To the editor:
I already respected Bob Arsenault, music educator and head of the Performing Arts department at Mt. Hope High School, but after viewing the School Committee meeting held January 28th I hold him in even higher esteem. No matter how many ignorant, disrespectful, belligerent statements were levied at Bob Arsenault and the MHHS performing arts teachers, he maintained his composure and continued to respond articulately to School Committee members’ questions. That four members (Marjorie McBride, Diana Campbell, Lynn Wainwright, and Karen Lynch) refused to listen and instead chose to hold fast to their faulty logic, even after being chastised by the district’s attorney, speaks volumes about their intentions.
Performance is critical for a wide range of disciplines, from sailing to surgery to ensemble music, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. For the School Committee to attempt to erode the ability of our performing arts teachers to properly educate their students, based on an arrogant notion held by a few committee members that they know better, is highly unprofessional. I am grateful to Mr. Arsenault for refusing to be cowed or baited by these four School Committee members, and I am grateful to teacher Vicki Boyle for jumping up to take the podium when, after standing for over an hour of berating, Bob faltered for just a moment. In contrast to the School Committee’s appalling lack of respect, Bob Arsenault and Vicki Boyle illustrated the great professional strength of our performing arts teachers.
It was also gratifying to see and hear MHHS principal Don Rebello and district superintendent Melinda Thies speak out in support of the high school Performing Arts department and its teachers, using words like ‘disturbing’ to describe statements made by the attacking committee members. Thankfully, School Committee members Paul Silva and Bill O’Dell were vocal and passionate in their arguments against the adversarial position their colleagues had taken, and I felt grateful they had the gumption to speak up. Another committee member offered the metaphor that it is sometimes necessary, though unpleasant, for the committee to hold up a mirror to the educators, so they can make sure they are doing the best they can for their students. With all due respect, I think that mirror should be turned around, and the committee should take a good, hard look at themselves.
The school district’s attorney, Benjamin Scungio, pulled no punches in taking the School Committee to task, and was unfortunately quoted without proper context in the newspaper article that recently appeared in this publication. He told them he had never, in his 27 years of practicing this kind of law, sat in a School Committee meeting where members had tried to rewrite the curriculum, and thus act so far beyond their purview. And that is exactly the point. Members of the School Committee are not hired for their educational expertise. They are elected for their willingness to serve. And they must remember, we expect them to serve honorably.
Bristol, Rhode Island