Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Telegram Opinion Piece Targets Southbridge Schools

The following article appeared in today's (January 13) Opinion section of the Worcester Telegram.

A system in turmoil

The public schools in Southbridge face more than enough challenges for any system, including a need to raise academic achievement and help many of their students find stability and direction. The last thing the town needs is instability in school administration. Unfortunately, that has been the case for years. 

Meeting in emergency session last Wednesday night, the Southbridge School Committee accepted the immediate resignation of Patricia Gardner, who had been superintendent for less than a year, and was the target of complaints from system employees over what has been called "a serious account of unprofessional behavior." 
Ms. Gardner's departure was just the latest problem for a system where politics seems to reign over accountability.

At a meeting last June, the school board noted that no Southbridge school superintendent had been evaluated in the previous five years. 

Months earlier, in late 2013, then-superintendent Basan Nembirkow had overseen a shake-up in the leadership of several of the system's schools, as the town sought to attract and retain principals committed to long-term stints. 

There was a need then, according to School Committee chairwoman Lauren C. McLoughlin, to address a decade of underperformance, with serious operational deficiencies, including financial procedures. 

Ms. McLoughlin had taken the helm of the committee just weeks earlier from Patricia Woodruff, who quit in October 2013, saying politics had overtaken the school board, and urging her colleagues to refocus efforts on education and children. 

Throughout these changes, there has been an unwillingness or inability of school officials to respond to inquiries from the media with much openness. 

No doubt many good things go on in some Southbridge classrooms No doubt many administrators do a good job. 

But it's very difficult to prove any of that by results. Southbridge students are failing MCAS tests at rates above state averages, in nearly every grade and subject area, going back at least a decade. 

Matters are particularly serious in eighth-grade math and science, where half or more of students are often failing. 

Overall, the Southbridge system remains in need of state intervention. But numbers are only part of the story. Chaos and conflict evident on the surface usually indicate more serious problems within. 

We don't know the exact prescription for Southbridge's education troubles. But change needs to start at the top, with an emphasis on professionalism and openness, and individuals able to put politics and personalities aside in order to focus on the education of children. 


  1. Donovan and McLoughlin Must Go - NOWJanuary 13, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    It took two and a half years for McLoughlin and Donovan, and let's not forget Donovan, to bring the district to unprecedented lows in performance. One of their very first decisions was to move from two veteran principals of their new 75 million dollar high school to one non-certified, zero-experienced, principal (she lasted five months). This decision was implemented less than 30 days before the new school opened and was the first of a plethora of reprehensible administrative appointments

    Since their election, Lauren McLoughlin and Kara Donovan have ignored acceptable established hiring protocols. They have seldom established search committee for key leadership positions. On the rare occasion that a search committee is actually established, their recommendations are dismissed. Such was the case with the latest principal of the new middle/high school. After a search committee consisting of many stakeholders recommended three finalists to serve as the sixth principal in two years, a candidate that was interviewed, and not recommended as a finalist, was selected to lead the school. A candidate that lacked any administrative at these grade levels.

    Throughout their two and a half years on our school committee these individuals have also initiated a systemic pattern of secrecy and deception. They have attempted to silence their critics, and that group grows exponentially daily, through changes to the "Public Input" portion of their meetings. Too many of their meetings are held at the old high school and posted at the last legal minute, preventing local cable TV airing. These meetings rarely are posted on the district website, rather on a tiny bulletin board in the lobby of the town hall.

    I urge every citizen to demand a more openness from our public officials, especially this secret school committee. Demonstrate your dissatisfaction with these two committee members in June, throw them out of office.

  2. The Obvious is Ignored. Why?January 13, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    Our town believed in the Jovan school committee and built a state-of-the-art high school and middle school - two separate schools under one roof. This was a eight year venture with a 21st century building opening in August of 2012.

    Included in this building are 8 to 10 top notch science labs that surpass those of many colleges. They were equipped with the latest in science education hardware. However, apparently the textbooks for many of these science classes never made it from the old high school to the new one, even though they were practically new. OK, we all loose things when we move. But this school committee has done nothing to replace these books since the school opened in August 2012. Why?

    However, the Telegram cited Grade 8 science scores as dismal. They have been for years. Yet the Grade 8 science teacher, the long time teachers' union president, remains in the classroom. It's well known that he spent considerable school time doing union business. Is it any wonder why the student scores are so poor. What's more disturbing is why administration has failed to make changes to improve these scores? Grade 8 science has a long standing, well documented unsatisfactory performance level.

    It's funny that the Telegram recognizes the failure of Grade 8 science, why can't our scool leaders see it?

  3. Give the teacher's union leader a break, do you have any idea how much he has done for the Pension Fund by serving on the board of health? He risks conflict of interest charges by being dormant on that board, especially after the quarter million dollar fine that the DEP had to render due to the board if health sitting on their hands.

    When you look the other way and your own union's pension fund gets recharged after years of neglect, it doesn't only help the teachers, and it doesn't only help the town employees, it saves the town from great embarrassment trying to explain the pension fund shortfall.

    Those eight graders have four more years to learn science. And if their parents taxes go up to cover the pension problems, they might not be able to afford college.

    Not unlike Doctor O'Leary who served on both the board of health and school committee, that Union President deserves a pat on the back, not criticism.

  4. No one cares anymoreJanuary 13, 2015 at 6:47 PM

    Just plain tired of the same old, same old. Ask my daughter - in one of her classes, a teen mom brought her new baby today! Took up a whole class talking about childbirth instead of the subject at hand. These kinds of interruptions are a daily occurrence. How about an AP teacher quitting in the middle of the school year? (doesn't really matter though...from my understanding her getting students to pass the exam are slim to none). Lots of teacher absences this year, the rants can go on an on.... As a parent, I am so mad at myself for not doing school choice long ago. I am so worried my daughter will NOT be ready for college. I've tried being involved but no one really wants parental input. I fear State takeover is our only option at this point.

    1. Who, what administrator(s) approved this stupid move? I can only imagine Bishop's reaction to this request!

    2. Just read the Telegram editorial. How embarrassing! Kara and Lauren should resign. They have brought our kids eduction down to a point of no return.

  5. Can You Hear People?January 13, 2015 at 11:09 PM

    Wow, the Worcester Telegram editor knows how bad the school committee is. Someone needs to tell the school committee. I think they can read the editorial. I hope they can comprehend it.

  6. Dismal Graduation RateJanuary 27, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    Today's Telegram had the state graduation rates posted. Southbridge dipped from 84.4% to 69.6%, a 15% decline. Further evidence of the failure of this school department's leadership.


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