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Noyes Parents Grill SPS Committee Over Communication Delays

For the second week in a row, members of the Sudbury Public Schools Committee find themselves facing the ire of parents who say communication was too little and too late after first-grade teacher Janice Donahue lost her job

Every seat was taken and people spilled into the hallway as the Sudbury Public Schools Committee held another tense meeting following the dismissal last month of a well-known teacher at .

For the second week in a row, the Committee faced intense scrutiny from parents over what they say was a breakdown in communication surrounding an abrupt change in teachers for a first-grade class weeks before the end of the school year.

Janice Donahue, 67, left the school in early May, following an incident in which another teacher complained about the manner in which she broke up a fight between two young boys who wanted the same seat in a music class. Donahue has been defended at length by a number of parents and fellow teachers, who referred to themselves as "unabashed Mrs. J. supporters" and said that is it simply not possible that Donahue, who they said has an outstanding reputation, physically assaulted a student.

Parents complained that Superintendent Dr. Anne Wilson and Noyes Principal Annette Doyle were late in informing them about the situation. "I am sorry for raising my voice, but this is my child we are talking about," said one parent, who spoke emotionally about not finding out that Donahue's employment had been terminated and that her son was being taught by substitutes until several days later.

"This Committee is under no obligation to do anything other than hear your comments at this time," Committee Chair Richard Robison said, as he repeatedly reminded the crowd about state laws that forbid Committee members from speaking in public about personnel matters. Such laws include criminal penalties for those who violate them, he noted.

"We understand your frustration, concern and even your anger," Wilson said, reading from a prepared statement. She cited examples of ongoing communications with Room 15 parents and vowed that the students would receive "a smooth and successful transition into second grade."

Fellow teachers expressed concern that the Donahue case leaves them uncertain as to how they can handle fights and disagreements among young children, which they said occur on a regular basis throughout the course of a normal week at school.

"In 28 years, I have never seen the system in such crisis, and it breaks my heart," said Mary Mahoney, an eighth-grade teacher.

"This whole situation could have just as easily happened to me," said Cynthia Denessen, a retired teacher from Noyes and . "All teachers should be able to feel safe at school, and feel that their judgment as Sudbury teachers will be respected." 

Denessen referred to Donahue as "a model teacher" and "a teacher of teachers" and said her sudden dismissal will cause fear and mistrust among other teachers who are simply trying to do their jobs.

The Committee drew ire from the crowd when it voted to go into Executive Session to discuss collective bargaining and litigation issues. By state law, school committees are allowed to close Executive Sessions to the public and the media to discuss those issues. A motion from Bob Armour, who joined the Committee in May, to extend the public forum by another 15 minutes was voted down. His motion was supported only by Lucie St. George, the other new School Committee member. She had no comment but raised her hand to vote with Armour.

"Shame on you, Lisa," called out one member of the crowd to Vice Chair Lisa Gutch, after she joined the rest of the Committee in refusing Armour's motion to extend the public forum. 

Additional public comment was permitted following the Executive Session, but parents charged that Committee members knew they had babysitters waiting at home and were hoping that as many people as possible would leave during the recess.

"This has gone from just an incident into a mess," said one parent as the public forum concluded.

Last week Wilson emailed a memo to the Noyes community, explaining staff protocol in relation to behaviorial issues within the school system, confidentiality on personnel issues and steps that have been taken to assist students and families of Room 15 at Noyes.

To read the memo, click on the pdf.

