Discover more from Worcester Sucks and I Love It
Election Guide #2: School Committee
Plus, “What Silence Teaches Girls Who Talk” by Gaylen Moore
Hello everyone, especially the hundreds of new people from over the weekend! Welcome to Worcester Sucks. We love it here folks. Paid subscriptions maintain the existence of this thing!! Tips are great too. (Venmo / Paypal)
How’d everyone like that last piece, huh? “Like” is a poor word but you know what I mean. I’d give more context than “last piece” but the read counts and the social media reach of that story show me I don’t have to. You know what I’m talking about! The response has been so positive and the silence from powerful people so strikingly apparent.
To everyone who shared, wrote in about it, commented, spread the word, thank you so much. To everyone who hasn’t (like the mayor, the Telegram, the majority of the City Council, the local radio show), people are watching that silence happen in real time! It doesn’t look good!
List of local candidates and politicos who made a public statement: Robyn Kennedy, Etel Haxhiaj, Thu Nguyen, Tracy Novick, Sue Mailman, Guillermo Creamer, Sarai Rivera. If I’m missing anyone, send me a link.
List of local elected officials who made negative comments: Zero! Encouraging, but at a certain point silence counts as a negative comment. And that list is everyone not on the first list!
And then... list of local elected officials who untagged John Monfredo from Instagram posts after the story was published: Donna Colorio.
Thank you to Neal McNamara for being the only person in local media to share the post.
Otherwise, the silence is deafening! People are watching! It would be great if people could keep putting the pressure on. A particularly effective way to do that would be to write the Telegram a bunch of letters. Here’s their guide to doing so. And again if you have any story to share about sexual abuse in the Worcester Public Schools, consider submitting to our confidential contact form for follow up.
I will have more to say when it’s a good time to say it. For today, Gaylen Moore, editor of the story Friday, wrote a really great essay on the topic! We’ll start with that.
After Moore’s essay, we go to Aislinn Doyle for a really thorough and interesting guide to the various School Committee elections. Doyle writes the fantastic WPS In Brief newsletter.
The two pieces work very well together when you think about the schools we have versus the schools we want to have!
Also, I want to pull out a little line from Sarai Rivera’s comment on Heather’s story regarding School Committee candidate Maureen Binienda:
This is our former superintendent that now wants to be school Commitee and has her eyes set on becoming mayor eventually. She was going to run this year but I’m my opinion some deal was struck because why back out. Well if she stayed in the potential of her splitting the vote and giving king a winning chance couldn’t be to the powers that be. So was a deal struck to have her run for mayor in 2025? Joe can run now and she can run then? Hmmmm something to think about.
This is something of a confirmation of a rumor swirling for months that Maureen Binienda and Joe Petty traded mayoral runs, and that’s why Binienda is running for School Committee. We need to make sure that anyone but Binienda gets on, and lucky for us, she’s running against two great picks in Tracy Novick and Sue Mailman. Aislinn will have all that covered. In the meantime here’s my official comment:
Aaaand this just in…
High profile!!!!! I just… this city, man. Unreal.
Find Part 1 of the Worcester Sucks election guide here. Part 3-5 will be coming ahead of Election Day! (Next Tuesday. Sheesh!).
Early voting is almost over! Today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and tomorrow at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Worcester Public Library! Go do it! It’s easy! Intuitive, even. Painless.
Two Worcester Sucks-adjacent events coming up: I’m going on the Sort of Late Show tomorrow night and next Tuesday night the Worcestery Council Theatre stream boys are doing a live event! Details in the “Odds and ends” section at the bottom.
Ok, now to Gaylen, then to Aislinn!
What Silence Teaches Girls Who Talk
By Gaylen Moore
In my 8th grade science class I was harassed daily by the boys who sat at my table. When it got so distracting that my grades started to slip, I complained to my teacher. She quietly relocated me to another table. There wasn’t really room for me at the new table, and I had to sort of huddle in the corner and scooch over every time someone had to go to the bathroom or sharpen their pencil. And the boys jeered at me from across the room. But at least I could hear what the teacher was saying.
I was a smart girl. I was outspoken. Those boys understood tacitly that it was their job to put me in my place. And looking back now I can see what I didn’t see then, which is that they accomplished just that. They made me so uncomfortable in my assigned seat that I gratefully settled for a shitty seat, where I sat and drew molecules and made myself small. Where I was always having to be vigilant and apologetic. I had advocated for myself, and the price I paid was being an inconvenience to everyone around me. What happened to the boys who tormented me? They got more room at their table.
