Lynn School Committee should listen and learn

Like a patient teacher leading stubborn students through a lesson, Lynn School Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham laid out for School Committee members Thursday night the exact reasons why city public schools need two supervisors of attendance.

Committee members did the right thing and capped off Latham’s explanation with unanimous votes approving Lynn School Resource Officer Ryan McDermott and Essex County District Attorney’s office Juvenile Justice Supervisor Kristin Fraher for the two posts.

That vote came three weeks after the committee did the wrong thing and rejected Latham’s recommendation for the supervisor’s post. Mayor Thomas M. McGee, committee chairman, voted present.

The Feb. 8 “no” votes earned stern reprimands from Latham, who noted that night that members who criticized her recommendation to hire McDermott were either not present during candidate interviews or initially endorsed her choice only to change their minds.

It was laughable to hear committee members use residency as a reason to reject Melrose resident McDermott as a qualified candidate for the supervisor’s job. Are they aware that the home-rule petition providing the city with a much-needed loan includes language stripping residency from the school superintendent’s and city chief financial officer’s jobs? Probably not.

Committee members continued to play the role of stubborn student Thursday night, with Donna Coppola and Lorraine Gately arguing the city’s money problems are a good reason to question the need to hire two attendance supervisors.

Latham, to no one’s surprise, blew their arguments out of the water with her detailed explanation of the huge responsibilities falling into the lap of the attendance supervisors every day. The job involves lengthy court appearances on behalf of Lynn students who are in need of state services.

The supervisors respond to student emergencies, including situations potentially requiring them to restrain students. Supervisors are also involved in “no trespass” orders handed out to adults with a track record of causing disruptions at schools.

These duties and others, said Latham, leave little time for a sole supervisor to undertake long-term planning to reduce student absenteeism and support efforts to aid students in crisis.

Listening to her explanation, it’s easy to conclude the public schools need 10, not two, professionals overseeing student attendance problems and working to eliminate all the other distractions diverting kids away from learning.

It’s time for the Lynn School Committee to buckle down and focus on two tasks: One, they need to listen to Latham and endorse the proposals she brings before them; Dr. Catherine C. Latham knows more about education than anyone on the Lynn School Committee will ever grasp. And

Two, they need to focus on hiring a successor to Latham who will match her understanding of modern public school education and share her proven commitment to the success of each and every Lynn student.

It’s a tall task but here’s hoping six committee members working together under McGee’s guidance might be up to the challenge. But it’s possible only if they realize their role is secondary to that of the superintendent.

Their sole question should be: How can we help the superintendent?

More Stories From Lynn