What motivates you to run for school committee?
Medford Public Schools is in a period of change, and with that come challenges and opportunities that require skilled leadership and commitment from its School Committee members. I would like to see public school parents strongly represented on the School Committee. As an entrepreneur, owner of a Medford-based business consulting firm, and a committed public school parent who is deeply involved in our school district, I believe I have valuable skills and experiences to contribute to the work of our School Committee and help Medford strive for excellence for all of our children.
I am an involved parent who has led and managed the Brooks PTO as co-chair of the Executive Committee and head of the fundraising team for the last two years. I am a regular participant in Medford School Committee meetings, collaborating with other elementary school parents across the city to highlight needs within the schools and fundraise to support students. In 2018, I was appointed by Mayor Stephanie Burke to serve as a member of the Superintendent Search Committee and authored key documents to attract and recruit qualified superintendent finalists. I co-founded the Medford Citywide Elementary Alliance in 2018, which raised $28,000 dollars for Medford’s public elementary schools in its inaugural year, via the Disney Vacation Raffle, which I co-chaired, and the Harlem Wizards game.
Our recent Citywide Alliance efforts are a great example of the vision I see for our schools and our city. For what feels like years, I have heard citizens across the community comment about the differences between our elementary schools and about how there really should be more collaboration at the elementary school level. I learned that there had been past attempts and organizations who sought the same kind of collaboration. Once I got through my first year as the fundraising chair at the Brooks, I decided it was time to take action. The Citywide Alliance met for the first time in my dining room in the summer of 2018. We agreed on simple operating principles and we quickly identified a set of fundraising events. The organization has been wildly successful in its first year. Each elementary school added nearly $7,000 of income to its own organization. We are looking forward to more successful activity and to continue to grow and change as we become more established as a collaboration. But most importantly, the work we have done so far opened doors. Instead of being focused on assumptions about what the other schools are doing, how much they are raising, or how another organization generates volunteers, we used this forum to collaborate, share ideas and get informed. The truth is that our organizations are more similar than different. We all share an interest in moving Medford forward in a way that reaches beyond any individual elementary school.
My vision for Medford’s schools is that we make forward progress. Always. The district has real constraints and areas for improvement. I am very familiar with many of them as a regular attendee of School Committee meetings and through my participation on subcommittees. I often speak about the need for our district to recognize its opportunities to improve communication across nearly every channel, topic, and avenue. I am passionate about the need to be looking forward with a meaningful plan to address our most expensive issues. Our high school is in need of significant attention, and all of our buildings need more maintenance than they receive. But it’s easy to identify problems. I promise to be part of the solution. Big problems need plans, phases, and steps. We can never expect change to happen without careful, and thoughtful attention to the road that leads us there, and hard work to implement it.
But even in the face of all of the opportunities for change, I’m running because there are so many things we’re doing well. I’ve been impressed with our teaching staff since my oldest child’s very first day in Kindergarten. I continue to see passionate teachers dealing with constraints in every creative way possible. I want our district to think about becoming just a little bit easier to work in. Can we find ways to let that educator creativity blossom in teaching and instruction, rather than in how to find enough copy paper and toner to get those lessons ready? I know we can.
What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve on the school committee?
I graduated from Babson 20 years ago with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a Concentration in Finance. My financial background prepared me to administer our school’s budget which is more than $60 million annually. This is an enormous responsibility and really the primary role of the committee. I know how to plan for the future, find ways to finance large expenditures, communicate the value of these expenditures, and measure whether our spend has the impact we expected.
In addition to my degree in finance, I am a proud entrepreneur and business owner of Zelus Consulting Group, which is dedicated to helping clients in government and insurance manage change and improve processes. We have been a successful small business for more than 15 years. At Zelus, we are implementers who can look at an operation or process and identify how to move it to where it needs to be for the customer. We employ nearly 20 professionals dedicated to helping clients in government and other industries manage their growth, trajectory, and business.
I believe my expertise in implementing operations and process improvement, improving the customer experience, and selecting curricula is needed in our school district. Learning Strategy, Design, and Delivery in the corporate setting is at the core of what we do in my organization. I am a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), a Certified Professional of Learning and Performance (CPLP) from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and hold a Certificate in Evaluating Learning Impact from ATD. Additionally I am a certified e-Learning developer.
