Public Deserves Answers From School Committee Chair

Paying Attention!

with Tom Duggan

October, 2008

Last May the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) notified the North Andover Public Schools that their high school was being put on warning of losing its accreditation.

But, it wasn’t until August 25th that North Andover Superintendent of Schools, Marini notified the public that the high school was in trouble.

Marini claims that the accreditation war-ning was a mistake and that he had met with NEASC officials who supposedly told him that, despite this “mistake” the  school would have to go through the tedious process of being reevaluated to have the warning removed.

School Committee Chair Barbara Whidden vigorously defended Marini at the time as she and other members of the committee made excuses for his failure to notify the public about the high school’s woes. She and other committee members even chided a member of the public who inferred that members of the committee “must have known” since nobody on the committee was taking any steps to hold Marini accountable for the deception.

But, what Barbara Whidden and her colleagues didn’t say back in August, was that she too knew that the high school was put on warning and that she had, at the very least, given her tacit consent for Marini and the high school principal to meet with NEASC in secret without ever telling her fellow school committee members (or the public) whom she’s supposed to be serving.

It’s a situation that harkens back to the AL Perry days of back room deals, decisions about the public’s school system being made in secret and members refusing to come clean about what was really going on, that is …until getting caught.

But here’s where it gets even more Perry-like.

In mid September, during a school committee meeting that was not taped and was not broadcast on cable access TV, Whidden finally decided to tell the truth and admit to the public, or at least the five people in the room, that she did, in fact, know about the high school’s warning back in May. Word spread only though the website established by North Andover parents ( the Valley Patriot website broke the story.

Two weeks later, the school committee met again, this time cameras rolling and the public watching at home. Parent Dawn Crescitelli spoke at public participation asking Whidden to explain her involvement in withholding information on the high school’s warning and repeat what she had said at the untelevised meeting two weeks earlier.

Not surprisingly, Whidden refused saying she had already explained it at the previous (untelevised) meeting and then arrogantly suggested that Crescitelli get the minutes (a written record) of the meeting as if  somehow that would inform North Andover residents watching at home why she acted unilaterally (in violation of the town charter) and without a vote of the school committee authorizing her to do so.

Since then, not one of Whidden’s colleagues on the school committee have demanded accountability from Whidden or Marini, at least not publicly. Not one of them spoke up and demanded that Whidden explain herself (while the cameras were rolling).

And, while Superintendent Marini eventually did apologize and took responsibility for his actions, to date, Whidden and her colleagues have refused to do so.

Now I admit, it is completely believable that an incompetent NEASC team made a mistake by putting North Andover on warning when they shouldn’t have. But it is quite unbelievable that a body of elected officials, charged with doing the public’s business in public would have nothing to say about the matter at all.

Well, maybe it’s not so unbelievable.

After all, this is a school committee that allowed Superintendent Harry Harutunian to run amok with no oversight for years, never demanded accountability from the likes of former Chairman Al Perry, and has been totally silent when it came to holding anyone accountable (including fellow board members) when revelations came to light that something has gone wrong in the North Andover Public Schools.

AL Perry may be gone, folks, but his legacy lives on.

Tom Duggan, Publisher The Valley Patriot
Tom Duggan

Tom Duggan is the president of Valley Patriot, Inc., a former Lawrence School Committeeman, and hosts the Paying Attention! Radio Program on WCAP, 980AM, every Saturday from 10am – noon. You can email your comments to .