Schools Look to Restore Some Positions with Additional State Money

Schools Look to Restore Some Positions with Additional State Money

Chelsea School officials are looking for one last vote from the City Council in order to restore several cut positions from the existing School Department Budget, this after getting nearly $1 million in additional funds from the state recently.

Supt. Mary Bourque said it was nice to get the additional monies, but she didn’t want anyone to think that it has ended the funding problems in the Chelsea schools.

“We were actually not ‘held harmless’ because that fund was only funded at 56 percent,” she said. “We should have received $1.1 million if we were really held harmless. I’m thankful, but they are still not addressing the funding gap. We’ve applied a very small Band-Aid to a large wound…I don’t want the community to think we fixed this. This is $900,000, but we had a $3.2 million budget gap.”

Supt. Mary Bourque said a combination of additional monies came in in September from State Legislature appropriations for English Language Learners and for the “hold harmless” fund to help districts with uncounted low-income students.

Bourque said Chelsea was able to get $630,000 for ELL students, and another $296,000 for the “hold harmless” account. That equaled $926,000 that they were able to appropriate to restore “painful” cuts made during last spring’s budget process.

Bourque said with the ELL money they were able to bring back two crossing guards, restore one yellow bus route, a special education teacher at the Clark Avenue Middle, a special education paraprofessional and intervention tutors.

Meanwhile, she said the “hold harmless” monies will be used to, among other things, restore a full-time librarian that will operate at Chelsea High School 75 percent of the time, and the Mary C. Burke Complex 25 percent of the time.

The librarian cut was controversial because it accompanied cuts in the previous years to librarians at the elementary school. The restoration allows a librarian presence at both the high school and elementary school once again.

“The reason we split the time is because two years ago we cut the elementary librarian completely and we’ve gone a full year without a librarian down there,” she said. “I’m all for the digital technology piece, but I also feel you instill the love of reading in children when you put a book in their hands. The 25 percent at the Complex isn’t enough for me and I want more time there going down the road.”

The School Committee has approved the acceptance of the additional monies, and the Council has had one reading on the issue. They are expected to vote on it at their Oct. 15 meeting.

MCAS results at Chelsea High reflect high dropout rate from surge of unaccompanied minors

The School Department has received the public rollout of the MCAS results for the district and the schools ranked in the lowest 10 percent of districts statewide, with Chelsea High School particularly cited for having a high dropout rate.

Supt. Mary Bourque said five of the district’s schools did well, with two flatlining and Chelsea High declining.

The results have qualified the district as one of 59 statewide that are required to have state assistance.

Bourque said the dropout rate hasn’t been a major issue at CHS in the past, but she said the change comes as a result of the unaccompanied minor surge that happened about four years ago. The dropout rate is a four-year look at the students starting and graduating.

“The kids we’re getting now are from the major surge we had four years ago and that’s the reason we’re seeing the graduation rate issue,” she said. “You don’t feel that for four years down the road. However, we’re going to continue to feel it.”

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Supt Bourque Calls on State to Fund Gateway School Districts, says Chelsea Will Not Be Defined by a Standardized Score

Supt Bourque Calls on State to Fund Gateway School Districts, says Chelsea Will Not Be Defined by a Standardized Score

The Chelsea convocation on the first day that teachers return for work after the summer break has always been a venue that Supt. Mary Bourque has used to unveil plans for the district.

Hundreds of educators from the Chelsea Public Schools, led by Supt. Mary Bourque (front row), made a statement Monday morning with ‘I (heart) Chelsea’ T-Shirts that sent a message to those on Beacon Hill that Chelsea Schools need a fix to the formula that funds the schools statewide. The scene came during the annual Back to School Address and Convocation by Supt. Bourque.

On Monday, though, she used her time to unveil a hope for the state of the state’s schools – and to send a message statewide that schools like Chelsea will not be defined only by a standardized test score and a series of cuts delivered in the state budgets.

Bourque said that this will be the year they reclaim the “heart and purpose” of who the Chelsea educators are. She said last year was one of the most difficult years of her career, and she is ready to put that behind.

“Whether it was the severe budget cuts we endured for a second year in a row, the lack of action by the state on the Foundation Budget Reform recommendations, the partial funding of the Economically Disadvantaged rates, or the noise, chaos, and pervasive negative rhetoric swirling around us from all layers of leadership – yes, in my career I will look back on 2017-2018 and say it was not an easy year,” she said. “But we…rose above it all and for that I thank all of you. We rose above it all and will continue to do so this year because we know we are succeeding in putting our students on the journey of life. While others may not hold public education to the high moral value and may not make the commitment to the next generation that is needed, we in Chelsea are different. We know and deeply value our purpose for being here in education, in Chelsea schools.”