I cannot think of a better way to use my skill set than as a School Committee member.
In the past two years, what School Committee actions did you support or oppose, and why?
- The Superintendent Search Process and Selection
- The superintendent search process was built to promote transparency and community engagement. I participated in several Committee of the Whole meetings where the process was discussed and I then authored the promotional piece that talked about our district and what we were seeking in a Superintendent. I was pleased that we surveyed the community to align the expectations of the interview process with the expectations from the community.
- The Committee assembled a group of individuals from diverse backgrounds. It included parents, teachers, administrators, and students from across the city. I was most impressed by our student representative each and every time he asked a question, offered his insight, or challenged an assumption.
- The selection of Dr. Edouard-Vincent was the right choice to lead MPS forward. I am so glad that the School Committee selected her. Her commitment and dedication to curriculum and instruction, academic rigor for all students, our vocational programs, and #onemedford was clear in the interviews and we’ve seen it in action since she took the reigns.
- Full-Time K Aides. New for the 2019-2020 school year, that all of our elementary schools have full time Kindergarten aides for the first time ever.
- Free the Pad and Wellness Programs. Expanding access to sanitary products for menstruating students is a critical need. Last year, I mentored and worked with Medford High School student Willa Driscoll, who was advocating to “Free the Pad” and make sanitary products available for free in the high school bathrooms. We believe that making pads available in the nurses’ office only does not equalize access, and detracts from students’ learning. Students need sanitary products in the bathroom and that’s where they should be able to access them – not in a nurses’ office that may be a significant walk from a student’s classroom. After a successful presentation, the School Committee did allocate some money for installation of free product dispensers in the bathroom. We need to ensure this work is completed, fund installation in all of the bathrooms in the high school, and carry this work through to the middle schools and elementary schools.
- I also supported the School Committee’s approval of expanded wellness programs, such as free dental screenings, which is critically important for students who may not have regular access to care.
- Transformation of Lunch Debt Policy. During the 2018-2019 school year the School Committee issued a policy around the collection of school lunch debt that is both compliant with federal standards and avoids lunch shaming for our most vulnerable students. Early drafts of the policy were not as forward thinking and I commend the School Committee for its unwavering insistence that we put controls in place to avoid lunch shaming.
- PTO Reporting and Transparency. During the 2018-2019 school year I worked with the School Committee to draft a policy on PTO reporting and transparency. I drafted both the policy and tool to be used by PTOs and “Friends of” Organizations which was ultimately approved by the School Committee. PTO transparency is important, but the policy also laid out parameters for the kind of support our volunteer PTO members need from the district to make the partnership and collaboration successful.
- Lack of Curriculum Oversight by the School Committee. The Curriculum subcommittee has not met since June of 2017 which predates the current sitting School Committee. In that time the district has purchased both an elementary Science curriculum and a middle school Math curriculum. The Curriculum sub-committee should be meeting regularly to evaluate and assess curricula, especially when the district is making substantial investments. While I support the recommendations made and the budget appropriation for each, the lack of School Committee oversight is problematic. As an expert in curriculum design and delivery for adults and an e-learning specialist, I hope to bring my skills to the School Committee to support this important work of the District.
- Lack of a District-Wide Recess Policy. There is no recess policy issued by the School Committee. We continue to hear about differences in practice across our schools. It is a constant topic of conversation among parents that our children need to move more and that we need to protect unstructured play time and promote social and emotional wellness. The School Committee needs to act on this issue. It needs to engage the community on this topic and implement and enforce a policy across all elementary schools.
- Lack of Long-Range Maintenance Plan. There is no long-range maintenance plan that addresses our aging infrastructure and our predicted population changes going forward. This is essential to ensuring budget needs can be proactively articulated to the city and adequate planning can occur.
Support AND Oppose
- Middle School Lottery. The changes to the middle school placement process during the 2018-2019 school year are complicated.
- I support the fact that the district took action to end years of lopsided choice selections and that we looked honestly at how our past practices promoted segregation at the middle school level. I am glad that the schools are finally working together to conduct joint after-school clubs, and are standardizing the open house and the welcome BBQ.
- I did not agree with the rollout of the change. The process was not transparent and it did not engage the community along the way. As a result, it felt like a shock to many parents and was traumatic for our 5th graders and their families.
- There is work to do. This change should be viewed as the first step in a bigger vision for its middle school years. As we move forward we need to engage the community and answer important questions, including whether there should be two identical schools sitting side by side, whether we should differentiate the schools in some way, and whether a grade consolidation is better suited to help us meet our vision.
What are the greatest strengths and challenges of our current school system?
Our students, our teachers, and our diversity are the greatest strengths of our district. The work that happens across the district every day is just amazing. Just a few of our strengths include:
- We have created, launched and invested in strong programs like the Medford Family Network, The Center for Citizenship and Social Responsibility (CCSR), and the Vocational school. Our programming offers a breadth of experiences for our students and the larger community.
- Our commitment to the arts has not wavered when schools across the country have cut programming in this area.
- Our district is also strongly committed to athletics with excellent facilities, a wide offering, and an expansion to the middle school level this year as we join the Greater Boston League.
- We have a strong afterschool program run by the district where many districts around us outsource aftercare completely, losing oversight of the care of our children and raising costs on our families that go to a for-profit corporation.
- Our parents, PTOs, and friends of groups provide significant community support to the district and work tirelessly to supplement what the school offers.
Any organization committed to progress will name their challenges and develop paths forward. Where we are today should be viewed as a starting point rather than our destination. I talk a lot about budget, communication, and planning challenges elsewhere in this survey, but I want to highlight a few opportunities across our programming as well:
- The integration of the vocational school and high school is a work in progress. There are scheduling issues which prevent our students from taking full advantage of the offering which require additional energy to address.
- Our middle school selection process and larger middle school experience are also a work in progress. I talk a bit about this in question 5 above and below in question 7.
- Our after school program cannot keep up with demand. There are more working parents than in past years across Medford, and adequate support for child care is a huge need that our families feel each year. We need to work to address the challenge of attracting and retaining staff to support part-time programs like this, especially in a good economy.
What initiatives would you prioritize in our school system?
There are a number of strategic planning initiatives that should take priority. By focusing on a strategic plan now, we can effectively lay out a roadmap that moves us through the next 5-10 years. A full strategic roadmap would start with the following:
- Student population assessment. This would take a careful look at how our population changes from year to year, establish trends and consider upcoming outside influences our schools will face. We should look at our trendline for charter school enrollment and determine whether we have realistic plans in place to bend it, if enrollment will continue on trend, and whether and when the charter cap will come into play for Medford. We need to consider development around the city. Development isn’t bad, but we do need to think about the impact of this development on our schools. We should look at the facts and not speculate about this. We have large developments in Medford today and we should look at how those buildings have impacted our schools over past history. Let’s ask questions like:
- What age of students typically live in which types of buildings?
- Do student populations vary between the types of buildings? Do luxury condos infuse more or fewer children than others?
- Building maintenance plan. This would look at what the buildings need from a
maintenance perspective and from the perspective of supporting future programming. If our buildings are full, what is our plan? Do have have larger visions for the middle school experience that will have a building impact? How do we account for that? What is our plan to address the infrastructure at the high school? Will we renovate what exists or work toward a new building? Will we need a new school at some point and where would it go? At what point will we need to worry about it based on our student population assessment?
- Curriculum inventory, evaluation, and assessment plan. This would look district-wide at the current curricula we use. As a professional in curriculum development and evaluation for businesses and adults, this is near and dear to my heart and the principles I work with, including needs assessment, selection, and evaluation, apply to K-12 education as well. This part of the strategic plan will identify:
- Needs to fill gaps in our learning strategies such as:
- English Language Arts curriculum for the Middle Schools
- Social Studies at all levels
- Computer Science Curriculum
- Library Curriculum
- Engineering curriculum to supplement the elementary science FOSS curriculum just purchased
- Evaluation criteria to determine on regular intervals whether our in-house curricula are working for us and serving our students.
- Policies on new curriculum purchases including how the district will evaluate recommended professional development and timing of PD and instances under which we will veer from the recommended implementation plan.
