March 1, 2021 submitted by Matt LeBretton
This week, the city of Boston will have almost 15,000 students receiving in-class education full time. Just over half of them are K-3rd graders who will reenter their classrooms for a full day for the first time in a year. The rest of the students who enjoy public education in our capital city have a plan to be in school before the end of March.
In Hingham, we know that some kids will go back to school in the middle of this month and the rest hopefully will return but a concrete plan with essential items, such as – when – remain elusive for the majority of kids in our town.
I sit in my home in Liberty Pole with my wife, dog, and three school-aged children scratching my head wondering how one of the most complex and diverse school-aged populations in our state can have a plan for re-entry but in our relatively small town, something that resembles a plan – with actual strategies and tactics – has yet to be shared.
Let me pause to say this – not a single educator or school administrator I have ever met or known has gone into the profession with a goal of not serving kids. I know teachers, administrators, and staff do what they do to help prepare children for a bright future. I dare say school committee members serve for the same altruistic reasons, but they are on a ballot, and therefore by definition, many, if not most, will question some of their motives. I know a little bit about education and a little bit about government. I graduated with a degree in Education and a dual minor in History and Political Science – my goal was to become a high school history teacher. Instead, I’ve worked in and around politics and government for the last 27 years.
My experience in politics and government and my heart as a parent tell me the same thing – the institutional structures in our town are failing our children. One only needs to look at comparative models published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to see that children in neighboring towns receive more interactive remote learning time than ours. That alone is enough to force a reevaluation of what we have done in Hingham. Instead, we get Administrators who shut down the conversation with an “I know what I’m doing and you don’t” attitude. I know this is true because I’ve tried since last spring to engage in real dialogue with our school administration to no avail. Or we get a school committee that jumps into closed sessions faster than Mario trying to collect coins on his way to eating mushrooms. Then we have union leadership in town putting up roadblock after roadblock in the name of their membership. It seems to me that the union leadership are the only ones that are effectively doing their jobs despite what damage it may cause to their end consumer.
Let me be clear – during the last election, we had a Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and a Pat O’Connor (R-Weymouth) sign on our lawn. This isn’t about taking up a cause – except the cause of educating our children.
There is a certain hubris in Hingham – we all know it. Many of us moved here because of it – we worked hard and wanted to provide for our children and families the best we could. What we have learned during the pandemic is that this hubris is overinflated as it comes to education. We lack vision, bold leadership, tough negotiators who were ready to spring into action as the situation changed. Instead, we have excuses, infighting and zoom chatter bemoaning the situation without actual fixes coming or if they do come – they come well behind neighboring communities.
None of this is easy but all are doable. The spring strategic plan setting committee, the multiple software failures, closed meetings and lack of real engagement are all manageable. Our town needs strong leadership in this area, and it is lacking. One can only imagine and think wistfully of the days of Dot Gallo and how things would have been handled on her watch. At the very least, we probably wouldn’t have had a snow day for remote learning. We will never know, but I suspect we would be in a different place, and our students would be learning more in engaging ways.
As taxpayers in this town, whether you have a child in the schools or not, all of us should be outraged at the house of cards that is the current administration of our schools. We have been paying for Oz but are getting Kansas. Actually, that’s not true – Kansas has a firm plan for school re-entry. Maybe we just got the twister.
Matt lives in Hingham with his wife Michelle, his children Samantha, Abigail and Jake and his best friend Stella the Wonder Dog. Professionally, Matt is a lobbyist and a lawyer artfully managing to be employed doing the two things most people rank as the least respected professions in the country. In his free time he “coaches” his kids sports teams.