Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How Much of Lynn's Academic Performance Should be Attributed to the Superintendent?

On February 7, the Daily Item published an article regarding the topic of renewing Lynn Superintendent Catherine Latham's contract versus posting the job opening. Latham's contract expires on June 30, 2012 and school committee members must inform her by May 1 whether it plans to renew the contract for another three years. If the Lynn SC decides to post the position, Latham would not be precluded from re-applying for her position and could be re-hired if she is deemed to be the best candidate for the position among other potential candidates. While many of the comments in the discussion section of the related to this issue supported either opening the position to the public while still considering Latham or looking for a new super all together, one commenter raised an interesting point. LadyJane04 remarked: 
Latham may not be doing the best job and many great points have been made, but let's look at what she has to work with and what the real issue is.  We live in a city with a high percentage of minorities and many who do not even speak English then we expect that they are going to take MCA's [sic] and pass?  What about the amount of SPED students in comparison to other districts and the social/emotional issues of our students that come along with a city like Lynn.  Not all students are brought up in a stable home....gangs, drugs, is all here and effects our children every day!  It is no surprise that MCA's [sic] scores are low especially in schools like Harrington and Connery.  There is not one school, teacher, principal, superintendent, etc. to blame.  It is a combination of factors that need to be addressed at the district and state levels.
This remark raises the important question "How much of the district's failure (or success) should be attributed to the superintendent?"  If one were to simply look at the city's MCAS scores and the fact that Lynn has two Level 4 schools, it would appear that the city is not doing well. But what about those contextual factors that LadyJane04 mentioned? According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 82.4% of Lynn students are low income and nearly 20% of students are Limited English Proficiency  (LEP) while 53.6% speak English as a second language. The LEP populations at some individual schools are even greater; Connery is 43.6% LEP while Harrington is 32.9% LEP. Additionally, 16.5% of the students in Lynn are special education; many of the special education students may also fall into the LEP and/or low income category adding yet another layer to this already complicated picture. There are also other bio-psychosocial issues to consider such as parental involvement, the number of student absences, teen pregnancy, drug use, (sometimes untreated) mental/physical health disorders, homelessness, domestic violence and the list goes on and on. The negative effects of poverty on children have also been well established. While some may compare Lynn's test scores to surrounding communities, it is debatable whether this is an appropriate comparison because there is a considerable population difference between Lynn and  Beverly or Swampscott, for example; Lynn SC members have noted that among urban districts with similar populations, Lynn performs the best academically. While Lynn certainly needs to improve in many areas, what level of responsibility  should be assigned to a single figure (the superintendent) within a large and complex school system?

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