Apparently the results of last year’s town election are perceived by some as failing to provide a mandate when it comes to the conduct of the Southbridge school committee.
Despite the fact that the two candidates who were elected achieved that goal by a better than two to one margin over their next nearest competition, efforts at a counter-revolution persist.
This was clearly in evidence at last night’s school committee meeting.
Followers of The O’Zone who read last Saturday’s article “No Holiday For Southbridge School Politics” and then watched last night’s meeting must have experienced a profound feeling of déjà vu.
The meeting was rife with factional division. The “temporary acting superintendent” was effusive with self-praise during his Report of the Superintendent. The same person was uncharacteristically unprepared when it came to the Report of the Director of Finance & Operations.
Repeated shots were taken at the suspended Superintendent, the Middle/High School Principal, and the current leadership of the school committee. Simultaneously, the minority was unsparing in its praise for the current “temporary acting superintendent”. All of these elements are in keeping with the speculation laid out in the above cited article.
What’s apparent to me is that the minority is convinced that these goals and tactics will win back the voters who turned against them in the last election. As long as they cling to this conviction, I fear that we will continue to have a profoundly dysfunctional situation with the minority simultaneously seeking to restore the status quo ante as well as to convince the voting public that they were mistaken last time around.
Changing gears, but somewhat within the same domain, is a subject that came up last night during the discussion about “interventionists”.
Pamela Abate, who the Worcester Telegram describes as “[heading] the math departments at both the middle and high school levels” spoke to the issue. In the course of her exposition, she remarked that these interventionists were needed because so many students move into a given grade level without mastering essential subject matter from the prior grade level.
This is a matter about which I am sorely vexed.
From what I have been able to gather, the whole educational system has become so fixated upon the socialization function that it has taken a back seat to the educational function. Nowhere is this more pronounced than the prevailing attitude toward what is termed “retention”, what we used to call being held back.
Ms. Abate made direct reference to the phenomenon of “social promotion” where a student is promoted to the next grade level despite being unable to fulfill the academic requirements of their current grade level. Remedying this situation is the primary justification for the hiring of such interventionists.
My inquiries have revealed that this is a subject that has undergone dramatic change over the last several decades. The former superintendent, Dr. Dale Hanley was, I am told, a strong opponent of retention.
Perhaps my views are antediluvian, but I am convinced that a decades-long relaxation in academic standards through an ever increasing tendency toward social promotion may have more to do with the decline in educational performance than any other single factor.
What motivation is there for marginal or under-achievers to invest serious effort when they know that they will be advanced with no stigma of being held back if they do not perform? Further, to what extent are those we perceive as over-achievers actually such when the bar is lowered in this way? What potential damage is done to their psyche when they graduate and are confronted by an environment where the standards for excelling are far more stringent?
I think that this is a subject that warrants a thorough airing. It may explain a lot of why our educational system is failing – because of the unwillingness to deal with failure realistically. If we don’t accept that students can and do fail, then the blame will always be put elsewhere and the answer will always end up being to increase assessment models, personnel, tools and, ultimately, financial resources.
It also brings me back to wondering how we can have such sub-standard results in MCAS scores in lower grades while the high school manages to achieve a level I status. We have yet to receive any kind of cogent explanation of how this can be.