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Waltham Public Schools

When is something going to be done about the morale at Waltham schools? It is at an all time low. We desperately need a change at the top.  
Bres January 28, 2014 at 09:35 AM
Would love to know more about this statement. I don't have kids in the Waltham school system yet.
waltham rocks January 28, 2014 at 06:58 PM
I would like to know more about this statement too. Who is suffering from low morale? First I'm hearing about this. And we alraedy just got change at the top - how long as the new superintendant been in - 2 years? I have a child in the school system and am so far very impressed by the dedication and skills I have observed.
Bill L January 28, 2014 at 08:26 PM
Maybe it's because the teachers at the high school are now bathroom monitors, or how equipment in the classrooms doesn't get replaced when broken/worn. But don't worry, all the school committee members got IPads and Ms. Dowcette wants to educate all the adults....
Kaytie Dowcett January 28, 2014 at 10:58 PM
Bill, many communities have successful, financially self-sustaining adult ed programs that fall under the auspices of the school department. They offer critical services to struggling adults - many of whom are the parents of kids in our schools - as well as a variety of enrichment and continuing ed classes. Yes, I do think it's something we should offer. That has nothing to do with the issue of morale that was brought up in this post; addressing the first issue does not preclude addressing the second. Mary, I'd also be interested in hearing more about your concerns. Please feel free to respond here or email me directly at kathleendowcett@k12.waltham.ma.us.
Mary Coyne January 29, 2014 at 06:53 AM
Waltham Rocks: Just because morale is poor doesn't mean teachers are doing their jobs. They are dedicated to their students and giving them the best education possible. However, teachers are systematically denied requests for professional development and expected to do more with less. As far as the leadership is concerned...just because she's only been here 2+ years doesn't mean that she was a good choice to begin with...look at the old articles about her appointment...the mayor was right to have reservations. She rules by intimidation and is a very negative force. She is more concerned with her image than what is best with the students...too bad she is too near-sighted to see that her brand of "leadership" is ultimately counterproductive.
Mary Coyne January 29, 2014 at 06:56 AM
By the way, Kaytie, I think adult education is a great idea. Many communities offer it and it can be a self-sustaining venture. I hope some new blood on the committee brings in some fresh air and new ideas....they are desperately needed!
Bill L January 29, 2014 at 05:30 PM
Ms Dowcett, before we invest anything in an adult ed program you should ask why did it fail before? Also, please keep focused on our K-12 school issues before beginning a new program. To be honest, I voted for you as I feel you will bring a breath of fresh air, but please keep your focus on the existing students and do not use our school and my tax money for social programs. Stay focused on your mission and what we elected you for.
lizhm January 30, 2014 at 01:51 PM
@Mary: Where is it that morale is low? High School, Middle School, Elementary, or everywhere? Is it the teachers? Admin? If it's the teachers, is it related to the Union contract? I have also heard about the Supintendent's management style being intimidating. That's only Department Directors and Principals, right? Can you elaborate? One thing the Fitz PTO has done is to provide a fund for the principal to use for technology that will help the classroom teachers. Things that have been purchased include wireless mice for computers, presentation materials, small tables to allow the teachers to work with the students. We also raised money to give each teacher and each specialist a gift certificate to use to buy classroom supplies. These programs are easy to replicate. I am interested in hearing more.
Liz January 31, 2014 at 09:10 AM
@Mary, you have started what could be a very valuable conversation. Could you please elaborate some more. @lizhm, we at the Fitz are very fortunate. We have smart, strong, dedicated leadership in our PTO. We also have many families who are financially able to support the fundraising efforts of the PTO. However, that is not the case at all of Waltham"s schools. So it would not be that easy to replicate. If low morale is indeed a systemic issue, then perhaps the School Committee needs to intervene to assess what is going on. Maybe conduct SWOT's at each of the schools, with both staff and parents, to identify what the stakeholders view as each school's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Mary Coyne February 02, 2014 at 10:55 AM
The morale is low district-wide. It includes teachers, administrators, clerical staff, paraprofessionals, custodial staff, etc. Look on surrounding school systems websites and you will see an abundance of professional development opportunities. In Waltham, very little professional development is offered or approved (out of district). The upper administration has very little experience or knowledge of curriculum, especially in specialty areas. Everything is micro-managed. It amazes me that there hasn't been more discussion about the high turnover of administrators and teachers. Why are so many leaving???
