In each case, people with differing views listened to each other, found common ground, and worked together for the betterment of our schools and our community.
It is that spirit of partnership and cooperation that is the key to helping our schools. The problem with too many efforts aimed at improving education is that they begin and end at the schoolhouse door. Reform efforts too often neglect to take into account the wealth of resources that, not only are available, but are absolutely crucial, to improving our schools. Schools need the help of all of us in our city. We need to pull together families, businesses, community organizations, government officials and non-profit agencies to work together to build better schools.
Accomplishments: This past year, we have made great gains in improving our city’s education system. Here are some highlights of last years work:
School Capital Improvements: In response to concerns about the conditions of our public school buildings, the School Committee approved a five year, 34 million dollar Capital Improvement Plan that will make substantial repairs to almost all of our aging public school buildings. As outlined in the Capital Plan, these improvements will be funded by tax levy funds and savings from energy efficiency upgrades.
Upgrades to Technology: Using health care savings and other resources, this past year the WPS spent more than $800,000 on technology and software improvements to help bring our classrooms further into the 21st century. This included the purchase of 1,280 classroom computers and 222 document readers that allow teachers to project both student work and computer images onto larger projection screens in classrooms.
Level Four Schools Redesign: In response to the decision to declare two of our elementary schools chronically underperforming, we have mobilized the community to help redesign and re-launch these schools with new supports and programs.
Lowering Drop Out Rates: Thanks to a community wide effort this past year, the Worcester Public Schools lowered our dropout rate by 1.3% over the course of one year, and now has one of the lowest drop out rate of urban systems in the state. We are also continuing efforts to improve our alternative education programs to better serve our most challenged children and families.
Promise Neighborhoods: Worcester was one of only 19 communities in the country (out of more than 300 applicants) to be selected by the federal Department of Education as a “Promise Neighborhood” community. In partnership with the United Way and many other community organizations, we are creating a model public/private partnership to support youth and families to ensure that all students in the Main South neighborhood graduate from high school and are college ready.
Innovation Schools: Five Worcester public schools have made the bold decision to become innovation schools and are currently seeking state authorization to become new “in-district” charter schools. This designation will allow for the creation of stronger community/school partnerships and give more autonomy to school staff to innovate and create stronger learning environments for children and families.