Monday, July 28, 2014

Mansfield Superintendent Did It To Herself

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, July 28, 2014
By Bill Gouveia


            Mansfield School Superintendent Brenda Hodges – victim of a local political witch-hunt and the internet age, or lazy administrator who disrespected her school system and the town?  That has been the topic of some debate over the last few weeks.


            Let me try and settle that debate right now.


            Every one of the wounds that led to Superintendent Hodges ending her time in Mansfield were self-inflicted.  Not some of them, not most of them, but all of them.  She has absolutely no one to blame for her predicament other than herself.


            The professional educator and administrator substantially copied a speech without attributing her source.  She did so at her high school’s graduation, the pinnacle moment of achievement for Mansfield students.  Then she made light of her transgression, acknowledging it in a limited manner only after being exposed by some of her own students on social media.


            When planning her remarks to students, parents and citizens on the night her seniors graduated, Superintendent Hodges was either unable or unwilling to come up with original words.  Instead she recycled a speech she says she heard a pastor in Oklahoma give, one she says he gave her permission to reuse.


            Is it too much to expect the leader of a school system that annually expends millions of taxpayer dollars, and more importantly imparts upon students skills and values they will carry with them forever, to at least be sincere? 


            If she was so impressed with this speech, she could have easily prefaced her remarks by saying “I’d like to share with you a speech I recently heard” and mentioned the author.  But she did not, for reasons known only to herself.  She failed to adhere to the standard of honesty, integrity and personal responsibility she regularly demanded from her students.


            We don’t know if Hodges would have been fired had she not retired and resigned.  The school committee kept things very much under wraps, and did not share with the public the opinions of individual members on the superintendent’s actions.


            In the private sector, that would be a wise business approach.  In the public sector, it is seen as being less than forthright.  Though they were no doubt limited by legal restrictions and contractual obligations, the school committee owes the voters who elected them more in the way of explanation of their role in the entire affair.


            Last week in Newton, the school superintendent was caught up in a similar controversy.  Weeks after giving two graduation speeches in which he used excerpts from a speech by Governor Deval Patrick without attribution, Superintendent David Fleischman was disciplined by his school committee.


            Committee members voted to fine Fleischman one week’s salary for his transgression.  He admitted his mistake while stopping short of saying he was guilty of plagiarism. 


            Frankly, he got off easy.


            The Newton High School newspaper and writer Jordan Cohen-Kaplan said it best when he wrote:  “It is disappointing and disillusioning to imagine we cannot expect the best from the highest ranking Newton Public Schools official, especially on a widely attended day designed to celebrate student achievement and serve as an educational capstone.”


            Is it fair that Fleischman gets to keep his job while Hodges seems to have been forced out?  Probably not, but each community has its own standards and each superintendent has their own strengths and weaknesses.  Fairness does not really figure into the equation.


            But as Hodges walks off the Mansfield scene (complete with plentiful accumulated sick time) let there be no doubt she figuratively dug her own grave.  Yet she continues to deny she is the problem.


            Upon submitting her resignation, Hodges said in a letter:  “Moving forward, I do not believe the school system can continue to make the progress it has made if this issue remains a distraction.”


            Agreed, Superintendent.  But you caused the distraction.  You are responsible for it.  You are not leaving because the distraction exists, you are leaving because you created it.   You cost yourself the respect necessary to be able to perform your duties at a proficient level.


            So after careful and objective consideration, the clear answer to the opening question is - lazy administrator who disrespected her school system and the town. 


Without a doubt.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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