Mary Coyne February 04, 2014 at 06:27 AM
Tonight is a school committee meeting...it will be interesting to see if any discussion will occur regarding the low morale within the school system. Many of us would love to voice our opinions (especially since the superintendent is renegotiating her contract) but most of us fear retaliation. I have worked in the system for over twenty years and have a family to support...I can't afford to be public in my concerns. As others have stated perhaps now is the time for the school committee to investigate what is really going on in the schools....before making a big mistake!
lizhm February 04, 2014 at 08:42 PM
Mary: there has definitely been *talk* about the turnover, especially at the leadership (principal, department head) level. And I'm not an apologist for Dr. Nicholson (check out my blog if you don't believe me! I have thrown her under the bus more than once.) However: I have had kids in the schools for five years. Nicholson is the 3rd superintendent. Our current (interim) principal is my 4th grader's fourth principal (and he will have a new one next year.) So, can we fix what's broken without changing leadership again? How can we communicate to the SC that there are problems and have them addressed? SC members are elected officials: would you go to any of them? Is there anyone who can advocate for you? One problem is that SC gave Nicholson a wonderful review in the fall. Not sure how that will impact negotiations.
Mary Coyne February 05, 2014 at 08:33 PM
Perhaps the new school committee will be better, however, historically they've been part of the problem.Remember the DESE report that criticized their micro-managing of things? Nicholson may be the third superintendent in five years but that doesn't mean it's not time for a change. She's is part of the problem, not the solution.
Liz February 06, 2014 at 08:44 AM
@Mary, I encourage you to contact the School Committee members with issues and concerns. And for you to encourage your colleagues to do the same. Open communication is necessary for any change to happen. You will find that there are SC members who are very responsive and will take the time to listen to what you have to say. You have started an important conversation by posting here. Please continue the conversation.
Bill L February 06, 2014 at 08:59 PM
Mary, I would not dump it all on the superintendent, unless you are one of those who felt it was Graceffa’s turn. We just replaced a couple of school committee people with some fresh idea, unfortunately Rando got in too; he is part of the problem. The department heads that has either been there forever and have not had an original thought in years does not help. Or the new department heads who think it is a social experiment and don’t talk to the teacher. Not to mention broken equipment and teachers acting as bathroom monitors, no wonder the morale is down. WHS has lost an AP Science and a Latin teacher in the past month, hard to replace.
Mary Coyne February 08, 2014 at 12:52 PM
@Bill, I am definitely not a Graceffa fan and I'm not dumping it all on the superintendent. As I have said the problems are systemic but as the leader the superintendent sets the tone and is the person who should be held accountable. She is also the person that needs to have a plan for some meaningful change. I haven't seen any plans...have you? I heard lots of excuses during the last school committee meeting including not feeling well and being in China (whose choice was that?) Teachers have not been able to have meaningful professional development in years. As I said before, look at the surrounding communities and the amount of in-house and out-of-district professional development available and ENCOURAGED. This is not the case in Waltham and if we want our teachers to be the best we need to put some resources into professional development. You are right there are teachers acting as bathroom monitors, the bathrooms are locked. Schools that have been promised new equipment and technology are still going without. Many of the schools computers are so old that they cannot support many of the newer programs available for students to use. There have been several staff resignations both at the teacher and administrative levels this year. I think it is time to ask why and time to do something about it!
Bill L February 08, 2014 at 03:03 PM
Mary, you and I agree more than we disagree. But look at the department heads who treat the schools as a social experiment (Hello unleveled math classes) or are on auto pilot (hello history). To make system changes takes either time or a person who is not afraid to fire. Our high school principal got the job as it was "his turn", our police chief as it was "his turn", and our committee and council and mayor argue over foolishness. Just read the school committee meeting minutes, very little talk of the students, lots of talk on editing the policy manual. The teachers union just rolls over as the SC gets nice new ipads and talks about adult ed GED programs.
lizhm February 12, 2014 at 11:17 AM
Great points @Mary and good discussion. Wonder if it makes sense to put a position statement together and to present it AT the public part of the SC meeting? Then follow up. Or at least keep nagging SC here and in News Trib!
Mary Coyne February 12, 2014 at 10:45 PM
I think that bringing this in front of the SC would be a great idea. Unfortunately, as I would be concerned about my job security I would not feel comfortable starting such a process but would applaud anyone else willing to do so!
Tim Hill February 13, 2014 at 01:10 PM
Mary, I think it would benefit the commentators if you would provide some insight regarding how professional development credits work and how some are transferrable out of the district while others are not. Teachers understand this very well, but most non-teachers do not. Also, while you said that you would not feel comfortable starting the process of a position paper, I think you would be doing yourself a disservice if you do not find a way to communicate the basis for your feelings to someone who is willing to do something. Consider an intermediary.

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