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G-M board members upset they weren’t invited to state’s visit to Gill school

Some School Committee members are questioning why they were not invited to the education commissioner’s recent visit to the Gill-Montague Regional School District.

Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester visited the district last week at the invitation of legislators to discuss the district’s Level 4 or “underperforming” status, meeting with teachers, administrators, School Committee members and state legislators representing the towns.

Chester first met with a small group in the district’s administrative offices before moving on to a larger forum with teachers in the Turners Falls High School auditorium.

Present at the initial meeting were Chester, state Rep. Stephen Kulik, state Rep. Denise Andrews, state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, interim Superintendent Mark Prince, middle and high school Assistant Principal Kimberly Hearn, state-assigned district monitor Joan Connolly, retired district administrator and current consultant Nancy Daniel-Green, district School Committee Chairwoman Joyce Phillips, Vice Chairwoman Jane Oakes, member Sandra Brown and members of Kulik’s and Chester’s staffs.

Brown first raised the issue of the guest list, after Chester asked Oakes and Phillips whether they felt their views were representative of the committee. Brown arrived late to the meeting in the administrative building and said she had only found out about the meeting that morning, was initially told she was not allowed to attend and was not notified of the last-minute change of venue.

Brown said she feels the governance problems the district was cited for in the review that initially put it into Level 4 was the result of transparency, trust and clarity issues, citing her unawareness of the meeting.

The review putting the district into Level 4 was more critical of governance and financial issues than student performance, and none of the four schools is or was in Level 4.

At last week’s School Committee meeting, Brown repeated her objections and member Marjorie Levenson read a statement to the effect that the lack of notification to members other than the chair and vice-chair was contrary to the ideal of transparency in public business.

“The leadership of the School Committee and the superintendent have no license to conduct school business by themselves,” Levenson said. “Shame on them.”

“I know I certainly didn’t receive proper notification of the meeting and nor did many other members,” Levenson said.

At least one other member, Shelly Clark, was aware of the meeting in advance. Clark said she received an email inviting staff to the visit.

Prince said the meeting was not a product of the school district and the original intent was for a small meeting in the high school.

“This was not a meeting of our doing per se,” Prince said, saying the meeting was arranged between the district, education department and legislators and details of the location were still in flux up to the last minute.

“With that meeting I had to make my best guess about which School Committee members would provide context about what was going on,” Prince said.

Prince said he had invited those committee members, administrators and staff he felt most able to provide context, including the middle and high school assistant principal rather than the principals because one is new to the position and the other was on medical leave for much of last year.

Prince said he had announced the visit at the last School Committee meeting but had given the wrong date.

During Chester’s visit, teachers asked the commissioner to remove the district from Level 4, saying the pressure and pace of the turnaround plan is counterproductive for the students.

Prince said he was to have a follow-up meeting with the commissioner’s office this week.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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