Editorial: Turmoil at the top in Bristol Warren schools

Posted 9/22/21

The Bristol Warren Regional School Committee is a mess. Even the nine people sitting in those seats should admit that.

Aside from the string of controversies running through the school department …

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Editorial: Turmoil at the top in Bristol Warren schools

Posted

The Bristol Warren Regional School Committee is a mess. Even the nine people sitting in those seats should admit that.

Aside from the string of controversies running through the school department for months, a fairly deep, 5-4 divide has emerged within the committee itself. Four school committee members — Erin Schofield, Nicky Piper, Carly Reich and Sarah Bullard — often find themselves at odds with the other five, which includes both Chairwoman Marjorie McBride and Vice Chairwoman Tara Thibaudeau. The 5/4 split has been a common theme lately, as they’ve frequently argued over finances, spending, administrators, calendars, masks, school holidays and ‘man-splaining.’

They’ve clashed with citizens at their meetings. They’ve gotten into squabbles with each other. And now some seem intent on rooting out “the rat” who dared speak to a reporter about clashes between the six-week superintendent (who came and left before anyone got to know him) and some overly involved committee members.

Many will chafe at comparisons to Barrington, the annoyingly successful and number-one-ranked public school district in the state, but so be it. The Barrington School Committee bears no resemblance to this group.

In Barrington, the five-member committee acts like a board of directors for their $55 million enterprise. The superintendent (the CEO) and his team typically make presentations to the school committee, updating them on projects or curriculum or long-range initiatives, and the school committee pokes, prods, asks questions, advises and occasionally sets long-range policies.

The whole dynamic is professional, courteous and entirely focused on the quality of education in their six school buildings.

The Bristol Warren school committee needs a shakeup, both now and for the future. Here are a few suggestions:

• Establish term limits. No one should spend 20 years on this board (or any board, really). Three, four-year terms should be the maximum.

• Stop treating the chairman’s seat like a ping pong ball between Bristol and Warren. Elect the best person for the job every time, regardless of town. Let the best people lead this group.

• Outline a clear process, and take the time, to hire a dynamic superintendent. Then let that person lead the district forward, beginning next summer.

• Stop requesting one-on-one meetings with district administrators, and conduct the public’s business in public.

• Hire a consultant to evaluate the roles and responsibilities between the school committee and the administration. Give that person the freedom to offer sharp criticism, if warranted, and outline strategies for a better school leadership structure, impacting both the committee and the administration office.

Not long ago, Bristol Warren was considered a “district on the rise,” and optimism was high. That can be the case again, but the squabbles need to end, and the group needs new leadership.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.