Carrie Kourkoumelis 2015 ckourkoumelis@CityofMelrose.org
Melrose School Committee Superintendent Evaluation
[Rubric is listed below]
DESE Standard I/Goal 1, Instructional Leadership
Indicator I-B. Instruction: Ensures that practices in all settings reflect high expectations regarding content and quality of effort and work, engage all students, and are personalized to accommodate diverse learning styles, needs, interests, and levels of readiness.
I-B-2. Quality of Effort and Work
UNSATISFACTORY—Does not set high expectations for the quality of content, student effort, and/or student work district-wide, or expectations are inappropriate.
I believe that Superintendent Taymore does a poor job overseeing the district and ensuring improved student outcomes. While there have been some significantly improved outcomes (as in 10th-grade math MCAS, that saw an improvement from 62% proficient to 81% last year) and the recent Advanced Placement gains resulting from the Mass Math and Science Initiative (MMSI) grant, the overall improvements were marginal at best. Results are stagnant for too many of the categories and unacceptably poor in others. It took this superintendent several years to take seriously the problems in the Advance Placement classes, some of which she seems to ignore still. In the SAT, our district has demonstrably lost ground compared with similar districts, like Stoneham and Burlington, as the attached data compilations demonstrate.
If this superintendent cares about improving student outcomes, she should take the time to understand fully what is working and what is not. A valuable starting point would be the SAT and ACT (in their current forms, as well as next year’s revisions), as these are national tests; all communities are on the same playing field, which invalidates the chronic excuse from the administration about being too busy implementing mandates, local or otherwise. Even a cursory look at recent results indicates scores that are below or near the state mean, which is inconsistent with our community demographics. These are national tests that most college-bound students take, and they demonstrate the end result of public school education overall, not limited to the constraints of state-determined measurements.
[SAT Math Mean = 523 State, 518 Melrose; Critical Reading 514 State, 528 Melrose; Writing 498 State, 498 Melrose]
Overall these scores are static or declining, indicating little attention to the bigger picture. The decline in college matriculation rates of MHS graduates to 2- and 4-year colleges (from 95.9% in 2005–6 to 88.3% in 2013–14) also indicates failure to develop and execute strategies to address long-standing district concerns and improve student outcomes in the bigger picture. Additional evidence and analysis follows.
From the published MHS Profile: POST SECONDARY EDUCATION FIVE-YEAR TREND Classes of 2005-2009:
Year 4 Yr 2 Yr All Schools
2005 85.0 % 11.4 % 95.9 %
2006 80.9 % 14.9 % 95.8 %
2007 73.1 % 18.9 % 92.0 %
2008 77.0 % 13.0 % 90.0 %
2009 71.0% 21.0% 92.0%
Under this superintendent the Horace Mann Elementary School descended to Level 3 status, while in years past it had consistently held a strong academic position.
The superintendent has allowed administrators to come before the community and make continued excuses about "being preoccupied with MCAS" or being "completely baffled" by the chronic underachievement of nearly half of the district's students in Science. There is a systemic dysfunction in the interpretation of data, one which is geared towards a falsely positive portrayal instead of one in which the full spectrum of results are considered fairly, without political skewing, with only the best interests of students as a baseline.
There was a lot of language around Meeting the Needs of All Learners that led to some substantive positive changes a few years ago. Meeting the Needs of All Learners or recognizing the Whole Child may exist on paper, but it is not a real value in our current district. The superintendent allows her administrators to ignore the academic needs of many learners; examples follow.
The limited curriculum mapping efforts do not provide appropriate learning pathways for significant numbers of students. There is a prevalent shortsighted focus on students whose standardized test results most highlight the district’s failings. Whatever positive gains were made a few years ago are mostly gone now, with little remaining understanding about what it would mean to direct an educational vision in a holistic way. One need only look at the number of "assessments" each child must endure in every academic year to evaluate our district philosophy and values. It cannot be claimed that this district is improving at a good pace of change, either.
The superintendent lists “Universal by Design” as an exemplar. Whether she means to list Understanding by Design (UbD) or Universal Design for Learning (UDL), she hasn’t made effort, apparently, to understand the relevant uses of and inherent limitations in each of these strategies.
Attached is the administration's 1.28.14 "Letter to Parents regarding Gifted and Talented Assessment." This document reflects staggering ignorance about Gifted and Talented education or what is necessary for "ensuring the learning and growth" of these students. The promulgation of such philosophies extends systemically. In the recent redesign of the math sequence administrators promoted similarly ignorant strategies in which there is a deliberate elimination of any opportunity for structural support for differentiation for sixth-grade math, combined with a subsequent unrealistic expectation for seventh-grade math for advanced learners. There is hypocrisy in the district proclaiming “practices to accommodate diverse learning styles, needs, interests, and levels of readiness,” while preventing advanced sixth graders from working at their appropriate readiness levels, pressuring the survivors of an unchallenging sixth grade to compress two years of math in the seventh grade, so that they can regain the lost year in time to take High School Algebra in eighth grade.
The artifacts submitted for I.B.2 demonstrate no attempt at differentiation for different levels of students. There are no pathways defined for students who are above or below the grade level. The rubrics aren’t apparently used as identifiers for interventions at any level. None of the whole group vs. small group activities are designed for differentiation possibilities. Essentially, this artifact betrays a fixation on identifying “grade-level” learning and a lack of commitment to differentiation.
In short, there is a pervasive culture of low expectations in the elements listed in this indicator.
The superintendent allows her administration to consider chronically poor student-outcome results acceptable. Her administrators do not appear to internalize the gravity of this issue and appear far too passive about its existence. The superintendent appears unconcerned that administrators produce unprofessional presentations and unsophisticated analyses. Administrators consistently present superficial content as the whole picture, rather than zeroing in on the problems that keep students from succeeding. The superintendent did not lead her administrative team to treat the community’s repeated calls for eliminating the dysfunction with any apparent degree of urgency.
The superintendent expresses outrage at school committee meetings when she feels the district has been criticized unfairly. She doesn’t demonstrate parallel alarm on behalf of the students who have not received an appropriate education for many years.
It seems to be Superintendent Taymore's style to praise individuals for doing their job—the tasks that they were hired to do—rather than to recognize those who go above and beyond without extra remuneration or other reward than the betterment of our schools. On the flip side, there doesn't appear to be any accountability for those who do not perform their functions and fall short of the tasks they are paid to do. This attitude has become a systemic phenomenon where I often hear my colleagues on this Committee join in the fray—gushing about the "hard work" that individuals do as part of their standard activities, while at the same time we approve pay raises for senior staff who demonstrate incompetence or unwillingness to perform such simple functions as returning phone calls that are clearly part of their job descriptions. The result is that district leadership appears insincere and untrustworthy to the community. I believe that Superintendent Taymore could lead the way in the management of her staff, by giving praise for outstanding achievements and by requiring accountability for basic functions of a position.
A first step in helping the district see significant systemic improvement would be guiding all presentations of data away from poorly synthesized gloss-overs towards honest analysis and dialogue. Calling for the hiring of a sophisticated data analyst would be a logical and legitimate consideration. The fact that so many in our administration do not admit we are doing poorly prevents us from being able to contemplate real changes that could actually benefit students and lead to improvement in our district education. It is like we are walking around with heavy chains holding us back; chains that are made of our illusions of success. Though I have implored the superintendent many times to reconsider her approach and adopt a more authentic and open one which many could support fully, she has remained closed to alternate modes. Changing this mentality is directly within the superintendent's purview, and I believe this is owed to our students.
I-B-3. Diverse Learners’ Needs
UNSATISFACTORY—Does not look for evidence of and/or cannot accurately identify ways that principals identify effective teaching strategies and practices that are appropriate for diverse learners.
Contrary to the Exemplary rubric, the superintendent does not employ “strategies that ensure that principals know and consistently identify teaching strategies and practices that are meeting the needs of diverse learners while teaching their content.” The district consistently expresses contempt towards those in the community who call for Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners. It is little wonder that principals do not guide teachers appropriately, either.
The district doesn’t seem to attempt Child-Find for ‘diverse learners’ who may have learning disabilities. Even as parents express concern, it has been reported that the district manipulates them to accept that the child is “in the range” or that the Instructional Support Team is on top of the situation. Reports continue to surface of the district’s unrelenting attempts to suppress the identification of children who have such special needs, especially in the lower primary grades, which leads to unfortunate lost opportunities for those students improving at the most critical time. When students’ special needs aren’t met early enough in their careers, they underachieve for far longer than they would otherwise. Evidence is not presented that the learning needs of traditional special education students in Melrose are met any better this year than was done as many as seven years ago.
The term “diverse learners” is not simply a euphemism for “special education students achieving below grade level,” as is commonly represented throughout the district. Evidence is not presented that the learning needs of traditional special education students in Melrose are met any better this year than was done seven years ago. Further, students ready to achieve beyond the grade level curriculum are denied opportunity to do so. Evidence to that effect is clear through the Administration’s refusal to allow sixth grade students to be taught appropriate to their individual readiness levels in the most recent math resequencing.
The referenced curriculum maps do not provide evidence that they are designed to accommodate the range of learners. The methods used, apparently, seek only to teach one level of general instruction to all students, with marginal and insufficient mitigation strategies for some.
The elementary artifacts for I.B.3 only show sensitivity to students below grade level. An Achievement Support Plan without properly guided curriculum opportunities becomes hollow. It seems apparent that there are interventions available for students below grade level, but that there are no authentic interventions that will sustain above-grade-level learning. Although opportunity is provided for “dual enrollment,” well-defined pathways do not exist. No indication is given as to when and why a student would enroll in a dual-enrollment course and what benefit it provides the student. It is also troubling that above-grade-level students would be required to pay tuition for "dual enrollment" courses to fulfill their educational needs during their public school tenure. Significantly, no artifacts are presented at the middle school level – the level at which our district especially struggles in math and science.
I-C. Assessment: Ensures that all principals and administrators facilitate practices that propel personnel to use a variety of formal and informal methods and assessments to measure student learning, growth, and understanding and make necessary adjustments to their practice when students are not learning.
I-C-2. Adjustment to Practice
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT—Suggests that administrator teams meet to review data and plan for adjustments and interventions but inconsistently monitors this practice.
The artifacts presented only suggest that time is scheduled for administrators to meet. The superintendent does not ensure administrators understand the broad reasons and goals implicit in reviewing the data. The superintendent apparently has not endeavored to employ administrators with sufficient quantitative skill-sets to perform authentic data analysis.
The artifacts presented are the middle school ELA core assignments, and the English department dialectical journal rubric. These do not suggest any adjustments to practice based on any of the elements represented. The artifacts certainly do not demonstrate evidence that administrators capably evaluate all data and the implications of the data.
The superintendent regularly allows administrators to cherry-pick data and manipulate data presentations, thereby undermining accountability incentives to improve. Unfortunately this often appears to be done for political purposes and at the direct expense of improving student outcomes.
Many students, year after year, do not learn commensurate with their individual potential, yet effective adjustments to practice have not been made.
I-D. Evaluation: Provides effective and timely supervision and evaluation of all staff in alignment with state regulations and contract provisions.
I-D-1. Educator Goals
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT—Supports administrators and administrator teams to develop professional practice, student learning and, where appropriate, district/school improvement goals but does not consistently review them for quality and/or monitor progress.
The artifacts presented are simply communications from DESE. They actually indicate that the district is delaying implementation for a full year when it could have kept to the original timeframe. They do not in any way represent that the district is providing “effective and timely supervision and evaluation of all staff in alignment with state regulations and contract provisions.” They certainly do not impact Educator Goals. The quality of the goals and their relationships to better student outcomes do not appear to be evaluated.
This district has a poor history of making it appear that competent processes are undertaken, through efforts designed to assure the public, while refusing to apply those processes to authentic goals with meaningful results. Year after year, the district presents “strategic” plans, “improvement” plans, and “communication” plans, all with accompanying “action” items. Over all that time, the fundamental student-outcomes haven't improved meaningfully. Hollow processes are employed for political purposes rather than for improving the district. Superintendent Taymore has not taken a leadership role in changing this.
I-E. Data-Informed Decision-Making: Uses multiple sources of evidence related to student learning, including state, district, and school assessment results and growth data, to inform school and district goals and improve organizational performance, educator effectiveness, and student learning.
I-E-3. Improvement of Performance, Effectiveness, and Learning
UNSATISFACTORY—Does not share assessment data with administrators or provide them with resources and support to use data to make adjustments to school or district plans, and/or model appropriate data analysis strategies.
The artifacts show only that the district has given some assessments. They demonstrate only a small amount of critical analysis and adaptation of practice that is necessary to improve student outcomes significantly based on the data from the assessments. The assessments given are narrow, criterion-referenced ones. They do not provide a learning profile of students so educators can frame appropriate differentiation opportunities for all students.
It’s obvious from the “What worked” and “Goals” sections that the district is fixated on below-level students. There is a misapplication of Tier 2 and Tier 3 concepts. As used, they represent Tier 2 and Tier 3 as only being comprised of students below the grade level. No attention is given to students who meet or exceed grade-level assessment parameters.
The district focuses on identifying below-level students and providing them with more adult and other interventions at the expense of teaching relevant new content to students already considered at Tier 1. There may likely be as many students not served who could be identified at the upper Tier 2 and the upper Tier 3 as are serviced at the lower Tier 2 and the lower Tier 3. No consideration apparently is given to interventions for their advanced learning needs.
Although the Superintendent may provide access to some limited assessment tools to administrators, she does not provide them with enough proven resources (such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills), effective professional development, or competent support to use data for clear improvement. The superintendent does not model appropriate data analysis strategies or bring to the district authentic, nationally-normed measures which could evaluate and track actual student learning and growth over time. She allows principals to guide site councils to restate the same goals and action items year after year, with little improvement in student outcomes.
DESE Standard II/Goal 2, Management & Operations: Promotes the learning and growth of all students and the success of all staff by ensuring a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment, using resources to implement appropriate curriculum, staff, and scheduling. Develop five-year plans for the budget and technology to foster better planning by the district and city. Develop avenues for staff to receive professional development and opportunities that will provide them with career paths within the district.
II-B. Human Resources Management and Development: Implements a cohesive approach to recruitment, hiring, induction, development, and career growth that promotes high-quality and effective practice.
