Marie Doyle, principal of Bigelow Middle School in Newton
Marie Doyle has served the city of Newton as principal of the Bigelow Middle School since 1995. In 2003 Bigelow was named a Massachusetts Vanguard Model School. Previously Doyle served the town of Foxborough as a curriculum specialist and taught grades five through eight in Belmont and Lowell. Doyle is pursuing doctoral level studies at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard University. During her tenure in Newton she has chaired the professional development team, respect for human differences team, literacy committee and assessment committee.
“Meet and greet”
by Lee Milliken
Doyle was greeted by about 25 primarily teachers and a few school parents at the"Meet and greet” session. The first of the three candidates to visit the school this week, Doyle commented that the children seemed very "engaged" in the classroom.
Grade 3 Teacher Gene Stamell stated that Carlisle expects the superintendent “to be involved; to know the children, yet be somewhat removed." Parent Christie Barbie agreed, "The Superintendent knows the kids. There is a very open policy." Doyle responded by saying there are "advantages to this system. There are wonderful things you can do. One has the chance to get to know people intimately". She tries "to go into the halls of her school every day. It is important to get to know the kids and communicate with the teachers." It is important to keep the "children safe and learning". Most important for her is to "take good care of the staff. This is what works best for the children.”
Laura Snowdon, chair of The Carlisle Education Foundation, asked what she thought the school would look like in two decades. Doyle replied that there was so much new information coming out that everyone has to work together. The children need to develop "interpersonal skills and know how to work in teams, to assess what information is valuable, to be thinkers." Schools must be aware of the shift. Schools are "now modeled on a manufacturing society, but education needs to change. It is both frightening and exciting.” She feels it is important for children to have social competency. The curriculum must include team building and a mentoring program. "We don't know all the answers and there will be some risk taking."
What did she see during day? Doyle replied that the day "surpassed my expectations…Collegiality, graciousness and rapport. It was a very respectful environment." She was impressed that the teachers can order materials "on line." She also bragged that she “made a hook shot at the staff-student basketball game."
Doyle admitted that it is a jump from principal to superintendent, but pointed to her experience with the schools in Newton and "a high powered neighborhood." She has directed a summer school of approximately 40 classes for primary and preschool children and been through several building projects.
Questioned about parent involvement, she responded that there "needs to be a partnership between parents and teachers." She is an advocate of "monthly meetings, volunteers, and the use of technology in the classroom." Her leadership style is "inclusive and with consensus as much as possible".
Co-principal Steven Goodwin asked how she would handle a parent’s concern that a child is having a problem with a teacher. She responded she would first listen then encourage the parent to speak with the teacher. Doyle commented there is "anxiety in speaking with a teacher, how to tell and what to tell." In general Doyle said, "If one talks to the teacher it can generally be worked out."
School Committee interview
by Cynthia Sorn
1. Why you would like to be the Superintendent of Schools in our district? Specifically, why are you attracted to the position? What qualities and strengths do you bring to this position and to our community?
“Carlisle is an outstanding school system,” Doyle replied, noting high academic expectations and supportive community. “The community is committed to the school,” she added. “I am very interested in the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade system. I love the younger age group.” Doyle explained she believes in a quality educational foundation. “I am a strong educational leader” who likes to think out of the box, she said. She said she can bring excitement and enthusiasm to the Carlisle school. “I believe in inclusive schools, and helping kids reach their full potential.”
2. Today you had an opportunity to visit with our community. Could you tell us how our system either compares or differs from the school where you are now working?
“Today’s visit was absolutely wonderful,” Doyle responded. She said she is pleased to see how people are committed to the educational process. Though Carlisle is smaller than her current school, it is similar in how it shares ideas, she said. “Newton is much larger, though.” She is attracted to the size of the Carlisle school and community because it offers the ability to know everyone well. It’s advantageous to have a smaller community, she said, because it “allows one to take ideas and make good things happen.”
3a. What is your vision for a high performing school? What do the schools strive for in curriculum, instruction, technology, community involvement, and student performance?
She said she would like all students to love to learn, and love to come to school. “That’s the challenge,” she said. “What would the school look like?” she mused. “Today I saw a high performing school,” she said, and was impressed by the parent involvement. “The Native American project was phenomenal.”
3b. What do you seek to accomplish in your career?
“Education is in the middle of a major change,” she replied. With all the changes in technology, it’s an exciting and frightening time, she continued. A model is needed of what schools will look like in ten years. She would like to set the standards high, and find that future model.
4a. From the standpoint of your career, what would be three of the most important accomplishments you believe you have made to education in the past five years?
4b. Describe the challenges that you confronted in order to bring about these achievements?
4c. What do you see as one or two challenges you would like to focus on if you were appointed as our superintendent of schools?
