Southborough makes top 20% of Boston Magazine’s Best Schools List

by beth on August 29, 2013

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When I sent my son off to his first day at kindergarten this morning, I didn’t realize I was starting him in one of the top school systems in Boston.

Actually, until I read Boston Magazine’s new article, I didn’t even know I lived in Boston.

Boston Magazine just came out with it’s “September 2013” rankings of Best Schools in Boston. Southborough ranked 30 out of 147.

Apparently, the list encompasses “schools whose districts lie all or partially within the Greater Boston I-495 boundary”.

Rankings were based on data including student-to-teacher ratio, class size, expense per student, % attending college, and MCAS and SAT scores. (To read their report, click here.)

I’m sure that budget hawks will wonder why Westborough (17) and Hopkinton (28) outranked us. Residents with rose colored glasses might appreciate that we beat our district partner, Northborough (39) to make it into the top 20%. (Well,  20.4%, but that’s close enough.)

Me, I always take these magazine rankings with a grain of salt. (Schools are more than a spreadsheet of data.) But I can’t deny liking it when we’re ranked well and hating it if we’re ranked low.

Already, I’ve received one letter to the editor tangentially related to this story. (I’ll be posting that later today.) I’m sure there will be more of you with opinions to share.

(Finn School photo via finn.nsboro.k12.ma.us)

1 Neil Rossen August 29, 2013 at 9:37 PM

I’m one of those budget hawks, and can only say that for the amount of property taxes that we pour into the schools at the expense of people on fixed incomes this seems a pretty poor return on investment. But we can look to Gobron to assure us, as he did at a previous Town Meeting, that test scores don’t really reflect reality. Write me off as a serial complainer, but the taxes we pay hurt.

2 SB Resident August 30, 2013 at 1:34 PM

Please explain… I agree we could get a better bang for our buck, but I’d hardly call this a ‘poor return’. (Waltham could say they are getting a poor return.) Being a budget hawk and pushing for better is fine, but trying to spin this into a negative will only hurt your cause.

3 Southborough Rocks August 31, 2013 at 8:17 AM

The Boston magazine ranking is something I look forward to every year because I know Southborough will be very close to the top. It makes us proud and grateful but definitely not surprised based on the experiences we have already had with everyone at Finn and Woodward. Our 1st and 2nd graders are so lucky to have such a wonderful education ahead of them. Thanks and Congratulations to all the teaching professionals and residents of Southborough!

4 resident2 August 31, 2013 at 6:37 PM

You may be a budgethawk but I don’t believe you have really ever tried to do anything about it. If you just complain people stop listening. Have you tried running for school committee or a town board to really make a difference? I don’t ever remember seeing you run ( I may be mistaken) but it seems to me that would be a better way to get your cause out there than continually complaining about it. If you can’t beat them, join them….then make a difference.

5 SBoro parent September 1, 2013 at 12:41 PM

The Southborough school system definitely rocks, and not mainly because of test results.

6 Carrie September 16, 2013 at 6:00 PM

Dr. Gobron ROCKS, the school system ROCKS and the town itself needs to bring in more business to generate more revenue. The schools by the way keep the Food Pantry in food during the academic year, the schools are a safety net for a lot of the towns children but you don’t see that—especially with the violence of the past few years the schools have been a place of refuge for our children.

The reason I rarely post anymore are the vicious attacks on Dr. Gobron, a lot of the time people call him Mr. —he has a doctorate–he is doing his job and the children are the ones who have and continue to benefit.

7 Neil Rossen September 16, 2013 at 9:34 PM

Why, when someone suggests that the strain on taxpayers for the relatively modest results produced by the school is not value for money is it characterized as a “vicious attack”? That smacks of a purely political comment. Perhaps you would care to back up your vague assertion that everything “rocks” with some real evidence to support your view.

8 Neil Rossen September 1, 2013 at 2:46 PM

I wonder how many of my detractors live on fixed incomes and are being pressured by the constant increase in the cost of the schools and the impact it has on property taxes. On a similar type of discussion, one went so far as to write that if taxes were a problem, then move out. Perhaps those whose children benefit from the munificence of taxpayers, and so support continually rising property taxes, should consider others less fortunate than themselves. I continue, as well to believe that an objective measurement of achievement through test scores is the only credible yardstick of teacher ability. Certainly more credible than the simplistic Southborough “rocks”.

9 Al Hamilton September 2, 2013 at 7:58 AM

I cant escape the irony here. Neil is standing in the public square, stating what he believes where all can see. You on the other hand are tossing bricks at him while hiding under the anonymity of a sobriquet.

Neil has the courage of his convictions and is willing to say what he thinks without hiding in the shadows.

10 SB Resident September 3, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Stop with the anonymity superiority. Thoughts are thoughts regardless of the names that are attached. Your desire to know who is “tossing bricks” is telling.

