School Committee ordered audit of Neary investigation; Superintendent given “Exemplary” rating and salary bump

Last week, the Southborough School Committee agreed to have an audit conducted of the investigation into the actions of a Neary teacher and Principal. 

The committee did not agree to put the NSBORO Superintendent on suspension. And the following night, the combined school committees discussed their evaluation of his “exemplary” performance and approved his contract for the coming school year with a 3% pay increase.

Southborough School Committee Decision

A petition parents read to the Committee on June 12th had asked for Superintendent Gregory Martineau to be suspended while a new independent investigation is conducted into the actions of a Neary 5th grade teacher and the accused mishandling/cover up by Martineau and Neary School Principal Kathleen Valenti. (The petition also called for both the teacher and Valenti to be fired.)

The School Committee didn’t directly vote on those requests. Instead, Chair Chelsea Malinowski recommended an external audit of the original investigation. She didn’t specify details of what an audit would entail. In public comments after the meeting, some parents said the committee should have gone further, while others made clear they were unsure of what an audit would mean.

Prior to her recommendation, Malinowki read from a public memo that she had submitted to Superintendent Gregory Martineau. It recapped office hours sessions in which she and Vice Chair Roger Challen held group discussions with the community members who attended.

Between that feedback and what she learned from emails and other conversations, she made the following recommendations in the memo:

  1. Create a FAQ document with the questions that have been generated. This will be a fact-based document and be made available on the website when it is complete.
  2. Work through the summer on an action plan based on feedback from the community. The administration also has been developing action items, so I want to be thoughtful and comprehensive about this plan. Of the people who attended, there was a significant amount of feedback regarding policy review, training recommendations, enhanced communication with the school community, and more.
  3. Include “community updates on progress” as a standing agenda item for Southborough School Committee meetings.
  4. Immediately request the initiation of an external audit of the internal investigation to be completed within two months and provide the report directly to the School Committee Chair.
  5. The District needs to provide opportunities for discussion and conversations around Special Education and answer the questions on the FAQ.
  6. Continue to provide opportunities to engage families in soliciting feedback in order to collect more comprehensive data.
  7. The School Committee Chair needs to work collaboratively with the Chair of the Region and the Chair of the Union to ensure the Superintendent’s goals and evaluation of those goals address concerns raised through these incidents.

At the meeting, Malinowski clarified that due to public open meeting laws, she had been unable to communicate directly with other members and discuss next steps prior to the meeting. The committee voted unanimously to support her recommendations, including authorizing her to have an external audit conducted.

During the discussion, Martineau told the committee and audience that he plans to share with the community in August a “roadmap” of how the district will make improvements, following up on the district’s 2022 Equity Audit.

The community had a lot to say in the public comments that followed. Rather than duplicating their work, I’m going to point you to the Community Advocate, which did a nice job of recapping comment highlights. You can read their article here.

Combined School Committee Decisions

On January 13th, the Southborough School Committee met up with the committees for Northborough schools and the Regional high school in a combined meeting. The most significant agenda item was the annual evaluation of Superintendent Martineau and approving his contract for the 2024-2025 school year.

Evaluation & Contract
A memo included in the meeting packet explained that the process had been delayed by the issues raised about Neary. Committee members were given a chance to change answers they had previously provided on the performance of the head of schools.

Regional member Kathleen Harragan Polutchko introduced the evaluation results memo by explaining that the 85% (17 of 20 members) response rate was a result of the timing of the elections, where several members “rolled off” the committees.

Regional member Joan Frank explained that the two sections of the memo evaluate Martineau based on the goals established by chairs of the Superintendency Union (comprised of representatives from Southborough and Northborough K-8 committees) and the Regional committee. The second section is on “Performance Standards” set by the state. (The committee provides an overall evaluation for each category under the four standards rather than breaking down by the 65 underlying “indicators”.)

Combining the two scores, the results were the highest possible rating, “Exemplary”. The memo explained:

The defining characteristics of overall exemplary performance are consistency, the ability to model highly effective practices and empower others to achieve high expectations. An exemplary rating is a high level with demanding expectations. Superintendent Martineau’s work has positively impacted all the staff and students of the three districts he leads. He has handled the most challenging situations he has encountered since being unanimously chosen as superintendent in an utmost exemplary manner. We look forward to having many more years with Superintendent Martineau at the helm of our three districts, continuing to move us forward with concerted and targeted efforts to unify our community of increasingly diverse learners.

Following the adoption of Martineau’s evaluation some members explained to the audience why they gave him high marks despite calls in the community for disciplinary action against him. Here are some of the highlights.

Regional member Jen Primack described the Superintendent as “very thoughtful effective and really legitimately interested and invested in our schools and community”. She spoke about his reputation outside the district and with people who have served on committees/task forces with him. She pointed out that most community members only have contact with the Superintendent when they have a problem. Member Roger Challen followed to point out the complexity of Martineau’s role given three districts and ten schools in two towns.

Northborough member Kelly Guenette noted that she had been the “lone holdout” voting against Martineau’s as Superintendent five years ago. She said that she had made clear it wasn’t about character, but about “the process”. (The hiring was an internal only recruitment with Martineau, who had been the sole Asst. Superintendent, as the only candidate.) She said she saw a “night and day” difference between working with him and the former Superintendent. She thanked him for doing everything he could to “improve process” since.

