Sunday, September 21, 2014

It’s Time

Ken O’Brien

Two years ago there was a petition circulating begging the state to take over the Southbridge School District.

I was opposed to it then.

Circumstances have changed. 

Performance results as measured by MCAS have essentially stagnated.

School choice has become a million dollar stone around taxpayer’s necks.
Unemployment insurance costs have become an additional millstone. Many of those actions have subsequently been judged to have been unjustified, resulting in additional costs. In the meantime administrative and teaching positions have become a revolving door.

In the meantime the school committee has become increasingly insulated and isolated.

Like a majority of the community I supported McLoughlin and Donovan when they ran for the committee. I publicly endorsed their candidacies.

I thought that they were bright prospects who would keep their heads down and learn the ropes.

I was wrong.

They have proven themselves to be ego-driven martinets whose control issues outweigh any ability to grasp their appropriate roles. They shield their ignorance with bluster, pandering and political maneuvering while the district burns.

Simultaneously the public has become increasingly accepting of this state of affairs.

The public input portion of school committee meetings has become virtually devoid of any criticism.

To a large extent that is the result of three factors – the co-optation of the former loudest critics of the system (special ed. parents), the silence of one of the largest populations – Hispanics, and the migration of those lucky enough to have an option through school choice.

All of these elements overshadow the negative consequences of State receivership I had previously cited.

Simply put, it is time for the State to step in and take over.

It’s experience in doing so to the benefit of a district was recently cited in an article in the Worcester Telegram:
Mr. Chester pointed to Lawrence, the state's first Level 5 district, and Revere for academic strides and for "showing that low performance is not pre-ordained."
"We're very proud of the increases we're seeing in Lawrence," Mr. Chester said, which is in its third year of state receivership. He described it as one of the lowest-performing districts in the state, where three years ago, only half of students were graduating on time and those who did were low performing.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Parthum Middle School in Lawrence on Thursday.
Mr. Chester highlighted the work of Superintendent Paul Dakin in Revere, a highly diverse, low-income district that for the first time has no schools below Level 2.
[Worcester Telegram, Saturday, September 20, 2014, “Chandler Elementary rises in MCAS ratings; Elm Park falls”]

The time has come to stop the acceptance of unsatisfactory performance.

The time has come to stop the drain on financial resources.

The time has come to stop hurting our children. 

Eliminate the amateurs, bring in the pros. 


  1. I totally agree. I have had 3 kids now go through this public school system. Not any school committee can make this turn around. My child now has multiple classes at SMHS with 35-40 students in them. With behavior problems and the amount of kids, how can a student who wants to learn, learn. Pathetic. I am so discouraged. Southbridge will NEVER have businesses on Main St., increased house values or anything else worthwhile until the school system can be repaired. PLEASE, a TAKOVER is the only option at this point. How long can the State allow this to go on?

  2. Not The State's FaultSeptember 22, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    But isn't everyone "working really, really hard?" That's all we hear from the dais each and every meeting.

    Brent and the girls had all the answers, even before they knew the questions. They promised transparency, yet we have the most secretive school committee in recent history. Buzz and the girls promised improved MCAS scores for 2014, the results speak to that broken promise. But we have all those new and improved policies (of course they pick and choose which ones they want to adhere to).

    Can the State take over and fix the Southbridge Public Schools? Well it's obvious that the "we know all" crew of Buzz, Brent and the girls have no capability to improve the plight of our students. However, we are once again looking fora quick fix, a silver bullet. That is unrealistic, as true structural change takes a logical plan, time, and consistency.

    The District Accelerated Improvement plan took Ely and the State assigned plan manager over two years to write and nearly three years to have accepted by the State. Obviously a less than accelerated plan; even less of a quality plan if you ever read it. But the State approved it, the same State bureaucrats this blog is now advocating to take over the district.

    The only people with a true vested interest in our schools are the people of Southbridge. At some point we will have to fix the problem, not the State. At some point, maybe as soon as June, we will realize that school committee seats should go to individuals that are more interested in doing the right thing, as opposed to telling others to do the right thing.

    We don't need the State to tell us where the real problems with our district exist, we only need watch and listen to a school committee meeting. Voters need to elect people of substance to our school committee, not those with cute lawn signs.

    1. I hope that you are right.
      Unfortunately, I think that those who are not apathetic have gone elsewhere.
      Those that remain are content to allow things to stumble along at the current pace.
      Just view the lack of those willing to speak out during "public input".

  3. I don't think people are unwilling to speak because they are apathetic. They have witnessed so much bullying in the last two years that they don't want to be harangued from the bullies on the School Committee or to have their children singled out in school. Remember, hell hath no fury as a woman scorned and that is how the Bobble-heads react to any challenge to their authority.

    Also, on another post in this blog, the writer said that Gardner was silently spreading disinfectant on the practices of the past on the central offices. My question is how can she cure an infection that she was a central figured in keeping it festering. They say that the best disinfectant is sunshine, but that requires transparency. And, there has been no transparency for two years.

