I began teaching at Harwood in the fall of 1977 and retired in the spring of 2015. I taught high school science and coached three varsity sports. During my 38-year tenure I experienced the guidance of over a dozen superintendents and principals.
In the past decade, the quality and diversity of educational opportunities once available at Harwood has been diminished. Although the administration has not made it public, scores on standardized tests have slipped. Parents are withdrawing their students to attend private schools or for home schooling. Since the loss of industrial arts classes, many students are attending vocational schools. More students are taking college courses and are attending Harwood in name only. Because they are not pushed academically, several have opted for early admission to college and have skipped their senior year at Harwood.
Poor leadership is to blame. The current administration has ignored the needs of the students, teachers and community.
As a science teacher I encouraged my students to solve problems by using the laws of science.
Science consists of a body of knowledge and the process by which that knowledge is developed. Science is both a product and a process. Knowledge gained is shared publicly so that it can be evaluated by the community of scientists.
Here lies the problem with our current administration. There is a problem with process. No sharing of information publicly. No transparency. Student and community input is ignored.
When I was teaching, my students always enjoyed a story that illustrated a concept. The story below reflects the Harwood administration’s lack of transparency.
Years ago, in a meeting in Principal Atwood's office, it slipped out that the administration was planning on dropping all honors classes.
At lunchtime, I asked a few students in the senior cafe what they thought about the elimination of honors classes. They were shocked! Several students stormed into the principal’s office and demanded answers. Harwood administrators will tell you that student voice contributes to their decisions. It sometimes does, but only if the student voice agrees with that of the administration. Their pleas were ignored.
Later that day, I was called into the principal’s office and reprimanded for letting students know of the administrative plan. I was told by then Associate Principal Amy Rex, "We were trying to slide this into the curriculum next year. We wanted it to be below everyone's radar. We will get this through, but it is going to be much more difficult now – thanks to you, Mr. Kerrigan."
Parents contested and the administration’s plans were dropped. A year or two later the administration was able to slide it in undetected. They have used similar tactics to remove shop classes, lab-science classes and family and consumer science and to add classes or positions they favored.
While teachers are being told that class size will increase by 25 percent or more, the administrative load has actually decreased by a much greater percentage.
When I started at HU in 1977 there were two administrators for 900-plus students. Today there are almost a dozen listed as part of the administrative team, but the school population is almost half of what it was in the late 1970s.
The superintendent's office has exploded in both physical size and number of employees. There are now almost a dozen people working in an office with three times the square-footage of the previous office. Many of these employees have salaries that are greater than or close to three figures. When I started at HU, there were only two or three employees working directly for the superintendent. The increase in administrative load should be directly proportional to the increase in teacher load.
When students return in the fall of 2020, two new co-principals will greet them. It appears from their experience that they will be strong leaders.
The administration’s arrogance and irreverence of the past decade may be replaced by thoughtfulness and sensitivity to the needs of the student body. I am hopeful that transparency, academic rigor and a diverse curriculum will return to Harwood. When that occurs, I will gladly vote yes on the budget.
John Kerrigan lives in Duxbury, Vermont.