Letter: Why we are protesting Smith’s appointment
To the Editor:
On Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 6:15 p.m., in front of the Shelton Intermediate School (go to: https://facebook.com/events/s/reject-beth-smith-for-shelton-/219716119184458/?ti=as to check on any change in location) we the students, parents, and concerned citizens of the Shelton community will come together to call for the rescindment of Dr. Smith’s appointment to the role of interim superintendent. I would like to share with you why this is so important.
As a student at SHS for the final two and a half years of Dr. Smith’s tenure as headmaster, I personally never had a problem with her. I know other students and parents who have had different experiences, but I can’t speak for them. What I can say is that SHS is running much better now with Ms. Riddle as interim headmaster, and I think most students and parents would agree with that statement. Not perfect, but much better. Ms. Riddle has changed the schedule so students report to homeroom after second period instead of at the beginning of the day, improving attendance. She has incorporated enrichment periods to give students time during the school day to attend clubs and other extracurricular activities. She also made sure SHS had a Homecoming dance this year without the threat of cancellation, unlike in years past under Dr. Smith. She has improved the overall feeling within/around the school and while yes, there is still progress that needs to be made, there is no doubt in my mind that SHS has improved since the end of Dr. Smith’s tenure and the beginning of Ms. Riddle’s.
Further, I am of the opinion that any other BOE would not have appointed someone to the role of interim superintendent with the track record of Dr. Smith. We should not forget when Shelton High School made national news for not allowing a student to go to prom over the way he asked her, or the controversy surrounding the alleged censorship of the school newspaper. There were incidents involving the dress code for prom that made multiple students change or alter their dresses, and last but certainly not least the police investigation which ended her tenure as headmaster. Personally, I don’t think it is too much to ask that our interim superintendent not have recently been under police investigation. But no matter your opinion of those incidents, the fact remains that they brought bad press and shined a bad light on our entire school district. When new or expecting parents are looking to purchase their first home in Shelton, and they see those incidents and that the person at the center of all those incidents is now somehow the superintendent of the district, they will not want to purchase a home here. This hurts our property values and is why this appointment, or any attacks on our school system, effect all of us, and not just those with kids in the schools.
The appointment of Dr. Smith as interim superintendent also reflects our broken political system here in Shelton. Last year, three bipartisan Republican BOE members got kicked off the ticket by the local Republican Town Committee and the mayor, who holds significant sway over the local party. Now we’re left with a BOE composed of five Republicans who will do anything that the mayor asks, essentially not acting as an independent body or as a check on the mayor’s virtually unlimited power. Folks, it is not a coincidence that the mayor has recently been quoted in the paper as saying that Smith is the “logical choice” for interim superintendent, or that the high school student leading the charge against her appointment (me) is an “unqualified adolescent, with no experience whatsoever, no track record, mouthpiecing an agenda for someone else.” I fear that, based off these comments and the nature of her partisan appointment, that Dr. Smith will not genuinely advocate for what’s best for the education of our kids, but rather what the mayor wants, and what the mayor wants is to cut the budget so much so that parents and students must plead with the BOE and BOA every year to appropriate money for basic resources such as teachers to limit class sizes or new textbooks so the information being learned in class is up to date. The superintendent of a school district is supposed to advocate for the education of our kids first and foremost. Due to the circumstances surrounding her appointment, I am unconvinced that Dr. Smith will be willing to put the interests of the parents and students over the interests of the mayor.
I would also like to address a common critique: “If it’s only an interim role, why should we care? It’s only for four months, right? Then a new superintendent is hired.” Yes and no. Yes, it is an interim role. No, there is not a guarantee that Dr. Smith will not be hired for the official position in four months. That is why we as a community must stand up and show the BOE our opposition now. We must make sure Dr. Smith is not awarded the official position, and we must also call on the BOE to make the search committee tasked with finding the next superintendent bipartisan, including parents, teachers, and at least one SHS student on the committee. Everyone affected by such a decision must have a say and be involved in the process. We must work together to find the best person for the job.
It is for these reasons and more that we will be protesting Dr. Smith’s interim appointment. We will then attend the regularly scheduled BOE meeting at 7 p.m. and respectfully request that the BOE rescind their appointment of Dr. Smith as interim superintendent and to instead appoint Assistant Superintendent Ken Saranich as the interim superintendent, pending approval from the state Commissioner of Education. Now is the time for our community to come together under a common cause, the education of our kids and grandkids. I hope you will join me in protesting and speaking on Wednesday night.
Shelton High Class of ’20
Former Democratic Board of Aldermen candidate