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MARLBOROUGH

McGann takes helm of charter school

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / May 25, 2008

Barbara McGann, the retired Navy rear admiral and former Boston administrator who lasted less than two years as superintendent of Marlborough's public schools, last week took charge of a charter school in the same town that has been plagued by troubles since its inception. Parents and administrators are hoping it will be the perfect match.

Thursday was McGann's first day as executive director of the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School, where student achievement and high test scores have been overshadowed by reports of rocky relations among teachers, parents, and administrators.

In January, McGann abruptly resigned as superintendent of the Marlborough school district, saying some members of the School Committee had been undermining her efforts. McGann also complained of a "provincial pettiness" in a written statement she released to explain her resignation.

But the qualities that caused friction in Marlborough's public system make McGann a great fit for the community's charter school, according to Anton Teodorescu, a member of its board of trustees, which voted unanimously to hire McGann.

As superintendent, McGann "may have been a little too passionate in bringing about change too fast," Teodorescu said, adding that it would be hard to be overambitious at the Advanced Math and Science Academy.

In the three years since the academy opened, students have already scored big on the state's main standardized exam - seventh-graders landed in the top 20 of all schools statewide on both the English and math MCAS tests last year - and won competitions in speech and debate, geography, math, and science.

The growing school now serves more than 500 students in grades 6 through 9. It plans to add another grade each year through the 12th grade.

Although parents now seem ready to give McGann a chance, some were frustrated that her hiring was rushed, according to Catherine Koepper, the parent representative to the board of trustees.

"I know there were a number of concerns, not that Barbara wasn't the right person, but that we might not have had an opportunity for everyone to ask the questions they wanted to ask before making a final decision," said Koepper, who has a son in the eighth grade at the academy.

Koepper also noted McGann met with parents before her start date to listen to their concerns.

McGann replaces Julia Sigalovsky, the founder of the school, who will now serve as executive director of development, overseeing fund-raising, public relations, and collaborations with colleges and businesses.

Sigalovsky said she is excited about the change. Koepper said parents felt that her job was too big, so it was time to split up the duties, and they are relieved she is staying with the school.

McGann's challenges, said Koepper, will be student and teacher retention, and getting students into the colleges of their choice.

Teacher turnover in particular "has caused some anxiety" among parents, said Koepper.

The most high-profile departure of a teacher is the subject of an ongoing court battle.

Robert Gallagher, a Marlborough resident, was hired last summer as a geography and Latin teacher, but left the school on Oct. 5. In court documents, Gallagher says that he was fired. The school maintains that he resigned.

In early November, the school filed a lawsuit against Gallagher in Middlesex Superior Court, saying that he violated a confidentiality agreement by e-mailing parents and students. The lawsuit also accuses Gallagher of "sabotaging" and "disparaging" the school to parents and students.

Gallagher filed a countersuit in late November, stating that he had been directed to assist in "squeezing out" special-needs students and that his refusal to do so led to his departure.

From its inception, the academy has been the focus of legal challenges. School committees in Marlborough, Maynard, and Hudson tried to prevent its opening in a case that went all the way to the state's Supreme Judicial Court. The court ruled unanimously in March 2007 that the charter was properly granted by the state.

McGann, who said she is fully recovered from a stroke she had in February, is thrilled by her new opportunity and said she has been concerned about the dearth of math and science skills in young Americans since her days as head of the Navy's recruiting efforts.

"I'm absolutely convinced if we don't begin to grow math and science talent at a very early age, the standard of living of every American is at stake," she said.

Anna Charny, chairwoman of the trustees, said McGann's résumé exceeds what the board was looking for. "We felt that she would take the school to a new level of success," said Charny.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at 508-820-4231 or lkocian@ globe.com.

'I'm absolutely convinced if we don't begin to grow math and science talent at a very early age, the standard of living of every American is at stake.'

BARBARA McGANN

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