, Newburyport, MA

October 23, 2012

Closed schools meeting canceled

Mayor backs off on school chief amid outcry

By Lynne Hendricks Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT — A closed-door meeting on leadership of the city’s schools scheduled by Mayor Donna Holaday for last night has been permanently cancelled after School Committee members and the city’s legal counsel questioned its legality.

Instead, Holaday is now resolving to focus on the future and attempting to distance herself from damning comments she made about Superintendent Marc Kerble in the wake of Assistant Superintendent Deirdre Farrell’s resignation announcement last week.

Pointing to a school community that reached out to her and urged a return to calm, Holaday said yesterday she’s committed to moving forward and incorporating some of the items slated for discussion at last night’s meeting into an upcoming School Committee retreat scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 30.

“We did make the mistake of not posting the reason for the executive session (meeting),” Holaday said in explaining the cancellation.

Holaday also said the meeting was called off because she had expressed an intention to discuss Kerble during the session, but had not notified the superintendent, as required by the state open meeting law. Holaday said given the potential fear of venturing into topics that might involve the superintendent, she was advised to air her thoughts on the leadership of the local schools in public.

But it’s not clear whether the mayor will be doing that anytime soon, since the three agenda items being shifted to next week’s retreat agenda are not related to Kerble. Per Holaday, who as mayor also serves as chairwoman of the School Committee, the retreat agenda will include a discussion on short- and long-term vision with regard to filling vacancies, budget issues and an examination of the communication and interaction among School Committee members.

“I think we really need to focus on leadership as a whole at the central office, including the school building projects, finance, special education, and follow the process we put in place by the School Committee regarding Dr. Kerble’s goals and action plan,” Holaday said.

Holaday’s decision to cancel the meeting came after the principals of the city’s five schools sent a letter urging the mayor and School Committee to quiet the controversy.

The letter, sent late Friday afternoon, was signed by principals Michael Parent, Newburyport High School; Beth Raucci, Rupert A. Nock School; Tara Rossi, Molin Upper Elementary School; Kristina Davis, Bresnahan Elementary School; and Amy Sullivan, G.W. Brown School.

“In light of the challenges our school district is facing at this time, it is important for the greater Newburyport community to know that central office personnel, principals, teachers and staff are focused on student learning and achievement,” the letter read.

The principals also expressed concern about the impact the issue was having on the mission and vision of the schools, particularly after having started the year with a “positive momentum” set forth at their administrative retreat, meetings with faculty and the launch of a new evaluation model.

“Recent negative publicity in the newspaper is making this difficult for us. We feel that this type of publicity skews the perception of the public and causes unnecessary angst that enters our schools,” the principals wrote. “We are committed to continuing the positive momentum and ask you to join us in that effort.”

In the meantime, Kerble appears to be receiving some support from the community. A bouquet of yellow roses was sent anonymously to the superintendent at work last week and was accompanied by a message urging him to keep his chin up and stay the course.

“I’ve heard from people on Facebook and from people stopping me in the community, including staff of the schools, expressing their support for Marc,” School Committee member Bruce Menin said.

Kerble appeared in his element among parents and students in the district Friday night when he attended a Clothes for Hope event to support and congratulate Newburyport High senior Lauren Sundstrom for her effective fundraising campaign to help the people of Ghana.

And in the midst of the political melee, he focused on touting Sundstrom’s efforts on his Facebook page and reaching out to the community with a positive message.

“Friday night was amazing and it reminded me what is really important — our children,” Kerble wrote on Facebook. “I promise I will continue to do what I can for our students in Newburyport.”