Amid recent controversy over new grading policies implemented this school year, an administrator in the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District has submitted her resignation.
Misty McBrierty, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, submitted her resignation Sept. 24, according to a letter posted on the district’s website. The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School Board accepted the resignation, which goes into effect at the end of McBrierty’s contract on June 30, 2019, at its most recent meeting on Oct. 1.
Her resignation is the latest in a recent string of departures. Since April, all four administrators who led the middle and high schools last academic year have handed in their resignations, with the most recent departure of Assistant Principal Richard Simoneau falling on the day before the new school year began.
McBrierty’s letter does not specify the reason for her resignation, but does reference changes recently put in place as the district works to shift to a competency-based education model.
She noted she came to the district with the goal of “supporting the redesign of public schools.”
“It is a great passion I have, to change the way public schools do business. I don’t want to see this work derailed,” McBrierty wrote. “That isn’t fair to the learners in this district so I would rather take the high road than allow our kids or their teachers to lose out on something that will be so wonderful for them in the end.”
McBrierty was not reachable for comment Friday.
Her resignation comes after a parent filed a formal complaint with Superintendent Reuben D. Duncan last month regarding an email McBrierty sent to several district staff members. The email was sent Sept. 11, the day after a forum was held about the new grading policies, which separate academic grades from “work habits” such as effort and preparedness.
Some parents have criticized the new system because they say it will result in less accountability for their children. Others have praised the school district for moving toward what they described as a more tailored approach.
In the email, obtained by The Sentinel through a public records request that produced hundreds of pages of emails sent and received by McBrierty, the administrator asked teachers to “rally some troops” for upcoming meetings where the new grading system would be discussed.
The email references specific parents by name who she said were trying to “shut them down.”
“... the board is cracking and they really need to see and hear from teachers who are really getting this and are on board. I know it is hard but if they don’t the same voices are going to get all the air time,” she wrote. “Erin C, someone from Rindge can’t remember her name, and Tammy C held court last night. There were teachers there but not the ones we need.”
Duncan said Friday that the district has addressed the complaint as an internal personnel matter and that the email in question did not violate any specific district policies.
He declined to comment on the reason for McBrierty’s resignation, noting that he did not want to speak for her.
“I know that Misty loves the district, loves the students and the teachers in the district, and wants to very much make certain that she’s spending this year helping with any type of transition that is necessary,” Duncan said. “It was just something that she felt she needed to do.”
Jaffrey resident Erin Chamberlain, whose daughter is a senior at Conant High School this year, said she is the parent who filed the complaint, which was submitted on Sept. 17 during a meeting with the superintendent. She has since met with the school board privately, she said, but has been disappointed with both the board’s and the district’s response.
“I would have liked the board to at least acknowledge that Misty had gone over boundaries by calling teachers against teachers and calling myself as a parent out in the district,” Chamberlain said. “I feel really let down as a taxpayer, as a community member, that the board really does not seem to answer to us at all or provide us with any information.”
Emails provided by the district in response to The Sentinel’s public records request show that McBrierty later sent a second email on Sept. 13 apologizing to the staff members she’d contacted about supporting the grading system.
This was not the only instance in which McBrierty discussed parents in district emails.
In an email dated Sept. 12, which included links for the school board to review with grading manuals from districts that have implemented proficiency-based models, McBrierty again referred to parents who have opposed the grading policies.
“This is small to me. I am not worried about the group right now and I think it will dissipate quickly when everyone understands the real shift and understands we are not waivering (sic) on this,” she wrote. “And by the way.. parents can’t legally have a say in the reporting system.”
The emails also show at least one administrator has expressed concerns about the speed with which some of the changes were implemented this school year.
In an email dated Aug. 27 — three days before classes began — David Dustin, assistant principal of curriculum, instruction and assessment, asked to meet with Duncan and McBrierty regarding his worry that the district may be pushing staff to the “breaking point.”
“I am fully on board with the direction of our district, but I think we are pushing a lot for the start of the year,” he wrote, “especially with the volume of new staff we have, the new administration in the buildings, the combination of the buildings (which is new), the new school counselor...and the long list of things we still have to get to just to be ready for students.”
Dustin cited several things that still needed to be completed or communicated before the first day of school, including classroom preparations, updates to the staff handbook and changes in flex time — blocks used for “enrichment” activities, such as study time, tutoring, course offerings and physical fitness.
He also noted that staff had been given a lot of new information to digest over the summer, including the new grading protocols.
“I think we need to discuss this and figure out how best to move forward. Having so recently left the classroom, I can see the looks and sense the anxiety that is present right now,” he wrote. “I would hate to push the staff in our buildings too much and lose what was very promising momentum at the start of the year.”
Some parents raised similar concerns at recent forums and board meetings that the district was not adequately prepared to implement planned changes before the start of the school year.
McBrierty’s response to Dustin was that the district would not lose staff who “truly care about kids.”
“The staff who have chosen to take the ‘this too shall pass’ mentality are getting a rude awakening for sure,” she said in her reply. “The staff that have been coming to the (professional development) and following the directions we have been giving them are all set and probably very excited about the year.”
In her resignation letter, McBrierty emphasized the importance of the district’s vision for the future and said she intends to continue her work on learning progressions, or guidelines to help teachers gauge students’ progress in mastering skills, in her final year with the district.
“I hope and pray that this community stays the course,” she wrote. “You will not regret it.”