Rob June 07, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Time to clean house folks. Where is the recall petitions?
Music Teacher June 07, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Is it true that the complaint was that Mrs. J used an "eerie" voice? I know Annette Doyle has outlawed Halloween, but this is taking things too far.
joanne June 07, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Get your checkbooks out folks! We will now be paying for a high powered lawyer to defend the SPSC against this "pending litigation". We also be paying out a judgement when Mrs J wins! This should NEVER have come to this. Mrs J should still be in her classroom teaching her kids! The SC , Anne Wilson and Annette Doyle have put us in this mess- they now need to do the right thing. To Lisa Gutch- I dont care how many disturbing emails you send out at election time- I WILL NEVER VOTE FOR YOU AGAIN! (not that I did before). You could not have been more rude and insulting to every TAXPAYER in the room last night!!!!
joanne June 07, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Anne Wilson & Annette Doyle need to get their resumes in order and LEAVE!!!! You do not care about the kids, or the parents (aka the taxpayers who pay your salary)!!!!
Liz June 07, 2012 at 08:05 PM
My question is--what can we do about this other than continue to go to School Committee meetings? Full disclosure--I did not go last night because I'm afraid this is going to be a long battle. I am personally not going to be satisfied until we have the superintendent, at least, in a public forum addressing our concerns. No more "prepared statements". I apologize for my lack of knowledge but it's not clear to me how we force these people we voted in/hired to run our schools speak to us. It's OUTRAGEOUS to be treated this way. I'd also like to thank the two school committee members who voted to continue listening to parents.
ScaredSudbury June 07, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Liz - I fully understand your concern and I agree that this could be something that takes a while to resolve. However, we need more people within our community, not just the Noyes community (and actually we are starting to see this based on some of the folks that were at last night's meeting) to come together and to demand action, answers, and accountability from our school committee and our school administration. The more people that come together, the shorter it will take to resolve some of these very serious issues. They are going to hope that they can hold out until summer recess and hope that the community will just "go on vacation" and forget about all of this. We must NOT let this happen. I would encourage you to write letters if you feel so inclined and to attend the next school committee meeting if you can. One of the worst parts of last night's meeting that really made me personally lose faith in many members of our school committee was when they voted down the Bob Armour's motion to extend the open forum by 15 minutes. 15 minutes. Sad, really sad.
UserName June 07, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Excellent point, Liz - and it's exactly where we should be focused. Last night's debacle shows we need to be specific about what we expect for change and in the job description of new leaders. 1) No one should hijack this conversation and characterize the honest concerns and questions of parents as uninformed "gossip and innuendo." 2) Accountibility = Trust. Whether or not you have an opinion about whatever happened in Mrs. J's classroom, the ensuing fallout was preventable and damaging. No one will own that this was mismanaged. There is apparently no succession plan for the abrupt departure of a teacher. 3) Whether or not it is allowed by law, as defended by Wilson, children should not be questioned by school officials without their parents' knowledge about matters serious enough to merit the removal of a teacher. Perhaps this could be included under the core school value of "respect." 4) This is a runaway train that is now leaving taxpayers exposed to expensive litigation and a potentially sizable . No one wants this! Railroading a twilighting teacher out of her pension and dignity makes our entire town look horrible and mismanaged. 5)The teachers need to know they have our support. I personally would much rather give the money going to the high-priced lawyers directly to them. 6) If there is ever to be any hope of an override, there needs to be full confidence in the people requesting the money. That just does not exist right now in SPS leadership.
Julie Miller June 08, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Oh, wow. I, a teacher myself, have been a bit out of touch with town news recently - and just stumbled across the item in the live SPS meeting tonight. My younger son, now 23 yrs. old, had Mrs. J. Donahue when he was a first grader - and she was by far, one of the most positive influences he has ever had. What a huge disservice - not only to a veteran teacher doing her job, but to the children of Noyes, who could be less safe in future scuffles due to "cowed" personnel, not to mention two young boys - who unwittingly have had saddled on their situation the dismissal of their teacher! Give me a break! Do the right thing, Sudbury - revisit this decision!
2Labs June 08, 2012 at 12:46 PM
I second this: Do the right thing, Sudbury - revisit this decision!
Music Teacher June 08, 2012 at 02:25 PM
To claim that the board would be criminally liable if they discussed this with parents is utter nonsense. Who would possibly pursue such a complaint? Do you think the DA has its staff troll through the minutes of all town committees in the county to detect any unauthorized sharing of info with voters? The only person who could possibly pursue a breach of confidentiality claim would be Mrs. J, and she wants the truth to come out. We need at least one brave school committee member to just break with the entrenched apologists for Ann Wilson and share the details with the community. I can guarantee you this -- you will not be prosecuted for it, never in a million years.
