My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Middle school principal quits amid criticism

Amherst Bulletin
By Nick Grabbe and CATHERINE BAUM Staff Writers
Published on September 04, 2009

The Amherst Regional Middle School, which has endured public criticism this year, lost its principal this week with Glenda Cresto's resignation four days after classes started.

She told Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez she was not a "good fit" for the position, a view she'd previously expressed to him and to former Acting Superintendent Maria Geryk, he said. But other issues came into play as well, Rodriguez said.

"I'm sure that there were not ideal working conditions," he said. "You don't want to be clubbed over the head morning, noon and night. It's hard to work with that kind of criticism."

When students arrived at the middle school for the first day of classes last week, some were missing class assignments. A report on what went wrong is being prepared, and everything will be ironed out by Tuesday, Rodriguez said.

Cresto took responsibility for problems even though they weren't necessarily her fault, he said.
"In the short term, we're making sure every student has a teacher in every period," he said. "In the long term, we're redoing all schedules to make sure all kids are in the right teams."

Rodriguez said he had already chosen a consultant to do a "deep and intrusive assessment" of the middle school's effectiveness before Cresto resigned.

"I think it takes an incredible amount of courage to openly say 'I'm not sure I'm the right person for the job,'" he said. "I don't know many people who would do that. I take my hat off to her."
He said the resignation was "her decision all the way."

Asked whether the intense scrutiny that principals are under in Amherst was a possible reason for Cresto's departure, Rodriguez said, "Sometimes the expectations of administrators is unrealistic."

Cresto was on the job for only a year, and had never been a principal before. In August 2006, she resigned as assistant principal of Carver High School for personal reasons, not long before school resumed.

She was hired by former Superintendent Jere Hochman and expected to get mentoring from him. But Hochman resigned, and there were three interim superintendents last year before Rodriguez arrived in July.

"It's been a very challenging year," said School Committee member Catherine Sanderson. "She made good progress in moving the middle school in the right direction. She was excited about the opportunities to make the middle school the star of the district. The middle school has faced a challenge for a long time, and no one has assumed the problems were created in Glenda Cresto's tenure."

Posts on Sanderson's blog have described Cresto as "attentive, open, available and helpful" and said "she had no ego, was flexible and always put kids first."

One posting described her as "a caring professional who improved communications with parents and tried to make some headway in a time of enormous budget cuts and transition at the superintendent level."

Interim arrangements and plans for finding a permanent replacement will likely come up at Tuesday's Regional School Committee meeting.

High school principal Mark Jackson has assumed on the additional role of middle school principal. Sanderson said she's heard from parents who are concerned he is taking on too much, though Rodriguez said, "He's fine with it."

Michael Hayes, who was interim principal before Cresto arrived and a finalist for the position, has become senior assistant principal of the middle school. Teacher Diane Chamberlain has become temporary assistant principal at the high school.

As for a permanent successor, Rodriguez said he will look internally before advertising the job. Sanderson said she favors advertising immediately and getting a principal on the job by the end of December. "It's very important to have someone in place," she said. "You can never tell what is going to be available, given the budget cuts. There may be some super candidates who are out of work."

There could be a positive component to Cresto's resignation in providing a clean slate for a thorough review of the middle school, Rodriguez said. "This is best for Ms. Cresto and best for the middle school to have a fresh start," he said. "She will go on to bigger and better things, and we will get a deep, hard look, without personalizing it, at the whole middle school operation without it being about the principal. This is the best time to do it."


Tom G said...

All of the questions I asked in the comments sections of the last two posts have been answered by this article. Thanks for posting it.

I value the super's instinct to look inside the organization for a replacement. At the time, why not start also soliciting applications from the outside. I can see no reason to delay.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tom G (and Catherine), the search for a new principal should begin immediately and in my opinion the ideal candidate should be an external candidate and have previous school leadership experience.

Rick said...

Yes this article answers a lot.

My two cents is look hard internally. Somewhere in ARPS there is a person with the right stuff for this job and also a known quantity. Look how well Maria Geryk did for example.

Meg Rosa said...

I have to say that I am impressed with the Middle School so far. Even with some craziness with schedules, missing the principal and being so early in the school year, things seem to be going well. I know, my son is coming home excited, happy, and impressed every day so far!! The school may have some issues, as do all of them, but I am impressed. The teachers are doing great and paying attention to the kids needs. I think the work that Glenda did in the year we were luck enough to have her, did a lot of good for that school. Thank you to her for the time we had her!!

Anonymous said...

