Monday, June 24, 2024

Challenger running for committee for the first time

The candidate’s website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Email | (203) 997-8751

Background: Neuroscience, robotics and engineering, biotechnology | Focuses: Upper School algebra, more financial support for educators and improved communication and accountability


Compiled by Alex Bowers

1. What are the top three issues you would like to address if elected?

My number one priority is to ensure that we have the right curriculum – a rigorous, exciting and engaging curriculum. No child should ever be left behind in our schools – especially those who need the most support – but just as importantly – no child should ever be bored, if they’re ready for more right now. And I think as a district, we often present ourselves with what amounts to a false choice between these objectives (serving the students who need more support vs. the students who need more challenge).

For example, in 2017, we eliminated Algebra from the upper school curriculum because of inequities in who was ready to take the course. And this disparity in readiness is a profound, persistent, and pernicious problem – with which the district has a long and nuanced history. But I believe the way to address it is by adding resources for the kids who need extra time and support – not by removing opportunities for advancement for the kids who are ready now. 

My second priority is ensuring that we use our school choice data: Today we have schools that are regularly oversubscribed (like our language immersion and Tobin Montessori programs) – but never expanded – and schools that are regularly undersubscribed, but never addressed. In cases like this – where our families are telling us what’s working, and sparking excitement and joy and understanding in their kids – the committee should be held responsible for listening and improving. (The last time we reviewed the school choice data was in 2013, 10 years ago, on data that is 15 years old.) Finally, let’s get the basics right – like making sure the buses run on time. You can’t expect kids to learn – and catch up in things like math – if they’re late to class.

2. Using the Excel tutoring initiative as an example, explain how you would identify goals, monitor progress, and evaluate the effectiveness of a district program.

If you ask five people what the district’s priorities are today, you’ll get nine different answers. To that end, the first thing we can do is to be clear about what we’re trying to do right now – while keeping in mind that you can’t have fifty #1 priorities. With that clear and limited set of priorities in mind, we then need to define what success looks like, and how we’ll measure it (test scores; enrollment rates; parent feedback; teacher feedback; etc.). Every single school committee meeting should begin with a review of where we are, on those measures. And some won’t work! Trying something that doesn’t work isn’t a failure – but failing to learn from it is. We rarely take stock of our history this way: Look at what we tried that didn’t make a dent in the big problems we’ve been eyeing for a long time, figure out why, and then adjust accordingly. (And for those who don’t have kids in the schools suffice it to say that there’s a lot we can learn.)

3. What processes would you put into place to encourage parents and caregivers to have a voice in shaping the district’s priorities?

The burden of communication should fall on the committee, not on the community. But today, it’s the other way around. There’s a ton of communication from the district – but it’s hard to separate the signal from the noise (to find the one email with the deadline you really need to know, amongst the six emails about the new school motto). Feeding information back to the district is difficult at best. I’d bet that families are really excited to be a part of a real, meaty, conversation about the biggest problems the district is facing. I’d bet that parents are eager to give feedback as to whether their kids are simultaneously challenged and supported. But we have to make it simpler to do so, and we have to respect families’ time.

4. How can the district improve its efforts to provide culturally sensitive instruction tailored to student interests, skill sets, and ambitions in light of the diversity of student experiences?

We can start by ensuring that our teachers are well compensated and well supported – such that we can recruit and retain the best. We can then build on top of that programs that can help us to recruit a diverse staff that mirrors the diversity of experience in our student body – but any such effort will fail unless we get the basics right first: Our educators should make a living wage and be given enough time and support to do the job to the best of their ability.

5. How do you propose to improve educators’ experiences (for instance, professional development, workload, and evaluations) in the district?

I think we need to focus on educators – and I think our focus has been on administrators. For example, in an earlier answer, I touched on our having removed Algebra from the upper school curriculum because of inequities in enrollment. But the problem’s worse than it looks: Not only are some subsets of our student population struggling more than others – the achievement across the board isn’t spectacular. In 2023, only 53 percent of our students were meeting or exceeding expectations in math. When we talk about educator workload this is a lot to address. I propose addressing it by adding teaching positions – and this is a change from what we’re doing now: In the past three fiscal years, we’ve added 17 new administrative positions – that pay more than classroom teaching – and we’ve added no new math teachers. For a quarter of that cost, we could have doubled the size of our upper school math departments.