In its second public evaluation, the School Committee gave Superintendent Kathleen Bodie overall high marks while providing pointed feedback about her performance.
"You're truly learning to be a better superintendent every day," said Judson Pierce in comments about her four-year tenure that echoed the remarks that other committee members made Thursday, Nov. 15.
A majority of committee members urged progress in deciding three key permanent hires -- the director for special education as well as the principals for Arlington High and Dallin. All three now are interim leaders. Bodie said searches for all would be underway in January.
Comments by Bill Hayner illustrate the balanced approach that member took. Acknowledging that he and Bodie had not seen eye to eye on a number of issues, Hayner nonetheless said the superintendent had done a "superb job."
High points of the one-hour and 45-minute evaluation of leadership under her current contract, which took effect in June 2010, include:
-- The successful, yearlong redistricting process, completed just that night;
-- Hiring talented people, including Laura Chesson, assistant superintendent; Matthew Coleman, the K-12 math director; and Stratton Principal Michael Hanna.
-- Her role in guiding the Thompson School project, which is reported to be on time and on budget;
-- Seeing to completion two successful union-contract negotiations, with the AEA (teachers) and AAA (administrators).
Other pluses noted were improved communication, active participatory leadership and high-tech upgrades, including wireless access in many locations.
The points School Committee members asserted noting paths to further growth is not a simple checklist.
For example, while saying communication was stronger, at least three members said they wish they had learned about issues directly from Bodie first before parents had told them.
Others praised her adding communication outreach via a cable-TV show on ACMi as well as publishing a newsletter. Cindy Starks found the newsletter too wordy, while Jeff Thielman didn't. A number said the newsletter should appear more often.
Thielman lauded Bodie for obtaining her Ph.D. during her current contract. He said this kind of striving filters down to the staff and shows professional development in action.
One the other hand, he expressed concern, as did a number of others, at the weak math testing results for sixth and seventh graders.
Kirsi Allison-Ampe, the committee chairwoman, who praised Bodie's role in encouraging the mentoring of teachers, said that the superintendent should better delineate her vision of what the Arlington public schools should become. "We need a clear message," she said.
Other committee members noted two key concerns -- the $1.5 million shortfall in 2010, which had been addressed by two audits and a Special Town Meeting, and the disclosure of locations of families of special-education children on a map the district released.
Pierce wanted an update about recommendations made by the audits and suggested that Diane Johnson, the chief financial officer, provide that.
A number of committee members raised the issue of devising a long-term plan to address maintaining school facilities.
Leba Heigham gave credit to Bodie for moving the district to a broader acceptance of minority religions as reflected in the school calendar. She also urged wider use of translation services so those who don't speak English understand messages about the schools.
In response to the evaluation, Bodie noted that 55 languages are spoken among Arlington public school families, "rivaling our urban neighbors."
She also said that members would be hearing soon about progress toward a long-range maintenance plan.
Cindy Starks, who gave the superintendent an A-, asked her: "What do we need to do to go from good to great?"
Paul Schlichtman, who left the committee in 2007, when numerous school issues had riled the town, said Bodie had been "unexpectedly thrown into her role," but had "returned [the district] to a calm approach to school governance."
At Allison-Ampe's direction, all members passed their written notes to Karen Fitzgerald, the committee secretary, as they must following a public evaluation under the revised state Open Meeting Law.
As for the three searches, advertising for them is underway, and there will be focus groups involving parents for each. Chesson is chair of the special-education search; Bodie that of the AHS principal.
Bodie acknowledged that the candidate pool for both remains thin.
"What are we doing differently?" Starks asked, suggesting that both searches are following the paths of last year's failed attempts. She said she thought a search firm might be used.
Bodie did not answer the question directly but pointed to the extensive networking the administration uses to find candidates.
Hayner asked about salary, saying the School Committee needs to be involved.
"We're not perceived as being ...," he paused.
Schlichtman finished his sentence: "... competitive."
Bodie countered: "It's a great place to work."
This story was published Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012.