The beginning of school is around the corner, but the Superintendent is facing an uprising of parents upset with the way she has handled some major decisions over the past year.
Wednesday night, a group of parents will deliver a petition signed by parents asking for the School Committee to take a vote of confidence for Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald.
School Committee Chairman John Portz said there will not be a vote on the Superintendent at Wednesday’s meeting. That would have to be put on the agenda. That can be done by Portz, as chairman, or by other members of the School Committee, he said.
Fitzgerald responded to the petition with a letter on the Watertown Public Schools website, saying “I take the concerns of my community very seriously and work hard to ensure their voices are heard.”
A related item, however, will be on the agenda. The annual evaluation of the superintendent will be taken up Wednesday, Portz said.
“The evaluation process is in place. We will let it run its course first,” Portz said. “It is covering a similar topic. That is what we are focused on.”
Fitzgerald came to Watertown as assistant superintendent and served as interim superintendent starting in 2009. In 2011, she was officially named superintendent. Her current salary is $180,000, and her contract runs through the 2019-20 school year, Portz said.
In the evaluation process, the School Committee will look at Fitzgerald’s compensation, along with how well she has met goals set out for her by the School Committee, Portz said.
The petition, posted on Change.com last week, is closing in on the 200 signatures set up as a goal, said parent Elaina Griffith, one of the organizers of the petition.
“We will be presenting the petition (Wednesday night) during public forum,” Griffith said. “At this point, as parents, we don’t really feel we can (force) a vote. Really this is the job of the School Committee.”
The issue that put it over the edge for parents was the sudden announcement in early August that the extended day program would not be provided on days with early releases, including parent-teacher conferences.
“The extended day was the last straw, but it could have been anything,” Griffith said.
There have been a number of crises this year and a similar pattern, Griffith said. First, in November the fourth grade at Cunniff School became overcrowded.
“It wasn’t looked at seriously until January,” Griffith said. “Nothing was done until April.”
Then there was a notice sent out to all parents of kids going into the pre-K program that their children would be sent to another building to attend class.
“There was no explanation, no real communication,” Griffith said.
Another decision that a class at the Cunniff would mix second and third grades. Finally, there was the extended day decision.
Communication and not seeking of input from parents before making the decision occurred in all these cases, and are one of the biggest complaints of the petition.
“Without a doubt,” Griffith said. “It was not a two way street.”
In her letter, Fitzgerald said that she has been advocating for more space in the schools for more than three years, and the district is working on a master plan for the long-term space needs that will be completed by the end of August.
She noted also that the needs for space this past spring started in August 2015 at the Buildings & Grounds Subcommittee. The final decisions, she said, were made with the help of parent input.
As for the extended day, Fitzgerald said the number of days where extended day would not be offered would be just two. Originally, the cancellations would have also applied to parent-teacher conference days.
Portz said he did not expect a petition to come forward, but he had heard some rumblings.
“It was somewhat of a surprise,” Portz said. “I had heard rumors that there could be a petition, but I hear a lot of rumors. I understand there is some frustration about issues for parents.”
Portz said he believes the school leadership, including the School Committee, can do the job.
“I do have confidence in the School District – the School Committee and all of us,” Portz said. “Clearly we have a challenge. I have confidence we can all do what is best for the children of Watertown.”
The School Committee meeting – Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall – is at the same time as another important community meeting on the proposal to renovate the Arsenal Mall (at 7 p.m. at the Innovation Space). Griffith said she worries that people will be torn over which meeting to attend.
See more about the petition by clicking here.
This story was updated at 11:55 a.m. on Aug. 17.