School Committee Candidates

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From: 

PNF

Who are you and why are you running?

I’m a parent of 2 daughters in the Natick Public Schools and have volunteered on various town committees for the past several years. My first term has been filled with lots of learning and plenty of challenges: we hired a new superintendent, dealt with very difficult budget negotiations, held multiple union negotiations including the agreement with our teachers to forgo COLAs which we were able to to reinstate as additional funds were realized, and have helped guide the district during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m running for re-election because we continue to have challenges and I want to continue the good work we’ve done together.

From: 

PNF

What do you think the role of a School Committee member is and how do you plan to improve Natick in this capacity?

The responsibilities of the School Committee as defined by the Town Charter and Massachusetts law are budget oversight, establishing policies, and the supervision of the Superintendent. We do this through a lens that represents our entire diverse community, including those who don’t have children in the school system. I believe the role of a member is to work with the 6 other members, the district administration, and town partners to deliver on those responsibilities. My executive leadership experience and technology expertise are valuable as we assess the needs of the town. It’s important to have a diverse set of skills and experiences and properly represent the widest range of people. We will continue to improve our community if we listen to each other and are thoughtful before drawing conclusions. As the Vice Chair of Policy, a member of the union negotiating team, and a board member of The Education Cooperative, I will continue to provide collaborative and thoughtful leadership.

From: 

PNF

Fun fact: What is your favorite book?

Fiction: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Non-Fiction: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. The former appeals to the software engineer/nerd side of my life and the latter to the empathetic leader I am professionally.

From: 

Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC)

What is your explanation/understanding of inclusion and what do you think NPS can do to increase inclusive practices?

Inclusion falls under the Equity umbrella for me and while the tactical practices associated with increasing inclusion might be different, the philosophy is the same. We must ensure that ALL students can be successful, regardless of their needs. Over time, there have been different opinions and practices related to how to best provide the right environment to achieve that success. Over the past 8 years, we have had increased programming in Natick so that students are able to stay in their home district rather than needing to go elsewhere for services. It is important, in terms of inclusivity, to make sure that kids can be with their classmates and home district communities. Inclusion of children with special education needs in general education classes, right alongside children who don’t require special education services, is a great way to remove the stigma that is so often associated with special education. The social and emotional health of students is the foundation of academic achievement. If a student doesn’t feel safe and nurtured the challenges they face regarding learning achievement are even greater. The way to make people feel safe and nurtured is by making them feel like they are part of the community, as equal first class citizens, not as some separate group of people who don’t interact with everyone. Of course, this is not always possible.

As with the equity efforts that the NPS has taken on, the solution is multi-faceted: the teachers are where the effort starts. Increasing the training for teachers so they have the tools and resources to not only educate all students but to be able to properly communicate with the general education students about what inclusion means to them. The curriculum must also represent all of our students. In terms of cultural equity and diversity, there has been a deliberate effort to increase the diversity of authors and topics that are covered in books. This practice should extend to all different types of students. The more exposure all students get to all students, the better we all are.

From: 

Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC)

If a parent approached you with a concern about special education in Natick and claimed it was a systemic problem, what would you do?

One of the most important things I think a School Committee member can do, and something I’ve done a lot of over the past 3 years, is to listen. Each person in our community, whether they have children in the schools or not, has a unique perspective and real feelings. The last year in particular has been incredibly challenging for everyone. It is important to pay close attention to every claim from a parent and take them all seriously. We all deserve to be heard. This is less of a hypothetical question for me. Over my first term, I have been approached plenty of times by parents who have concerns about special education in Natick and how they believed it was or might be a systemic problem.

In those situations, and any in the future, I listen first, without judgement. We all care deeply for our children and are constantly advocating for their wellbeing. While it is difficult for any one person to truly know if a problem is systemic on their own or even through anecdotal information, if a parent feels it is important enough to bring to my attention, it is certainly something I have and would continue to take seriously. The charter and responsibilities of a School Committee and its members does not include day-to-day management of student services but that doesn’t mean I can’t be helpful in these types of situations. As a School Committee member, it is important to look at the whole district and determine what are systemic issues and what are individual issues that would require individual attention.

There are a few things that I’ve done and would continue to do that I hope and believe helps these parents and their children: I am always happy to connect parents with the appropriate people in the school department or help them understand who the right people are to talk with and what the right questions are to ask. One of our School Committee members acts as a representative to SEPAC. I would also bring issues to their attention so that they could speak with the SEPAC leaders. When necessary, I communicate with our superintendent about what I’m hearing to see if she is familiar and whether she has also heard of similar issues. Our superintendent, Dr. Nolin, has always taken a very hands-on approach to finding solutions and solving problems. Also, as with anything that comes in front of us as a School Committee, I try and collect as much data as possible and allow that data to inform potential policy changes as well as collaborative discussions and debate within the Committee.