Music Teacher June 08, 2012 at 02:28 PM
The same thing applies to the hiring of a law firm -- if the committee hired the firm for its own or the superintendent's defense, then that will be paid for by the taxpayers which makes it public info which must be disclosed to town residents. If it's just Ann Wilson hiring her own lawyer, so what, why would that even be something discussed at school committee meeting?
Concerned in No. Sudbury June 08, 2012 at 04:52 PM
At the Haynes school, the incoming grade 3 is over guideline (and I understand there are a couple other classes in the district with the same problem). Several of us parents have gone to Dr. Wilson and the school committee expressing our concern and appealing to them to add another section. We were informed that it will never happen. Now to learn that money, which should go to add much needed teachers, will be used to cover attorney fees is appalling. Shame on them! The SPS Mission is a complete deception.
Parent June 08, 2012 at 06:24 PM
As a parent of a student in Mrs. J’s class, what I know as FACT is that there was an epic failure in communication to our class and a complete lack of academic and emotional support for our children from the administration. Although in the communication between the class parents there has been no indication that any students or parents had issue with any incidents, we've never asked to talk about the details of Mrs. J’s departure and have focused strictly on our children's needs. Many of the students have had a VERY difficult time and have visibly suffered. While I don’t doubt the good intentions to take care of our children, mistakes were clearly made. There obviously needs to be accountability in this situation, but it is imperative that we remember how important it is to have effort directed toward creating a solid process/policy with an effective communications plan, clear accountability, and proper checks and balances so that if a similar situation ever arises everyone involved can be better protected. Although I don't begrudge anyone, policies should be stronger than personalities in a workplace. More importantly, it will prevent our children from ending up at the bottom of the pit during a nasty mud-slinging contest. I wouldn’t wish the last month of our lives on anyone and I feel confident saying that I don’t think anyone on any side of this issue wants to go through this experience again. It's time to own up to the mistakes made and fix what is repairable.
Sudbury Teacher June 08, 2012 at 07:54 PM
In all fairness to both sides of the story at Noyes, I decided to venture forward with another perspective. I have been teaching at Noyes for over 10 years and LOVE my job. I still come to school with the intention of giving our students my best. I have enjoyed my years working with Annette Doyle. She has created an atmosphere that puts our student’s learning experiences at the top of the priority list. She provides guidance to teachers in terms of methodology, classroom management and collaboration. She has been fair on all counts. She has an open door policy and spends much time processing issues together to determine best solutions. I have never been fearful coming to school, or fearful of her decisions, but rather, I am fully supported. Annette does have high standards for students and teachers but as one of the most successful schools in Massachusetts, having high standards for excellence has been proven to a good thing. I have always thought of Noyes as the “cream of the crop” in Sudbury as well as in the state. And I still do! I am proud to teach at Noyes and proud to work under the compassionate, and skillful direction of Annette Doyle. AND I AM NOT ALONE. There are many of us teaching at Noyes who love our jobs and love working under the direction of Annette. p.s. I wrote this freely.
Music Teacher June 08, 2012 at 08:24 PM
This is what is so perplexing. How could someone who is fair and concerned for children use such poor judgment and handle this is in the worst possible manner from a communications standpoint? I don't doubt your perspective or the validity of your feelings, but it is clear that there was no basis for teminating Mrs. J for what she supposedly did in April of this year. So Mrs. Doyle used that as an excuse to fire her for old things in her personnel file, which was pretextual. And the pretense that Mrs. J couldn't finish out the year and stay with her class for six more weeks is preposterous. If Mrs. Doyle wanted Mrs. J to leave and make way for a younger, less expensive teacher, she should have terminated her this summer after school was over.
joanne June 08, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Really "Noyes Teacher'???? Give me a break! What Annette did to Mrs J was WRONG!!!! You must be one of her snitches!! Make no mistake- you could be next!
SueChap June 08, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Sudbury teacher, your view is refreshing. I would like to know if you have ANY hesitation in a decision you might make should you encounter a situation similar to Mrs. J? Do you worry Doyle would or wouldn't support you? If you were in this situation, would you expect the school to put you on paid personal leave until the situation is viewed and the 51a is vetted? I'm not a huge proponent of the protection unions provide employees but it certainly seems something failed within the professional courtesy extended to Mrs. J. The school committee has endorsed Wilson. Wilson made the decision, supported by others, to prematurely terminate this teacher. Now the 51a reportedly has been deemed unsubstantiated, Mrs. J has had her reputation tarnished and job terminated. Shame on the superintendent, school committee, and super shame on the communications champion, Lisa Gutch, for texting during such public comments at her own meeting under such controversial times. The school system has behaved unprofessionally and should be held responsible for their actions and endorsements. It is only with answering questions to a settlement that we might finally find out what they think.
2Labs June 09, 2012 at 06:16 AM
The SPS minutes I just received from the meeting in question say that approximately 30 residents were there to comment. My feeling is that there were many more, like at least 60 or more. Anyone have an accurate count?
Liz June 09, 2012 at 10:43 AM
Thank you for your perspective. We had two children who went through Noyes and had a wonderful experience. We had many excellent teachers and I never had any issues with Annette Doyle. This is why I would like to understand what went on with Mrs.J. and why we are in a situation where the parents and taxpayers aren't allowed to ask questions. Our schools are worth this effort to identify any problems NOW and make the necessary changes But right now we have very little information so the only problems we can identify are the people who won't answer questions! If nothing else we have identified a serious problem with transparency and communication.
Jonot June 09, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Are you kidding me? She is a teacher. She could not put her name here for more reasons than just fear of being fired. Mr. Stein, you spend an awful lot of time here trying to out people. People reading this comment section, know this: mr stein and his gang of swamp feeders continue to hack into IP addresses, try to assign names to anybody who disagrees with them and the focus is not to help any discussion, but to stop posts by anybody who dares disagree. This is a true attempt to block your rights to blog anon because you fear repercussions. But they march on with intimidation of people like a teacher who offered her opinion. Bet you she will not blog again. Again mr. Stein, you really should decide what your intent here is. To out people in order to silence them or to have open discussion.
Edward Stark June 09, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Let me get this straight. Bob Stein logs on here under his real name (not Jonot or Spirit of 01776) and tells it like it is and he is criticized for that? I don't get it at all. Honesty and clear communications are the biggest hurdles facing Sudbury right now. Sudbury needs more Bob Stein's to clean up the mess around here. Robert on another note "Jonot" calls people "swamp feeders" and her comment is allowed to be posted? I thought we were supposed to keep it clean.
Jonot June 09, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Her? Again attempts to intimidate. Stick to the issues dude.
joanne June 09, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Kudos to Bob Stein for telling ot like it is!
siobhan hullinger June 09, 2012 at 10:59 PM
@Jonot and Spirit of 01776 - why don't you save the obvious anger and name calling to last call at Lavendars - your anonymous comments do nothing to solve any of the issues at hand. As for silencing people? Well I think our esteemed Selectmen Drobinski and O'Brien have done a fine job of removing the public commentary during their meetings. Quite frankly, removing that age old section is removing all of our rights. And really what about our rights? Don't we have a right to reasonable town governance? Hmmmm
2Labs June 10, 2012 at 05:13 AM
I'm still really curious if anyone has a headcount for how many people came to the SPSC meeting; in her notes, Lisa Gutch reported that about 30 were there. It seemed like twice that or more to me, did anyone count?
Andrew MacEntee June 10, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Are settlement agreements exempt under the Public Records Law? NO!!! The public interest in the financial information of a public employee outweighs the privacy interest where the financial compensation in question is drawn on an account held by a government entity and comprised of taxpayer funds. Additionally, the disclosure of the settlement amount would assist the public in monitoring government operations. Therefore, exemptions to the Public Records Law will not operate to allow for the withholding of settlement agreements as a whole. However, portions of the agreements, and related responsive records, may be redacted pursuant to exemptions to the Public Records Law. http://www.sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/guide.pdf
sla271320 June 10, 2012 at 03:19 PM
2Labs, The title of the SC communication and the first line of it state that it was from the May 30th, not the June 6th, meeting!
2Labs June 10, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Dear sla271320, Ooops, thankyou for that....can't believe I missed that one :)
concerned2 June 11, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Thank you for posting that macantee. Agree. We are also entitled to know what stage the process is in. If Mrs. J was given a written letter of dismissal or forced to sign some such document, the 2 parties have 30 days to go to arbitration. This is all stated in the Massachusetts Education Regulations of 1993. No secret. I understand that she has a lawyer now, but did not have one present with her at the meeting in which she was faced with the SPS' or WIlson's attorney. There seem to be many due process issues here, and she clearly has a good case.
Noyes Mom June 14, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Wilson needs to resign! She is not the right fit for our community period!

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