Friday, May 6, 2016

Replacing the Wolf Swamp Road School Principal...

This letter was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by a Wolf Swamp Road School parent who is concerned by process for selecting a new principal to replace Dr. Neil Gile.

For the past 5 years, Wolf Swamp has been extremely fortunate to have Dr. Gile at the helm.  He has brought incredible energy and compassion to the school, and we are all tremendously appreciative of his tireless efforts on behalf of our school community and wish him well in his new endeavor.  Dr. Gile's departure is certainly a huge loss for not only Wolf Swamp, but the entire Longmeadow community.  

With Dr. Gile’s departure, Superintendent Doyle is responsible for hiring a new principal.  The timing of Dr. Gile’s departure and Superintendent Doyle hiring his replacement is complicated by the fact that Superintendent Doyle is retiring on June 30th, and she will be replaced by Martin O’Shea.  Therefore, Superintendent Doyle will never actually work with the new principal who is slated to start on August 1st.  

On Tuesday, May 3rd, Wolf Swamp parents received an email from Superintendent Doyle outlining a very quick application and vetting process for hiring Dr. Gile's replacement.  The position of principal at Wolf Swamp is a very important one and unfortunately, this position has been a bit of a revolving door lately.  Just during my own children's time here, we have had Kim Stillwell for a few years, Dr. Gile, and now this new hire will make the third principal in the past 8 years.   We want to ensure that the person selected will be happy, stay at the school long term, and have a productive relationship with the superintendent. 

Considering that Superintendent Doyle is retiring before this new principal would even start, I think that it is in the best interest of the school community for the entire process of hiring the new principal to be in the hands of incoming Superintendent O'Shea.   Although Superintendent Doyle's email refers to having Martin O'Shea involved in the process, I am not confident that he will be allowed to be an independent voice in the process with Superintendent Doyle holding the reins.  Also, I am interested to know how much input Superintendent O’Shea has had or will have in this process as he is not officially working for the department yet.  Did he help write the job description?  Did he create the hurried time line?  Will he help review the applications to determine which candidates are promising? Will he conduct site visits to finalists’ current districts?  Who holds the final vote: Superintendent Doyle or O’Shea?

Furthermore, the current timeline indicates that a decision will be made on June 13th, which would make this entire process only 6 weeks from posting the position to filling it, and only 3 weeks of screening, vetting, interviews, site visits, and consideration from the time of the application deadline.  There are 4 days between the job posting being closed and in person interviews.  How are these applications going to be vetted so quickly and interviews arranged in mere hours?  This would seem to limit the pool to applicants in a very restricted geographic area and raises concerns about whether the position has already been earmarked for someone.  It is hard to believe that a thorough review of candidates can be conducted in such a short amount of time.  Curiously, June 13th is the day before town elections when two of the current school committee members' terms will end and two new voices will be elected to the committee.  It would be fair and prudent to let these new school committee members have a hand in selecting the principal in conjunction with the superintendent with whom the principal will work. 

I am concerned that this process is being unduly rushed so Superintendent Doyle can select the principal and then leave without any accountability to the Wolf Swamp community.  Therefore, I am asking Superintendent Doyle to respectfully and professionally step aside and allow incoming Superintendent O'Shea to lead the entire process. With a projected start date of August 1st, there will be time for the process to be conducted entirely under Superintendent O’Shea’s direction.  I don't object to starting the process now by advertising the position; however, the review of applications, selection of candidates for interviews, interviews, and hiring decision should be entirely in the hands of Mr. O'Shea and the selection committee that is put together, even though that entails stretching the time-line.  We are talking about a delay of a few weeks, which is worth it to get the process right the first time.

I realize that the timing of hiring a principal is delicate and ideally completed prior to the end of a school year to ensure continuity between the outgoing and incoming principals.  I understand that principals undertake an enormous amount of work during the summer in terms of including planning, restructuring curriculum, and squaring away budget allocations, and leaving the position unfilled is less than ideal.  However, hiring this late in the current school year might handicap the caliber of candidates applying, as it is likely the best qualified candidates have already solidified plans for the upcoming school year.  That being said, I feel that the time line for the search and hiring is being unduly rushed to fit into the allotted time left in the current superintendent’s tenure.  My understanding is that principals usually receive 3 year contracts, and if this process is rushed to fit into manufactured timed constraints it could result in a less than ideal choice.  This would mean Wolf Swamp would have to suffer through that time and then do the whole thing all over again and perpetuate the revolving door of principals. I think it would be better to have an interim person fill in so we can take the time to do it right. I fear that a bad choice in the principal’s office has the potential to poison the whole school.  A three-year contract might not seem like a long time if the wrong choice is made, but please consider that is half of a child’s elementary school career.

