Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dianne Williamson: A view from the Southbridge educational trenches

Kelly Landine is a gifted, devoted teacher at Southbridge High School, deemed so troubled and chaotic that it's at risk of a state takeover.

I've known her for years and once sat in on an English class she taught at Quinsigamond Community College. I was awed by her ease in the classroom and her connection to the kids, many of them minority students. She made them laugh and made learning fun, and it was clear they adored her.

Landine graduated from Southbridge High in 1991 and said she was "ecstatic" when she was hired to teach at her alma mater in 2003, only to be laid off twice in one year due to budget cuts. Her last pink slip came when her newborn was in an intensive-care unit and her mother was on hospice. She later accepted a job at QCC and taught there for 10 years.

"But I still felt the huge pull to come back to SHS," she said. "There is something special about the kids in this town. I wanted to become a teacher because of the teachers I had in this district."

She was rehired to teach at Southbridge this fall. Recently, the state released a scathing assessment of a school district in which 72 percent of students fall into the "high needs" categories of English language learners, poor, or disabled. The 100-plus-page report found problems everywhere - in leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional development, student support and financial management.

Landine is frustrated, so much so that she wants to go public and cork off. It's instructive to hear from a caring teacher on the front lines, and here's what she says:
"I was back at SHS for two weeks when I quickly realized this isn't the SHS of 2003 and certainly not 1991. I started to assess our main issues. Issues so huge that I don't want to hear about MCAS scores. I was back less than 70 days when our designated state monitor spent six minutes in my Honors English class. The students were their usual brilliant, articulate selves, making poignant connections to the savage (January) bombing in France to the savage behavior in "Lord of the Flies." Did that get reported out? Nope. What came out of this six-minute observance? The state monitor essentially called me a racist teacher. Why? I spent apparently 3.4 seconds longer on the side of my classroom that has 3.4 more white kids. Me. The girl who grew up in town. Me, who has had a long-term Hispanic partner.

"This state monitor has been at SHS years to watch over us. In six minutes she decided I was racist, but she can't report back that the problem at SHS is we need Student Support Services? She can't figure out that MCAS scores don't matter when we have kids who get kicked out of home and are living in a car, or think they are pregnant or got reamed out again by a mom higher than a kite? She can't realize we need an alternative school to remove the 24 kids who can't handle school right now? These kids are so off the wall they are ruining the learning environment. I have a room with 24 kids. Most have outdated 'sped' plans, three don't speak English. We have no English language learner director. What am I supposed to do to help these kids? MCAS scores? They can't even sit still for five seconds.

"The report at times is designed to tear us down. Specifically, it states that a Grade 10 ELA teacher told students that, "Spelling and grammar do not matter, just answer the question." Makes us look incompetent. What did the state leave out? Context. What my colleague was instructing his students on was the MCAS Open Response strategy. The state  decided spelling and grammar don't matter. How ironic they nail him on a gross standard they set.

"I have had it. Shove your MCAS scores.

"Then there is the evil contingent here. Made up of former school committee members and a former superintendent. They are happy to hear about all these failings, but they fail to see their hand in it. These are the same people who sent a central office staff member ... to the same church as the SHS current principal to dig up dirt to get rid of her.

"I'm angry for the kids. This is outrageous. We owe them better - parents, teachers, administrators, the state. We owe them more than we're giving them.

"The state is making a decision in the days to come. All they need to do is take over the inept Central Office staff, and get us Student Services, an alternative school, ELL director, ELL staff, behavior specialists, school psychologists. All of this needs to happen. Then we can talk about MCAS."


  1. Kelly Landine is Suzy Geers sister which explains her being and speaking at the school committee meeting. Williamson ought to think about what interests people are representing.

  2. What interests WHO out OF CURIOSITY?

  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences at SMHS! We need the states help. I hope the school committee comes to realize its time as well. They should stop coming up with excuses for each issue and help get the state in here ASAP. Put the superintendent search on hold, and spend their time explaining to the town what the benefits of receivership will be. Lets stop being defensive and step aside and let the state have a go at it. The future if Southbridge depends on it!

  4. Save our Schools -SOSDecember 21, 2015 at 6:52 AM

    The following is a list of teachers that have been chased away, fired, or forced into retirement that were instrumental in moving the high school from a level 3 status to a level 1 status in four years. There are a few that are missing from this list and I am sorry for that.
    Mrs Abate
    Mrs Allard
    Mrs Arronson
    Mr. Bastien
    Mr. Bishop
    Mr Calnan
    Mrs Carrero
    Mr Carrero
    Ms Digregorio
    Ms. Hoffaman
    Mr. McHugh
    Ms. Thomasino

  5. State has blood on its hands too!December 21, 2015 at 2:33 PM

    If we are to name names then include ALL the names of the one year and done teachers, administrators, central office people, who had a chance to peak under the hood and run away sighting the lemon law. It would be a huge list considering every year for the last several years a minimum of 40 teachers have to be replaced each year. Those transferring out of district and early retirement far out number the firing or forced out numbers.
    While the governance is the crux of the problem the state has sat on its hands watching and waiting through out all of this decade plus turmoil. In fact they have added and helped the turmoil grow by supporting The Buzzinator, the single worse thing to happen to Southbridge Education since the deficit, and not really stepping up to the table to help fix things with financial and or support reforms .
    Ie DSAC - District and School Achievement Centers - A team from the state came once and then disappeared not doing what they promised to do. Here is one of them quoting on Southbridge but how long has this guy Paul Livingston been gone and the very same problems identified by the state allowed to continue under their watch as well?
    I caution that while the state might NOW be willing to dedicate resources to Southbridge they have been part of the problem all along. That they have allowed decades of children to flounder in this system knowing all along what the problems have been and have done little if anything to help. They have a lot to criticize and obviously feel free to do so but they never accept or acknowledge their part in all of this. They too need to be held accountable.
    There is a poll on this blog about the state taking over Southbridge. I for one would be the first to vote NOT SURE. The State is not innocent in Southbridge's education demise. They have failed us almost as much as our local governance has failed us over the years. Finally now they have positioned themselves to have totalitarian control and we are supposed to trust them? This poll is really a vote of the lessor weasel in my opinion.

  6. Not for nothing no where in that 106 page report of Southbridge Public Schools sucks report, does it mention any teacher names nor does it call anyone a racist. Maybe Dianne Williamson should have read it and if she did then maybe she should have asked this blow hard teacher to rewrite the line where she is accusing the "This state monitor" and given the fact that no state employee with DESE took part in this report, it was clearly stated at SC meeting when it was presented, she is with a sub-contractor group had nothing to with the writing of this report. It was clearly stated also that the district had been given the chance to clear factual in accuracy's. Next time maybe Dianne Williamson should fact check.


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