It’s such a small story. I am one of the lucky ones. But I share it because the big stories and the small stories are all telling the same story.
My daughter was in kindergarten when Christine Blasey Ford told the world what Brett Kavanaugh had done to her when she was a teenager, and how she carried that trauma with her throughout her life. I scrolled through endless pages of #MeToo (bless you, Tarana Burke) and made calls to friends: I’m so sorry. I never knew. I knew, but I never realized… I posted a picture of my 5-year-old at the playground, and wrote that if the women I knew were any kind of representative sample (which they were not—on the whole they were privileged by virtue of their race, class, and education and less likely to experience sexual abuse than most women and girls on this planet—but even if they were) their stories had made it crystal clear to me that the odds of my daughter making it any distance into adulthood without encountering some disgusting or violent creep appeared to be close to zero.
My niece is now an 8th grader. Last year, she had a math teacher who, in addition to not actually teaching math or giving any indication he understood the subject, creeped on the middle school girls. On at least two occasions, my niece told him: “Back up. You are making me uncomfortable.” She is a smart girl. She is outspoken. But it’s no protection. The world is still going to do its damnedest to put her in her place. Creeps abound. After many months of complaints and meetings with fed-up parents, administrators declined to renew her teacher’s contract. He popped up, whac-a-mole style, two towns over. Within a week in the new position, he was suspended for inappropriately touching students.
I attended a rally at city hall the night after the Kavanaugh hearings and ran into an acquaintance, now my dear friend, who courageously shared with me the story of her trauma—the abuse she endured as a child at the hands of a trusted adult in her life and the utter failure of this city’s political class to enact any kind of accountability after she came forward. Her abuser, a former principal and softball coach, had run for school committee with the slogan “for the children” and won. Over and over.
It took a small village, a brave (bordering on reckless) journalist, and more than 25 years to get her story on the record. And the people who should now be answering publicly for their role in her prolonged suffering haven’t said a word about it. Maybe they are too ashamed and horrified to speak out loud, or too cowed by the outpouring of support to repeat their denials or mount a defense. But not talking about it, not acknowledging it—because it’s unspeakable, because the shame is overwhelming, because they still cannot bring themselves to believe it—is exactly what makes these horrors permissible.
Again and again, we ask victims and survivors to disclose their abuse—abuse that they more often than not believe themselves to be somehow complicit in—and we fail them. We tell them in a million different ways that we are inconvenienced by their disclosure. That they are an inconvenience. That they should make themselves small. This is the price of silence: our brave, brilliant children dutifully snuffing out their own light for the comfort of people to whom they owe nothing.
We need to rewrite the script. We need to do more than believe victims and survivors. We need to hold perpetrators and their abettors, enablers, and apologists accountable. We need to wrap survivors in care and community. Even when we are traumatized ourselves, we need to be sturdy and responsive to their stories and be for them what we needed the grownups in our lives to be for us. And if we can’t, we need to know where to point them for the care and protection they need. We have a very long way to go before that is a reality, but I think we owe it to our kids and the kids we were not so long ago to try like hell.
School Committee Election Guide
By Aislinn Doyle (@itmeansdream)
My goal as I sit down to write this election guide is to offer a concise guide on the school committee candidates for the folks who aren’t necessarily paying close attention to Worcester politics or the governance of Worcester Public Schools. People who want to be educated voters, but realistically do not have the time to read every questionnaire, profile, or candidate website. As a watcher of school committee meetings, I hope to offer a perspective that helps you make an educated choice according to your priorities and values. I want you to feel informed without feeling overwhelmed. Please vote!
It’s time to vote for our next school committee and this year will be unprecedented given that there will be six district members and two at-large members, versus the six at-large members we have currently. It means there will be at least three new people on the nine person committee come January 2024. If you are a voter, you will be casting up to four votes to decide who is on the school committee: one for your district, two for at-large, and one for the mayor, who chairs the school committee. If you don’t know what school committee district you are in, look it up here.
Candidates that will do the work and move the district forward: Sue Mailman, Tracy Novick, Laura Clancey, Jermoh Kamara (district C) and Nelly Medina (district E).
People that will distract from the work and move the district backward: Maureen Binienda, Dianna Biancheria (district C) and Kathi Roy (district E).
What’s the work?