From: 

Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC)

Please cite one specific concern about special education in Natick that you are aware of and how you would advance it if elected.

This year has been historically challenging for everyone. In Natick, as I’m sure is the case in other districts, we have seen an increase in special education referrals and an increase in eligibility. The demand for services for all students has increased. This demand is not likely to diminish any time soon and we, as a district, have a commitment to those students who have started to receive special education services who, in other years, might not have been considered eligible. Budgets are always tight and I don’t think it’s profound to say that it would be great to be able to do and provide more but resources are and always will be limited. I am concerned that with the increased volume of students and their respective service needs, we will be challenged to not only maintain the level of service we’re providing, but also to increase service as inevitably, students will require more as they get re-adjusted to a full return to school in the coming year.

During this year, the entire SPED program had to be redesigned to accommodate our hybrid learning model. This program redesign has worked well for some families and not as well for other families. As we finish this year and prepare for next, we will need to work hard those families where it hasn’t worked well to improve the services for their children. One way to help bridge that gap is by offering compensatory services. It is great to offer opportunities for students to get the appropriate services but we need to make sure we are sympathetic to their social and emotional challenges, like we are for all kids, and make sure that during vacations and the summer, all of our children also have an opportunity to rest, recharge, and be ready to start school again in the fall.

If re-elected, I will continue to keep the focus on our students and their needs, make sure that we’ve turned over every stone to find every dollar possible, and where necessary, make the difficult decision to sacrifice important, but perhaps not critical, budget items in order to prioritize student services.

From: 

PNF

What are your thoughts on using ClearGov for budgeting and reporting fiscal and educational performance?

All candidates received this question on 2/7/21. This candidate did not respond.

From: 

PNF

Knowing that there will be compromises, what do you consider the highest priority new positions and programs outlined in the preliminary FY22 budget?

All candidates received this question on 2/7/21. This candidate did not respond.

From: 

PNF

Research shows that NPS teachers are paid less than those in peer districts. What is your perspective on teacher pay and how will you, as a School Committee Member, advocate for teachers?

All candidates received this question on 2/7/21. This candidate did not respond.

From: 

PNF

What is your perspective on the concept of a parent engagement center and what data would you use to evaluate such an investment?

All candidates received this question on 2/7/21. This candidate did not respond directly, but answered a similar question at the PTO forum at minute 20:00 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJA35fc52Ls&t=2s)

From: 

PNF

How will you personally work to address student concerns regarding equity and inclusion at NPS?

All candidates received this question on 2/7/21. This candidate did not respond.

From: 

PNF

What are the most crucial pieces of data that will inform your vote on whether to send kids back to school full-time, and do you regard this as a decision that is district-wide or can different solutions be considered at the elementary, middle and high school levels?

All candidates received this question on 2/7/21. This candidate did not respond.

From: 

English Language Learner Parent Advisory Council (ELLPAC)

The amount of ELL children and families is increasing every year in the Natick Schools, how do you think the school district can get prepared to support those families in the short, medium and long term?

Question submitted to all candidates on 2/28/21. This candidate did not respond directly, but answered a similar question at the PTO forum at minute 41:20 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJA35fc52Ls&t=2s)

From: 

English Language Learner Parent Advisory Council (ELLPAC)

What are your goals to improve the educational experience for multilingual students?

Question submitted to all candidates on 2/28/21.

From: 

English Language Learner Parent Advisory Council (ELLPAC)

What are your ideas to get more engagement to the community from the ELL families?

Question submitted to all candidates on 2/28/21.

From: 

Natick Resident

Would you support a study or examination of the need for a police presence in Natick Schools? There seems to be a national trend towards a police-free schools movement, which seeks to shift schools’ disciplinary cultures away from control and punishment and towards a more supportive model.

Question submitted to all candidates on 2/28/21.

From: 

350 MetroWest

In the past year, youth movements such as Fridays for Future, Climate Strike, Sunrise Movement have engaged many young people who are concerned about the impact the climate crisis will have on their future. How do you think the School Committee should engage with students on this issue and what could the School Committee and the School Administration do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage waste-reduction in our school buildings and throughout our school system?

Question submitted to all candidates on 2/28/21.

From: 

350 MetroWest

What is your track record on environmental sustainability, including any related interests, experience, or initiatives?

Question submitted to all candidates on 2/28/21.

From: 

350 MetroWest

Many local communities are now requiring environmental education in their curriculum, including time spent outdoors studying nature. Studies have shown a correlation between time spent outdoors and lower student anxiety and stress. Do you think environmental education should be expanded in Natick schools and if so, how would you go about advocating for such programs? What other ideas do you have for engaging students in environmental programming through the curriculum?

Question submitted to all candidates on 2/28/21.