Bourque said that the state has been on a very high-pressure, high-stakes mission of academic urgency for 25 years that has labeled every school as one-size-fits-all. That has played out in the labels given districts via the MCAS test results. She said that isn’t fair and has taken the heart out of education.

While she said such standards in the MCAS are valuable and worthy, the system needs to account for different districts like Chelsea that face different challenges – such as poverty, immigration and English Language Learners.

“I contend that the unintended consequences of this 25-year system is the loss of the heart of education,” she said. “The heart of who we are as educators. As a State, we have lost our way and forgotten what is most important in education. It is time then, to rise up and take the heart and purpose back, one classroom at a time.”

The end of the speech was a rallying cry in which Bourque called on all Chelsea educators to fight for things such as revamped state financing and Foundation Budget reform and other such changes at the state level.

“We will fight for our students and for what is right,” she said. “We will rise up as a collective voice, as a force of positivity, civility, advocacy, purpose, and heart whether at the local, state, or national level. We will lead the change that needs to take place from test score accountability framework to state education finances.”

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Is This Really America?

Is This Really America?

The national disgrace that is occurring at our southern border is something that we never could have imagined happening in the United States of America.

The images of children separated from their parents and locked behind chain link fences evokes the worst horrors of the 20th century —  the concentration camps and gulags to which millions of people were consigned by the very worst dictatorial regimes.

For almost 250 years, America has been not merely a place, but an ideal for the proposition that all men are created equally and that every person has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In less than a few days’ time however, the principles that Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers so eloquently, yet simply, put into words in the Declaration of Independence have been destroyed.

The justification for what, by any standards of decency, amounts to an inhumane policy resembles a classic case of reductio ad absurdum.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks (who is a conservative writer) put it this way in his analysis of the language that is being used when they talk about the situation:

“This is what George Orwell noticed about the authoritarian brutalists: They don’t use words to illuminate the complexity of reality; they use words to eradicate the complexity of reality.”

If we say nothing then basically we are telling these families and their children that they are getting what they deserve. If separating people into metal cages is okay, then what does that say about our society and ourselves.

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A Large and Successful Class Graduates from CHS

A Large and Successful Class Graduates from CHS

Some 344 students walked across the stage at Chelsea High School on Sunday, June 10, as part of commencement exercises – becoming one of the largest classes to graduate in decades.

The Class of 2018 followed an unusually large class in 2017 as well.

At Sunday’s commencement, Supt. Mary Bourque said the class had distinguished itself by not only its overall numbers, but also its successes.

“All of you standing here are the living and breathing reason why we say our mission is to ‘We Welcome and Educate,’” she said. “No matter when you entered the Chelsea Public Schools, we wrapped our arms around you and moved you along the road to graduation. Class of 2018, I want you to know that we are so very proud of you and your accomplishments.”

Of the graduates, 64 percent are attending a two- or four-year college next year. Bourque listed off 79 colleges where students have been accepted, including Wellesley College, Williams College, Tufts University, UMass-Amherst, University of Maine, Hamilton College, Drexel University, Denison University, Bryn Mawr College, Boston University and Boston College – to name a few.

Scholarship awards from those schools totaled $4.4 million, the largest amount ever at Chelsea High.

The rest of the class plans include:

  • 4% are entering a certificate program.
  • 2% are entering a Trade School.
  • 6% are taking a Gap Year.
  • 2% are entering the Military.
  • 20% are going directly into the work force.
  • 2%, are still working on their plans.

The Class of 2018 was also special in that 180 of its students enrolled in the dual enrollment/early college program with Bunker Hill Community College.

“Together you earned 1,374 college credits equaling approximately 458

courses,” she said. “You saved over $250,000 on tuition and fees and saved another $40,000 on books.”

The average numbers of credits earned was eight, but Bourque said on student, Samir Zemmouri had earned 33 credits, the equivalent of a full year of college.

“Most impressive is that 69 students completed English 111 College Writing I course, a required course that often acts as a prerequisite for college coursework; and 15 students of the 69 entered our country and began their educational career at CHS as an English Language Learner,” she stated.

There were also seven members entering the military, including:  Pedro  Barrientos, Krishell Chacon-Aldana, Adrian Diaz, Nelson Hernandez Jr., Denis Martinez Pineda, Carla Romero and Melinen Urizar Perez.

