A-R school board members voice strong opinions about MCAS results

"... why are we not firing people? This isn't getting better. I am heart broken and embarrassed that our kids scored this. We have to do better for our children." — Amber Parker, A-R School Committee member

Note: This article is the followup piece to Part 1, printed in Friday’s edition, of the most recent MCAS scores for the Athol-Royalston Regional School District. 

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ATHOL — At the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee meeting held Oct. 21, discussion about the results of the district MCAS results quickly became spirited after a presentation of scores, recommendations, and facts. The mix of positive and negative news brought forth a volley of in-depth discussion and comments.

A detailed analysis was presented by Tom Lamey of the District School Assessment Centers of Massachusetts, and Heather Johnson of Looney Mathematics Consulting. 

School committee member Amber Parker, who is an English teacher at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, said, “I have been here three years, and this hasn’t gotten any better. Every year we get the test results and we are disappointed. We are frustrated and we’re trying and I can appreciate all that, but it is not getting better, and treading water is not enough. We have got to do better. I am going to serve three more years, and if it isn’t better, I am going to resign because our children deserve better and I am not getting it done. I think that has to be an honest serious commitment by us, the children either get better, or we need to get out. Our kids don’t get to be third, fourth, and fifth graders again. I am not trying to dog teachers or administrators or anybody, but why are we not firing people? This isn’t getting better, I am heart broken and embarrassed that our kids scored this. We have to do better for our children.”

Schools superintendent Anthony Polito responded by explaining how many changes have been made over the last few years, with some 15 to 20 teachers retiring, vast changes in curriculum, coaching, procedures and more. Polito said, “I think teachers are like children. We care about them and we try to teach them, and teachers deserve and have a right to be re-taught, and be cared about enough to have them re-learn a curriculum they didn’t have in the past, along with new strategies and new instruction. It is a much harder place to work in than it was four or five years ago. Teachers need to be treated with dignity and respect, just as the students do. I have to give our teachers the same care and concern we give our children.”

Committee member Joseph Mega said, “I was a life long educator. I have never ever supported any state for federal mandated test. Parents are the key. When I was in school and you got home, do your homework. The real key is the parents, they need to become more involved with what their kids are doing in school.”

Charles Pretti said, “I am kind of disappointed. I wanted something that says we are climbing that mountain. I think we have started but it is not showing yet, but I do believe we are moving in that right direction.”

Parker added, “If we had 200 parents here demanding better with our heads on the chopping block, we would do better and figure this out. A child that has a crappy teacher doesn’t get another chance at that grade. We have to do better!”

Member Mitch Grosky, who appeared frustrated by some of the comments made spoke next, “We are doing many new things here that we have not done in the past, especially with trying to do them with the money that we do have. I have as much impatience for a teacher who is not cutting it as much as anybody, and would even say we need to move that teacher out of the classroom even if it costs us some extra money. However, we do have a negotiated and state evaluation system, so we can’t just say you’re not doing the job. We must provide an improvement plan and give them a chance to improve. I don’t intend to say were are doing great, but the news is mixed.” Grosky, clearly upset, added, “Let’s not pretend that no good things are happening and it’s all bad news because folks, that ain’t the truth!”

Lee Chauvette said, “I have several things I would like to say right now but I won’t, out of respect for the people that are trying hard in this district. There are a few things that I gauge a little differently here as I have been going over the results since they were released. On thing that doesn’t come out in these MCAS results is demographics, which as we all know in this district is difficult. My personal belief is you can retrain people, and you can have expectations. I tend to agree with a lot of what Amber has had to say here tonight. Until the demographics can be taken out of the old elementary schools and into the new school, I do not feel we are going to see a huge shift. We are not targeting the audience we need to target. I recently had a long term supporter of this district tell me that this district is dead and he is pulling their children out. We have to have to invite parents to start to come in. Have a parents night MCAS discussion, things like that are what we have to do. We can sit here all night and polish the duck and it’s still a duck.”

Referring to graphs Chauvette said, “Looking at these graphs, you can polish and make it out to be like we are doing great, but I do support the staff and their efforts, and I know that we are trying to make this work going forward. But with your school choice going one way, and your test scores going the other way, it is not going to happen. School choice has increased on this committee every year that I have been on this committee for 14 years. Something is not right. The perception that out there with parents is that we didn’t improve. I am very supportive of the work that is being done and the testing, and as we move forward I look forward to better numbers and finally being able to put this to bed.”

Charles Pretti said, “The results are flat. We have good results in some grades, and not so good results in others. Our demographics are tough, but that is also not an excuse either because there are great schools everywhere. A real litmus test is that students who were in the first grade last year who started this turnaround plan, are now in the second grade and don’t get tested again until next year. That will be a true litmus test, so yes, we have to have a little of a sense of patience.”

Carla Rabinowitz next to speak, said, “I am concerned about the message being given by some of the school committee members. It is accurate and I would have to agree, the scores are disappointing, as some scores are not improved significantly while in some others they have improved. We are in the middle of a process of radical change, and that was what was presented to us by both the DSAC and Math Consultant who visited us this evening. This is the way things normally go, and you can’t expect to see change over night. Re-educating teachers takes time. However because of contract and because of state law you just can’t fire them.” Rabinowitz looked at Parker and said, “You can’t just go in and say ‘you’re not producing so your fired,’ you just can’t do it!”

Parker replied to Rabinowitz, “As a school committee member when I wear my committee hat, I can appreciate that it takes time. I have about eight years of poor test scores or more than that. When I am a mom and I wear my mom hat, my second grader, my fourth grader, and my junior won’t get to be one but once. So when I put on that parent hat, it is very hard for me. As school committee members we should be that passionate for every single kid that is in this district. I am not a patient person and I will not apologize for that. The buck has to stop somewhere. I will serve three more years, and if we can’t turn this around, I will resign because I have failed!”

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