Summary of Superintendent Andrew Bott’s Listening Session with the Lawrence Community
Summary of Superintendent Andrew Bott’s Listening Session with the Lawrence Community
Tuesday night (3/28/18) Superintendent Andrew Bott held a Listening Session in the Lawrence School Library for the purpose of hearing from the Lawrence Community about the three years of transition at the Lawrence School, what the Lawrence Community would like to see in a new leader, and what problems and challenges need to be addressed as Lawrence moves forward under new leadership. In attendance were parents and caregivers and educators (classroom teachers and specialists).
Opening remarks from Superintendent Andrew Bott:
Superintendent Bott stated that the purpose of the meeting was for him to listen to the Lawrence Community and that after brief opening remarks the floor would be turned over to the community.
The Lawrence Community is approaching 3 years of transition; the transition began when Rick Rogers announced his retirement during the 2015–2016 school year. Periods of prolonged transition are difficult on a community.
Superintendent Bott stated that in considering what to do about a principal for the 2018–2019 school year he was thinking about what would be best for the Lawrence Community. He briefly reviewed the options for appointing a principal for next year: 1. Superintendent appoints an interim principal. 2. Formal search is launched and ends in a permanent appointment. 3. Formal search is launched and is ultimately unsuccessful; this option would allow the interim appointment of a retired Brookline principal.
He stated that he felt that what is best for the Lawrence Community is to have a leader that will help Lawrence come back together as a community. This person needs to know Brookline and know Lawrence, to be collaborative, and to be a proven problem solver. It is the need for these qualities that led him to appoint Monica Crowley, currently principal of Upper Devotion, as the interim principal of Lawrence for the 2018–2019 school year. This interim appointment means that in November 2018 there will be a search for a permanent principal; however, Superintendent Bott feels that the stability Principal Crowley will bring to Lawrence far outweighs the continued uncertainty.
Superintendent Bott asked that the community provide feedback on what is important for the district and the school to get right, what challenges have faced the community over the last 3 years, what has the community lost during this period, and what does the community want to see restored in the future.
Comments from parents and caregivers:
New principal should demonstrate a dedication to academics; this dedication should extend to all grades.
Loss of thoughtful communication that reflects the values and goals of the school and that responds to events happening in the school community.
Parents should not be receiving important information about policy changes, personnel changes, and incidents at the school from students. School administration should communicate with parents about these kinds of issues as early as possible.
In the past, there was an emphasis on Habits of Mind. These skills were an important part of teaching in the classroom and a vital component of the Lawrence ethos. Habits of Mind helped to knit the community together and was an important topic around which much of the communication from the administration was centered.
New principal should be a strong administrator and a thought leader.
New principal must have experience in a district that has strong parent involvement.
We need to see the new principal.
Staff seems less informed about what is happening at the school, particularly with regard to changes in policy. Staff should have a mechanism for raising concerns about policy changes if they feel decisions being made by the administration are detrimental to students.
Approach to students seems to be more punitive (e.g., no talking in the lunchroom; assigned seats in the lunchroom). Parents are not being told about or included in discussions about these changes.
There is a noticeable change in the Lawrence Community. There seems to be less understanding of the school’s vision (academic excellence, kindness, anti-bullying). In the past, there was more emphasis from the administration on this vision. There seems to a lower commitment to the school and less of a sense of community. There is less of a sense that the administration cares.
Punitive approach has resulted in kids being less interested in coming to school.
Parents and students miss seeing the principal. Students need to see the principal, to know that the principal is watching, to respect the principal.
Teachers and specialists at Lawrence are amazing. We need a principal who will empower them to experiment and try new things.
As we look forward to a new principal, the community needs to think about how it behaves toward the principal and how it can support the new principal.
Looking forward, the district could help by making it clear which changes are mandated by state and federal regulations, which by the district, and which by the building. These nuances are not clear to the community.
Important to remember that many autonomy issues pre-date administration changes. Educators need support to be creative.
Safety concerns: do our kids feel safe in school, especially with increased police presence in the building?
In the past Lawrence had a vibrant arts community. The arts program has been lost (e.g., administrators would not expect a math teacher to teach 70 students at once; this is regularly expected of conservatory teachers). We need support for the arts and leadership that values the arts.
During the administrative transitions, the administration has become less engaged with the community. There was no administrative representation at a recent band concert. There is less respect for different learning styles and different teaching styles. There is a loss of continuity between grades; as students move from grade to grade, information from previous years isn’t being processed and used as it should be; it’s as if everyone is starting at zero from year to year.
