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School Committee Gives Assessment on Olsen’s Annual Performance


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The following is Part Three of the June 23, 2014 School Committee meeting. For a link to the rest of the meeting, click here.

Video of the meeting will be available at westfordcat.org

8:45 p.m. – The agenda then went to an evaluation of Superintendent Olsen.

Keele said he will not participate in the assessment on principle, but praised Olsen on his budgetary skills.

Keele also praised Olsen on his leadership skills as well as the performance of students under Olsen’s during Olsen’s tenure.

Murray then said that it was important to explain views of the superintendent’s performance to the public, and that Keele refusing to do it in his method was inappropriate, Keele said he disagreed.

Keele then went to the issue of implementing new technological goals, saying it was an overwhelming task and Olsen took the appropriate steps, but that the Department’s goals were not fully achieved.

He said in terms of safety that the ALICE program was supportive and there was not enough money, although this may be tied into new technological initiatives. That said, he did not want schools to become fortresses.

Ultimately, Keele said that Olsen is an asset.

Bill Olsen on June 23, 2014
Bill Olsen on June 23, 2014

Clay said that the main benefit of Olsen has been setting the culture and the strategy of the School District.

He noted that it was a challenge for Olsen to spend as much time as needed to focus on technology issues due to the rapid change of technology and asked Olsen to spend more time next year.

Ryan then talked about concerns from parents who were frustrated, and wished for more background in regard to issues at the Blanchard School. He also said that technology should be a primary focus moving forward.

Olsen asked the Committee to not see him as changing over his 28 years from his preference to listen to people, saying he does what he thinks he has to do to represent all children.

Olsen noted at times there will be complaints from some parents, but a difficult decision should not be confused with not listening.

Ryan agreed with Murray that it should be done section by section.

Murray wanted to address two issues, even though they had positive aspects.

The first was the data collecting, saying it was a very large goal. Likewise in regards to technology updates, saying that the committee was not entirely pleased, but that Olsen was more organic about achieving the goal in realistic ways versus forced methods.

Benoit said that his views were similar to Murray’s and that one of his bigger concerns is that there were struggles for students who wanted more differentiation to students who request it in terms of their education.

Benoit was also concerned about a lack of documentation from a particular school council, and that the district needed to work on this and other data collecting issues, specifically in terms of uniformity over all schools.

Olsen addressed Benoit’s comment, saying that the schools do need more flexibility for students to move in and out of classes, including offering early diplomas when appropriate.

Olsen said he would ask Westford Academy principal Jim Antonelli to craft a policy toward this.

Benoit said that the schedule flexibility was much like tailoring a resume.

Olsen respectfully pushed back on Benoit’s opinion in his written assessment that some staff members felt disrespected by administration.

He then mentioned efforts done with first year teachers and their thoughts on improving the school system, noting a positive e-mail from a staff member and other things he does to congratulate staff members.

Olsen then noted that the past three union presidents say they felt respected.

Kohl talked about data collection and hopes it can be seen on how it impacts the classroom, with Olsen stating the importance of teachers in that process.

Kohl then asked about the framework on the data teams at the middle school and high school, asking if administrators would run the team.

Olsen said it was a joint effort of administrators and staff, and Kohl asked who those people were, with Olsen saying those people would eventually be trained.

On differentiation and instruction, Kohl said what was provided was not very specific.

Kohl was concerned about the technology plan regarding its roll out as well as what it will be, preferring it to be a strategy plan rather than a spending plan.

Murray mentioned that there are subcommittees addressing those issues.

Olsen said that Kathy Auth in Finance and Christine Francis formerly as Assistant Superintendent were the people that really made things happen.

Kohl then asked for additional outside evidence, with Olsen saying he does go by outside evidence.

Kohl also wanted more information on the process to address district goals.

In regard to fiscal systems, Kohl thought the analysis was excellent. However, she was concerned with identification and handling of risks. Kohl said she wanted an assessment of risks, but it wasn’t provided, with circuit breaker funding not be provided until questioning.

Olsen said he left out risks because the same risks occur year after year, although he noted the circuit breaker change was new.

Kohl said she was also concerned about what she was hearing from parents regarding hearing back from Olsen.

Olsen said that the first thing he tries to do is look for specific e-mail addresses of parents and that he has gotten compliments for fast responses, saying he gets ten compliments for every one complaint.

He then talked about one parent saying how much junk mail they got.

Harkness said she found the assessment tedious, but was not as radical as Keele.

She said that Olsen met three of the goals and met significant progress toward a technology plan.

Harkness also thanked Kohl for her efforts to develop very specific success criteria.

Harkness specifically wanted to mention the school safety procedures, and saying that his strength was systems and instructional leadership, specifically in terms of finding people to assist him in achieving School Department goals.

Olsen replied to Harkness saying that whenever he is complimented, he accepts it as a part of the efforts of others within the department.

Harkness then talked about communication with parents and thought back to the year with several expulsions. She said that what Olsen needs to do is whatever is best for the system and Olsen has done this in the past.

Harkness said that Olsen had improved in terms of community engagement in terms of his Westford CAT shows.

Finally, Harkness said she was frustrated that the system discouraged giving the best grades, and that Olsen deserved high grades.

It was said that the entire evaluation would be available the next day, with some of it being already online.

Keele then talked about the superintendent’s contract, stating that giving good grades and not giving a bonus would violate Olsen’s contract and that poor grades and a bonus would violate the School Committee’s fiduciary responsibilities.

The maximum allowable bonus under Olsen’s contract is $4,000.

The committee unanimously approved a $3,000 bonus.

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