11 Neil Rossen September 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Having the courage to stand up and be counted suggests more serious commitment to the views one expresses. Share with all of us what is so “telling” about suggesting that posters reveal their identities? What has anyone here have to be frightened of?

12 Resident September 3, 2013 at 12:39 PM

I agree with SB Resident that this superiority claimed by those who use real names has gone on too long.

I would hazard a guess that those who use their real names are retired or self employed. This does make a difference. In todays world, employers routinely search employee and potential employees names on the internet. Anything you say using your real name can be used against you in some manner that you didn’t expect. I never use my real name for anything on the internet, even if the topic seems noncontroversial.

I’m also getting tired of the same handful of people harping about the school system every time there is a post related to it. If you are so firm in your convictions and have a serious commitment you should run for school board. Exactly what type of commitment does it take to write internet posts?

13 Al Hamilton September 3, 2013 at 12:34 PM

“Stop with the anonymity superiority.”

No!

My point is that if you lack the courage to stand in the public square and say this is who I am and this is what I believe then I, for one, will apply a significant discount to your words because they lack conviction.

In this case we have an anonymous poster criticizing Mr. Rossen because he has not offered his services to the town. Not because his thoughts are not correct but because he has not chosen to volunteer his time. Somehow, in this invisible “brick thrower” feels that in order for Mr. Rossen to have the right to speak he must give away some of his valuable time to the community.

Baloney!

This line of attack might have a smidgeon of validity if the poster had a track record of their own of public service. But of course we have no way of judging that. Instead, this is really just an attempt to silence Mr. Rossen so as to not have to deal with the uncomfortable issues he raises.

So, no, I will not shut up either. If you are going to criticize someone have the courage to come out of the shadows and do it face to face. Man or Woman up as the case may be.

14 Frank Crowell September 2, 2013 at 7:52 AM

Since we have data that I assume is accepted by the Superintendent’s office and the school committee (to say nothing of the school committee’s sensitivity to comparisons to other towns in the past), could our education leaders take a hard look and see if some improvement could be made to the taxpayer’s benefit.

Acton is ranked 24, has an average class size of 22.5 and the cost per student is $11,480. Southborough spends 20% more on K-8 per child. We have almost four children less per class and we are ranked lower then Acton.

When we hear about school budgets every year, we are told that all the cuts that can be done have been done. We could not possibly go to more then 20 students per teacher. Yet Acton, which I consider close to Southborough in many respects, has found a way to better our performance on a smaller budget and larger classroom size.

Certainly some will tell me I am looking at the glass half empty. Look at what Lincoln spends ($20K per child), they’ll say. We could do better then that argument and with the upcoming difficult years ahead, we should expect better.

15 Al Hamilton September 2, 2013 at 8:04 AM

I find it curious that you forgot to thank the people and businesses that actually pay for the schools. I guess that is the prevailing attitude.

As for cost effectiveness, what evidence to you have to support that claim. Our teachers are paid well above the state average, Mr. Rooney has presented data that other comparable systems have significantly lower costs per student. We continue to operate a 4 school system even though our enrollments are 100’s of students less than when we operated in a 3 school footprint with less square feet.

These are all facts.

16 SB Resident September 3, 2013 at 12:02 PM

The evidence is in the link above. A casual glance shows we are easily right in the middle of the pack, particularly with the top 30% performers. I suppose it’s up for debate whether or not you consider middle of the pack cost effective, but it surely isn’t uncost effective. Also, comparing our costs with the state average is unfair unless you desire our schools to be average.

I agree we can do better, the teacher raises have been way too big and we need to lose Neary. (I’m assuming incoming classes sizes haven’t significantly increased in the past couple years) But this concept that we must bash the schools in order to argue we can do better is obnoxious.

Also, the fixed income argument is bunk, I and the average southboroian (and american) have been on the equivalent of fixed incomes for the past 10+ years.

17 Neil Rossen September 3, 2013 at 12:43 PM

You might want to compare pension income with earned incomes over time and find this and the ravages of inflation as it applies to commodities (not tablets – things like FOOD) have been more severe for pensioners . Many older folk have been burned in the markets and are hiding in savings accounts earning very little. Perhaps you can back up your assertion that the “fixed income argument is bunk”.
No one is “bashing the schools”. Only concerned with the amount of money spent on them for a mediocre return.

18 Al Hamilton September 2, 2013 at 8:08 AM

Folks –

Are we really singing hosanna about being in the top 20%?!?! Just for the record, by the way the 20.4th percentile is NOT in the top 20%.

Is this what we really expect?

19 Mark Ford November 12, 2013 at 5:24 PM

btw, Al, my guess is that according to the MCAS, 20.4% gets rounded down to 20%, and voila: top 20%!

