City urged: Get fed school $$; Target achievement gap at 2 troubled schools.

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Byline: Jacqueline Reis

WORCESTER - Parents and local leaders held a press conference outside City Hall yesterday to urge the School Committee to pursue $3 million in federal grants for two schools that the state says are among the most troubled.

Union Hill and Chandler Elementary Community schools were among 35 designated as likely Level 4 schools. The district can apply for the federal money, but only if it meets certain conditions, such as dismissing the principal of each school.

The people who spoke yesterday said they could live with that. The district is facing a budget deficit of $7 million, and the speakers said schools need whatever money is available to close the achievement gap between different groups of students.

"The days of ... business as usual, underperforming, are done," said Michael Jerry, a parent and representative from Black Legacy, a group from the city's black community. "I represent a community that won't tolerate that anymore."

Theona Lourens, a parent who is Stand for Children's coordinator at Woodland Academy, said she hopes the district will take the money so that it doesn't run short of funds for other schools, something she feared could hurt English-as-a-second-language instruction and enrichment opportunities.

Mary Jo Marion, executive director of the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State College, said about half of the students at the two schools are Latino, and the state has had a hard time raising Latino students' achievement.

State Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, noted that "Whether they take the money or not, the city has to address the achievement gap."

There are many achievement gaps in Worcester, including between different racial groups (Latino students tend not to do as well as Asian students, for instance), between students for whom English is a first language and those who are not proficient in it, and those who have special needs compared to those without special needs.

School Committee members John F. Monfredo and Jack L. Foley spoke at the press conference and agreed that the money is important.

Mr. Monfredo, a retired principal, said, "We need to set aside the emotional side of this issue and the principals being unfairly removed ... We need additional funds."

Mr. Foley noted that he does not like "the punitive nature" of the requirements and fears similar requirements will become embedded in other federal...

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