×

Pioneer’s public officials get crash course in school committee, supt. relationship

  • Patricia Correira of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees speaks about the roles of school committees during a district leaders workshop at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Patricia Martin of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents speaks about superintendents' roles during a district leaders workshop at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Retired administrator Shirley Gilfether speaks about the open meeting law during a district leaders workshop at Pioneer Valley Regional School on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Gilfether volunteered to organize the workshop for the Pioneer school district. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline



Recorder Staff
Sunday, November 12, 2017

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional District officials gained insight on how to effectively do their jobs and work together during a district leaders’ workshop Thursday.

Speakers from various state agencies cleared up confusion on the roles of Superintendent Ruth Miller versus the roles of the School Committee, and offered tips for better, law-abiding operation of the school district.

Mutual respect

Though a simple idea, the concept that School Committee members and a superintendent should treat each other with respect was a prevalent theme.

Patricia Martin of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents advised that officials in districts without the financial security to bring in professional mediators might take recesses from meetings, monitor their speaking time and exercise self-assessments, asking themselves “Where have I not given respect?” Likewise, Patricia Correira of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees emphasized not scowling or rolling one’s eyes at another board member’s comments.

Speakers agreed that when tensions run high within a School Committee or administration, there’s often a trickle-down effect to communities, principals, faculty and students.

“Those adult actions are having a profound reaction on the children,” Martin said.

“It eats away at a community in a broader sense,” agreed retired administrator Shirley Gilfether, who organized the district leaders workshop.

Martin read a quote from Michael Fullan, author of “Change Leader: Learning to Do What Matters Most,” which states “The single factor common to successful change is that relationships must improve. If relationships improve, schools get better. If relationships get worse, improvement is lost.” For that reason, Martin emphasized the importance of having a superintendent give open, honest and timely communication to the School Committee about school operations to foster a trusting relationship.

Superintendent, School Committee roles

A superintendent, Martin explained, acts as an adviser to the School Committee and leader of the administrative team. Responsibilities include: advocating for a strong budget to local and state officials, providing professional development, providing scheduled budget updates to the School Committee, approving faculty hires selected by a principal and otherwise overseeing day-to-day school district management.

By contrast, Correira said the School Committee hires and fires the superintendent; approves hiring an assistant superintendent, special education coordinator, school business officer, legal counsel, physicians and nurses; sets goals for the district in the children’s best interest; decides the overall curriculum and approves the budget, though the superintendent is authorized to make transfers during the year.

“The budget is yours. You own it, you vote on it,” Correira said to the School Committee. “But always remember you’re not the education expert that the superintendent is.”

After the budget, setting policy is the board’s biggest responsibility, Correira continued.

“If you don’t have an up-to-date policy manual, shame on you,” she said. “You need an up-to-date policy manual to allow the superintendent to run your district.”

The importance of working toward the same goals, while not overstepping bounds, was impressed upon the audience.

“It’s a balance, and overstepping that balance can sometimes cause consternation in a district,” Correira said.

Conflicts of interest, open meeting law

In a question to David Giannotti of the State Ethics Commission, Miller expressed concern that only one conflict of interest disclosure form was filed with her office by a member of the School Committee, though other members may also have conflicts. Giannotti suggested Miller have the board members seek advice from the Ethics Commission.

“These people are sort of walking on thin ice,” he said. “They’d better hope we don’t find out about it.”

In a brief overview of the open meeting law, Gilfether said it’s easy to forget that excessive email conversations can also constitute breaking the law.

“If I reach a quorum number, I am breaking the open meeting law,” she said.

Conversation in the parking lot or restroom could also constitute violating the law. Martin recommended having as few “nondiscussables” — important topics that produce fear and anxiety to bring up — as possible to avoid outside talk.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257