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Random comments, thoughts, topics of interest (we hope) and concerns fill our space this week.

Ayer superintendent vacancy: The Ayer School Committee voted not to renew the contract of Dr. Lore Nielsen as head of schools. Dr. Nielsen has contributed significantly in guiding curriculum focus and long-range educational thinking in the district over the last three years. We wish her well and thank her.

Word is that, in view of the regionalization study that is commencing, the new superintendent will be interim. Perhaps a key consideration in the appointment will be a résumé that includes regionalization administrative experience. Such an acting administrator will offer sound judgment on the pros and cons of a regional system and serve as a valuable and guiding resource.

Shirley already has such a knowledgeable transitional superintendent in Malcolm “Mac” Reid, who served in Acton-Boxboro and Groton-Dunstable.

The landscape is blessed with retirees who possess such experience and seek short-term contracts.

Landmark ruling: The diversity and content of public school curriculums was strengthened and protected last week by a strong 38-page decision by Judge Mark Wolf in the U.S. District Court. Public schools are “entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy.”

The Lexington school district’s curriculum goal of promoting an atmosphere of respect and tolerance among all kinds of people was challenged by a group of parents. Why? Their children were taught diversity lessons that depicted same-sex couples, objectionable and contrary to their beliefs.

Judge Wolf concluded that the parents have educational options (private school, home schooling, etc.), and they are certainly free to offer their own beliefs within their family, hopefully inculcating a moral, tolerant and respectful value system. As we know, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Parents, however, shouldn’t be able to prevent children from participating in balanced, objective instruction on diversity, prejudice and discrimination. We must foster a respect for all people in our society and protect them as well from discrimination.

Of course, removing their children from participation or engaging in such “education” could be an option, but a rather shortsighted one. Having students think for themselves and make informed decisions must be a rational goal for public education.

As a follow-up, take time for a parental reading assignment and absorb the wisdom and thought-provoking pieces in “Loving Every Child” by Janusz Korczok.

Not only will you be captured by the incredible life of the author, but also by his take on child-rearing.

For example, he said, “The child’s thinking is neither more limited nor inferior to that of an adult. It is different. The child thinks with feelings and not intellect. That is why communication is so complicated and speaking with kids is a difficult art.”

Patience and understanding is key to guiding a young one’s thought process. Also, be certain to listen.

Graduation rates: It appears to be a case of “when all else fails, compromise your standards.”

In a rather perplexing decision by the state Board of Education, a graduation rate benchmark of 55 percent was set for public high schools. Yes, 55 percent! The state average now is at 80 percent, but if the standard were set at that level, at least 84 (about 25 percent) of the state’s public high schools would miss the bar.

What does that tell you? That maybe an aggressive and proactive game plan is in order to correct what ails those under-performing schools. It sounds better to establish a high-standards approach (isn’t that what educational reform is about?) than to accept mediocrity (at best).

Nashoba Valley Medical Center support: A $2,500 donation by Nashoba Valley Medical Center is being used to help fund phase two of the Ayer public schools’ bullying prevention program. Additionally, medical people from the center will serve as resource people and speakers.

Our community thanks you for being such an active partner in educating our youth.

“The land of the status quo is cold, stubborn and treacherous — it is without hope.” — Joan Vennahi, Boston Globe columnist

Casey is a retired public school educator of 36 years, serving 24 of those years as an administrator in four school districts. He has served as a consultant to the Ayer and Weston School Districts and as director of the Nashoba Valley Partnership for Excellence in Education.

In 1997-1998, Casey was a member of the Mass. Secondary Schools Administrators’ Association Blue Ribbon Panel on the needs of high school principals under educational reform and participated in a consortium at the Lab at Brown University on restructuring high schools for the 21st Century.

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