The Plan unfolds

When the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee (SC) and Dr. Glenn Brand released their joint announcement in mid-May of the Superintendent's resignation effective as of June 30, the reaction of the community was surprise bordering on shock. There was an immediate rejection to the obviously meaningless “educational and operational philosophies” cover story, followed by serious questions about the secret process that had to have taken place to reach this unwelcome, and apparently irreversible, decision. There had been no warning signs, rumors, or items on the School Committee agendas for their open meetings that could have alerted the community, and especially parents, that “something was up.” In short, the residents of both communities were blindsided by the School Committee.

Speaking for the School Committee, Chair Amy Krishnamurthy and former Chair Mary Brolin refused to answer any questions or provide any explanation of these supposed philosophical differences, citing the Separation and Release Agreement (which the School Committee created). They spent several hours at their May 24th meeting not answering people’s questions and repeating their story. Everyone could tell something didn’t add up, but it would be speculation as to why, and that uncertainty was used to the SC’s advantage. This strategy wasn’t by accident: it was designed to confuse our communities so that nobody would know what had happened behind closed doors.

The Separation document was released the next day, but it just added to the frustration because there is only one constraint, a “non-disparagement” clause, which did not support the Chairs’ assertion that the Agreement forced them not to answer any questions. What could be disparaging about discussing a difference in operational philosophies? State law and DESE regulations require public disclosure of the results of the performance evaluation of a Superintendent by the School Committee, so if the ABRSD School Committee was unhappy with Dr. Brand’s performance--and there was no public information to suggest it--the performance review results could not be withheld. Private agreements do not override state law.

MORE QUESTIONS

Among the growing atmosphere of mistrust and frustration, and the lack of answers by our elected officials, the community's and SC's focus switched to the question of the process that would be used to find a replacement for Dr. Brand. Would the SC appoint an Interim (temporary) Superintendent to allow time for a comprehensive, national search for the best permanent candidate? Will whoever is chosen for the Interim position be eligible to be considered for the permanent job? If so, would that discourage highly qualified candidates from applying? And would the departure of Dr. Brand before his contract expired give potential candidates further pause to even apply?

One of our major concerns was the lack of any record of public discussion about what to do to replace Dr. Brand. Certainly that "succession planning" should have been done in public meetings. Who would believe that the School Committee would force out the current Superintendent and not have some plan in place?

Many dedicated community members communicated their suggestions and concerns about the Superintendent Search process to the School Committee, both in writing and in person. The School Committee thanked them, then ignored their requests and recommendations. Instead of a clean, transparent search, they chose otherwise. Almost all of the recommendations suggested by several community leaders to have a fair search so the District could find the best available candidate were discarded, because that did not fit “the plan.”

FINALLY, SOME ANSWERS

Acton Forum then obtained and published the unredacted minutes of the two School Committee executive sessions (ES), blowing a giant hole in the SC’s stonewall of silence and misdirection, if not outright lies.

The minutes showed how Dr. Brand was pressured into resigning. More than 4,700 “pageviews” have been recorded for that article so far. For a link to the article, click here: http://www.actonforum.com/story/unredacted-executive-session-minutes-show-how-former-superintendent-glenn-brand-was-pressured-).

WHY WAS ALL THIS DONE?

Speculation started, inevitably, as soon as the announcement of Dr. Brand’s departure became public, and a lot of it was about the role of Ms. Marie Altieri, the Deputy Superintendent under Dr. Brand and now the Acting Superintendent for the District. Altieri’s interest in becoming a school superintendent was not a secret; she applied for the job in A-B three years ago (when Dr. Brand was hired) and withdrew as a finalist for Superintendent in Groton-Dunstable on March 30th of this year. She must have known “something was up” and decided not to leave the AB School District.

We have no evidence and do not believe that Ms. Altieri participated in the circumstances that have led to her being appointed Acting Superintendent. She may just be a very lucky person with friends in high places.

