The School Committee on Thursday night rated Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh as “exemplary” in many areas of performance and noted that she exceeded expectations in achieving established goals.
School Committee member Amanda Fargiano said the superintendent did an “exceptional amount of work” to assess where the district was when students returned after having been home-schooled during the height of the pandemic.
She said that Cavanaugh captured the data that some students struggled while others were on course when they arrived back at school and used that information to drive student learning.
Regarding adoption of greater diversity, social justice and anti-bias measures, School Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty said she felt torn because the middle school experienced “incidents of bias” despite the strides the administration is making.
She said there needs to be more training and education in that area.
Chair Nancy Cavanaugh said it is “painful to know” that bias and hate exists in the community as well as across the country. She believes the emotional maturity of kids is lower than it used to be.
Fargiano added that the superintendent is willing to face uncomfortable situations “head on” by meeting with parents and attending professional training. “It’s so uncomfortable and easier not to have those conversations. Without you, we’d be further behind.”
“Your commitment is real and comes from an authentic place,” Nancy Cavanaugh told the superintendent.
“It’s work that never ends,” said the superintendent.
The way Cavanaugh is addressing enrollment growth and building projects won raves from the committee. The board highlighted some measures that have been taken, such as the addition to the high school, modular classrooms at Hopkins and Elmwood and the Marathon addition project.
In addition, they spoke about the current feasibility process with the School Building Authority and a possible new Elmwood School, changes in grade configurations or renovations.
Batlle-Rafferty said the superintendent “exceeded” expectations in this area. “I don’t worry about this, or that a ball is going to be dropped.”
The superintendent acknowledged that the process can seem long but it is moving along through the set phases of the state.
Additionally, Cavanaugh was praised for her work growing an administrative team, improving communication and unity, and “ultimately the student learning experience.”
Nancy Cavanaugh said that stability with the team since the superintendent’s appointment in 2018 has been an asset, because previously there was a lot of turnover in the district.
In the area of emotional learning capacities and tending to the “whole” child, Batlle-Rafferty said Hopkinton has been “sort of unique.” She explained that the district has a lot of focus on high achievement, and with that usually comes stress and pressure.
However, the fact that students receive “positive emotional support” and still have high achievement pleases her. “It is so fantastic and so unique that they have both tied together,” she said.
In the face of COVID and all its ramifications, Batlle-Rafferty said the superintendent deserves high marks across the board.
“It has been a hellish two years. We have navigated it with our superintendent at the helm in a way we can’t deny it’s running smoothly now,” she said.
Fargiano said she appreciates how Cavanaugh is very “intentional and thoughtful” about curriculum and “able to hear a need and figure out what is best for Hopkinton students.”
She added that Cavanaugh never forgets about the 80 percent of students who are sandwiched between those kids who are struggling and students who are advanced.
Batlle-Rafferty said what she appreciates is that the superintendent doesn’t settle and “fall on the comfortable, thinking, ‘This worked well and leave it at that.’ ” Instead, she takes a step further and is willing to back off things or find a different path to help children, she said.
“You look at things in a fluid and not a fixed way. You take successes we’ve had and do better,” agreed Nancy Cavanaugh.
The superintendent also received “exemplary,” ratings for guidance and feedback to staff, making data-informed decisions, human resources management and development as well as sharing best practices.
Fargiano said she appreciates how Cavanaugh reaches out for student voices and is very open and interested in hearing from them.
Board members also talked about how the superintendent always focuses on the students. They noted how helpful it is that in-school support is provided through “flex blocks” for kids who can’t stay after school and/or can’t get a ride home.
Also getting high ratings were the superintendent’s ability to manage the budget as well as engage with families, the community and other town leaders.
“This is kind of overwhelming, so thank you,” the superintendent said of the evaluation. Cavanaugh praised everyone in the school community — teachers, administrators, custodians, cafeteria workers, etc., saying that she doesn’t operate alone.
The board members responded by agreeing but also saying that she deserves credit.
“You’ve put the district in the right direction,” said Fargiano. “Your professional demeanor and focus on kids … that enables everyone else to shine. You are the critical piece at the top.”
At its next meeting on May 12, the board will compile all the comments and rankings into a comprehensive evaluation document.