Greenfield School Committee considers public forums to further engage parents, community

  • DENEEVE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2022 4:00:07 PM
Modified: 8/16/2022 3:56:40 PM

GREENFIELD — After receiving only a small number of survey responses, School Committee member Elizabeth Deneeve and other committee members are advocating for a renewed effort in pursuing public forums as an additional avenue for parent-School Committee interaction.

In an effort to make the School Committee more accessible to the public, members discussed in April the possibility of creating some type of public forum — separate from regular meetings — where parents could address committee members in a less formal environment. Deneeve revived that conversation during last week’s meeting, seeking an update.

“Our legal representation as a School Committee strongly advised we not go that route,” responded Chair Amy Proietti. “We still went out and did a survey of our families and did not find enough interest to make it worth our time.”

She said the survey received fewer than two dozen responses.

“If this is something you, as a School Committee member, want to invest time in and is important to you, you can take on the responsibility of working with the superintendent, myself and our legal representation on how you would proceed that would not violate the employment rights of our staff, violate the confidentiality of our students and staff,” Proietti told Deneeve. “There’s so much liability around these forums that it’s not something (the School Committee) is choosing to undertake at this time, particularly because there has not been a specific outcry from the public.”

Deneeve, however, said her family — and others that she’d spoken to — had not received the survey.

“When I send a parent update, I send an email and a text to all the people who have phone numbers or email addresses listed in our student information database,” Superintendent Christine DeBarge explained in an interview on Monday, noting parents and guardians are included unless they intentionally opt-out. “My email includes the update, and my text generally says something along the lines of, ‘A parent update has been sent to your email.’ … I don’t know why people would have not replied, but it’s there.”

School Committee member Kate Martini confirmed she had seen the survey in DeBarge’s parent update. Online, the survey was included in parent updates posted on April 29 and May 6.

“I appreciate the frequent communication from the superintendent,” she said. “I do think the low response rate says more about how well that form of communication is reaching parents than it does about whether or not parents want to share or provide input or spend time with members of the School Committee to provide their thoughts.”

Martini said there are many reasons the survey may not have been accessible to its recipients, from differences in language or reading abilities to differences in technological capabilities.

“I’m kind of hoping to build it and they will come,” she said. “I would feel pretty comfortable about holding forums about particular issues because then it’s not a free-for-all. We’re going to hold forums for redistricting, and we’re not afraid to do that. I think if it was done plan-fully, it could certainly be done without risking personnel issues and things like that.”

School Committee member Glenn Johnson-Mussad also felt there was a way to hold the forums in a manner that, as regular School Committee meetings do, ensures guidance is followed with respect to what the residents can and cannot legally speak about in a public meeting.

“I’m hearing there was an evaluation based on the data that there isn’t an interest in the public in having forums available,” Johnson-Mussad said. “That is not my perspective at all. … I think members can be encouraged to take it on and take initiative, but if there isn’t buy-in at the level of the School Committee officers, I’m not sure it’s really going to happen … and that’s disappointing to me.”

Concerning next steps, DeBarge said she will wait to see what the School Committee chooses to do.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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