II-B-1. Recruitment and Hiring Strategies
UNSATISFACTORY—Does not successfully lead the recruitment and hiring process.
The superintendent does not effectively recruit the best prospects from either education schools or other districts. Reliance seems to be solely on SchoolSpring.
It has been reported that quality educators aren’t respected for what they have to offer. Instead, educators are apparently criticized by senior administrators for not adhering to debatable, arbitrary indicators of effective teaching. Educators with a proven track record have been forced out of the district because they did not blindly adhere to these artificial and inflexible rubrics determined by the curriculum director. The superintendent has hired and retains senior staff who aren’t demonstrating the necessary sophistication expected and required for their jobs. The superintendent appears either not to understand or not to value that senior staff must be able to analyze, adapt, and improve all elements under their direction. In areas where senior staff are obviously deficient, the superintendent does not adequately compensate for the gap in qualification. Consequently, the superintendent apparently allows her senior staff to remain stagnant in their understanding of the core job requirements. Staff do not demonstrate basic understanding of the law. This is exemplified by the multiple investigations currently undertaken by the United States Office of Civil Rights, as well as the documented violations of state regulations designed to protect students.
It is commendable that Superintendent Taymore recognizes the need for improvement in the teaching staff and has established a rigorous process of assessment. However, the process she has established seems poorly designed to identify the most effective and talented staff and distinguish them from those needing improvement. Consequently, some our most effective staff have left the district, citing the hostile work environment and the burden of protocols upon which they are being evaluated, all of which inhibits their ability to teach effectively. Simultaneously, staff who are less capable of producing positive student outcomes can apparently achieve high assessments simply by adhering to protocol.
I believe that the superintendent could lead the way in the management of her staff where praise is reserved for outstanding creative achievements (commensurate with the "Exemplary" of the evaluation rubric) and accountability is required for administrators in performing the basic functions of a position. Instead, the superintendent regularly heaps praise on administrators for performing basic job functions. In doing so, incentive is undermined for staff to perform to the higher levels the district needs. Others in the district follow the superintendent’s example—thereby standardizing this behavior and propagating the core problem.
The artifacts submitted for Human Resources component of this goal do not address the fact that finalists for district positions under this superintendent are consistently lacking the credentials that many would consider basic requirements. Recent principal searches, for example, are yielding finalists across the board who have never served in the positions for which they are being hired. The poor applicant pool presenting for district openings indicates problems with the district's external reputation.
The artifact included under the Human Resources Management and Development Indicator is the press release announcing that a new principal for the Lincoln school was hired. It is an embarrassment that the kind of "evidence" submitted includes the notice of a principal being hired by the superintendent. This notice is no more noteworthy than, say, a postal supervisor positively evaluating a letter carrier for delivering a piece of mail. The artifact of a simple notice that a person has been hired as principal of the Lincoln School is not evidence of excellent hiring practices. The restatement of parts of the finalist's resume does not give confidence that the candidate's hiring exhibits improvement in the district’s recruitment. In fact, there appeared to be a fairly low level of applicants applying for the position who had prior proven experience in the issues the Lincoln School faces. There is no evidence that the finalists' qualifications fit with the district mission, which the superintendent leaves as ambiguous.
Where was the evidence of appropriate management of the superintendent's direct hires? Instead, the Community has witnessed the publicly aired problems such as those in the Fine and Performing Arts and Special Education departments.
The burgeoning legal bills from the Special Education attorneys tell a story about Human Resources Management by the superintendent's self-selected administrative team that is highly concerning not just from a Special Education perspective. The aggressive concealment by this superintendent of who is accessing legal services and why, resulting in appeals to the Secretary of Stat
Thank you Ms. K!
The completeness of the arguments is compelling. I didn't know the most basic things behind the scenes are so bad. The Free Press should print it completely since it always prints those nicey-nice press releases from the schools designed to support the override.
Just shows how MFD is full of crap. He claimed there were 20 pages. It's less than 5 pages - Proof! They don't even make sense.
Part 2 (first bunch got truncated)
The burgeoning legal bills from the Special Education attorneys tell a story about Human Resources Management by the superintendent's self-selected administrative team that is highly concerning not just from a Special Education perspective. The aggressive concealment by this superintendent of who is accessing legal services and why, resulting in appeals to the Secretary of State's office suggest a great deal more that is troubling.
The need to hire outside consultants to investigate serious managerial and personnel crises within the teaching staff is troubling evidence, as the June 23, 2015 Warrants indicated in the $1537.50 Consultant Invoice.
The evidence provided in April by the Curriculum Director stated: "Supported the Fine Arts Department in the development of curriculum units with support of outside consultant." It should not have been necessary to hire an outside consultant when a supposedly competent department chair with up-to-date qualifications was recently hired to perform the relevant tasks.
The premature resignation of some of the district's most distinguished educators, including the recent departure of a legendary science and math educator known throughout the community for all she has given to decades of Melrose students is the most concerning evidence of all. This teacher had proven success with the complete range of her students, from College Prep all the way through Advanced Placement. The loss of this and many other educators, one of whom wrote an eloquent and lengthy letter that was published in the local papers, is an indication of this superintendent's failed personnel management.
II-B-2. Induction, Professional Development, and Career Growth Strategies NEEDS IMPROVEMENT—Develops only a limited district-wide induction program for new administrators and teachers and/or inconsistently implements the district’s induction strategy; organizes job-embedded professional development that is not consistently high quality or aligned with goals; and/or does not consistently support effective administrators’ and educators’ career growth. Does not establish effective criteria for the awarding of professional status.
No evidence is presented that there is an effective induction plan for teachers. The actions of the new Arts Department chair this year demonstrate that she did not have solid guidance or support in her role. Clearly there are many concerns around this recent hire that have not been managed appropriately, including a failure to respect, maintain, and convey to other administrators important basic principles of arts education management, such as the need for prerequisites in the instrumental ensembles.
A simple schedule showing titles of professional development seminars does not provide evidence that staff is being developed appropriately and in time for students’ benefit. There is an emphasis on Early Elementary and basic Special Education concepts. There is little professional development provided to develop upper primary and secondary teachers in areas so students can be better served. By her own admission in a public meeting, Superintendent Taymore no longer has sufficient science faculty who are competent to teach traditional curricula nor to offer advanced studies to high-achievers.
No evidence is presented that there is any effective nor quality-embedded professional development for administrators. Although the job-embedded professional development implemented for teachers is more organized than before, it appears often to be lacking any depth of instructional sophistication. Administrators who long ago should have understood metrics such as Student Growth Percentiles and Median Student Growth appear as ignorant of them today as they did several years ago. This stems from the district-wide obsession with misleading the public through false representations of accountability data. The misguided effort to place a positive spin on all outcomes pervasively inhibits district improvement.
Indicator II-E. Fiscal Systems: Develops a budget that supports the district’s vision, mission, and goals; allocates and manages expenditures consistent with district- and school-level goals and available resources.
II-E-1. Fiscal Systems
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT—Develops a budget that loosely aligns with the district’s vision, mission, and goals or inconsistently manages expenditures and available resources.
