School Candidates: Money, Moms and Dads are Central to Student Success

Clockwise, from left, are candidates Maura Ryan-Ciardiello, Katrina Hobbs Everett, Paul A. Magliocchetti, Richard E. Smyth and Richard Rosa, moderator George Moriarty and panelists Dr. Thomas Grannemann and Joanna Dix in the HC Media studio in Harbor Place.

The five candidates seeking three available seats on the Haverhill School Committee say funding and families are the key to improving student achievement.

At a Meet the Candidates forum Wednesday night, two incumbents and three challengers answered questions posed by members of the Haverhill Education Coalition, which co-sponsored the event with the Haverhill Education Foundation. The questions were tightly focused on three issues: the city’s dropout rate, early literacy and professional development for teachers.

All the candidates pointed to the years before a student enters school and the influence of their families as the keys to ensuring that they graduate from high school.

Incumbent Maura Ryan-Ciardiello, finishing her first four-year term on the committee, said students from low-income families can be in danger of dropping out in order to help support their households.

“As a former Haverhill teacher, and working with the family literacy program in the district, I helped educate single parents to get their GED, and they would bring in their young children. I went into their homes, sat down and read with them,” she said.

Paul A. Magliocchetti, the other incumbent on the ballot, renewed his call for hiring social workers to identify family issues that could affect student achievement.

The answer is for “high school counselors, social workers and community groups working together to reach kids in their homes and get families the services they need,” he said.

Candidate Richard E. Smyth, a Stoneham teacher and father of two sets of twin boys, said early intervention is important to helping at-risk students stay in school.

“The five years before they come to us are critical. Just having reading material in the house can make a difference.”

Smyth said the first gift he bought for his 2-month-old granddaughter was a book.

Candidate Richard Rosa said a high dropout rate is not only an education issue, but a public safety, economic and tax issue.

“Each dropout costs taxpayers $292,000, on average. Eighty percent of people who are incarcerated and 50 percent of people on public assistance are dropouts,” Rosa said.

Katrina Hobbs Everett, who is making her second attempt at a seat on the School Committee, said she was talking about these issues two years ago, especially the need for family engagement and the sad statistic that many students who drop out of school wind up in trouble with the law.

Hobbs Everett listed some of the family challenges that can affect a child’s success in school, including “adult illiteracy, poverty, drug abuse, parental absence, working second- and third-shift, and affordability of preschool.”

The answer is to “tap into the strengths of the home” and find out what works for each particular family.

Another area of agreement among the candidates is the need to hold school administration accountable for student achievement.

Smyth noted that the School Committee on Thursday plans to set a schedule for a search to replace Superintendent James F. Scully, who announced at the start of this school year that it would be his last.

“Whoever is on the School Committee to come will be part of that hiring process. They will be able to ask the superintendent candidates if they have experience in raising proficiency levels in reading,” Smyth said.

He also called for a strategic plan and for the School Committee to ensure that the district administration is following it. The last plan, written in 2014, has yet to be updated, Smyth said.

Rosa said he supports making a benchmark of third-grade reading proficiency part of the superintendent’s evaluation.

“How the superintendent expands opportunities for literacy is part of that. We have an excellent summer reading program at the YMCA. Kids going into third grade participate. The schools should partner with the Y in that program,” Rosa said.

Hobbs Everett said the best way to make sure that the superintendent is meeting his obligation to improve student performance is to make sure the School Committee and administration keeps communicating.

“Accountability and transparency happen by building relationships,” she said.

Ryan Ciardiello said it’s important for school administrators to support teachers and provide them with the funding and resources they need to be successful.

Magliocchetti said he makes sure to talk with teachers as often as he talks with the superintendent, to find out what they need and what their students need.

On the issue of professional development for teachers, the three challengers said the city’s efforts in this area fall short.

Rosa said he’s talked to teachers who describe the school department’s professional development efforts as inconsistent and inadequate. Teachers say they are infrequently involved in choosing the type of training they receive.

Smyth said training is most effective when it follows a district’s strategic plan, but since Haverhill’s schools don’t have an updated plan, it’s impossible to provide appropriate professional development. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recommended specific professional development ideas for city teachers, but the recommendations aren’t being followed, he said.

Hobbs Everett said she does not believe that the city has the appropriate resources to provide quality teacher training. She suggested partnering with community organizations and the region’s colleges and universities to provide professional development for teachers at a low cost.

Magliocchetti and Ryan-Ciardiello reflected on the recent passage of the fiscal year 2018 budget, which included a small amount for professional development, hoping to cover the costs with grants.

Ryan-Ciardiello said she supports a substantial line item in the budget for professional development and said that if she is re-elected she will work to increase funding for teacher training.

Magliocchetti said he supports training that is geared to teachers’ specific needs.

Voters will choose three School Committee members during the city’s municipal election on Tuesday, Nov. 7. In addition to Ryan-Ciardiello and Magliocchetti, member Shaun Toohey’s four-year term expires this year. Toohey is not seeking re-election to the School Committee. He is the Republican candidate for the 3rd Essex District House seat recently vacated by Rep. Brian S. Dempsey.

City Councilor Andy X. Vargas won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday and will face Toohey in November.

The forum was broadcast on WHAV-FM 97.9. HC Media, which hosted the event, televised the forum and live-streamed on its website.


5 thoughts on “School Candidates: Money, Moms and Dads are Central to Student Success

  1. Some harsh words here for school administrators. Schools are clean, well landscaped, all shades drawn at the same level but inside, what? It is time for it to be Scully’s last year. He has been here too long and has become complacent.

  2. “hold school administration accountable for student achievement.” –

    An administrator is not the one teaching in the classroom, and teachers are stuck with what the city gives them by way of students. Many of the school committee and administration are not reflective of the student and parents they serve. Most have a minimum of a bachelor degree with higher incomes to go along with it, that is not reflective of Haverhill Residents as a whole. The children of uneducated and poor parents simply can’t help their own kids, some may not even care. Some are so illiterate in their native language, how the hell are they supposed to progress in a classroom taught in English? Then again, this is what city officials, including The Mayor, want to invite to the city and then complain why school performance is so abysmal.

    As a parent of children in the school system, I question the policies of not only the schools, but also our criminal justice system. Having a knife pulled on your child, in a classroom, was ridiculous enough. Having the DA’s office trying to talk me out of pressing charges topped even that. How in the hell are kids able to learn in an environment where it’s not safe or disruptive to do so, or when policies are violated, the district pretends nothing happened? Why have a student handbook when the policies are haphazardly applied on a case-by-case basis? Everyone should be given equal Due Process, and the punishment dealt just as equal, but that clearly doesn’t happen.

    Want schools to improve? Stop making Haverhill so inviting to the lowest common denominator. Until then, those in charge can continue not only to never accept blame for said failures in our schools, but choke on their own hypocrisy.

    • Currently before the Massachusetts State Legislature is a bill calling for courses in public schools to be taught in English “and” Spanish. The disruption of the educational process in public schools is so extensive now because of out of control liberalism, i.e., embracing/welcoming illegal invaders and refugees, children having children, welfare/WIC stipends, in school baby sitting services, etc… that they’re defaulting to their last resort… as if test scores will somehow miraculously increase if kids learn in the language they know. Of course, the time honored tradition of assimilation into American culture for the sake of a political agenda be damned!