Let’s start with what we are electing people on the school committee to do. The school committee has certain functions and responsibilities, including finance/budget, education policy and goals, curriculum, advocacy, and collective bargaining, to name a few. These are the things we need the school committee to be good at getting done. Specifically, I think the work that will be the most critical over the next two year term is:
supporting the superintendent’s implementation of the strategic plan
stewarding Student Opportunity Act money
school culture and climate and student mental health
educator support and retention
The school committee makes decisions that impact the daily lives of students and educators. Only 15-ish percent of the electorate in Worcester votes in city elections, and at a time when school boards across the country are being used as political battlegrounds, we need to make sure that it’s not just a small minority of the electorate who are deciding who will govern our schools. Go vote please!
About school safety
There are some issues that most candidates agree on (like improving our school buildings), but the one that differentiates many of them is their views on school safety. School safety is a phrase that can mean different things to different people. For some it’s a euphemism for police in schools. For others it means taking a holistic approach–looking at the mental and physical health of students and educators, making sure kids can get to and from school safely, making sure that our buildings are updated, and making sure students and educators feel a sense of belonging. There are now school climate and culture assistants at the high schools and middle schools, as well as special duty police officers who are assigned to schools by quadrant–which means that elementary and middle schools get just as much attention as the high schools. A safety audit will be released on November 16, which every candidate supports implementing.
Two candidates would like to see police officers back in schools: Maureen Binienda (at-large) and Kathi Roy (district E). Binienda disagreed with the decision to take school resource officers (SROs) out of the high schools and when she repeatedly says school safety is her number one priority, police and discipline are what she is referring to. Roy wants police officers back in each of the high schools, AND to keep the ones we have for each of the quadrants. This would mean an addition of at least 5 more police officer salaries. Roy has not said where she suggests the more than half a million dollars for additional police salaries would come from.
Biancheria and Clancey have been supportive of SRO’s in the past and are walking a fine line between still being supportive of our SROs, but also being open to the SLO model. Clancey has also voted in support of mental health initiatives and the superintendent’s new model of school climate and culture assistants.
For Novick, Mailman and Medina, school safety means supporting the superintendent in the safety structures she and her team are putting in place, focusing on cultivating a sense of belonging for students and staff, and making sure all students feel safe, including BIPOC and LGBTQIA students.
Who we can elect: At-Large
There are four candidates running at-large and you can vote for no more than two.
Tracy O’Connell Novick is running for her sixth term. Novick is the parent of two WPS grads and one current student, and in her day job she works for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. She is a statewide expert and advocate on education policies and understands school finance inside and out. I have seen her expertise serve our school district well in her role as the chair of the finance and operations subcommittee. Her deep and specific knowledge in these areas allows her to ask key questions to maintain accountability and transparency, and is invaluable as we continue to implement Student Opportunity Act money. Novick is one of the school committee members most able to advocate at the state level for our facilities, both in terms of her understanding of the system and her statewide connections. During this campaign she has made clear the importance of supporting Superintendent Monárrez as she continues to lead the district. She has also been a strong advocate for putting policies in place for the safety and support of LGBTQIA students and families.
Sue Mailman is running for her second term and the key issues that have emerged in her campaign are supporting the superintendent as the district embarks on a new strategic plan, a sharp focus on facilities, growing community partnerships and increasing vocational opportunities for students. Mailman is a business owner and a woman in the construction trades who brings that perspective to the standing committees she serves on. She often asks thoughtful questions about systems and processes that show she has decades of experience in leadership roles. Mailman looks at issues with an equity lens and has on more than one occasion either amended an item or withdrawn it after considering the perspective of others. I have heard from teachers, families and students that she listens to concerns and knows how to collaborate to get work done. When it comes to vocational education and facilities, Mailman is one of the school committee members who, through her knowledge and connections, has the strongest ability to advocate for resources for our district, both at the city and the state level. She brings an important intentionality to the committee.
Laura Clancey: Laura is running for her third term. She has two children in WPS and she works as an education and career counselor for the Department of Youth Services. The themes that have come out as important in her campaign are supporting the new superintendent and her innovative ideas, school safety and student accountability, student mental health and ensuring a high quality education. Clancey is the chair of the governance subcommittee and has worked to update many outdated policies established by previous administrations. Based on feedback from students, Clancey advocated to remove the policy that required students to have clear backpacks and worked to update the dress code policy to bring it into the 21st century, including filing for reconsideration when she received feedback from educators about allowing hoods to be worn in class.