    1. Just Sayin’ has it absolutely right. There are many of us who are trapped. We didn’t get our kids into school choice. And now we can’t, there’s nowhere for us to go. But we cant’t speak out. We know our kids will be singled out for retlliation. We have to accept the fact that our school system is failing at all levels. The state knows it. That’s why they are auditing the district. As taxpayers we share the burden of increased expenses that are a total waste of resources that should be going to improving education. Instead the money goes to those who did get out in time and paying off unemployment claims and legal fees. We need help but where can we turn. The state is our only option. They have to act, NOW.

  4. There' still a choiceSeptember 23, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    School Choice still exists Quabog still accepts students and provides transportation. Another student just went this week

  5. It has become clear that we need help. Somebody has to get off their ass and realize that fact. Our kids are being treated like third class citizens, Please help us!

  6. Same Old SouthbridgeSeptember 23, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Blame the School Committee? Why? There is SO little they have any authority to do. If the SPD received Grades, at BEST they'd get a D+. The Council gets s D for last year and a D+ so far since June.

    The WHOLE TOWN Government is underperforming, and less than one in seven voters have enough faith in the town system of things to EVEN BOTHER to vote!!! Ha. Less than two out of seven are within walking dustance to the single poll. Who came up with THAT brilliant idea?

    The schools are rotten due to a lack of money, but we want a Mercedes when we pay for a Yugo. Look at Sturbridge- we spend half of our budget on schools- Sturbridge spends around 70%. You get what you pay for. The Council doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to provide the funds because they are more interested in being g popular than getting the job done, and they know they can blame the underfunded school committee. The state will only increase the funding... Maybe the Police don't needed all those new cruisers? Maybe Town MNager's don't need to spend tens of $thousands to stop the businesses if people that dare question their bad choices?

    Suggesting that the School System needs a takeover while ignoring the SPD, the Council, the former Superbully Town Manager, the blind board of health, the single polling place in a town with so many people without cars... Ridiculous!

    1. I don't think more money will solve the problems with the schools. The school system already gets about $25M a year. The biggest problem is that we don't know what's causing our problems. There's all kinds of finger pointing by everyone involved but I don't think anyone really knows why we're in this hole. We need an unbiased third party to take a look at what's going on and come up with recommendations for how to fix what's broken and how to maintain what's working. Then we need leadership to withstand the s***storm this will provoke and put the recommendations into action.

    2. "We need an unbiased third party ..."

      anyone from the Springfield area.

    3. except Springfield


  7. Thankful I got my child out when I did! The horror stories I could tell are sickening. I can no longer defend my town to outsiders who bash it anymore.

  8. Out of respect for those that built what was once a great place to live, we should ignore our Bicentennial because it will only bring greater shame upon our community. Pray tell, what are we celebrating? You didn't see Enron throwing anniversary parties after their reality was revealed.

    How dare we spend money celebrating when we invest in a new cruiser for Chief Danny every year when we only spend half our budget on our children.

    When the Council wants to pull our keg with some ignorant plan, they live go compare us with other towns to push their agenda. Why won't the Council compare the percentage if our budget spent on our schools with our neighboring communities?

  9. Could you explain exactly how the Southbridge Schools are failing most of the students who have school choiced out if they were scoring Advanced on MCAS?

    Apparently adults in this town can't do math either. If you skim out of the high-achieving part of the group, the average of the group declines. That is certainly not the only factor. I very much agree that the SPS needs a lot of reform and even possibly State intervention. The problem is - the students who have traditionally been school choiced out DON'T NEED IT. They are successful, well-educated, and well-adjusted. They don't need school choice - they are excelling in this school system. Moving them is just WRONG. While I am actually sure that this was part of the real motivation of school choice law, I know that it violates the expressed purpose of the law. School choice is supposed to be for students struggling to get a good education, not because it's trendy to take your excelling student out of a school with a high poverty rate.

    The SPS has spent years giving these students successful, quality educations. Then in middle school, school choice to surrounding towns kills our test score averages and inflates the scores of nearby towns, removes model behavior students, and destroys any chance of funding the education of the rest of the students in town who stay. The ones who ARE failing and need all the help we can get them.

    School choice is not the right choice unless the SPS isn't working for your child. If your kid is struggling to learn, stuck in Warning or Needs Improvement on MCAS... then school choice is right for you. School Choice should not be a vehicle for white flight. It should be an opportunity for kids who aren't getting a good education to leave. I've seen the test scores of several years of school choice students... mostly they were not struggling to achieve. (A few of them were - and school choice was right for them.) Mostly they were on the fast track to scholastic achievement. How did they get there? Where could they possibly have picked up those academic skills? Where did these awesome students go to school?

    Oh, right. Southbridge.

    1. If you take a look at the eight year comparisons, you'll see that the Needs Improvement and Failing categories in all areas don't support your claims.


All comments subject to moderation. All commenters must use their own name or a screen name. No comments labelled as "Anonymous" will be published. To use your name or a screen name select "Name/URL" from the drop down menu. Insert you name in the "Name" space and leave the "URL" space blank.