January 8, 2017

Editorial: On a changing of the guard at Goddard, and Binienda’s leadership

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It’s a bold move to change a school’s principal in the middle of the school year. Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Maureen F. Binienda has done just that at the Goddard School of Science & Technology.

We support the change — and the boldness.

Binienda has brought in Karrie Allen to lead the struggling elementary school, at 14 Richards St. Allen had been principal of Norrback Avenue School, which is now being led by acting Principal Christina Troiano, who had been assistant principal.

Meanwhile, Yuisa Perez-Chionchio, who had been principal at Goddard for a year and a half,  the first year of that as acting principal, has been reassigned to lead a new parent education program at Worcester East Middle School.

Binienda, according to a story in the Telegram & Gazette, made the leadership switch at Goddard in part in order to better position the school for a $300,000 grant Goddard will apply for this spring. The grant will help the school institute changes designed to improve student performance — and prevent Goddard from slipping from already-worrisome level 3 status to devastating level 4 on the state’s 1-to-5 accountability grading system. Level 4 designation requires schools to develop a Turnaround Plan overseen by the state.

Allen, Binienda noted, has experience and “real expertise” with school turnarounds. And that is needed at Goddard, where many of its 500 kids are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Through much of the 1990s, Goddard carried high hopes in the district as a model magnet school that, assisted by nearby Clark University, aimed to give young people a firm foundation in science that would prepare them well for the future. But that is ancient history to even the oldest of Goddard’s current pupils, the sixth-graders.

Goddard, of course, isn’t alone with its struggles. Half — 22 out of 44 — of Worcester’s schools are a middling level 3, according to a January 2016 report by Worcester Regional Research Bureau. But Goddard’s too-brief shining moment, at least in terms of local reputation and official state assessment, is especially disheartening to all who care about Worcester Public Schools, and want them to live up to the efforts, innovations and promises poured in.

We wish Allen the best at Goddard, and congratulate Binienda for her foresight in making the decision, and openness in discussing her reasoning.

Perez-Chionchio, for her part, has been moved to a key post that her skill set is well suited for, Binienda says. She was a longtime administrator for the school district before taking on the principal post at Goddard.

The new program Perez-Chionchio will lead, the Worcester Institute for Parent Leadership in Education, or WIPLE, is expected to expand to more schools in the district. Though many such programs come and go over the years, we hope this one lasts and makes a difference for many families.

Close, informed parental involvement is a powerful and often untapped resource.

Binienda says a no-confidence vote in Goddard’s former principal — taken by the teachers union in late fall around the same time as the job shifts involving Allen and Perez-Chionchio began — played no role in Perez-Chionchio’s reassignment.

The timing of events and the superintendent’s reputation as a straight-shooter bear that out. However, a no-confidence vote is a serious action that must be listened to by any leader.

Regardless of how well principals are assessed by the administration — and Binienda acknowledges some were not reviewed last year, a situation she said will be rectified this year — no one understands the day-to-day effectiveness and tone better than those working in the same building.

In that light, we urge the administration to carefully weigh another no-confidence vote reported in Friday’s Telegram & Gazette. Education Association of Worcester President Roger Nugent told the School Committee Thursday that members who teach at Quinsigamond School had voted no-confidence in principal Margaret Doyle, citing communication deficiencies and low morale as factors leading to the vote.

We also urge union members to remember that taking a no-confidence vote and making it public ought to be measures of last resort.

Further, such actions lose impact if overused. While we don’t know the specifics of this matter, it’s always preferable to heal divisions internally and less divisively.

We, meanwhile, have every confidence in Binienda’s leadership since she took the reins of the Worcester Public Schools last May. Her long career inside the system and thoughtful, respectful and forthcoming style serve her well — and serve our students well.

Worcester needs leaders who get ahead of problems and who consistently act in the interest of solid, long-term goals. Binienda demonstrated that kind of excellence as principal of South High Community School for eight years and assistant principal there for 12, and is off to a fine start in her new role.

Superintendent of a multifaceted, promising, problem-plagued school system is not an easy task. But it is a hugely important one, and when done well, rewarding in countless ways.

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