I agree. Top 20% seems like a low hurdle for our community–we ought to shoot for top 10%.

20 SBoro parent September 17, 2013 at 12:53 PM

I am very grateful to both the Neary School and the Trottier school for the wonderful education and experiences my son has been having. My husband and I do not bring in much money, but we are happy to contribute in taxes to the schools, to ensure a quality education for children here for years to come.

21 Sboro parent November 12, 2013 at 10:25 AM

I applaud the current movement to get rid of the MCAS. It’s a distraction to teachers who are just trying to teach, and puts undue pressure on students, who just want to learn.

It is too bad that MCAS results are a big factor in school rankings.

22 Neil Rossen November 12, 2013 at 1:15 PM

Just trying to teach? Best not to test the outcome of what they teach? How about objective teacher evaluations, and pay for performance? Best to run away from that and claim that everyone is successful and does well at school! Pity about getting a job.

23 Matthew Brownell November 12, 2013 at 5:05 PM

??? Distraction to the teachers? How so?

Every good organization, at least in the private sector, has standards of performance – and the teachers need to execute and deliver on this.

24 Sboro parent November 12, 2013 at 6:04 PM

Matthew: These are schools, not businesses. Many people, teachers and parents, have issues with MCAS. Schools can be evaluated on how prepared children are to go into the next grade, how many graduate high school, and how they perform in school. There never used to be MCAS, and no one was the worse for it. A nurturing school environment, excited and dedicated teachers, and quality class substance, which the MCAS tests don’t fairly measure, are also part of a good school performance.

I’m sure many people would disagree with me on this, but there are many who have been frustrated with MCAS for a long time.

25 Kate November 12, 2013 at 9:06 PM

Sboro parent: I assume you do not have a child with a learning disability? These students were the ones who were “the worse for it,” as you put it, when MCAS didn’t exist. Before MCAS, students with disabilities could simply be passed through the system, whether or not they were learning effectively. So I’m not a huge supporter of MCAS, but I do appreciate that standardized tests have a role to play in education.

26 Sboro parent November 13, 2013 at 8:47 AM

I’m glad to hear that MCAS has apparently been helpful with your child and others with learning disabilities getting the help they need. I do wish that there were alternatives to measuring student performance to the hefty MCAS, and the toll it takes on the learning environment, for everybody, in general.

27 Mark Ford November 12, 2013 at 5:19 PM

If you can replace the MCAS with accepted, objective, and measurable assessments of teacher effectiveness, I’m all for getting rid of it. It seems to me the best we’ve got in the meantime.

28 Sboro parent November 12, 2013 at 8:42 PM

Perhaps.

29 Sboro parent November 12, 2013 at 2:06 PM

The MCAS eats in to the time the teachers spend teaching and grading. They have to spend a good part of their year “Teaching to the test.” One can have a good school system and do away with the MCAS all together. And no, I’m not saying everyone is successful and does well at school. But focusing on these tests takes away from the time and energy that teachers and school systems have to give to kids’ varying needs.

30 Matthew Brownell November 12, 2013 at 7:58 PM

“The MCAS eats in to time the teachers spend teaching and grading” ????

I think most would agree that Massachusetts teachers have a pretty great gig for 180 days per year. . . .

31 Sboro parent November 13, 2013 at 9:14 AM

A great gig, huh? You obviously have no idea how hard they work. Your kids benefit from this.

32 Bill November 13, 2013 at 9:30 AM

Unbelievable how some people STILL think teaching is a party game. How disrespectful to call someone’s profession a ‘great gig’. I’m curious to know why there is so much animosity. Why do people begrudge teachers a salary, decide it’s ok to expect them to do their job for free or at a substantial cut to what they are making now? It boggles my mind.

33 Matthew Brownell November 13, 2013 at 10:04 AM

“Bill” . . I hold no “animosity” to teachers or “begrudge” their salary.

I am more than willing to pay teachers handsomely for their vital role in delivering a premium education. This is smart money that has a very real payback.

However, I am also a big fan of pay-for-performance and merit-based promotions, as opposed to to the imbecilic union increases that reward teachers according to how long they warm a seat . . .

34 Matthew Brownell November 13, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Well, “Sboro Parent”, if you don’t think Southborough teachers are up to the task, I can assure you that well-qualified teachers will line up from here to P-town for the opportunity to teach in Sbro’s district . . .

35 Sboro parent November 13, 2013 at 10:22 AM

Did I say I thought they weren’t up to the task? Maybe you should re-read my comment. I also find your lack of respect for the teaching profession pretty distasteful.

36 Sboro parent November 13, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Matthew: Unions aren’t perfect, and not every single teacher is a good teacher, but they do need the unions. You do seem to have some animosity here. Too bad.