I understand that hiring principals is at the sole discretion of the superintendent and the selection committee has no real power.  I am respectfully asking Superintendent Doyle to slow this process down to ensure that we have a thorough search of qualified candidates rather than a hasty rush to get the first available person who meets the minimum qualifications.  Furthermore, I am asking Superintendent Doyle to cede the entire process to her successor, Marty O’Shea, since she will not work with this new principal.  I truly think it is important for the new superintendent and the new school committee to have ownership and accountability for their choice. If the new principal turns out to be a disaster, Superintendent O'Shea should own it - he should not be able to blame Superintendent Doyle. And if, as I hope, the principal turns out to be wonderful, then he should get all the credit for it.

I am writing this as not only a concerned parent of 3 children who are progressing through Wolf Swamp and the Longmeadow schools, but as a graduate of Wolf Swamp. For 30 years I have had a connection to Wolf Swamp, and I care very deeply about this wonderful school.  It would be disheartening to see a rash process diminish the spirit and quality of the school. 

Please remember that we all want what is best for our children at Wolf Swamp.  They should not have to suffer because there was a rush to check off a box before time expired.  The Wolf Swamp community deserves a thorough process entirely under the direction of the incoming leadership team. 

If you support this effort, please join the group of Wolf Swamp parents at the School Committee meeting on Monday, May 9th at 7 PM at Longmeadow HS in room A15 (central office).  A strong show of support is vital as we work to ensure that the process of selecting a new principal for our children is handled with the importance and time it deserves.  Please also take the time to contact Superintendent Doyle and the members of the School Committee.

Laura Gebhardt
Wolf Swamp Parent

Another Town Resident Expresses His Concerns About Articles 29-31

This letter was submitted to LongmeadowBuzz by a Longmeadow resident and local attorney to address the potential legality and litigation cost the town will face should the bylaws under consideration in Articles 29-31 be enacted

I would like to correct some of the misinformation in the recent Republican editorial as well as some of the general misinformation regarding the so-called “gun articles” on the Longmeadow Town Warrant. 

All three articles are unnecessary and essentially are a non-solution to a non-problem. To my knowledge, Longmeadow has not had and does not now have any gun crime. Article 29 seeks to ban all firearms from any building owned by the town or on any grounds owned by the town. This article was so poorly drafted that it would prohibit all law enforcement personnel from having a firearm anywhere on town property. It is already illegal to have firearms in schools and this article would ban law-abiding gun owners from bringing any firearm past their own driveway. 

Article 30 requires all owners of firearms to register their firearms with the police department when they renew their firearms license. This is redundant because all firearms are now registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the police have access to that information. This would take valuable police personnel time and valuable town resources to put in place again what is already in place. 

Article 31 would seek to ban “assault weapons” or “large capacity feeding devices”. This law also contains no exemption for law enforcement personnel. The law refers to the Massachusetts definition of an assault weapon. If one is already legal in Massachusetts with either of the two items , why would there now be a need to make either illegal in Longmeadow? 

So anyone outside of Longmeadow could own one but not anyone who resides in Longmeadow.
  • How would that make us safer? 
  • Is Mr. Grant suggesting that Longmeadow residents are inherently more prone to violence than any other resident of the commonwealth?
The implementation of these articles are not only unnecessary and redundant but are very divisive and will be very costly to the Town of Longmeadow. Not only will there be a cost to implement these articles but there will be legal challenges to their implementation which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I would suggest that a better use of town funds would be the creation of programs to help stem the tide of the current opiod epidemic which is harming our young people.   

Thank you,

Gerald B. Berg/ Longmeadow resident

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Another town resident speaks out about Articles 29-31

This letter was submitted to Longmeadow Buzz by Longmeadow resident Mary K. Lewonchukis in reference to the recent letter posted by Alex Grant in the Reminder, and in reference to his previous letters posted in various town publications, as well as his televised appearances.

My biggest reaction to the Reminder letter is one of disgust.  I am disgusted that Mr. Grant is using the tragedy at Sandy Hook to further his poorly drafted and ineffective legislation.  He continually references the Sandy Hook tragedy and the children’s deaths to his proposed Articles, and he is clearly comparing Longmeadow to Newtown.  At the end of this article he then states “…all the “No” vote offers is a shrug of the shoulders and lockdown drills for our kids.”  Well, this letter will address each of the points he makes so that no Longmeadow resident thinks my “No” vote is simply a shrug of my shoulders to the Newtown tragedy.

