Making Worcester Schools a Choice

Go Local’s article last week on the projected number of students that will be leaving Worcester Public Schools to attend other schools districts on the tax payer dime touched a nerve in my house.  This has been a growing problem for a number of years and we may finally hit a tipping point and some tough decisions, in the near future will need to be made.

The number reported in the article, 1,500 over the next five years, is probably a low estimate.  Those numbers are based solely on school choice; it does not factor in the students who leave to go to one of the 6 private or parochial schools in the area.

WTAG Radio host, and former Mayor Jordan Levy was upset about this report, saying on his show, the fact that we are not finding out why these students are, or will be leaving, is a detriment to what we are trying to do in the Worcester Public Schools.  I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Levy, are exit interviews with the parents and students being done before they leave?

I have asked some people I know that have “choiced” out of WPS or sent their children to private schools and the answers have been consistent, stating that expanding educational opportunities, facilities, athletics and safety.  We can argue those reasons, but perception is becoming reality and we need to fix what is going on in our middle and high schools and work very hard to keep these students in Worcester, and going to Worcester Public Schools.

It was suggested that we highly promote our full day kindergarten because the surrounding towns don’t offer it.  It is a good idea, but it doesn’t solve the problem long term because we will lose those kids the next year or later down the line, based on the statistics.  When those towns start to offer the full day kindergarten, we will lose them all together.

Promoting kindergarten doesn’t stop the exodus of students that is happening between grades 7-12.  This also may get worse because, as one parent told me; we will see children in grade 6 choice out because the pool is becoming so big at the middle and high school levels that they are starting earlier so they can get in to that district.  We need to get to the root of the problem, and start fixing those areas.

Whether we want to agree with it or not, MCAS, PARCC, and Common Core do play a factor into a decision for parents to send their children to public school or private school.  So much so that Worcester Academy had a marketing campaign on I-290 billboards that said “More than the Core”.  So they obviously understand the frustrations of parents when it comes to educational opportunities.  If parents can afford it or find a way to pay for it, they will send them to private schools to, as my wife would say, “….buy their way out of the test.”

At the recent Mayoral Debate candidate Bill Coleman answered when asked about Exam Schools that we should have that type of program in each of our high schools, why limit it to one?  Not only do I agree with that, I would expand it by saying for students who miss out on those programs that we help them by promoting expansion of the Dual Enrollment program, work on expanding Chapter 74 opportunities and preparing our students for life after high school.

We have an opportunity to lower these estimates and fix our house, but if we pretend that the issues in our secondary schools don’t exist, we will continue to see an uptick in these numbers.  Putting a good plan in place to address the exodus will not only improve our offerings but improve our city; keeping the middle income families in the city rather than seeing them leave for “greener pasture”. Strong Schools + Strong Community = A Stronger Greater Worcester.