Assistant Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD New Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools Alan Ingram was the guest speaker at last week's 16 Acres Civic Association meeting.
Ingram told the audience that it is going to take everyone -- parents, students, teachers, administrators, School Committee members and officials -- to make the school system better than it is today.
Since officially taking the helm of the school department July 1, Ingram and staff have been setting priorities and putting together a strategic plan for the district. He said that the school system has "pockets of success" but there are a lot of schools that are not performing well. More than 34 schools are considered to be under performing.
"We need to be very candid and truthful about where we are," Ingram said.
He listed a number of objectives the school department is working on, including closing the achievement gap, school safety, making sure teachers have the proper preparations and class sizes. Ingram said some middle schools are approaching 1,200 students.
"As a system we are not performing well. [We need to make] the system accountable for all 26,000," Ingram said. "There's a tendency to focus on our effort as a school system. We have a moral obligation that we not just look at effort but also at the results."
Ingram believes the school system is not a separate entity within the city and that "our economic development as a city will never get better until our school system gets better."
There has also been reorganizing within the department as administrative and teaching positions alternate, change or are eliminated.
"You're going to get everything through the lens of what's best for the kids, not what's best for the adults," Ingram said.
His talk then transitioned into a question and answer period where a resident asked if he had seen any changes since the uniform policy has been enacted. Ingram, after acknowledging that School Committee member Antonette Pepe spearheaded the policy, said the policy has been accepted and you can see a change and excitement in the children when interacting with them.
"I don't think anybody expected it, but our teachers are looking at kids differently," Ingram said. "It is more positive. In short -- I really think the uniform decision by the School Committee was a good decision."
He said the school department will continue to work on issues in the district with a comprehensive multi-year plan.
"If I try to take on everything that is wrong with the Springfield School System [at one time] I will crash and burn, and I don't intend to crash and burn," Ingram said.
Another resident stood and said, "It is refreshing to have a superintendent on board that is passionate about students." She also noted that she is concerned with the reading and math scores Springfield students have placed on the state level. She also hopes things will improve for special education students.
Ingram said a portion of the solution will come with better supporting teachers with what they need in the classroom. He also agreed that things needed to improve in special education, which continues to be an issue because the federal government has never fully funded special education regulations. There is also the possibility of over identification of children with special needs, Ingram said.
A gentleman from the audience who has been both a teacher and employee in the department of corrections said some of his students didn't value education because their parents didn't, a subject Ingram is trying to broach by reaching out to find more mentors and volunteers for the school system.
Previous School Committee candidate Orlando Santiago disagreed. A teacher once himself, Santiago said when he did home visits he tried to reach parents and when he asked parents if they valued education, every parent said yes. "Then why am I here?" he said he would ask. The problem, Santiago said, is that parents may be dealing with several pressing issues -- poverty, domestic violence, drug addiction -- and the more matters there are, the lower education seems to fall on that list of priorities.
"You have many citizens in Springfield in need of a mentor, not kids, but parents," Santiago said, adding that it's not just the school department's job to be accountable. "Students should hold their parents accountable."