The Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee has voted to negotiate a contract extension for Superintendent Diana Rigby, who has come under fire in recent years by some parents and teachers over her leadership style, what some perceive as a lack of communication, and her handling of the high school construction project.
By a 6 to 1 vote, with member Phil Benincasa casting the dissenting vote, the committee agreed to enter into negotiations with Rigby for a three-year extension. Her contract is set to expire next June.
Members praised her for her leadership skills, fiscal management, and dedication to the children in Concord, but some parents said they were outraged that their concerns weren’t taken seriously.
“I think she has created division in our community by the decisions she has made,’’ said resident Valerie Tratnyek, who led an effort this year to have Town Meeting approve a nonbinding petition urging the committee to investigate Rigby for what was termed her poor planning, fiscal mismanagement, and a failure to communicate. The petition was shot down.
“I know there will be a continued effort,” Tratnyek said. “I don’t know if it will make any difference but I’m not totally giving up.’’
Most School Committee members, however, have a dramatically different view of the superintendent.
“In my opinion, Superintendent Rigby is an outstanding educational leader,’’ said Pamela Gannon . “Student learning is her top priority, and she makes all decisions with the best interests of students in mind.’’
During the meeting Tuesday night, each committee member stated how they planned to vote and gave a statement explaining their position. The vote followed three separate executive sessions to discuss whether to keep Rigby on beyond next year. All their statements are expected to be posted on the committee’s website.
Louis Salemy, chairman of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee, said members will now review Rigby’s contract, and then vote within a month to six weeks on a final deal. Rigby, who has served as superintendent for five years, currently makes $212,180. She was not available for comment.
Tratnyek and some other parents said they are disappointed with the decision to extend Rigby’s contract and won’t give up their scrutiny of her actions and decisions.
Knowing that a discussion on Rigby’s contract was coming up, some residents put together a binder filled with their concerns and presented it to committee members.
The binder included news articles, letters to the editor, and comments made at School Committee meetings related to issues such as community discontent, low teacher morale, uncertainty over school transportation, and issues at the Thoreau School.
Resident Sue Curtin, who helped put the binder together, said she is disappointed the committee didn’t consider the information more carefully.
“I’m disturbed by the low morale that extends across the entire K-to-12 system that includes teachers and support staff,’’ said Curtin, who taught at Concord Middle School for 33 years. “This low morale shows that Diana Rigby has not made a sufficient effort to work truly collaboratively with the teachers across the system.’’
‘Frankly, I think the School Committee members are not sufficiently concerned about how the teachers feel about how they’ve been treated.’
One of the issues that has upset residents and teachers was the decision by the then principal of the Thoreau School to not rehire Merrie Najimy, a third-grade teacher who was also the president of the Concord Teachers Association.
“Frankly, I think the School Committee members are not sufficiently concerned about how the teachers feel about how they’ve been treated,’’ Curtin said. “They’ve listened only to the superintendent.’’
Committee members said they gave the decision careful consideration after reviewing Rigby’s past five performance evaluations and holding discussions in three meetings. Salemy said the committee also received some e-mails from residents.
“This is the most important decision the School Committee makes,’’ he said in an interview. “We thought this was the right decision. In the end, the School Committee is elected to make these decisions and the public is entrusting us to have the right skill set, background, and character to make these decisions.’’
Salemy said he supported the contract extension for several reasons, including the fact that Rigby is “an exceptional leader, and is not afraid to make difficult decisions that are in the best interest of students.’’ He also said she is a “true educator,’’ has strong financial management skills, has overseen high student achievement at the high school, and has moved the high school project along.
In each of her five years as superintendent, she has received positive reviews.
“While I am biased, CCHS is the best high school in the state, and is reflective of both the great teachers at the school and the administration,’’ Salemy said in his statement before the vote. “I would not want my sons to go anywhere else.’’
Benincasa, a frequent critic of Rigby, did not support extending her contract, but said the process was done in a fair and respectful manner. In the end, he said, he hopes his colleagues made the right decision.
“I do not reach this conclusion with any joy,’’ he said in his statement. “I do not underestimate the pain this conclusion might cause leadership. I pray that in the next three years I will be proven wrong. If so I will be happy to acknowledge my errors in judgment.’’
In an interview, Benincasa said he hopes the public continues to scrutinize the administration and its decisions, which he said have led to a lack of trust in the community.
“The community’s got to remain engaged,’’ he said. “They owe it to themselves and the superintendent of schools, who needs to know what’s expected of her from the community.’’Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.