Friday, December 18, 2015

DESE Solicits Bids For Receivership Of Southbridge Schools

The Worcester Telegram reports that the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has issued a bulletin calling for bids from individuals and nonprofit groups interested in serving as a receiver for Southbridge schools.

"This BID is designed to select an individual or nonprofit organization to serve as the receiver of the Southbridge Public Schools, should the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education vote to designate the district as Level 5,” the bulletin said. 

The bids are to be submitted by February 1.

This does not indicate that a decision on Southbridge’s status has been made.

According to the Telegram:
The commissioner hasn’t made a recommendation or said if or when he will do so, said Jacqueline Reis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
If the commissioner recommends receivership, the state board would hold a public hearing in Southbridge to hear from district officials and others before voting. In Massachusetts, "turnaround receivers" are individuals or nonprofit organizations that offer improvement services to manage and operate chronically underperforming school districts, according to the state website.
It is unknown for how long the uncertainty would hover over Southbridge.

Southbridge School Superintendent Timothy P. Connors said he had not seen the request for proposals. After a reporter read the RFP summary to him, the Telegram quotes Mr. Connors as saying:
"The most important thing in that whole thing is 'should.' They haven’t done it; it means nothing. I don’t know if they put them out for others. But what I would take it to mean is that they’re just putting their ducks in a row, if in the future they need to have somebody to act as a receiver, they would have that person in place. But there’s a whole host of other things that they would have to go through.... I believe we shouldn’t be going into Level 5, period. And until such time as we’re clear about what that means, I’m going to assume we’re moving forward. I’m optimistic that we’re doing those things that are going to keep us in the status that we have now, until such time as the board makes a decision that we should move in a positive way, or not."


  1. I understand Dr. Page's frustration. We've had a parade of specialists and consultants pass through town in the past 12 years, many recommended by the state, with nothing to show for it. The state has supposedly been monitoring our progress. How did things go from bad to worse with all these experts helping us? This suggests to me that even if the state takes over there will probably be no progress because no one in authority actually cares. Southbridge is a paycheck and maybe a stepping stone to a better job someplace else. The school committee should be given one chance to make things right. Pick the right superintendent. Pick someone with real experience working in a district like ours and pick someone who will make a commitment to stay in the job no matter what other opportunities may come their way. If they blow this opportunity, let the state take a crack at cleaning up this mess.

    1. Rich:
      I thank you for your comment, but I have to respectfully disagree.
      The very fact that this record of underperformance has gone on for twelve plus years indicates to me that the state has been remarkably tolerant. While I have opposed a state takeover in the past, I feel that the time has come to give an alternative authority the chance to demonstrate its capacity to effect change. Another fact mentioned at Tuesday’s DESE Board of Directors meeting was that four state supervised schools were emerging from Level IV status.
      I know that you are well aware that the ongoing situation with our schools has numerous ancillary economic consequences, not the least of which is the valuation of local property. The continuing devaluation of local property alone accelerates the decline in the schools by increasing the proportion of lower income groups in the community and the attendant socio-economic consequences. I feel that a state takeover is necessary to help break this pattern.
      Having said that, receivership alone will not constitute a solution to all of our problems. It is, however, a necessary first step in recovering from not merely years but decades of mismanagement and shortsightedness.

  2. Save our Schools --SOSDecember 19, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    The state has not taken over Southbridge schools because it does not have the answer. However, I do agree that too many people have used this district as a paycheck, a laboratory for their PhD's, and a stepping stone to better things. The state should split the district in two and send the middle / high school students to Tantasqua and Dudley Charlton. This would allow for our students to attend and graduate from school's that do not have the stigma (deserved or not) of the Southbridge Public Schools.

    And for those who blindly stand the ancient and holy traditions of Southbridge .... Well times change and traditions evolve over time. Trying to keep the school's as you knew them a long time ago and turning a your back on the how both the town and education have changed is the cancer that must be eradicated from the body politic of Southbridge.

    1. I don't know if the state has the authority to compel Tantasqua or Dudley/Charlton to accept our students. When I was on the school committee many years ago, I asked the superintendent of Tantasqua what it would take for Southbridge to join the towns that can send their kids to that school. I was told it was very unlikely that this would happen because the towns would have to vote to accept our students and, given Southbridge's reputation, the vote probably wouldn't go our way. If the state doesn't have the power to compel another district to accept our students I think your solution is unworkable.

    2. Save our Schools --SOSDecember 21, 2015 at 7:10 AM

      That would be right if it were just an inter-town type of agreement. I think that the state could force it through the legislature or executive order stating the best interests of the students. They could also use an unfunded mandate saying that this either gets done or all communities involved lose all state funding until it is.

    3. Those schools do not have the room to fit our students.

  3. The T&G article says “a search committee met Wednesday to review and discuss applicants for its next superintendent, said School Committee member Jill Congdon, chairwoman of the search panel.
    Sixteen applications were received and six of them have been invited to interview Jan. 4-6 in executive session, Ms. Congdon said.
    On Dec. 21, the search committee will meet to discuss interview protocols and develop questions for the initial screening of candidates.
    Site visits are planned for Jan. 11-15. Final interviews and a school and community meet-and-greet of finalists are planned for Jan. 19-22.
    The Jan. 26 School Committee meeting has been targeted for a selection of a superintendent.”

    This doesn’t sound like the partnership that Lazo talked about. It sounds like an attempt to act before the state can. It will be interesting to see if any of those candidates (other than maybe Stanton) remain after they hear about this bid request.

    1. It's interesting that January 26 is also the date of the next DESE Board meeting.

  4. This is what receivership for Southbridge will probably look like . . .

    People employed by the district will probably be interested in Appendix A:
    "Change policies and union contracts, including collective bargaining agreements: Certain immediate changes to the district’s policies, union contracts (including collective bargaining agreements), and working conditions are necessary to achieve the goals of the turnaround plan. The Receiver must also have the ability to address issues as they arise, including making additional changes to collective bargaining agreements to maximize the rapid improvement of the academic performance of Holyoke students. Appendix A contains changes that will take effect as of the date of the release of the turnaround plan and must be incorporated into future collective bargaining agreements."

    Appendix A contains the following:
    Teachers and other professional staff shall devote whatever time is required to achieve and maintain high-quality education in the Holyoke Public Schools. For example, unless formally excused, teachers and other professional staff shall participate in all regular school functions during or outside of the normal school day, including faculty meetings, parent conferences, department meetings, curriculum meetings, graduations, and other similar activities. Teachers will also be afforded regular preparatory time during their work week. Such preparatory time may include common planning periods and professional development."

  5. Why is this so-called "search" being done without any professional consultant?


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