LONGMEADOW, MA – Two weeks after the school committee voted to not renew Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea’s contract for another three years, students and parents continued to express their support for the school chief.
During the school committee’s regular meeting on Nov. 27, multiple people spoke in favor of O’Shea and continued to question the committee about its controversial 4-3 vote on Nov. 14 to not renew O’Shea’s contract. With his deal set to expire in June, the school district will begin its search for a replacement.
Shannon Collins, who said she has two children in the school system, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to express her concern about the school committee’s decision.
“Dr. O’Shea has helped our teachers and our administrators to continue to provide a high quality education for our students, enabling them to perform among the best in the state. A change in leadership at this time will not help us to continue to move forward for our children,” Collins said. “If this is not something you are willing to consider, I would strongly suggest you consider resigning from your position on this committee based on the over 1,200 parents, voters and taxpayers to date who have signed a petition asking for just that, your resignation, so we can elect members to our school committee who can represent the constituents they are elected to serve. I would also support exploring any and all options to legally resolve this issue if a reconsideration vote or resignations aren’t submitted as a result of the overwhelming response of our community.”
Shortly after the Nov. 14 vote, an online petition was created on moveon.org asking for the resignation of Chair Beth Baron, Vice Chair Kerrin Morrin, Stephanie Jasmin, and Melanie Rothstein, the four Longmeadow School Committee members who voted against O’Shea’s contract renewal.
“We believe you have not acted in the best interest of your community, students, and staff of Longmeadow,” a note reads on the page with the petition. “We believe you came to that meeting with a closed mind and you have created a hostile work environment in our schools. No one will want to engage with you on this committee and you have lost our trust. If you do not trust and support the teachers and staff, they will not support you. Please resign and end the damage you will further impose on our children.”
Jennifer Falcone spoke at the Nov. 27 meeting and warned that while those in favor of O’Shea may be speaking the loudest, they may not represent the opinion of the majority.
“People who disagree show up,” Falcone said. “According to the Massachusetts State secretary’s website, there are over 12,000 registered voters in Longmeadow. Even if a large number of people appeared to disagree with the school committee decision, that is only a tiny percentage of all voters in town. We have no idea what the other thousands of people would want. I will tell you that I have spoken to many residents who support the decision but are afraid to speak up because they have seen school committee members get completely vilified. We cannot assume that because Dr. O’Shea supporters are loud and organized that they represent the entire town.”
“There are still ongoing attempts, as we’ve just heard, to get the four members to resign their positions or change their votes,” Falcone added. “This town is deeply divided right now. It is time for our school committee to begin the process of hiring a superintendent that can help bring everyone together again. We have a long road ahead of us.”
Patrick Philbin and two other Longmeadow High School students addressed the school committee as well, speaking in support of O’Shea.
“From the start, over two and a half years ago, it was apparent that Dr. O’Shea was not one of your first choices,” Philbin said. “He was set up to fail before he even began the job. The work that Dr. O’Shea has done in this time and the connections he’s formed are irreplaceable. How do we find someone capable of filling such big shoes? Who is going to want to lead a district knowing the faculty and students have no voice? Who is going to want to lead a district knowing the relationship between the school committee and the community is severed? Who is going to want to lead a district that has recently been all over the news because of its recent shambles? When it was reported, the personal vendettas of the school committee were the cause of it. Who would want to come into this? What kind of quality leader would come here?
“It is absolutely necessary that you listen to us because we are the ones who are here working with him every single day,” Philbin added. “Please do not allow Dr. O’Shea to leave. Recovering from his loss will simply be impossible. Trust what the people you represent are telling you, please do not silence the community anymore.”
Jennifer Cosgrove read a letter from Liz Bone, who created the online petition calling for the resignation of the four school committee members who voted against O’Shea’s contract renewal. Bone, a former school committee member, noted that while she understands difficult decisions have to be made, it’s important “to listen to the most important stakeholders, the LPS staff.”
“This is where you have failed, the teachers and students will have the biggest negative impact from your decision and not once did you take any responsibility for the breakdown of the communication. It’s a two-way street,” Bone said in the letter. “Maybe your relationship between yourselves as a school committee and the superintendent is damaged and needs a lot of work. But the working relationship between the superintendent, the staff, students and community was working great, and now you have taken that away. …You’re not locked into a decision, please reconsider the vote.”
Student representative Brahadesh Sivakumar said there appears to be a problem with communication between the school committee and O’Shea, but that’s not enough to deny a contract extension.
“I think what really should be the priority is that the superintendent shows sincere dedication to students and in most policies he thinks will benefit them, and I think that’s what he’s done,” Sivakumar said. “I think the best course of action for both parties is the one-year compromise plan.”
School Committee member Armand Wray said he appreciated people attending meetings and giving their input, whether he agreed with them or not.
“This is truly a demonstration of the political action at the local level,” Wray said. “This is why we have town meetings, democracy in its truest form. I could tell you your thoughts, your concerns, are not going unheard by me, and I know by others. We are public officials – this is what we signed up for – we are in the spotlight, and case law dictates that we are held to a higher standard by the community. Again, I appreciate the community’s ability and what seems like a duty for them to respond.”
– Article by Jeff Hanouille/Longmeadow News