- Whether the district needs to supplement current staffing in order to realize the full value of the cost of the curriculum. For example, are coaches needed to support our teachers as we have done in the past year with our math coaches?
- Needs to fill gaps in our learning strategies such as:
- Professional Development Plan. Our strategic plan should look to align professional development plans and time to curriculum needs and other district initiatives. This is where we see implementation and forward progress. We need to be careful not to saturate our teachers with too many initiatives at the same time. This is never a recipe for sustainable progress. We should carefully evaluate the quality of our professional development and seek feedback and input. With a larger strategic plan in place this input can be focused and valuable, rather than generic and disconnected from whatever our reality might be.
- District-Wide Communication Strategy. This plan encompasses all of the above. I outline this strategic plan last because it truly needs to wrap around all of our strategic planning. A comprehensive strategic plan will consider
- What we need to communicate. This is informed by the strategic plan that will guide new efforts AND an understanding of day-to-day operations.
- How we communicate daily. How does our community expect to be communicated to? How do we do it today. Is our strategy as a district to be sender focused, meaning the person sending the message gets to decide how, or recipient focused, meaning how does the receiver want to be communicated to? Every school uses different communication paths, and within any given school teachers from classroom to classroom use different methods too. Right now, I have 5 school oriented communication apps on my phone that I’ve used in the last 2-3 years. Add to that flyers, blog posts, and having to hunt every few weeks to understand the School Committee agenda, and it’s clear that being informed is a job in its own right. We can do better.
- How do we display our story to the public? Our website is not easy to navigate and it is not community-centric. When compared to schools in our area, it’s very difficult to hear a cohesive voice or see our district’s story on the website. This is critically important for new families trying to understand what this amazing district has to offer.
Medford has a broad diversity of students. How would you address the unique needs of various student populations? Be specific.
Medford’s students and its diversity are among our district’s greatest assets. When we talk about diversity, we could be talking about a LOT of different things. Diversity of ability, socio-economic background, ethnicity, family structure, and gender identity are just a few of the things I think about when I hear the word diversity. And Medford’s diversity is all of this. When I think about the opportunities we have as a community in this area, there are a few items that stand out. Pursuing these opportunities is necessary to provide for the needs of all of our students, but more importantly it will help us harness what our diversity has to offer.
- Curriculum and Instruction. Most curricula provide purchasing options for districts to leverage differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction helps ensure that within a single classroom the needs of individual learns can be met for any given topic. The method allows the same subject matter to be explored at various levels based on student need. Differentiated instruction is not easy to execute and in order to do so successfully our teachers need to have the right tools in hand. As we look at a broader curriculum review, which is referenced in question 7 above, part of this analysis would review whether we are fully leveraging the differentiated instructional options, and establish where gaps exist that need to be filled. This review will establish a baseline of where we are not properly supporting various populations and will lead to action plans to close the gaps.
- Professional Development. Our teachers are the people in our district who address the unique needs we are talking about every day. Given that, we need to ensure that our professional development series addresses topics around cultural sensitivity and implicit bias. Professional development also needs to focus on the tactical execution of differentiated instruction. It is not easy to have 20 students in a room who all need something different. Are we providing the right PD support and the right on-the-ground support for teachers to be successful? If we aren’t, what are the gaps and how do we fill them? Is it a coaching style role, like our Math Coaches? Is it professional development broadly? Is it specialized workshops? And lastly, but equally important, are we surveying teachers themselves to understand their needs, desires, and satisfaction with our PD offerings? As an expert in curriculum design and customer satisfaction, I understand how to implement these important tools to understand the effectiveness of our PD.
- Focus on Social-Emotional development. There are a number of programs in
place across our district today, but not all buildings and teachers use the same tools and approach. As we continue to look forward it is critically important that we understand why these variabilities exist and learn from what is happening so that all our students have access to the best practices we have in our district. Programs like Responsive Classroom are not deployed across the district today. As we look at the role that social-emotional development plays in education, we must also look at the staff support available to students. Do we have enough adjustment counselors, guidance counselors, BCBAs and therapists to support the diverse needs our students have? And if we don’t, what is the roadmap to bolster the needed supports from a budget standpoint.
- English Language Learner support. The ELL Department has made great strides in the last few years under new leadership and is working to align the needs of the program and the families who rely on it. In the last two years alone significant work has occurred at the elementary and middle school experience has been re-designed, and the department has forged partnerships with local universities. The department has worked to align its administrative support so that families have the support they need during summer when administrative staff have historically been out of office. We need to ensure that our ELL experience and support at all levels is designed to meet the needs of the families who use it
- Support for our partner organizations. The celebration of our diversity is so critical when we talk about the progression from diversity, to inclusion, to belonging. Our PTOs do this work each year in many different ways through hosting events, bringing programming into our school, and ensuring that all members of the respective building community are welcome. I believe these organizations would welcome increased support and collaboration from the district particularly when it comes to how we communicate with families who need translation services. Individual PTOs can’t do it alone. I think this is true in a more broad sense when it comes to PTOs and collaboration.
- Support Wellness Programs. As a School Committee Member, I would support initiatives that increase access to wellness care in our schools, whether through in-house initiatives or partnerships with health care providers. This is particularly important for students who may not have regular or reliable access to care. We currently have free, in-school care such as dental cleanings and assessments, and I support expanded access to such programs. I also support the “Free the Pad” initiative that I discussed in question 5 to expand access to menstrual products. Additionally, I see a need to assess our sex education program, as well as our D.A.R.E. program.
Do you have any priorities for the school budget? What are they, and why?
My four campaign priorities are my budget priorities. The first is integral because it is the key to increasing our budget in the short term. As we do that, we then have a responsibility to plan carefully to make the other three priorities come to life.
- Increased, fair funding for our schools.
Under the current budget, Medford lost more than $700,000 local aid in FY20. That’s more than any community other than Boston in the coming year. When we learned about the proposed cuts this spring Medford stood to lose nearly $1,000,000 in proposed funding. I prepared a petition to the Governor and State legislature, and delivered nearly 1,000 signatures in only 2 weeks to the Governor and our representatives. My goals were two-fold. First, to do what I could to mitigate the impact of the loss. Second, my goal was to increase awareness of how our schools are funded, and to mobilize families and other stakeholders to hold our state government accountable for funding excellent education for all of our children. That second goal is so critical to me, and a huge driver for why I am running for School Committee. People WANT to be informed, but they NEED it to be easier to do. When we take the time to tell people what is going on, provide relevant context, and then recommend a call to action, people DO mobilize. But as a working parent myself, I understand how hard that is to find out all on your own, even if you have a desire to do it. We need to make information more accessible to our stakeholders, all of whom cannot attend or even watch hours-long school committee meetings. For this reason, I wrote numerous blog posts on school committee issues and our school budget process (which can be found on my website, www.electjenny.org/blog). They are, in essence, a distillation of a 2, 3, or even 5 hour meeting into an easy-to-understand 2 to 3 minute read.
I support the Promise Act, as well as other legislation that will correct the funding formula that does provide sufficient funding to operate excellent school districts, and does not keep pace with the state’s funding mechanism for Charter Schools and diverts the lion’s share of cost to the local municipalities. I talk more about my thoughts on the PROMISE Act in question 11 below.
- Creating a welcoming and informed community through meaningful, proactive, and accessible communications.
As a process improvement expert, I see a significant need to improve the way our school district communicates with its students and families, and to be accountable to the community it serves. Our school district has tremendous offerings which should be accessible to current and prospective families and the community. We need to rethink our communication policies, our communication strategy and our website, which has not been updated in more than 10 -15 years I frequently lead communication initiatives, and would be excited to tackle this challenge with our school district.Given that its back to school time, I see this need clearly across social media. Parents of incoming students asking how they will be notified of the first week of school schedule, schools taking different approaches to informing families of teacher assignments, and even questions about what to expect for a new Kindergarten family. But long before the start of school, it is clear that people are genuinely curious about our schools. And it is also clear that they aren’t finding what they are looking for from official channels, so they are reaching out to whomever they can to fill the void. Our district should own its narrative. It should be easy for parents to go to our website, know what we are all about, and leave EXCITED to be part of this community. Being a parent is so hard. Every day you worry about making the right choices for your child. Let’s find ways to instill confidence. We want people to not even think twice that MPS is the right place for their child. None of this happens overnight. It takes time. It is worth the investment. It is important. And it will help set us apart.
