Arlington Superintendent Arthur W. Gosling came under sharp attack yesterday from teachers and some citizens groups for a top-down management style his critics claim is alienating educators and having a "chilling effect" on school activists.
At a School Board work session last night, Sara Jane Knight, president of the teachers' 930-member Arlington Education Association, presented Gosling and the board with a "vote of no confidence" resolution approved Monday by the group.
The resolution says teachers have "lost confidence that the board and superintendent will manage the school system and employee relations in a manner that is fair and equitable" and in their "intent to include its professional educators in any meaningful way in major instructional decision-making."
Knight said the resolution was aimed at Gosling and named the School Board because it is his employer. Airing teachers' concerns, she said, was the first step in improving relations. "We stand ready and willing to work with you to seek solutions," Knight concluded to the strong applause of 50 teachers in the board room.
She said teachers have been excluded from discussion of moving sixth graders into middle schools, major building renovations, adding a seventh period for secondary students and the handling of the needs of immigrant students.
Gosling said last night, "At this point, I have no reaction."
School Board member Gail Nuckols said she was "surprised and very disappointed" with Knight's statement. "My feeling is that the superintendent has the highest respect for all the employees in the school system," she said.
Not since 1984, during the final year of Superintendent Charles E. Nunley's tenure, has a teachers group expressed such concern over its rapport with the top administrator.
When Gosling was hired, there was great anticipation among teachers and parents that he would turn the situation around and return the participatory "Arlington Way" to the school system.
In recent months, however, some parents on school advisory committees have grown increasingly critical of Gosling's reaction to their work. They said that in too many cases their recommendations have been overturned or seemingly ignored.
"There is a lack of participation and a partnership between the school administration, teachers and the community at large," Edward Hilz, chairman of the Arlington Civic Federation's school committee, told a reporter yesterday. "The repercussion is that it has a chilling effect" on parental participation.
Tom Kelly, member of a committee appointed to make salary recommendations, said staff indifference in providing crucial financial data contributed to the failure of the committee to persuade board members to link teachers' salaries with the county's per capita income.
Teachers are also concerned that under Gosling's direction, specific language protecting teachers' rights has been eliminated in an ongoing revision of the official school policy manual.
"What we're finding is what used to be ironclad guarantees have either been watered down or they've disappeared," said Marjorie McCreery, executive director of the education association. "I'm sure it was intentional . . . . The revision of the policy was represented to us as cosmetic. The philosophy has changed from a policy that protects teachers to a policy that provides the superintendent with practically unfettered discretion."