LETTER: Resident Disappointed to See Superintendent Leaving Watertown

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To the Editor of Watertown News,

I was very disappointed to hear the news that our school superintendent, Dr. Jean Fitzgerald, has decided to retire. In her letter to the community, Dr. Fitzgerald explained she was ready to start a new chapter in her life. But from my perspective, it seems she was driven out of her position by a negative and unsupportive environment.

With Dr. Fitzgerald’s retirement, we have lost a passionate advocate for our children, and a deeply knowledgeable educator who understands the complexities of teaching and learning. We as a community need to ask ourselves why we allowed our kids, and the teachers, staff, and administrators who are educating our kids, to lose the benefit of such a leader. And we need to ask ourselves why we tarnished the reputation of a respected educator who spent forty years working in the public schools.

This summer, a group of parents started a petition calling for the school committee to begin the process of removing Dr. Fitzgerald from her position as the superintendent. They cited her lack of foresight around school growth – an issue that is primarily the responsibility of the Town. They cited her ineffectiveness as a communicator – though it seemed more about disagreements with the decisions she was making about how to handle the growth at the Cunniff. Community members have the right to critique the superintendent, but the complaints voiced in the petition did not warrant the call for Dr. Fitzgerald’s removal. A petition calling for a public official’s removal should be reserved for someone who violates the public’s trust, not for a leader who makes decisions that not everyone agrees with.

At the August school committee meeting, there was an incredible outpouring of support for Dr. Fitzgerald. Teachers and administrators from all levels within WPS spoke of Dr. Fitzgerald’s vision, intelligence, collaborative leadership style, and commitment to their professional growth. Other community members also spoke of Dr. Fitzgerald’s strengths, including parents and a former school board committee member. I was optimistic that despite the hostile climate created by the people who started the petition, that Dr. Fitzgerald would stay. Her decision to leave leads me to believe that the leadership of the school committee did not support her strongly enough. If that is the case, then our school committee leadership needs to ask themselves some tough questions about how to maintain the next superintendent. A revolving superintendency is devastating for a school district.

I am thankful to Dr. Fitzgerald for her leadership in Watertown and for her commitment to the students of Massachusetts throughout her long career as a public educator.

Sincerely,
Shaunna Harrington
Watertown resident

13 thoughts on “LETTER: Resident Disappointed to See Superintendent Leaving Watertown

  1. Beautifully written and so unfortunate! Out kids, our and our town will suffer because of this and I only hope we do not loose more incredible staff because of this. We have had 5 sped directors in 3 years and 3 out of district coordinators also. 3 superintendents in 6 years! This is a true issue and it saddens me that parents choose the destroy someone for issues that can be dealt with of we all work together.

  2. I think people have the wrong idea. There is no band of pitchfork-wielding parents intent on destroying anyone. We have expressed concerns for years and have been frustrated with a lack of responsiveness. It is noteworthy that the superintendent never once reached out after the petition came out hoping to connect with what I imagine was, to her, a surprising number of residents (185 I believe) who were unhappy enough to want her to resign. Those 185 people, by the way, outnumber the people who came to the August and September school committee meetings to show support. It’s no insignificant group. It would have been meaningful and effective if she had even attempted to have a conversation, but sadly, given that lack of communication has been a significant concern here, it’s not surprising. This is why we are upset.

    It’s easy for someone who has had a good experience in Watertown to appreciate all of WPS administration. However, those people should keep an open ear to those of us who have faced challenges and found ourselves frustrated with a lack of responsiveness. You should care that our experiences have been poor. You should respect our need to ask for better. No one wants a major changeover of leadership, which always comes with inevitable disruptions, but if we don’t get quality from our leadership, we HAVE to push for either improvement or someone new.

  3. I have a few things to add to the two above comments! first of all I would like to say that my experience has been far from perfect, but I continue to value what we do have in this town, realize the obstacles we face, and work together to correct the mistakes. Secondly a newer school committee member herself admitted the school
    Committee screwed up and should have taken care of things last year! Lastly as for who showed up to support De. Fitzgerald, only a few parents who signed that petition showed up to support it and even less spoke. If you feel that strongly about something then you stand up, show up and make a difference. The only time a lot of people show to these meetings is to complain but not bring any solutions to the table. we all need to wonder why they can’t keep anyone and all this will do is set things back even further. Our school commitee needs to step up and do there job, so does the town!

