by Lucy Lu
Riley house office has always been a special place for students. Behind the front desk adorned with pictures of her grandchildren, Riley house secretary Maura Roberts, with smiling eyes and a subtle Irish accent, is renowned for her greeting, “hello, love.”
After 29 years of supporting students, Roberts will retire this September. Her warm guidance and welcoming aura will be remembered long after her years in the Newton Public Schools.
Born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Roberts said she had a happy childhood being one of 11 children despite how little she had. She attended St. Comgall’s High School, where she graduated in 1959. While in Northern Ireland, Roberts found her first job as a stitcher, making clothing for factories and later as a sales assistant. At 22, Roberts moved to the United States to become a mother’s helper.
“I never realized how poor I was until I moved to the United States,” Roberts said. “People here had so much more than I ever imagined as a child in Ireland.”
In 1986, Roberts saw that North was hiring and applied to the human resources department. “No one was more shocked than me when I got the job,” said Roberts. “But even so, I had a lot of adjusting to do. I remember being asked how many words per minute I could type, but I knew that was only if I could spell them first.”
Several years later, in 1996, Roberts started working in Riley house and was “both nervous and excited, like any new transition.” Although she had become familiar with the duties of her previous role, Roberts was nervous because now she was going into a “new role, with new people and new responsibilities.”
In her new role, Roberts worked closely with people who would affect the rest of her North career, including then Riley housemaster Mark Aronson, who she described as an “inspiration as well as a partner.”
Now interim principal, Aronson also saw that they worked in “a true partnership.” Despite their individual roles to perform, “many times they overlapped,” he said. “We bettered each other—she made me a much more effective housemaster.”
Being from Northern Ireland, North was a window to life and education in the United States for Roberts. “North provides a great effort to integrate students of all backgrounds to diversify the academic experience,” said Roberts. “Students are truly privileged to have access to such a tremendously valuable academic opportunity, and I am pleased to see many take advantage of it.”
Over time, Roberts soon was so accustomed to her new job that it “didn’t feel like work anymore,” mainly because of her interactions with students. “Students reminded me of my own experiences and I really tried to understand what they were going through—whether it was with their parents or their teachers.”
“Students reminded me of my own experiences and I really tried to understand what they were going through—whether it was with their parents or their teachers,” said Riley house secretary Maura Roberts.
Aronson attested to Roberts’ ability to understand diverse groups of students: “Not only does she give me perspective with parents, she is also very good at helping me to know when something is going on with a student who needs support,” he said. He added that students often express appreciation for Roberts’ concern and insight.
For Roberts, last year was particularly special because one of her grandchildren, Matthew Brambilla, entered North as a freshman.
Brambilla spent much of his childhood visiting Roberts at North. “I will not be able to see her in Riley house everyday anymore, but North will remember her legacy,” said Brambilla. “I’ve always admired how much she loved her job and how dedicated she was to this school.”
Roberts is grateful she had the opportunity to work at North and work with students.
“This was different from any job I’ve ever had in that I was able to work with different people and understand different lifestyles and personalities,” said Roberts. “Through my years here, I’ve learned that not everybody thinks like me. And just because they don’t think like me doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong. Everybody’s different.”
After retirement, Roberts plans to spend more time doing the things she enjoys, such as reading and spending time with her seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She also looks forward to having more time to travel as well as watching Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood for great retirement ideas.
Looking back on her career, Roberts is proud of how far she has come from her childhood in Northern Ireland. Flipping through old letters, Roberts read one that her mother sent years ago applauding her brother for being “a tycoon and having a desk with a phone and green car with two doors.” Despite all the ups and downs, Roberts said she believes her mother would be proud to see her working in a school, a job she never imagined having.
“You may not believe me when I say I will miss the work, but this job is unlike all others,” Roberts said. “I will miss both the people and the work—because the work is all about people, the work is about lives, it’s about inspiring potential. I feel honored to have been part of that.”
