Friday, February 1, 2002
'Dialogues with Davida' can spark change
If you have an idea about how to make the Carlisle Public School a better place, superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson will listen. You may have to champion the cause, volunteer your time and skills, and have to wait a couple of years for implementation. Nonetheless, if you make a good suggestion, you can end up improving the school.
Parents are welcome to attend a "Dialogues with Davida" meeting. Soon after Fox-Melanson joined the school system in 1992, she instituted these monthly sessions with parents. The "Dialogues with Davida" meetings usually occur every third Friday at 9 a.m. in the main conference room of the Spalding Building.
"I initiated them as a way to get to know the community. I wanted to hear what people were asking," said Davida. "The reasons for the meeting haven't changed. It provides direct access for me to the community, and direct access for the community to me without having to make a formal appointment."
Seven parents attended last week's January meeting. Fox-Melanson began by asking the parents to identify themselves. The list represented a roster of parents in the school, and included Marjorie Johnson, Barbara Lewis, Ginny Lamere, Helen Lyons, Nora O'Donnell, Maureen Tarca and Dianne Wesselhoeft. A few of the regular attendees, when asked, called it a typical meeting.
"We try to talk about items of general interest," said Fox-Melanson, but noted that remarks about individual teachers and individual students are taboo. She brought her own topics to discuss, primarily the budget, but began by asking the parents what they wanted to talk about. At this meeting, topics encompassed programs for gifted children, Internet access and the elementary and middle school schedules.
"You can bring up just about anything," said Tarca. "This is the only school I know of where the superintendent opens herself up to any issue. She never knows what's coming at her. I admire her for doing that." Tarca, a town resident for about four years and mother of a fifth grader, attends "Dialogues with Davida" regularly, and believes it is the best way for her to learn about the school system.
Addressing topics on the table
Newcomers to "Dialogues with Davida" meetings generally bring specific agendas of items they wish to discuss whereas regular attendees generally come to hear the concerns of others, according to Lewis. "I feel remote as a parent of children in older grades," she said, with a son in the eighth grade and another a freshman at the high school. "This helps me still have insight and gain a sense of input."
Fox-Melanson approached the topic of programs for gifted children by acknowledging that the children in the Carlisle Public School are very intelligent. She added that one of things she loves most about the school environment is that "it's cool to be bright." However, she added that she has only encountered two kids in her time here who could be classified as truly gifted. While open to investigation of new academic programs, Fox-Melanson clearly prioritizes those that affect large numbers of children. For example, she referenced her efforts in trying to interest the regional high school to incorporate the systems-thinking program.
The school recently acquired high-speed Internet access over a T-1 line. A suggestion came up to sell time off the line to the community. Fox-Melanson applauded the idea to raise money, but asked if there were a precedent case in Massachusetts. The group couldn't identify any, but one parent said a New Jersey school had sold time to local businesses and she offered to research the possibilities in this state.
Fox-Melanson noted that a task force was forming to investigate swapping the elementary and middle school bus schedules. Due to the number of issues involved, she said there would be no change for the coming 2002-2003 school year.
The superintendent listened and responded to comments. She then brought up the pending departure and needed replacement for regional school committee chair Cindy Nock. She noted the request for a town budget override to meet the school's needs, and encouraged parents to let their selectmen know they wanted the opportunity to voice their opinions at the polls.
Heating up the discussion
"Dialogues with Davida" can become controversial. Hot issues have included class size, classroom aides and sexual harassment. Sometimes just talking about issues can alleviate pent-up feelings.
"In a small community, there are rumors out there," said Fox-Melanson. "This is a way to find out what is really happening. It's a way to unscramble misinformation in a global sense."
Other times good ideas emerge and are acted upon by attendees. For example, the school's choral program evolved out of these sessions.
The superintendent occasionally tests her own ideas on the audience, and drops news tidbits. For example, at this meeting she mentioned that the eighth-grade class trip will probably go to the Portland, Maine area.
Although the superintendent publishes the schedule for "Dialogues with Davida" at the start of the school year, events can impact the specified dates. For example, a volunteer appreciation tea has pre-empted the February meeting, and a school committee session will require rescheduling the March meeting. "I know when the April meeting is," Fox-Melanson chuckled. That date is still set for April 26. In the interim, keep an eye on the Carlise Calendar of The Mosquito for news of the next open session with the superintendent. If you have an idea on how to improve the school or even just want to complain, this superintendent will listen...and respond.
Photo by Anne Marie Brako
[Caption for Lamere and Davida] Ginny LaMere found superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson open to investigation of sharing the school's high-speed Internet access over a T-1 line with the community.
[Caption for Davidacrow] Interested parents Marjorie Johnson, Helen Lyons, Barbara Lewis, and Dianne Wesselhoeft attended the most recent "Dialogues with Davida."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito