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Superintendent finalist brings strong hopes amid racial controversy

Victoria GreerVictoria Greer

Public interviews next week

Both Victoria Greer and Elizabeth Homan bring to public interviews strong credentials to be Arlington's next school superintendent as well as decided support from the search committee. Read about each candidate >> 

Accompanying Greer is controversy about race, which WBUR has detailed at length >> 

Contacted at her North Cambridge home, Greer confirmed the accuracy of the report about her experience as superintendent of Sharon Public Schools. That includes the nonrenewal of her contract this summer, her filing a discrimination complaint with the state and being placed on paid leave in September without explanation.

Previously an assistant superintendent in Cambridge, the Sharon School Committee unanimously hired her in 2017 to lead the predominantly white and Asian district because of her expertise addressing equity issues.

Arlington vs. Sharon

Asked how Arlington's demographics are similar to – or different from -- those in Sharon, she responded:

"One characteristic that I value about this opportunity in Arlington is similar to the reason I chose to go to Sharon, and that is the value that the community places on public education and the support that the community gives to the schools.

"Demographically, Arlington has similarities to Sharon; however, I am excited about the fact that Arlington is a larger town and a larger school department with more schools, which I have extensive experience working in larger districts with many moving pieces.

"Additionally, I am excited that Arlington Public Schools recognizes its academic achievements but is committed to addressing the needs of all student groups that ensures equitable opportunities and success for everyone.

YourArlington asked her to describe some of the changes she you would like to put into effect here and which initiatives were successful in Sharon.

"I think that it is important to be patient and take ample time to listen and learn before charting the path forward to lead for continuous improvement. Therefore, if chosen as superintendent, I plan to implement a comprehensive entry process by developing a plan for the first 100 days on the job.

'Learn as much as I can'

"During this time, I will engage a wide array of constituents to learn as much as I can about the town and district. Additionally, I will immerse myself in schools and the community to observe and listen. This will allow me to assess the areas of strength and the areas of needed growth.

"It is my hope that this work will lead into the development of a comprehensive district plan that will help us chart the path forward."

She express pride in what she has accomplishments in Sharon: "I led the effort and secured the funding for a new Sharon High School facility, in which we received 78-percent approval at Town Meeting to fund the $163 million for the project. She cited improved high school ranking by Boston magazine during her tenure.

In 2019, the magazine ranked Sharon No. 6. It had been ranked No. 7 in 2018 and 2017 as well as No. 11 in 2016.

By contrast, Arlington was ranked No. 40 in 2019 and No. 30 in 2018.

"I attribute this [effort in Sharon] to the implementation of continuous improvement efforts across the district," she responded.

She also noted that the diversity of the teaching and administrative staff increased by 33 percent during her tenure, that instituting a zero-based budgeting process improved fiscal management and the maintenance and growth of valued educational programs.

Special education

Last, she touted expertise in special education, which had been a hallmark in Cambridge: "I was able to commission an external review to take a deep dive into special-education services that has resulted in a thoughtful and strategic improvement efforts for students with disabilities."

In Sharon, Greer believes the committee retaliated against her for accusing members of racial discrimination. Over her three-year tenure, she has experienced the reactions of those as she has aimed to bring about change while being one of the only black administrators surrounded by white colleagues.

The only person of color on the School Committee, Fern Fergus, stepped down because of health concerns about a week after Greer was placed on leave. Fergus has defended Greer as she announced she was leaving.

As outlined in the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint, Greer said she was berated, yelled at and spoken to with condescension by School Committee members. The allegations include repeated interruptions and repeated criticism of her communication as well as insinuations that she was not articulate and/or did not know her place, as one performance review implied. The complaint says videos of meetings support her case.

Sharon School Committee Chair Judy Crosby and Heather Zelevinsky have been asked to comment. Crosby responded Nov. 11: "The Sharon Public Schools cannot comment on a matter that is in litigation, particularly where that matter involves an employee." The litigation refers to the MCAD complaint.

“There is a huge disproportionality of educators of color, not just superintendents of color … relative to the students we serve,” said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Superintendents, in the WBUR report.

She told WBUR: “My hope is that I have another opportunity to be a superintendent in a community that really is ready to address systemic issues of racism and social and cultural bias. My hope is that by me basically putting myself out here and being extremely vulnerable, that it encourages others to be able to do the same.”

Public interviews of candidates set for Nov. 17 and 18 is expected to help sort that out.


Nov. 4, 2020: 7-0 vote backs 2 candidates for new school superintendent

Cambridge Day, Jan. 26, 2017: District special education expert is leaving to be superintendent with puzzle unsolved

 


This news summary was published Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020.

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