Bourque closed out her comments about the Class of 2018 on Sunday with five points of wisdom. More than any achievement, she advised to live a life of purpose.

“Choose to live a life of purpose,” she said. “A life of giving back. Knowing our purpose in life empowers us, strengthens us, grounds us. It gives us the courage and conviction to fight the good fight and for the good reasons. A life of purpose is a successful life.”

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Senate Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Language Opportunities for Students

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation that updates the existing statute relative to English language education in public schools to encompass the latest and best practices serving English language learners (ELLs) and to recognize the value of bilingualism as a skill essential to improving career and college readiness and competiveness in the global economy.

An Act for Language Opportunity for Our Kids (S.2125), also known as the LOOK Bill, removes the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), or English-only programs, as the default ELL program model, thereby giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the unique needs of their students.

“By allowing parents and local school districts the flexibility to choose the most effective programs to cater to the specific needs of their students is not only good public policy, but also what is best for our students to be successful,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).  “We live in a global community, and we must be able to adapt to the changing needs of our communities in a thoughtful and constructive way.  This bill achieves that purpose.”

“To ensure that every child in the Commonwealth receives the high quality education that he or she deserves, we must rethink the way we approach educating our English language learners,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), the lead sponsor of the bill. “By allowing for flexibility to implement new English learning programs, increasing parental involvement, and recognizing that multilingualism is a valuable asset in today’s global economy, this bill takes crucial strides to guarantee that every student receives a fair opportunity at educational success.”

“Language should never be a barrier to a student’s academic success,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill empowers parents and schools to develop high quality educational opportunities for our English Language Learner students. It also encourages biliteracy, recognizing that knowledge of other languages and cultures is a true asset in our global economy.”

“The current one-size-fits-all model has proven a failure over the past decade plus at teaching education – period,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Jamaica Plain), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “For the sake of our ELL students, our school budgets, and our workforce, we need to do something different. S.2125 will empower parents and trust educators to make informed decisions about appropriate tactics for a 6-year-old with some English exposure versus a 12-year-old who has received little formal schooling. And in this precarious moment for our country, the bill recognizes that bilingualism is a strength—not a problem to be cured.”

For some children, moving into an English-only program too soon has proven to stunt academic growth and major implications on future educational success. This has become a growing problem as the number of ELL students in Massachusetts continues to rise. Since the year 2000, the number of ELL students in Massachusetts has doubled to over 90,204 students, or 9.5% of the student population. Last year, 90% of school districts had at least one ELL student and 19% of districts had 100 or more ELLs.

While overall graduation rates for students have risen in the past 10 years, the achievement gap between ELL students and their peers has not significantly changed. In 2016, the dropout rate for ELL students was 6.6 percent, the highest rate of any subgroup of students and three times higher than the rate for all students. Additionally, only 64% of ELL students graduated from high school, as compared to 87% of all Massachusetts students.

In an effort to reverse these trends, the LOOK bill removes the current mandate requiring Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) as the one-size-fits-all default ELL program model in order to better accommodate the diverse needs of the Commonwealth’s students. Under the bill, school districts may choose from any comprehensive, research-based instructional program that includes subject matter content and an English language acquisition component.

The bill also encourages a high level parental choice and involvement in selecting, advocating, and participating in English learner programs, and requires greater tracking of ELL students’ progress to better identify and assist English learners who do not meet benchmarks.

This legislation also seeks to recognize the value of bilingualism and biliteracy as a skill essential to improving career and college readiness and competitiveness in today’s global economy by permitting school districts to adopt the state seal of biliteracy to recognize high school graduates who have met academic benchmarks, as determined by DESE, in one or more languages in addition to English.

The bill will now move to a conference committee, where negotiators will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills.

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Citizen Schools Helps Chelsea Students with Donated Backpacks

Students from Chelsea public schools, including those that participate in Citizen Schools’ Expanded Learning Time, will kick off the new school year with 900 donated backpacks full of pencils, notebooks, rulers, and more. Citizen Schools, an organization that empowers public middle schools in low-income communities with longer learning days, received the backpacks filled with supplies as a donation from Kronos Incorporated, Mass.-based global leader in workforce management solutions.

Committed to supporting organizations that encourage, educate, and train the next-generation workforce through its GiveInspired corporate giving program, Kronos made the donation in recognition of Citizen Schools, an organization that inspires the future workforce. Kronos also joined forces with its partners Cognizant, The WFC Group, Workforce Insight, and one of its leading retail clothing and accessories customer to further add to the contribution.

