Friday, June 29, 2007
Community speaks out on CTA-Doyle rift
About 40 community members crowded into the Carlisle School Library on June 20 both to voice concerns and to hear how the school is responding to the Carlisle Teachers Association (CTA) disagreements with the school superintendent (see "Carlisle teachers vote no confidence in Superintendent Marie Doyle" June 15.)
Superintendent Doyle described a process intended to increase her dialogue with the CTA. She said the plan, which was added to the Carlisle School District goals as Goal #9, is to examine "how we can come to the table and communicate effectively." She said she has sent suggestions to CTA President Michael Miller, who, she said, has sent suggestions back to her.
Doyle would like to form a new committee to examine the issues and "find a mutually agreeable facilitator." She has suggested a facilitator and asked Miller to suggest one. "It is extremely important that the CTA have a lot of ownership in choosing who the facilitator is," she added.
Carlisle School Committee (CSC) member Dale Ryder asked for details on the services provided by a facilitator.
Doyle explained that a facilitator would meet with her, representatives from the CTA and the school committee to clarify the problems, and make a list of concerns. "If they could be specific on what I can address, that would help," said Doyle. "Sometimes we can share articles," she added, and sometimes the facilitator can hold small group discussions. "I think we need to know what these exact issues are and have an open dialogue," she said. CSC member Wendell Sykes agreed, saying a facilitator can help when communication is difficult.
Doyle was the principal of the Bigelow Middle School in Newton when hired by the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) in 2004, and had not previously served as a school superintendent.
The CSC had to notify her of their intentions whether to renew her contract by January 1, or else it would have been automatically extended for one year. In late December, 2006, the School Committee voted 3-2 to renew her contract, and then voted, again split 3-2, to offer a term of three-years. Final details were negotiated and the CSC voted 4-1 in March to sign the new contract, which begins July 1 and will offer a base annual salary of $130,636.
CSC meets with teachers
CSC member Michael Fitzgerald updated the audience on steps the School Committee has taken since the CTA vote. He and Ryder met with teachers and administrators on June 18, and another meeting with faculty is scheduled for July to "develop a comprehensive plan."
An extended public comment period was allowed, and while each community member added individual thoughts to the evening, consistent themes emerged.
Speakers expressed concern about the atmosphere at the school and worried that the issues would be unresolved throughout the next year. Ryder suggested to Superintendent Doyle that she make communication a priority for the coming school year. Doyle replied, "It has to be a priority — what do we have to do, how do we get there. It's almost like we have to put some of the academics aside," she added, saying strengthening relationships will be important.
Bill Fink said, "I just don't feel that the atmosphere is appropriate for our children right now." Colleen Walsh agreed, "I have to honestly say that I think that the soul of the school is being compromised. I'm very concerned about it."
Kris Tocci asked if a teacher or staff member was present and would speak. Carlisle School Librarian Sandy Kelly stood and said, "I would say that regardless of anything I have personally seen over the last year, every teacher in this school has maintained the utmost concern for your children as their students. The whole staff here is very professional and intelligent. The level of professionalism here is top notch and will continue that way."
Hunter Hutchinson said, "I feel that it is not something to be taken lightly that we have lost so many teachers in the last three years. I find that to be rather shocking." She added, "I think we should take what our teachers are saying very seriously and respect them."
Chris Charvat said, "Over the last two years when a teacher has left this school that I have known, I have taken it upon myself to personally interview them. Call it an exit interview. And to a teacher, they have all told me they had planned on finishing their career in this school district. For those teachers who are no longer here, I want that to be known."
Jean Colbert said to the Superintendent, "As a leader you have to know when to lead and when to follow; it's very hard. My heart goes out to you, Marie. I know you have put your heart and soul into it but there's tension here and a few steps are not going to resolve it."
Superintendent Doyle read a statement, similar to her press release (see "Superintendent Doyle responds to CTA vote," June 22, 2007). She emphasized, "Michael Miller, CTA President, and I have agreed to develop an action plan to build trust and teacher morale, and strengthen our shared vision."
Alluding to the margin in the CTA "no confidence" vote, Hutchinson said,"If this was a mild disagreement or if this was something that could be worked through, I find it hard to believe that the vote would have been 54 to 3."
