Controversy Erupts Online Over Assistant Superintendent’s Speaking Engagements
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Katie Novak
by Robert Stewart
Controversy erupted online in the past few weeks when a parent of a student in the Groton-Dunstable Elementary School complained about Assistant Superintendent Dr. Katie Novak’s involvement with a company Novak co-founded approximately nine years ago.
The company is an educational consulting company focused around recent educational thought known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that examines the external factors in a student’s school environment to overcome barriers to learning.
Complaints Were Made
Through Social Media
The parent also made personal complaints about Novak and both complaints were made through a post on a Facebook Page entitled “Rotten in Groton.” Many say the personal complaints bordered on personal attacks.
The complaints on the “Rotten in Groton” site moved quickly to three other Facebook sites including a Groton, MA site and a Groton parent’s site. The latter two sites quickly took down the posts after the host or manager of those sites determined that the posts were personal attacks that violated their respective policies.
Some School Committee members were baffled by the complaint and couldn’t understand the issue raised by the parent or how the complaint originated.
School Committee Chair Believes Charge is Unfounded
A job posting for a new position of Administrative Assistant to the Assistant Superintendent drew the attention of some parents as some questioned if the job was needed because of Novak’s involvement with the company she co-founded. However, Select Board member Alison Manugian and School Committee Chair Marlena Gilbert believed that the claim was unfounded because Novak performed all her duties at Groton-Dunstable within the scope of her position.
Novak also serves as the District’s Human Resources Director and also in curriculum development. Gilbert noted that Novak’s position is not a full-time one but is only a .8 position. She also said that from her own perspective as a school committee member, Novak has always been prompt in providing and assisting the School Committee with requested information.
Dr. Novak Free To Pursue
Gilbert also noted that as a part-time employee, Dr. Novak is free to pursue other projects or ventures in her time away from her obligations to the school district. Novak’s company is a consulting firm that looks at the systems in place in a child’s educational environment including support for teacher lessons and physical surroundings. Novak cofounded the company and recently incorporated it as an “S” corporation.
Novak’s company specializes in a relatively new area of educational thought generally known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL). According to Novak, her company looks at children who have difficulty in learning at school. Instead of focusing on the child’s inherent characteristics, her company focuses on the “systems” surrounding the delivery of teaching materials whether it is the systems supporting teachers or the physical surroundings of the child’s learning environment.
Wikipedia defines UDL as, “(It) is intended to increase access to learning by reducing physical, cognitive, intellectual and organizational barriers to learning, as well as other obstacles…UDL principles also lend themselves to implementing inclusionary practices in the classroom.”
Novak said that her speaking engagements centered on explaining the characteristics of Universal Design for Learning at different educational conventions and various school districts. She stated she had contacted the State Ethics Commission for their review of her situation and they found no conflict between her position at Groton-Dunstable and the duties at her company. However, it was recommended that in her speaking engagements she speak only on behalf of her company and no longer to donate stipend payments to the Groton-Dunstable School District. In past years, Novak had donated $29,000 to the School District which she received for her speaking engagements. Novak said she has since discontinued that practice.
Select Board member and former School Committee Chair, Alison Manugian said in a post in response to the complaints made on the “Rotten in Groton” site, “Having trouble understanding these attacks on Dr. Novak…She is paid as 80 percent of a full-time employee. She serves as Assistant Superintendent, Director of Human Resources and is in charge of curriculum development…What more could we possibly expect out of an employee.”
School Committee Chair Marlena Gilbert noted that Novak, as a part-time employee, may do whatever she chooses in her free time. Gilbert then stated, “In the future, any similar posts on social media will result in my response directing the individual to our district policies so they are aware of how to properly submit a complaint or acquire information from the school committee or administration.