Maureen Binienda. While Maureen Binienda does not have a voting record like the other at-large candidates, she does have a public record to point to from when she was the superintendent of WPS for six years. This includes dragging her feet in recommending a new health curriculum, her stance against taking SROs out of schools, her recommendation not to bring transportation in house, and students asking her contract not to be renewed. Opponents Clancey and Novick both voted not to renew her contract, as did district C candidate Dianna Biancheria. The themes that have emerged from Binienda’s campaign include a “sharp focus” on school safety, facilities, improving on fiscal accountability, and working on educational disparities. It’s hard for me to take Binienda’s candidacy seriously and take her for her word, because she already had the power to collaborate to do all these things as superintendent, and she didn’t. She has not taken accountability for her lackluster six years leading our district, and hasn’t given any convincing arguments that she brings anything to the table other than rehashing the past.
Plus, if you have not yet read Heather’s story, a compelling piece by Bill, you need to before you vote. There are many people involved in this election who appear in that story, Binienda included.
Who we can elect: District E
Nelly Medina is a familiar name to anyone who watches school committee meetings or advocates for our schools. She has been active in the community for years and based on her activism, it is clear she will amplify all voices in the district. The campaign issues she has most talked about are transparency in school spending, fair pay and respect for teachers and environmentally sustainable schools. I appreciate Medina’s advocacy for fair pay, not just for educators, but for drivers, monitors and all WPS employees, because when we talk about retention and recruitment, the key foundation for that is competitive wages. The budget nerd in me also loves her wanting to get more stakeholders involved in the budget process, and I agree with her that the budget is key to understanding and accessing resources in WPS. Medina not only understands the big picture, but as the mom to a special needs first grader, also knows how the day to day experience of staff shortages and lack of resources can impact children. Medina is smart, she’s dedicated and she has meaningful professional and personal experience that would add a lot to the committee.
Kathi Roy’s Platform, posted on her campaign facebook page. A+ for most creative use of random capitalization.
Kathleen “Kathi” Roy: I am not going to beat around the bush here, Kathi Roy is Shanel Soucy 2.0. While her questionnaires seem benign, the devil is always in the details. She is a candidate representing the ideologies of the far right, and identifies as a “parents rights'' candidate. (If you want to understand parents rights groups and how they work to destabilize public schools I highly recommend this podcast.) Many of the issues she highlights above would actively take the district backwards, literally walking back decisions that were made over the last two years, including putting police back in schools, not allowing students to use backpacks in school, and rehashing the health curriculum (which btw, parents can opt out of.) Her Facebook presence has been scrubbed, but if you go to the Seven Hills Political Dialogue page and search for her name, there’s still enough posts and comments publicly available to get a sense of her beliefs and values. There’s also Venmo transactions that imply she organized a bus to the Stop the Steal Trump Rally on January 6. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance in her campaign, for example, when she says we should put SRO’s in our high schools AND keep the SLO model. It’s not clear where Roy expects the City would get the revenue to add five police officers (about $700K) to the schools, especially since she recently opposed raising taxes. Also, just a general note that polls show that the majority of parents like their child’s public school, so when we talk about “parents rights'' let's not confuse that with parent involvement or parent input, which the superintendent, her team and the current school committee have been active and vocal about.
Who we can elect: District C
This race is politically interesting because it’s two people who have served on the school committee before. In the 2021 election Jermoh Kamara beat Dianna Biancheria by almost 1,900 votes, but because this is a first-time district race, it’s hard to predict how it will turn out.
Jermoh Kamara is currently on the school committee and is running for a second term. She moved from Liberia to Worcester when she was 11, graduated from WPS and is now an associate director for the Center for Well-Being at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Her campaign centers onsupporting Superintendent Monárrez to move the district forward, mental health and wellness initiatives, school buildings and advocating for career and college readiness. Kamara has been prolific in filing items and working to try to help students and families navigate the governance structure that is the school committee. She is not hesitant to speak on the school committee floor and raise concerns. Her work on the school committee this term definitely reflects her campaign priorities, in that they aren’t just words, she’s backed them up with actions.
Dianna Biancheria served on the school committee for six terms before losing in the 2021 election, coming in 7th with 6,132 votes (behind Laura Clancey, who received 6,911 votes.) Even when she came in third in the 2019 election she only got 6,700 votes. Biancheria has focused her campaign on school safety, the budget and career readiness opportunities for students–a campaign platform that is basically the same as when she ran in 2019 and 2021. I don’t really have more to offer than what Bill wrote in his 2021 election guide:
“Biancheria goes on the AFN list because of her track record of only dimly understanding the issues and even more dimly articulating her position. She’s also the product of nepotism and the old boys’ network controlled by Superintendent Maureen Binienda, former mayor Ray Mariano and others. The whole of her politics boils down to maintaining her crew’s status as the power brokers of the public school bureaucracy.”