  4. Let’s talk about that petition. You say there were 185 residents who signed that petition. But who knows if that is true? The list of signers has not been published. They have not been validated by any independent group. Just from the comments that are visible there are many who are not residents of Watertown.

    For example, there is one guy who is not a resident but also voted to remove a superintendent on the Cape.

    “I am a former Watertown resident, now Cambridge resident who recently signed a similar petition to remove the Superintendent where I grew up and attended school on Cape Cod. “

    Maybe this is his hobby?

    There was one young woman who was a very recent graduate of Watertown High School whose whole comment was “Because f*** watertown schools.”

    Before you go shouting out the 185 number, a little cleanup and verification would be appropriate. But if they are all “secret”….well, I’ve got a petition too! And it has 300 signers!! Yeah!

    “It is noteworthy that the superintendent never once reached out after the petition came out hoping to connect”

    You are like the bully who knocks someone down and expects that the discussion to be about your feelings and why you felt you had to punch him.

    • How would you know the details of any salary discussions between the Super and SC Chair? Who said what to you and when?

  5. The website on which the petition was created does not publish the list of names of signers. That’s just how it’s set up. But you can easily see how many people have signed. You can question it if you want, that’s fair. But it’s not fraud just because you disagree.

    Anyone who attended the August School Committee meeting could feel the incredible tension in the air. Many parents felt genuinely nervous about attending and even fewer were comfortable speaking. At least one parent was approached and yelled at in the hallway by a person who identified herself as a teacher. Another administrator (the head of guidance, who heads up anti-bullying initiatives in our school system) can be seen in the background of the video laughing derisively and rolling her eyes at parents who are speaking. It was not an open environment in which parent concerns were welcomed or heard or in which solutions could be suggested.

    I encourage anyone who is angry to consider what it means when some families have excellent experiences and others cannot even get an email returned to them. Is that equitable? Is it strong leadership? Is it, perhaps, acceptable that over time, some people will ask for, and later demand, better? I think it is. And I think we can all work together on this.

  6. But the (anonymous) author of the petition can release the list of signers. It doesn’t matter how many people have signed if they are not vetted. It’s not fraud because I disagree – it’s a sham because it’s not vetted. I could create a hundred email accounts and sign the petition. And that number would mean nothing. You didn’t even have the courage to actually present the petition to the School Committee – that would have to expose the signers.

    When you talk about the meeting and about how people felt nervous, please use the word “petitioner” and not the word “parent.” Not all parents supported the petition.

    I saw Barbara rolling her eyes and shaking her head. (I think “laughing derisively” is your opinion and not necessarily the truth). But I think if you see when she does it, it is because she is disagreeing with that person’s (was it the ATTORNEY!) comments on bullying. Since Barbara is an expert on that topic, I think I’ll go with her in this case.

    How can you say “it was not an open environment in which parent concerns were welcomed or heard or in which solutions could be suggested.” What “solutions” are you even talking about? You had started a petition demanding that she be fired FOR CAUSE. Which is it? Did you want her fired or not? (I have to agree – the petition was confusing – first it was about “no confidence” then it took a turn to firing for cause.)

    Okay, I’m still lying on the ground after you punched me – but sure, let me get up so we can “work together!”

    • Not sure why it matters to you – except that you have tried to silence her and her criticism of you by blocking her from the Watertown Residents for Strong Schools page on Facebook. Maybe it is her and maybe it isn’t – I don’t know – but it seems like you would like to silence her here too.

  7. As I have stated before-I am one of the parents who drafted the petition-and as I have mentioned many times -I am more than happy to talk about my personal experiences and what lead me to this. Oddly, only two people have contacted me-but it seems like there are many unanswered questions surrounding this subject. instead of making assumptions please just ask-I won’t go back and forth in the comments section of a website-that’s not a true conversation. Please reach out to me-You will be met with an open mind and willingness to listen-I only hope that you are too-I see that as the only way forward.

    Elaina Griffith

    • Elaina – I’m not sure what you are getting at here. The unanswered questions are who drafted the petition and who signed it. I think the people who have been complaining and who have spearheaded the petition have been heard over and over again. Really, is there more stuff you need to say? 🙂

      And I am so frustrated by refusing to discuss it in a comments section of a website – here or on Facebook. All the criticism you’ve given the WPS folks has been public. In fact, you reached out to WBUR and the Boston Globe to get them to cover that petition action. For what reason, I don’t know. Just to really stick it to Dr Fitzgerald?

      In any case, I think you will have to put up with some public questioning too.

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