Friday, September 3, 1999
Ethics a priority for CCHS superintendent
New Concord School Superintendent Ed Mavragis shared a post-it note that's been on his desk for yearsthe word "integrity" printed on the yellow sheet reminds him of his priority. "We need to teach and model what integrity is and what are the consequences of our actions," he said in an August 18 interview.
Mavragis, a personable, energetic man who says of children "I love 'em!," started this summer as the new superintendent of the Concord Public Schools and the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District. If you can tell a lot about a person by the things they save, then all of the framed drawings by former students and all the memorabilia of student activities show that he truly enjoys the children. Each year, he looks forward to slipping out of his role as superintendent to teach English for a couple of weeks or to read to a class of elementary school children.
Mavragis is a native of Peabody and has four grown daughters. Previously, he served as school superintendent in Seaford, New York, a Long Island school system similar in size to Concord's. He explains, "I'm used to working in high-expectation communities where parents want the very best for their childrenthe best educational programs and the best results. In Concord, there's also a lot of involvement beyond the parent organizations. Groups such as the Concord Education Fund and the Concord-Carlisle Community Chest are a terrific bridge to the community. The more people involved [in the educational] process], the more successful it's going to be."
Links to Carlisle
Since his arrival, Mavragis has been meeting with groups and members of the community. He has met several times with Carlisle School Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson. "We plan to have a strong, ongoing relationship. It's critical since the students all end up in the same high school," he commented.
Carlisle students represent about 25 percent of the approximately 1,000 students at CCHS, although Mavragis believes that the population of Carlisle students could grow in the future as available land is developed. Mavragis has also met with Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee members Cindy Nock and Harry Crowther, who serve as Carlisle representatives and contacts for parents. Mavragis pointed out that the needs and concerns of Carlisle students are also his needs, when they enter the high school.
Getting down to school business
In recent weeks the focus has been on filling the remaining part-time openings for foreign language teachers. "Right now, we're being interviewed," he commented. "Only a few years ago applicants would have been thrilled to have an offer. Now, in math, science and foreign languages there is a national shortage of teachers. The private sector is scooping up these people because we are in a global economy and these skills are in demand."
One of Mavragis' goals this year is to look closely at the entire special education program. "We have made real strides here in bringing students who were sent out of town for special education back to the school district and being more inclusive," he said. "We should strive to have as many students educated here as possible because this is their home, this is their neighborhood. It's where they belong." In regard to state funding he said, "The state has been remiss in not providing enough, funds for school districts. They create mandates and provide no money. It isn't right."
In the aftermath of the defeat of the Concord Public Schools K-8 operating budget override request this spring, Mavragis believes, "Money wasn't the only issue....My job is to go out to improve communications and to make sure people are voting with all the facts." There is also the possibility that a budget override request will be necessary next year in both Concord and Carlisle for the high school. This year, the Concord Finance Committee adjusted the budget guideline to avoid an override there for the high school, while Carlisle voters approved an override request for its share of the budget. Concord must also address elementary and middle school buildings that are outdated and in need of replacement. A master plan for repair and reconstruction is projected to cost Concord taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
With these realities, Mavragis understands that some residents worry about each tax increase and whether they can afford to stay in town. In New York, he said, school property taxes are substantially reduced for those making less than $60,000 a year, through an individual application process.
MCAS and changing standards
Mavragis is familiar with the trend toward higher educational standards and commented on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. "Nothing is wrong with high standards. However, you have to make sure that the standards are appropriate for different groups of kids."
Starting with the class of 2003, Massachusetts high school students who fail the state tests will not receive a diplomaa fact that concerns many educators and parents. "There will be a small group of kids who wouldn't be able to pass the tests. We're going to do anything in our power to make sure they can," promised Mavragis. "The politicians are making educational decisions that they don't really understand. They're not going to let thousands of kids leave a school system without a diploma. The state will have to change standards for some groups of kids to take into account their disability. Hopefully, they'll recognize there are other ways of measuring student progress that are just as important as a paper and pencil test."
Strong course offerings at CCHS
Mavragis believes CCHS has a strong curriculum, including many elective courses for eleventh and twelfth graders. "It's hard to find a better art department anywhere around....The teachers are also practicing artists and they imbue their students with a love of art." The music program has a wonderful reputation, he said, and there is a lot of success in the athletics programs. The school is adding an advanced placement (AP) chemistry course this year and plans to continue to expand its AP course offerings.
There has been a trend away from shop and cooking classes in high school and toward more technology and computer classes. Mavragis explained that the old courses don't fit into a student's already-crowded schedule and there is a shortage of classroom space. There may be other factors influencing the curriculum as well. "In a highly academic community, it's looked down upon in some quarters. There's nothing wrong with being a chef, with taking business courses. Try to find a quality carpenter, electrician, plumber or mechanic. They're busy because there are not enough of them. Society has said unless you're an academic success, you're not a success. It's a foolish comment. I say, go get a vocational education and then go on to college to understand the business."
prevent school violence
Among all the issues Mavragis faces, teacher staffing, tight school funding, state educational mandates, etc., he and other school superintendents across the country must also respond to the increasing threat of school violence. In response, Mavragis will administer a survey this fall to ask students in grades 6-12 if they are participating in programs and activities. "I want to know how students are connected. For some, it's the music or art programs and for some, it's drama. But there are small groups who are not involved. Problems can arise with students who aren't involved in a positive activity."
About the recent violence in schools he commented, "No community is immune to violence. Students come together for six to seven hours a day and can bring with them anger, disappointment or depression. You look at Columbine High School. It was a solid, upper middle-class high school with kids coming from solid homes. But they obviously weren't connected. There are people in every school who feel they don't belong."
The superintendent believes it's not a positive experience if students just come to school and take classes with no other club or athletic involvements. "Where problems arise are from students and adults who aren't involved in positive activities. If there is violence, we must ask, 'Where are they connected and who are they connected to?' My job is to provide avenues for positive connections for all of our children."
Peer and adult mentors
In an attempt to address incidents on campus and prevent destructive behavior, Mavragis will initiate peer mediation programs at the middle and high schools this year to train students to defuse situations among their peers.
In addition, along with school counselors, he would like to find opportunities for adults to serve as mentors to students. "Students need a connection and sometimes the connection is not in school. They need to be involved with an adult who is not an authority figure. They need somebody to talk to," he emphasized. "Sometimes it just doesn't happen."
Mavragis believes one of the biggest challenges today is teaching kids ethics. "How do we create an environment where people can maintain not just their own integrity but the integrity and dignity of others?" he asked. "The academics will take care of themselves. My biggest concern is that we don't teach enough and model what integrity is...standing up for what you believe, no matter what the consequences might be personally or professionally."
Of his integrity motto, he said, "It goes back to the true issues of why we are human beings. We're not in it for ourselves. It's so simple. Take a deep breath before you make a decision and ask, 'What does it do to my integrity? What does it do for somebody else's integrity?' I would be very disappointed if all we did is turn out a group of wonderful academicians. That certainly would be a failing on the part of education."
Another concern is how students validate the information they're given, particularly over the Internet. "It's reaching younger and younger kids who may not know how to validate the accuracy if they don't have any guidance at home or at school."
"We have a great group of young people here and they are a credit to the families that have raised them," Mavragis concluded. "We have them in the schools for 13 years and it's great. But we need to spend some real time on the integrity and dignity questions and on acceptance issues."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito