The Bedford School Committee interviewed each of the four finalists for superintendent of schools on Monday and Tuesday. Each session was 90 minutes. This is the fourth of four stories on the candidates.
For 29 years, Dr. June Saba-Maguire has worked for the Brockton Public Schools, where she is now an assistant superintendent.
“I have had an exciting, outstanding opportunity to be a career educator there,” she told the Bedford School Committee on Tuesday.
Now that she is applying to be a superintendent, Saba-Maguire said, “I take pride in [being] very deliberate about the type of community I could see myself in.”
What she found after spending several hours in the Bedford schools, she said, was “everybody wanted to share their love and joy for the town, and certainly for the schools.
“Students who had issues used respectful dialogue and in no way reflected criticism,” she added. “They know how to have civil discourse. That to me is amazing.”
Saba-Maguire said she spoke with students from Hanscom Air Force Base and the METCO program during the day on Tuesday, and she “was impressed to hear how welcome and part of the community they felt. I think you learn the most about how students feel from them. Talking to students and hearing their perspective are one of the top things a superintendent can do to mitigate challenges. There are lots of opportunities for them to have a voice in their school community.
“You should be very proud of your community,” Saba-Maguire said in answer to a question about priorities. She noted, “There seem to be fewer students than I would expect ‘exceeding expectations’” in standardized testing. But perhaps that was due to Covid-19, she added.
“It’s clear to me that this is a community that is committed to high academic achievement and rigor,” Saba-Maguire said. In her role as chief academic officer, “that was non-negotiable.”
In answer to a question, Saba-Maguire reflected on her response to low performance as an elementary school principal. “It was through the teachers that we devised a redesigned plan.” Goals discussed resembled “the opportunities we were hearing students were receiving at a charter school” – an earlier start and later finish to the day, music, drama, sports.
The candidate recounted her first year as a principal when MCAS scores were “abysmal.” That was “one of the most painful experiences I’ve had,” she said. She responded, “What I had to do was regroup as a school leader, talk to my colleagues. We still believed the work we were doing was going to make a difference.” A change in the curriculum was one concrete step.
Extracurricular activities hold “equal importance” with academics, the candidate stated. “Extracurriculars can be an integral part of daily student experience.”
Saba-Maguire also expounded on the interdependency of academic excellence, social-emotional learning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I don’t think you can have high academic rigor without strong social-emotional learning in place in a school, in a classroom. I also don’t think you can have high academic rigor without attention to DEI,” she said.
“My career has been spent working on all of those facets of education, right from the day I walked into a classroom and didn’t know any better.”
Asked about factors she prioritizes when negotiating with the teachers association, Saba-Maguire said, “Trust, treating each other with dignity and respect, recognizing that a teachers union that advocates for well-being in the workplace is a good thing where everybody feels respected, heard, and honored.”
Day-to-day support for teachers consists not only of visible leadership and listening, but also “sometimes it’s about having fun. There is actually joy in our work.” She added, “I consider myself to be first a supporter of kids. And to support our students, we have to support our teachers,” adding, “That doesn’t mean you ignore things that need to be worked on.”
Assessment of special education effectiveness is “something we are working on constantly,” said Saba-Maguire. What we’re working on is the mindset around the least restrictive environment for your youngest learners.”
Asked about state requirements on the level of recovered learning post-pandemic, Saba-Maguire said in Brockton, she is “very involved in making sure schools have their needs met because every initiative requires human capacity to be able to implement. What we are going to do is be sure we are meeting the needs of all students. We shouldn’t need DESE to tell us how to support our students. I think that has to come internally.”
Saba-Maguire also commented on another Bedford variable – declining enrollment. “I’ve had to make really hard decisions about where we could cut a classroom in a way that had less dramatic effect. At the end of every line of these decisions was a teacher. In one year, there were 17 pink slips. They understood that this was not a decision about them as educators.”
The candidate also responded on the challenge of literacy instruction. “I understand that there are varying opinions and there are facts about the science of reading,” Saba-Maguire said. “As a former second-grade teacher who taught phonics,” she said, “there were many students who did not need that. They were already off and running. There are students who are in different places at different times. I regard them as a regular part of classroom instruction.”
She also said, “Writing should be part of reading instruction. Students should be writing every single day, connected. You can learn from that what they’re motivated by.”
Saba-Maguire responded to a range of other questions from committee members:
- Managing with “constrained resources”: The candidate replied, “Constrained resources are what I’ve lived with throughout most of my career.” She said she first identifies the “non-negotiables” in the district; “those come off the table immediately.” She added, “I know how to advocate and I know how to be strategic.”
- Relations between the superintendent and the School Committee: “I get to know every committee member and learn what’s important to you as a committee member and a parent.” The superintendent, she added, should be “readily available at all times. It’s important for people to reach you.”
- A large-scale initiative led by Saba-Maguire was changing the Brockton kindergarten age cutoff date from Dec. 31 to Sept. 1.