The first Article drafted by Mr. Grant will not allow a licensed Massachusetts resident to carry a gun in any town building or on any property owned by the town, without facing a fine.  Please be aware that there are already laws prohibiting possession of a firearm in the schools.  This Article has nothing to do with Sandy Hook or Newtown, and would not have prevented that tragedy.  Adam Lanza had some serious mental health issues, and he would have completely disregarded any law that did not allow him to carry.  This Article is drafted to keep law abiding residents from carrying guns – it will have no effect on any person who is unlawfully carrying a gun, or has ill intent.  Criminals and people with mental health issues that intend to do harm just don’t care what the town laws say.  All this does is keep a licensed, trained firearm holder from perhaps stopping a person who intends to do harm.  A much better alternative is to have armed police officers or retired law enforcement present in the schools.  That would have stopped Adam Lanza.

The second Article drafted by Mr. Grant would require any person renewing their state issued gun license to give to the local police department a list of firearms, rifles, or shotguns possessed by the applicant, and require applicants to certify their compliance with an already existing state law that requires their firearms to be secured in a locked container.  This Article would also not have stopped the Sandy Hook shooting in any way.  The firearms located in the Lanza household were already required to be locked, but Adam Lanza had access to the combinations to the safes the guns were stored in.  Every time a firearm is purchased in Massachusetts a background check is performed and the gun is registered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Any listing given to a local police department is subject to a Freedom of Information Act request, can be obtained by any newspaper, and can then be published (this was done in Westchester County New York).  This listing gives criminals a blueprint for houses to target to steal firearms and houses to target that do not have any firearms.

The third Article drafted by Mr. Grant would ban all assault weapons and large capacity feeding devices manufactured prior to September 13, 1994 in Longmeadow.  Adam Lanza did not carry out the shooting at Sandy Hook with an assault rifle manufactured prior to September 13, 1994, so this Article would also not prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook.  The first thing that Mr. Grant should clarify is that I cannot purchase an “assault rifle” such as you see in movies used by the military.  I cannot purchase a rifle that is “automatic” – such as an Uzi or machine gun.  I think there is a misconception out in the minds of residents of Longmeadow that gun owners in town have these guns that can shoot hundreds of rounds a minute.   Generally speaking, these guns can be purchased by terrorists or criminals outside of the boundaries of any law, but a law-abiding citizen cannot purchase or possess these guns and magazines.

None of the Articles Mr. Grant proposes would have stopped the violence at Sandy Hook, and I find it extremely offensive that he is using that tragedy to promote his agenda.  I have a child in the Longmeadow school system, and it is my worst nightmare that a mass shooting will occur in Longmeadow.  That is every parent’s nightmare, and Mr. Grant is playing on these fears to get his legislation passed.  Mr. Grant says the “No” votes have no answers to reducing Longmeadow’s risk of mass shootings and ordinary shootings.  He then goes on to cite Virginia Tech, Columbine, and San Bernardino as examples.  Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech could have been prevented with stronger responses and requirements for people with mental health issues, especially those with access to firearms.  San Bernardino was a mass shooting by terrorists – and Mr. Grant is proposing to restrict residents from protecting themselves, their families, and their community against terrorism.  Terrorists have never been concerned with local, state or federal laws, and Mr. Grant’s Articles would most certainly not deter them at all.  Mr. Grant’s third Article would leave our community completely exposed to terrorism at a time when ISIS has indicated increased attacks against the United States. 

The guns are not a problem in Longmeadow, and never have been.  Should these Articles be passed, there is no doubt in my mind that the Town will be sued, either by a resident of Longmeadow, or someone who is passing through the town and is fined for possessing a legally owned firearm.  The town will also face increased costs to enforce these Articles and make the police focus shift from the really important issues faced by the town to enforcement of these non-existing issues.  The town will also lose any lawsuit – and anyone who doubts this only needs to google “McDonald versus City of Chicago”.  This case struck down two restrictive handgun laws in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois.  The Supreme Court of the United States determined that the Second Amendment applies to individual states.  The Supreme Court held that the right of an individual to keep and bear arms applies to the states.  The cost to the City of Chicago was over $3,000,000. 

As residents of Longmeadow, we would be much better off focusing our attention and budget on the things that are really needed in town, such as the DPW project, new middle school funding, or the Senior Center.  I urge all Longmeadow residents to vote no to the Articles proposed by Alex Grant that will do nothing to further protect our town or children, and will be extremely costly to our town. 

Mary K. Lewonchukis
Longmeadow resident