Westborough superintendent’s self-assessment addresses `wounded relationships’ during pandemic

Photo/Courtesy Westborough TV
Superintendent Amber Bock (left) during the May 26 meeting.

By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

WESTBOROUGH – On May 26, Superintendent of Schools Amber Bock presented a self-assessment to the Westborough School Committee as part of that board’s evaluation of her job performance.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the havoc it wreaked on stakeholders — students, families, faculty, and the superintendent herself — factored into her comments and self-judgment.

Managing the budget and implementing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) goals were areas Bock cited as “exemplary.” Also receiving high marks were instructional leadership, management and operations, and community engagement through participation on various committees.

She also spoke about partnering with the group Westborough Connects on bringing about community-based programming. 

Bock praised the faculty and leadership team throughout the assessment, noting that she is a part of that team and shares in those accomplishments with fellow team members.

However, the superintendent noted that sustaining effective communication with stakeholders is an area where she fell short of achieving her goals.

Bock said her work over the past year had been characterized by “highly varied, often strong emotions” about the best course of action to take for almost every decision she made.

Some of her decisions, Bock said, left some people “disappointed and disapproving” of the district and her work as superintendent. 

She said that even one student, faculty member or parent feeling like she didn’t provide leadership in their best interests is “one too many.”

Bock said that she would work to repair their trust and respect where possible. Overall, though, she said that everyone gave their best efforts during a continually challenging school year.

The “intensity” of everyone’s feelings led to “continuous upset” as the school year progressed, and changes had to be made because of the pandemic, she said.

Bock acknowledged that faculty and school leaders did “exceptionally well” in difficult circumstances.

She also recognized that there are hard feelings. 

“The wounded relationships are raw,” she said. “…There’s a real sense of people being shattered by this experience and their sense that I defeated them or abandoned them or was in opposition to them.”

Those “real and true” feelings are shared by people in her role across the state, Bock said.

Bock will be compiling survey results, public forum comments and other compiled feedback to also present to the School Committee for its review.

She said that everyone needs time to rest, and she looks forward to coming back and “digging into” the next school year in the fall.

School Committee Vice Chair Stephen Doret pointed out the superintendent’s good work with the budget, which passed Town Meeting and received the approval of the Select Board, Finance Advisory Committee and Capital Improvements Committee.

He said there was the potential Bock had to hear from “12,000 to 20,000 critics day in and day out” and added “the fact that we’re all still here is pretty amazing.”

Doret said that in spite of the negativity, Bock is the leader of a team that performed “way above average, exemplary,” throughout the pandemic. 

He said the school system provided the best education it could for students during trying, unprecedented times.

“Your reflections are taken to heart and guide me, so thank you,” Bock said.