The superintendent has not established specific relevant and high-level district goals to which the district budget can be aligned appropriately. The superintendent presents budgets that do not challenge the status quo. She requests significantly more money to fund a few additional positions while not effectively prioritizing the funds she already budgets and expends.
The superintendent mismanages available resources through inefficient application of resources. Her administration is not open in how it spends all the resources currently under its control. The word obstructive defines this superintendent's approach to public accountability.
There is no evidence the superintendent effectively solicits or submits proposals for alternate funding sources.
Last year's innovations in the budget process and the superintendent's willingness to develop a more transparent, user-friendly model were viewed as extremely positive steps, even noted by parents and community leaders in the local media. However, the regressive process now in place negates much of that progress.
DESE Standard III Family and Community Engagement: Promotes the learning and growth of all students and the success of all staff through effective partnerships with families, community organizations, other stakeholders that support the mission of the school and district. Set clear expectations and provide professional development as needed to administrators so that all are both engaging in two-way, culturally proficient communication and collaborating with families and community partners on behalf of our students.
III-A-1. Family Engagement
UNSATISFACTORY—Does little to welcome families as members of the district, classroom or school community or tolerates an environment that is unwelcoming to some families.
III-C-1. Two-Way Communication
UNSATISFACTORY—Does not set clear expectations for or provide support to administrators to communicate with families. District communication regarding student learning and performance primarily occurs through school report cards.
The superintendent does not promote “the learning and growth of all students and the success of all staff through effective partnerships with families, community organizations, and other stakeholders,” which is the defining task of this element. The district invests tens of thousands of dollars annually on a communication system for teachers and administrators to communicate to students and parents. However, the district hasn’t required all teachers and administrators to use the tool fully or consistently.
The superintendent has not ensured that there is sufficient technological infrastructure to support educators, despite years-long proclamations from the district technology director that the infrastructure is robust.
The superintendent does not set “clear expectations for and provide differentiated support to ensure that all administrators design and implement frequent personalized communications, respond carefully and promptly to communications from families, and solicit feedback from families that informs improvement to communication plans.” The superintendent does not model respectful, timely, and open communication herself.
The superintendent has increased educator compensation significantly over the last few years. Despite the giveaways, the superintendent did not require sufficient educator availability “to maximize the number of face-to-face family/teacher interactions,” as would be required to attain proficiency in this element. The MHS Parent-Teacher Night fiasco continues to be unresolved.
From all available evidence, the district only attempts one-way communication. The district appears more concerned with manipulating the external public perception of the schools than engaging in two-way communications regarding deficiencies and potential improvement areas. This evidence is routinely observed at school committee meetings, district presentations, and the response to parents who contact district administrators.
The reflexive response to issues brought to the district’s attention is to diminish, deny, and dispose of the criticism. This past year’s handling of the federal civil rights violation against a student in April, 2014 viscerally demonstrated this approach. Many parents and students reported problems to the administration, which didn’t respond with care. It didn’t follow proper procedures, nor its own procedures.
Administration tends to expend energy on PR and damage control rather than confront issues in a straightforward manner, which ends up compounding the problems instead of heading them off at the pass in a respectful and proactive way, which ultimately benefits everyone and saves enormous amounts in legal and consultant fees.
More significantly, in its attempt to make the district look better, the superintendent has latched onto a decade-long strategy of isolating and marginalizing parents and students who bring attention to serious issues. This damaging strategy has resulted in perpetuating harmful conditions and costing the stakeholders and taxpayers dearly.
In the Communication Plan presented by administration this year, it is evident that the district seeks to control public perceptions through misleading marketing agendas rather than truthful acknowledgment of facts.
The district demonstrates regularly it does not want the public to learn the depth of district failures. The harm of this policy is that failures are obscured to the extent they diminish public demand for their reversal and correction.
The district refuses to schedule authentic opportunities to interact “with families and community stakeholders about student learning and performance.”
The inclusion of a survey announcement does not provide evidence of “regular, two-way, culturally proficient communication with families and community stakeholders about student learning and performance.” From the announcement, it’s clear that the committee will do all its work in isolation from parents and community stakeholders, likely without providing them any opportunity to be involved in authentic discussion and exploration of the issues.
Although the Communications Plan provided as an artifact uses the obligatory phrase of “two-way communication,” it is clear throughout the document that the district is far more concerned with disseminating only the information it wants to present, while directly limiting opportunity for discussion, exploration, and analysis among the most significant receiving stakeholders—students and their parents. The use of the term “audiences” reflects the districts view of these stakeholders who rather should be viewed as partners.
The entire plan reads like more of a corporate marketing and information control plan than a plan to include stakeholders in the process of determining the direction of the schools. The stated intent of communication with these internal stakeholders is for them to be “clear about the direction of the district.” No mention is made of partnering with these internal stakeholders to define a shared vision of the direction the district should be heading.
Additionally, although parents and students are defined as internal audiences, it is clear that other internal audiences are being trained to influence the perceptions of parents and students. Perhaps the district ought to consider that the organic perceptions of parents and students may be more realistic than the message the district attempts to spin.
There are some positive elements embedded in the communication plan presented, but they do not appear to be a priority of this administration based on the actions of the administrators this past year.
The district website remains a poor vehicle for public engagement, with current and important information chronically missing, while low-quality and out-of-date information is spotlighted. Instead of insisting on basic staff competence in correcting the deficiencies, the superintendent continues to make excuses and use district funds to hire consultants for website management.
In summation, Superintendent Taymore does not engage in "two-way, culturally proficient communication," nor does she promote this effectively with her staff. Superintendent Taymore engages well and often with those who agree with her; by contrast she has anything but an open-door policy to those who might have a differing opinion, referring them to her staff, some of whom are consistently less than welcoming or helpful and some who do not return phone calls.
The spin machine works well in district administration. Educational jargon is promulgated effectively, with widespread dissemination both online in blogs and websites, and also in the never-ending forums and Powerpoint presentations. The numerous working groups, focus groups, and private discussions occurring often with the superintendent are an impediment to the overall goal of increasing public engagement and instead lend themselves to an appearance of exclusivity and politicization of school district processes. They are also a huge time-sink for the superintendent and her administration, where a more productive use of her time would be valued instead. Superintendent Taymore has actively worked to reduce opportunities for real-time dialogue with all in the community, especially those with whom she has a difference of opinion.
The superintendent and school committee could work together to make their meeting times more productive by cutting to the chase and getting more quickly to the heart of each pressing issue. Eliminating the lengthy superficial presentations that gush about marginal successes while glossing over the problem areas would mark a welcome change. It would help to have mature and factual discussions about the bigger picture. Our community's students need and deserve a more honest approach by our school administration if their achievement results are going to improve in any timeframe that is relevant for them.
III-C. Communication: Engages in regular, two-way, culturally proficient communication with families and community stakeholders about student learning and performance.
III-C-2. Culturally Proficient Communication.
UNSATISFACTORY—Does not set clear expectations for or provide support to administrators regarding culturally sensitive communication and/or allows inappropriate disrespectful communication with families that ignores different family cultural norms. The multiple federal civil rights investigations currently underway illustrate the unfortunate state of affairs under this superintendent only too clearly.
