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WVN Newsletter #187: School blog expelled

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, The School Committee deals with one member s controversial blog, and a specialist is hired to improve lagging elementary school math
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 16, 2006
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      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
      Committee.

      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
      divisive.

      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
      committee:

      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'S GOALS

      Superintendent Gary Burton delivered his proposed goals for the
      next year for the committee's review and approval. The four goals
      were:
      1. Develop a short term maintenance and repair plan for the high
      school.
      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.

      ENROLLMENT

      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.

      FACILITIES MANAGEMENT

      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
      is received.

      -- Tom Sciacca

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      Michael Short, Editor
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