DISCUSSING VIEWS IN-DEPTH


Because the School Committee candidates were not given the opportunity to respond to each question at the Candidates Forum, I Have Responded to the questions here.

 

How do you view the School Committee, as a part and partner of municipal government or totally independent with its own agenda and mission?

When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I looked for a community to settle down in, a place to establish our family roots, and to find our forever home. We chose Franklin, in large part, because of the good schools. Good schools are part of what makes Franklin one of the best places in the country to raise a family.

I definitely view the School Committee as a partner to municipal government. One of my action items on School Committee will be to work to improve the communication between the Committee and the Town Council. In speaking with constituents, I have found that some go as far to characterize the relationship between the School Committee and Town Council as “adversarial”. This is unacceptable.

Both the Town Council and School Committee are on the same team. Both are working to make Franklin great. Because the Town Council holds the purse strings, the School Committee must effectively communicate the value of investments in the schools. We should always be working to communicate this clearly to not only the Town Council, but to all the residents of Franklin.

Additionally, understanding what is happening at the town level is important while planning for the future of our schools. What new building developments are coming? How many children are projected to be moving into our schools? We should work with the Town Council to understand their vision for development in Franklin and use that to guide our plans for the future of the schools.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with the Town Council for the future of Franklin!

 

The town is seeing a lot of housing projects coming in. How should the schools prepare for a possible influx of students?

Again, this comes back to the importance of developing a partnership between the School Committee and the Town Council, as well as the Planning Board. We should all be on the same team as we work to improve Franklin. By improving our communication with the municipal government and understanding the data and projections for future growth in Franklin, the School Committee can predict school enrollments going forward. I like to take an evidenced-based and data-driven approach to decision making, and this is a perfect example of where that approach is necessary.

My understanding is that the number of students enrolled in Franklin schools has been relatively flat and even slightly decreasing over the last few years. As a parent, I’ll note that I was quite pleased by my daughter’s low class size (16 students in her kindergarten class at Keller). I know class sizes are larger in the high school, but it’s good to know that even with new families coming to Franklin, we may be able to absorb growth over the next few years without much trouble.

One of my priorities on the School Committee is to create a thorough strategic plan. Our strategic plan should definitely incorporate these predictions so we can prepare accordingly. I look forward to working on this issue – for the future of Franklin!

 

What are your views on the role of homework for students? Should there be rules for the amount of homework students receive?

As an educator, I believe homework is only valuable if students will receive meaningful feedback from the assignments that will help them progress in their learning. Homework should never be busywork. Used properly, in the right situations, homework can strengthen a student’s learning experience for the subject matter while also helping them with lifelong learning skills like time management, independence, and perseverance.

As a college educator in particular, I need to know that my students know how to successfully complete homework assignments and study outside of the classroom. However, I think we should look at role homework is serving at our schools, particularly in the elementary grades. Recent research has called into question the value of homework for younger students. I hope that the School Committee will be open-minded and forward-looking by considering evidenced-based research around homework when developing any homework policies.

That being said, we must consider that homework is a particularly nuanced subject because it can serve many pedagogical purposes. For example, homework may be reinforcing concepts already learned in class, preparing students for new material to be presented in class, or a component of a larger assignment that the students will work on in and out of class. Homework assignments vary from one grade level to the next and between subjects. For these reasons, I think it’s challenging to set homework policies, particularly around quantity of homework, when “homework” can mean so many things.  I’m also conflicted as to how much of a role the School Committee should have in setting policies around homework, as teachers generally know what is best for their students, and it is not the School Committee’s job to micromanage the classroom.

I do think it’s useful to have discussions around homework with all the interested parties, including students, parents, and teachers, and I was glad to see the School Committee reach out to the community as they explored the homework policy this summer. I hope the School Committee continues this discussion. I would love to bring my expertise as a researcher in student learning to the School Committee to help us evaluate new research as we help decide what will give our students the best learning experience – for the future of Franklin.  

 

Many studies suggest that high school students would benefit from a later start time to the school day. Would you support looking into a later start time for high school? Why or Why not?

As a neuroscientist, I can confirm that the evidence is clear – our adolescent students benefit academically from a later start time. Their brains are wired to keep them up later at night which means they need more sleep in the morning to perform to their full potential. Sleep has numerous benefits including enhancing learning and decreasing stress.  When we force them to wake up early for school, we are depriving them from these benefits.

