Published in the May 31, 2017 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — In the wake of Selectman Dick Dalton’s recent criticism of the School Department in a Facebook post, the School Committee fired back at Dalton last week.
Dalton’s main criticism of the School Department focused on three different areas: Content, personnel matters and performance.
School Committee Chairman Tim Doyle responded on behalf of the school board and School Department at a School Committee meeting.
“We are very disappointed that at no time did Mr. Dalton take his time to express his concern at a School Committee meeting, nor did he reach out to Superintendent (Jane) Tremblay or any member of this board to seek information or express his concern,” said Doyle. “Given Selectman Dalton’s position in this community and a number of factual inaccuracies he cited, we felt the need to clarify a few of his statements.”
In regards to personnel matters, Doyle said, “the School Department has zero tolerance for staff whose actions or inactions compromise the health, safety and welfare of our students or employees.”
“This stern position has led to the dismissal of staff members,” said Doyle. “The representation that there has been a settlement of $400,000 is simply inaccurate.”
Doyle also responded to Dalton’s criticism of literary content that eighth and ninth grade students are reading or have read. Dalton objected to ninth graders reading a short story called “Sexy” by Jhumpa Lahiri and Lynnfield Middle School having the controversial book “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher on the summer reading list.
“We believe that the curriculum is fluid and needs to be updated and adjusted over time,” said Doyle. “This happens through healthy discussions, not through blanket statements or suggestions of censorship. Had Selectman Dalton reached out, he would have learned the literature he characterized as ‘trash pornography’ is from a Pulitzer Prize winning author, whom is a suggested author under the Common Core Standards. The passage is not a Harlequin Romance novel, as the post would suggest. It is a story that explores race, gender, class and other parts of identity. This…is part of the curriculum in many communities including but not limited to Needham, Belmont, Westwood, Lexington, Burlington, Bedford, Watertown, Newton and Waltham.
“Selectman Dalton’s assertion that it was a ‘revelation’ that the novel ‘13 Reasons Why’ was part of the middle school summer reading is a mischaracterization,” continued Doyle. “This is not a revelation, as it has been of the middle school summer reading program for several years. However, the recent screen adaptation of the novel, which presents a disturbing image of teen suicide, has prompted many districts, including Lynnfield, to discuss the book’s place on reading lists. It should be noted under Superintendent Tremblay’s leadership, social, emotional and physical health of our students is and has been a priority through teacher training, direct classroom instruction and evening programing for parents.”
Doyle said, “(T)he selection of curriculum is designed to teach students how to navigate real life issues responsibly and appropriately.”
“And quite honestly, we think there is no better place for that to occur than within the four walls of our buildings,” said Doyle.
Doyle stressed that the School Committee, Tremblay, the Administrative Leadership Team and teachers “work diligently to educate, nurture and protect our students.”
“We take great pride in the fact that this community prioritizes public education,” said Doyle. “The Lynnfield Public Schools are not perfect. However, the School Committee and Superintendent Tremblay are committed to achieving excellence as a district.
“We ask the community, that before you draw conclusions or make blanket representations without merit, please reach out to the committee or district leaders so that a fully informed discussion may take place,” Doyle continued. “We have always been here to partake in an open and honest conversation regarding any topic for which we are at liberty to speak about.”
In closing, Doyle said “the School Committee has enjoyed an outstanding relationship with the Board of Selectmen for nearly 20 years.”
“The events that happened certainly don’t compromise that relationship, but it does breach a level of trust that has existed for a number of years,” said Doyle. “We look forward to working with the selectmen in providing the students in this district with an outstanding education.”
After Doyle concluded reading the School Committee’s statement, Tremblay addressed some of Dalton’s concerns including how the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) classifies the school system as a Level 2 district.
According to DESE, “all Massachusetts schools and districts with sufficient data are classified into one of five accountability and assistance levels, 1-5, with the highest performing in Level 1 and lowest performing in Level 5.” In general, a district is classified into the level of its lowest performing school.
