WSPN interviews school committee candidate Jeanne Downs

Elena Erdekian

WSPN interviews school committee candidate Jeanne Downs

For candidate Alexia Obar, click here.

For candidate Barb Fletcher, click here.

Why do you think you are the best candidate?

So first, I’ll say I’m Jeanne Downs, and I’m running for school committee. There are three positions open. I’m sorry, there are two positions open and three of us running. I think that I am uniquely suited for school committee because, well the reason I’m running, is I have a family background in public service and education; my mom and my sister were teachers, and my mom ended up being on the school board, and always reminded us that education wasn’t just about our family, but was about everybody; all the kids in town. That combined with some of the skills I have, make me uniquely suited. I have a financial background, I worked for a bank for a long time doing internal audit, looking at controls and processes. I went on to work for a public accounting firm, and in the schools I have been really involved in the PTO’s; I was part of the Claypit Hill, the Middle School, and the High School PTO’s. I was President of both the Middle School and High School PTO’s. It gave me a chance to really see the schools and interact with the administrators, and see what the school budget covers, and what it doesn’t, and I think that all of those combined make me a really good candidate for the school committee.

What do you think is the most important issue?

I think probably the biggest issue that is most familiar to people is the elementary school configuration. We’re going back to the three schools; K-5, well that’s the proposal that has to be voted on at town meeting, and I think that that is a big issue because it’s a big item in the budget, and it’s a much bigger school budget than it has been in the past. The community is really behind the three schools, going back to the neighborhood schools. But it’s a matter of getting the whole town to vote for it, and the money approved to do it. I think that is the biggest issue.

Do you think parents should be allowed to excuse their children from taking the trial PARCC exams?

The PARCC exams are a new test that the state has, potentially to replace MCAS. They are piloting it right now. The Parc exam tests more conceptual knowledge instead of regurgitating stats like MCAS does. I think that it’s a really good thing for our schools to take part of and see what the tests are like. I think kids all learn in different ways and that taking the parcc test will give us an idea of if the test are really good and a good measure of kids output. I think parents should have every right to decide if their kids take it or not. But I’d hope they would choose to have them take it so they can get some good data on the tests.”

What changes would you enforce in the school district if the PARCC exams are adopted?

I think that if the Parcc exams are adopted, it will probably change the way teachers teach. I think that sometimes with MCAS teachers have to teach to the test. I think sometimes with MCAS teachers have to teach a little bit to the test, and they spend a lot of time during the year teaching things to make sure that the kids can take the MCas test and pass them. I would hope that the PArcc exam allows teachers to be a little bit more creative, not to stifle their creativity. I would hope that we could, if the Parcc tests are adopted and look at how teachers teach and come up with a way that benefits both the children and the teachers.

Do you think 1:1 at the high school has been more beneficial or detrimental to education?

Having a couple kids during the 1:1 program, I think it has been really helpful in a lot of ways, because the technology that you all use in your studies, it’s just immense. There are all kinds of things online that you do, things that I look at that I’ve never seen or done in my life. I think it’s been really good in that way. I know that in the classroom it’s good, because it makes it uniform so the teachers don’t have to deal with carts and setting up computers and people bringing in their own computers and having different platforms. The hardest part is that it seems like everyone is connected to their computer constantly. I actually applauded the schools decision last summer to have the computers turned in, and I think my children actually liked that too, just to kind of have a break from it. But overall, I think it has been a wonderful initiative.

Why/why not do you support 1:1 for the middle school?

I would support it, because I think that technology is the way of the future. If you look at kids today, even my own children who are high school and college age, the technology that is available to them now, as opposed to elementary and middle school is just exponential. No one had a cell phone in elementary school when they were in elementary school, but now it’s a lot more common. I think that in order to offer the best education that the kids can have, we really need to embrace technology and I think that extending 1:1 into the middle school is the best way to go.

What about the elementary school?

I think that I would be hesitant at first, only because how much I see having the laptop, how much I see my own children always using it, because everything for school is on it, so they’re constantly on the computer. I think there’s a lot of benefit for doing elementary schools doing other things than being on a computer. I’m not against them at all having computers in school, and needing to do an assignment on the computer at home. I guess I’d have to look into it further if the pros outweigh the cons of having their own laptop.

How would you deal with making sure students use that technology responsibly?

That’s a really important issue. I think that the schools do a good job in getting that message across, but I think that more could be done. I think that parents have to be involved in that, as far as responsibility in technology. I know that the schools and the PTO’s offer a lot of classes on parents and technology. As parents we are always behind the eight ball, because you guys know a lot more than we do. As far as being part of the school committee I would want to make sure that the schools are doing everything they possibly can to make sure that kids really know the importance of being responsible with technology and the risks that are out there. For instance having the author of LOL…OMG, I thought that was a really creative way of what can happen with technology if you’re not careful.

