Friday, February 26, 2010
Dr. Joyce Mehaffey fields questions at forum
Carlisle Middle School Principal Dr. Joyce Mehaffey answered a variety of questions posed by citizens about education and school administration during a public forum held on February 11. Mehaffey is being considered by the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) for the new position of superintendent/principal, to be filled after Superintendent Marie Doyle leaves at the end of June. Town Moderator Wayne Davis moderated the event, which was attended by about a dozen residents, in addition to the members of the School Committee. The CSC plans to make a decision at their next meeting, on March 3.
Mehaffey has worked for a year and a half at the Carlisle School and said, “I thoroughly enjoy being the middle school principal and getting to know the students, the parents and the community . . . I knew that it was going to be a huge task to take on this particular responsibility but I feel my background has prepared me.” She has over 30 years of experience in education, working as a special-needs aide, a teacher, a school psychologist, a principal and a director of curriculum and instruction. She observed, “All those experiences have contributed to my philosophy of education and outlook.”
When asked why she wants the new job, she replied, “It’s a big opportunity with a lot of responsibility.” Mehaffey thanked Carlisle for their consideration.
Mehaffey was asked about educational standards for kindergarten through second grade. She admitted that she was not an early childhood expert and noted, “We currently abide by the Massachusetts standards. Teachers work hard to find a balance between academics and play.” She said, “Kids come with varied backgrounds. Some students are ready for more academic-type of experiences. Not every child is. They are still just five years old.” Mehaffey added, “Learning through play is developmentally appropriate.”
While she said that “Carlisle is doing well,” Mehaffey described on-going curriculum review. She thought it was helpful to have parents as part of the committee for curriculum development and review. “Parents participate in a group with teachers. They get to hear why teachers teach a certain way which wasn’t apparent to the parent.”
Mehaffey wants to make sure that the reading program is teaching children phonics and that it can accommodate early readers who are ready to move on. She said, “A Reading Committee will reflect on what we’re doing and improve on that.”
Mehaffey stressed the value of differentiated instruction. Teachers teach a concept to the whole class. Then students are broken into groups: a group that can be pushed and moved forward, a group that understands the concept and can do more in-depth work and another that needs additional instruction. The grouping is flexible and will not be the same for other subjects.
Mehaffey was asked whether the time taken for foreign language was to the detriment of other studies. “I don’t think it’s out of balance in the way it is today,” said Mehaffey. She agreed that time is taken from other subjects, but said that the benefit outweighs the loss. As for the Chinese language program, Mehaffey said it was a wonderful opportunity for elementary students to be introduced to foreign languages. She pointed out that younger children learn sounds much easier than adults. “I don’t see myself making any changes to the foreign language program.”
Several questions centered around Special Education. Mehaffey said that she supports assistive technology and would make any changes to Special Education in conjunction with Student Support Services Director Karen Slack.
When asked what steps would be taken for full inclusion, Mehaffey answered “We have a full-inclusion model we are using.” She explained that students may have a special education professional, a speech/language teacher and/or a special education aide, based on individual needs. Additional support is often provided during study periods. She added that some students may need summer school to keep up their skills.
Other questions centered around discipline, particularly for serious criminal offenses. These were particularly difficult questions to answer because there were no specific scenarios. Mehaffey said parents would be notified when a student was strongly suspected of committing a serious criminal offense.
Mehaffey said that right now in the middle school, she is looking at different ways to respond to students who are being disrespectful to other students. “Students are much more sophisticated in their ways of letting others know they don’t want to be around them. We are looking at ways we can intervene and what the consequences would be.” Cooperative learning groups and advisory groups may be used to teach children that those actions will not be tolerated. “Respectful behavior is expected at all times.”
Mehaffey said that as superintendent/principal, she would confer with teachers and other administrators about behavior standards and enforcement. In the case of a student sent to her office with a disciplinary issue, she would ask the student to fill out a reflection form which has the student define the circumstances. Mehaffey would check with the teacher before taking action.
In addition, if it was an extreme case, Mehaffey said she would look at the school handbook to see if there is a policy first, and talk with Principal Patrice Hurley, Slack and other administrators to understand the situation. If very serious, she would call the police to consult with them and ask what safeguards should be put in place. She wants to be sure she is addressing the issue and the student’s safety.
Mehaffey was asked if she had ever fired a teacher, she replied, “Yes I have, it’s not very pleasant.” Procedures are followed. “The evaluation process is under review,” Mehaffey noted. Superintendent Marie Doyle and the teachers union president are starting to discuss it. Mehaffey said, “Evaluations should be helpful to the teacher and a document of his/her performance.” She added that the evaluation should include what steps should be taken for improvement.
In respect to limited resources, Mehaffey said that you have to know your priorities. “It’s an ongoing process.”
When asked about her personal limits with so many new responsibilities, Mehaffey said she may be at fewer student activities or not be there as long. Also, she may not get back to every parent within a 24-hour period, should they call her.
Lastly, Mehaffey was asked for her thoughts on MCAS, the standardized tests that are based on the Massachusetts Department of Education Frameworks. “I think, overall, MCAS have been a good thing. It has established standards and it has held schools to those standards . . . It’s a curriculum-based test . . . I am supportive of tests and assessments.”
She wants the results to be useful, to inform teachers about their instruction.
For more information on Mehaffey, see “CSC interviews superintendent candidate Joyce Mchaffey,” on page 1 of the January 29 Mosquito. ∆
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