Her greatest accomplishment, Doyle answered, was to take a school in crisis, her current school, and turn it around. The school had poor morale, and low expectations for the students. As improvements were made, she had the staff develop a reading support program, which raised the ability of students in all subject areas. She said the school went from one of the lowest in academic performance to one of the highest in Newton.
If she became superintendent of the Carlisle school she would like to focus on getting to know the strengths of the staff. She would like to plan on “what integration of technology is going to look like” for the Carlisle School. She would like to review the “block schedule” format and see if it is being utilized fully. She said it will be hard to follow the current superintendent and would work hard to build trust.
5. Please describe a time when you provided leadership to produce a significant change for a school or a program. Why did you feel it was necessary for this to be pursued? How did you address the community’s investment with the status quo? What did you do? At what points did you become more directive; more collaborative? Why? What did you learn from the experience?
Doyle explained that her style is more of a facilitator, but she can be directive when necessary. “With safety issues I’m very directive.” During the time she was working on the issues in her school, she had to intercede, mediate between factions in Newton and the schools, do a lot of team building, and brought parents into school to listen to them repeatedly. She said when she worked on committees she liked to involve parents with diverse opinions. “If you believe in people and persevere, things can get better,” she said. “I learned you can stick with it, form teams, and ask for help.”
6a. Describe how you would attempt to bring the community together in anticipation of a difficult budget process.
“We need to understand the economy,” she explained. And we need to figure out what is blocking the community from relating to the school. She would like to create a partnership with seniors, helping them become vested in the schools.
6b. Describe a specific budgeting situation you have faced, tell us how you addressed it. What were the tradeoffs and results? Why did you select these trade offs and not others?
“Bigelow School is facing its fourth year of budget cuts,” she said. She said the school has the choice of raising class sizes or cutting educational programs. This year they are raising class sizes, but in the future some programs may have to be cut.
7a. In your current position, how have you kept your superintendent informed?
Doyle responded that she emails her superintendent, and has face-to-face meetings when dealing with issues.
7b. As our Superintendent, how will you communicate with other town departments, town boards, parent groups and the community?
She would like to have a weekly superintendent newsletter to the staff and a monthly to the community. She would schedule regular meetings.
7c. Share an example of an unpopular idea that you brought to your staff and describe how you persuaded them to support this approach. Share an example of a challenging issue that you brought to the Superintendent and or school committee and how you enlisted their support.
Doyle smiled, and said “Which unpopular idea I brought... two person teams, instead of four person teams [for the middle school].” The goal, she said, was to get the teachers working in smaller teams. Though the teams were kept at four, she said better team teaching was achieved.
8. You arrived anticipating a variety of questions. What questions did you expect that we did not ask?
“The questions were excellent,” she said. Nothing was missed.
School Committee Chair David Dockterman then turned to the pile of index cards that contained questions from the audience.
How do you see yourself moving from a principal position to a superintendent position?
“It’s more responsibility, but in many ways the same as principal,” she replied. “I want a system that matches my core values.” She said she has many core responsibilities and feels she does much more now that a principal normally does.
Ten years from now, what would you like people to think of Carlisle and your leadership?
Doyle replied that she thinks “out of the box. I’d like to hear people say how bright and able our kids are. The schools will be operating differently, she predicted.
Do you have concerns regarding special education costs?
There are a lot of community concerns about special education, Doyle replied. We have to maximize every dollar. “But, no, I don’t have concerns,” she continued. “Co-teaching benefits all students.” Children gain from having other professionals in the classrooms, she explained. An aid in the classroom, there to assist special education students, is a resource for all other students as well, she said.
What experience do you have with Systems Thinking?
She said she has used Systems Thinking at her current school, and would continue with the program at the Carlisle School. “True change occurs when people own it,” she said, noting that it is a very effective program.
Where do the arts fall in the priority list?
“Arts are extremely important, right after reading, writing, and math,” she replied. “Systems should do their best to preserve those experiences.” When she was given the option to make cuts at her school, she chose to not cut any of the arts program,
How much contact would you expect to have with students each day?
“I would walk through every day, a minimum of an hour each day.”
How would you encourage the gifted learner?
Doyle said she would like assignments and projects to be “open-ended,” leaving room for those that want to expand their work.
How long have you been at your current job and why do you want to leave?
“I’ve been there nine years, and I don’t want to leave,” she said. A friend told her about the opening in Carlisle, and suggested she look into it, saying it was a match for her. “In my career I may have ten or twelve years left [as an administrator], and I want to make just one more move.”
How do you feel about parental involvement?
“I love it,” Doyle said. Parents are part of the system, and need to be involved. There are parents with expertise in the community, she continued, and we need to bring them in.
Dockterman thanked Doyle for spending the day with everyone in Carlisle. “It would be an honor to be your superintendent,” Doyle replied.