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Focus Groups Reveal School District Issues

Superintendent focus groups have revealed community concerns with contention between the City Council and School Committee, a poor image of the district and not knowing who to trust.

In looking for a new superintendent, the company , conducted focus groups that revealed concerns that are often not discussed in a public forum.

"Lack of trust across and among many individuals and groups in the school district is a large challenge," according to a report from HYA.

Interviews with 111 people including community members, staff, students, school board members and employees were conducted in November. A total of 397 online surveys were also conducted. The interviews and focus groups were done to guide the selection of a new superintendent.

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Challenges were found to include the diversity of the community, according to a preliminary report released by HYA to the School Committee.

"There was some sense that resource allocation does not reflect the needs of the diverse student population," according to the report.

The image of the school was reported to be worse than surrounding districts, despite positive things occuring within the schools.

"Negative press seems to trump positive press on most occasions," according to the report."This is in spite of the belief that many wonderful accomplishments were occuring in the schools and community."

Lack of trust was cited as a consistent theme. Respondents felt that parents, teachers and administrators did not know who to trust. They also felt that the budget process each year has been contentious.

"Concerns were expressed about the school district being well into this fiscal year and only now receiving the necessary funding to support the district's operations," according to the report.

Addititional issues brought up by members of the School Committee included micromanagement by the committee, inadequate funding for the schools and distrust between the committee and City Council.

Administrators cited a lack of transparency, a curriculum in a state of transition and rapidly growing ELL and special education populations. Faculty concerns included micromanagement by the committee, conflict between the council and committee and the instability of leadership in the district.

Parents and community members cited a lack of community involvement in the school, the need for a superintendent to run the district with a school committee back to governance, a need to control and be more transparent with spending and a division between long-term residents and newcomers to the district.

The strengths of the district were found to be its location, diversity and the committment of district employees.

All these factors point to the need for someone with a long track record of success, according to HYA representatives. They plan to bring three candidates to the school committee by January.

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