Discussing the Undiscussable in Westerly
On the agenda at Wednesday night’s meeting of the Westerly School Committee, in the words of Victoria Goff of the Westerly Sun, was “[finalizing] the termination of Schools Superintendent Steven Welford’s two-month employment with the school district”. Mr. Welford had begun a three-year contract as Westerly’s superintendent of schools in July of this year.
Goff’s article quoted the statement offered jointly by Welford and the Westerly School Committee that had announced the unexpected end of the new superintendent’s term of employment…
On Friday evening, the school board and Welford issued a joint statement saying Welford’s employment would end today because of a “differing philosophy about the operation and direction of the school district.” Murano said he would offer no comments other than what is in the joint statement.A number of Westerly residents used the open comment period of Wednesday’s meeting, attended by close to 100 people, to express their dissatisfaction with the vagueness of the official explanation.
- Westerly Resident Harry Staley was the first speaker on the topic: “I think it’s fair to say that the only who people in this room tonight who understand Mr. Welford’s reason or reasons for leaving are the members of the school committee….As a result, there has been a flood of rumors, that run the gamut from allegations of serious criminal acts, to petty personal disagreements between administrators including claims that serious financial problems exist…” At that point, School Committee Chairman James Murano asked Mr. Staley not to talk about the specifics of job performance.
After a brief discussion about what was appropriate to discuss and why, Mr. Staley continued: “Like the rest of us here who are gathered tonight, I have neither the power nor the authority to do anything else but register my concern…”
- Westerly Resident Mark Sullivan expressed similar concerns, concluding by saying that any new candidate for the position of superintendent “would have to be incredibly courageous or just flat-out nuts to subject themselves to the environment that [Westerly is] projecting to the community, the state and the region“.
- Another Westerly resident asked if residents could expect sometime in the future to learn more details about Mr. Welford’s termination.
- Finally, Westerly resident Christine Misto asked that if the termination had truly resulted from “philosophical differences about the direction of the district“, could the school committee’s philosophy be explained to the public. (Earlier speakers had offered a related point, asking why philosophical differences serious enough to warrant the dismissal of a superintendent were not apparent during the screening and hiring process.) Chairman Murano tried to answer the question about philosophy in general terms, saying that goals and objectives are included in the annual school budget, but following-through on his promise in Goff’s article, he offered nothing specific with regards to Welford’s situation.