- Create a comprehensive and holistic approach to address the future of our school buildings.
Our high school is in need of significant attention, and all of our buildings need more maintenance than they receive. As a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), I know that big problems need plans, phases, and steps. As a School Committee member, I will volunteer for the facilities subcommittee so that I can lend my expertise to the district in executing on its current capital plan, and developing plans for the future. My philosophy is that we can never expect change to happen overnight or without careful and thoughtful attention to the road that leads us there, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and contribute to this process.When we talk about our school buildings, we certainly have to talk about the needs of the high school. The complex is massive and aging. But, I am not aware that a master plan or strategy exists in terms of how we will proceed. Will we build a new building? Will we renovate what we have? These questions need to be considered carefully and we need to lay out a plan that takes us there, so that every decision we make regarding school maintenance can either be tied to that plan, or we determine that the project must proceed even though we know it doesn’t tie to the plan. I participated in the recent School Committee meetings where a 5 year capital plan was developed for the first time. It’s an excellent start, but it really is just a start. During the meeting I commented that in all the discussion that occurred, and across the plan that was crafted, there was really no concrete discussion around the fact that the larger community wants to know what the plan is for the high school complex. Our high school is such a hub for the community. Parents and children of all ages go there. They all have an opinion of what they see. Students at the high school talk about the HVAC issues and being frozen or melting depending on the area of the building. There is a serious need to start addressing these questions.
But the issues around building maintenance are bigger than just the high school. Our student population is growing and not all of our buildings are equipped to handle the influx. Several elementary schools are nearly at capacity, and development of large corridors is upon us as a community. Our schools need to be discussing these trends now, because we can’t wait until a building needs a fifth classroom in every grade to have a plan for how to address that. I don’t want the answer to be that we bounce around special programs for our most vulnerable populations from year to year. We need to start now.
Similarly, there has been a LOT of discussion about the middle schools and I believe we need to build a strategy for what we want our middle school experience in Medford to be. Should it be two ‘identical’ schools sitting side by side? Should the schools actually be different in some meaningful way? Should we move to a consolidation of grades? As we make those strategic decisions, we should be driven by the best educational approach for our community, but this will mean that our plans for the building will have to be ready to execute that best strategy. This also can’t happen overnight. But we need to start with the vision, do our homework, engage the community, and then determine the building impact. From there, we will need to discuss how we make that happen.
- Giving our teachers the support they need to do their jobs.
This priority will take multiple forms. As a first example, Medford has a serious issue with making its school supplies last through the year, and the process by which supplies are distributed is not always equitable. Educators should be allowed to blossom and engage their creativity without having to worry about where their copy paper and toner is coming from. We have amazing teachers here in Medford, and the School Committee should create a budget that supports the things teachers need, as well as grant writing support to raise funds, so teachers can put their energy into teaching our children rather than worrying about supplies.As importantly, we need to take a hard look at our professional development plans for this year and into the future. How are we evaluating the quality of the programming available and delivered? There are helpful frameworks that can and should be used to evaluate adult learning. We do this every day in my professional life and evaluating how we teach teachers should be no different. The strategy and plans for professional development should be built in tandem with a broader range strategic plan for the district. For example, if we are installing a new curriculum, what professional development needs to accompany it so that we can achieve our intended results? How to we slot that into our professional development timeline? How we we allow our professional development plans inform other strategic initiatives? If we have a full professional development calendar for the elementary schools because they are installing a new science curriculum, can we really also focus PD on another initiative, or should that initiative wait until there is capacity to make it successful. I think of this as one of the key drivers for needing a master plan for our district. What are we doing when? How does each item impact others? When are there things that are really important and how do we remain nimble without sacrificing success of our initiatives? These are the questions I’m focused on.
What role should charter schools have in our public school system?
