Deerfield school parents claim lack of communication from administration

  • Deerfield Elementary School.

  • Deerfield Elementary School Committee Meeting Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

For the Gazette
Thursday, June 15, 2017

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Parents of Elementary School students feel disenfranchised and unheard by the administration — that was the consensus among the roughly two dozen parents who publicly voiced their concerns at the June 7 School Committee meeting.

“My concern is about communication. At the last school committee meeting, communication was brought up as a concern. And to have (miscommunication) continue immediately after left me with the question: ‘how do we make change?’” said parent Andrew Bedell, referring to a recent change to the sixth grade curriculum — after May’s monthly School Committee meeting — that he and others said was relayed to parents by students.

Bedell’s question was also asked by Tracy Westover, another parent, who noted there isn’t an active school council — a lack that’s “a violation of law,” she said. According to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website, a council is “required to be established by each school pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 71, Section 59C.”

“Communication needs to be distinct from disenfranchisement, which isn’t the case in this school anymore,” said parent Irene LaRoche.

The concerned parents — some of whom expressed difficulty reaching or connecting with school officials — came out in force to Wednesday’s meeting, which School Committee members and those in the audience noted isn’t designed as a forum for such discussions.

Committee Chairman G. David Sharp said the discontent over miscommunication and “frustration here tonight” was “certainly palpable.”

Westover said this discontent “trickles into every facet. I’ve heard teachers say they’re afraid to even speak up because of the retaliation. I stand up and say the same thing. It really is at critical mass: We have teachers leaving, and I think we’re going to have kids leaving to school choice.”

“(We) want to be informed. We’re being informed after, and it feels distressing. It doesn’t feel like there’s engagement,” said Laura Pontani, another parent.

The school’s response

School officials thanked parents for attending the meeting, recognized a communication problem and voiced strong commitment to remedying it.

“This is a theme, it’s very clear. It’s not falling on deaf ears,” said Union 38 District Director of Elementary Curriculum Louise Law. “Thank you for showing up and sharing your emotional response to this.”

“On such a big issue as this, and smaller ones, we need to do a better job of bringing the community along with us and getting out ahead of it,” said School Committee member Trevor McDaniel, speaking about how the 6th grade curriculum change was handled.

In regards to the lack of an active School Council, Superintendent Lynn Carey said “this is definitely something were going to rectify. We will have a School Council, and we will have School Council meetings.”

At the end of the Committee meeting, school officials took down the names of interested parents to create such a council.

In other business, an end-of-cycle preformance evaluation for Carey, reviewed June 7, scored her performance as ‘proficient’ in all areas, including communication.