Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Town resident votes No on Superintendent's Contract

 This Buzz letter was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Nancy Hutner Mueller, a Longmeadow resident.

It is unfortunate that some of the people who disagree with the Longmeadow School Committee’s 4-3 decision to not renew Superintendent O’Shea’s contract will not accept the reality that this decision was based on valid complaints about the Superintendent’s performance as enumerated by all 7 school committee members last May in his yearly evaluation report.

6 takeaways from the Longmeadow School Committee's 'needs improvement' evaluation of Superintendent M. Martin O'Shea (MassLive Article, May 10, 2018)

The criticisms in this report should be concerning to any member of the Longmeadow community, especially allegations that Superintendent O’Shea lied to school committee members or mislead them on numerous occasions. The report also alleges that the superintendent spoke to school committee members in hostile, disrespectful, misleading, and even threatening ways. This kind of behavior is not acceptable in a superintendent and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. The report also states that Superintendent O’Shea did not follow through with clear directives of the school committee and that he showed a lack of initiative in presenting and recommending new policies and plans to improve the school district. 

Furthermore, several members of the school committee state in their individual evaluations that Superintendent O’Shea tends to be dismissive of complaints from parents, students, and other members of the Longmeadow community; rather than investigating whether a complaint is valid, he has a knee-jerk response to immediately say “no” to parents’ and students’ requests. As stated by School Committee Vice-Chair Russell Dupere, “When complaints are lodged, it appears you instinctively become defensive. It often appears that you spend more time determining how to counter the allegations, instead of actually investigating whether the allegations are true. In my opinion, if a parent or student makes a complaint, the first step should be to gather information to make an informed decision. You cannot make an informed decision if you immediately dismiss complaints as being frivolous. Over time, I believe if this area does not improve it will severely limit your ability to lead effectively.”  School Committee Chair Michelle Grodsky states: “Over the course of the year, multiple cases have occurred where feedback was given to you by a Committee member or a Community member. Examples of issues addressed: athletics, facility safety, administrative matters, personnel matters and policy matters. Concerning to me in follow ups to these conversations is an immediate defense of staff, and a disregard or dismissal of the feedback and/or the person delivering it. For example, in discussing the initial circumstances with our athletic program, you informed me that these concerns were really just coming from parents who were unhappy about the playing time of their children.” Committee member Kerrin Morrin states: “During policy discussions where it was clear that there were opportunities to improve district policies and practices, Dr. O’Shea was reluctant to make significant changes, noting that administration and staff would be upset. As the Superintendent, Dr. O’Shea must not avoid making difficult decisions in order to avoid disagreement and dissent, thus maintaining the status quo.” Clearly the Superintendent’s choice to support administration and other staff in order to maintain the status quo at all costs is not helpful to the progress of our school district in the long run.

In my personal experiences as a parent of two students who previously attended Longmeadow High School, I found that the majority of my requests to administrators were met with an immediate and unconditional “no” response, leaving little or no room for discussion. Administrators were not open to considering alternative courses of action. They were content to avoid following certain federal and state regulations as well as pre-existing school committee policies. Last year, I met with Superintendent O’Shea to discuss some specific complaints as well as to offer suggestions for changing policies and procedures with the intended result of improving educational and extracurricular experiences of all students in Longmeadow. For example, I stated to Superintendent O’Shea that an important mission of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is to ensure that high schools prepare all students to be college ready as well as career ready when they graduate. I suggested to Superintendent O’Shea that Longmeadow join the Massachusetts School to Career Connecting Activities Initiative which gives students the opportunity to participate in the Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Plan so they can get internships with area employers while they are still in high school.

Although 192 high schools (half of all Massachusetts high schools) have joined this Massachusetts School to Career Connecting Activities Initiative (including Minneachaug Regional High School, the high school for which Marty O’Shea was superintendent before coming to Longmeadow two and a half years ago), Superintendent O’Shea told me that he was not aware of the Massachusetts Work-Based Learning plan and that he would look into it and get back to me. Unfortunately, Superintendent O’Shea never got back to me about this potentially great opportunity for students at Longmeadow High School, and he also was not truthful to my family about another important issue. If you look at the Massachusetts School to Career Connecting Activities Initiative website today (click on the link above), you will see that Longmeadow still has not joined this very important School to Career Initiative. Schools in Western Massachusetts that have joined this initiative include Minneachaug Regional High School, Westfield High School, East Longmeadow High School, Agawam High School, West Springfield High School, Chicopee High School, Ludlow High School, Holyoke High School, Springfield Central High School, Easthampton High School, Northampton High School, South Hadley High School, Amherst Regional High School, and many others.

The individuals who have submitted Freedom of Information Act public records requests to view emails sent to and from Longmeadow School Committee members have been selective in which emails they have chosen to post or discuss on MassLive, Facebook, and Longmeadow Buzz; I know that complaints that I have submitted to Longmeadow School Committee members by email concerning Superintendent O’Shea have selectively not been mentioned by his supporters. In my opinion, the four school committee members who voted against renewing Superintendent O’Shea’s contract in November made their decision with the needs of Longmeadow students foremost in their minds. Considering that all seven school committee members wrote poor evaluations regarding the superintendent’s job performance last May, if three of the school committee members (including the chair and vice-chair) had not resigned from the committee at the end of last year, most likely the nonrenewal vote would have been 7-0.

I think that the school committee’s decision should stand and that Longmeadow townspeople should vote against adding a recall provision to the town charter at the Special Town Meeting on Thursday. In a democracy, the appropriate time to vote for elected officials to represent the interests of the people in town is at the annual town elections.     

Nancy Hutner Mueller
Longmeadow resident              

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