This feature was first published in our print special distributed on the first day of school. To see Roberts’ letter to the editor, click here.
by Maxwell Kozlov
Superintendent David Fleishman decided to appoint an interim principal next year in light of principal Jennifer Price’s departure at the end of the school year, according to his letter sent to the community.
Although two finalists for the principal position, Geoffrey Walker and William Klements, were chosen by the Superintendent Advisory Committee, a group that advised Fleishman in making the final decision that consisted of faculty members, parents, and students, Fleishman did not choose either of the finalists.
Fleishman said, in the letter, that he will “examine options” in the next several weeks, and an announcement will be made after April vacation.
As part of the final stage in the selection process, the finalists visited North last week and met with faculty, parents, and students throughout the day.
by Maxwell Kozlov
UPDATE 11:45 a.m. 12/17:
Here is the letter that Price sent out regarding this change:
Dear North Community:
I am writing let you know that I have chosen to go to North Andover as their next Superintendent of Schools, effective July 1, 2015.
Please know that the Newton North community will always hold a very special place in my heart. Over the last 9 years, I have had the privilege to lead this school through many challenges, opportunities and transitions. I have grown so much as a leader and a person, none of which would have been possible without the support of this amazing community. I am so proud of this school and all the work we have done together to ensure that all students have equal access to the excellent educational experiences within our walls.
I know David Fleishman will be in touch shortly after the holiday break to update you on the search process. He has told me he is eager to move as quickly as possible to ensure that the search for the next principal at Newton North is as thorough and comprehensive as possible.
I look forward to working with our wonderful staff, students and families over the next six months. Thank you, as always, for partnering with me to support the incredible students of Newton North. I hope you enjoy the upcoming break, and Happy New Year.
UPDATE 8:07 a.m. 12/16: The North Andover School Committee voted unanimously, 5-0, to select Jennifer Price as superintendent, according to the North Andover Patch. It is unclear if Price will accept the job.
The North Andover School Committee voted yesterday, according to Wicked Local.
Price was up against Nadine Ekstrom, superintendent for Berlin-Boylston Public Schools and Bryan Lane, superintendent of the Hudson Public Schools in New Hampshire.
Winchester, Price’s final district in which she was selected as a finalist for a superintendent position, “aims to make a decision on a finalist by Dec. 17.”
Principal Jennifer Price was not selected as superintendent of the Waltham Public Schools after 36 Waltham school committee votes were cast earlier this evening. Instead, Drew Echelson, a network superintendent in Boston, was selected as Waltham’s next superintendent.
Price, who has been the principal at this school for over eight years, still remains a superintendent finalist for the Winchester and North Andover school districts. Final decisions regarding these districts will be public by winter break, according to Price.
“I’ve always seen my career in a superintendent position,” Price said.
The vote, originally scheduled for last Friday, quickly revealed that the race would be only between Echelson and Waltham High School principal Gregory DeMeo, for Price had only one supporter: school committee member Margaret Donnelly.
Of the 28 initial applicants the search for a new superintendent had yielded, only Price, Echelson, former Marlborough Public Schools superintendent Anthony Pope, and DeMeo were chosen to be interviewed.
The School Committee eliminated Pope after the interviews, leaving only Price, Echelson, and DeMeo.
As part of the process of selecting a superintendent, the school committee visited each of the finalists’ districts. Price also spent time in the districts she is a finalist in, saying she was “getting a feel for the schools.”
“I want to find the right district for me,” Price said. “They’re interviewing me, but at the same time, I’m interviewing them in a sense.”
At the time of the announcement, Price was being interviewed for the Winchester superintendent position.
“If I’m the principal of North at the end of this, I will consider myself very lucky,” she said. “I’m here until July 1, regardless. I’m planning on finishing just as strong as I’ve done.”
Even though Echelson was selected, he must sign a contract with the school committee before his position is official.
Freshmen will be dancing, singing, and acting in the upcoming, all-inclusive Theatre Ink production, “Freshman Cabaret.” The show, entitled “Raise You Up” and directed by sophomores Olivia Dundon-Duvall, Anastasia Foley, Zoe Jasper, and Yael Soran, has an underlying theme of, “being supportive and acting as a community with everyone supporting one another,” according to Foley.
