WSPN interviews school committee candidate Barb Fletcher

Lauren Simon

WSPN interviews school committee candidate Barb Fletcher

For candidate Jeanne Downs, click here.

For candidate Alexia Obar, click here.

Why do you think you are the best candidate for school committee?

The reason I think I am the best candidate for school committee is because I believe I have the k-12 knowledge, the personal and professional experience and the dedication to continue to be a valued school committee member. I’ve been on the committee for the past nine years, the last three years as chair. I’ve lived in Wayland for over 20 years now, with two children who have gone through the public school system who are currently in college, and two at the high school. I also currently work part time at a middle school in Dorchester for low-income families in their business office. So, I feel that I have k-12 knowledge, I have both the professional and educational experience, and I have worked very hard these last nine years and would really appreciate the opportunity to continue to do that.

What do you think is the most important issue?

I think one of the biggest challenges that the school committee will have is transitioning to a K-5 elementary school model this coming fall and supporting the superintendent and administrators and the teachers in that work. The school committee recently decided to include, in our budget for next year, funds to move back to a K-5 elementary school model, and that will take a lot of time and effort to make that transition, but I also view it as an opportunity because it will give us a chance to step back and really look at our elementary educational program and see ways that we can improve it. The superintendent hired a consultant to help us with that work, so that’s one of the areas that I think we’ll be spending a great deal of time on in the future.

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

I do support the reconfiguration of the elementary schools as it has been recommended by the school committee, of which I am a member, and as which is included in the budget for next year and we voted on at town meeting. Two years ago, there were concerns raised about the space at the elementary school level, and so a study was conducted that confirmed there were some space concerns in some of the elementary schools. So the superintendent put together a task force about 16 months ago that was comprised of administrators, teachers, a school committee representative, and parents from the community. From the work of the task force, where they did outside research, they basically came forward with two recommended models. First, they felt and they affirmed that there was a need to make a change this coming fall, and there are four or five reasons why there should be change. One is, from the research they found that a one year transition, as which currently happens at the kindergarten level, from an educational standpoint is not ideal. Two, there are concerns at Happy Hollow in some of the common areas. Third, Claypit is viewed as a large elementary school without an assistant principal. Fourth, the current configuration doesn’t give a lot of flexibility could our enrollment projections increase. So for those reasons, it was determined that there was a need to make a change this coming fall, the task force came forward with two different models that they recommended, going to what we used to have, three K through five model schools, or alternatively where Loker would be a kindergarten through first grade model, and the other two elementary schools would be second through fifth grade. The superintendent ultimately recommended the K-5 model for all three schools, and the school committee over its deliberations over the last six weeks or so confirmed and agreed with that recommendation, and that is what the school committee is supporting moving forward, and that’s the model that I support going forward, and I think it’s the best choice that’s available, and addresses the concerns that have been raised about the elementary schools.

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

Actually, we’ve seen recently as a school committee member, you were part of a listserv called the Massachusetts Association of School Committee Members. And that listserv has been very active with that question about whether parents should be able to opt out of the pilot test for the PARCC assessment test that’s going to be administered in the next couple weeks. The department of that has actually said that legally they can’t allow that to happen, but they are also saying that if a family comes forward and says that they don’t want their child to participate, that there probably wouldn’t be any consequences, so they’re not encouraging it, and they’re trying to discourage it, because obviously they would like the opportunity to see. If everyone opts out of it then you can’t conduct a pilot obviously. So if they are extending circumstances (3:14), I think they probably will allow those families to opt their child out of the pilot test, and I guess I would support that position as well.

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

If PARCC exams were adopted in the district, I would want to have, and I think the school committee is actually planning to have this conversation already in June, we’re going to sit back and really talk about what is the PARCC assessment test. In theory, it’s supposed to be testing the application of concepts, whereas the MCAS in a lot of respects can be viewed as simply memorization of facts. And so, I think we need to have bigger conversations about ‘is that the right assessment tool, are we teaching too much to the test, are these assessment rules dampening creativity of the teachers, and is dampening the enthusiasm of students to instill that love of learning?(4:35) So I think there are a lot of bigger questions that we should have around the PARCC assessment tool, and I think we can have those conversations now. I don’t think we have to wait until it’s actually implemented.