“Kronos is excited to help Citizen Schools ensure that its Chelsea students have a great start to the school year,” said Liz Moughan, director, retail and hospitality practice group, Kronos. “At Kronos, we value the impact of giving back to our communities and investing in the future and we collaborate with a variety of causes and organizations that focus on growing and empowering the next-generation workforce. For these reasons, we recognize and value Citizen Schools’ tremendous contribution and are humbled and pleased to organize the backpack donation.”

Media is invited to the presentation of backpacks during a back-to-school event on Thursday, August 25 at 2:30 p.m. at the Williams Building, 180 Walnut Street, Chelsea. Liz Moughan, senior director of the retail and hospitality practice group, Kronos, and Megan Bird, executive director of Citizen Schools Massachusetts, will be on-site distributing backpacks to students along with employees from both Kronos and Citizen Schools. Chelsea city manager Tom Ambrosino is also expected to be on hand.

Citizen Schools is a national nonprofit organization based in Boston, which provides academic support and enrichment to middle school students from high-need districts in six states. Volunteer teachers lead Expanded Learning Time (ELT) programs in subjects such as robotics, financial planning, and marketing during after-school hours. The organization’s mission is to help children from low-income school districts overcome the opportunity gap that exists between them and kids from more affluent communities.

Citizen Schools operates in two Chelsea middle schools, the Joseph Browne School and the Eugene Wright Science and Technology Academy, and will serve about 900 students this year. The dropout rate in Chelsea is more than triple the state average – 6.4 percent compared to 1.9 statewide. After the first year Citizen Schools partnered with Chelsea schools, English Language Arts proficiency rates improved by 16 percentage points. In addition, about 50 percent of Chelsea students come from homes characterized as economically disadvantaged and for 80 percent of those students, English is not their first language.

“Citizen Schools is proud to join forces with Chelsea Public Schools and Kronos,” said Megan Bird, executive director, Citizen Schools Massachusetts. “These backpacks and supplies will help prepare our students and get them excited for the start of the school year.”

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A Thank You from Councillor Cunningham

By Clifford Cunningham

I’ve had the distinct honor and privilege of serving as City Councilor for District 7 over the last four years and, as my time doing so will come to an end in a few weeks, I wanted to take the time to share some final thoughts with the residents of the District I call home and the city as a whole.

I begin by thank my family for their support over the last four years. Stress that comes with the responsibility of being a City Councilor, as well as substantial time spent away at meetings and community events can, at times, place strain on a family. I thank them for putting up with those realities and supporting me and my commitment to serve the people of Chelsea, even though that commitment sometimes came at their expense. No thoughts about my family can exclude mention of my father. It saddens me that he did not live long enough to share the experience with me, but I do know he witnessed it and will undoubtedly give me his insight when we meet again.

I also want to share some thoughts with my colleagues on the City Council, both those who will continue to serve and those who will not. In a relatively unusual case, all 11 current Councilors served together for two terms. There were a number of contentious debates through the course of those four years, and sadly, a personal divide emerged as a result, one of my deepest regrets as a City Councilor. I am grateful that those personal differences were resolved and that we were able to continue doing the people’s business at times when it was most important. Despite what some naysayers have said, I leave proud of what our Council accomplished and can say with certainty our City is a stronger one than it was four years ago. As many of us step aside, it will now be up to those who assume office in January to continue moving Chelsea forward and in what I hope to be the right direction.

To the people of District 7, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for placing your faith in me to represent you at City Hall. While most 21 year-olds are busy in college or having fun with friends, I chose to sit through late night budget hearings, question department heads at subcommittee meetings, and navigate city government to get potholes and sidewalks fixed. Despite the challenges, I can say with 100 percent certainty that, if given the choice, I would gladly do it all over again.

The opportunity to serve as an elected representative of fellow residents of the city I’ve called home my entire life was nothing short of an honor, and the people I’ve met and worked with will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.

In closing, the final message I’d like to convey to the people of Chelsea is to never listen to those who tell you that we are more different than alike. No matter the country you come from, the color of your skin, the religion you practice, or the language you speak, we are all part of one collective family; humanity. E pluribus unum, a Latin phrase that has been displayed proudly on our nation’s seal since 1782, makes clear, “out of many, one.”

Out of many races, ethnicities, religions, etc., we are one nation and one people.

And so on January 4, 2016, I again become a private citizen. I am happy to do so, and do so with the pride of one who was honored to have served my district, Chelsea and its residents.

Thank you and God bless you all.

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