Why/why not are you in favor of the elementary school reconfiguration?

The reconfiguration — there was a task force put together by the schools and that spent over 16 months looking at the different possibilities for reconfiguring. We need to do something, because we are space constrained, especially at Happy Hollow, but all the schools. We need to do something so there is more space. The task force put a lot of thought to come up with different options, looking at all of them, and their final recommendation was doing the three K-5 schools. The school committee looked at it, deliberated it, and ended up supporting it. I support it too. It’s expensive, but given all the data, the data about transitions for kids, and how many are good, and too many transitions might not be good for younger kids. I think that it’s going to be a good thing. Plus it’s going to get us back to neighborhood schools, which a lot of people in the committee are looking forward too.

Why or why not do you support the funding of Wayland Cares?

I’ve been fortunate to have exposure to have kids in the high school, so I definitely support the funding of Wayland Cares. I think that families are really important when it comes to talking to their kids about drugs and alcohol. But as a community we also need to be involved. I think it takes more than families. I think the schools, where our kids spend most of their day; the community at large. We all need to be really vigilant and involved in all the issues that Wayland Care’s covers. We’ve hosted Wayland Care coffees at our house, and the parents come away learning some new things. I think that every little bit that we can do to help our kids and keep them safe is really important, so I think that Wayland Cares is short money for doing that.

Why/why not are you in favor of the budget increase?

The budget increase is big this year. I support the budget as it is. The budget is increased because of special education, and English language learners. Those are two programs that are mandated by the state, so we have to do that for our kids who fall under the special education and the English language-learning umbrella; it’s also the right thing to do. That’s something that has increased our budget a lot. The other piece is the elementary school reconfiguration. It’s something that a lot of people in town would like to see happen, so it’s in the budget. Now it’s up to town meeting to vote for it. I will say that the school committee and administration do a really good job at trying to keep the budget controlled and not having any increases. They work hard on reducing expenses every year through negotiating teacher contracts; they try to make purchases at a lower cost by doing it together. They try to increase revenues by going and getting grants and state aid, and sometimes charging fees. I think that administration and the school committee and really thoughtful when they put the budget together and in trying to keep in form increasing. This year we just have two really big things that are increasing a lot, but I think they are important so I support it.

How will you increase budget efficiency?

I would keep pursuing different grant options, pursuing state aid, which the school department is very good about pursuing, decreasing expenses and trying to find efficiencies between the school and the town. Information, technology and payroll has been combined and has produced some great efficiencies. Where it’s right to combine, that’s great. To reduce costs, it’s not always right, but in that case it was. I would just keep being really vigilant about trying to reduce expenses and increasing revenue.

How will you help the district move forward and provide support for their district wide goals (HEART)?

I have a bias towards health and wellness because I think that’s a really important thing. I watch you guys as high school students be really busy and really stressed, and I think that health and wellness is something you need to learn at a really young age so that it’s part of your everyday life. That would be my goal that I would focus on. As far as how I would do that, I would work with the school committee and the superintendent to make sure that we have a curriculum that’s really inclusive of that and new programs that really address that.

Which goals do you think are most important?

Well health and wellness, which I mentioned before. The same thing I said before.

What actions will you take to improve health and wellness education?

Like I said, working with the superintendent and administration to make sure that in the budget we have enough money for health and wellness teachers, programs, new programs if we need it, working that each school offers a good comprehensive program for the kids so that their health and wellness is addressed.

How do you plan to evaluate teachers and administration?

So theres a new teacher evaluation system that is mandated by the state that is being put in place. I know at the high school they have been using it and the administrators have gone around and have observed classes; I think they are each assigned a certain number of teachers to observe. So as far as evaluating that is a really good tool to use. As far as evaluating administration. The school committee’s responsibility is to supervise the superintendent so that evaluation falls to the school committee and as far as evaluating the rest of the schools,, that falls under the superintendent so as part of school committee I would monitor that process and make sure its moving forward.

How can we close the achievement gap?

That;s been an issue for a long time. I think that the schools try to address that every year and I think we come closer each year but it’s a really slow process. I don’t the answer of how to do that correctly. I’d be in favor of continuing to try and close the gap and look at different ways to try and do that and close more quickly.

How will you put Response To Intervention into place and make it work?

I haven’t thought a lot about that one. I know that is something that is a goal from the district wide level that the schools are all working to do. As a school committee member, I would need to look at that and study that and make recommendations based on what has been done before.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would say that as far as school committee I think it is a really important group in our town, and the education of our children is really important. I am a firm believer that every child deserves a chance to shine and that everyone deserves the same education. We are really fortunate to live in a town that values education, and having four children go through the system, one who is still in the system, I’ve seen what a great school system we have and my kids have come out really prepared for the next phase in their lives, and I would really like to make sure that happens for future generations of Wayland kids. I think that by being on school committee I could make that happen.