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

I believe there are a lot of benefits to the 1:1 initiative at the high school. Obviously I was on the committee when the decision was made to implement the 1:1, and I did support it at the time, and I still do. I feel that the benefits that it provides includes greater instructional time, you don’t have to go to a laptop cart and assign it to a classroom and get the students to take the laptops out and sit down, you have immediate access. It allows students to have the exact same platform on which to affect teaching and learning. It also helps with organizational skills, I think it improves communication skills between students and teachers, as well as between teachers and families, and I think it also provides the students with a greater understanding of hardware and software aspects of technology. I do recognize that those are challenge associated with it, or drawbacks, and there are a lot of concerns that have been raised about, ‘has there been too much screentime verses facetime?’(6:15) But I actually view that as an opportunity. I feel that students are going to have most likely access to a laptop when they leave the high school, when they go to a college or a work environment, and I think that it’s really important that while students are here, with their families and with the high school, that we can teach them those strategies of how to balance that time so that they’ll have those tools that they can use when they’re off on their own, in an independent learning environment, wherever that may be. So I feel at this time, the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks associated with 1:1.

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

I do, I think they are planning to implement a form of 1:1. Actually, they had a pilot the last year or two in certain classrooms, and one of my children actually was a part of that, and I think there are similar benefits to having a 1:1 at the middle school, I think there needs to be some differences in terms in the type of device that can be used, they may not need the same level of technology that a high school student uses, and in addition I think there’s some discussion around whether or not the student should depending on what grade they’re at, whether they should be able to bring their laptop or their device home with them, that level of responsibility. So I really look to the administrators to decide and recommend the platform we use, and how it will be used in the classrooms, but I think some form of a 1:1 initiative will be beneficial at the middle school level as well.

What about the elementary school?

So there, I also believe and this is actually part of the DESC(8:20), I believe has a target goal, where they want an effect at every level throughout the school, where a child has access to a device, and I believe at the elementary level, there should be access to a device. It’s kind of a similar conversation as I just mentioned at the middle school at the elementary level, and I think you really need to understand at each grade level what is the appropriate device they should have, and then understand how it should be used within the classroom, and how much time they need to spend on it, and whether it’s appropriate for those students to bring that device home. My guess is that the administrators would not necessarily recommend students bringing devices back and forth between home and school, but I think it may be appropriate at certain grade levels that they have access at any point in time to a device during the school day, and so there I would also look to the administrators to recommend the platform device as well as the amount of time that they need to have the device.

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

There are a couple of things that I think can be done to ensure that students use technology appropriately because I think it is, as I mentioned earlier, one of the challenges with having a 1:1 really at any level. I think that the school system has done a nice job with the LARK, the guidelines that they’ve put in place. To ensure that, I think students need to hear it over and over again, and also to enforce it because I believe that technology is going to be a part of our lives in a large scale way going forward, and so I think it’s very important that students understand how to use it appropriately from not only just the amount of screen time that they use, but also in terms of access to reliable sources of information, and also communicating with other people whether they’re peers, strangers, or teachers. So I think the policies and the procedures the administration has put in place are good ones, but I think that it’s an area where we should constantly keep reviewing and updating and making changes to because to me it’s viewed as a working document, and should be continually reviewed. I think another area where it’s really important is making sure that there’s that connection with the home so that the responsibility of being taught here in the classroom are also being communicated to the families so that they have an opportunity to reinforce those responsibilities at home as well because once they leave the school it doesn’t mean that their access to technology stops, clearly here at the high school it is used and so I think that responsibility has to be learned and watched over in a partnership relationship between families and the schools. So I think through communication, and through policies and procedures, are ways that I think we can try to make sure that technology is used appropriately.

