Monday, December 14, 2015

School Committees matter

I just read through the DESE report on Southbridge. While there are certainly some parts that are debatable (like, I read the whole report and I'm still not clear on what they mean by "rigorous" for classes; writing objectives on the board isn't it), the overwhelming sense I came away with was how much school committees can matter.
The section on district governance starts on page 20 of the PDF.
To wit:
Of course, the most obvious source of discord has been the inability of the school committee to thoughtfully select a permanent superintendent. The trauma of a problematic superintendent search in 2010 is still fresh, and the recent selection of a superintendent without a bona fide search, followed by his subsequent departure shortly thereafter, has done nothing to alleviate the public perception that the school committee cannot execute this basic responsibility. This loss of faith in the school committee’s ability to select a superintendent was expressed vividly by a vote of no confidence in the school committee taken by the Southbridge town council last spring. The town council noted the failure of the school committee to hire and retain qualified administrators, and municipal officials expressed frustration with the frequent turnover, experience, and qualifications of the district’s administrative staff.
There are several deliniations of the School Committee intervening in personnel and administrative matters, and then this, regarding the processes for hiring new superintendents:
1. When asked to explain, in their view, the reason for the low rate of superintendent retention, parents agreed that hiring is often based more on political influence than merit. One parent said that in the past and present, people get hired on who they know “rather than on their credentials.” 
2. Similarly, administrators stated that the most recent search committee was stacked with “good old boys” and expressed doubt that future searches would be thorough and open
This tracks through to lack of stability in the rest of the administration, to lack of stability in the classrooms, to inability for the district to carry through work.

The recommendation from the state?
A. All school committee members should participate in training that thoroughly reviews important topics such as: school committee roles and responsibilities; standards and practices for the evaluation of the superintendent; school finance; the open meeting law; the public records law; and the conflict of interest law. 
1. Such training is required by law for new members of the school committee by MGL Chapter 71, Section 36A. However, considering the state of school governance in Southbridge, such training would be of value to the full committee. 
B. The school committee should review existing policies and by-laws to ensure that adherence to legally established roles and responsibilities are fully embedded in these important local documents. 
C. The school committee should formally adopt procedures to investigate and sanction violations of policies or by-laws that define the roles and responsibilities of the school committee.
And then, in an open and public process, hire a new superintendent.

And yes, this may well have implications elsewhere. 

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