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Perspective on half-day Wednesdays for elementary

Asked on Natick Talks: 

As a working parent with two young kids, cost and availability of child care is something I am regularly stressed about. GBH had a great segment about it today, which led me to the linked article.

My understanding is that Natick is considering changing the elementary schedule to have half days every Wednesday, similar to some other districts in the area, to provide elementary teachers with planning time.

If allowed by the Mods, I would very much like to understand School Committee candidates' perspective on this issue.

My Answer: 

Apologies for being late to chime in. There is nothing like working from home during school vacation week to drive home the challenges faced by working parents. I echo many of the sentiments here, but here are my thoughts.

  • I would like to see our town support our young families with expanded childcare options. I hesitate to advocate expansion of ASAP (although I imagine that is part of the solution) simply because I would like to remain open to other options. Lack of affordable child care is a problem that extends beyond our schools and affects our town. Alternative models I’ve seen suggested here and elsewhere include expanding rec programs, creating HS internship programs and incentivizing creation of new private ventures. All are worthy of consideration as we move forward.

  • In terms of teacher planning, if the evidence suggests additional planning time during the school day improves both teacher morale/retention (huge priority) and student outcomes, I will certainly support proposals to make it happen but will advocate for a balanced approach that avoids placing the entire cost burden onto our families.

  • I think it is risky to rely heavily on survey data as I'm concerned the data being used are not representative. We need to ensure we're elevating the voices of those most impacted by these proposed changes. What are alternative ways we can survey parents? Creating focus groups? Asking teachers to include links to surveys in their communication and emphasizing the importance of participation?

  • In general, I would advocate for better family-school collaboration, but as a tech exec who has built digital engagement platforms, I can appreciate that this is a very complex and multi-faceted problem.

Beyond any of this, however, it is important to acknowledge one key point. As an engaged observer, I have seen incredibly contentious budget debates over the last several years. Given that dynamic, I can understand why proposing an option that reduces the NPS budget and shifts costs to families is tempting. Therefore, as a School Committee member, I would like to shift the narrative from “spend less” to “spend thoughtfully.” I would like our administration to feel empowered to propose creative solutions that support teachers, students and families, but I'd like the solutions to also be clear on the "how" and the "how much."

What would I look for in a new Superintendent?

Asked on Facebook:

Since the only staff that the school committee hires is the superintendent, what are you going to be looking for in a new superintendent if you are a member of the committee that must replace Dr. Nolin?

My answer: 

First and foremost, I want Natick to recruit a strong leader. Something I appreciate about Dr. Nolin is her vision and commitment to driving innovation. In that way, she reminds me of some of the tech founders I've worked with over the years. I think vision drives us to be creative and to think holistically. For the leaders I've most admired, they couple this vision with self-awareness and confidence. Confidence emboldens them to surround themselves with other strong leaders who both support and challenge them. Self-awareness allows them to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and to build a team with complementary skillsets.  It takes a leader who balances vision with both humility and confidence to create a world class team and a culture of open collaboration. 

In evaluating candidates, here are a few other criteria I'd want to consider:

  • Have they spent significant time as an educator? Do they deeply understand and empathize with the challenges our teacher and students are facing?

  • Do they have a track record of making data driven decisions in pedagogy and curriculum as well as in budget and investment proposals? 

  • How do they grow teams from both a hiring/retention and professional development perspective. 

  • How do they handle stakeholder engagement and outreach, including town partnerships, teachers, students and families?

  • What experience do they have around DE&I and what strategies have they employed previously to ensure all students feel safe and included. Do they have METCO experience?

  • What role does the school system play in sustainability goals from both a student education and practical implementation perspective?

  • What factors are considered in making capital investment proposals and do they have experience with the MSBA process and funding?

  • When have they demonstrated innovation and creativity in relation to problem solving or bringing new services or programming to a school or district?

What is your position on school start times?

Asked on Facebook:

I’m also interested in hearing your perspective re: delaying start times for high school students. This is an important issue for me as I have an incoming freshman next Fall. The research findings regarding this issue are compelling and I’ve been disappointed that it seems Natick is really behind in making this change.

My answer:

I want to start by establishing a few things that I believe. In fact, I think many of us actually do agree on ideal goals:

  • I believe strongly in the science that our teenagers will perform better if we can give them a later start time.

  • I believe in listening to our educators when they tell us what they need.

  • I believe that our afterschool childcare options are insufficient to support our increasingly diverse community and that they push families to make difficult decisions.

  • I believe we must always be cautious about making changes that disproportionately impact specific stakeholders.

There is no doubt that last night's School Committee meeting was stressful for many and that there are a lot of stakeholders (particularly elementary parents and our teachers) who are anxious about the implications of a change of this magnitude, particularly with the regard to the burdens of additional childcare.

Given that framing, here are my takeaways from last night:

  • Vote on 3/20: The School Committee will vote on whether to open negotiations with the union on potential start date changes. It is not a vote for a specific scenario or even a vote for change at all.

  • Any actual change in start times and schedule would not be implemented until 2024-2025. I appreciate that this is meaningful runway for community and stakeholder engagement.

  • I am concerned about going to the union with 4 distinct options before there is meaningful input from both the Committee and the community on preference. Forcing the EAN to make a choice puts our teachers and staff in a difficult position of supporting that choice if subsequently faced with community pushback.

  • This is as an opportunity to expand after school childcare resource options across Natick through development, incentives or subsidies, and I hope we don't miss the opportunity to align multiple objectives.

The School Committee has expressed a commitment to gathering public input. Difficult decisions - as our community has learned - mandates extensive community engagement. We still need that, and I think the committee can afford more than 2 weeks before voting to take this to the union.

I would love to know how your priorities align with the 4 options presented.

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