No more business as usual

The voters have rendered their judgment on the Medford School Board election, but we hope the winners won't interpret their victories as an endorsement of business as usual.

School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas easily won re-election over a single challenger who ran a low-key campaign. Incumbent Paulie Brading drew the opposition of the teachers union, which endorsed and campaigned for former board member Larry Nicholson, who won the race. Incumbent Tricia Prendergast won re-election with less than a third of the votes in a four-way race. About 70 percent of voters cast ballots for someone else.

A central issue in the campaign was the job performance of Superintendent Phil Long. Long's contract expires at the end of June 2014, and the present board has not voted to extend it.

Whether Long remains at the helm of the county's largest school district will be up to the new board.

Long has struggled during his tenure to communicate effectively with the public and with the board, at times making decisions out of public view and without consulting the board. He also has failed to significantly improve the district's unacceptably low graduation rate.

Like districts throughout the state, 549C has struggled with inadequate financial support. Medford has opted repeatedly to cut instructional days to balance its budget, resulting in one of the shortest school years in a state that already trails the rest of the country.

The incumbent board members cite statistics showing that students who attend Medford schools from kindergarten on have a graduation rate above 90 percent. That's great, but it misses the point.

Of course students from stable families rooted in the community will succeed as long as schools are providing adequate education.

But if the graduation rate for those kids is more than 90 percent and the overall rate is 64 percent, the rate for students who don't spend their entire school career in the district is even more dismal.

That is unacceptable, and to pretend everything is rosy by cherry-picking statistics is ducking responsibility.

None of this means Medford schools are an utter failure, or that they do not provide a quality education. It does mean there is plenty of room for improvement, and that will take a School Board that demonstrates leadership and holds the district administration accountable for results.

Board members need to remember that the superintendent reports to them, not the other way around. And when doing things the same old way isn't working, it's time to try something new.

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