Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 28, 2013

Editorial: Better communicating schools' plan will serve all well


The Andover Townsman

---- — The Andover School Committee has selected its leader for the next five years, extending the contract of Superintendent Marinel McGrath. It has a strategic plan. It stood up to the teachers union leadership, creating a contract that is better for taxpayers and should allow for a little more money to be spent on new ideas instead of the status quo.

What it needs now is community support for its future plans, which will only come from an understanding and knowledge of them.

The School Committee missed an opportunity to involve the community in the schools by not actively seeking input as part of its decision to extend the superintendent’s contract. Hiring the superintendent is one of the most important things the committee does. The committee followed the law and posted its executive sesson agendas. But few people are scouring executive meeting agendas to learn what the committee its discussing in meetings that they cannot attend. The committee could have provided a better opportunity for Andover people to offer comments about what they would like to see from the town’s school leader. If nothing else, people would have felt more a part of the process, which could have created more support for future plans and budgets. More feedback might shape a plan to best reflect the community’s desires.

We’ve said before that Andover schools are at their best when teachers, parents and other community members are all pulling in the same direction for the students. Historically, Andover residents with and without school-age children have been big supporters of education, voting to approve large budgets and construction projects.

One bellwether of how the schools are viewed in the community is the Andover Fund for Education’s annual adult spelling bee, which raises money to support teachers’ special projects. Last year, for the first time in its 15-year history, the bee was not held. This was because there was so much disappointment around the teachers contract negotiation that few were interested in the event. The bee’s cancellation was the ultimate sign that the Andover school community was fractured.

This year, the bee was no less a sign of the current state of affairs. There was an AFE Spelling Bee, and the enthusiasm in the room was high. But most of the teams were Andover school teams, with only a handful of teams made up of community members such as members of town service clubs. Previous years had more teams from the community at large.

For the Andover Public Schools to truly reach their full potential again, the whole community needs to be engaged. We hope that with the superintendent now signed for the next five years, a strategic plan in place, and a teachers contract resolved, the school system will focus more on communicating its goals to the greater community. Now is the time. We’d like to see dozens of community members involved in the bee next year, and, more importantly, involved in the schools throughout the year.