I feel the previous post, while positive (and I bet shared by many parents) offers a bit of a back-handed compliment to the teachers. I agree that Glenda did some good things, especially in the arena of reaching out to the public and parents in particular. I also believe she was well-liked and respected by the faculty. BUT
I believe that the teachers have been, to quote you, "doing great and paying attention to the kids needs" for many years here. They did not suddenly start being dedicated and caring individuals when Glenda arrived.

This speaks to the problem I have with the way people have been describing the school. I know some are concerned about the rigor and challenge at the school. That is fine and I hope and trust it is being addressed. BUT when flip and loaded comments are used like "considering the state of the MS" it paints a terrible picture using a very broad brush. People out there are reading that and thinking the whole place is a big huge mess, and thanks to Glenda for riding into town and cleaning things up. The truth is that many, many parents have felt the way Meg does and been impressed with what goes on at the school. They are probably less vocal and less blog-addicted.

Glenda did add to things in a positive way but what she inherited was not some black hole of education that had to be steered on a proper course by Superman (or Superwoman?). The great and caring teachers have been here for a long time.

Meg Rosa said...

Anon 11:05,
For the record, this is my oldest son's first year in the MS. I went there myself for 8th and 9th grade. It is a completely different set-up now, then it was back in the 90's. We were a Junior High then. We have had some major roadblocks with my son's education over the years and for my son to come home from school, beaming, this is huge for us. My point was that in a time of chaos in the school, the teachers are doing great to take care of the kids. I have no previous experience with any of his teachers so all I am commenting on is what we have at this moment.
(As far as being blog-addicted, I haven't been on here since June)

Anonymous said...

My point exactly Meg! I wish more people with positive thoughts like you would write in to the blog, or be public in other ways. Glad your son is off to a great start!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Tom G - glad the article was helpful, and yes, I agree that searching widely (both internal and external) would be useful ASAP.

Anonymous 7:58 - I agree with your opinion about the ideal candidate ... though not sure if/when we will find such a person.

Rick - given that we did a search for the MS principal (both interally and externally) 18 months ago, I'm less confident that an ideal internal person will emerge (though I could be wrong). I also think Maria did a great job -- but that is one example of someone who served for a relatively short period of time (4 months) and I'm not sure if we would have such a good experience again if looking for a PERMANENT replacement.

Meg - I am glad your son is having a good experience in his first week -- and I do hear from many parents that the teachers have done a great job of making kids feel good in the midst of a challenging week.

Anonymous 11:05 - I don't believe that anyone has said everything is bad at the MS ... what I've said, and what I've heard others say (for a LONG time before the arrival of Glenda) is that the school does not provide a consistently rigorous and challenging curriculum. I think that is a pretty fair statement -- this doesn't mean that some teachers don't provide that ... but it means that parents and kids are then gambling in hopes of getting those teachers. I also think that many teachers are caring and dedicated ... but not providing an academically engaging and rigorous curriculum (which is the fault of the district and the superintendent, since I don't believe teachers should be expected to WRITE or CREATE curriculum themselves -- leading to a lack of horizontal and vertical alignment). I haven't heard anyone say "the teachers are really not caring" or "the teachers are really rude" or whatever. From what I hear, the teachers are on the whole caring and dedicated ... but they are NOT all providing a rigorous and challenging experience for kids (some are, but not all). That's it.

Meg - And I will hope that your son continues to have such a positive experience!

Anonymous 2:21 - if you have a child who has had a good experience in the MS, share that experience as Meg has and encourage others to do so. But that doesn't invalidate the experience of those whose kids unfortunately aren't having such a good experience.

Ed said...

Maybe in some cases you want people gone immediately. But looking at this as the outsider I am, I fail to understand why the ARSD signs contracts with people when they can abandon them without notice.

She (I assume) had a contract. The district had an expectation that she would be there for a period of time, and unless the Supt "released" her from this contract, she is under a legal obligation to show up & work.

This is a labor management issue - high ranking school officials - principals & superintendents - are not casual "at will" employees. And even then there is an expectation of 2 weeks notice...

Completely aside these specific personnel issues, there is a POLICY issue here -- does the district expect its employees to honor the terms of their contracts of employment? I may come across as a hard-core-right-winger but what is wrong with expecting people to honor the terms of the contracts they sign?

If the town contracts with someone to pave a road, they expect the contractor to pave the whole road, not to stop halfway and quit because they don't want to do it anymore. And while there may be cases where people should be released from contracts, as a general policy, well....

Personnel issues are confidential, but contracts are public. Hence is the reason(s) to release someone from a contract public or private? I don't know...