The superintendent has allowed three moves of the METCO office in the past two years, with a fourth move slated upon completion of the MHS Learning Commons project. Though the poor ethics and optics of these cavalier and grossly insensitive moves were brought to Ms. Taymore's attention, she refused to take the matter seriously and chose to allow the moves instead.
The superintendent does not ensure “that district-wide communication with families is always respectful.” Communications with families are often patronizing and disrespectful of concerns families have raised with the district. Superintendent Taymore has herself resorted to belligerent and rude language in addressing members of the community during public sessions of this body and does not have the dignity or professionalism to apologize, nor does this committee enforce any standard of professionalism that would indicate that such behavior is unacceptable.
There is no evidence presented to make a determination that the district exhibits cultural sensitivity in its communications. There is evidence this year that the district has not translated important information in a family’s home language that was specifically required by law. Upon being brought to the district’s attention, there was no mitigation of the harm done. There was not even an acknowledgment that the district breached its statutory responsibility.
The artifact comprising a letter from the middle school, translated in several languages, does not prove respectful communications with families.
In fact, the student handbook itself is written in such a manner as to be overly aggressive against students. Although the handbook defines elements of the school climate, administrators and educators do not hold up their end of the bargain. Administrators use the handbook as an absolute, determining factor that they are justified in their responses to problems. They righteously do so as they violate the very provisions in the handbook, in state regulations, and in the law. That does not amount to respect. The handbook and the enforcement that flows from it represents disrespect of the very students the district exists to serve.
DESE Standard IV Professional Culture: Promotes success for all students by nurturing and sustaining a school culture of reflective practice, high expectations, and continuous learning for staff. Improve the commitment and consistency for high standards and success for all learners not only at all levels within the school system but also within the community.
IV-D. Continuous Learning: Develops and nurtures a culture in which staff members are reflective about their practice and use student data, current research, best practices and theory to continuously adapt practice and achieve improved results. Models these behaviors in the administrator’s own practice.
IV-D-1. Continuous Learning of Staff
UNSATISFACTORY—Accepts the practice of administrators working largely in isolation, without consideration of data and best practices, and/or discourages reflection among administrators, faculty and staff.
The culture emanating from this superintendent, even during public School Committee meetings “discourages reflection among administrators, faculty and staff.” The administrators appear more willing to avoid criticism to such an extent they deny implications that data indicates problems in the district, than they appear willing to consider data honestly with appropriate critical thinking skills.
There is rarely any admission from administrators that prior policies were unproductive, harmful, or misguided, even as administrators are forced by blatant public circumstances to change course.
The artifacts presented aren’t indicative of continuous learning of staff. When, for example, a few teacher volunteers were solicited to visit and observe other educators for a day, there may have been some learning; but this exercise doesn’t seem to have been devised effectively to include all educators who teach the subject at hand (in this case, Social Studies).
The artifact relative to middle school Science betrays that the district still has not parsed the curriculum taught in the sixth and seventh grades. That has been an ongoing problem for a decade. Why are the Science teachers performing the job of the Department Chair and the Curriculum Director? That doesn't seem to be what the teachers need for their professional growth. It would seem that curriculum maps should be provided for teachers to use, not for them to devise in 20 or 30 minutes as a group. If the Science teachers had not analyzed the midyear and final exams from the previous year, along with MCAS results by October 22, it is evident that comprehensive analysis is not occurring with the goal of adapting instruction and practice in a time for it to help students.
IV-E. Shared Vision: Continuously engages all stakeholders in the creation of a shared educational vision in which every student is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education and become a responsible citizen and global contributor.
IV-E-1. Shared Vision Development
UNSATISFACTORY—Does little to engage stakeholders in the creation of a shared educational vision, or the vision is disconnected from college and career readiness, civic engagement, and/or community contributions.
The attached data compilations reflect the areas in which there has been either a downward trend or static results in student outcomes, along with those that have improved. There is no consistency of high standards and success for all learners, as these data clearly show.
Shared Vision is referenced in the superintendent's artifacts for this goal. There is critical need for a simple Vision and Mission around which all decisions could be made. These could be modeled on the effective examples from high-performing districts. Decisions need to be made that are based on real and factual information.
Administration should not need to be using outside consultants in order to help determine our district values. Instead the administration needs to become better about listening and communicating consistently well within our school community.
Interactions based in deeper understanding of the issues between our school committee and other government entities could take place. This would require better communication overall, which is achievable if meaningful standards and expectations are raised and enforced.
The superintendent does not lead “administrators, staff, students of all ages, families, and community members to develop and internalize a shared educational vision around preparation for college and careers and responsible citizenship.”
Despite years of requests from some community members, the superintendent has never opened the door to all for an exploration and definition of a meaningful shared vision. The approach taken is for the district to make declarations emanating from the “administrative team” and subsequently foist them upon the community. With little to no engagement of the community in the development of the defined concerns, concepts and strategies, the district acts in a vacuum, disconnected from the communities’ standards and concerns. There is no wonder the schools do not reflect the community values, and the community has been rendered ineffective in fully supporting the schools.
1.28.14 Letter to Parents regarding Gifted and Talented Assessment
2014 Melrose MCAS Results
SAT Score Comparisons Sorted by Aggregates
Goal 1 I – Instructional Leadership
B. Instruction Indicator
2. Quality of Effort & Work Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
3. Diverse Learners’ Needs Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
C. Assessment Indicator
2. Adjustment to Practice Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
D. Evaluation Indicator
1. Educator Goals Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
E. Data-Informed Decision Making Indicator
3. Improv of Perf, Effect, Learning Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
Goal 2 II Management and Operations
B. Human Resources Management & Development Indicator
1. Recruitment & Hiring Strategies Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
2. Induction, PD, Career Growth Stra Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
E. Fiscal Systems Indicator
1. Fiscal Systems Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
Goal 3 III Family and Community Engagement
A. Engagement Indicator
1. Family Engagement Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
C. Communication Indicator
1. Two-Way Communication Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
2. Culturally Proficient Comm Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
Goal 4 IV Professional Culture
D. Continuous Learning Indicator
1. Continuous Learning of Staff Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
E. Shared Vision Indicator
1. Shared Vision Development Unsatisfactory - Needs Improvement - Satisfactory - Exemplary
January 28, 2014
The Melrose Public Schools is currently accepting nominations for students to be screened and identified as gifted and talented. Students must be in grades 3-8 and meet the specific criteria established by the Melrose Public Schools for consideration. Families are asked to review the criteria before applying for the program. (See enclosed document.) Please note that only a fraction of those referred for screening are identified as gifted and talented.
The Melrose Public School defines students who are gifted and talented as “Students who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, innovative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need specific curricula, services, or activities in order to fully develop those capabilities.” (Part A, Section 910, ESEA)
Referrals for testing for gifted and talented can be made by a parent/guardian, school personnel, or the student themselves. Students’ academic records will be reviewed to determine if criteria are met. Students who meet the criteria for grading, assessment scores, teacher and parent referrals will be further assessed using two standardized norm-referenced measures. A committee consisting of the school principal, a classroom teacher, school psychologist, and Assistant Superintendent will review the results. Parents will be notified of the decision of the committee.
Students who are identified as gifted and talented are clustered within one classroom at the elementary level to facilitate teacher’s meeting their needs. At the middle school, students participate in a specific course as part of their schedule.
Deadline for submission of Parent Referral and Permission to Test is due to the school building principal by February 28, 2014. To request the form to request a referral form, contact your child’s school principal.
Students must meet ALL of the above requirements to be considered gifted and talented.
Criteria for Gifted and Talented Testing For Middle School Students
1. A minimum of an A- in core subject areas of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.
2. Advanced in ELA and Mathematics on the MCAS for students in previous grade(s)
3. Score of at least 90% on mid-term and final assessments for the current and previous grade level, as data is available
4. Teacher recommendation form indicating a total score of at least 70 or above and completed Gifted and Talented Evaluation Scale (GATES)
5. Parent permission to test
6. Completion of student portfolio (see requirements)
Students meeting all of the above criteria will then be further assessed using the following:
7. Naglieri Test of Nonverbal Abilities-98% or above is one qualifier
8. Otis-Lennon School Ability Test®, Eighth Edition-96% and above is one qualifier
Students must meet ALL of the above requirements to be considered gifted and talented.
Thank you very much Ms. Kourkoumelis for what you said last night, it said it all, you can't make this stuff up. As an elected official you're a wife, you have a family, children, you have a wonderful husband and you dedicate a lot of time to the Melrose Public School system. You try to take care of any problem that you can solve. The thing I'll say is that last night highlighted, you speak about the truth, about what our superintendent isn't doing. You said it all last night but maybe I can add a little to it. Since we've hired this superintendent we've had this revolving door of people coming and going. She may not think that it is a problem but it sure to hell is. We're not going to be compared to what's going on in other communities. If our superintendent can't hold onto good help, the question has to be asked, if she loses all these good people and we know they're good, we are moms and dads, the question comes around to her management skills. I only have an opinion and so far I think that we're coming up short, what is the impact to every child in the melrose school system because of this revolving door? The big question becomes, when is the Melrose School committee going to fire the superintendent? Oh yeah, they'll play this pretend game, if you folks remember, we had another women who was our superintendent six months short of retiring and they blamed everything on her. I really can't remember her name off the top of my head but what i do remember she was behind building a brand new Melrose Middle school, even with her termination she got to see a new school, which was good for the community. Now you all out there, there's people who will disagree with what i have said, but everybody has their opinion, everybody's opinion is different. So you all have a great evening, enjoy the rest of the summer, it's short. PS there will be some bloggers out there, that may disagree with me, please bring it on, I'm only talking about the truth, the truth goes a long way, and once again thank you Ms. Kourkoumelis for the fine job that you're doing. Take care all.
I do not understand how anyone on the SC can read or listen to CT's evaluation by CKK, and still have the nerve to disregard the facts and give CT a "proficient" or "exemplary" rating, without addressing the specific support that CKK cited in her evaluation. It is simply mind-blowing to think that these other members are that dumb. I understand if they want to disagree, but at least try to convince me that your view has merit, or try to refute even one thing that Mrs. K has reported. If you cannot do that, how can you rate CT as "exemplary"? It just makes no sense. The longer I pay attention to what this SC does, the sicker I get.
Just saw the SC meeting on MMTV since it was just posted today. Can you believe that those fools had previously agreed not to verbally provide us their evaluation of Taymore publicly but instead just give a quick few minutes summary! Can you believe this? One of their main responsibilities as a school committee is to evaluate the superintendent and they can't even do that in complete transparency! Chairman Thorp is a disgrace to the school district and to Melrose! What an arrogant, dictatorial and secretive person she is to allow this to happen.
But this is not the end of her idiocy - all these evaluations will be summarized and the only ones which will be officially put into the record will be those where at least 2 people agree with the category being evaluated. In other words, none of the documented criticisms that CKK has of Taymore, will probably not be entered into the official record!
The school committee should be ashamed of themselves!
"I do not understand how anyone on the SC can read or listen to CT's evaluation by CKK, and still have the nerve to disregard the facts and give CT a "proficient" or "exemplary" rating"
We should have been allowed, as the taxpaying public, to see and hear each member of the School Committee give their public evaluation and rankings. This was prevented by their secret agreement to do this all behind the scenes, not in public, not aired on TV process. So now the chair can bury the documents in the "minutes" where most will not even think to look, let alone watch or listen. Shame, Shame, Shame on all of them except Mrs. Kaynor. What a travesty. They do not deserve to represent our community!
She didn't allow this to happen, MFD. She caused it to happen. And she stopped being a disgrace a long time ago. Now she is simply a menace. How much have her hairbrained actions cost the district in legal fees so far? They spend more time, energy, and money dreaming up ways to silence CKK and cover up the truth than they do on school business, and their actions become more and more egregious almost daily. Hopefully there will be some indictments to follow soon.
Getting rid of Thorpe is critical, because then all her minions will start running around like headless chickens, especially Driscoll, whose brainless meanderings give me agita. How many times does she say "ummm" in every incoherent sentence she attempts to speak?
I am so glad my kids are long gone from that system. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, and I truly feel bad for those buying in Melrose thinking they're getting a functional, quality school system. I'm truly sorry, and I'm ashamed the people of Melrose have allowed this catastrophe to develop to this point. It's very sad.
And the catalyst behind all of this? Take a wild guess.
Everyone should read Ms. CKK's evaluation. It hits every nail squarely on every head. CT isn't the only menace. Those (the SC/mayor) who hired her and extended her contract have behaved dishonorably and should have to face a full court press for the harm they have caused that is directly hurting our children.
I've also read it...and it is a devastating indictment of Taymore!
Hello folks, how are all of you all doing this evening? It's Tuesday night and it's finally getting to be a little more comfortable. I have something short to say and it'll be short. Let's look at it like this, if you look at all the job postings that keep on coming up, you have to wonder, if we're all losing confidence in our superintendent? But the bigger question lies here, why is it that school committee members except Ms. Kourkoumelis has shared her whole review on our superintendent, but the rest of the school committee including the mayor, definitely has no backbone. Do you know why? They all are afraid of what the neighbors are going to think, what the community is going to think of them, it only makes me ask the question. do these people violate the open meeting law? By using this approach, because they don't want to release the thoughts on how the superintendent is performing, what are they afraid of? They should be held accountable, because they make everything seem like everything is good. But there's plenty that is wrong. We can make a list on here that would never stop, but I'll make you laugh. If it's true, and we have a project going on in the Melrose High School, and they found espedice (poison) there. So who is running that job? Sounds like to me somebody didn't check out eh hazardous material that could be in this building. Who's going to take responsibility for this? Know what I think folks? Nobody from the city or the school department, because everything is good. But do we need to move the poison before we do any work? We're using the word poison because it is not good for the human body. You all can debate me on this, but just look up what it can do to you. How much money has that added to the job? And once again we're talking numbers, money. And once again we won't get an answer to this. Because they'll probably tell us to pound sand. But this all comes back to our superintendent again. She's executive of the Melrose Public School system. But I am going to ask this one question, maybe it's time to negotiate a way for her to leave. Maybe it can be a family problem, or a medical issue. What road are you taking our children down? And I'm talking about are they in danger, of this work going on, and if there is this espedice there in this building, what steps are you taking to protect this building and the children, and the teachers? This is all about safety now, I'm only basing this off of the board, if it wasn't true, it would have vanished by now. So superintendent maybe you should answer this one. That's if you have the backbone to do it. PS look forward to all you bloggers whoa re going to try to discredit this, thank you all, enjoy the rest of the summer, school starts real soon.
It is what it is .Nothing new at this time.
As the previous poster said, "It is what it is"! What a sad commentary on the thinking of some people Melrose! The attitude of "It is what it is" - is because of a lack of involvement by those who should have a stake in the outcome of our schools - which means we ALL should be concerned and to take action to correct the situation.
Speaking Truth to Power. Thank you to this Representative of the People! It's all here in this document, with the facts to back up every assertion. The propagandists in City Hall and MEF should be so ashamed (if they were capable of shame!). This is a first class mess. When is a new superintendent search process going to begin? How can we make sure that MD, KT, or any of the other Cabal are not in any way allowed to be part of that search? They should in fact be forced to resign! Can the BOA assert some ethics clauses, or perhaps is there a citizen's measure that can be enforced?
Wait a minute - you think that the BOA will do something about the situation? Really? They are the "rubber stamp" of the Mayor - except for Monica and sometimes, Don.
No hope from the BOA to do anything. The schools need to hit bottom before there is real change - and that should be soon!
With all those genius attorneys (not so much) on the BOA, surely there must be some notion about some of the ways the BOA could begin to take back at least its own power. First, anything RD puts forward should be sent through every possible ringer of scrutiny, since that man has no credibility and will do absolutely anything to get what he wants. Second, there are a number of parliamentary measures that could be implemented with a bit of creativity and know-how that those attorneys at least should be able to do. There are a bunch of things that can be revisited, reopened, reconsidered that can send a Big Message that the unethical and the bullying will no longer be tolerated.
The Water/Sewer rates should be revisited immediately, and the whole stinking mess revamped, including the meter replacement system, regardless of whether it has been started or not. There needs to be a very careful examination of how the funds are being used/possibly misused, how things are billed to the various accounts, how inappropriate staff are being lumped into Enterprise Funds illegally, etc. There are a myriad of ways that this BOA could assert its lawful rights and reinstate the balance of powers. There just needs to be enough outrage, enough will to fix it. Come on, Melrose, you can be better than this! Shape up and do it yesterday!
Wait until JD "Rocks" their world.....
Reading this excellent document with all its factual material inspired a closer look at some of the other indices that matter to students and their futures.
For those parents like myself concerned about poor standardized scores, here's more that is quite dismaying. The ACT is another national test (not like the state MCAS or PARCC) that many take in addition to or instead of the SAT. Melrose High fares even worse on the ACT than on the SAT, consistently BELOW the state level. This is quite detrimental to the post-grad outcomes, because not only does it affect the current students looking to get into college, but it has a very negative ramification in signalling to admissions officers about the actual state of affairs at Melrose High School (those officers know how to get past the spin).
A lot of the administrators have made excuses for the miserable SAT results, starting with being overburdened implementing the Common Core and not focusing on SAT because the test is changing. Those are poor excuses when it comes to a measurement like Critical Reading, which MHS students should do well at if they have had a collectively adequate education over their prior 12 years, which clearly they have not.
The word has to be "adequate" education, which only barely cuts it. Can't even talk about "excellence" unless we're talking about Dr. Peterson, who is now gone. Wonder what those AP scores will look like next year since Dr P also was the primary teacher doing a lot of the Saturday trainings, to say nothing of all the remedial help she had to give even her strongest students on a daily basis due to the huge deficits they had/have from their prior years in this school system. Excellence is not really even a thing in Melrose as it stands right now, only a buzz word intended to dizzy us and help us think things are good when the plain evidence says something very different.
There really are no acceptable excuses. Look at these ACT results--another national test, one in which all students are measured comparably. How exactly does our school administration think it can justify being BELOW the STATE LEVEL, which means being below the mean for all communities in the Commonwealth?
ACT Composite Scores
2012: 22.9 MHS 24.1 State
2013: 23.3 MHS 24.1 State
2014: 23.2 MHS 24.3 State
Did anyone see that very well-written letter by a resident/parent (Colleen Murphy) in the Sports Section of this week's Free Press about the Superintendent Evals? It hit every issue point-blank. Hoping it goes online so it can be posted here. It really said it all, even including the writer's personal experience with the open disrespect (and incompetence managing their emails and obeying the Open Meeting Laws about serial communication!) shown by the School Committee and superintendent.
Many thanks to Ms. Murphy for taking the time to do this. Her work (and of course the work of Mrs. CKK) is totally professional in its scope and coverage, and an example of fine writing to boot (too bad members of the English dept. and administration can't manage to write anything of this caliber!).
The comprehensive nature and clear line to the evidence in the letter (and Mrs. K's eval) are a stunning indictment of the failures of the school system and most especially of the superintendent and School Committee (mayor). It is entirely relevant to the Override issue, and all should read Ms. Murphy's piece. If it doesn't get posted (which might well indicate that the politicians are continuing to try and shut down anything that doesn't portray things they way they want them portrayed), then maybe someone with an electronic copy could post it.
I read with interest Paul Lang’s September 3rd letter to the Editor (“Questions for Kourkoumelis”). In his letter, Mr. Lang points out issues he has with School Committee Member Carrie Kourkoumelis’ 2015 evaluation of Superintendent of Schools Cyndi Taymore. Having read the School Committee Members’ evaluations of Superintendent Taymore last year, I was surprised that someone would be critical of Ms. Kourkoumelis’ evaluation, because I found her evaluation of Superintendent Taymore last year to be incredibly thoughtful and well-supported. Mr. Lang’s letter prompted me to obtain this year’s evaluations and take a look.
First, the tale of the tape. Ms. Kourkoumelis’ evaluation comprises twenty one pages, including ten pages of detailed comments and ten additional pages of exhibits including details on SAT and MCAS performance. In contrast, in total, the remaining six School Committee Members submitted just thirteen pages among them. Two Committee Members did no more than circle their ratings of Superintendent Taymore and add one paragraph of comments (Jessica Dugan and Kristin Thorp). Ms. Thorp submitted just four sentences of commentary to support her evaluation of the Superintendent.
It took me about an hour to read and fully understand Ms. Kourkoumelis’ evaluation. It took me less than twenty minutes to read and fully understand all of the remaining Committee Members’ evaluations together. I mention all of this because, while detail and length are not always indicative of the time, effort and thought that go into something like the evaluation of a Superintendent of Schools, in this case, reading all of the evaluations together and knowing what I know about the Melrose School System, I can say unequivocally that the comparison here speaks volumes.
Mr. Lang perhaps was offended by Ms. Kourkoumelis’ evaluation of Superintendent Taymore because it was largely critical of the Superintendent. Each evaluator was required to rank the Superintendent on thirteen factors and assign a ranking to each factor of “Exemplary,” “Satisfactory,” “Needs Improvement” or “Unsatisfactory.” Of the thirteen factors evaluated, Ms. Kourkoumelis gave Superintendent Taymore a rating of “Unsatisfactory” or “Needs Improvement” on all thirteen. In contrast, the remaining School Committee Members’ evaluations ranged from positive to glowing. Kristin Thorp rated Superintendent Taymore “Exemplary” in 8 of the thirteen factors and “Satisfactory” in the other five. Don Constantine rated the Superintendent “Exemplary” or “Proficient” in all categories. (There is some confusion amongst the evaluations as to whether the term “Satisfactory” or “Proficient” is the correct term. For these purposes I am assuming they are equivalent ratings.) Mr. Constantine also gave the Superintendent a “VERY strong proficiency rating” (his emphasis, not mine) in the category of Family and Community Engagement and raved that the Superintendent had demonstrated very “strong outreach and relations with the culturally diverse elements of Melrose.” (We’ll get to that in a minute.)
