GROTON — Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee members continue to suffer fallout after two prominent school administrators announced they would resign at the end of the current academic year.
A proposal to hold a forum to air concerns, however, received less than enthusiastic response from the committee.
Last November, long-time high school Principal Joseph Dillon announced that he would be leaving his position when his contract ended at the close of the school year, while just last month Florence Roche Elementary School Principal Launa Zimmaro gave notice that she too would be leaving, at the same time.
News of the resignations, coming so close together, has stunned students and district staff alike. Some have suggested that both Dillon and Zimmaro decided to leave their positions due to conflicts over “leadership style” with Superintendent Alan Genovese, which prompted some groups to come forward in protest.
The first was high school faculty members, represented by teacher Richard Arena, who claimed at a School Committee meeting that there had been a change in how things were done in the district. Many staff members felt that was the catalyst for their principal’s decision to leave.
Then, at the School Committee meeting of Feb. 7, high school “leadership team” member Molly Kalter, representing students and faculty, warned school officials of a similar atmosphere of uncertainty among the student body.
Those delegations were followed at the School Committee meeting of Feb. 28 by a group of concerned parents, led by Rebecca Hallock, who read from a lengthy statement asking school officials to arrange space for a public forum. All parties could meet at the public forum, she wrote, to improve communication and enhance the transparency of the evaluation process for the school superintendent.
“Concern over recent events in our school district, combined with the unclear direction for the district, brought a notable number of citizens, both parents and non-parents, together to share our views and questions,” read Hallock from her statement. “The unexpected departures of two highly-regarded principals, each citing differences with the superintendent, led this group to voice a crisis of confidence in the leadership of our district.”
Hallock said that when she asked other parents about the situation, almost 150 responded that they too were concerned. Realizing that they were not alone, Hallock and a number of other parents banded together and asked the administration to arrange for a public meeting to discuss their concerns. In the process, the group managed to gather almost 50 signatures on the letter making the request and from which Hallock read at last Wednesday’s meeting.
“We fear that a lack of public confidence and the resulting deterioration in teacher morale may quickly erode the quality of education our district has been providing and will make it difficult to attract new principals of the caliber we desire,” read Hallock.
The letter ended with a request that the administration arrange for a public forum, open to all members of the school community and “the public at large.”
“We plan to have a neutral, objective moderator run the forum to ensure a smooth meeting and an open dialogue,” concluded the letter.
School Committee Chairman Charles McKinney, reading from a prepared statement of his own, insisted that everyone in the school system was “committed” to making the district the best it could be and all communication with the public would be handled in an “appropriate and professional” manner.
McKinney said that issues of communication first compelled him to run for a position on the School Committee. Since that time, he said, communication between the administration and the public has improved with the use of e-mail, added time for public comment on the school committee agenda, and the new Connect Ed system.
However, McKinney also admitted that the letter read by Hallock, and its number of signatories, indicated that the district needed to do better in keeping the public informed about its activities.
That said, McKinney declined to call for a public forum, reflecting the position of other members of the committee, including Paul Funch.
“I think the School Committee should stand back a bit and let things work themselves out,” said Funch. “We need to find out as much as we can in a very calm and orderly way.”
School Committee members’ lukewarm response to the request for a public forum was not what supporters of the move wanted to hear.
When asked what she thought, Hallock responded that it did not sound to her as though school officials were going to provide any space for the forum.
“We were very disappointed and disheartened to hear that they didn’t see that it was important to meet with us,” said Hallock following Wednesday’s meeting.
“I don’t know what our next step will be,” Hallock said. “We’ll send out e-mails to the group and see what they want to do — whether to hold a forum ourselves or just not bother, seeing as the superintendent and the School Committee are just not interested in hearing from a public group.”