Friday, October 26, 2007
Don't shoot the messenger
There's no debate — news articles should be objective, accurate and as complete as possible, and opinions about the news should be confined to the editorial page. The Mosquito has been criticized recently for breaking these rules, and while we are as capable of mistakes as anyone, there may naturally be a tendency to judge coverage more harshly when the reader is already upset by the events being described by the article.
In a few months the town will grapple with difficult financial decisions concerning the town's operating budget and school expansion proposals. At this time it is more important than ever to stay informed about the issues.
An example of a recent complaint concerned this editor's use of the word "evicted." After renting the Highland Building for many years, the Emerson Umbrella organization did not agree to the terms offered by the School Committee for a one-year lease extension. The artists, who in turn pay Emerson Umbrella to use studio space in the building, are now being told to vacate the building. The Mosquito used the word "evicted" to convey this fact. Unfortunately this term is also used for more adversarial situations involving legal action, and the latter meaning was not intended. The Mosquito regrets any confusion that resulted from hasty word choice.
As Carlisle's community newspaper, the purpose of the Mosquito is to inform the community, not to increase discord. On the other hand, the Mosquito is a newspaper, and part of our job is to report the bad news as well as the good.
Your help is important in order for the Mosquito to provide accurate news reporting. If you believe that an opinion has inadvertently wandered from its rightful place on the editorial page, then please call and discuss it. If you find a factual error, let us know because we want to correct it. Share news material with reporters in a timely manner. The Mosquito depends on the cooperation of residents and town officials. Is a story missing pertinent facts? Then please send us the information. And always, we welcome your suggestions for improvements and ideas for future articles.
The elephant in the room
Running a good school system is a complicated business. It takes involved parents, dedicated teachers, and enlightened leadership, including administrators and school boards, to make it all work. And let's not forget the money: the Carlisle Public Schools are the biggest investment, by far, that the town makes each year. Even families without children have a direct stake because property values are closely correlated with the quality of our school system. Simply put, in terms of our time, money, and talent, educating our children is the most important thing that we do.
I'm no expert in public education, but I am a taxpayer of long standing and the parent of two grown children who benefited greatly from their years in the Carlisle schools. In those days, the teachers were superb and clearly dedicated to the kids, and the administration was responsive to parent input. I have great admiration and respect for anyone — teachers, administrators, or school board members — who devotes so much time and energy to nurturing the next generation. It's not an easy job, and anyone who does it well deserves our gratitude.
That said, over the past several years, it's been increasingly evident that we have some significant problems. We've seen a vote of no confidence in the administration, the departure of too many fine teachers, and the need for two special consultants to help sort out the difficulties. The most recently hired expert estimates that given the current situation, it will take at least two years to put things right. However, he cannot begin serious work until January because of other commitments. This means that it will be at least 2010 before things are back on track. Can we afford to wait?
In the midst of all this, the town may be asked to consider spending $30 million for a new school building. Whether or not the state partly funds the project, it will be the most significant expenditure in the history of the town, so it's imperative that we do it well. As an architect and as a concerned parent, I know a little bit about the planning process (several years ago, I served on the Concord-Carlisle High School Building Committee).
We have a saying in our profession that "clients get the buildings they deserve." This works both ways: great client, great building, but with a client who is unclear about the objectives, who doesn't have sufficient resources, or is not a good decision maker, trouble almost always ensues. This is especially true in complex projects like public schools because there are so many stakeholders, budgets are tight, and construction schedules must be closely managed to make sure that the facilities open on time. Even under the best of circumstances, it's a tricky business.
Like any structure, a good school system itself needs a strong foundation and sound planning. It depends upon shared goals and mutual respect so that the teachers can teach and the administrators can lead effectively, with full support from the School Committee and the taxpayers. No matter which side of the table you're on, it's clear that these conditions do not pertain in Carlisle today. We owe it to ourselves — and our children — to get it right.
With all due respect to everyone involved, before we undertake spending $30 million on a new building, let's get our collective act together. Buildings last a long time and have an enormous impact on how we live our lives. Winston Churchill said it best: "First we shape our buildings, and then they shape us."
© 2007 The