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Squandering Faith

Posted on 08 June 2008

An Open Letter to the Sag Harbor Board of Education:

 

Tonight the residents of Sag Harbor will get their first glimpse of their new school superintendent. He will be introduced to the community at a meeting of the board of education. A reception will follow.

By the time the parents, teachers and taxpayers meet John Gratto, it is expected to be a done deal.

Let us say here that we have spoken with Mr. Gratto and came away from our conversation feeling optimistic about him. He told us he enjoyed getting to know the students and teachers in his district, and that he loved attending art events and musicals. He also mentioned that he would strive to provide the children every opportunity possible to excel in life, whatever they chose to do. All good things.

But what’s not good is the manner in which the school board arrived at their decision. That is, with virtually no public input into the process.

Mere weeks ago the community stood behind you and went to the polls at your behest, passed your budget, elected your board members. That same week on these pages we cautioned you that, as a board, it was vital that open lines of communication be maintained with this community.

So here we are. Waiting to meet the man who will lead the school in coming years. And no one, except for the Sag Harbor School board members, have any idea who he is or the philosophy he espouses. Not the teachers, not the students, not the parents. Nor does this community have any idea of the many (were there many?) candidates who didn’t make the cut. What qualifications were used to accept or reject them in the process of narrowing the field? We don’t know because we weren’t informed of the process. All we know is that the man we will be meeting tonight is John Gratto and John Gratto will be our new superintendent.

Since furtive word of the appointment made its way through our tiny little village, we have been bombarded with e-mails and phone calls from parents who fear the worst. Teachers too, many of whom we spoke with, were nervous. They are about to meet their new boss with absolutely no idea what he stands for.

Before we go any further, let us just say we have confidence in you, the board’s ability, to choose a competent man for the job. We trust that you have chosen wisely and that Mr. Gratto will serve our children well and grow to love this community, this school district and most importantly the students. The superintendent he will be replacing certainly did.

Which reminds us. When Kathryn Holden was hired by this school district it was done in a much different manner. In that case, there was a well attended public forum to meet the leading candidates. The board traveled to Holden’s home district. Holden traveled here to spend a day in her prospective new district. Everyone agreed she was the candidate of choice. Everyone — not just the board.

While we understand that in the 10 point plan posted on your website and written about in this paper you did not promise to paraded the final candidates in front of the community for our input. However, we firmly believe that when something is done right, it is an action worth repeating. With the hiring of Kathryn Holden, the board did it right. With the hiring of John Gratto, the board did not.

Which is really a shame. Here we have a man coming into this community who has no idea of the rancor into which he is walking. A good candidate — according to the board, the ideal candidate. Yet he will enter the community tomorrow for the first time under a cloud of suspicion and tension. Not on the part of any of his own doing, but on the part of yours.

What baffles us the most however, is the lack of transparency during this entire hiring process. Granted, there were focus groups at the school during work hours, which we would like to point out, were poorly attended, except by the students. Even the big community forum only drew some 30 people to the school auditorium on a Wednesday night. Might that not have been a sign that much of the community expected something more, perhaps another opportunity to be included in the process? Perhaps an opportunity to actually meet and talk to the real candidates rather than debate the theoretical.

There is not one person who has attended a school board meeting in the past year and half not heard the words “transparency” or “open lines of communication with the community” at least once. So we say to you board, what happened here? Could you not hear us? Or were you just unwilling to practice what your preach.

Board of Education, please heed our words and listen closely to the community you are elected to represent. Listen to their rantings and their blessings and take both to heart. That is the only way you can overcome the squandering of faith that has resulted from you actions. 

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