WVN Newsletter #187: School blog expelled
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The School Committee deals with one member's controversial
blog, and a specialist is hired to improve lagging elementary
school math performance.
BLOG LINK REMOVED FROM SITE
For nearly three years, visitors to the School Committee website
have seen a prominent invitation on the the home page: "Read
our blog." When the School Committee kicked that link off the
site on a 3-2 vote, concerns came to light over the interweaving
of advocacy with public service.
It is not really "our" blog, but a solo effort by member Jeff
Dieffenbach, who defended it as a timely way to distribute
information. Dieffenbach's voluminous postings relentlessly
attack anybody who disagrees with his positions. Sometimes
his comments are trivial (e.g., whether WVN should have
identified a volunteer consultant as a parent or a resident). He
can be harsh (he disparaged a selectman as "anti-school"). He
has criticized letters in the Town Crier, misrepresented
opponents' positions and assailed arguments that were never
made. WVN, if only because it has covered the schools more
than any other news source, has borne the brunt of the attacks.
Before the Oct. 3 vote to remove the link, Committee Chair
Heather Pineault said she was concerned that readers might
think the blog represents the entire committee's opinion. Vice
Chair Barbara Fletcher said the committee's communication
should be positive, not negative. Member Louis Jurist wondered
whether the blog is widely read and suggested that there are
better ways to communicate.
Member Bob Gordon strongly supported Dieffenbach and the
blog, saying it should remain because it allows the committee
"to correct the pollution of misinformation on other sites." Gordon
and Dieffenbach are the longest-serving members of the
What was the fuss about? Two recent examples from the blog:
In his Sept. 20 posting, Dieffenbach says, "The latest effort from
the Wayland Voters Network continues its disrespect of the
Wayland School Committee..."
On Oct. 11 he disputed Board of Assessors figures, quoted by
WVN, on property assessment medians and averages. Those
figures show that the tax on the median assessment rose 48
percent in that period and the average rose 47 percent.
Dieffenbach asserted as fact, offering no evidence: "A
homeowner who did not renovate during that period would have
seen an increase over six years of just under 35 percent..."
You can now read Dieffenbach's blog at
www.deepbrook.com/waylandblog. It is
linked to WaylandeNews, as is WVN.
After the vote,in an unusual move, Dieffenbach spoke during the
public comment segment.
He called for an end to divisiveness in Wayland but denied that
the School Committee had done anything to cause it. He
attributed at least some of the blame to WVN and its schools
reporter, Tom Sciacca. Though Sciacca is not "anti-school,"
Dieffenbach said, WVN has published "a string of insults."
WVN should "be respectful of this committee," he added.
Fellow members were silent.
The attitude Dieffenbach brings to the blog is suggested in an
April 11 email bearing his name that was sent to supporters of
the 2006 tax override. "Our town is under attack," he wrote. "Let's
not wait until the opposition has won the battle so that we have to
win it back." Who does he imagine is attacking the town?
Presumably the 45 percent of voters who opposed the override,
including three former selectmen. Wayland voters might ask
whether he was being respectful of them, whether he was being
Removing the link to the blog distances the School Committee
from material that can be criticized as excessively partisan and
biased. But questions remain.
1. Though taxpayers can reach the School Committee website
through links from the town's official website,
WaylandSchoolCommittee.org is a private site owned by
Dieffenbach. The School Committee acknowledges the site as
therefore appropriate for advocacy, but readers may miss the
distinction. The town in effect privileges a private site that can
become a source of, well, divisiveness.
2. If the School Committee wants to avoid controversy over
advocacy, why does the Committee site still link prominently to
WaylandeNews, a private website that endorses positions and
candidates and is controlled by political activists?
As for Dieffenbach's demand for greater respect, voters may
recall Harry Truman's advice to public servants: "If you can't
stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
-- Michael Short
ELECTION REMINDER: The deadline to register to vote in the
Nov. 7 general election is Wednesday, Oct. 18. Information:
Town Clerk, 358-3630.
OTHER SCHOOL NEWS
NEW ELEMENTARY MATH PROGRAM
On Sept. 18 the School Committee heard a presentation from
Maggie Helon, hired to fill the newly established position of
elementary math/science curriculum director. She showed plans
for a completely revamped standards-based math program that
is new to Wayland but has been in use elsewhere for many
years and is well-tried. She expects to have it fully implemented
in three years. She offered the following vision statement to the
The Wayland Public Schools will provide a comprehensive and
systematic K-5 mathematics curriculum, which will include a
standards-based core program reflecting the NCTM Standards
and Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Framework.
Through balanced instruction students will be held to high
expectations as they explore, practice, and apply mathematics.
Students will develop as confident learners and critical thinkers.
A number of Wayland students perform below expectations in
the early grades.
Superintendent Gary Burton delivered his proposed goals for the
next year for the committee's review and approval. The four goals
1. Develop a short term maintenance and repair plan for the high
2. Recruit and manage new administrators and teachers.
3. Assist in collective bargaining with all four unions.
4. Work with volunteer management consultant Steve Goldstein
and the School Committee on a long range strategic plan.
Chair Heather Pineault asked whether "closing the achievement
gap" between Boston-resident METCO students and
Wayland-resident students should be an additional goal, but it
was decided that it is desirable to limit the number of goals.
The official enrollment for the fiscal 07 school year, measured
on Oct. 1, is 2,860, or 18 under projections.
This is down 1.9 percent from last year. However, despite fears
that lack of a new high school has made Wayland less attractive
to parents with school children, the kindergarten enrollment is
193, versus the predicted 159. It is unknown whether this is a
one-year anomaly or indicative of a new trend of older residents
moving out and being replaced with new young families.
Burton and Business Manager Joy Buhler met with Town
Administrator Fred Turkington and Personnel Director John
Senchyshyn to discuss the possibility of hiring a facilities
manager to oversee all town buildings. While Burton believes
this is a good idea, he believes it will wind up costing more
money, not less, because the non-school buildings have been
neglected and simply need more maintenance investment.
HIGH SCHOOL ROOF OVERHANGS
The two problematic areas have been roped off to prevent any
chance of injuries from falling concrete. Two repair quotes have
been received, one for $18,000 and one for less than $10,000. A
third quote is on the way and a contract will be awarded once it
-- Tom Sciacca
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor