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Waltham Schools Respond to State Report

The response comes more than two weeks after a state report criticized Waltham's schools on many issues.

The Waltham Public Schools officially responded to the recent state report this week criticizing the district for its failings saying some of its findings were inaccurate.

Waltham Schools Superintendent Susan Nicholson, in her written response, also claimed the media inaccurately reported parts of the report painting the district in a poor light.

Nicholson presented the district’s response during the Wednesday, Nov. 7 School Committee meeting at Waltham High School and stressed many of the issues were already being addressed.

“A significant number of the findings have already been addressed in my first year as superintendent,” Nicholson told the committee.

The response comes more than two weeks after the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued a report heavily criticizing the district for micromanaging the schools, inadequate funding of certain progams and inconsistent delivery of curriculum among other issues.

Overall, the district views the DESE report with “positive intent” and a blueprint for future improvement, according to the written response. The district had already been addressing some of the issues prior to the DESE issuing its report and has created a new District Improvement Plan. 

In addition to the detailed response, Nicholson, claimed the news media had made the district’s image worse.

“The presentation of findings was received with mixed reactions. Adding to the complexity of the situation was the inaccurate or exaggerated reporting of information by the media,” Nicholson wrote.

The superintendent did not specify which, if any, media outlets made any factual mistakes and failed to present any evidence of her claim.

ADMINISTRATIVE TURNOVER

Nicholson claims the DESE report, which highlights high administrative turnover in the district, inaccurately reported that the district had four superintendents over the last five years and eight new principals as of 2009. She blamed the mistake on “inaccurate” reporting and noted that several staff retirements accounted for some of the turnover.

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

Overall, the district plans to include “all aspects of allocation of resources” when creating its budget including input from administrators on priority issues, according to the response.

  • BUILDING COSTS

In response to above average building maintenance costs noted in the DESE report, the district’s facilities director suggested analyzing the costs on a per square foot basis instead of a per pupil basis.

  • TECHNOLOGY SPENDING

In response to below-average spending n technology noted in the DESE report, Nicholson claimed “the data used in the District Review comparing Waltham and State Per-Pupil Expenditures in Technology in 2010-2011 did not present a complete picture.”

“Waltham does not have below average expenditures for technology,” Nicholson told the committee.

Instead, she wrote, Waltham actually spends 22 percent more than the state average. She did not provide figures to backup her claim, but said the DESE was viewing past spending on a per-building basis, with which she disagrees.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

In response to the DESE saying the district was using too many school days for teacher professional development, the district will now only allow English Language Learner teachers to take training courses during the school day, according to the written response.

TEACHER/ADMINISTATORS PROBLEMS

To address what Nicholson called "friction" between administrators and teachers, she has instituted bi-monthly meetings for both groups to give teachers a greater voice in expressing ideas and concerns, according to the response.

MICROMANAGING

Nicholson is already enrolled in a program to help training new superintendents and two School Committee member have exploring a program that would train them on their School Committee roles, according to the written response. 

ISSUES ALREADY ADDRESSED

The district, through its administrative reorganization plan, has already hired several new staff members to address some of the DESE’s concerns, according to Nicholson. For example, the district has been searching for a new director of human resources, but has yet to find an adequate candidate. Also,  the district has reorganized the district’s technology management department and plans to install wireless Internet networks in all of the schools. Currently, only Waltham High School has wireless Internet. 

OTHER NOTES

Nicholson said the DESE report and the district’s response will be posted on the district website by Friday.

For a full copy of the DESE report, click on the PDF box to the right. 

Walthamguy November 10, 2012 at 06:07 AM
UH-OH! Ever since our school superintendent took office I've been an ardent advocate of ALL Waltham elected politicians getting out of her way and letting her do her job, of course hoping for a great turnaround of our beleaguered school system. Ouch. Whatever the validity or flaws of the State's scathing evaluation of our school system, our Superintendent's official response based on the nit-picking of minimally important details and blaming the media reporting is very, very worrisome to me. And it gets worse. In the recent weeks the WNTrib has published several articles regarding the reported mediocrity of Waltham schools, but where are the comments from concerned parents and our great teachers? Geez, doesn't anyone in Waltham give a ____ about this?

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