Parents Support Teachers & Offer To Help, Turn Ire To Administration Over DC Trip Cancellation

WILMINGTON, MA — At last week’s School Committee Meeting, Wilmington Middle School Interim Principal Kevin Welch provided an update on the cancellation of the 8th Grade Field Trip to Washington, DC.

Welch conducted an online survey to students and parents concerning the cancellation of the field trip. He then held an 8th Grade Parents Meeting to publicly share the data. At that meeting, Welch announced he would be forming a subcommittee of students, parents, teachers and administration to develop alternatives to the DC trip.  Based on the survey, alternatives under consideration including trips to historical sites, museums, national parks, recreational parks, theatre productions, sporting events, site-seeing tours, and dinner cruise.

“I reached out to the Middle School PAC to help coordinate the names of interested parents to serve on the committee,” noted Welch.  “I’ll reach out to our Student Advisory Council to have some student members sit on the committee as well.”

School Committee React

“I hear some parents are getting quotes from travel agencies and putting a together a trip they’re going to run,” began School Committee member Peggy Kane. “I want to make it perfectly clear, before they put any more work into that, I never intend to vote for a field trip that parents are running…  I would feel totally uncomfortable with liability for any trip involving parents.”

“It’s wonderful for parents to get together, on their own, during vacation and go with a little group of friends,” continued Kane. “That’s fabulous and it’s something the School Committee would have nothing to do with.”

“What comes in front of the School Committee are school-sponsored field trips. If a parent group wanted to run their own, it wouldn’t be school sponsored, so that wouldn’t come before you,” assured Interim Superintendent Paul Ruggiero.

“If there are folks who are looking to do a trip on their own, that’s great,” agreed School Committee Vice Chair Julie Broussard.  “Go ahead and do it on your own, but it’s not a school sponsored event… since no school employees will be a part of it.”

Parents React

Four parents spoke out during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Parent Melissa Erickson was supportive of the teachers, but critical of the administration and how it communicated the trip’s cancellation:

“The parents of the Class of 2022 received an email on September 11, 2017 from Mr. Welch telling us that he had made a decision to cancel the trip, saying ‘Currently we have been unable to find a teacher to volunteer to organize this year’s trip.’ The response was visceral as that email was poorly written, poorly communicated and offered nothing.  What was the expectation when an email like that was sent out?  Did they expect the parents to NOT respond?  Well clearly the parents did, so much so that an additional email went out September 12, 2017 with an apology, but again, no explanation.  So in this current day and age what do people do – they go to social media to express their frustrations.  This is unfortunate, however, this is also as a result of the school leadership and their poor communication skills and this was not the first time the Middle School has failed its students and parents with a lack of communication.   It is also unfortunate that this led to a lot of speculations, rumors and theories.  It was only until the letter from the teachers read at the School Committee on September 13, 2017 that people had a much better picture of the reasons why and once again, after reading that letter, who is going to be upset at that?  Why did we wait so long?”

Erickson stressed that parents want to help fix the situation:

“On September 14, 2017, a 30-minute meeting right before the Middle School open house was proposed to the 8th grade parents by Mr. Welch.  I turned up for that meeting and so did a lot of other people, but once again nothing was accomplished and none of the questions that people had were answered.  We were rushed through as people from the open house were starting to come in.  The parents who attended were eager to help out.  We raised our hand to volunteer.  We raised our hand to organize, coordinate and go on the trip ourselves.  We want to help.  The school leadership was not receptive to our efforts.  On another note, what was even more disappointing during that meeting is that Mr. Ruggerio and the two new middle school principals just sat through that meeting and did not even introduce themselves or join in on the conversation.   During all of this, I had emailed Mr. Welch and Mr. Ruggerio and told them this wasn’t working.  Actions needed to be taken and they needed to be done in a timely manner.  Thankfully, I feel like this was heard and we received a survey.

Fast forward to September 21, 2017.  There is yet another meeting where once again we were told that the Washington DC trip wasn’t happening.  We were given the results of the survey which were no surprise to anyone but it was again confirmed that the DC trip was off the table and nobody in the school was willing to step up and parents were not allowed to participate and have it be a school sanctioned trip.  We have been told that the PAC, the student council and the administration would come up with a plan.

Here’s the thing.  I get that change happens as I have been dealing with organizations and change in my professional life for over 20 years.  What I don’t get is why we need to just ‘accept the change’ and have the kids ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’ because that is not how you institute change through leadership.  In order for change to be accepted and implemented, you need buy-in from your stakeholders, which in this case are the parents.

So I ask again, why were the parents not communicated to over the summer when the trip was in jeopardy?  Why did we not open up the lines of communication then?  Why have we not tried to resolve it?  Where are the options – still nothing has been formally presented to us?  Why can’t we consider paying a stipend for the teachers who give their time and energy?  Why can’t we hold kids and parents to a higher standard and enforce the rules and make them adhere to this not allow poor behavior?  We need to hold people accountable for their actions.  Why can’t the parents run, organize and volunteer for this trip as we have asked repeatedly?  Why can’t the leadership of the Middle School step up and say we will do this for the Class of 2022.  We have two new vice principals. Don’t you think this could be an excellent opportunity for them to show the kids that this is what leadership is – you step up during times of crisis and you try to be the change.  You work to find solutions and ways to move forward.   I ask for the reconsideration of the Washington DC trip for the Class of 2022.  Let us help and let us find a way to not punish this class for past actions of others.  Let’s make this a year they won’t forget.”

“I’d also like to express my concerns as I’ve attended the parent meetings and followed the correct parent communication paths, but there are still many questions that need to be answered,” said parent Jon Kulis. “My concerns surround the leadership of the school, NOT the teachers.”

“It’s a shame that the teachers who donated their time and money were subjected to such criticisms and outright harassemenet by parents of the previous classes,” said Kulis. “I have to ask – what was done to protect the teachers from these parents?  My concern is that the parents who have questions, concerns or criticsms should have been directed to the leadership of the school, and not been unload to unleash on the teachers themselves. As we move forward, what’s being done to prevent the same type of bullying that caused the teachers to back down? How will the teachers be protected?”

“At the beginning of the process, each student and parent is required to complete a contract, which lists the requirements necessary to take the trip,” added Kulis.  “It’s public knowledge that there were students who did not meet the requirements but were still allowed to attend. Devitation from contracts have sent the wrong message, creates confusion and sends a message that it’s OK to break the rules… It’s important for leadership to set the tone early – they are in charge.”

“A recurring question I hear – why weren’t the parents brought in as thought partners earlier in the process?,” noted Kulis.  “Had the community been brought in early to discuss the isuses, there may have been time for the issues to be resolved so we could find a member of the school district to lead the event. Since the announcement, many parents have volunteered to coordinate and lead this trip.”

Fellow parent John Ebert asked if parents could get more involved in the planning of a school-sanctioned trip.

“Teachers could be the leaders of the trip, but if parents could plan a little bit of it, parents may not be able to comment on it as negatively,” suggested Ebert.

“I’m concerned that I haven’t heard more from the Superintendent with regard to supporting Mr. Welch and the process that’s going on,” said parent Sandra Trach. “Perhaps you’ve been involved behind the scenes, but as a parent, I’d like to hear more from the Superintendent and what your partnership is with your principal and the schools. I do feel, from the outside looking in, that the principal is a bit out on his own.

Retired Wilmington teacher Frank Birmingham spoke out, supporting the district’s decision to cancel the trip, noting “it’s time to move on.”  Birmingham noted that if he had gone through what the prior trip organizers had to go through, he – too – would stop leading the trip.

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