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Claremont: Parents Showdown with Boone

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

 

Dr. Melinda Boone, Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools

 Worcester School Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone wasted no time answering what she labeled the three “frequent flier questions” that have dogged her since she told teachers at Claremont Academy earlier this month they must reapply for their jobs.

No, the school is not closing. No, teachers are not being fired. And yes, students at Claremont can stay there if they choose next fall.

Those three questions, Boone said during a meeting at the beleaguered school Monday night, have troubled her the most. And they were at the top of her list to address to parents at a meeting she scheduled specifically to address their concerns. 

Where were the parents?

There was only one problem: Only six parents showed up. There are nearly 400 students at Claremont Academy, a Level 3, grades 7-12 school that has been restructured several times and that Boone is targeting once more.

“I’m not going to read into it,” Boone said of the sparse attendance after speaking to about 30 people inside the school. All but six of them were teachers and school officials, including Ricci Hall, the incoming Claremont Academy principal who will replace current Principal Paula Severin. The meeting was Boone’s attempt to reassure parents and smooth any ruffled feathers among teachers. 

“We didn’t ask parents to pre-register to attend,” she said. “I’ve talked with parents prior to tonight. We’ve been in conversation with them. If just one parent had been here tonight, it would have been a success.”

Still, the anemic turnout was noticeable, especially given the attention and drama that has surrounded the controversial – and contested – decision by the Worcester School Committee to authorize Boone to impact bargain with union teachers at Claremont and make them reapply for their jobs. Even if they reapply, they will not be guaranteed a spot at the school when they return. They will, however, be guaranteed a spot elsewhere in the district. The move sparked outrage among students and teachers, who picketed noisily and emotionally outside the Durkin Administration Building, where Boone’s office is located, earlier this month. 

‘Not sure yet’

On Monday, however, there was only a smattering of parents, and those who did come out were not completely sold on what they heard. 

“I’m not really sure what to think, yet,” said Cindy Ogara, whose daughter, Samantha, a junior at Claremont spent most of her years before going there attending Catholic school. “I actually sent a letter to (Boone). I’ve talked to the mayor. I’m just voicing my concerns.”

When she spoke during the meeting (a similar one was scheduled for students at Claremont Academy on Tuesday), Boone frequently referenced notes and appeared relaxed, even when disputing what she said have been misrepresentations of why she has asked teachers to reapply for their jobs.

“This is not about the performance of the teachers here,” she said. “This is not a way of getting rid of any teachers.”

Instead, she said, it is about a commitment to “helping students transform themselves” and making Claremont a high-performing school. She also said it was part of a move toward a campus model of learning that will include Clark University and University Park Campus School.

But when she answered questions later in the meeting that had been submitted in writing while she was talking, Boone was faced with the query again: If it’s not about performance, why do teachers have to reapply?

“It gets back to how change is difficult, sometimes, to happen when structures are in place,” she said. “Reapplying sends a message from teachers that they’re fully committed to the restructuring of the school.”

She gave a similar answer after the meeting during an on-camera interview with GoLocalWorcester, reiterating that no teachers are being fired and that there will be no reduction in the teaching force. Responding to another question from GoLocalWorcester about why she chose such a drastic step with a Level 3 school, when the city has two Level 4 schools (a third is being designated as such this fall), Boone said those schools had not undergone previous restructuring. Claremont Academy is in its latest rendition, after several previous attempts at academic overhaul. 

Ogara was not at all satisfied with Boone’s answer to a question submitted during the meeting about Assistant Principal Shannon Sutton. Her position is being eliminated next fall, but Boone has insisted Sutton has not been fired. 

“She has been a Den Leader to these children,” Ogara said of Sutton. “They absolutely love her. And I have not received an answer from the superintendent on why she is being let go.”

Boone’s explanation was she felt additional instructional support and educational coaching could be provided in lieu of an assistant principal’s position. But Sutton will be offered a job elsewhere, perhaps even at Claremont, Boone said. 

Hall, who is the current principal at University Park Campus school near Clark University, spoke briefly at the meeting, telling teachers and parents there is “no magic bullet and no fairy dust I can spread” to make things better right away. 

“Tonight is just the first step,” Hall said. “We’re not just saying we have high expectations. All of us together are going to do the good work of this school.”

 

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