This week’s Gateway Cities Leader
Cities are shaped by their citizens. From New Bedford to Pittsfield, passionate young leaders are spearheading innovative efforts to reinvent their communities for a new generation. The Gateway Cities Leaders series profiles their work and introduces their ideas, visions, and aspirations to the wider Gateway City world. Is there a young leader in your city that we should spotlight? Please let us know.
Amanda Kershaw is the Testing and Evaluation Specialist for the Worcester Public Schools. She has been living in Worcester since graduating from Anna Maria College two years ago.
After you graduated from college, what made you want to stay in Worcester?
I went to school to be educator. I did my student teaching in the Worcester Public Schools and became very invested in the community here. I come from a very small town in western Massachusetts, and I immediately engaged with how much the people here want to contribute to their community. They want Worcester to be the best city it can possibly be. People go beyond their job descriptions to make the community a better place or to improve the future of a single student. There are so many good people in Worcester.
In your time with the Worcester Public Schools, what are you most proud of?
Before I was in the testing and evaluation role, I was working as collaborator and research assistant with the Worcester Public Schools and Massachusetts Education and Career Opportunities (MassEdCO), a community-based partner. I was asked to help out with a research project that evolved into the WPS College and Career Readiness Network. It’s a collaborative effort with 22 college access programs that serve the Worcester Public Schools. The network meets five or six times a year to share professional development ideas, best practices, and foster a data driven culture. It provides aggregate data about the participants to help inform their decision-making as practitioners.
It has opened the door to possibilities within the district to raise college attendance rates, and it has started to alter the culture between the public school district and the community. By far, that’s something I’ve been proud of and excited about over the past couple of years.
What upcoming projects are you looking forward to working on?
A large part of my job revolves around testing, which is not everyone’s favorite part of the year. I’ve been working hard to get schools armed with the tools and resources so that when they go to set up the MCAS test, it will hopefully be easier and less stressful for them. We’ve been doing it long enough here that it should be muscle memory.
Last year, the schools could choose to give the PARC or MCAS tests. About half did each test, and we’ll offer the same option this year. Our office is in charge of organizing test administrations and hold trainings. When we’re using two different tests, it gets a little tricky. Next year, we’ll be preparing for a new test, and we feel ready to dive in.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of working in a Gateway City?
The biggest challenge, as with many Gateway Cities, is funding. The district is not asking for additional money to fund our network initiative. We’re working with the organic motivation of community-based organizations or district personnel who want to do better for the district and the community. But the funding is very much a struggle. The higher your aspirations get, the more funding becomes an issue. It’s a speed bump that comes up again and again. We pool the resources we have and do the most we can with them.
What would you be able to do with additional funding?
We would love to have a web presence for the college access network where a parent, student, or school guidance counselor could go to search for a program or service catered to them. The struggle is that as recently as two years ago, we didn’t know who these programs were in a comprehensive way. The network has solved that problem completely in the realm of college access. It would be great if we could have a website where, for example, a guidance counselor helping a student with his or her FAFSA could suggest the best fit program.
The biggest thing for us is using the internet to reach out further to community members and the school district so that resources are accessible. Right now, they’re only accessible to people who are actively looking. I want to make the channels of communication easier for people.
How else are you involved in the community?
I teach at a dance studio. I teach the whole spectrum — hip hop, jazz, tap, lyrical ballet. It has been such a rewarding experience to teach non-cognitive life lessons. I teach everyone from toddlers up to students in their graduating year of high school. They’re mostly females, and I get to have great conversations with them about applying for college, getting their first job, taking their license test, dealing with nerves in school. For my day job, I’m mostly behind the scenes, but when I teach dance, I get to be on the front lines.How do you like to enjoy a day off in Worcester?
There are so many great small business owners with quirky shops — restaurants, coffee shops, music stores. There’s just so much culture here. I have a few regular spots, but I love trying to find places in the city I haven’t seen yet.