CHATHAM – Monomoy Regional School Committee member Amy Middleton is stepping down from the regional education panel.
In announcing her resignation this week, Middleton said restrictions placed on school committee members limited her effectiveness as a representative of the community and, perhaps more importantly, as a parent.
“It pains me to do it because I really felt like I could make a difference,” she said.
School committee members have been discouraged from speaking with administrators without going through Superintendent Scott Carpenter, she said, and at a recent workshop given by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, they were told that they should not attend parent-teacher conferences if they have a child in the school system, or participate in the school in any other way, to avoid the appearance that they are trying to influence school operations.
“I don't know what parent is going to want to be on the school committee if they can't be actively engaged in their schools,” said Middleton, the mother of three boys who attend each of the three Monomoy district schools.
She said she made the decision to resign after workshop held at Monomoy High School last Thursday, after the presenter told members they should only work through the superintendent and should send spouses to parent-teacher conferences.
Middleton said she's always felt welcome at the system's schools and never felt as if she was making administrators or teachers uncomfortable because of her position on the school committee.
“It's not that I don't trust Scott or value the administration, but there is more than one way of looking at something,” she said.
Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees Glenn Koocher said school committee members don't give up their rights as citizens or parents when they are elected. However, they must be careful not to use their position to advocate for other students and should follow state Ethics Commission guidelines on participating in certain discussions and votes to avoid conflicts of interest.
After speaking with the presenter of the recent workshop on Tuesday, Middleton said she understood the comments made then were meant as best practices and suggestions. But she said the suggestions were made “pretty strongly on more than one occasion and more than one meeting,” and the impression was that school committee members had little freedom to enlist the help of teachers or principals in research and should step away from participating in their children's school life.
There have been recent conflicts within the school committee, most recently centered on changing school start times and the election of a vice chairman, which remains in a deadlock. That issue prompted the suggestion that MASC be brought in to talk about their roles and how they could collaborate more effectively.
Middleton acknowledged that there are differences of opinion among school committee members, even though it sometimes creates political gridlock. “But that's healthy,” she said. Too often, however, she said she feels as if the committee is asked to be “rubber stampers” and not question the administration.
“This is a board of four members from each town, and all bring a unique perspective. I just don't think we're utilizing their gifts,” she said.
The situation is “very frustrating,” she added. She joined the committee to create change, although she believes there are “some great things happening” in the district and teachers and administrators have always been warm to her. But hearing that she may be “overstepping” her bounds puts her in a difficult position.
In a letter to the editor published in this week's paper, Middleton wrote that the restrictions prevent her to “effectively advocate on behalf of the community,” and she felt her gifts would be better utilized outside of the system supporting Monomoy “from the trenches.”
Middleton was elected to an unexpired term on the committee in May 2015. Her term expires in 2017.
A school committee vacancy must be filled by joint vote of the board of selectmen and the remaining Chatham school committee members. At this time a vote has not yet been scheduled.