"I'm a teacher in Southborough, but a taxpayer and parent in Marlborough," said Jennifer Turieo, "and I don't feel there is leadership at the top in Marlborough, and that trickles down to every staff member and every student. It doesn't matter what your vision is; if there isn't leadership, you won't move forward."
Turieo was one of more than 100 citizens who packed the standing-room only special meeting held by the Marlborough School Committee on Thursday that included on its agenda a discussion of the "no confidence" vote taken by the Marlborough Educators Association (MEA).
The MEA on Thursday, May 16,The teachers vote, according to the recent article in Marlborough Patch, came in support of a resolution which claims Pope showed disregard for the welafe of students and unprofessional behavior that has "had a demoralizing effect on the entire school community."
Wading through sporadic jeers and outbursts from a noisy audience, the committee discussed the recent vote, addressing what the teachers union had addressed as deficiencies in Pope's performance since he was hired two years ago.
The union has said the vote was unanimous and "cited Pope’s deficiencies, including a disregard for student welfare, unprofessional behavior, and failure to provide adequate special services for subgroups of students. In a statement of his own, Pope called the vote 'divisive.'
At the special meeting on Thursday, Pope addressed a series of concerns from the committee surrounding special needs issues in the district.
Some committee members focused on what they say is Pope's inability to deliver timely information, as well as adequately address what some consider to be a dire situation facing special needs students, and ELL, in the district.
Committee member Katherine Hennessy, whose statements were often met with applause from the audience, said, "Are we doing right by these kids in the classroom now? There were line items that there were no discussions about. We not only need it in written format, but open and transparent discussion about it. A lot of people are working exceptionally hard, but it all has to come back together."
Pope indicated several times that he and his cabinet would answer the committee's concerns in an outlined "ten point response." The committee had requested a response prior to the meeting, but did not receive one.
"I want to refer you back to the entry report," said Pope, "and we will put that back on the website. When I came in last year, we were specific in outlining from my needs assessment a perspective on what I think the needs are in the district. We were clear about ELL coming into the district. A change, especially in public schools—you cannot turn that over in two years. And I was clear about that from the beginning."
Pope added that a coordinator was recently hired, who will focus on pre-K through grade 5, and that the administration is just starting the building blocks on what will define the philosophy for ELL.
"It's a struggle throughout the state," said Pope. "A data point that always sticks in my head is that 22 percent of our special education students are proficient in illiteracy. That is unacceptable. We are fully aware of our issues in special education. We are a district identified as needing corrective action. That validates my entry report. We were very aware of those."
Committee member Michelle Bodin-Hattinger agreed that a new program takes a lot of building, but added she had a "lot of grave concerns. You talk about coming in and doing an entry point, yet two years later we're in worse shape in terms of staffing, and you've pointed to issues with ELL."
"I will go back to research on change," responded Pope. "It's a fact that when you enter into a new district, you do not fix it in two years. As far as special education, we weren't capable of changing special education coming into the second year. This is an old model we're still trying to change."
Committee member Jennifer Hardy argued that the administration cannot "hand over a program with a bow on it" and that it is a journey to build a program.
"I go out on a limb here because I'm in a union," said Hardy. "I think any program four years later is much meatier, but districts don't have funds or resoruces to have these things pulled in the first time. Programs are built over time."
Many in the audience, some who held "No Hope With Pope" signs, shouted displeasure. "She's full of crap!" yelled someone from the audience after Hardy spoke. Hardy added that she was extremely disappointed that people had visited the high school during a middle school visitor day holding "No Hope With Pope" signs.
"With extreme confidence," said Pope, "and I would say my leadership team would agree, that we have areas we need to improve, and I will be the first to say it. But where do we start? We do not have a solid foundation that holds us all accountable."
Turieo, who talked with other concerned citizens following the meeting, said that two past superintendents, parents of former students and parents of present students joined union members to make up most of the audience on Thursday. To her, it isn't "just the union" that is upset with the situation in the district; it's the general public.
"I'm a teacher in another district," said Turieo, "and that school system does not operate like this. It's positive leadership in the community that I work, from the administration to the custodial staff and everyone in between. But you have to have a leader at the top that people respect, and want to work together, and I don't see that here."