Monday, September 16, 2013

On Primary Eve: A change will do you good!

First, let's get the easy stuff out of the way. When it comes to mayor, Kim Driscoll is the ONLY viable choice on the ballot. Are there things people don't like about her? Sure. She's in love with development, seemingly above all other things. I don't have as much of a problem with it as some of her ardent detractors. That changes when it becomes largely low income housing. Enough of that already.

But let's be honest. The other names on the ballot are possibly-homeless perpetual candidate Ken (stay out of the port-o-john because he'll tip it over) Sawicki, and Cedric (I just admitted to groping a girl in a bar, but it's OK because it was 3 years ago) Ashley Jr. I can't tell you anything about Ashley. If he's campaigning, I can't find any proof of it. No idea where he stands on anything. Regarding Sawicki, someone who has been a candidate for so many things in the last few years should have a better grasp of the issues than he is capable of displaying. Just no.

For the anti-Driscoll crowd, this primary may be your best chance. Turnout will likely be miserable, and the mayor has put very little effort into campaigning thus far. Organize alphabetically or something. Here's the thing. Even the most ardent Driscoll opponents shouldn't want to deal with the mess that would result from Mayor Sawicki.

Moving on to Ward 6, this is an easy one, too. You have incumbent Paul Prevey, first-time candidate Beth Gerard, and the aforementioned Sawicki. Prevey and Gerard should move on to the general. That may be one of the most interesting races going forward.

Perpetual candidate Sawicki

The Ward 4 primary is one I actually get to vote in for the first time. I'm voting for David Eppley. I know David, and trust that he'll make wise decisions. I also know how hard he's worked on this campaign. He's been to my door at least 3 times. If he weren't in the race, I'd vote for Gina Flynn, and I hope that's how the final race works out. I met Flynn on the day of the Senate election to replace John Kerry. She, like Eppley, was at the polls. She's also been to my door. She and Eppley have somewhat active Facebook pages. Sean O'Brien? First, I thought he wanted to be on the school committee? Second, I didn't see him at the polls, or at my door. Third, Facebook? His last campaign post was in early May, and was about eating a burger. I'm not sure he even wants the job. Finally, have you seen Eppley in lederhosen?

Whatever it takes for charity, right David? (stolen from John Andrews/Social Palates)

The vitally important race on the ballot this Tuesday is the school committee primary. We have a failing school system. People get pissed when you say that, but it's true. We are among the worst school systems in the state, sayeth the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). We have two school committee members who have "served" for eight years each running for re-election. On what grounds? Should we really consider rewarding such epic failures? The members (Walsh and Crane) in question seem to have excuses (usually based around poor kids and evil tests) for everything. Pay no attention to the fact that we still fail when comparing our district to many others with similar socioeconomic demographics. Many districts do much more with equally and even more challenging populations.

Dr. Crane's recent evaluation of Superintendent Russell reads like the case to not re-elect any incumbent school committee members. Insane. In it, she wrote:

"Dr. Russell, unbeknownst to him, when he took the job, inherited a system that need (sic) a substantial instructional overhaul (as indicated in the Level 3 Report and State's Level 4 ranking, which came when Dr. Russell was just 3 months into the job.) Both these reports indicated system problems that would take several years to effectively rectify. ...He has supported and actively participated in introducing more challenging curriculum for our best students, while working to provide equal educational opportunities for all our students, as required the Federal Law. (huh?) This is the kind of instructional leadership that this district has needed."
"When Dr. Russell became Superintendent in August 2011, no one (but perhaps especially him) realized the degree to which the Salem School System needed a deep and thorough overhaul. This is the kind of special circumstance that School Committees must allow for in their evaluation. The Level 4 designation by the state at the end of October that year indicated how much our system needed to change ... I give him high marks for what he (and we) have begun; but this is an ongoing process that will be both data-driven and will benefit from new leadership and new programs ..."

Janet Crane has been on the school committee for eight years. Does it sound like she's done a good job? On her (and Walsh's) watch, we had a system that needed a substantial instructional overhaul. A system full of systemic problems. A system that will benefit from new leadership... but reelect them? Seriously? Why?

There are a few major problems with Crane. The first is that she rarely makes sense when she speaks. Here's the beginning of one of her answers at the recent school committee forum. Watch it.

I at least see what she's saying for the first half. I get the argument, at least. The second half? Public education is under attack by federal and state mandates on large corporations? WHAT? I mean, it just doesn't make any sense. Way too frequently, when Crane speaks, I think:

My second big problem with Crane (excepting lack of results) is that I don't believe she knows how to make her own decisions. I've never seen her disagree with Walsh on anything, and I've even seen her wait to see how he's voting to know how to vote. Watch the clip below. At a recent meeting, Mr. Fleming made a motion to table an item on the agenda. This was an unexpected move, so Crane hadn't gotten her orders yet. Watch, as she's about to raise her hand to vote in favor of the motion, (Walsh and Crane frequently vote with Fleming) but stops when she looks down the table to see what boss Walsh is doing. She then changes her mind and votes Walsh's way. Is that really the mindlessness we want on the school committee? (You'll have to excuse me, my disdain got the better of me at the end of the video and I may have said a bad word.)

Dr. Walsh, over the last few years, has asked variations of the below question several times. Go ahead, check it out.

Walsh started slinging blame, excuses, and denial like the video above within weeks of our level 4 status being announced. I love his use of quotes around crisis in this article. If our schools aren't in crisis, what is?

Here's the thing. Walsh keeps asking this question over and over, how is your kid doing, how is the school serving you? The problem is that the answer is VERY frequently negative, and he's just not listening. If he were, he'd stop asking. After he pulled it the second time during the candidates forum, Rick Johnson, a candidate, and very involved parent, addressed it. Johnson's message was that while his child was at Bentley it was an utterly chaotic environment, and that he and his wife had reached out for help to the school, and even as high as the members of the school committee, and received no help at all. Johnson's comments got the longest, loudest, and most sustained applause at the forum.

Walsh says, "If your answer to these questions is uniformly "yes," you have absolutely nothing to fear about your child attending any Salem public school." I'm sorry, but the state, and the dozens of parents I've spoken with, disagree vehemently. Walsh is clearly out of touch. Level 4 status means the state is saying that our district is in a dire situation where intervention is needed. Why should we believe Dr. Walsh above the state, especially when so many parents concur with the state's assessment?

Worse than being out of touch, he seems resigned to failure. DESE cited a culture in our district where some educators believe that certain students or types of students can't and won't learn and achieve academic success. Walsh appears to agree with them. I'll leave you with this. Last year, he proposed a scathing condemnation of the use of standardized testing. Lisa Lavoie correctly pointed out that a board in a district that is failing the test shouldn't be the one passing the test. Walsh comparing us to greyhounds on the track is exactly the kind of culture that DESE cited.

Do you really want a school committee member that believes that we'll never reach our goals? I don't.

Tomorrow, I'm voting for Katie Casiglia, who is endlessly positive, Rick Johnson, who will call shenanigans shenanigans, and Rachel Hunt, who runs a level one school in Salem, with demographics not much different than the rest of the district. For once, I wish I had more votes to give. I could make strong cases for Pat Schultz and Lisa Lavoie as well. I'd think harder about this, but I'm confident that Schultz will make it through the primary. I've come around on Lavoie. I wish she'd be a little more outspoken about her beliefs around the excuse making we've just talked about, but having discussed them with her, she's in the right place. We have a wealth of choices available to us this time. Use them!

Are there enough uninformed people to buy the excuses as valid explanations? Let's hope not. Get out and vote on Tuesday.