Thursday, September 2, 2021

My remarks on tonight’s vote

First, Mr. Chair, I need to deal with a procedural matter. I want to be very public about my declaration of not having a conflict of interest under M.G.L. c. 268A, § 20(b) in this superintendent search. My employer, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, does conduct superintendent searches, but as noted in the memo I am filing with the Clerk this evening, MASC as a matter of policy will not respond to requests for proposals for superintendent searches published by districts on which a current staff member serves. This is deliberate, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and to ensure that school committee members can fully participate in their role as a member. 

I will this evening address the item before us. I have, in prior meetings, particularly in evaluations, addressed the performance of the current administration, as is our responsibility. I will continue to do so. That is, however, not the matter before us in this item.

I first think it’s important to note that this is our job. School Committees in Massachusetts under MGL Ch. 71, §37 are described as having four core responsibilities, one of which is “to select and terminate the superintendent.” This is not the job of interest groups, of business interests, of non-profit entities…it is the job of the Worcester School Committee, period. I intend, and I believe my colleagues intend, to do our job, as it is our job to do. 

It is the governance of the school committee that determines the direction of the district. I have heard it said that the superintendent is a reflection of the school committee. In selecting the superintendent, the school committee expresses a set of values and communicates the level of professionalism the committee expects of its employees. It ultimately also determines the quality of the education the district delivers to students. 

Second, the most important thing that any committee needs to do in conducting a superintendent search is tell the truth to their community. If they intend to appoint an internal candidate, they should say so. If they are going to do a full, inclusive national search, then they have the responsibility to not only say so, but to do so.

The Worcester School Committee will conduct a full, inclusive national search, period. 

What that means is the following, as much as it may disappoint the city rumor mill: 

The person who will be the next permanent superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools has not already been selected. I am telling you now, regardless of what you heard at the gym, at the grocery store, or in the Facebook comment section: that hasn’t happened.

Those who work for the Worcester Public Schools do not have an advantage in applying for this position. There is not, there will not be, a guarantee that those who work for the district will be forwarded in any fashion that is an exception to the rest. 

The above, incidentally, is also true of those who work for the larger City of Worcester, in any capacity. 

So much for what the Committee will not do. 

What it will do is the following: 

Conduct a fully comprehensive, inclusive public input process, as the item says. That means that all voices, particularly those of our students, our families, and our educators are involved very early in determining the needs of the district in the next superintendent. 

That means, Mr. Chair, that our input needs to be multilingual with interpreters and translators. It needs to be accessible by public transit and accessible to those with disabilities. It needs to be in different locations, not all schools, and at different times of day. It needs to involve childcare. It needs to go far far beyond any outreach that this district has done anytime in the recent past. It is absolutely incumbent on this Committee to ensure that this happens with this search, alongside whatever search firm is hired. 

Elevate marginalized voices. That means that those who have our cell numbers or who inhabit the Zoom sessions we most frequent do not have the ear of the School Committee more than those whose lives are most impacted by the decision we are about to make. I want to hear more from, and I want to prioritize the values and needs of, any elementary English learner in the district over anyone who works downtown in a tie. 

I also expect our ultimate choice will be reflective of that perspective. 

Conduct an actual national search. Worcester is one of the very largest districts in Massachusetts. We do not have points of comparison in this state. We have 25,000 students; we have nearly 5,000 employees.

This means, at ground, the first thing we are is a very large organization. Not just anyone successfully can run an organization that large. It takes training. It takes experience. It takes, as much as education often seems allergic to the word, an administrator. 

Does that mean we don’t want an educator? No. But it does mean that not just any teacher, not just any educational administrator can do this job. 

And let me very clear about my own perspective on this: it has been abundantly clear to me how much talent and experience this district has hemorrhaged over the past six years. 

We do not, in my view, have anyone currently employed in this district that has the level of experience, talent, perspective, and skillset to become the next permanent superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools. 

Draw on the experience of the current Committee while embracing the next Committee’s perspective. One of the smart choices being made here is timing. This timeline allows for the current Committee, including the experience of Mr. Monfredo and of Mr. Foley, to set the position description under which the search will take place. It then turns to the actual hiring, after the work of the search committee, being done by next term’s Committee, which we know will include at least two new members. 

This embraces the strengths in both directions. This is a wise decision, Mr. Chair. 

Finally, Mr. Chair, I want to say how very much hope, in this fifteenth year of my being a Worcester Public School parent, this vote tonight gives me. Superintendent searches are about looking forward to the future, something very much in line with what public education is about. They are about what matters most to our children.

I hope, will put my effort towards, and will vote in favor tonight of a comprehensive, inclusive public process driving a national search that results in the next superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools who will well serve our students and our city.

The Committee voted 6-1 (Monfredo opposing) to decline to renew Superintendent Binienda's contract to move forward with a national search. Mayor Petty appointed Ms. McCullough to chair the search committee, with Miss Biancheria and myself serving as the other two School Committee members. We are to report back with a timeline and an RFP for the meeting on September 23. 

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