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Civics Sunday - Part V: The School Committee

by The Publishers
March 17, 2019

Continuing our Civics Sunday series, we begin by reminding readers that our intent is to provide brief descriptions of local boards, elected positions, or committees to prepare voters for the next Local Election on May 21, 2019, as well as to remind Holliston of our Annual Town Meeting on May 6, 2019.

Continuing our Civics Sunday series, we begin by reminding readers that our intent is to provide brief descriptions of local boards, elected positions, or committees to prepare voters for the next Local Election on May 21, 2019, as well as to remind Holliston of our Annual Town Meeting on May 6, 2019.

This week’s column briefly describes the School Committee; we will vote for 2 members of the School Committee this spring.

You may review previous Civics Sunday columns at any time by clicking on a link below:

Part I:  The Town Meeting

Part II:  The Town Moderator and Town Clerk

Part III: The Town Selectmen

Part IV:  The Finance Committee

A Bit of History

Puritans who settled Boston in 1630 wanted a literate citizenry: men needed to read the Bible and understand the laws that concerned them.  They soon began to establish schools. 

Boston Latin School, opened in 1635, was the first publicly funded school in the US.  It differed from most schools in England since the Boston Town Meeting, not a church, created it.  Voters agreed that rents collected from islands in Boston Harbor would support the school and a schoolmaster. 

Because some parents did not send their children to school, on April 14, 1642, the General Court passed a law requiring that heads of households teach all their dependents to read and write; otherwise, they were subject to a fine.  Parents could instruct or hire someone.  Selectmen sought out young people who were not instructed, and these youngsters could be removed from their parents.

Again in 1647, disturbed by perceived “parental negligence,” the General Court passed a more comprehensive law requiring that all towns establish and maintain public schools.  Although this law applied only to free, male, white children, “Massachusetts was among the very first places in the world to make education a public responsibility.”   

All towns with more than 50 families had to hire a schoolmaster to teach children to read and write.  In towns of more than 100 families, the schoolmaster had to teach Latin as well.  Thus the responsibility shifted from the family to the town. 

The 1647 law led to publicly funded district schools in all MA towns.  But public did not mean free.  The law did not say that towns needed to assume full costs.  Students paid part tuition by supplying wood for the schoolhouse or lodging the schoolmaster. 

Many poor children continued to be educated at home.  Not all towns allowed girls to attend publicly supported schools.  If parents could afford the costs, girls and very young children attended “Dame Schools,” where a local woman would teach reading, writing, and domestic arts in her home.

In 1780, when John Adams wrote the MA Constitution, he included provisions that guaranteed public education to all citizens. Nine years later, MA was the first state to pass a comprehensive education law.  Teachers had to provide evidence of their formal education and good moral character.  Even women who taught in the Dame Schools had to be certified by the selectmen.

The School Committee

Once the towns established their schools, committees were formed to run them.  In the 1820’s, MA required these committees to be independent of the local governments, thus developing the current model of autonomous school districts.

The Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution gave educational authority to the states, and most states have passed this authority to local school boards or committees.  For over a century, local boards or school committees had the sole responsibility for public education funding, standards, instruction, and results. 

Some School Committees took their responsibilities very seriously!  Just for example, an 1847 Bedford School Committee made a plea for change.  Their report, directed to the town Moderator, detailed the unsatisfactory conditions that existed in the town’s schools.  These included such conditions as:

·         The “cold icy apathy of parents”

·         Too frequent change of teachers

·         Private schools

·         Incompetent teachers

·         “Superficiality of instruction”

·         Voters “parsimonious appropriations”

·         School houses

The report also detailed separate schools’ additional deficiencies.  It concluded: “…let us say to parents, that duty and policy prompt you to be liberal in your appropriations for the cause of education – and to our fellow-townsmen, of whatever religious or political party, we again say, if you would have your public schools answer the great end of their institution, let your votes speak in their behalf this afternoon.”

For full text, check out this link:

Holliston’s School Committee

Holliston has a seven member School Committee. Each member is elected to a term of three years; the terms of no more than three members and no less than two expire in any one year. 

General charge of the Holliston public schools is given to the School Committee, according to the MA General Laws.  The Committee must perform the duties mandated by the state. 

The School Committee understands its functions to include:

·         Legislative or policy making:  the committee is responsible for the development of policy as guides for administrative action and for employing a superintendent who will implement its policies;

·         Appraisal:  the committee is responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of its policies and their implementation;

·         Provision of financial resources:  the committee is responsible for adoption of a budget that will enable the school system to carry out the committee’s policies;

·         Public relations:  the committee is responsible for providing adequate and direct means for keeping the local citizenry informed about the schools and for keeping itself and the school staff informed about the needs and wishes of the public;

·         Educational planning and evaluation:  the committee is responsible for establishing educational goals and policies that will guide the committee and staff for the administration and continuing improvement of the educational program provided by the school district; and

·         Employing and conducting an annual evaluation of the Superintendent of Schools.

During our next local election, May 21, 2019, Holliston voters will elect two members of our School Committee.  Do you have talents to share in this arena?  Will you be among the field of candidates?  Nomination forms, available from the Town Clerk, are due to the Town Hall by April 2. 



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