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

Yes, I do support the funding of Wayland Cares, I believe in the research and the work that had been done, it showed that Wayland Cares has value, and that there is a need. From the surveys that the high school students have taken, self reported, that, I believe, 36% of students in the past month have had a drink, and in the last month 18% of students self reported that they used marijuana. So I do believe that there is a need for the work that Wayland Cares does, I feel specifically that one of the things that Wayland Cares provides is a hired prevention specialist, and if you compare our usage rates, to our peer communities that don’t have that prevention specialist, our usage rates have actually declined more rapidly than our peer communities who have not had that position. They also found in their work that this particular position should be housed under the youth of family services, which is a separate town department, which I think is the appropriate place for work to be under. So, because I believe that there’s a need, I believe that the work has value. I think it’s been proven, the value of that work and how it’s impacted our students here in Wayland High School, and that the appropriate place has been found under youth and family services I do support the funding of that position.

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

Yes, I am in favor and did vote to recommend the current budget for next year, which if you compare it to where we’re projecting we’re going to end this year in our financial results, it will be a 5.9% increase, which is a large increase and we acknowledge and recognize that increase. There are a couple of key drivers behind that budget increase, one is because of our enrollment changes we are adding more teachers to the sixth grade level so that there will be three full clusters at the sixth grade level. Conversely, at Claypit we are finding that because of the changes at certain grade levels at Claypit we’re actually able to reduce two classes at Claypit. The second driver has to do with our special education and English Language Learners, or ELL, services. We’re finding because of where our students are, and in particular because of new and current state and federal mandates, which are required by law, our costs associated with special education services and ELL services are going to increase significantly next year. The third major driver for next year is, obviously, the reconfiguration of the elementary schools. That’s going to contribute on the school budget side, almost $600,000 to the budget. So because of those three reasons, we’re making our budget increase more so this year than it has over the past several years. If you look at the prior five years, not including next year, our budget on an annual basis has increased our actual expenditures by just 2% each year, so you’re seeing a much larger increase for the reasons that I noted. But I do support the budget as it’s being recommended to town meeting.

How will you increase budget efficiency?

There are several areas that we have looked at in the past several years to find efficiencies. We’ve actually looked for new revenue sources, so through our state aid grants and, unfortunately, also imposing fees on families. This year we are actually increasing our fees at two levels: the high school and middle school athletics and the transportation or bus fees. We’ve also looked for ways to find cost savings or efficiencies. The superintendent identified two areas in the budget where he feels he can take some additional risk, but thereby achieving savings through staff turnover and through what’s called special education prepayment for our tuition. We’ve also looked to sharing resources between the town and the school departments, and we’ve been able to do that in the area of payroll, maintenance, and, most recently, technology. We’ve also looked for areas where we can find opportunities for collaborative opportunities with peer communities. We have a relationship with The Educative Cooperative or TEC, where we’re able to, with 15 other communities, share purchasing of supplies and materials, collaborate on professional development opportunities, and also collaborate on student support services. And so, those are some of the ways that we’ve been able to find efficiencies and cost savings. We’ve also tried to, through our contract negotiations, change our cost structure, so it’s more financially sustainable for the long term. Those are kind of areas: looking for new revenue sources, finding cost savings and efficiencies, sharing of resources, collaborative opportunities with other communities and trying to change our cost structure. Those are kind of the five areas where we’ve tried to manage our increases of our budget.

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

One of the ways that I think we could do that is to make sure that– and HEART?? the goals, to me, underlie the overall mission of the school system, and I really think that as we– there are a lot of logistical and day-to-day type work that the school committee needs to do, but I think we always need to step back and make sure that that’s aligned with our goals–the goals that have been determined or recommended by the superintendent through his work with his administrators and then supported by the school committee, and b y us making sure that the work that we do at the committee level and then also at the district level, it should support those goals and then it should also support the mission of the school system. And if you tie all of that together and you communicate that throughout the entire district, I think that will greatly support those goals. It can even go down to as low a level, in a sense, of making sure what we’ve done in redesigning, in effect, our agendas of our meetings to make sure that the educational agenda topics – those that we feel are going to directly impact the students and those that should impact those goals. Those are the conversations that we have at the beginning of our meetings, and then holding of the administrative or procedural ones to later in the night. But making sure that we always have those discussions at the beginning because they do, in my mind, have the greatest importance and impact on student learning.

Which goals do you think are most important?