We also find Altieri to be a competent administrator and while we have sometimes disagreed with her in the past, she has always acted professionally towards us. But in our view, the Acton and Boxborough communities deserve to find the best Superintendent in a national search for our fine district. When we pick a strong, internal candidate, we are choosing from a field of one. When we appoint such a candidate to be our Interim and allow her to apply for the permanent position, we greatly reduce the field of available talent who would be willing to apply and go through a rigorous screening process because they may assume the job has already been promised to someone else.

AN ANSWER TO “WHY?”

The selection of Altieri as one of the three finalists (now two, one dropped out on 7/28) for the Interim position changes the speculation about her future to a near certainty--we see this as the surfacing of the hidden agenda of certain members of the School Committee, an agenda which includes appointing her as the Superintendent as soon as possible. Naming her as one of three finalists out of 29 applicants was no accident.

Altieri obviously has friends on the School Committee. These “friends” have been working behind the scenes to engineer her ascendancy to the permanent Superintendent position, and they are very close to achieving their goal. This has apparently been in the works for several years, ever since the requirements for the position were changed for her benefit back in 2013. Now, we have evidence of an improper termination of the previous Superintendent to apparently make way for her once again. This has not only been harmful and unfair to Dr. Brand, but it has cost Acton taxpayers over $200,000, created uncertainty and low morale among the school staff, diminished the reputation of the ABRSD, greatly reduced the opportunities to improve the District for the kids. and undermined the support of the school district by the communities.

All of this could have been avoided without the “cloak and dagger” methods used by our School Committee leaders. Had they been unhappy with Dr. Brand, they could have chosen not to renew his contract. (Instead, last year, they extended it.) They could have identified any perceived shortcomings, given Brand time to make corrections, and then not renewed his contract if a majority of members were unhappy.

But instead, four members took it upon themselves to engineer a wrongful coup, by making the environment so unpleasant and uncertain for Dr. Brand that he felt forced to resign, taking the balance of the contract with him. This did not have to happen, and it should never have happened in this way.

SCHOOL COMMITTEE LIKELY TO JUST NAME ALTIERI

We believe the SC will end up picking Altieri as the Interim next week. We also believe that will be tantamount to naming her the permanent Superintendent.

The SC decided last month, despite community input urging the contrary, that the Interim Superintendent could be a candidate for the permanent position. That decision will allow Altieri to lead the District while a permanent search goes on, in which she will also be a candidate. That will greatly discourage outside candidates from applying.

Therefore, we think it likely that the School Committee will drag their feet on appointing a new search committee, giving Altieri time to keep doing the job, and will then decide just to appoint her to the position permanently. Why go through a long, drawn-out process when perhaps a majority of the SC has already made up its mind? (At least that's the conclusion that some members of the School Committee have reached, despite no one publicly admitting it.)

This was evidently the plan from the start. Despite nothing being discussed in any open meeting, and nothing in the secret minutes that we released, the SC had on their original agenda of 5/24/17 a vote to select Altieri as Interim and then a possible vote to forego a search and just see how she did. And that is probably what they are going to end up doing anyway.

LAST CHANCE FOR COMMUNITY INPUT

The vote for Interim Superintendent will probably take place on Tuesday, August 1st, after the interviews which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 PM. The vote may be held immediately after the interviews, discussion, and public comments, or may be postponed. Attend the meeting if you like; you can also send your comments to the entire School Committee by emailing abrsc@abschools.org. Messages sent to the SC are included in the documents collected for each meeting (known as “the packet”) and they become public documents.

If readers wish to send their comments and have them read by SC members before they vote, they need to send them now, even though they may be distracted by summer activities, vacations, and kids home from school. If you are supportive of what the School Committee did in its secret meetings to force Dr. Brand’s resignation, send them a note thanking them for their volunteer efforts, how hard they work, and how much you appreciate their public service. We are sure they would be happy to receive it.

But if you are concerned about how the ABRSD school system is being governed, if you are upset at the public statement and public meetings in which our communities were purposefully misled, or if you feel that anointing an internal candidate for Superintendent is not best for our school district, the staff, and the students, you can let them know that as well.

We repeat our request for the resignation of the School Committee members who are responsible for creating this situation.

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