Letter of Interest
When my wife and I moved to Southbridge in 2000, we had a newborn daughter, Grace. At the time that we moved in, we were told that the schools were experiencing problems, but not having to worry about sending our daughter, and then our son, Jack, to school right away, we figured that by the time the choice came to send them to Southbridge High School, that our schools would be in a higher tier of educational excellence.
We weren’t worried about elementary or middle schools, as we had made the decision before we had children that we wanted them to experience a Catholic School Education, and we were fortunate to live in Southbridge, where Trinity Catholic Academy helped us to achieve that goal.
Last year, however, when my daughter graduated from Trinity, we were presented with many choices: send her to Southbridge High School, invoke school choice and send her to another area school, both options covered by our taxes, or, send her to a private Catholic High School at an additional expense. While I’m not thrilled to be paying for a public school education that goes unused, and a private school education, my belief is that after evaluating all of our choices, sending her to Holy Name High School was the best choice for her.
I’m fortunate that I’m able to earn extra money to pay for that education. I view education as the most fundamental choice a parent can make in order to try and ensure that their children have the opportunities to do better than their parents did. In looking at Southbridge High School, we watched as a system that was in disarray seemingly got worse. That doesn’t mean that some students don’t excel at SHS—they do, but the atmosphere, the constant transition of key individuals, the scores that the school achieved, the disrespect among some students that think that they’re in charge of the school, were not part of some social experiment that I wanted to make my daughter a part of.
I have spent the last thirteen years working in the Human Capital/Talent Management Software arena, as a sales consultant with Fortune 1000 companies. We provide software, which includes tools for learning and development, or education of, employees. The approach to learning with adults is similar to that of young students: find different modalities to help to ensure that people who learn differently can compete as equally as possible with the high-potential learners, and level the playing field so that all people have the chance to excel.
The latter is what I believe personally has played a large part of the problem with the educational system in Southbridge, but there are other problems that add to the mix: lack of support of the teachers, by some parents and administrators; not enough emphasis on ensuring that disruptive students who have proven that they don’t want to learn are no longer part of the system; no consistent enforcement of rules and regulations…if you have rules and regulations that aren’t enforced, there is no point in having them to begin with; and finally, an attitude that Southbridge schools, at any level, can’t compete with the best schools in the state with a change in the approach of teaching, the support of teachers, the proper curriculum, and dropping the emphasis of why we can’t to how we can. This last point is one that can be changed, but it will take time, it will take support of those in charge, and, as a paradigm shift, it will take teachers, administrators, students, and parents alike to understand that we have to change the approach, or no change for the better can even transpire.
Too much time and effort has been put into blaming others, past and present. While it is essential to know from the past what mistakes to avoid, and what successes to emulate, we need to have a new focus on the here and now. What will it take to move Southbridge from an underperforming school district to an over-performing school district? While people worry about the effects of school choice on Southbridge, what they’re missing out on is the simple fact that people that are part of a system that is excelling are not looking to go to other schools. When people with school age children look to move to town, the performance of the school district is a key part of that decision. In 15 years, I saw little improvement; rather, I saw the reputation of our schools move further down the scale.
We have an opportunity, as a town, and as a School Committee, to make a difference, but those differences can’t, and won’t occur, if we’re constantly living in the past. We need to have a vision of who we can find that are the best managers of the schools, a way to re-energize those teachers who have been made to feel as if the work they’ve done has gone unappreciated, and confirm to those students that truly desire an excellent education that they will receive it, and that those that don’t, although entitled to an education, aren’t guaranteed one if they don’t play by the rules. I’m a believer that something as simple as a basic uniform (Dockers and a polo shirt, for example, which cost less than the outfits being worn currently), help to take away the distractions from school, and a certain amount of bullying that takes place. The students who want to learn know who is in charge; those that don’t, don’t understand that it’s the faculty, and leveling the playing field in this manner helps to put the focus on what’s being taught, not who’s wearing what.
It is my hope that Southbridge stops the system of selecting people who will go with the majority on everything. Having a voice in the middle allows for, or should allow for, passionate debate, a flow of ideas that are well thought out, and allows for people to see and hear all sides of all issues. Votes should not be made in advance of hearing input, whether from School Committee Members, or from the people of the town, no matter who the people are, or what they have to say, with all parties staying within the guidelines. Transparency has been talked about much in this town…I sincerely hope that the School Committee will take that first step in showing how a transparent body should, and can, operate.
I graduated magna cum laude with a BSBA from Eastern Nazarene College, and I’m finishing up my Masters in International Business with a concentration on Social Media Marketing from Southern New Hampshire University (Spring of 2016, on track for summa cum laude). I served on the Charter Review Committee in 2009. I belong to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Northeast Human Resources Association, the Society for Human Resource Management, the National Society of Leadership and Success (Sigma Alpha Pi), and the International Honor Society in Business (Delta Mu Delta).
Dennis J. Martinek