Thursday, April 10, 2014

Southbridge Schools: A Cyber Forum

Ken O’Brien

The state of the Southbridge school district has been a topic of controversy for well over a decade.

However, as far as this site and the present administration are concerned, the current controversy reached a peak when we reported on the departure of Amy Allen as principal of Southbridge Middle/High School.

Since then The O’Zone’s traffic and level of reader’s comments has been unprecedented. 

Rather than serving as a sounding board for the outraged, I would like to see this site serve as an honest forum to address the issues.

Some want to stay the course. Some want the State to take over. Others want former School Committee members to return.

There is currently another issue in the town that would return us to a Town Meeting form of government.

Let’s see if that concept can work in a virtual world.

Let’s try moving past the bitchin’ pissin’ and moanin’. What do you think can be done to make things better? Or, conversely, do you think that the current Administration is making things better and is just getting a bad rap from the losers to necessary change? Or is there another, better, path?

I am open to making this a forum for people who want to make changes for the better. If there is any merit to the Town Meeting proposition, then this can be an illustration that it can work. Additionally, unlike an open Town Meeting, you can maintain anonymity.

I would make only two requests.

One, keep it civil. Either make a positive suggestion or explain why the approach proposed by another is inadequate.

Two, when making your comment, please choose a screen name. I know it’s really simple to click on anonymous. But if you choose Name/URL you can put a screen name in “Name” and leave URL blank. This will facilitate a real exchange by allowing readers to know who to respond to as well as who commenters may be responding to. It’s really not that complicated guys.

I look forward to the results of this experiment.


  1. I would to like to introduce the for profit education management organization concept .
    AKA- EMO.
    What we are doing over and over again is the definition of insanity. Replace the head of the organization only to hear over and over again. " We don't know how many people work here, We have no systems in place, We waste money in.........blah blah blah."
    Of course each new person says they fixed these issues and when their replacement comes in it is deja-vu all over again. So why continue this? why not try something new?

    Education management organizations bring the private into the public. here is an interesting introduction article -
    Imagine if you an entire central office staff working for the price of one superintendent.
    if One person is out sick, on vacation or on medical leave there are others already there to pick up the ball and run with it.
    The cons are that they treat teachers roughly so... how would that be any different?
    We could always wait for the next state approved candidate to FIX Southbridge or we can try to fix it with a different model. Noneducational professional well meaning types have failed here over and over again so lets go EMO. .
    Ok have at it.

    1. After reading the referenced article my first question would be, “How is this model any different from that which lies behind the privatization of prisons?” The follow up question would then be, “What basis is there for believing that it would be any more successful?”

    2. Check out how this "worked" in Hartford. Private contractor bailed after two years of a five year contract. Let's not repeat these mistakes. We continue to look for a quick fix to a long standing problem - indifference by the populous.

      Proof of this indifference can be seen from the number of "qualified" applicants. We continue to elect unqualified individuals with nothing to bring to the table, or worse, a private agenda.

      The entire concept of elected school committees to govern the most important part of a civilization, except the defence of that civilization, is wrong

    3. There is no guarantee that it will be successful but what we are doing now doesn’t offer a guarantee either!
      The advantages of scaling up resources, using private business which we are already doing with outside companies , and support from a large scale organization capable of running hundreds of school systems is intriguing.
      Finding the correct fit and negating a good contract for Southbridge would ultimately determine if this would be successful or not.
      The question remains if not this then what else because our current management system is severely broken and most of it is out on medical leave.

  2. As I read The News coverage regarding hiring four new principals, I thought it odd that we have 1 principal for what averages two grades ( if you recall, that was now our schools were structured) and one principal for seven grades. Additionally, the MHS principal ten fold the post school commitments.

    Our schools have definite flaw in principal deployment. Why this came to is well known, and of little value in this discussion.

    A first major change for the district would be for a return to a high school and middle principal. Mr. Nembirkow stated openly at a committee meeting that this was what was needed. He apparently was told to alter that thought.

    It's high time to move on. SC members need to admit this sizable gaff and correct it. Never mind hiring another central office position ( new SIMS clerk advertised yesterday) return to two principals.

    While realizing this may impact pending litigation, it's time the right thing for our secondary students and staff.

  3. Thanks for the comments. However, I will repeat my request that you choose a screen name. Thank you. (See post above if you don't know how.)

  4. All planning should probably be put on hold for a little bit. Amy Allen on medical leave + Buzz on medical leave = leaks/knowledge on their part that the state IS coming in to take over. When the state takes over, the administration is usually terminated. However if they are on medical leave, there may be an exemption. That gives them paid leave while everyone else gets canned. When did Buzz go from $500 per day to. $155,000 salaried and benefit position? Who voted on that? When was that authorized! By whom? Ironically, soon after he swindled that deal, he is out on medical leave. Also, he suggests that Pat Gardner is the acting Superintendent and the School Committee approves. This was probably their plan all along and everyone goes along with it like either 1) a bunch of suckers or 2) a community that doesn't care. Which is it?