As a state we have veered so far from the original intent of our charter schools. The intent was to create a mechanism for specialization and focus and to promote innovation that would benefit the entire system. We are not living that reality. Instead, the funding equation is broken and as a result, charter schools are detracting from the quality education our public schools can provide for our students. I can see a hypothetical scenario where charter funding does not have to be at the detriment of the district, but there doesn’t appear to be legislative energy around making hypothetical scenario a reality. This leaves districts like Medford in a predicament where the playing field is not level, and measurement isn’t apples to apples. I am very concerned about our most vulnerable students, many of whom aren’t candidates for a charter school and/or don’t succeed there. This kind of selection that happens across the charter school industry really means that charter schools are not public schools.
Public schools are the foundation of our nation. They create growth and promise for the future of our cities, towns, states, and country. We need to be thinking about this for all of our children and expecting our public schools to provide for everyone. Medford Public Schools is required to do this, and so should every other public school Medford’s children attend. If a school can’t or won’t do that, I don’t believe they should be entitled to public funds. We have a real issue with charter school funding here in Medford, and there is little we can do to regulate how our tax dollars are spent funding charters at the local level.
So what CAN we do?
- Advocate for fair funding, and I will continue to champion that effort in Medford. I will let my constituents know how to take action, and when we need them to engage.
- Understand why families choose charters on a systemic level. This will be difficult to quantify but we have also never really tried as a city to understand it. This could require surveys, forums, and interviews. We need to think carefully about the data that we collect and how we go about collecting it. The goal is not to create an us versus them mentality, but rather to really understand the key drivers.
- Take action based on those findings.
- I believe that we will find that communication about what Medford has to offer is at the root of how many decide that charter schools are a better answer for them. We need to do a better job telling our story and I believe that with or without a focus on charter families this will benefit all of Medford’s families. We may need to prioritize things like consistent communication protocols and a revamped family-friendly website to see a meaningful change in how families decide where to send their children to school.
- We may also hear that some families believe their child didn’t or wouldn’t get what they need from Medford Public Schools. In this case, we need to be willing to hear the feedback, whether we agree with it or not. And then we need to look at our system and determine what is driving the feedback.
What is your stance on the PROMISE Act?
I support the Promise Act, as well as other legislation that will correct the funding formula that does provide sufficient funding to operate excellent school districts, and does not keep pace with the state’s funding mechanism for Charter Schools and diverts the lion’s share of cost to the local municipalities. In 2015, the Foundation Budget Review Commission confirmed what most already knew. That the way our foundation budget is set in Massachusetts is flawed and harmful to ‘non-wealthy’ communities. The commission found that the costs of healthcare for our employees and special education costs in particular have far exceeded the assumptions of the formula which was established back in 1993. Little change has happened to the formula since its establishment . Medford has been underfunded for 20 or so years to the tune of $4 Million annually. This is a major issue.
As I discussed above, under the current budget, Medford is projected to lose more than $700,000 local aid in FY20. That’s more than any community other than Boston in the coming year. When we learned about the proposed cuts this spring Medford was then projected to lose nearly $1,000,000 in proposed funding. I prepared a petition to the Governor and State legislature, and delivered nearly 1,000 signatures in only 2 weeks time to the Governor and our representatives. My goals were two-fold. First, to do what I could to mitigate the impact of the loss. Second, my goal was to increase awareness of how our schools are funded, and to mobilize families and other stakeholders to hold our state government accountable for funding excellent education for all of our children. That second goal is so critical to me, and a huge driver for why I am running for School Committee. People WANT to be informed, but they NEED it to be easier to do. When we take the time to tell people what is going on, provide relevant context, and then recommend a call to action, people DO mobilize. But as a working parent myself, I understand how hard that is to find out all on your own, even if you have a desire to do it.
At this time, we know that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been directed to determine a spending process for and additional $7.5 million in funds made available by the legislature to be distributed via the Charter School Tuition Reimbursement Account. This amount is intended to address and offset communities like Medford that were harmed in this budget cycle but we should be realistic that this amount is a stop gap measure. We need to continue to expect more from our legislature and we can’t let another budget season go by without pressing for action. This is one of the top priorities for my campaign.
How can we increase parental and community engagement in school committee meetings?
