OPINION|Barry Richard: Durkin Makes Solid Case for Reappointment
Few things must be as awkward as having to publicly plead your case for reappointment to your job, yet politicians and yes, even school superintendents are required to do just that. It was Superintendent Dr. Pia Durkin's turn last night.
Few New Bedford public figures I know of have been such a lightening rod for criticism as Dr. Pia Durkin. Everything from her management style to her seeming inability to return phone calls from parents has outraged someone or another. Bottom line: Durkin has delivered.
When Dr. Durkin took over the helm of the troubled New Bedford school system in 2013, it was in utter chaos. Drop out rates were high while graduation rates were lower than acceptable. Record keeping was shoddy, test scores were poor, and the state was threatening a take over of the entire system. A lot has changed since that time.
Under Dr. Durkin's leadership, test scores have improved. Several schools have seen their rankings improve dramatically. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, convinced that enough progress has been made in turning things around, has ended its six year monitoring of the system and the threat of a state take over no longer exists.
One of Dr. Durkin's first undertakings was to dismiss and replace teachers and administrators who were not adequately performing on behalf of our students. This was a bold move that was unpopular with labor unions and some politicians who put those unions ahead of the best interests of the students. It was leadership at its best and was long overdue.
Dr. Durkin has also begun a revamping of the middle school system, increased graduation rates and decreased drop out rates. Clearly progress has been made in making the New Bedford school system a much better and more competitive system.
The New Bedford School Committee must decide whether to offer Dr. Durkin a new contract. Her second three year contract is set to expire in 2019.
For too many years politics and patronage ran the New Bedford school system, allowing it to spiral into an unrecognizable mess. Those days are gone and students and taxpayers are getting the quality education they deserve.
Are things perfect? No, not yet. Much more work needs to be done. Disciplinary and behavioral issues still rattle the halls of our schools. Test scores can still be better. But, we are finally on the right track.
Dr. Durkin's leadership has netted results and she should be given an opportunity to continue.
Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.