Wall Street Journal: ‘Greenwich Faces Class Struggles’

Greenwich residents are accustomed to the collateral publicity associated with its notoriety. It’s a trade-off we make for the privilege of living in the Connecticut waterfront town closest to New York City, and yet pay an inordinately low property tax.

But it’s one thing to see an occasional headline about a celebrity divorce or a hedge fund felon or the sale of a Back Country mansion. It’s quite another to see our town’s declining schools laid out in the Wall Street Journal.

But there it was Saturday – a WSJ article calling out how we are failing our children. It brings great shame to a town that has allowed a systematic dismantling of what was one of the great public school systems in the nation – right up there with New Trier in North Chicago and Montgomery County in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Two days before the WSJ article, the town’s top “educator” was telling GHS grads not to pay attention to test scores, saying that only the media obsessed over statistics and test scores. He said the responsibility of educators was more than just training future workers. He then sent the class off with some bloated Ayn Rand rhetoric.

Bloated rhetoric seems to be the hallmark of Sid Freund: never implement anything measurable, always woo the BOE power center with amorphous mission statements such as “The Vision of the Graduate,” full of subjective and high-minded adjectives and no substance, no specifics.

The Class of 2011 faces a world where measurability and accountability in the workplace are at a fevered pitch. The warm bath of the Freund rhetoric successfully cast a spell over the BOE chair and co-chair and the PTA leadership, but make no mistake my fellow Greenwich residents, there is no free pass no matter what Professor Harold Hill says. Life is not going to hand your kids a break just because the faux educator we hired as a superintendent tries to justify why he couldn’t deliver on his promise.

He came here talking about great expectations – such as plans for data driven accountability – but it soon degraded into a mirage. A veil of secrecy completed the cycle. It was a triple threat – superintendent, the BOE chair and co-chair and the PTA – all in cahoots to manage down expectations to a feel-good sensibiity.

Want an example?

In March the PTA endorsed and sponsored the showing of a controversial documentary film in all Greenwich schools supporting the notion that test scores and statistics were pushing the American student into a permanent disability. “The Race to Nowhere” instantly became a hit with teachers and principals and superintendents because it let them off the hook. After 50 years of pushing test scores and statistics, America suddenly took a turn toward the soft underbelly of the beast.

Never mind that some of the country’s education experts and writers challenged the basic precepts of the film such as Jay Matthews of the Washington Post in this article, “Why the Race to Nowhere” documentary is wrong,” Professor Hill was off and running. So we had the spector of all our schools showing the film in March and having our teachers and principals engaged in a PTA-sponsored discussion of why test scores are bad. In case you missed it, here is the flyer.

This culture of secrecy has implications beyond the schools. It is not an accident that Freund and BOE chair Anderson were caught violating the town charter and state laws for illegally funding a capital overrun at the North Mianus School, in which PTA chairperson Sue Rogers characterized as a “tempest in the teapot” in the WSJ article. Their imperious view of the world failed to take into account the potential damage to the credit standing of the Town of Greenwich for questionable financial activity. The vote by the BET last week to fund this overrun was a step to clear the slate, but it remains to be seen whether a forensic audit of this mess will ultimately clear the town and retain its high credit rating.

So statistics aren’t important? Okay. I’d like Professor Hill to tell our recent GHS grads what to do when they fill out a job application, especially the part that asks for grades, class standing, college and any data that would enhance their chances of getting a job.

One hundred years ago, the United States embarked on a policy to require all its citizens to attain a high school diploma. The Old World European nations scoffed at the idea. For the next century, America dominated the world’s economy and unleashed a knowledge-centric industrial explosion.

Now we are the Old World enablers. I have been watching this train wreck of a school administration for more than five years when the Nancy Weissler board hired Betty Sternberg who had never been a superintendent and who had some minimal teaching experience. She also had no idea what to do with a budget.

Who was the only surviving member of that search? No other than the current BOE chair, Steve Anderson, who also had the biggest hand in the selection of Sid Freund.

It is time for our “town fathers” – Peter Tesei, Jim Campbell, Frank Farricker, Mike Mason and others – to come to grips with the town’s biggest problem and to agree that beyond local politics, we have a problem much bigger than Anderson and Leslie Moriarty are capable of handling.

In the midst of last week’s articles was this intelligent piece by Erica Purnell in the Greenwich Time. She is an RTM member from the 10th district. it demonstrates that there are many, many Greenwich residents and elected officials who are extremely knowledgeable and eager to help. For the sake of Greenwich and its children, it’s time to remove the grip held by the BOE chair Anderson and his co-chair Moriarty. It is time for a change.

Lincoln Millstein