The show will run from Thursday, Dec. 18 and Friday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium.
Freshman Clare Donohoe, who will be singing, acting, and dancing in the show, said, “I’m excited for all our hard work to come together on one night.”
This year, the production has 60 cast members. According to Foley, the cabaret is full of humor and upbeat music and has a total of three full-cast numbers as well as a variety of skits mixed into the production.
“It’s a really fun production,” said Foley. “I liked meeting all the new people who are going to be our classmates for the rest of our years of high school.”
“This production was a lot of long hours, which can be hard, but you make time for it,” she said.
Tickets are sold during all lunches and online for $7.
by Maxwell Kozlov
Throughout July, the School Committee met in executive session, meetings closed to the public, to discuss superintendent David Fleishman’s plagiarism after hearing allegations against him in late June.
Prior to any acknowledgement by Fleishman or the School Committee, The Lion’s Roar, one of South’s newspapers, released an article July 23 detailing Fleishman’s plagiarism.
The Newtonite sat down with School Committee chair Matt Hills to address concerns about the school board’s process.
Q: How do you approach a situation like this?
A: Any time you’re dealing with charges or allegations, you have to go through the same process: look at the facts and assess them. Looking at the facts means looking at the context, which is always different.
Q: Do you think Fleishman’s punishment fit his crime?
A: I’m not going to use the word crime. I think the punishment was entirely appropriate given what the situation was.Not every transgression deserves capital punishment and not every transgression deserves to be overlooked. And this was neither overlooked nor capital punishment.
Q: How would you respond to critics that say a harsher punishment would be more appropriate?
A: I’m glad to know that there are some number of people out there who think a week’s pay is insignificant. That’s news to many people who work.
I have heard from people that think a harsher punishment would have been more appropriate and I have heard that a much lighter punishment would have been more appropriate.
I feel like this was just life. At the end of the day, we are a school board. It’s up to us to look at all the facts of the situation in a way that many people can’t do and use our own judgment as to what’s appropriate. I understand that any decision we make, some people will agree, some people will think it’s too harsh, and some people will think it’s too light. I’m very comfortable that our decision was the right decision.
Q: What message does it send that the situation was handled with money? Could students therefore “pay” their way out of plagiarism?
A: This is not an analogous situation. Fleishman is an employee. He made a mistake. He was fined for a certain portion of his salary. A student may get a warning. A student may get a zero. No, a student is not able to “pay” their way out of it any more than an employee is able to get a lower grade on a paper.
Remember that this is while they’re working for a week. Not being suspended for a week and not coming to work. They’re coming to work, and they’re not getting paid for the week.
Q: What lesson should students take away from this?
A: Be careful and spend time on everything you do. Don’t make the mistake Dr. Fleishman made.
Q: I’ve heard students say that considering what occurred, they should get a “free pass” on plagiarizing. How would you respond?
A: (laughing) Nice try . . . but there are no “free passes.” Dr. Fleishman did not get a free pass and students will not either. David had a serious punishment for a serious mistake. Simply declaring that one is now entitled to a free pass bears no relationship to what actually happened.
The answer is the rules are still in effect for everyone.
Q: Do you think his plagiarism was intentional or unintentional?
A: My assessment is that it was completely unintentional. We got a range of opinions on whether this was just sloppy or plagiarism.
Q: Would it have been released without The Lion Roar’s exposé?
A: Executive sessions to discuss a personnel issue should remain confidential, other than the requirement of the law to make minutes publically available.
However, from the very beginning, we completely understood that this was going to be public. It wasn’t even the slightest notion that this could be kept confidential nor was there any conversation we had to keep it quiet.
When I was first made aware of the issue by a teacher, the teacher made clear that a number of people at South: parents, teachers, and other people in the South community, knew about it and were talking about it. Too many people knew about it and that was just a fact for us, so we went about our process in executive session, examining the issues, determining how we were going to respond, and dealing with this issue like we would with any other personnel issue. We had almost entirely finished our deliberations before the Lion’s Roar article came out.