By Gordon Davis
A subcommittee of the Worcester School Committee held a “forum” this week on what qualities Worcester residents want to see in the new Superintendent of the Worcester Public Schools.
The so-called forum was confusing and to some extent showed how inexperienced or confused the three so-called panelists from the school committee were.
As a rule, the panelists are the speakers. In this forum the panelists said nothing and Worcester residents spoke from the floor.
School Committee woman Molly McCullough ran the “forum” like a school marm.
She seemed a little nervous and unsure as she told speaker after speaker “your time is up”, “please only talk about skills”, and “hold your applause.”
The irony here is that the first speaker from the audience asked what are the objective requirements for selecting a new school superintendent and whether direct experience as a superintendent was required.
The same speaker asked if speaking a second language other than English is a requirement.
The three school committee women on stage, Donna Colorio, Dianne Briancharia and Molly McCullough, could not answer the questions. Ms. McCullough said she would refer the question to the school committee.
After the so called “forum,” Ms. McCullough and Ms. Briancharia took the time to share their personal criteria for a new superintendent; the successful candidate they said would be effective, communicative and a problem solver.
Ms. Colorio went out of her way not to give a statement on the qualities that she thinks a new superintendent should have. I suppose that she might have worried about a question regarding her vote to take money away from the Worcester Public schools and give it to charter schools.
School Committee members John Monfredo and Brian O’Connell, although not on the stage, gave more coherent answers as what are the preferred requirements for a superintendent. Mr. O’Connell said previous experience as a superintendent was preferred and the ability to speak a second language was a plus. Mr. Monfredo said that a Certificate of Superintendency was a must but a doctorate was a preference.
The president of the teachers union spoke and asked that a member of his union be on the search committee.
A representative from the Worcester Educational Cooperative said a superintendent should be able to fight for full funding from the state. The Worcester Public Schools are underfunded per the State of Massachusetts’ educational formula. This is especially true for special needs students.
A parent said a school superintendent should also be able to get funding for gifted students.
Worcester resident, Ken Person, said the Worcester schools were actually good schools when compared to other schools in the country. He wanted a superintendent that could continue and hopefully improve what is good about the Worcester Public Schools.
A couple of teachers felt that there is a need for a superintendent to be able to communicate well with all principal parties: students, parents, teachers and staff.
School safety was brought up by one speaker who thought that the decision to limit the search for a superintendent to within the Worcester School District was a mistake. He felt that a superintendent from a larger urban area with experience in school safety was needed.
Although the speaker on school safety was one of only a few who described an objective requirement, the school committee had previously decided against it.
Some speakers mentioned diversity and the fact that more than 90 languages are spoken by students in the Worcester Public schools. They suggested that the new superintendent should be able to relate to this diversity, not only educationally, but in terms of personal experience.
It was pretty clear that some of the school committee members could not or did not want to state objective criteria for a superintendent.
To some extent, this so called forum was a charade, masking a subjective choice that seems already made.
The Worcester School Committee will likely choose Maureen Bienienda, principal of South High School, as the the WPS Superintendent because she grew up in Worcester and worked her whole career in the Worcester Schools.
The Worcester School Committee will ignore the facts that WPS Interim School Superintendent Marco Rodriques has run an urban school district – ours – and has the same experiences of many in the Worcester Public Schools who have recently come to Worcester, as the Worcester school have become more diverse – a majority-minority school district.