Friday, June 22, 2007
What's going on at the School?
It was three months ago, March 21 to be exact, that Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle signed a new three-year contract with the Carlisle School Committee (CSC). The vote was 4 to 1 in favor of the contract, with CSC member Michael Fitzgerald opposing. According to the article in the May 11 Carlisle Mosquito, the committee had decided to renew her contract in December, but had been negotiating details of the contract for three months. Also noted in the article was School Committee Chair Nicole Burkel's positive evaluation of Doyle.
Last week, on June 11, in a press release that was sent to this newspaper and printed in the June 15 issue of the Mosquito (pages 6 and 7), the Carlisle Teachers Association (CTA) voted no confidence (54-3) in Superintendent Marie Doyle. Earlier this year, an article in the Mosquito on March 16 reported that Doyle had been a finalist for a position as superintendent in the Manchester-Essex Schools.
So what is going on here? I have not had children in the Carlisle School system since the early '80s, but have always believed in the importance of the town having good schools. It has often been said that the reasons people move to Carlisle are "for the schools and for the open space." Over the past several years however, there have been rumblings concerning the school. More than a year ago, a former neighbor of mine remarked that he had suggested to a young family looking for a home in the area that they might find a better school system in another town. That conversation surprised me at the time, but now look what is happening.
Yes, my younger friends with children in the Carlisle School have good things to say about the school and about Marie Doyle and the changes she has made since she took over as superintendent, three years ago. "My child is getting a great education at the school," was the response I heard from more than one mother. So where does the problem lie?
Communication and lack of trust seem to be the problem. Was the School Committee unaware of the teachers' concerns with Superintendent Doyle? Why didn't the teachers go the School Committee first before releasing a public "no confidence" statement to the Mosquito? I can't help but think about the troubles former Harvard President Larry Summers had when he lost the confidence of his faculty.
There certainly is work ahead for all concerned — the Carlisle School Committee, the school administration team, the teachers and Superintendent Marie Doyle. As we address these serious issues, it is important to remember to go about it in a civil and caring way.
Carlisle — the sequel
Karen and I like to watch quirky movies — movies with quirky characters following non-linear story lines, often in offbeat locales. We recently saw a French film on DVD (from Gleason Library's excellent collection), La Moustache, about a man who shaves off his moustache and is thrown for a loop when his wife and his co-workers don't notice the change. We alternately wonder if he's crazy or if maybe his wife is the crazy one. Or maybe they're all playing a cruel joke on him. By the end of the movie it isn't clear whether or not he ever really had a moustache.
Trained to expect a narrative structure that answers such questions, at the end we looked at each other with shared "Huh?" expressions and I said (with a bad French accent), "Ah that was so, how you say eet, 'French.'"
Luckily, this DVD was a rare one with useful "extras," so we were able to watch interviews with the main actors and the director. The actors revealed that they didn't understand the story either. They discussed building their performances out of simple gestures that expressed their connections one to another but that didn't elucidate their obvious disconnect. Then the director explained that we, the viewers, were supposed to be unsure of reality throughout, so we would share the protagonist's uncertainty, confusion, and disorientation.
This was surprisingly satisfying; rather than feeling manipulated, we suddenly felt as if, by being confused and disoriented ourselves, we had "gotten" it. Stepping back from concerns about plot, I could accept the movie as an exploration of identity and relationship — still a mystery, but no longer a frustrating one. We had been taken to an interior locale that, despite not fulfilling our expectations, had somehow enriched us — encouraging us to presume less, to be less insistent on everything being resolved in the usual way.
Being forced out of one's comfort zone isn't easy. We naturally seek structure, pattern, consistency, continuity.
Conversations about our town generally start with a tacit understanding — we define Carlisle by the things that haven't changed much over time: the Memorial Day speech and parade, the aptly named Old Home Day, Town Meeting, the volunteer Fire Department, the transfer station, the Mosquito (and the mosquitoes), septic systems, wells, and rural vistas. Acknowledging that these quaint symbols belie a changing reality is also a part of the conversation, and has been for decades. We talk of changing demographics, property taxes forcing old-timers to leave these precious treasures and traditions behind, and pressures like 40B that threaten to irreparably destroy the fragile balance of nature, development, and infrastructure.
How we deal with these competing realities will define us. Bear with me as I stretch the metaphor, but I see us as the collective protagonists of our own movie. It doesn't seem as if ours is simple and formulaic with a clear path to resolution and a happy ending. We are in a difficult movie, so very French, disturbing. Our challenge is to engage in the process, despite the scary uncertainty about what actions to take and where those actions may lead. It won't do to pretend otherwise, avoiding the hard work and the tough decisions, muddling through as if Carlisle is indeed like Never-Never Land, isolated and safe as the world moves on, changing all around us. Through the difficult process of writing our own script, we may just come to know ourselves well enough — and to forge stronger relationships — that we will not only be satisfied with the ending of our movie, but may even look forward to the sequel.
© 2007 The