Head of the Class: Superintendent Maguire Leads An Ideal Education System
Medfield boasts a top-notch public school system.
To say Medfield Superintendent Robert Maguire is proud of his schools is an exercise in understatement.
The head of Medfield education so passionately lauds the public school system that a simple conversation may seem like a recruitment effort to move to town. However, with the detail and data to back it up, what else would you need to be convinced? Parents can see their children flourishing in Medfield classrooms as they start to imagine the achievements their children can reach under superior tutelage. Images of piano concertos, game-winning jump shots and science fair ribbons may come to mind.
So what exactly makes all this possible?
"We generally talk about how well we do," Maguire said. "But sometimes we're not the best on tooting our own horn."
With national economic struggles fueling budget cutbacks for Medfield schools, it's a skill Maguire will have to hone. Despite a strong record of success, the superintendent is worried about the upcoming fiscal year's budget. He had been preparing to defend the schools in front of the town in December.
Maguire first points to quantifiable performance indicators. Love them or hate them, standardized tests like the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exist to serve such a purpose.
Maguire reports that between the years 2007 and 2010, Medfield Public Schools ranked between third and fifth in English and either third or fourth in mathematics in the entire state.
With President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act," there has been a national movement towards standardized testing like the MCAS. If you aren't convinced that something special is happening in the Medfield schools, let Maguire put the impressive scores into perspective.
He points out that "national organizations have gone out and correlated statewide tests versus one another… [there are students in] states like Tennessee and Mississippi that are scoring proficient on the state test but scoring below that on the national tests." By comparison, "if you score proficient on the Massachusetts test, you score proficient in the national test."
Suffice to say these students aren't skating by easy.
The accolades don't stop there. Medfield High School was ranked as a silver medal school in U.S. News & World Report annual high school rankings—meaning that out of nearly 21,000 American high schools, MHS is in the top 500 – and seventh in the state. Neighborhood Scout, A real estate website, had MHS ranked number two in the nation.
Maguire presents each of these honors like a proud father: it's always, "my schools," when he mentions the successful system. The statistics can stand on their own, but Maguire wants to look deeper.
"Testing is one thing," he said. "It's the first thing people want to look at. That's natural. But there are a whole bunch of other things to look at in terms of determining what makes a quality school. And some of those are more subjective like graduation rates, percent [of students] going to college, things like the culture and the environment at a school, the percent of kids participating in activities."
This is where he gets excited: "Go and look at my band or my athletic programs and look at the size of them."
"We don't let kids disappear," Maguire insists. "We wait to make a cut [on a sports team] then we have the coach go to the Athletic Director and they have a conversation about where else we could have this kid go. And then we'll bring the kid in and make suggestions."
"We're very intense and methodical about creating this environment," Maguire said. "One of the largest research indicators of success is kids participating in activities."
With a talented band, a drama program that's 100 strong, and endless afterschool clubs and activities, Medfield High School clearly represents the crown jewel in the system. Of its eight fall sports teams, five were league champs and two—girls' soccer and girls' volleyball—won state titles this past fall.
Does this history of success amount to an avalanche of pressure for MHS students? The superintendent said yes and no.
"There's good pressure and there's bad pressure," he explained, "the reality is that these kids and their families are being prepared for college. One of the reasons we have great success is that parents are committed to their kids' success."
The environment in the schools looks specifically to help alleviate any of the typical fears or pressures.
"The overwhelming thing that carries through is the climate in the school—the respect between teachers and students, vice versa, where everyone is comfortable," said Maguire.
It almost seems surreal: the test rankings, the athletic success, the bevy of organized clubs and activities. It is reasonable to wonder how an individual can orchestrate this paragon of public school success.
Maguire knows that there is something special going on at his schools—some mix of factors that formulate an ideal education system. It's something worth preserving, as Maguire put it, "that just doesn't happen at a lot of schools."