Superintendent Bella T. Wong last night was given a stellar performance evaluation by the School Committee which again praised her depth of knowledge, her ability to attract and retain excellent teachers, principals and administrators, leadership skills and ability to stay focused on what is best for the town’s schoolchildren.
Similar to the public portion of her evaluation delivered last year, School Committee members gave Wong high marks for her commitment to education.
“You are extremely hard working and incredibly dedicated,” said School Committee member Ilissa Povich. “...I think above everything else I appreciate how deeply you care about every single student and every single staff member. It comes through in everything you do.”
The public evaluation was done because of a State Judicial Court ruling last year which mandates that such reviews include a discussion in open session. The process will also include a private executive session discussion between the School Committee and Wong.
School Committee members gave Wong high marks after her fourth year on the job for her ability to maneuver through difficult situations, in particular last fall’s unexpected media furor over a sixth grade Social Studies field trip to a Boston mosque.
“It was a tough few weeks, a very difficult event that you handled in a calm and professional manner,” School Committee member Suzy Littlefield said.
They also highlighted Wong’s unflinching ability to maneuver through last fall and winter’s contentious budget season praising her depth of knowledge, her commitment to preserving and trying to expand programs in a difficult economy, and dealing with changing numbers and expectations.
“The budget was not a really pleasant process, but in the end we came out in a really good place and I’m appreciative of everything you did to get us to this place,” Povich said.
Even the disclosure that the school lunch accounts were more than $100,000 in arrears was turned into a positive by committee members who commended Wong for making the tough decision to privatize the food service department and change the way families will now pay for students’ lunches.
“Fortunately I think it is going to be resolved positively,” committee Chairwoman KC Kato said.
Wong’s efforts to attain funding from the to preserve a pilot second grade reading intervention program that has shown success in its first year, her commitment to closing the achievement gap and her work on the 21st Century goals for the system were also praised. Her successful management of the expansion project which will be done without any changes to the building’s footprint was also cited.
Hiring top notch administrators and mentoring new employees were also acknowledged.
In particular, School Committee members named Assistant Superintendent Salvatore Petralia, Technology Director Tom Ford and Sprague Principal Stephen Goodwin, all new this year, as standouts.
“I want to commend you on some really amazing hires. ...Stephen Goodwin, every time I see him I just think he’s amazing,” Povich said, adding that Wong “is really loyal to people, and people know it.”
Littlefield said Wong is also adept at dealing with under-performing employees.
“You are always focused on what is best for the kids,” she said. “You are willing to have the difficult conversations, and that means sometimes having to let people go.”
Once the public evaluation process was complete, Wong thanked committee members and said she that she is now “more comfortable” in the job.
“Everything is easier,” she said.
Littlefield said she can see Wong getting more comfortable and familiar with the community.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but your speeches have really improved,” she said. “Your graduation speeches have improved every year and that is because you are getting to know your audience.”
Wong called her central office team “the strongest I’ve ever worked with,” and said they are a key to her accomplishments this year.
“I am only as good as my team,” she said.