Lynnfield Middle School is classified as a Level 2 school, while the three other schools are Level 1 schools. Tremblay noted there are only five school districts in the state that have a Level 1 ranking: Belmont, Sharon, Westborough, Westford and Westwood.
Tremblay said DESE’s Cumulative Progress and Performance Index (PPI) gave the district a score of 74 in the “students with disabilities” subgroup. Schools and school districts must reach a benchmark of 75 or higher in several subgroups included on the PPI in order to narrow proficiency gaps.
Canterbury Road resident Lauren West stated that the middle school did not meet the benchmark of 75 or higher in the “high needs” and “students with disabilities” subgroups. West said the “high needs” subgroup received a score of 54, while the “students with disabilities” subgroup received a score of 67.
Tremblay said the middle school “will continue to work” on becoming a Level 1 school “diligently.”
“Lynnfield Public Schools did not meet the target number due to the underperformance of identified subgroups at Lynnfield Middle School,” added Tremblay in an email sent to the Villager. “When LMS closes the gap for the subgroups, and if all of the other stats remain the same or increase, presumably the current target number of 74 would be moved to 75. This would elevate LPS to Level 1 status. When we become a Level 1 district, we will join the five other districts in the commonwealth with this elite status. Currently, there are 187 Level 2 middle schools across the state.”
Tremblay noted the book “13 Reasons Why” had been on the eighth grade summer reading list since 2013. She said it is no longer on the summer reading list.
“It was an optional free-choice book,” said Tremblay. “It came with designation on the list ‘title with mature themes.’ Parents had to sign off on that form. The issue was never with the book. The issue was the graphic nature that was depicted in the Netflix series. The reason why ‘13 Reasons Why’ is no longer on the reading list has nothing to do with the Netflix series. It has everything to do with the fact that there was a CLE (collaborative learning experience) conducted at the middle school in the fall, which determined to have a shared novel across grades 7 and 8 for summer reading instead.”
Additionally, Tremblay said “Sexy” has been on the ninth grade reading list for the past five years.
“It is also listed on the syllabus and parents can also find out about it through Google Classroom,” said Tremblay. “The high school administration and the high school English Department have done a phenomenal job looking at DESE’s core novel list to see which ones they want to bring to our students. It is always being looked at and always being revised.”
Tremblay also weighed in on why “U.S. News and World Report” did not rank Lynnfield High School as one of its best high schools this spring. In an email sent to the Villager, Tremblay provided the following statement.
“Shortly before our School Committee meeting on (May 23), I was provided with inaccurate information of how data is collected by ‘U.S News and World Report’ for ranking purposes,” said Tremblay. “As a result thereof, the representation that the submission of an application is a component of the ranking process is not accurate. However, through a telephone conversation a representative from ‘U.S. News and World Report’ confirmed there are prominent publications that do require information to be submitted directly by high school guidance departments in order to be ranked. He also confirmed that our ranking was compromised by our academic performance on MCAS testing compared to like districts with similar poverty levels. He stated academic data for stage 1 is based solely on MCAS test results. He explained that while LHS performed better than expected on MCAS according to their formula, we did not perform high enough on their scale to proceed to stage 2 of the process given our demographics.”
During last week’s meeting, Tremblay encouraged townspeople to reach out to her, school officials and the School Committee if residents have concerns.
“We are more than happy to sit down and have a conversation with you, or to answer any questions anyone might have,” said Tremblay. “I believe we are all working in the same direction, which is to have an outstanding school system for our students to enjoy and our families to be part of. But we can’t do that unless we have open conversations.”
West said she believes it’s important for the school system to become a Level 1 district. She expressed disappointment that becoming a Level 1 district was not included in the school improvement plans.
“As a taxpayer, Level 1 status is something that benefits all of us,” said West. “It benefits our property values.”
West also said the school system “needs to become more data driven.”
For more information on the school system’s accountability rankings, visit https://profiles.doe.mass.edu/accountability/report/district.aspx?linkid=30&orgcode=01640000&orgtypecode=5&.