District stays the course with known quantity through end of school year 

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UPDATED: Making good on its Oct. 12 promise to make a choice within two weeks, the Minuteman School Committee voted on Tuesday, Oct. 24, to name its acting superintendent-director as its interim superintendent director. Kevin Mahoney is set to lead the Minuteman Regional Technical Vocational School District through next June 30, the end of the current school year.

The Zoom meeting, the lion's share of which was in a closed session to hammer out contract details, took 45 minutes. The vote was 9-0.

If all goes as planned, Mahoney will actively lead the district for two months longer than did now-former Superintendent-Director Kathleen Dawson. She beat out two competitors in a lengthy recruitment process in early 2022 but actively served only from July 1, 2022, through May 11, 2023 -- after which she was put on paid administrative leave. Mahoney, who had previously retired from Minuteman as assistant superintendent, became acting superintendent-directorf just days later, in mid-May.

His contract won't become official until reviewed by committee members Alice DeLuca and Charlene Cabral, Chair Jeff Stulin said. But the committee felt confident enough about it to not only discuss it, but to also show it on Zoom. Starting Nov. 1, Mahoney  is to be paid $164,000 per year, have 30 vacation days and a cellphone allowance of $100 per month. "It's a delight working with you," Stulin said of Mahoney.

On Sept. 27 in her first-and-only message to local media, Dawson said that she was resigning effective Sept. 30 -- a date finally confirmed Oct. 11 by Stulin.

Some 200 Arlington teens are enrolled at Minuteman High School, the district's sole campus, in Lexington, making them much more than a quarter of the entire student body, which stood at 686 as of Oct. 1 according to a brief report given at the Oct. 12 meeting.

Oct. 12 meeting recap

The job posting for interim superintenent-director was made Sept. 29; any suggestions for evaluation criteria and interview questions had to be submitted by 5 p.m.Wednesday Oct. 11.

Pam Nourse of Acton called it a "truncated" and "extremely fast" timeline without stating why the rush was necessary, nor did any of the eight other committee members ask about this.

If the chosen candidate accepts the offer, closed-door contract negotiations would commence immediately, with that person expected to begin work by Oct. 23 or Oct. 24, Nourse said. 

Different process intended for permanent job

Both Nourse and Stulin, of Needham, both emphasized that the process of selecting a permanent superintendent-director to serve starting July 1 would be vastly different, involving consultants, a search committee with wide community participation and other standard measures. The two processes are "to be done extremely differently," Stulin said. 

The committee voted unanimously to re-engage MASC, or the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, at minimal cost to provide what committee secretary Alice DeLuca of Stow called "an operational guide," to ensure that Minuteman is in compliance with all applicable laws and that the position is advertised widely.  However, "They don't run the [search and selection] process -- we do," Nourse said.

Committee member Ford Spalding of Dover cautioned that "it could be an extremely difficult search, given lots of circumstances." He was  possibly alluding to the widespread dissatisfaction with Dawson that first manifested publicly in early April with consternation over her effective termination of longterm, popular then-principal George Clement and within a month grew to include a mass student walkout, a unanimous vote of no confidence by the Minuteman Faculty Association, online petition drives and other criticism.

Stulin made an observation about two uncontrollable factors with which the yet-to-be-convened search committee might have to contend. These, he said, would be the generally dwindling pool of applicants nationwide, particularly those with the requisite vocational mindset, and the "random luck of who happens to be looking" for a new position at the time the permanent Minuteman opening is ready to be advertised.

MCAS scores are a win-win-win

In welcome news, Minuteman did very well on the latest iteration of the MCAS, the yearly standardized testing round, the Zoom audience of 55 -- more than 20-percent of them self-identified members of the MFA -- learned.

"We do not define ourselves simply by our MCAS scores," said Director of Teaching and Learning Anthony Chiariello in the introduction to his slide show presentation. However, he added, "We continue to exceed expectations."

Minuteman suffered no reversals due to the pandemic, though many other districts both state- and nation-wide did, he said. He added that Minuteman was one of 66 districts in Massachusetts recognized for its excellent performance.

Minuteman did better this year in all three major categories -- English, math and science -- than last year, and it also exceeded state averages. "We continue each year to grow," Chiariello said. This was true both when looking at the student body as a whole and also when segmented into demographic groups including high needs, which itself includes those who are low income, disabled and/or English language learners.

Chiariello said part of the favorable outcome may be because "we do literacy across the curriculum," meaning both academic and vocational courses, and also because the district uses a data-informed approach, offers additional support classes and provides weekend/after-school help sessions, particularly in the weeks leading up to the MCAS.

"I am just blown away -- congratulations," Nourse said.

"You [teachers, parents, students] do an amazing job," Spalding said, adding that "I happen to believe that MCAS is important."

Faculty rips committee on Dawson matter

However, not all was rosy in Minuteman land.

Making good on his promise earlier in the month to allow public comment at this meeting -- it was not provided for in the previous two weeks -- Stulin did allow public comment at the Oct. 10 meeting. However, it was he who read the previously submitted comments aloud rather than their authors doing so, as is usually done at Minuteman and elsewhere.

One comment, harsh in the way it described what it portrayed as non-benign neglect by the committee, was submitted in the name of MFA President Peter Kelleher and some other members of the teachers' collective bargaining unit.

It accused the committee of having ignored concerns about Dawson expressed privately as far back as September 2022 and said that this had left teachers feeling "torn apart" and that "all that we had worked for is gone." It also claimed that, even after having been given continual evidence of Dawson's allegedly unacceptable management style, "You [the committee] still did nothing." It also claimed that "No one [on the committee] has yet taken ownership" of the fraught situation.

"As usual, I am not going to comment," Stulin said after reading some similar public comments; it generally is highly unusual for any member of any school committee to respond to any public comment in any way. However, he added, "I might have something to say in November," presumably alluding to committee meetings expected to be scheduled at that time.

The Oct. 3 meeting had consisted almost entirely of Stulin reading a lengthy statement of his own, later posted to the district website, profusely thanking committee and community members for their patience and forebearance -- and cautioning that it still would be premature to reveal any details of Dawson's departure or settlement agreement but saying that more will be made known soon.  

June 22, 2023: Montague named town's new Minuteman School Committee representative

This news summary by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. It was updated Oct. 12, for general wordsmithing, and again on Tuesday, Oct. 24, to report on Mahoney's promotion.

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