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Communication, Training, 'Micromanaging' Issues In Waltham Schools, Report Says

New report criticizes Waltham schools.

The Waltham Public Schools have micromanaging issues, outdated technology, unclear priorities and bad communications habits, according to a new Department of Elementary and Secondary Education report.

Two DESE officials presented the findings of their Coordinated Program Review during the Oct. 17 meeting of the Waltham School Committee.

“The report is devastating when you read it," said Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy during the meeting.

Waltham School Committee members, however, were quick to note the district has many strengths, which they said are not adequately emphasized in the report. Also, much has been done to address some of the problems since the state review team visited the district in February, according to school committee members.

The report will be posted on the school district's website, but only after the district issues its written response, according to Waltham Schools Superintendent Susan Nicholson. 

Overall, the report makes several recommendations: Nicholson should continue to create a clear vision for the schools, evaluate the central office structure and possibly make changes; have the school committee and Nicholson better learn their roles in the district; and create teaching priorities in accordance with professional development sessions. Also, the district should assess funding levels for items currently receiving too much or too little money, according to the report.

“From our perspective, we are hopeful that you will see this report as a tool… as you move forward trying to think about the areas you want to prioritize for improvement,” said Lynda Foisy, a DESE official who presented the findings to the committee.

School Committee member Robert Cincotta said while it took too long for the report to be finalized, the wait was worth it.

"It was a very good report,” he said.

ADMINISTRATION

Overall, the high turnover of administrators in the district over the past several years has resulted in unclear roles for staff, vague priorities and schools operating as separate entities instead of as part of a district, according to the report. Specifically, having four superintendents in five years and new principals in many of the schools has left staff disorganized and unable to coordinate with each other.

“The recent instability in district and school leadership, with the abundance and scatter of ‘system priorities’ and uneven communication and expectations, has affected the district’s ability to develop highly effective systems, programs, and collaborative practices. Further, it has impeded the district’s ability to take ownership of, and fully address, the achievement of all its students,” the report reads.

CENTRAL OFFICE PROBLEMS

The structure of the central office has left the district unable to effectively operate, according to the report. Some positions have been left unfilled, there is a lack of job accountability and “insufficient communication,” according to the report. Examples of the confusion include: outdated job descriptions, “tensions between principals,” regarding curriculum issues and principals operating with little support from the district office, according to the report.

SCHOOL COMMITTEE

The report also criticizes the school committee for its micromanaging of the district. Staff interviewed for the report said the committee “involve[s] themselves too much with matters that would best be handled by the superintendent and her administration,” according to the report.

Some school committee members said “most school committee members do not recognize their proper roles in that they tend to micromanage or ‘want to manage more than support.’

“For example, interviewees said that school committee members ‘overstep their boundaries,’ are ‘not vested in the educational mission,’ ‘see themselves as town politicians,’ and are ‘not allowing people hired to do their jobs.’ Some commented that school committee members do not understand their roles, exert power and display arrogance, need to trust the superintendent to do what is necessary, and need to address the ‘disconnect’ between the school committee and the administration and pay attention to reports from the district about student performance,” the report reads.

Other school committee members had a different view. One member, who is not named, said in the report he or she was still trying to learn their role on the committee but believes it was to support the superintendent’s policies. Another member said their role is to hire the right staff and not micromanage the district. A third member said the committee was “like a Board of Directors,” that sets policy. 

As a result, the report recommended the school committee attend a program intended to teach them their roles on the committee.

SCHOOL COMMITTEE RESPONSE

Overall, the committee welcomed the report's conclusions, but several members said they wish they had received it sooner so they could start making changes prior to this school year. The committee, however, said that many of the issues mentioned in the report are already being addressed, such as creating a new human resources director position.

TECHNOLOGY

Overall, the district infrequently uses technology in the classrooms and often has problems operating the when they try to use it, according to the report.

Also, the district is spending far less on technology than the state averages, according to the report. For information management technology, Waltham spends $22.53 per pupil compared to the state average of $74.77 per pupil. For classroom technology, Waltham spends $10.22 per pupil compared to the state average of $54.08. The city spends $5 per pupil on instructional software compared to the $11.55 state average. Also, many of the district’s computers are 4-6 years old and cannot accommodate video streaming, according to the report.

Donnelly said that it was “appalling” how little money the school spends on technology.

To rectify the issue, the report recommends the district better coordinate the process to budget for technology.

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

waltham rocks October 18, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Wow. The spending per pupil is disturbing. Where is the money being spent? At least it's good to know that the airconditioning was fixed pronto in the administrative offices (sarcasm). But seriously...the next step is to see that the school committe puts measurable steps in place to see improvements. And it would be good PR and communicaiton to report regularly (2 month intervals, on the same date) the progress. This makes me want to run for the committee.
Melissa Rossi October 18, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Also to stop feeding lies to parents when they were trying to build the new culinary room and they said it would be done on a certain date because they did not want the kids going to other technical schools funny i have not heard one thing about this and it has now been 2 years and the beauty school they were building i had no idea about any of this untill my child tried to get into minuteman a lot of tax payers in waltham had no idea they were trying to build these new state of the are rooms either . There really needs to be more information made to the people who lives in the city . Also i get letters sent home saying i need to send in 5.00 for math books 5.00 for some science book do they even really use these books ? ( sarcasm)
Rose Martin October 19, 2012 at 01:24 AM
I had two children in two different elementary schools in Waltham. I honestly felt like I was sending them to two different school systems. My local elementary school has been going down hill for years. One of my children went to Stanley and did school projects, book reports and learned how to write in cursive. My other child went to our neighborhood school and did none of the above. When parents questioned things they were politely sent out the door. When asked why she wasn't taught certain things I was told her class last year never got to it and it wasnt the current teachers job to cover those items. This happened more than one year in a row. Luckily for my child we were able to home school those things. Sadly for others their parents were not in a position to either get a tutor or teach the material. I hope something actually changes.
Ryan Grannan-Doll October 19, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Thanks for all the comments everybody. I am wondering if any of you can share your opinion on how well the school district/school committee communicates key information in terms to the community? I am sure other readers would be interested to see what others think.
NWBL November 16, 2012 at 11:53 PM
What a joke of a school system. Why don't the Wlatham officials go into surrounding communities like Belmont, Lexington, Lincoln, and Newton to observe schools who know what they are doing.

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