Professor applies Engagement Lab skills to local school system

by Bridget Reed Morawski / Beacon Correspondent • October 15, 2014

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Paul Mihailidis, an assistant professor of marketing communication, is leading a wave of social action protesting the elimination of several administrative positions in the Chelmsford Public School District – a move that left his mother suddenly without her job.

Mihailidis, who is also the associate director of the Emerson Engagement Lab, his research in civic engagement and digital citizenship at the Lab is informing his fight, with supporters of the cause launching a campaign early next week called #myteachermatters. The social media campaign intends to engage the community by encouraging individuals to express their values. 

Community members from the Eastern Massachusetts town are outraged over the sudden firing of three Chelmsford High School staff members because of budget errors. Mihailidis’ mother, Valerie Diggs, was the library coordinator and the high school librarian, prior to being unceremoniously relieved of their work on Sept. 29. 

“Of course my mother is what prompted me to get involved to the level I have, but it’s kind of gone beyond that,” Mihailidis said. “It’s really just about fairness in the education community.” 

Mihailidis began the ‘Support Val Diggs’ Facebook page on Oct. 1 to gather testimonials about his mother’s professional success and renown as the Chelmsford High School librarian. Since then, more than 1,300 users have liked the page and shared hundreds of individual posts, comments. 

The activism hasn’t stopped online. Footage from a local TV station showed that dozens of supporters showed up to an Oct. 7 Chelmsford school board meeting where Mihailidis, Chelmsford students, and faculty presented passionate commentary to the committee, questioning the rationale and legality of the firings.

In coming weeks, Mihailidis said he plans to continue rallying community support.  He said he would like to see Emerson get involved.

“I’ve talked about this with my classes a lot,” he said. “I teach a grad class, and it’s on communications strategy and culture, so we do a lot of community engagement planning.”

Mihailidis said this could be a way for Emerson to demonstrate its compassion in cases of civic injustice. 

“[It would show] that we can have a voice,”  Mihailidis said, “and that we can use that voice to create change and reform.”