Regional member Joan Frank said that she used to work for Martineau as a teacher in Hopkinton where he was principal. Under him she learned to be a better communicator and listener. She told him about the Assistant Superintendent opportunity when it opened up. She told the audience that she is still learning from him how to be a better educator and school committee rep. She followed:

I believe in him. He’s the captain of our ship. He has taken us through Waters and taken us higher in where we can be. We’ve had Troubled Waters, but I know that he’s at that Helm and he can have a steady hand on it.

Martineau responded that he was humbled but the performance goals are “shared goals” and “you’re only good as the team that works around you”, so the credit needs to be shared with his “high quality” leadership team. (You can watch the discussion here.)

The committee moved into a closed Executive Session to discuss the contract. When they came back out, they voted to approve the contract with the 3% pay bump for FY25 resulting in a salary of $231,100. (The contract also included eliminating 10 vacation days from the current fiscal year about to end, and replacing that with its value of over $8K.)

Discussion of the Neary Situation
Earlier in the meeting, during public comment, Primack made a personal statement about the situation at Neary and what it means for the district.

Primack had been a member of the Southborough School Committee for six years until the May election. She voiced her upset over an incident that she believed “highlight some systemic issues in both our schools and our towns”. But she stressed two things:

I would also like to make a plea to our Administration and community that we not lose sight of this opportunity to explicitly address racism. That we not shift the discussion to one about personal grievances unrelated to the core issue of racism. . . we have a lot of work to do with the district and the community.

That said, the narrative that the administration hasn’t taken action steps is quite simply inaccurate and one that I feel compelled to correct.

Primack’s statement stressed that the equity audit referred to in the petition was “initiated proactively” by the administration and went on to itemize a list of steps the administration has taken to follow up. She noted that she wasn’t trying to minimize parents’ concerns and that more steps are needed. (You can read my transcript of her full statement here.)

The meeting started with public comment. Devona Cartier (and another woman) read as much as they could from the letter she previously submitted as a letter to the editor on this blog about her experience as the parent of a child in the classroom at the heart of the controversy. (They were cutoff for exceeding the time limit and told they could send the letter to the committee.)

There were no public commenters at the end of the meeting.

Within Martineau’s evaluation the recent situation wasn’t completely ignored. Under “Professional Culture” standards the evaluation noted:

The recent events in Southborough have shown that the system does not work all the time and we need to continuously improve on reinforcing expectations.

But 58.8% graded him proficient and 41.2% exemplary for the category. The evaluation gave him credit for fostering a professional culture of educators that contributes to student success.

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Diane Romm
19 days ago

As a member of the Southborough community, I would like to request clarification regarding the recent statements about racism. To quote someone mentioned, “I would also like to make a plea to our Administration and community that we not lose sight of this opportunity to explicitly address racism. That we not shift the discussion to one about personal grievances unrelated to the core issue of racism. . . we have a lot of work to do with the district and the community.”
Would someone kindly describe the racism [racist acts] that are being referred to.  I think the community-at-large would benefit from knowing of specific incidents; for example, a year (or two) ago there was a gym teacher at ARHS who embarrassed himself on a website and showed an incredible amount of ignorance around the concept of race. The situation was brought to the attention of the administration, and the individual was discharged. Are there other incidents of which the community-at-large is unaware?  
While the administration has been taking steps in the appropriate direction to raise cultural awareness, for example, the “Tomahawk” at ARHS has been laid to rest, there is more work to be done.  As was pointed out, “…the narrative that the administration hasn’t taken action steps is quite simply inaccurate and one that I feel compelled to correct.”  
Would someone also elaborate on the incident that may “highlight some systemic issues in both our schools and our towns.”  What are the “systemic issues” specifically? These types of concerns of a systemic nature are often seen at the higher level of the ecosystem in which: 1) many families intentionally select a school that is not diverse, and 2) some families are prohibited from entering into a community due to economic issues. While I personally have been disappointed by the lack of diversity in the Southborough Public Schools and, in fact, question my family’s decision to move into Southborough, MA, I certainly am not surprised.  Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No.  Families who have the luxury of selecting a school district do so for different reasons.
Continuing on with the issue of systemic racism, I noticed that information has been provided about the student population in terms of race and/or ethnicity…. Perhaps more importantly, what is the profile of the teachers, administrators, staff, etc.? Is that information available? Again, not having groups represented as role models would point to a more systemic issue.
On a personal note, I would like to point out that when one of my sons took Spanish at Trottier, he had the wonderful opportunity to learn about the Muslim people and their religion as I believe one of the teachers self-identified as Muslim. It was during Covid and classes were remote so I had the opportunity to see the class and was very grateful that our son was having the experience of learning about the Muslim religion and its followers.
As for the Neary teacher reading The Parker Inheritance, I would like to provide information from the author himself:  
https://pen.org/varian-johnson-asks-if-book-bans-are-meant-to-keep-a-certain-population-of-our-country-down/
I would also like to share with the community an article written by a linguist, John McWhorter, an Associate Professor at Columbia University, “The New N-Word Standard Isn’t Progress” published in the New York Times about two years ago. (While I would share the article, I am prohibited from doing so due to copyright laws so hopefully, if you are interested, you will find it and read it.)
The important message that comes through both of these pieces is that there is an enormous difference between a racist act and teaching about racism. What better place to have important discussions than in a classroom?
–Diane L. Romm, PhD

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