Letter to the Editor: Thanking Jon Sills, Superintendent of Schools

June 16, 2020

Submitted by Erica Colbath

I would like to express my sincerest appreciation for your voice, advice, and direction during the recent school committee budget meetings.  While there is a strong community voice being heard for the gifted/talented programs and 3rd-grade world language, there is an equally strong and needed voice (but not as vocal) for our struggling and at-risk students and their needed supports.  As a parent that has been an advocate for these students over the past 8 years, I was relieved and proud of our leadership that stood up for these students.  Unless one walks in the shoes of special education, a struggling student or an at-risk student, it is truly hard to understand how critical early interventions are to their academic, mental health, and life-long successes.  These interventions are most impactful when consistent and supported throughout their days – at home, at school, and within the community.  Thank you for understanding this.

When a school committee member gave an appreciation for the community voices supporting the gifted/talented and world language programs, you were the voice for the at-risk and struggling students and families.  When school committee members pushed for an on-site vote on Tuesday’s 6/11 meeting, you urged them to gather all the facts and details and encouraged them not to commit to one solution without having a clear financial picture.  Thank you for explaining and standing strong, emphasizing the importance of early intervention of reading and literacy (all components of literacy, not just oral skills), and how critical these interventions are to reducing the skill gap between all learners.  While foreign language is an amazing and wonderful opportunity within our school systems, I strongly believe, it will never outweigh the need for strong, solid foundation literacy skills.  I also took note of your comment that not every single student participated in the world language program because some need such intensive literacy interventions. I felt heard and supported both for my family and for families that have and will have similar choices and experiences in this arena.  Thank you.

During the school committee meetings on June 11th, I listened to the community comments, school committee conversations, Andrea Salipante, and Dana Curran’s comments.  While I respect everyone’s individual positions, opinions and comments, I must express my disappointment in our community as a whole.  The overall impression was that we must support our most advanced learners at the risk and expense of our more struggling learners.  I am all for supporting enrichment and advanced learning opportunities, but not at the expense of our more vulnerable community members.  I was shocked at how few out of the box suggestions were made in regard to before/afterschool clubs or lunch group opportunities for enrichment and more challenging opportunities.

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In summary, as a parent of both special education at risk, and advanced learners, I felt compelled to reach out and let you know, as difficult as the conversations are, I appreciate your calmness and dedication to all learners within our community.  I wish you all the best in your retirement and am very hopeful that your successor will support our most at-risk learner as passionately as you have over the years.

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