Edmond LaFleur Bids Farewell To Schools
By: Diana T. Barth
Edmond LaFleur has learned to always ask himself first, “What’s best for Bourne’s kids?”
When asked about his beginnings in Bourne, School Superintendent Edmond W. LaFleur, who is retiring at the end of this school year, said Wednesday that his strongest memory from 1998—when he successfully interviewed for the district’s top position—was taking a tour of the town’s schools.
There was a torrential downpour that day, he said, and every single school in Bourne had at least one bucket set out somewhere, catching rain from a leaky roof.
He was, he said, flabbergasted at the extent of the maintenance problems.
One of his first objectives once he got the superintendent’s job was to create a plan for proactive building upkeep, replacing the “crisis upkeep” that had been the order of the day.
As he began to consider how he could bring the members of the school committee together in support of a more formal long-term plan for the district, he worked with them to come up with four goals.
Through the rest of his 12 years of service, those goals have remained the same, although the way they were implemented changed from year to year.
The first goal focused on curriculum and instruction, asking how the district could help each student achieve his or her highest level.
“I’ve always been an educator and a teacher first,” Mr. LaFleur said. Back in the 1960s, when he started college, he had thought about becoming a geologist but had not really fallen in love with any profession.
Finances were hard, and those who became teachers could enter a program in which a year of student loans would be forgiven for every year a new teacher served in certain school districts. His advisor suggested that he take advantage of that program.
He took that advice, he said, and found “his calling.”
Back in the 1960s, his first group of students was part of a Head Start program, most of them living in poverty.
When he asked one very little boy where his stove was, he said in the bedroom. When asked where the refrigerator was, he said in the bedroom. Mr. LaFleur said he gently corrected him, saying, no, those were in the kitchen; then he went on Head Start program home visits. They were in the bedroom.
Mr. LaFleur first taught in a regular classroom for three years, he said, when the federal law changed, mandating that those with special needs be given an education commensurate with their abilities.
No one, he said, was trained in special education, and he was asked, if not begged, to take over a classroom of mentally challenged children.
He was reluctant, he said, but agreed. He said he left home that first morning after jokingly telling his wife that if all else failed, he’d get the crayons out. They were out by 9 AM, he said, and the next day he called and enrolled in a master’s degree program for special education.
While most superintendents of his age started out as high school teachers, then became principals, and then superintendents, he came in “the back door,” becoming a special education director before moving into administration.
He does not regret that pathway, saying that what he learned, combined with the fact that one of his two sons had some learning disabilities when growing up, made him sensitive to those who could possibly be lost within a system.
After he came to Bourne from schools in Lincoln, New Hampshire, his path to the superintendency also made him focus on “what kids should know and be able to do…and how we would be able to prove it.”
He asked those questions about what students should know socially, as well as academically, he said, given that “school is an environment in which everybody comes together.”
During his tenure in Bourne, he said, the district brought in a phonetics program, and promised that all children would be reading at grade level or educators would be able to explain, through test results, why they could not.
They brought in a new and improved math program for K through 12, replacing a hodgepodge of different programs being used across the district’s schools.
A comprehensive effort to teach writing was also undertaken, districtwide.
It is his students’ improvement in MCAS and SAT scores, from among the lowest to among the highest in comparison to other Cape Cod towns, that makes him the proudest.
The second goal he set for the district involves enhancing community support and involvement, including all citizens from retirees to teachers to students to parents to town employees.
That was sometimes hard, he said, but he worked successfully with four teachers’ union presidents and can count on one hand the number of actual grievances filed by the association on behalf of its members.
Contract negotiations and teacher dismissals were the hardest, he said, the latter because sometimes very good people turned out not to be good teachers.
He hated snow days, he said, because, as he found to his dismay, sometimes the weather forecast was “hyped.” The first time he called a snow day, after hearing that there was a “storm off the ocean” that would be affecting all of Cape Cod, the sun was out by 10 AM, he said. Working parents were not pleased, he recalled. On the other side, he said, one never wants to put children at risk.
The difficult times notwithstanding, he said he could not imagine doing anything else over the past 42 years other than working to influence the development of the next generation of leaders and community members.
The third goal he set for the district came from his first days, and was again in answer to the question of what is best for the kids: “inviting, clean, safe, bright, and attractive” facilities.
During his time as superintendent, Mr. LaFleur oversaw the building of two schools. Bourne Middle School came in on time and on budget. The Bournedale Elementary School was not only on time, but $2.5 million under budget.
What should have been this year’s triumph, however, was overshadowed by the discovery of an accounting error made in the school business office, several of those involved in the building of the elementary school have said.
The fourth and final goal Mr. LaFleur set—attracting, supporting, and retaining enthusiastic, dedicated and effective staff—has been the one he has enjoyed most. Bourne, he said, has wonderful teachers. He thinks Bourne’s children are in very good hands.
The district’s greatest difficulty, he said, is shared with systems across the country: not enough money. Schools have a number of unfunded, and sometimes even unacknowledged, mandates, he said.
Educators have said that school systems have to pay for services that have been mandated by law, but not funded by either federal or state legislatures, as well as having to teach things such as mediation skills, or even table manners, that children need to learn, but that are not necessarily a part of any curriculum.
Asked what he hopes will be accomplished by the next superintendent, he said he hopes the district will be able to repair or replace the aging Peebles Elementary School. The middle school and Bournedale are new, the high school has been kept in good repair, but Peebles needs attention, he said.
Asked what he will be doing after he leaves his post in Bourne, he said it has been suggested that he teach at the college level, but said he is not ready to make any commitments.
Mr. LaFleur had told the school committee quite some time ago—before this year’s discussion of budget difficulties—that he would be retiring after the new elementary school was in operation for a year.
He has kept to that schedule, wanting to spend more time with family.
He expects he will remain living close to Bourne.
He said, as he has always said, that he is and will remain, proud to have been the superintendent of Bourne schools.
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