Story originally published here with the Telegram & Gazette
Worcester is embarking on a strategic planning initiative toward making the Worcester Public Schools one of the best urban systems in the country. While we do better than most urban systems in the state, there is much more that can be done to meet the needs of our students and the community.
On June 16th, School Superintendent Maureen Binienda and group of community partners launched The Worcester Public Schools Strategic Planning Initiative. The Worcester Education Collaborative and the Worcester Regional Research Bureau fully support this groundbreaking initiative and are proud to be able to contribute to this effort. The work of the initiative will be accomplished over the next six months and will craft a vision and an implementation strategy to assure our school district’s place as one of the best urban school systems in the country. It recognizes that a strong public school system is paramount both to the preparation of our young people for success in college, career, and our community as well as the work of the city to attract, maintain, and develop a strong middle class.
In January of 2016, the Worcester Education Collaborative and Worcester Regional Research Bureau joined together to produce a report titled “The Urgency of Excellence: Considerations for the School Committee and New Superintendent of Schools in Worcester.” This document provided a snapshot of the state of the Worcester Public Schools and offered an analysis of the obstacles and opportunities facing our district.
The report called for the creation of a strategic plan to guide the Worcester Public Schools in a multi-year effort to build on recent successes and address long-standing challenges. It encouraged a comprehensive evaluation that included matters related to operations and finance as well as teaching and learning. The Strategic Planning Initiative took shape as a coalition of leaders, including elected and appointed officials from the City of Worcester and the Worcester Public Schools, as well as representatives from the business, non-profit, higher education and philanthropic communities, began meeting to identify a means to move forward.
As a result of generous private contributions, the group was able to engage The Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy in Boston – one of the state’s premiere education research and strategy organizations. Independent, non-profit, and non-partisan, Rennie’s work focuses exclusively on improving public education by bringing together evidence-based practice with directed local dialogues to allow the community, educators, and policy makers to forge common ground and a strategy for action.
Over the next several months The Rennie Center, in partnership with the Worcester Public Schools, Worcester Education Collaborative, Worcester Regional Research Bureau and others, will be working to analyze a wealth of data from individual schools, the district, and the Commonwealth, will solicit stakeholder input, and consider best practices both in Worcester and beyond. Over the summer and through the fall, The Rennie Center and local partners will host a series of focus groups, roundtables, and public forums to ensure a full understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our schools, and of student, parent, and community aspirations for elementary and secondary education. This community vision will be a key component of the final product.
The Strategic Planning Initiative will be guided by Superintendent Binienda’s goals: to create supportive, safe, and orderly learning environments marked by respectful interactions, acceptance, inclusiveness, and responsibilities to one another; to support excellent instruction that improves student skills to prepare them for global citizenship; to provide responsive engagement with families and the various sectors of our community in developing opportunities for all students; and to enhance the structures that promote strong educator leadership and scholarship.
We are optimistic and excited about the work of the next several months and the long-term outcomes that it will produce.
Worcester is unique among other urban districts in the Commonwealth. We have demonstrated a level of success far exceeding other cities where underperformance is too often widespread and entrenched. In a short time, we have made substantive gains in our graduation rate. The College Board selected our school district as a site for its new Capstone Program, a curriculum that will provide students with sound skills in critical thinking, research, and subject matter knowledge to better compete for college and university placement. Our innovation ethos has resulted in Worcester being among the state’s leaders in embracing innovation schools, a state program that marries flexibility with accountability in granting school districts a tool for addressing challenges at individual schools.
First among the Gateway Cities, Worcester benefits from the presence and contributions of involved parents and families, a leading-edge business community, renowned higher education institutions, a growing and thriving creative class, strong cultural institutions, and a generous philanthropic sector. These assets and the spirit of collaboration that infuses our city inform the optimism and vitalizing energy that surrounds this effort. We look forward to both the planning process and the implementation of its recommendations and strategies as we work together to strengthen the Worcester Public Schools as one of the best urban districts in the nation.
- Jennifer Davis Carey, of Worcester, is executive director of the Worcester Education Collaborative; Timothy McGourthy, of Worcester, is executive director of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau.