Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And So It Begins ...

I'm still trying to digest what went on at tonight's school committee meeting. Earlier today, I was reading this blog from Education Week. The big takeaway to me was that successful schools need courageous leadership in tackling fundamental issues. Tonight's school committee meeting makes me really question whether or not we have that leadership in place. I've said to more than one person that I wondered how long it would be before our shortsighted leadership would attempt to tear down the schools that show any level of success. That attack began a while ago with the school assignment policy, where our better schools (I wouldn't call any of them "good") were attacked for their student bodies. The goal was to bring down Witchcraft Heights and Saltonstall, rather than to try to duplicate their success. That attack continued in earnest tonight.

I'll admit that I was only half paying attention when the subject of approving the Salem Schools and separately the Saltonstall School calendar came up on the agenda. Below is how the two action items were worded.

c.      Deliberation on the approval of the Salem Public Schools calendar for the 2012-13 School Year

d.      Deliberation on the approval of the Saltonstall School calendar for the 2012-13 School Year

They sound routine, and have appeared annually for several years. However, the full frontal attack on Saltonstall has begun. Somehow that proposal was amended to make the Saltonstall school follow the calendar of the rest of the schools. Janet Crane stated unequivocally that she would not vote to approve a different calendar for Saltonstall, because it's not fair. I'm not particularly interested in whether or not it's fair. My question is, does it work? It at least appears to. Wouldn't it make more sense to emulate the things that work? That takes more creative thinking and strong leadership. (See first paragraph.)

Crane cited ongoing negotiations with the teachers' union as a good reason to scrap Saltonstall's schedule at this point. Go back to the blog post referenced above. Ongoing negotiations would be a great time for our leadership to be bold, and demand that the teacher layoff system be based on evaluations rather than seniority, and that increased pay for increased days and hours be based on increased performance. But that would take bold leadership. We seem to want to go for the timid approach. It's worked so well up to now.

The school committee claims to want parental involvement, the action that almost took place tonight, because, according to Crane, it was privately discussed during a budget retreat at some point in the past, would make that claim of wanting parental involvement seem at least bipolar. I'm not sure how Dr. Crane can think it's appropriate to move on such a huge change like this without allowing parents any chance to provide feedback, but it appeared that she believed that was entirely appropriate. She took great offense to the mayor's assertion that this was coming from left field. Read the agenda items again. Does that sound like the possibility of scrapping the Saltonstall model was on the agenda? One could almost argue that the open meeting law had been violated if such action had taken place. What are we, Wenham? Do you think the crowd would have been bigger if the agenda item was "Move Saltonstall schedule to match the rest of the system?" I'm thinking yes.

I wasn't the only one who thought so. The following were all posted on Twitter during the meeting.

Listen. I don't have a Saltonstall kid. I have no dog in the fight, and I don't claim to know what's best. But there's a right way to have the conversation, and it involves actually having the conversation, instead of trying to sneak it in, and that is what almost happened, whether it offends Dr. Crane or not. The issue was finally tabled, but it's sure to be back.

Killing the Saltonstall model is the type of move that may or may not push the Salem Education Foundation too far. Janine Matho, the president of SEF, certainly seems to have the qualifications necessary to lead a Salem Education Foundation charter school, no? Maybe it's time for SEF to really step up big time and show the rest of us how it's done. I'd enroll my future kindergartener with them. I can't imagine that doing away with the extended day/extended year model will sit well with SEF.

We thought that the drama was over at that point, but then Dr. Walsh proposed a resolution filled with vitriol towards the MCAS system. I wish I had the exact words, and may update later this week for it. It rang of excuse making, and blame gaming. Dr. Lavoie called him out for the tone of it, at which point he admitted that it was filled with anger. He may have had a point, but when your district is the one who is failing the standardized testing, you can't be the one arguing that it's a bad assessment tool. It seems like Dr. Walsh is a broken record at this point. It's always, "we can't, we can't, we can't." Tonight he compared the Salem schools to a greyhound on the dog track. He said something to the effect of "we're always chasing the rabbit but we're never going to catch it." Is that really the attitude you want in your school leadership?

This was a rough night for the mayor. I'm used to this mayor. Tonight, the mayor seemed to waver between flustered and shell-shocked. Seriously, check out the look after she adjourned the meeting. The issue of Saltonstall is a tough one for her, as head of the school committee, mayor, and Saltonstall parent, she's pretty much damned any way she goes here. I think she knows it, too. She clearly wasn't expecting it to come up as an issue the way that it did.