I think we need to be realistic with our expectations for this very busy world in which we live. It is unrealistic to expect a packed house at a bi-monthly meeting, where meetings routinely run 4+ hours. It is especially unrealistic to think that parents, who are often working full-time while raising a family, can find the space to prioritize this even if they wanted to. So instead, we need to deal with this reality. One simple thing that I have already done to address this reality is to provide a summary of the meetings I attend. You can find them at www.electjenny.org/blog or by subscribing to my mailing list. In these summaries, my goal is to talk briefly but meaningfully about the issues discussed in the meeting. This kind of access to hours of meetings allows parents who want to tune in to a particular issue some amount of information to consider, and then a path to digging in deeper if interested.
The school committee should also push for some meaningful path to viewing Committee of the Whole and Subcommittee meetings. That may mean working with our cable access team to do that or it may mean committing to publishing meeting summaries in addition to the minutes. There may be particular meetings, such as budget hearings where providing childcare would help, but we need to recognize that few families will take advantage of childcare when a meeting is continuing into 10 pm or later. School committee members should determine how to proactively update the community through appearances at other meetings (such as PTOs) or even via a written regular update to the school communities. Office hours are another way that can be effective if done regularly. Some current members do this today, but all our elected officials should be considering how to keep the community informed.
Everyone grows up holding personal biases. Please share an anecdote about a time that your own biases were confronted, and how you responded.
I grew up in a very small town in southeastern Massachusetts. Everything about it was small except its square mileage. My dad grew up in town, my teachers had taught him before they taught me, and my grandfather was a volunteer firefighter in town who also ran the local general store and the school bus company. My parents are both from big families with lots of siblings. Neither of my parents went on to college. Despite being at the top of her high school class, my mother could not go to college because she instead needed to work to support her family.
My town was not diverse. Everyone looked like I do for the most part. So our diversity was more economic than racial. I had parents who supported me by instilling in me and my sisters the value of hard work. They told me I could go to any college I wanted to, if I could get in and if I was willing to pay for it. With that encouragement, I was accepted to Babson and completed my degree with Honors. While I was there, I worked my way through to pay for living expenses, and try to make a dent in the loans I was stacking up. For most of the time I worked full time in retail while going to school. Once I graduated, I began the long process of paying back my school loans. All of them. It wasn’t easy to do but I am grateful for the focused opportunity it provided me to have very marketable skills coming out of college, and a masterful recruiting program that helped me secure a job out of school. My husband Scott comes from a similar background. For both of us we’ve always been motivated to move forward, one step at at time, whatever that means in the moment.
We landed in Medford before we had children, and where the schools were completely unknown to us. We learned some things from our neighbors, other locals, and social media, but found it was somewhat difficult to get clear and accurate information about the district. Moreover, Medford’s scores and ranking didn’t look so hot when compared to other districts. The narrative from all of these sources almost felt like it was telling us that Medford was so diverse that it couldn’t perform. Or that the elementary schools were fine, but more challenges existed at the middle and high school level. So I was faced with confronting this bias I had that the way I was educated was perhaps the ‘right’ way or a ‘better’ way, meaning I had to decide whether I was looking for an education for my children that was in a smaller town, or was a little less diverse, and more like my own.
And in confronting this question and its implicit bias from how I grew up, I had to lean in. And I did just that. I started listening to more about what the district had to offer, asking questions, and asking myself what I wanted for my children. I also had to educate myself about what test scores mean and how higher scores are achieved. And the answer to those questions are more concerning than any of the narratives about Medford could ever be. I found that wealth and test scores correlate so compellingly that I had to wonder where I would have landed in today’s high stakes testing world when I was a child. We were not wealthy. We struggled. We didn’t do things and go places because we couldn’t afford to. And those factors don’t produce high test scores. So knowing that test scores weren’t going to answer the questions I had about MPS, I knew I would have to rely on the objective information I gathered about what the district has to offer, and on our own family’s experience, which has been wonderful. I have been so impressed with Medford’s teachers and the education my children have received.
I’ve never been content with standing in place. Moving forward is at the root of who I am. And it’s because of this that Medford is the answer for my kids. It moves forward the educational opportunities available from where I was as a child. Medford’s diversity has helped me see how the education my kids will receive will be better than my own. That’s the kind of progress we all strive for when we think about our kids. We want to do better, so our kids can be as well off, or better off, than we are.