    1. Thanks Luke. Buzz got the contract last June when he decided to stay on. It was voted by the SC.

    2. Isn't that the same scam Carlisle used, come on as interim and then move to full time?

    3. The school committee voted in a former high school principal without any district experience and in turn she brings in "Little Springfield/Turners Falls" wanna bes. Has anyone checked her/their background? Gardner and her crew walk around like they own the place. Oh wait, they do. Southbridge teachers look out! She's hell on wheels. Another bad judgement call by Buzz. Remember Amy? Roland? Sarah? Pam? And the sc continues to be led around by people who could care less about Southbridge, They are looking to boost their resumes. Could be wrong, and the scary thing is I could be right.

  5. Okay, no more Mr. nice guy. No screen name, no comment.

  6. When I was on the school committee, there was a lot of mistrust between the teachers and the administration. At least that's the sense I got from talking to a few teachers, reading letters in the newspaper and reading the local blogs. The administration, for it's part, didn't think a group of people who weren't "education professionals" were really capable of administering the district. The department of education didn't show any real interest in the district. Things haven't changed much in 8 years.

    I heard from several teachers that the districts problems were caused by the latino kids who didn't grow up in Southbridge. The administration cited a clique of long time teachers who opposed any kind of change as the source of our problems. Everyone blamed the parents for not getting more involved in the schools.

    I've been reading a report written by McKinsey & Company titled "How the worlds most improved school systems keep getting better". You can google the title and get a copy. The report documents some common characteristics of schools that manage to go from underperforming to superior. Two of the most important characteristics are a strong leader and lasting local political support. I think we lack both of these key ingrediants.

    This isn't a dig at administrations past or present. I think we've picked people who aren't suited to the situation in Southbridge. We need a superintendent who is both capable and charismatic. To date, we've been short in the charisma department. If we don't hire someone people want to be around, someone capable of building support inside and outside the school, someone people enjoy working with then I'm not sure we're going to be able to overcome the mistrust that seems to be dominating the conversation between the community and the schools.

    I also think we need to line up behind the school committee. Maybe you don't like some of the members personally but they're all we've got. Concentrating on all the drama doesn't solve any problems, makes people defensive and obscures the real issues. Giving the school committee your support might be hard to do, it might even make some people throw up, but comunity support of the politcal leaders of the district is neccessary for a turn around. And while you're holding your tongue, try and identify capable, passionate people and encourage them to run in the next election.

    1. Rich:
      Welcome back and thank you for another of your usual thoughtful and well-informed comments.

      I may not agree with everything you say, but I am grateful for the manner in which you have said it.

  7. Why can't we allow We the Students to fire the worst teachers every year-let's say the worst 3%? We can each pIck one teacher along with the reason why. The School Committee and the Union President can read the results and decide who has to go.

    It is nice to employ people but if we are going to have a jobs program it is not unfair to dump the dead weight so there is less money spent, or maybe money for a jobs program for teenagers in the summer to teach work ethics.

    Probably after just one year the parents and School Committe will want to allow us to pick 5% of the dead weight. I can almost guaranty that getting rid of the worst 3% of the teachers will do more for our grades than dumping the worst 5% of the students. The way the teachers bully some kids they are scaring away lots of kids already, bad students and good students alike.

    When the Town Manager that lived in Sturbridge was about to leave he said he was proud of himself for not laying anyone off during the great recession, but why was he proud when the people that have to pay the bills get stuck with the bills? Although I only go to town hall a few times a year, one thing I noticed is that most of the so called workers there are like kids caving recess. They talk and joke around most of the time. Maybe they do their jobs good when they actually work, but can't we cut their hours like 10% to save the taxpayers money?

  8. High school students are certainly not mature enough to choose teachers to fire however I do feel their opinions are valuable. A good high school administrator would involve students in critical decisions and seek opinions on teahers effectiveness but to be honest, is doesn't take a scholar to recognize when a teacher needs help. Southbridge teachers are scared to ask for assistance of any kind. Most teach their classes and just spend their free times hiding in their rooms. When you walk in the door of the middle / High school you can sense everyone is miserable.

    1. Why are the teachers scared to ask for assistance? I thought the schools had been organized so that teachers would share and learn from each others experience.

  9. Having stopped by the Dark Horse Pub on Thursday after work for a bite to eat, I came upon a going-away get together for Mr. Hoffman from the middle school. Mr. Hoffman is my seven grade son's guidance counselor, one of those guidance counselors who was attacked so viciously by school committee members a couple meetings ago. Eavesdropping, I heard that he has taken a position in Spencer. Good luck to him, but he will be very much missed.

    So with Mr. Hoffman gone and having not replaced Mrs. Dargie, that leaves only two guidance counselors for 1100 students. Really! If the school committee thought students did not have access to counselors, it gets even worse.

    At the same time I observed an advertisement for yet another "new" position at central office, SIMS Clerk. When is enough - enough? Well for a lot of us, it's enough!

    I also noticed the principal who is out on extended "sick" leave in attendance. Glad to hear Mrs. Allen is feeling better.


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