On the frivolous side, the subject of school uniforms was brought up during the Assistant Superintendent's report. He reported glowingly that the majority of Salem parents supported uniforms in every school. In reality, I think it sounded like the majority didn't do any such thing in any of the schools. Setting aside the utterly biased survey, that has already been thoroughly dissected by Rick Johnson here,  let's look at Bates. It was reported that 55% of Bates parents supported uniforms. I believe the number listed was about 115. Of course, that assumes that those who didn't respond would break the same way. I think Bates has over 300 students. That means that a third of parents responded to the school's biased push for uniforms with a yes. Two thirds said no, or didn't care enough to say anything. Of course the plan is to move ahead forming a uniform committee in each school. By my math, with incomplete info (hasn't been published), one school got up to about 48% of parents to respond with a yes, to a very biased survey. Good thing we're focusing on such important, enforceable (LOL!) stuff. The rest of the school committee should actually listen to Dr. Walsh on this one, as he made clear that a uniform policy was no panacea.

In other news that we can hopefully put into the proper perspective now (you're excused, councilor Furey), new rules and voting members were adopted for the Salem High School Sports Hall of Fame near the beginning of the meeting. And that's enough about that.

Jim Fleming was absent from the meeting. Again.


  1. The biggest underlying problem that has caused the Salem school district's lever 4 status is a lack of accountable leadership. In the next school committee election, it is time for Salem voters to correct this problem.

  2. It is at least comforting to know that Lynn isn't the only city with issues regarding its school committee. At least you have a mayor with her head in the game; ours touts the fact that we are the "best of the urban districts" with pride (forget the fact that one of the districts, Lawrence, was just put under receivership).

  3. City Ordinance

    Sec. 2-2028. - Agendas.(a)

    Except in the event of an emergency, as defined by the Open Meeting Law, the full meaningful agenda or subject matter of every open meeting of the city council, a city board, committee or other multiple-member body, shall be added and/or linked to the meeting calendar and viewable by the public at least 48 hours prior to the start of the meeting. Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays shall not be included in the calculation of time under this article. In the event of an emergency, the agenda for such emergency meeting shall be added to the meeting calendar as soon as practicable. A description is meaningful if it is sufficiently clear and specific to alert a person of average intelligence and education whose interests are affected by the item that he or she may have reason to attend the meeting or seek more information on the item. The description should be brief, concise and written in plain, easily understood English. Agendas published in other areas of the website shall be considered "added to" or "published on" the meeting calendar if the agenda is accessible to the public through a website link on the meeting calendar."

  4. At this point, I think it behooves each school to send a parent and faculty representative to each school committee meeting from here on out during this "turnaround" period. There are too many things going on and changing that can, apparently, be brought up without forewarning. I respect that good ideas can be generated from open discussion. But it also scares me that things can potentially change so swiftly. I can't imagine the entire committee allowing a vote to be made on such a big issue without more community input. But, what if it was a smaller issue?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. We all have a dog in the fight. We all pay taxes and all our property values and businesses suffer when we have poorly rated schools. Not only do we have to recover from the recession and the housing boom/bust, we will have to recover from this. This will take years to get any kind of reputation for our school system. I'm choosing to keep mine in private school until they sort this out. I did send in a registration packet in January for her to start 1st grade and have heard nothing: I didn't get to vote on the uniforms. I'm not sure they are able to follow through on anything. So many cosmetic suggestions and flash to distract us from the real issue of leadership accountability. There is a movement in medicine to have more doctors "apologize" when we make an error - it makes everyone feel better. I have yet to hear the apology from the Mayor or the school committee. If someone stood up and admitted how much they screwed up over the last 10 years, I would vote for them.

  7. I think we all may recognize that, while unwanted and inconvenient and perhaps even embarrassing, a first notice of bank activity is not the end of the world. This is especially true in today's difficult economy. I think most would agree that something like this would never be enough to deter them from supporting a candidate that is the best suited for the job at hand. I am an enthusiastic Manning supporter, and have been since I first noticed her stands which consistently put voters first ; even when they put her at odds with her party's bigwigs. I admire that as a wonderful and all-too-rare trait in this one party dominated state.

    Likewise, I question the common sense of the conspiracy theory that suggests that recruiting an unknown and inexperienced man to run in order to draw votes from a nice woman who is well known in her hometown would have any effect at all. In fact, it seems pretty naive. Would voters who are so easily swayed as to vote for a man they never heard of just because he is from Salem really be motivated enough to go to the polls?

    It seems that someone felt that these points would somehow benefit Lovely. I disagree. I believe it makes her camp look over eager for some "gotcha" issue. Why not just highlight her positives and let the voters decide?


Don't forget, keep it klassy!