The one star that I will give her is that, in the end, she did vote not to renew then-Superintendent Maureen Binienda’s contract.
The people we don’t get to choose
Four of the six districts only have one candidate. Since there are no write-ins on general election ballots, we can assume that the four of them will most likely be on the committee come January, barring a personal decision not to serve. Because it's good context to know as we cast our other votes, here’s my quick summary:
Vanessa Alvarez (district B): I have spoken with Alvarez a few times and saw her at the candidate forum at the Boys and Girls Club in August. She is genuine and thoughtful. She graduated from WPS and is a social worker. As she said many times during the forum, she has a lot to learn about the issues the school committee faces, but in her answers to the Worcester Education Colllaborative questions, it’s clear that she is taking the time to get to know what those issues are and how she would like to address them.
Alejandro “Alex” Guardiola (District D): I am not aware of any forums or debates where Guardiola spoke publicly about his candidacy, so everything I am basing this on is his written word. His website says that he is a new father, a first generation Mexican-American and that he will be the first Latino man to serve on the school committee. He is a vice president for government affairs and public policy at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the issues he sees as the biggest areas of improvement are vocational education, school nutrition and supporting higher pay for teachers. One major issue for district D specifically includes lots of new housing developments, which means certain schools are seeing overcrowding that will only get worse. I have not seen anything on how he would work to address this.
Jermaine Johnson (District F): Johnson is running for his second term for school committee. This term he served as vice chair, which is a position voted on by school committee members and in practice goes to the person who received the most votes in the general election. He attended WPS, has two children in WPS, and is a social worker. Johnson’s voting record on his first term as school committee matches what he ran on two years ago: safe and healthy schools, social/emotional supports and high quality education. He brings a voice that has long been lacking on the school committee.
Molly McCullough (District A): First elected in 2015, McCullough is running for her fifthterm. She is the granddaughter of previous Worcester Mayor James O’Brien. As a committee member McCullough mostly files items around athletics or concerns brought to her by parents or teachers, and she almost always votes with the majority. She publicly supports Joe Petty for mayor and has similar politics in that she doesn’t like to make waves and is very much in the center. She is currently the chair of the teaching, learning, and student supports subcommittee and while the committee structure is in the process of changing, she will very likely be a committee chair next year, too. I am personally disappointed that McCullough has not been more vocal in this election about which candidates would help move the district forward, especially since she is running unopposed. I would have liked to see some leadership from the longest consecutively serving school committee member.
My two cents
I have sometimes heard people refer to this current school committee as a progressive one, and I disagree. If you’re going to apply a political spectrum to the committee (which I don’t think is necessarily helpful) this school committee is very much in the center. What I think folks are trying to say when they call the committee progressive is that this committee is high functioning and not getting bogged down in culture wars and ideologies. To put it simply, they are doing the work. A big part of that is that they are smart, committed people who care, and who understand their roles and purview. The other big part of that is they all chose a superintendent that is good at her job. This past year was the first full academic year that the current school committee and the superintendent worked together, and it was a productive one. My recommendation is to vote for people who will continue that momentum, because there’s still A LOT of work to do.
Odds and ends
Bill again. Thanks for reading! None of this would be possible without my paying subscribers! If that’s you, thank you! If it’s not, it could be!
Very sad to hear the news about Carl-Hens Beliard, the recent North High graduate who was killed in Salem.
My sister lives in and teaches in Lewiston, ME. The community there is absolutely shattered by the mass shooting and her job just got immensely harder. I cannot even imagine and it was way too close for comfort. Please consider donating to any of the verified reilef funds that have sprung up since that awful night. Lewiston is a lot like Worcester. There are many folks there on hard times who need support now more than ever.
This is going to be a slightly busy week for posts coming up. Planning one tomorrow or Saturday, then one on Sunday, then one on Monday/Tuesday morning. Sheesh!
Tomorrrow, I’ll be a guest on the Sort Of Late Show! It’s at Off The Rails at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and you can find em here. Should be a really fun night!
Then, on election night, The Worcestery Council Theater crew wil be doing a LIVE EVENT at the Sundown (old Dive Bar)(34 Green Street)!! It’s free and going to be a fun time! Coolest election party in town.