It’s never a bad idea to rethink something that has always been done the same way for years. Anyone in business or education or health care or politics — or news, certainly — knows that it’s vital for the health of an organization to eradicate the phrase “we’ve always done it that way.”
So we choose to give Westerly’s new superintendent of schools Mark Garceau the benefit of the doubt regarding his stand on a Westerly Middle School teacher’s class project to plan, budget, shop and assemble holiday food baskets for families in the community.
Garceau has indicated he will not approve the project this year, at least not as it has been done in the past, over the course of a week.
“We are asking people to rethink this; just because we’ve always done it this way does not mean for a second this is the only way it can be accomplished,” he said.
Garceau, who started here in July, faced a packed School Committee meeting Wednesday night, one that had to be moved to a larger room to accommodate parents and students, current and former, who wanted to speak in defense of the project.
The project, parents and students testified, teaches organizations skills and budgeting, two skills any employer would want high on a list of capabilities for new hires. It teaches compassion as well and opens the eyes of those students who made it to middle school without being aware of neighbors in need. And that concept is an invaluable lesson that builds character and, who knows, perhaps ignites a small flame in a student who thinks back on that eighth grade project years later as they’re pondering what they might do after high school for a college major or a job.
Garceau said that as it’s currently structured, the project takes students away from their basic curriculum for a full week before the Christmas holiday recess, which adds to the amount of time away from their routine lesson plans. And in light of Westerly’s performance on standardized tests, the Holy Grail of education, he doesn’t think any student in Westerly can be taken away from the core curriculum for that long.
From his seat, with pressure to increase test scores — from the community as well as his peers and the School Committee, whether stated or not — that’s a completely understandable position.
It may be difficult for a career educator, and one who spent a good deal of his career as an administrator, to feel that he’s turning his back on test scores in 2017.
But there’s hope. Garceau, after all, started his career as a music teacher, earned his bachelor’s degree from the Berklee College of Music, and even toured New England with Brass Attack, a band that billed itself as the region’s “Hottest Horn Band” back in the day. Granted he gave it up as he pursued bigger roles in administration, but he’s got music in his soul and that’s a good sign.
Parents and educators believe in this project, the community benefits from this project, and we all know that perfect test results do not yield a complete and well rounded person.
We’re hopeful that after this initial challenge to his authority, Garceau reacts with reason and works to perhaps revise the project a little rather than pull the plug altogether. The musician inside knows that’s the right note to hit.