Westborough School Superintendent rated `exemplary’ and advised to improve communication

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Superintendent Amber Bock speaks during a graduation.

By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

WESTBOROUGH – Saying that Superintendent Amber Bock has some improvements to make with communication, the Westborough School Committee nonetheless gave her an overall performance rating of “exemplary” through its recent evaluations.

School Committee Chair Kristen Vincent noted that the board used Bock’s self-assessment, their own observations, staff surveys, parent/student emails, district surveys and two Westborough TV forums to help generate the evaluation.

The superintendent was rated individually by members as exemplary, proficient, needs improvement and unsatisfactory in several categories. Vincent then combined all the information into the overall rating.

Several board members told Bock that they didn’t know how they would have survived the difficult year dealing with COVID-19 without her leadership.

Vincent praised her for careful budgeting, saying she kept school facilities well-maintained and built strong relationships with other town leaders.

She noted that Bock is well-aware through stakeholder feedback that her communication was regarded as lacking at times. She added that Bock needs to work on rebuilding relationships with faculty and families.

Other board members echoed her comments. 

Sara Dullea went on to praise the superintendent for helping to provide a safe environment for students. She called her decision-making “confident, steady and thoughtful.” She added that looking to the future, she’d like the district to maintain some of the creativity and innovation that worked well for students, including those in remote learning.

“I don’t think it was a lost year for anyone,” Dullea said. “The resiliency and tenacity of our students was evident. There were countless learning moments happening all the time…that our students can carry forward into the future.”

Member Radhu Nandan noted that lack of communication sometimes leads to people talking amongst themselves and drawing their own conclusions—a situation to avoid in the future. 

He said there could never be enough communication.

That being said, he also added, “Sometimes, we [in the district] do cater to screamers a lot.” 

Nandan noted that a better strategy is to keep the whole community’s interest in mind rather than focusing on “who screams the loudest.” 

“We’re bending a bit too much, whether they are wrong or right,” he said. 

Above all, though, the superintendent kept students and faculty “safe,” according to member Lisa Edinberg, making sure the schools opened when they did and having the foresight to purchase enough personal protective equipment (PPE) early on, for example.

Talking about communication issues, Edinberg noted that it was a challenging year and said teachers and the leadership had to go “above and beyond 24/7” with more intensity than ever.

“I’m so proud you are our superintendent,” Edinberg said. 

School Committee Vice Chair Stephen Doret said he is a “realist” who is well aware how difficult Bock’s job was to accomplish, particularly this year.

He said that she was working under “edicts that were not necessarily common sense,” all the while running a $55-$60 million operation, dealing with 20,000 parents and kids and overseeing 750 employees.

“I don’t know how you could be [seen as] less than exemplary,” Doret said. 

He added that students are moving forward with their lives and may be stronger as a result of what they experienced during COVID-19.

Bock once again gave credit to teachers, other administrators and staff. 

“The team is pretty amazing,” she said. 

She added that she feels good about how they all managed the tough times, pointing out that the pandemic was actually a year and a half in duration.

The superintendent said that she acknowledges it could be “stressful” for committee members to give her an exemplary rating when some members of the public disagree. 

Vincent assured her they all stand by their evaluation.

The school committee does not meet again until Monday, August 30, at 6 p.m. If an emergency meeting must be called, it will be posted and shared.