The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 12, 2006


Change comes hard at the Carlisle School

Change is always hard in Carlisle. Over the last 25 years, Carlisle has had five school superintendents and each time there has been a period of adjustment. Judging by the recent series of resignations of her administrative staff, it has been a rough start for new Superintendent Marie Doyle, who arrived in Carlisle in September, 2004.

Some members of the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) point out that school administrators, especially younger individuals who are pursuing career growth, can be expected to turn over every five years. However, when all members of the school administration resign within a three-month period, inevitably fingers get pointed at the superintendent. Principal Steve Goodwin and Assistant Principal Michael Giurlando resigned in February; Business Manager Steve Moore resigned in early April; Director of Student Support Services Linda Stapp resigned a few days later.

Not surprisingly, neither the administrative staff that is leaving, nor the teachers, nor the School Committee, nor involved parents want to drag the controversies into the public eye, but some have been willing to speak on condition of anonymity. There are many opinions, but no unanimity on the causes of the current tensions, or the road to resolving them.

The Fox-Melanson legacy

Doyle's immediate predecessor, Davida Fox-Melanson, came to Carlisle in 1991 as assistant superintendent under new superintendent Vincent Simone. A year later she was promoted to superintendent when Simone's contract was not renewed. In the early years, recalls CSC Chair David Dockterman, there was some turnover in administrative staff, but then the school entered a long period of stability until Fox-Melanson retired in June, 2004. All of the current administrative staff, and many teachers, were hired by Fox-Melanson. Her style of management, methods of communication, division of responsibilities and personal values became the norm in Carlisle.

CSC assessments vary

"Marie has a different leadership and communication style," says Dockterman. "Clearly there is changeThe School Committee is well aware of this period of transition. It's not unusual."

In preparing for Doyle's performance review, School Committee members visited the school campus and made themselves available to anyone who wished to discuss any concerns or recommendations. "We had conversations with every member of the administrative team," says Dockterman, who combined and summarized the individual reviews of the School Committee members into a single document, which was discussed at the open CSC meeting last Thursday evening. (View story by Cynthia Sorn)

A majority of the five-member School Committee remain solid Doyle supporters. They acknowledge that there are some issues, but believe that they can be resolved. "Marie is changing things fast," says one CSC member, "And this makes some people uncomfortable." They applaud her signature project to bring Chinese language and culture into the curriculum. They support her efforts to create benchmarks for each grade for more vertical consistency from grade to grade and better alignment with the state educational frameworks and MCAS exams.

There has been some confusion about administrative roles and responsibilities but her supporters believe that Doyle is facing the problems and moving in the right direction. "She has taken a lot of action, actively meeting with the community and people who are critical of her. Marie has been working really hard on thisMarie pushes people to be open." Rocky transitions are not unusual, and once the two newly hired, very experienced principals arrive, the school will again have a "marvelously working team."

But not everyone is so optimistic. One CSC member expressed concerns that there has been a loss of the open, inquisitive, collaborative culture in the Carlisle School that was "novel and one of our most proud assets. One of the great things about the Carlisle School is that we teach kids how to think...We seem to be migrating to a cookie-cutter culture. There is a change in approach which is so performance-based. [With a complete turnover in the school administration] all historical knowledge is gone. We are losing the basis of what made it such a brilliant system in this little island of Carlisle."

Carlisle School Committee members are FY05-06 Chair David Dockterman, Christy Barbee, Nicole Burkel, Michael Fitzgerald and Wendell Sykes.

Teachers and staff feel discomfort

Teachers and other staff members are far from unanimous in their judgment of Doyle. Some remain happy to be in Carlisle and support the new programs that Doyle has championed. Many express a degree of discomfort, even "grief," after the resignation of Steve Goodwin, an enormously popular principal, who was a friend, mentor and safety net. Some have become deeply alienated. Last month the teachers union sent a letter to Doyle, with a copy to the School Committee, expressing some of their concerns. According to one teacher, "the overwhelming majority of teachers" voted to send the letter, the contents of which are "private."

A long-term Carlisle teacher recalled that it has always been difficult to make a transition. While acknowledging that tensions have been high at the school, "this isn't the worst time in memory. The [current] challenges pale in comparison to the early '90s when Vince Simone came to Carlisle." Most teachers are staying outside the fray and are "proud and happy to be working in Carlisle, helping kids grow and learn.Historically, we've always had trouble with change."

While few are willing to offer specific examples of difficult situations, the very disaffected speak about "an erosion of culture and community." There are meetings upon meetings to discuss issues, but the result is already pre-determined, they say; the superintendent, who spends most of her time in her office, has already set her course. When problems arise, blame is spread around, not always tactfully and not always privately. There is a lack of respect for professionals and their experience and opinions. Bottom line; there is "a general lack of trust."

Some of Doyle's new initiatives, especially the elementary school world languages program, which is to start next September, have become the focus for controversy. While most agree that introducing languages at an early age is a good thing, core subjects and other important programs, which were developed and nurtured through the years, will be squeezed. An additional burden has been placed on teachers with the directive to make it work.

Superintendent offers her view

When contacted by the Mosquito, Doyle said she would prefer to respond in a statement, which would allow a more thoughtful and precise response. The statement, which she read at the School Committee meeting last Thursday, says, in part:

"First, I would like to thank Steve Goodwin, Steve Moore, Linda Stapp and Michael Giurlando for their service to Carlisle Public Schools. Even though they will be missed, they are leaving us a rich legacy for a new administration to build upon."

Doyle spoke about transition: "Change is never easy, and I understand the concern felt by the community during this time of transition. Two outstanding educators have been hired as our principals, Patrice Hurley and Paul Graseck. Both principals have begun to work with us to insure a smooth transition." She added, "As a leader, I feel a sense of loss as my administrative team changes; I also sense an opportunity for building a new team with a shared vision, committed to moving forward, as we address the District Goals."

"My transition as your superintendent has been exciting and challenging," Doyle continued. "Clearly I bring my own style and ideas, sometimes different from my predecessor's, and therefore disconcerting for some staff members. As stronger relationships continue to develop with most teachers, our understanding and appreciation grows....

"I believe excellence comes from communication, reflection, assessment and refining. I also believe that schools need to prepare students for a new world and a global economy. I bring a commitment to standards-based education, where benchmarks are established and followed, and ongoing assessment gives us accurate data on the progress of all of our students."

School Committee is optimistic

Can this marriage be saved? The majority of the School Committee firmly believes that many people have been heard recommendations have been outlined new principals are on their way and the situation will improve soon. Change is inevitable and a fact of life. Painful transitions are not unusual. There will be some turnover in teaching and other staff, but an equilibrium will be re-established. In the end, they believe, we will have a well-functioning team and a strong school.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito