Full Text of Free Press Article by Colleen Murphy
Oct 18, 2015 - 8:16PM
Re: CKourkoumelis 2015 Evaluation of Superintendent Taymore
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
Thank you so much!
Bravo! I am jumping up and down giving the letter by Ms. Murphy a standing O! Thank you to whomever posted this and to Ms. Murphy for taking the time to do this excellent analysis and overview.
What a very well-written piece that expresses what anyone with a brain observed about the sham of a superintendent's "review".
Now, we can just wait to see how long before Clown Patrol posts that Ms. Murphy is a "hater", and refers to her as a "bozo" with "big shoes" and a "red nose", who drives around in her "clown car" and "squirts water from her lapel flower" while she "honks her horn". Because that will get everyone's mind off the fact that everything she wrote was completely accurate, right?.
And yet the previous three posters are nowhere to be found at any SC meetings.
Were you at any of them "and yet?" I was. How do you know anything about who was there?
Why would you assume the article was retyped? Just because it isn't online in the Free Press doesn't mean Ms. Murphy didn't give it to someone here to post. After all...she is the author and can share her writing with anyone she pleases.
It could have been scanned and then converted to word and posted. You must get your IT info from Jorge Pasos. So no I don't think it was retyped. But I suppose it's easier and fits your agenda by calling the poster of this wonderful commentary "creepy" than address the substantive issues of the letter.
The article was not retyped. I posted it to another string at the request of a user who then copied it to this new string.
Thanks Colleen. I applaud you for letting the community know how complainants are summarily ridiculed and retaliated against by the superintendent's office as my family (children as well as spouse) where twice victimized by the "hit squad" after reporting serious educator misconduct. I know what it feels like when the administrators who you are supposed to be able to trust to do the right thing, and who are required by State and Federal law to investigate these incidents, do absolutely nothing and instead, retaliate and intimidate the victims so that they will just go away. Thankfully, it appears The US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has figured this out and are taking action.
Saying thank you Ms. Murphy doesn't begin to address the service you have provided this community with your thoughtful and reasoned commentary.
248 posts on this in one day. Poor Myron has been in my basement all day churning out views. And I told him he can't leave until we get to 300!
Pattie; please release poor Myron so he can go home and soak his fingers in a bath of warm water and epsom salt..[:)s]
"Ms Creepy" is none other than Vuvu/ClownPatrol (the actual creepy one), just continuing with the disgusting posts aimed at discrediting those who have a differing view. Luckily those like Ms. Murphy shine through with their integrity and generosity in taking the time to put forward such well-stated and well-supported views. Those like Vuvu/Clown/Creepy bank on a very low and crass standard of communication (perfect for this massively dysfunctional school district) and don't know what to do with truly intelligent and responsible citizens like Ms. Murphy, who nailed it and did so in a very dignified and thoughtful manner. Dignified, thoughtful and intelligent are not part of this administration's mode, nor obviously of "Ms Creepy"!
Speaking of Truth....
Thank you, Colleen Murphy!!!
It is odd that so many lawyers on this board have opinions about how the Civil Rights complaints are being handled without any facts. From a distance it appears that while the investigation was being conducted the district removed the teacher from the situation, reassigned the teacher and eventually teacher was removed from the system. If you aren’t directly involved you simply don’t have any further facts. Anyone familiar with litigation knows that investigations and legal proceedings take a tremendous amount of time. As much as the lawyers on this board want things to move faster, they don’t. Removing the teacher from the situation was a wise thing to do. However, taking further action (such as terminating the teacher) prior to completing an investigation would have only opened up the district to further litigation from the accused teacher and perhaps the union and may have also compromised their legal position in replying to the complaint. Most people familiar with litigation would know this and certainly any lawyers would and if they claim otherwise and are critical of the how this was handled they are probably being disingenuous.
Also, I see that the letter above references the other Civil Rights complaint. It is far too early to criticize the district for this until the investigation is complete. Wisely, the district is being quiet on this; even while they are taking shots like the one above from those very willing to “sign-up” for this terminated employees complaint. From a distance…if the employee filed the Civil Rights complaint before being fired it may actually have a bit more merit and I could see all the lawyers on here jumping on board with this. However, until the investigation is complete, right now it could just as soon be a terminated employee trying to exploit an opportunity to further their own cause by making a bogus Civil Rights claim as much as anything else. A good lawyer would recognize this and not criticize until the facts are known.
Your points are valid up to a point. BUT....
There are some things so egregious that a teacher can and should be fired on the spot, and even the union bosses acknowledge and respect this (except in Melrose). It's called "just cause," and of course you know that.
How low does the bar have to get in Melrose before an employee is terminated? Answer: the basement seems to get lower and lower here. For those wielding power, there doesn't seem to be a bottom at all, unless of course, you are a perceived enemy of administration, at which point there could be any justification for eliminating the employee, valid or not.
And FYI, the teacher in question here didn't get "removed," but was allowed to advance to her dream spot at the high school (she had spoken publicly and often about wanting to be at MHS, and in fact had originally applied there but been rejected!) for a year in order to give her the maximum pension so that she could then retire, which she did.
Sure there are lots of facts that cannot be known until the various processes have been completed. But it's also well known that critical information is being denied to certain of our elected officials on the specious grounds of protecting confidentiality when in fact it is only about coverups protecting the administrators and the elected officials who wield inappropriate power and who have behaved with contempt (as the proven finding of civil rights violations shows).
So if your aim was to invalidate those like Ms. Murphy, or invalidate the legitimate criticism of an obviously broken school and political system, you did not succeed.
Dear, Monday A.M. Lawyer, was there not a finding by the Office of Civil Rights in the first complaint that the Melrose school system did not handle the matter regarding the teacher correctly?
If so, that invalidates most of what you say.
The school system is scurrying around now trying to reach some sort of solution to deal with the complaint. Because they are being forced to do so by the government, not because they, when they had the opportunity, wanted to do so.
If the OCR had investigated and had not found anything,then the serial apologists for the school system would have been cheering. The OCR did find violations and that is why we are where we are today with the situation.
Something to remember about the second complaint is that it is probably not novel to the OCR that disgruntled employees claim discrimination when they are terminated or receive a bad review or are denied a promotion. The OCR has to wade through the claims that come in and pursue only those that appear to have merit.
The OCR is pursuing this claim. On it's face, that looks bad for the Melrose school system. The OCR could have denied accepting the claim outright. Since they did not do this, it looks strongly like there is some sort of issue, yet again, with the Melrose school system regarding civil rights.
"......the district removed the teacher from the situation, reassigned the teacher and eventually (the) teacher was removed from the system."
She was moved to the HS and then allowed to retire at maximum pension. What a coincidence - since she was the head of the teacher's union. Unfortunately the victims of this teacher's actions also moved to the HS so they didn't escape her. If you think that's slightly counter-intuitive, join the club.