This meeting began with a teacher/student spotlight, in which Heather Sullivan-Flynn (English curriculum leader at the MS) discussed work in the MS on poetry. She read some poems aloud, as did a current MS student. This unit included integration of work in English and science (poems about science) as well as a visit by author Janet Wong to the MS last year. Ms. Sullivan-Flynn expressed thanks to the Family-School Partnership at the MS for giving grants to teachers who are interested in inviting outside authors/writers/scientists to come in to the classroom.
We then turned to announcements/public comment. Farshid announced a program in Leverett in which all families are invited to read the books Three Cups of Tea (which I've heard is excellent). Michael Aronson, a parent of a MS student, asked the superintendent for information about the process by which parents could meet individually with the superintendent, as apparently was offered by the superintendent to several parents sometime last week. Dr. Rodriguez noted that parents could come see him or Maria Geryk by making an appointment.
The next agenda item was the superintendent's update. First, Dr. Rodriguez announced that current Pelham Elementary School principal Rena Moore would be serving as the elementary curriculum coordinator for the rest of this year (since the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction was not hired). She will work on horizontal and vertical alignment of English Language Arts, math, and science in the five schools. The assistant superintendent position will be re-opened, in hopes that someone can start July 1, 2010.
The superintendent then announced that given Glenda Cresto's resignation on August 31st, Mark Jackson would serve as 7 to 12 principal, Mike Hayes would serve as senior assistant principal of the MS, and Diane Chamberlain would serve as an additional assistant principal in the HS. He will re-assess how this plan is working in December, and intends to conduct a search for a new MS principal next year. He also intends to hire a consultant to do a thorough study of the MS. He has selected a consultant named Barry Bears, who lives in Virginia and has a PhD from the College of William & Mary. Dr. Rodriguez offered his apologies to parents who learned of Glenda's resignation in the newspaper, which was prior to a letter going out on Tuesday.
The committee raised various questions. Steve asked whether the transition could be re-assessed if other opportunities are presented, and also raised a question about a budget item presented the prior week (why was $69,000 used on Investigations last year?). Irv expressed concern about the burden being placed on Mark to manage two buildings, and his hope that this is a short-term, not long-term situation. Farshid noted that it is the superintendent's job to make personnel decisions.
The superintendent stated that the MS faculty are pleased to have Mark in a leadership role, and that Mark would present the leadership plan to the SC at next week's meeting. He noted that there are many administrators in place at the MS, including now two assistant principals and a Dean, as well as three assistant principals at the HS. He noted that parents who had concerns should meet first with an assistant principal before meeting with Mark.
Andy then asked whether the roles of the different assistant principals are divided in some way, and that the HS is already under-staffed (e.g., there used to be three assistant principals until last year). The superintendent noted again that the leadership plan will be addressed next week.
Farshid then asked about how Rena Moore's time is split between serving as principal of Pelham and working on curriculum. Dr. Rodriguez noted that a schedule has been worked out, that Pelham is going to be well taken care of, and that important work on aligning the curriculum to state standards is going to take place.
Irv asked for information about how Rena is being paid. Dr. Rodriguez noted that her salary is being paid out of Title 2 money, so it is not coming out of other district budget lines.
I asked about the cost of the MS consultant, and whether it was under $5,000 (which is the amount above which proposals must be sought). Dr. Rodriguez stated that he did not yet have a final price for this consultant, so did not know whether it would be under this amount. I then stated that if it was this amount, surely we would be needing to do a RFP, which he said would be done if that turned out to be the case.
We then turned to public comment. A lot of this has now been widely reported in the press, so I'm not going to get into each comment from all parents. Briefly, Julia Rueschemeyer read an email aloud that she has written to the superintendent following a meeting they had had, in which she and another parent had asked whether Glenda could possibly return to the MS as principal. She stated that she had talked to Glenda, and that Glenda was potentially interested in coming back, and that when she conveyed that information to the superintendent, he wrote "Have Glenda give me a call. Thanks a million!". Julia asked whether Dr. Rodriguez in fact would be willing to consider having Glenda back. The superintendent repeated his desire to have Glenda give him a call, and said he would not comment further on personnel issues.
A number of other parents then expressed concerns about whether the community would ever understand why a principal would leave on the 3rd day of school, why a Connect Ed call had not gone out so that parents could have learned of the resignation from the school instead of the newspaper and/or Facebook, and that a sudden and unexplained departure of a principal who was widely seen as an asset to the district creates stress and strain. The superintendent acknowledged the communication could have been "crisper" and that his priority had been getting a new leadership team in place quickly. He also was not sure that a Connect Ed call would have been the best approach to conveying this information.
Jennifer Keller Jackson asked why her child's PE class has 60 students. Mike Hayes noted that this was being worked on still, and that there were two teachers working with such a large group.
The committee expressed a number of reactions. Kathleen noted that personnel issues are private, and don't have to be shared with the community. Andy noted that communication is a key goal in this district, and that the use of Connect Ed would have been appropriate. Irv noted that the SC has a goal of transparency, but that this is an issue in which true transparency is impossible. Steve said that he respects the rules in which the SC must operate, values community feedback, and welcomes comments and concerns from all parents. Kristen asked whether the school could move forward this year, given the transitional leadership team in place, and wondered who was spear-heading such efforts. The superintendent noted that many people were taking a leadership role, including Mark, Mike, and Maria.
Updates start here:
I then expressed my thanks to the parents who spoke about the confusion they had felt regarding this change in leadership, and shared their belief that Glenda had been as asset to the school and that her departure was anxiety-provoking. I also expressed that I did not feel I had a full understanding of the events that had transpired.
