Parents express outrage at school committee meeting
By: Brittany Jennings
What is happening to Salem’s public schools? Salem’s Superintendent Margarita Ruiz has some serious explaining to do.
Last month, Salem High Principal Jennifer DeStefano abruptly resigned less than a year after starting the job in July. Ruiz announced Vittoria Pacifico had been hired as an interim principal on the same day DeStefano resigned.
Come to find out, Pacifico does not have the proper license to be a public school principal. However, she has 90 days to receive a license.
According to The Salem News, Ruiz was looking for an interim high school principal in January, just six weeks before DeStefano's resignation.
With a growing backlash from parents and a lack of trust, Mayor Kim Driscoll is doing damage control. In a statement released on Monday, she announced the Salem School Committee will investigate the replacement of DeStefano.
"There have been legitimate concerns raised about the process followed by the Superintendent and the veracity of her statements surrounding the previous high school principal's recent resignation and the immediate appointment of a successor,” Driscoll said in a statement. “In addition, questions have been raised regarding the licensing status of the successor principal and the failure to share that information in an upfront manner."
She added: "Finally, as a result of public forums held regarding these changes at the high school, students and parents raised other reasonable and, I know, frustrating concerns regarding teacher vacancies and communication gaps among students, staff, and families at Salem High."
This begs the question: Did Driscoll know about any of this? Answer: Of course, she did. She’s Ruiz’s boss; she’s the head of the school committee.
"To ensure we have full information and context we have requested that the Superintendent provide a timeline and report on the activities related to the high school principal transition," Driscoll said.
At Monday night’s school committee meeting, Driscoll told the jam-packed School Committee Chambers they will have answers in their April 22nd meeting, the day after Easter.
She said, “We’re going to need some time to meet between now and April 22nd.” Why? Because of school vacation week and Driscoll says she will be “away.”
That’s how much she cares about the students in Salem. Her tactics are obvious: She’s trying to sweep this issue under the rug.
“This is a comment period,” Driscoll said. “We will be listening, we will be planning to act but it starts now and probably will be answered later.”
During the meeting, Salem parents asked the school committee to take a vote of no confidence in Ruiz and Driscoll.
Many Salem residents and parents expressed their concern about transparency—or the lack of it—in Salem’s schools.
Former school committee member, Brendan Walsh, said, “I’m heartsick at what recent events, events which were unnecessary have done to the reputation of our schools, our children, our families, teachers, and principals.”
Speaking to committee members, he added: “You and only you are the final authority of the school system, and you need to act as though you are. The Superintendent doesn’t own that position.” Walsh told committee members if they didn’t remind Ruiz that the committee is her boss, her actions won’t change.
Walsh is right. Ultimately, Ruiz is hurting the children who attend Salem public schools. She is putting the interests of hiring someone who is unqualified over competent professionals. She needs to be held accountable, as does the head of the school committee, Mayor Driscoll. It starts from the top.
It’s not a secret. Salem public schools have been deteriorating for years.
Ward 4 councilor Tim Flynn wrote in a statement on Facebook, “I have lived in Salem for 50 years and never thought I would see our public schools in this condition.”
He also attended the meeting.
“When I was hired on the fire department, the process was four months from start to hiring,” Flynn said. “When I was hired as a police officer in Salem, a half year of interviews, coming in doing all kinds of exams.”
He added: “We hired a principal in one day, one day! We hired an unlicensed principal to go in and take over a school that’s in the bottom 10 percent! Can you tell me, does that make sense?”
It doesn’t. Salem resident and parent, Robert Kennedy, called on Driscoll to resign. He said, “This mayor has led our schools for 14 years. She has literally failed an entire generation of Salem children.”
Ruiz apologized for her “lack of communication.” However, some school committee members don’t buy it.
James Fleming said, “I don’t know how you’re going to regain the trust I had in you. I don’t have any trust in you at this point.”
Actions speak louder than words, Ruiz. Resign.
-Brittany Jennings is executive producer of “The Kuhner Report” on WRKO AM-680 in Boston. The show airs weekdays 6-10 am EST. You can follow her on Twitter @Brittany_J10.