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.