Tracy Farnham stated that communication to the SC had been excellent. She wondered if people just weren't hearing what they wanted to hear.
Debbie said that she felt Glenda was valued by the parents, and she thanked the teachers and superintendent for their hard work over the last week.
Farshid said that Glenda was thoughtful and involved, and would have a lasting impact on the school. He appreciates the teachers' hard work and recognizes the community's concern and takes that very seriously.
The superintendent said he appreciates the parents' comments.
The meeting then turned to a discussion of engaging an outside consultant from Boston College, Dr. Alan Ladd, to facilitate the development of a district strategic plan. Dr. Ladd said that a strategic plan sets a philosophical foundation with core values in which districts choose to focus on their energies on some things and not on others. This includes creating a vision statement -- five years from now, what will we look like? -- as well as a mission statement -- how are we going to get there? Then district (and school) improvement plans would be written with the specific goals and objectives and action plans (resources) needed to accomplish this vision.
The superintendent would create a steering committee (including community members, teachers, parents, students, people from the local colleges/universities, and two SC members) which would canvass the community to help shape this mission and vision. This group would write a document, which would be presented to the superintendent and SC. The SC would then determine whether the document fits the goals of the community. Dr. Ladd's role would be to present options to the steering committee for developing the plan, seeking community input, etc.
The committee then raised a number of questions. Debbie wondered about the size and make-up of the committee (less than 20 people, which would include those from all four towns), and the time frame (about 6 months from start to finish). Andy asked whether Dr. Ladd had done work in other high-achieving, diverse, college towns (Dr. Ladd suggested Franklin, Lexington, and Waltham), and asked how this document would interact with the goals document we are producing (apparently it would fit with it, and should not be in conflict to it, based on prior experience). I asked about the cost (60% would be paid by Dr. Ladd's organization, so the district would pay only $4,999). Kristin asked about the role of the consultant (he facilitates the discussion), how there would be buy-in for this plan from the community (he believes that comes from everyone in the community getting an opportunity to share views), and whether the goals of the SC might differ from those of the steering committee (not likely in Dr. Ladd's experience).
Steve then stated that he believed it wasn't clear at all that our community would agree that student achievement would be a valued goal. He felt that it was essential that we were looking at other districts that are solving the same problems we are. (Dr. Ladd noted that this approach is really reflected in district/school improvement plans, NOT in a strategic plan). Steve then noted that the district/school improvement plans we have seen show little consistency, and little objectivity. Dr. Ladd noted that school improvement plans should be consistent, should be measurable, and should be reflective of a larger piece (e.g., a district strategic plan). The distinction noted by Dr. Ladd is that the strategic plan is a philosophical view, whereas district or school improvement plans are more specific (e.g., how do you go about the work of carrying out the district's mission).
Andy noted that we (I'm not sure if he meant the SC or the community here) haven't articulated any common vision, and he's not sure whether we can reach this with any depth (e.g., whether it would be bland). He hopes it works, but ultimately believes the SC will have to approve such a plan.
The superintendent noted that strategic plans can be very useful. Farshid said he would try to get a list of districts and their strategic plans for the committee to review.
We then turned to subcommittee reports. Farshid started by stating that as chair, he intends to appoint a subcommittee to review the district's legal counsel. We currently don't have a written contract with our lawyer, Gini Tate, and she charges $210 an hour. He believes it would be wise to study best practices in terms of legal counsel, and asked for volunteers for such a committee. Irv and I volunteered. Farshid also appointed Kathy Mazur to the subcommittee.
Alberto stated that Gini Tate is an excellent attorney, and doesn't know why we would want to change counsel. Debbie asked for the total amount that she is paid each year (an answer wasn't available at this time, but will be given at the next meeting). Andy stated that he believed it would be good to know whether we are using best practices, and that since the staff of the district works with the attorney regularly, he hopes the SC would take the staff's preferences into account. He questioned whether it would be useful to change attorneys.
Alberto asked about the timing of the appointment of this subcommittee, and asked whether there are concerns historically about our legal representation.
Kathleen explains that the SC orientation includes material on legal issues, so she doesn't see why we need to consult another attorney.
Andy said that in the context of budget discussions, there have been questions about the cost of legal services. He thus sees looking at our costs and legal services as a good idea, although believes we could ultimately choose to stay with our present legal representation.
I also expressed that I had heard concerns from the community about legal costs, and believed that this was important to examine.
Steve noted that the chair of the committee has a right to call a subcommittee to review legal representation, that legal fees are complicated, and that the SC has a right to choose the legal counsel for the district.
Irv noted that it is "bad form" not to have a written contract, and that even if it is legal NOT to have a contract, that doesn't make it right.
Kathy Mazur noted that it may or may not work to the district's advantage to have a contract, which Gini Tate would be glad to explain to members of the legal subcommittee. She noted that sometimes you can have a contract for a certain number of hours (at a certain cost) and the district can use fewer hours and thus spend money that is not necessary.
The superintendent stated that he recognized the importance of having good legal representation.
Given the hour, we postponed discussion of the district goals subcommittee. The policy subcommittee is working on policies related to instruction, budget, and communication (in line with broad district goals), and the budget subcommittee will meet for the first time on October 5th.
There was a brief discussion about moving the SC meetings to the MS auditorium in order to have a live feed for the meetings. It was agreed that the SC was in favor of this, so the meetings will move as of next week.
Finally, we discussed planning for future meetings. The survey data on the MS and HS will be given to the SC by Thursday (and presented at the next regional meeting), and the elementary survey data will be given to the SC by Friday (and I assume presented at an upcoming elementary meeting). I asked a question about the RFP for the special education review, and there is still no update on that.
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.