Of the five district goals, I feel that the broadest one and has the most reach is would be the RTI, the Response To Intervention. I think it can benefit all students, district wide, because I fundamentally believe that we really should be trying to focus on making sure each student progresses at an appropriate level, and that they instill this love of learning, and I think that RTI is a way for us to differentiate instruction for students, and to make sure that when they come to school the teaching and learning that they experience in the school is tailored for them and that they walk away with this love of learning. So I feel that the Response To Intervention has the broadest reach and has the greatest impact on students.

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

That’s a very good question, so to improve health and wellness throughout the district, some of the initiatives that have taken place are that we’ve tried to relook at, in particular, the health and wellness program at the high school, and I believe that there’s more that we can do there. I think it should continue to be a district goal because I think that one is so broad and the school system, even in the nine years that I’ve been on the committee, more and more has been expected of a school system in terms of enhancing and supporting the health and wellness of each and every child. Back when I came to school, you came to school to learn facts and you learned the core subjects like math and English. Now, health and wellness is part of your core curriculum, so I think we should continue to relook at the curriculum, I think that we should look at it district wide, we clearly have leadership district wide as we do for all subjects, and I think that we should, if there are areas that the administration recommends we should put additional funds to, I would support that. So those are the three areas that I would look to to improve health and wellness.

How do you plan to evaluate teachers and administration?

So, as you probably know, with regard to the new state mandated educator evaluation system, that we are currently putting in place, which is one of the district wide goals. That is something that I think requires some change to our evaluation system but I also view that as an opportunity, and from what I’ve heard there are some benefits that are coming out of that educator evaluation system that I support and I think should be implemented. For instance, I believe that it allows administrators and teachers to sit down and have conversations with their supervisor to make sure that they set goals for the coming year, and to have those conversations throughout the year in terms of understanding what progress they’ve made in trying to meet those goals. So, from a professional development standpoint, for both teachers and administrators I do think that there are benefits to that new educator evaluation system. So I would support that educator evaluation system. The second phase of it though, is tying assessments to educator evaluations. That, I think, needs more discussion, and we are, this year, coming up with what are called, “district determined measures.” So, what are those assessments that teachers are going to be measured against? I think that’s something that is very new to every school district, and so to me there are a lot of questions around that and how that’s going to play out in a teacher’s evaluation. So, that I think we need to have more conversation around.

How can we close the achievement gap?

Another really good question, obviously one of the district goals is closing achievement gap, I think we’ve taken good steps to try to do that. I think that the tool the administration committed funds to the past two years in trying to develop a tool that creates the data that we have and try to understand where those gaps are is important. In a sense I liken it to what you see with the value of the MCAS, or hopefully what the value of the PARCC assessment will be, that the way that I find that data to be valuable is what you do with it. So I think we’ve done a good job in moving forward to create this tool, but to me then the important step is what are you going to with that data that you’ve acquired? And to me, I hope that what we do is we take that data, like we do for MCas and other assignments, and we understand, student by student, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and to me that will then inform where we believe we should make curriculum changes or support services changes. Or, in places where we feel they are not adequately challenged enough for higher performing students making those similar changes. So I feel that what’s really needed as a next step is to take that data and to inform what changes need to be made, but they need to be made at a student by student level.

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

Well I think there a couple of places where we have already implemented response intervention effectively. I believe it’s been very well done at the elementary school level particular, and I would point to what they call personal learning communities where they have been able to carve out time for teachers at a grade level to meet and have personal learning communities. So they come together, and they have grade level conversations, and it informs their instruction and I believe it is also a great professional development opportunity, but it also allows them to implement more effectively the response to intervention. I believe they’re starting to have those at the middle school, it’s harder at the high school given how high schools configure by core subject departments, not necessarily by grade level, but those personal learning communities are something that I think have been very effective in the response to intervention, and I would support making sure that those are implemented district wide and supported to the extent that they can be.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I guess I would say that I have, over the last nine years, worked tirelessly at the work of the school committee, but I have enjoyed it immensely. I’ve tried to collaborate and work effectively with the other members on the committee, but ultimately, education is my passion from my personal experience with my kids and my work with the school that I work at in Dorchester, I see how important education is and how it can literally change a child’s world. And to me, I hope that I have the opportunity to continue to support that work because it is very important to me.