That being said, I do not believe we should flip a switch tomorrow and change the school start times. Changing start times has far-reaching effects and can impact nearly every member of our community. There are lots of question we must answer:

- What happens with after-school sports?
- What about students who work after school? What about the local employers of these students who rely on them for their work?
- What about families that rely on the older sibling to care for younger siblings after school? What will this mean for our after-school care offerings?  What does this mean for families who may not be able to afford after-school care for younger children?
- How can we get teachers on board with this change? 
- What does this mean for bus routes? How will traffic for the entire Franklin community be impacted by this change in start time?
- How much will this cost?

And I’m sure there are many other questions as well.

Changing the school start time is a complex issue that deserves careful, deliberative study and analysis.  We need to hear from all the stakeholders to address their questions and consider their concerns.  We need to approach this issue with an open mind to determine what is ultimately best for Franklin right now.

At the end of the day, we may find that Franklin is prepared to make this change, and then we can move forward.  We may instead find that we need to make changes gradually and plan for a new start time a few years down the road.  Or we may find that changing the start time is not right for our community.  Regardless of what we conclude, I believe now is the time to have this conversation, and I’m frankly shocked that the School Committee has not already started this process.  We may even find ourselves in a situation in the future where the state mandates the change.  If we don’t figure out where we stand, there is no way we can move forward.  I strongly believe we must start this process as soon as possible – for the future of Franklin.

 

Franklin’s schools are ranked a level 2 according to the Department of Elementary Education and Secondary Education. What steps would you suggest how to improve this ranking?

Whenever I am faced with a problem like this, my first approach is to gather the data.  The Franklin school district is rated at a level 2 because at least one school in our district is a level 2.  In 2016, the high school and two of the elementary schools were level 1, with the rest of our schools at level 2. 

First of all, I think it is wonderful that we have a Level 1 high school, and we can hopefully continue the great work there.  Since some, but not all of our elementary schools are level 1, I wonder if we can look at the strengths and weaknesses of each elementary school and share best practices so all the elementary schools can get up to level 1.  On the other hand, it is concerning that none of the middle schools are Level 1.  I think we need to concentrate efforts there, look to peer districts for best practices, and focus on how we can improve performance at the middle school level.

Upon further analysis of the data, it becomes evident that our high needs students and students with disabilities are furthest from making the progress necessary for us to obtain Level 1 status across the board.  This means that these programs in particular need additional scrutiny so that we can work towards honoring the diversity of our students, meeting students where they are at, and creating inclusive spaces that help all of our learners thrive.  I’d like to gather information from other school districts that have worked to improve the progress of their high needs students to see what we can implement in Franklin to raise the status of our schools.

How can we achieve these changes? We will likely need to invest in our students to help raise our profile from Level 1 to Level 2, and this is a challenge with the current funding situation in Franklin.  It must be a priority for us to engage in dialogue with the Town Council in particular, and with the community in general, to help everyone understand the value of investing in our schools.  The Superintendent and School Committee must also advocate on behalf of our students at the town and state level for better funding. 

I have studied the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Formula and have had the opportunity to learn about the details with State Rep. Peisch, the Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Education.  While I believe changing the funding formula is best for students across the state of Massachusetts, I’m not convinced that the proposed changes to the funding formula are likely to have much impact in a town like Franklin.  What we do need to do is advocate for better funding for our high needs and differently-abled students.  We also need to look for grants and other creative ways to better fund the Franklin schools, so we can improve performance of our students across the board.

 

What are the major issues that you think must be addressed in the Franklin Public Schools and what do you propose to do to address them?

This is an exciting time for Franklin schools!  With the new superintendent comes novel, innovative ideas.  During this critical time of transition for the schools, I’d like to use my particular background to help establish a thoughtful strategic plan.  Now is when we begin establishing the legacy of the Franklin schools for years to come.  For our strategic plan to be successful, we need to listen carefully to all stakeholders, particularly parents and community members to hear what is working well in our schools and what needs some help.  This process should be deliberative and thorough, such that our plan clearly lays out a mission that we can point when faced with tough policy decisions.

Another major issue for the Franklin schools is our funding.  Our per pupil expenditure is low, and while the schools have always made the best of what they have received, we need to work on our communication with community members and with the Town Council such that everyone in Franklin understands the value of investing in our schools.  I hope to continue the work that prior School Committee members have begun in regards to communication and expand those efforts to help everyone see the importance of supporting the Franklin schools.