Friday, February 10, 2006
The Carlisle School faces a time of transition
Many parents are watching with concern as events unfold after the recent resignations of two out of the three top administrators at the Carlisle Public School. Last week Principal Dr. Steven Goodwin and Assistant Principal Michael Giurlando announced their resignations, effective June 30. Is this normal turnover, or symptomatic of greater problems? Any stresses teachers may have been experiencing will be exacerbated, at least in the short term, by the transitions in administration. I hope the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) will work quickly with Superintendent Marie Doyle to address teacher concerns. As one parent at last week's Carlisle School Committee meeting said, we need to protect the school's most valuable asset, the 75 teachers. (See related article on page 1.)
A certain amount of turnover is to be expected with any change in top leadership. Marie Doyle brought her own style when she was hired in 2004 to replace retiring Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson. Before coming to Carlisle, Doyle served for nine years as principal of Newton's Bigelow Middle School, named a Massachusetts Vanguard Model School in 2003. The Newton school system is much larger than ours, with 21 principals reporting to their superintendent. At the CSC meeting, Doyle noted Newton's "different culture," where the Superintendent interfaced mainly with other administrators and the principals met with the staff. She said that during her first year and a half at Carlisle, Goodwin has been the "go to" administrator, the person most accessible for teachers or parents with concerns. However, Doyle told the Mosquito last week that for smaller school systems like Carlisle, it is appropriate for both the principal and superintendent to meet with staff. She has begun to meet more frequently with teachers, believing they are "feeling there's a disconnect." As an example, Doyle had visited three classrooms in the week preceding the CSC meeting.
While the CSC hires the superintendent, it is Doyle's responsibility to hire new principals and she will be forming a search committee to assist her. The committee will include teachers and parents or other members of the community. Anyone interested in participating should contact the school. Doyle estimated there are about 30 openings for principals state-wide, but stressed that Carlisle should have no trouble attracting top candidates, "I see this as a fabulous place." Advertising is underway and resumes are arriving.
Doyle said she will take a couple of weeks to talk with the staff, as well as members of the Carlisle School Association and Carlisle Education Foundation to learn what traits they have admired most in previous administrators. She is also considering restructuring the workload, and may hire two principals, each responsible for approximately 400 students, divided by age, rather than a principal and vice-principal who share responsibility for all 800 students. After these consultations, Doyle expects it will take about a week to hold initial candidate interviews. Another week will be devoted to bringing in finalists to meet the faculty and community, and to have the search committee visit finalists' schools. It will take about a week after that to check backgrounds and make the final hiring decisions.
A changing administration brings a time of challenge to any institution. I hope the teachers, superintendent and school committee will work together as a team to continue Carlisle's tradition of academic excellence.
A Valentine for Mr. O.
"Do you play basketball?" "Can you hit the jump shot?"
Affirmative answers in 1983 to these two questions confirmed that Tom O'Halloran was the right person for the job. The job was instrumental music director for the Carlisle School. The questioner was Superintendent and faculty basketball league aficionado Matthew King. The position was open because Janet Peckham, who had been teaching in Carlisle since 1957, was retiring.
Now, 23 years later, Mr. O., as his band members affectionately call him, is the one stepping down. Tom came to Carlisle to teach grades four through eight, fresh from Belmont, where he had taught grades four through 12. He didn't lower his standards just because his oldest musicians were four years less experienced than at his previous gig.
Mr. O. is an iconoclast among music teachers because he places students in the appropriate band level based on ability, not grade level. He believes this allows young musicians to play better, to achieve their best, and to have more fun. This has meant a lot of extra work over the years — from teaching all the instruments himself in the early years to the scheduling difficulties of drawing kids from different grades for practices. Like all demanding teachers, Mr. O. has taken his share of heat, but he's never doubted his approach. It works.
My daughter Casey loved band, loved Mr. O., and loved that band was socially cool. She recalls how Mr. O. empowered them to do their best individually toward a common goal. Mr. O. is famous for his vocal expressions of displeasure, but if a practice wasn't going well, they all knew it before Mr. O. said anything. Hearing it not working was the first step. Mr. O.'s genius was teaching them to understand what they each had to change to make it work. And Casey still remembers the feeling of joy they shared with Mr. O. when it did finally come together.
Given that awareness of what his great Senior Bands could produce, I've always wondered how Tom had the patience to work at the other end of the spectrum, in Beginner Band, with the kids just starting out, trying to produce a few melodic sounds while keeping some semblance of rhythm with the others. I asked him this question a few weeks ago. His answer came from his experience as a parent years ago, when his son was playing trombone in his first band concert in Boxboro: It sounded terrible, but it didn't matter. Tom remembers his and other parents' tears of joy as they listened to their kids' collective struggle to achieve something larger than themselves. So Tom has been right with us, sharing that feeling, as Carlisle has listened to a whole generation of its kids.
Mr. O. has a passion for his work. He loves the kids. He tells them jokes. He inspires them. My children are just two of many for whom playing music has remained essential. More than 40 of these alums will gather this June to pay tribute to their former teacher. Mr. O., who always looks dapper in his concert attire, will stand before them and his final Senior Band to conduct a farewell concert. Between now and then, Mr. O. will hear many a tribute about the immeasurable impact he has had on so many lives and on our town. He'll modestly repeat what he said to me when I thanked him for his incredible gift to my kids: "Well, I don't know about that, but it's very nice of you to say."
© 2006 The