Some of the School Committee Members other than Ms. Kourkoumelis took the time in their evaluations to include details to support their evaluations. Christine Casatelli’s evaluation stands out for including discussions of specific programs and specific suggestions for improvement where she believes it is warranted. But none of the School Committee Members (other than Ms. Kourkoumelis) even mentioned in their evaluations some of the most pressing issues facing the Melrose School System today:
• The decline in college matriculation rates. As Ms. Kourkoumelis points out, in 2005-6, 95.9% of Melrose High School graduates attended either 4-year or 2-year colleges. By 2013-14 that number had plummeted to 88.3%. And while the number of students attending college overall is declining, the number attending 2-year schools has increased dramatically. In 2005 just 11.4% of students attending college were attending 2-year schools; by 2009 that number almost doubled to 21%. These numbers deserve our attention, both because of the overall decline in attendance rates and the increase in students attending 2-year schools instead of 4-year schools. And while the increase of students attending 2-year schools may, in part, be attributable to the high cost of college, the numbers are nonetheless cause for concern.
• The decline of the Horace Mann Elementary School to MCAS Level 3 status. The MCAS assigns districts the level of their lowest performing school, so Melrose is a Level 3 district (along with area schools including Chelsea, Malden and Everett; Stoneham and Wakefield are Level 2 districts).
• SAT and ACT scores that, as Ms. Kourkoumelis puts it, “are below or near the state mean, which is inconsistent with our community demographics.”
Space constraints prohibit me from including all of the issues that were raised by Ms. Kourkoumelis and ignored by the other School Committee Members in this letter, but one more needs to be addressed, particularly because it’s been in the news so much lately. Ms. Kourkoumelis was the only School Committee Member to mention in her evaluation the “multiple investigations currently undertaken by the United States Office of Civil Rights.” As is now widely known, the Office of Civil Rights investigated an allegation of racial harassment at the Melrose Middle School that occurred in April 2014 and found that the Melrose School System violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. That incident involved a then eighth grade teacher who allegedly told an African American student to “go back to the plantation.” It is now being reported that the Office of Civil Rights is investigating a second incident that involves allegations that adminstrators demanded that a teacher segregate students by race (or more accurately not allow African American students to sit together) and fired that teacher when she refused to comply with their demands.
I was at a family birthday party a few weeks ago shortly after the Boston Globe first reported on the first Office of Civil Rights investigation. I was asked if I knew what the investigation was about and I told everyone my understanding. After I had finished twelve people sat around the table in stunned silence. The thirteenth person at the table – my ten-year-old son – was the only one who could speak. He told us that “they should arrest that teacher.”
Unfortunately, we know that, not only did they not “arrest that teacher,” they did not even punish her. The Superintendent allowed her to go on leave, and then – shockingly – to return to teach, not at the Middle School, where the initial incident occurred, but at the High School where, by that time, her victim and the other students who witnessed the incident (who were themselves victims), were students. The teacher was allowed to finish her career and retire, presumably with a full pension.
Although we don’t yet know all of the details regarding the Office of Civil Rights’ findings with respect to that incident, it seems likely that, in addition to finding the teacher culpable for her despicable comment, the Office of Civil Rights will also find the Melrose School System culpable for its utter failure to protect the victim and punish the teacher. “One community open to all” indeed.
It bears repeating – although several School Committee Members rated Superintendent Taymore as “Needs Improvement” on the “Culturally Proficient Communication” element of the evaluation, which is the element that would apply to these incidents, no one other than Ms. Kourkoumelis even mentioned the Office of Civil Rights investigations in their evaluations, though they clearly knew that those investigations were pending. Kristin Thorp rated the Superintendent as “Satisfactory” in “Culturally Proficient Communication,” and, again, Don Constantine said that the Superintendent demonstrated very “strong outreach and relations with the culturally diverse elements of Melrose.”
I could go on (and I already have). But I will end with one more observation. Ms. Kourkoumelis points out in her evaluation that the “fact that so many in our administration do not admit that we are doing poorly prevents us from being able to contemplate the real changes that could actually benefit students and lead to improvements.” She also notes that district communications “with families are often patronizing and disrespectful of concerns families have raised with the district.” These statements are true in my experience. Last year, I – like many others – wrote to the School Committee Members to express my concerns about a personnel decision at the Horace Mann Elementary School. It was the first time I had written to the School Committee. In my email I expressed my frustration that, with so many problems in the Melrose School System that the administration seemed unwilling or unable to fix (some of which I listed in my email), the administration was taking an action that would harm students unnecessarily.
Most of the School Committee Members did not respond, although a few did. One expressed sympathy for my position and regret that nothing could be done to fix the problem. One School Committee Member seemed uninterested in the reason for my email and instead took aim at my list of concerns regarding the School System, pointedly attempting to demonstrate that my concerns were unfounded. I found that response to be misleading, disingenuous and disrespectful. Superintendent Taymore did not initially substantively respond to my letter. Rather, she accidentally copied me on her response to the School Committee Member who had sent me the disrespectful reply. Superintendent Taymore congratulated the School Committee Member for her response to me and suggested to the Member that “we should all do more of this.”
Only when I asked Ms. Taymore to explain the meaning of her email and suggested to her that I found it offensive that she would congratulate a School Committee Member for sending such a disingenuous response to a parent who had taken the time to express concerns did Ms. Taymore engage directly with me. But by then the damage was done and I understood, first-hand, Ms. Kourkoumelis’ concerns that the “district appears more concerned with manipulating the external public perception of the schools than engaging in two-way communications regarding deficiencies and potential improvement areas.”
100 Larchmont Road
I feel bad for the way Ms. Murphy was treated, however this is quite common, if not routine behavior for this bunch. I would go so far as to say she got off easy compared to other complainants. Two years ago when multiple parents at Horace Mann complained about a teacher disparaging kids who "didn't get it" or asked questions, the principal, rather than taking action with the teacher, attacked the complainers with a various array of retaliatory measures in her arsenal, ranging from banning parents from volunteering for the school or school activities, to requiring an administrative escort while in the school and even quietly filing a false police report against one family who only found out about it weeks later from a friend who had seen their name and address prominently displayed on MPD's online police log. The parent's complaint to the superintendent's office demanding the principal remove the false statements on the report was simply ignored by the administration and instead, addressed by city solicitor Robert Van Campen who simply indicated he "considered the matter closed" and then threatened the parents by e-mail, warning of legal action against them if they should continue to pursue the matter with the principal. To make the intimidation complete, the e-mail was openly copied to the chief of police and the superintendent.
I commend Ms. Murphy for coming forward with her experiences with the superintendent's office and encourage others to do the same. If it takes shaming these people into curtailing their illegal activities, then so be it.