School Committee Meeting - New Chair and Vice Chair Named
Yesterday, Thursday, June 23, the Marblehead School Committee met for the first time since Town elections were held Tuesday. New committee member Alison Taylor engaged in her first meeting as an elected official, and as is customary for first timers, was appointed to the position of Secretary. “As the newest member of our School Committee,” Taylor said, “you can imagine all the feelings walking into that room, sitting on the other side of the camera. I remain honored to represent Marblehead in this role. Being the Secretary this year is a challenge that I will happily and fully embrace. While I trust this role will be additional work, I also feel that it will help me to learn and understand even more about our Committee. Last night's first meeting together was, in my opinion, a testament to new beginnings. Dr. Buckey and the Committee were very welcoming and really helped to make it a nearly painless experience. For that, I am grateful. I believe we set a wonderful example as a Team last night that we are committed to moving forward together in a positive direction and I'm very excited for what's to come.”
Several other changes were made as the positions of both Chair and Vice Chair changed hands. Sarah Gold, the former Committee Chair, nominated Sarah Fox, who had just been re-elected, to the position, and she was approved unanimously. Meagan Taylor, the former Vice Chair, then nominated Emily Barron, who has served since 2020, to the Vice Chair position, and she too was approved unanimously.
Following the appointments, several commendations were made by members of the committee, including the staff of the public schools. Gold said “congratulations on finishing a really hard school year.” Barron echoed Gold, commending the students, staff, and administrators for completing a great year. Barron, in reference to the budget override’s (Question Two) failure to pass, went on to apologize to the staff for the fact that they will have to go into the next school year without adequate supplies or professional development tools. She mentioned that they should know that they are appreciated by the committee and “deserve better.” This statement sparked controversy later in the meeting when, during the public-comment period, a Marblehead resident took issue with Barron’s statement, stating, in part, “I think that your behavior right there is actually what the problem is.” Finally, Sarah Fox commended and wished luck to the staff who will be leaving the school to retire or pursue other opportunities.
At the completion of the commendations, a lengthy public comment section began, starting with Kate Thompson, whose full statement can be seen here. Thompson structured her statement around a letter that had been sent to the members of the committee. She asserted that Reece Dahlberg, a candidate for the School Committee, had been the subject of online and verbal attacks. In the wake of this bullying, she asked that the School Committee take several steps to ensure that they perform their jobs in a fair and equitable manner, that they make a commitment to upholding anti-bullying standards, that they require the strict confidentiality that is expected of their roles in order to build trust, and that no School Committee member serve as an administrator on a social media forum that is directly related to the schools. She explained the last request, noting that “you cannot moderate community discord as an elected official appropriately separating facts from fiction and choosing when to correct inaccuracies and when to let them stand.”
Next to speak was Kim Day, whose statement called for unity and cooperation among the committee members and asked that they take the new year as a fresh start. She said that the past year had been tough to watch and that the School Committee must put its history aside in order to work for the betterment of the children.
Cindy Loewen spoke following Day, and her statement echoed many of the sentiments expressed in Day’s comment. Loewen added that she observed many citizens voicing their own opinions on social media as to who should be appointed to Chair of the Committee, and that she felt that this was “a witch hunt against Sarah Gold. I think I even used [the word] insurrection in my letter.”
Following the discussion of behavior on the School Committee, Jen Jackson, Co-Chair of Marblehead SEPAC, spoke about the Unsung Heroes award, which is designed to celebrate those whose commendable action may not have received formal praise. She mentioned that the award had 40 nominees, including the crossing guard on West Shore Drive at Tower, and that the award had been handed out on the morning of June 23.
Next was Nichole Cohen, whose complete statement can be seen here. Cohen began by stating that Barron’s statement earlier in the meeting was indicative of an unwillingness on the part of the School Committee to take a step back and contemplate their own actions over the past year. She spoke to the failure of the budget override saying that “it’s not that we don’t recognize that our schools are not funded, it’s that we don’t trust you … if you want to blame people for the override not passing, I honestly suggest that you take a step back, reflect on your own behavior, and ask, would you trust somebody that acted the way you guys have acted?” Cohen went on to further display her distaste for the Committee’s behavior, posing the rhetorical question “do you know what the word ‘mandate’ means?” She explained that the town has made its voice heard and that the newly elected members are reflective of the path that the Town would like to see the committee take.
In response to Cohen’s statement Barron defended her original statements disapproving of the outcome of Question Two, explaining that she hadn’t blamed anyone but rather had apologized to the teachers for the limited resources they would be provided with. She said that she herself has been a victim of bullying and that it is wrong to accuse her of bullying anyone. It was at this point that a member of the Zoom call spoke out about what she perceived as Barron’s hypocritical behavior.
Next, Amanda Rivers spoke primarily about Alison Taylor. She said that having known Alison for seven years, she feels that Alison is eminently qualified and has interesting ideas. She also said that the letter and several public comments have painted a picture that they already “have Alison pegged” without even hearing from her.
The final speaker was Catherine Martin, whose statement was similar in its messaging to some of the previous comments. It began by congratulating Sarah Fox and went on to ask that the School Committee focus on the initiatives that the Town sees as most important. In an effort to pursue common goals, Martin asked that the Committee put together a traditional five-year strategic plan that would outline their intentions in the future. She asked that the community as a whole “come together collectively and coalesce” around the idea of a plan for funding.
The meeting ended at 8:18 after a lengthy discussion over putting together a five year plan during which the Committee agreed that it was worthy of consideration and that much of the work they have already done would lend itself to a formal strategic plan.