Teachers give ‘No confidence’ vote for Huizenga

Petition asks for school board resignations

MILFORD – School staff filled the high school lecture hall Monday night as a teachers’ union official told the school board that teachers had taken a 99 percent no-confidence vote on schools Superintendent Jessica Huizenga.

Board Chairman Ron Carvell initially tried to cut off the no-confidence statement from Paula Durand, of the Milford Teachers Association, saying there would be no discussion of personnel.

Board member Holleigh Tlapa objected, saying “We absolutely need to address this. We have a right to hear.”

Early in the meeting Carvell warned that the board did not want to hear about personnel and staffing matters as it did in the previous meeting, which lasted four hours, two of them filled with unproductive back and forth comments, he said.

“This is a public meeting,” he said, but the board has to get through its agenda, and there will be a meeting between the union and board.

With the backing of the school board, Huizenga has made wide-ranging changes during her one-year tenure, but voters’ ouster of two long-serving board members in March was seen as a sign of discontent.

On the residents’ Facebook page, there is an online petition calling for the resignations of the three remaining board members.

One of those board members, Jennifer Siegrist, defended the changes Monday night and called for an end to the adversarial atmosphere of the previous board meeting.

“Many parents have been demanding better student outcomes for years,” she said, and the new superintendent has brought welcome changes, including smaller class sizes, more individual student attention, more professional development and more focus on drug and vapping problems.

Teachers who support the superintendent are said to be fearful of retaliation, she said, and the board needs to hear from those who support the changes.

Town budget committee member Karen Mitchell said data shows only 67 Milford High School students taking advanced placement courses and a 43 percent college graduation rate over six years mean the changes are needed.

Later in the meeting Huizenga announced staffing changes, including the addition of one kindergarten teacher and two elementary school teachers that will lower class sizes, she said, making K-8th grade class sizes the lowest that they have been in a long time.

There will also be a reading specialist and full-time social worker at Heron Pond School and a full-time social worker at the middle school, she said.

On the Milford residents’ Facebook page there is a post from former school budget committee member and frequent school board critic Richard Wood supporting school officials. This is the first time in his 21 years here that a superintendent is trying to lead, he said, and the first time “I recall a thorough, thoughtful budget presentation that wasn’t focused on the status quo.”

At the previous board meeting, parent Carla Boudreau had asked for data on staff leaving the district and Monday night she said the numbers are climbing too fast.

The practice of holding exit interviews started this year, and Carvell said they are hoping the interviews identify reasons.

On May 15 at 5 p.m. in the Wadleigh Memorial Library the superintendent will hold the first of two events to address community engagement and transparency.

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