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Claremont Union Votes ‘No Confidence’

Teachers Group Believes Superintendent Hurts Morale

Claremont — The Claremont School Board will hold a meeting Tuesday to discuss a vote of “no confidence” in Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin that was taken by the Sugar River Education Association, which represents 160 teachers in the Claremont School District.

SREA President Donald Lavalette II, who teaches at Maple Avenue Elementary School, handed the notice of “no confidence” along with a letter to the School Board Wednesday night, but it was not made public until the SREA forwarded it to media outlets Thursday. Lavallette said this week the purpose of the vote was to make the board aware of the discontent among teachers.

“We hope it sends a message,” Lavalette said. “We are all for accountability, but accountability has to come from the administration.”

Though teachers have worked without a contract for two years, and there is no agreement that will be put before voters in March, Lavallette said that is not reason for the no confidence vote.

“The real issue is our climate, which is the same climate the kids are exposed to. People are walking on eggshells in this environment, and that makes it difficult to retain, much less attract, good teachers.”

School Board Chairman Richard Seaman believes the SREA’s vote symbolizes resistance to change more than anything.

“It really is less about personnel and more about change,” Seaman said yesterday. “We are confident Dr. McGoodwin is putting in place the changes needed to improve academic achievement in Claremont. The School Board has and continues to be 100 percent behind the superintendent.” McGoodwin started his tenure as superintendent in July 2011.

“Without a doubt, there is discomfort and frustration related to that change, but we need to be doing things differently because what we were doing before wasn’t working. The board wasn’t satisfied; the community wasn’t satisfied. We aren’t going back because it didn’t work,” Seaman said.

The letter to the board said the vote was a first for the SREA and was not arrived at “hastily.”

“Since Dr. McGoodwin’s appointment, there has been a shutdown of two-way communication, a lack of collaboration and failure to understand what truly happens in the schools he oversees,” Lavalette wrote. “Decisions affecting our children, our taxpayers and our educators have been made without the counsel and support of those most involved and experienced in the district.”

Seaman also said the change in the classroom goes hand in hand with the building improvements that will be voted on in March.

He expressed confidence that the administration and teachers can “work through” the disagreement and return the focus on the students.

“This is about everyone, the teachers, the board, administration, the community, parents and students,” he said.

But Lavalette, who said the union vote was about 5 to 1 in favor of no confidence, believes the union will continue to resist McGoodwin.

“It has been two years. I think we are past the conversation stage,” he said, adding that the decision to make the vote public was made by the membership, not him alone. “We had no reservations doing it.”

The letter from Lavalette also said in the past Claremont schools have benefited from “great vision from our leaders” and teachers were accorded respect and support. “Sadly, this has all come to an end.”

Lavalette wrote that McGoodwin will blame the problems on budget cuts and an expired contract, but he said the problems go deeper than that.
“Failure to address these issues represents a dangerous threat to the quality of public education in Claremont,” Lavalette concludes.

Attached to the letter were three pages of anonymous comments from teachers about the superintendent. In general the theme was the same, sharply critical of McGoodwin’s management style that teachers said hurts morale.

“He and the board are clearly not interested in supporting teachers and staff,” one said.

“I feel unappreciated, and my job has no security,” said another.

Seaman also noted that the board, not the superintendent, is responible for contract negotiations and McGoodwin should not be blamed for the failure to reach an agreement.

Messages left for McGoodwin at the SAU 6 office were not returned. He was out of his office all week and was not present at Wednesday’s School Board meeting because of illness.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6:30 at the Sugar River Valley Technical Center. On Wednesday, the board is holding a joint meeting with the city council to review the proposed $12.6 million bond for Stevens High School and a $7 million lease/purchase agreement for energy upgrades at five of the district’s six schools.