Gallese speaks out following BVSU board's decision not to renew her contract
"In the 34 years I've been involved in education, I've had numerous experiences, certainly the most important being that I've made a difference in the lives of many children," Gallese read from a prepared statement. "In the area of Massachusetts where I spent the majority of my career, I was considered a highly respected educator.
"Two weeks ago, I was mortified by the action of the BVSU board. I could not bring myself to contact my family until I was contacted by a reporter, and then realized I had to. My greatest fear throughout this ordeal has been that my family, friends, and former colleagues would think that I did something wrong.
"I wish I could share with you the discussion that went on during executive session that evening, but unfortunately, statues prevent me from doing so."
Gallese went on to say that when she was hired as the BVSU superintendent in June 2012, she had no special education director, the superintendent staff had either been fired, or quit, and the board had yet to sign a contract with the SVSU to receive their business services.
For the first couple of weeks, Gallese explained she was "literally working alone."
"To say the least, it was a learning experience on the run," she said, noting that her assistant, Joanne Christiansen, joined her shortly thereafter.
"As the principal of a K-8 school, I continuously worked with my staff to make it a place for all children to be successful," Gallese continued. "I had a strategic plan, which included the upkeep of my building, as well as curriculum and instructional needs.
"I sat with my teachers annually to develop school wide and individual goals technology was brought up-to-date through two major grants I was awarded, new curriculum was purchased and instruction improved through trainings and peer review."
Gallese explained that her students were and continue to be at the top of their classes in two high schools in North Adams.
"During this tenure, I worked with two superintendents who were my sounding boards and confidantes, and I always had wonderful relationships with my schools boards," Gallese said.
"Although I would like to do the same in Arlington, I feel my hands are constantly tied by some of the board members. First and foremost, I am an educator, not a politician. I am used to working in an atmosphere of collaboration, trust and respect, not under the present circumstances, where I feel I am disrespected and there is a constant behind the scenes chatter, innuendoes, and unjustified comments and complaints."
Gallese said recently a staff member reported to her that they were stopped in the hallway by an administrator and asked if they had any complaints about her performance as a superintendent.
"Mr. Carpenter (a board member) two meetings ago tried to engage the board in a discussion in the role of a superintendent, versus the role of the board chair. Not only have I been suffering though this process, but my staff is suffering. They are wondering who is next. The Arlington school district has had three superintendents in five years. This is not the way to move forward."
Gallese went on to reiterate that the BVSU will not receive business services from the neighboring Southwest Vermont Suprvisory Union, a decision announced Wednesday afternoon by SVSU CFO Richard Pembroke.
"Not only will you (the BVSU) have a new superintendent next year, you will have a new business office, too," Gallese said, ending her speech by thanking the audience for their time.
Following Gallese's response, board members seemed unfazed, and later refused to comment on the reasons behind their decision.
Arlington Memorial High School Principal Christopher Barnes and Fisher Elementary Principal Deanne Lacoste, both present at the meeting, would not share their sentiments on the board's recent decision, as the issue was "still a personnel matter."
However, former board member Todd Wilkins, who served on the BVSU board for five years until he gave up his seat this fall, said he thought the board's decision not to extend Gallese's contract was "terrible."
"The timing is not good in my opinion. We have a new principal that just started this year and he needs support," Wilkins said. "On top of that, their existing a contract with the SVSU is ending and they will be creating a whole new business office. To ask a new superintendent to come in fresh and create a whole new business office is, in my opinion, impossible."
Wilkins went on to say that he believed Gallese's work over the past year and a half has been strong and that if he were still a board member, he would not have been in favor of letting her go.
"Karen has worked hard, she certainly didn't have an easy time here for various reasons, and she tried to make it better. The progress was slow but she really made it happen," Wilkins said. "I thought the way the board handled their decision was unprofessional but it is what it is at this point and we as school district and SU need to put our best foot forward and make the best of this situation, but it's not going to be easy."
Taryn Secoy, parent of an AMHS student also present during Wednesday night's meeting, said she doesn't feel the board gave Gallese enough time to "make an impact on the schools."
"She's been great with what I've seen so far," Secoy said. "We've gone through so many superintendents in such a short period of time and that isn't helping the growth of our school and community. I'm worried about the future of the schools."
Longtime Arlington resident Susan Jennings also expressed concerns over the future of Arlington's schools.
They're not anywhere near what they used to be," Jennings said. "Having a massive turnover in faculty or administration has a trickle effect on the town and its students. We need to focus on what's important - education - Whatever the problem is with the board, we need to get a handle on it and come up with a solution."
When audience members asked the board about plans for hiring a new superintendent, Chairwoman Maureen Harvey said the process is in its beginning stages.
"A letter has been sent to the secretary of education saying we'd like to hire a new superintendent and when a letter is sent back, we will be discussing the hiring process during future meetings," Harvey said. "We plan to move forward pretty quickly."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.
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