Sources of discontent
Doyle responded, "I would like to say that I'm meeting with the Association weekly. I keep records. We had no major concerns before budget season arrived. The major concerns revolved around not having enough jobs to give people and, after budget season started, I think tensions grew....there was great anxiety, and tension. People were feeling grave losses over people that they love... I think that the vote also was part of an emotional attack as teachers care about each other as family."
Jonathan Golnik replied, "After your statement, Marie, I have to be honest with you that it seems to me that a lot of the discontent with the teachers is being attributed to budget cuts and difficult decisions that are made, and I have to be quite honest with you I can't believe that. This has been going on for a long time. I just don't think this can be attributed to budget cuts."
Jen Foundas, third-grade teacher and vice president of the CTA, said, "If you would look at the letter that was written [from the CTA] only one concern that was mentioned happened after the budget cuts. I just wanted to clarify and make sure people understand that it isn't just the climate of the budget cuts that led to our statement."
Reached later for comment, eighth-grade teacher and CTA President Mike Miller later elaborated: "Throughout the past school year, Marie Doyle had weekly meetings with Jen Foundas and me. Marie received the results of our survey before budget season, and promised to work to improve things. Just in the past few months, we expressed our dissatisfaction with the surprise second-grade teaching model announcement, with the Lyle Kirtman situation (see "Carlisle School facilitator found in conflict of interest," Mosquito, June 22), with the way in which teachers were kept in the dark and/or misled about next year's possibilities, with the insensitive way in which many teachers were treated during the budget process. All those things are in our public statement. In addition, I approached Marie late in May and let her know that I believed people were resigning because of discontent over administrative actions, and that I feared we would lose more people."
Impact on new hiring
"The really good teachers who are doing their job searches are going to look into this more and they are going to start to fear that if they come to work in Carlisle, they are going to come into a community where there is a dysfunctional relationship happening at the school," said Hutchinson. "They are going to want to go to a school where they are supported and respected."
Bill Fink agreed. "Our primary concerns with the overwhelming vote of 'no confidence' are the impact it is having and will continue to have on staff morale, the ability to retain the high quality staff that we are so lucky to have here in Carlisle and the ability to attract new personnel to our schools."
"It is a very unfortunate situation because Marie appears to have introduced many great initiatives at the school but without strong interpersonal skills she seems to be fighting a losing battle," said Fink, adding, "This is the second time in less than a year that accusations regarding inappropriate personnel management have come to light and the situation has to be resolved this time around."
Joanna Quinlan agreed. "I love this school, termites and all, and I love this town. I think it is unfortunate that this is happening again this year. I think Marie has a real vision for the future as an educator and as an administrator. The conclusion that I came to is it seems like it is being worked more on a business model and the teachers are the employees. They're not, they're the people who teach everything, but also nurture and encourage our kids, and I'd like that to be maintained."
Colleen Walsh said, "Sometimes you can have an administrator who has great skills but the fit may not be very good, and I think we really need to take a look at that."
"I agree with everything, said Marty Blue. "This is a fantastic school, and at this point we're not looking to point fingers, we just want a resolution."
"I looked at the School Committee minutes from this time last year and an overview of the goals for next year, and one of them was for Marie to work with staff to build a trusting environment," said Tricia Massicott. "And I guess my question is, whatever happened this year didn't work. So what are we going to do next year going forward and what did we do this year that didn't work? Because it was a goal."
Clive Jacques urged the School Committee to set "firm timelines." He said, "If this situation can't be resolved, then we are going to have to swallow a bitter pill and start looking for someone else to lead the Carlisle School. I have met Marie on several occasions and I like her very much."
"Where we are now is not a good place," said Deb Belanger. "I would ask that this School Committee," she continued, "and the CTA, and Marie, and the administration make a report before August to this town, because we now deserve something like a full story and we deserve something like a complete analysis, and we deserve something that is an understandable set of action steps."
Fink also wanted a resolution quickly. "We sincerely hope that the School Committee will act on our behalf as our elected representatives to quickly remediate the situation including considering all of the options available, regardless of the financial implications to avoid further attrition, further morale issues and to assure our teachers that their concerns are being adequately addressed. We support each and every one of you in this difficult assignment and we do thank you sincerely for your efforts on behalf of our children and the children in Carlisle."
[See letters from Superintendent Doyle, current and former School Committee members.]
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