BESE places Southbridge schools in receivership

Southbridge hearing

The night before the BESE vote, Southbridge Education Association President Joan Sullivan told the board that an improvement plan for the district must include educator input and provide more resources for students.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted on Tuesday, Jan. 26, to place the Southbridge Public Schools into receivership.

The vote was nine in favor, with board member Ed Doherty abstaining. Doherty, who represents labor on the board, said he could not support the receivership process as long as it removed workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester plans to name a receiver in February. In the interim, he will act as the receiver. The Southbridge School Committee will be relieved of its duties.

At a public hearing in Southbridge Monday night, no consensus emerged on whether receivership would be the best option for the district, though there was general agreement that leadership of the district had broken down.

Southbridge Education Association President Joan Sullivan spoke at the hearing and delivered a petition signed by members.

The petition read in part, “As noted in the DESE’s district review, leadership of the schools is in disarray. With the district’s persistent lack of a vision or coherent plan, educators have been working with minimal guidance from the central administration. Southbridge educators want to share their expertise to benefit the district, and that will only occur when there is stable leadership that views educators as equal partners.”

Sullivan told the BESE that the district needs more enrichment and wraparound services for all students and that standardized tests should not be the only measure of student progress.

Several SEA members spoke, making the point that educators are frustrated and want to be partners in moving the district forward.

“We feel like we are rowing very hard, but without direction we don’t get anywhere,” said SEA Vice President David Williams.

As noted in a district report by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Southbridge has had seven superintendents over the past seven years, with similar turnover in high school principals. The district is also lacking key positions such as an ELL director, even though the district has approximately 350 English language learners.

Susan Grant, one of the district’s few ELL instructors, echoed other SEA members in telling the BESE that despite the challenges, she chooses to teach in Southbridge.

The DESE will next begin to assemble a local stakeholder group that will discuss what should be included in a turnaround plan that will be developed. The Southbridge Education Association will have representation in the group.

Southbridge is the third Massachusetts district to be placed into receivership, following state takeovers of the Lawrence and Holyoke Public Schools.