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Profanity Interrupts Final School Committee Meeting of the Year

Policy disagreements and an unexpected interruption on the vote for the Superintendent raise marked the final School Committee meeting of the year, held on June 16, 2022 in the Marblehead High School library. In attendance were Sarah Gold, Emily Barron, Meagan Taylor, David Harris, Sarah Fox (via Zoom link), and Superintendent John Buckey.


During public comment early on in the evening a Marblehead resident, participating via Zoom, addressed two topics. The first was a question about whether the School Committee has in place or has considered implementing a politeness policy. Second, with regard to the evaluation of Superintendent Buckey, was whether the School Committee planned to address the issues surrounding the declining school enrollment and the departure of large numbers of teaching staff. Noting that the school enrollment stood at 3,100 students in 2017 and has declined to 2,600 in 2022,  the audience member stated, “Never have I heard or seen the school committee reach out to understand why they are losing teachers and staff.” Per School Committee policy, no response was provided.


Superintendent Buckey Evaluation

A significant portion of the evening was devoted to a discussion of Superintendent Buckey’s evaluation. Barron began by explaining that she, together with administrative assistant Lisa Dimier, had worked to put together a summative evaluation, taking into account all of the individual evaluations received from each School Committee member. The process was “extensive and comprehensive,” she noted, as they tabulated each component and developed a rating based on the perspective of the majority of the committee. They used the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) guidelines but added a middle rating in certain areas “because we want to make sure it was fair to all members.” They then reviewed each individual evaluation, looking for themes, and compiled comments that represented the strengths and improvement recommendations for each of the selected indicators under each standard. “The comments were blended together to create a comprehensive paragraph,” she explained. She went on to note that, if a member feels that an important comment was omitted, he or she can work to persuade other members during public discussion of the evaluation.


The School Committee members had varying perspectives on this process. Gold first expressed her appreciation for the work that had been invested and noted several aspects of the report that she felt were well done. Taylor agreed, expressing her belief that the evaluation is well balanced and reflects the success that Buckey has achieved this year, as well as highlighting areas of growth for next year.


Fox, by contrast, had some concerns. She felt that “her particular voice was not expressed or heard.” She noted the difficulty of determining whether the report was an accurate representation of the outlook of the group, since she had not seen the contributions of the other School Committee members. In particular, Fox pointed out that Buckey received an exemplary performance ranking in several areas, and she questioned whether anyone in only the second year on the job could have earned this level of feedback. In addition, she expressed her sense that an exemplary rating should only be given if it was unanimous.


Regarding the narrative aspects of the summation, Fox noted that she had included in her review a request for a full staff survey to evaluate the Superintendent in the leadership category, but that this comment was not included in the summary report. She made a request to amend the report but was denied. Taylor responded to Fox’s request by noting that the survey “does not have any relevance to …the evaluation of Dr. Buckey’s performance…and does not belong in his evaluation.” She went on to say that the rankings in each category were based on a majority response rather than a unanimous one.


The discussion continued with Fox noting that she would like the opportunity to review the individual evaluations written by the other members, to which Barron replied by asking if Fox was implying that it “was not a true summary of everybody’s statement?” Taylor said that she felt that the process had been agreed upon, and she moved to vote to approve the evaluation. Her comments are available here. Harris seconded the motion.


Harris also noted that the process is a chance to review the Superintendent’s progress and, while praising the process, noted that he had chosen a different rating in some categories than what had been included in the final summation. He did, however, see several of his personal comments in the summary. Gold said that the goals on which Buckey had been evaluated were specific and that she “does not think of an exemplary as a panacea.” She went on to say that she is not interested in seeing anyone’s individual evaluation because she felt as though she was represented in the summary, which was the goal. Taylor noted that the Committee had set very clear goals for Buckey in the areas of curriculum, instruction, communication, diversity, and budget, and that the evaluation reflected these goals. Fox replied by saying that she had expressed her requests to the full committee and it was time to move on. Harris took the opportunity to highlight some of the comments he had included in his evaluation, including that Buckey has been the “anchor that has kept our ship from running aground” and rated his performance as proficient while praising his communication to the community. Fox shared the comment she had included in the evaluation for additional goals for Buckey including improved two-way communication and focus on learning loss. The video is available here. Finally, the vote to approve the evaluation was taken, with Gold, Barron, Taylor, and Harris in favor and Fox opposed.


Superintendent Pay Increase

Next, the School Committee moved on to address a proposed pay increase for Superintendent Buckey. Harris made the motion to approve a 2.5 percent raise, and this was seconded by Taylor, who was unexpectedly interrupted by a profanity-laden comment from an online participant. The video is available here. 


Fox made a motion to amend to delay a possible raise until after the outcome of the election next week. In response to Fox’s motion, Harris suggested that Buckey should not be the only employee in the district not to receive a raise this year. Fox countered that she was only suggesting a delay so that the decision on the amount of the raise could be made after the passage or failure of the override vote. Editor's Note: The raise approved for teachers for the same period beginning July 1, 2022 is a total of 1.5 percent. The teacher’s contract is available here. There was no second to Fox’s motion to delay, and the vote for a 2.5 percent pay increase for Buckey was approved by a vote of four to one, with Fox dissenting. Gold concluded by saying, “Thank you for your hard work and everything you have done to move this district forward.” Superintendent Buckey’s contract with the district is available for review here.


Proposed Change in Policy for Memorials

The final topic of the evening was a proposed change in the policy on memorials, as evaluated by Barron, Gold, and Buckey. The change would allow permanent memorials in the event of a death to be allowed with approval of the School Committee. While a vote was originally scheduled, the Committee chose to postpone the vote until the following week, after upcoming town elections on June 21, when a new School Committee will be formed.

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