‘Mass exodus’ disputed

Parent questions schools’ turnover

MILFORD – Reacting to a petition calling for more information on staff turnover, school officials say the number of employees leaving this year is no higher than it was in previous years.

Carla Boudreau, the parent of a high school student, had sent school board members a letter signed by 36 residents saying the district “is facing a challenge of loss of talent.”

The letter asks for data on staff who left, information about exit interviews and correction of “underlying issues.”

At the Monday night board meeting, schools Superintendent Jessica Huizenga said there is no mass exodus and she provided data sheets showing there are 36 staff members throughout the district leaving as of this week, including nine teachers. Last year there were 32, including 12 teachers. In 2016-2017 there were 40, including 12 teachers.

The totals include administrators, paraprofessionals, food service workers, secretaries and custodial staff.

When Huizenga said parents should “take a deep breath” and allow the new high school principal to settle in, Boudreau insisted that attrition needs to be addressed now and added that students realize there are “really good, experienced teachers who are not coming back next year.”

The superintendent said she would aggregate the numbers and look for patterns to the terminations, but asked why turnover has not been major concern until recently.

“We are losing major influencers” in the schools, Boudreau said she is interested in the staff who chose to leave. “A lot of people are leaving, and it’s bothering a lot of kids.”

“Every year there is a high turnover,” the superintendent said.

Karen Mitchell, a member of the town budget committee, questioned why students are upset over staff leaving.

“Unless they are celebrating a retirement,” she said, it’s “unprofessional and inappropriate” for teachers to be sharing that information in the classroom.

Board Chairman Ron Carvell said the board will provide more data at the next meeting – just numbers, not names – and will consult with the district’s attorney about what they can reveal about exit interviews.

“We’ve been watching those numbers,” Carvell said on the phone Tuesday, and there is “absolutely not” a mass exodus. and “people are retiring, pursuing other opportunities.”

During a discussion that went on for 90 minutes, a few other parents went to the podium to complain about several issues, including class sizes, space problems at Jacques school, air quality and internet problems at the high school, fighting in the younger grades and the loss of the Title I summer program.

Parents, he said, should bring concerns to their children’s building principals before they come to the school board.

Carvell said later that the superintendent is adamant about lowering class sizes in the lower grades and providing more professional development for teachers.

He also said Milford needs a new high school. Money is constantly being spent on repairs and maintenance, he said, but there is no state building aid. Retiring the debt on the Heron Pond elementary school will provide a bonding opportunity, however, and the board has been talking with state legislators about potential changes in school funding.

One comment from a parent that surprised everyone was that $8,000 had been spent on new clocks for Jacques Memorial School,

Carvell said later he learned that the school’s clocks are not synchronized and $8,000 had been part of a wish list, but no money was spent.

“We are sharing more information” with the public than ever before, he said, and the board is beginning to deal with issues it had neglected in the past, including staff evaluations and the under-performance of special education students.

“We have a new superintendent bringing radical changes” based on research and the experiences of other school districts, he said. “Change is difficult,” he said, but “I hear from a lot more supporters” than critics.

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.