Lawrence has been a safe, just, and caring community. The community seems to be unraveling and there is a sense of loss. The new administration needs to understand that we need to repair the community.
We need a new principal who will embrace our community.
As we move forward, it is important that we do not overlearn the lessons of the last 2 years. As a community, we must acknowledge that there are only limited things that an administrator can do; a principal cannot fix all of the problems. We should be clear about what the person who is selected as the next principal stands for.
As a community, we should be thinking about what made it difficult for the two recent principals to stay on a Lawrence.
Teachers and staff are the backbone of the school. Our priority should be to make sure that they are supported through the transitions.
The Lawrence Community needs to consider how best it can support the new principal. The district can have a role in this by helping the community to put in place respectful and effective processes and mechanisms by which we can make sure that our concerns and problems are addressed.
There needs to be more administrative support in the building; there needs to be more staff to support educators and students.
New principal should learn about the culture of the school before making changes.
Comments from educators:
In the past, Lawrence was forward thinking; discussions focused on how to improve learning and the school. Time for forward thinking has been lost. Autonomy has been lost.
The building feels dreary. There are fewer parents in the building. The school needs a principal who will pull everyone back together and bring joy back to the community.
The community needs more transparency from the district about policy changes. The community needs to understand what is in the school’s control to adjust to better suit the Lawrence Community. There is a loss of parent-teacher bonding. Parents do not trust teachers as much.
Teachers feel a loss of autonomy as they try to fulfill district and state mandates. These demands do not always leave time for student needs. New principal needs to regain teacher and parent trust and restore sense of joy.
We need more and better systems in the building to support safety, behavior, and kids who are struggling.
Olweus fostered community; it taught kids respect for one another and also for the Lawrence Community. It is not good that the program was removed without a clear replacement program. The school needs the anti-bullying piece in place.
As a community it is important to remember that Lawrence has seen several significant changes. The school has grown from a 2-section school in most grades to a 4-section school in most grades, and as a community, we are still struggling with and learning how to function as a larger school. Clearer communication from the district to the administration and staff about issues related to the growing size of the school are essential. With the removal of Olweus from the curriculum and the changes to the advisory program, educators have lost the opportunity for much of the pro-active work that was done in the past; their work has become re-active.
It is likely that the population of the school will continue to grow. The new principal needs to be able to use the support that is given be the district effectively.
There needs to be more support in the school, specifically more adults in the building. Staffing has not kept pace with student growth. The school needs more mental health support.
Superintendent Bott briefly interrupted the session to share that he is upset to hear the comments about the loss of teacher autonomy at Lawrence. He values creativity and autonomy and his goal is to support both among Brookline educators. He will work with the new principal to address issues around autonomy.
Closing remarks from Superintendent Andrew Bott:
The additional Vice Principal position at Lawrence will be permanent. The position is included in both budgets.
The appointment of Janet Palmer Owens is meant to support the transition from the current administration to the interim administration. Ms Crowley is still the principal of Upper Devotion. In addition to her responsibilities at Upper Devotion, preparation for the 2018–2019 school year at Lawrence must move forward. Two major tasks are the appointment of a long-term replacement for Laura Horst and a search for the permanent second Vice Principal. Ms Palmer Owens will support Ms Crowley in these searches and will help the current administration prepare for the transition to new leadership.
The search for a permanent principal for Lawrence will begin around Thanksgiving. The posting will be advertised for 4 weeks through a variety of websites and organizations. The search will follow the model used this year for the Driscoll and Pierce searches. The search committee for the first round will comprise 4 Lawrence educators selected by Lawrence educators, 4 Lawrence parents/caregivers selected by Lawrence parents/caregivers (there will be 1 SEPAC representative), Andrew Bott, 3 people selected by Andrew Bott, and a Human Resources representative. The committee will review (solicited and unsolicited) application materials, interview candidates, and select candidates to move to the second round. Superintendent Bott participates in the first round process, but he does not weigh in on candidates. The search committee for the second round will consist of a group of principals, deputy superintendents, and coordinators chosen by Superintendent Bott. Public interviews with parents and with staff will be part of the final selection process.
Superintendent Bott closed the session by thanking participants for their time and input. The feedback given at the session will be passed along to Ms Crowley and will be considered as the search for a permanent principal moves forward.