37 Al Hamilton November 12, 2013 at 8:35 PM

” A nurturing school environment, excited and dedicated teachers, and quality class substance, which the MCAS tests don’t fairly measure, are also part of a good school performance. ”

I will agree that these are good things. How can we know if these things are being accomplished? How can a parent trying to choose a school district compare one districts performance on these measures against another? How can we know if a school district is not doing a good job in these things and needs corrective action?

You can’t do this without performance metrics. MCAS are performance metrics, like them or not. The old adage is “You cant manage what you cant measure” is still true. If you don’t like them then you have to suggest something better.

38 Sboro parent November 13, 2013 at 8:54 AM

Good points, but I feel MCAS takes far too great a toll to continue making it worth while continuing to undertake them. It’s true that schools need to be held accountable, and a public school system is an imperfect entity. Parental involvement plays a huge part in doing this.

39 Sboro parent November 13, 2013 at 9:01 AM

Also, there are so many intangibles that MCAS does not measure, which make up a good school system.

40 Neil Rossen November 13, 2013 at 9:51 AM

There seems to be a hard core of anonymous posters who support the concept of having no OBJECTIVE measuring system. Now we know that is the position of the unions who don’t want to open the door to merit increases or decreases. But is that good enough? I don’t think so and I suspect that many others don’t think so either. We deserve value for money that can be measured.

41 SB Resident November 13, 2013 at 11:28 AM

I agree with Matthew B. that the teachers have a great gig and that the reason for the animosity towards the teachers is that there is an extreme supply/demand imbalance in the profession. However, I disagree with measuring and especially paying teachers for performance.

Paying for performance is a problem because the samples size is just too small. When a teacher has a class of less than 20 kids, they could just get a bad lot, and a couple really bad seeds can bring down the entire class. The teacher shouldn’t be punished because of the kids. Principals also don’t distribute the kids randomly, often giving the best teachers the harder kids, this is similar to the best doctors have the highest mortality rates for taking on the most extreme cases. Life is just too subjective for such stark policies. I do think there are bad teachers and the parents and principals know who they are. There should be parent surveys and/or a minimum level of performance metric, the bottom 5% should be given warnings and 3 years of bottom 5% and your fired.

The problem with measuring education is that it is really hard, particularly when implemented at a state level, our government can’t do anything efficiently. The biggest problem is that some towns ‘cheat’ and spend too much time teaching to the test, which I believe significantly hurts the kids, because things like the the arts, health, history, social, communication, etc. get neglected since those aren’t tested. I wish the MCAS were more diverse and more unpredictable from year to year making teaching to the test too hard. This makes year to year comparisons difficult, but district to district over time will be more accurate. I will admit that having something is better than nothing, I think that the MCAS on average gives a generally accurate big picture representation, but I think it is more of a bucket representation. That is to say westboro is better than southboro or concord is better than lexington is not valid, but saying lexington and corncord are better than southboro and westboro probably is valid.

42 Sboro parent November 12, 2013 at 8:43 PM

A great gig, huh? You obviously have no idea how hard they work. Your kids benefit from this.

43 Al Hamilton November 13, 2013 at 9:36 AM

My mom was a teacher, she taught 7 graders. How she survived that hormonally crazed grade is beyond me. Teaching, if done well., is hard work. The pay and particularly the benefits are also pretty good.

Teachers work about 40 days less than their private sector counter parts. The average teacher in our K-8 system earns in the mid 70’s and at Algonquin it is close to $80k. If you put this on a full time equivalent basis these come out to the mid 90’s and 100’s.

For the past 7 or so years teachers in our school system have received, on average, 7+% raises far higher than their private sector counter parts.

Teachers also receive very very generous retirement benefits which include a generous pension which can be collected as early as age 55 and health care benefits in retirement. These benefits have largely disappeared in the private sector.

My mom got to school at 7:00 AM and was usually home by 3:00. She graded papers and tests at home. I am told she was a good teacher (I never had her thank goodness). She worked but she did not work as hard as my father who was a manager in a food processing facility and she certainly worked fewer days. Lot of people work hard for their livings not just teachers including the people that have to pay the freight.

Teachers, particularly good ones, deserve our respect and gratitude but they are not entitled to the claim that like they work too hard or are under-compensated.

44 Sboro parent November 13, 2013 at 10:05 AM

The teachers of our children deserve every compensation, and then some, that they get. And other people who work hard deserve adequate compensation as well (such as those in fast food or retail positions who are grossly underpaid and under-benefitted). I never said that other people in other jobs don’t work hard.

45 beth November 13, 2013 at 10:52 AM

I’ve surprised by the sudden vigorous debate over this fairly old story!

At this point, it feels like bickering between firmly entrenched point of views. So, I think it’s best to cutoff further discussion – unless someone has something new to add.

46 Parent November 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Another parent posted this recently: It is well worth the watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PprP5TCZBRIhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PprP5TCZBRI

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