WSPN interviews school committee candidate Alexia Obar


Obar from WSPN TV on Vimeo.

Martin Narciso

WSPN interviews school committee candidate Alexia Obar

For candidate Jeanne Downs, click here.

For candidate Barb Fletcher, click here.


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

I ran for school committee because I have three children in the school system, and they are currently at elementary, middle and high school. I think that, with the make-up of the current board, you don’t have as many people with children at the younger ages, so I think it’s important to have a variety of voices. I have a very clear perspective of what’s going on at each one of the buildings, and it’s updated every day when my kids come home. I just sat on the reconfiguration committee to fix the elementary schools, and Dr. Stein and a group of us worked together for 16 months to figure out the best plan. I want to make sure that we have a smooth transition back to three neighborhood elementary schools.

What do you think is the most important issue?

As I stated, I just sat on the superintendent’s committee to fix the issues at the elementary schools. We just went through a lengthy process of 16 months of looking at all different factors. We looked at different school systems and looked at so many different variations of how we could do our schools, and we decided that, after that long search, that going back to K-5 neighborhood schools is the best plan for Wayland. I think that that is currently the biggest issue facing us. We have to get the budget passed at town meeting, and then we’ll have to roll out the plan to start in September.

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

Yes, in that case, I think that there should be a possibility of excusing students. Since they’ve already taken the MCAS for that year and that’s what they’re being assessed on, I think that, in certain extenuating circumstances where you have children for whom it’s highly stressful, they have anxiety, where it’s going to be somehow a negative for that child, I think that there should be a process. Maybe not every child that every parent wants to ask. I think it shouldn’t just be you ask and you get out, but I think that it should be a process where administrators would be able to review a child and if, after discussion, that child was not a good candidate to do that many hours of additional testing, that would be reviewed. There would be an option.

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

My understanding is that PARCC allows more in-depth, versus right now, they have to cover a lot of different topics, and it’s more of a horizon versus a vertical. I think it would allow teachers a little bit more latitude in what they can teach and not teach. Currently, we do ask teachers to cover topics that are in a framework and that are part of core, and I would think that, in many cases, those are things that we would naturally cover. I think “enforcing” and “requiring” are very limiting, and I would hope that we would try our best to work with our administrators and our staff to come up with plans that made everyone comfortable — both the state and what our individual teachers and administrators want taught.

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

I think that it has been beneficial. I have a son who’s a freshman, so it’s all brand new to me. It can be a fabulous tool. Just like anything, you just have to use it correctly. I think that some teachers have integrated it in a huge way, other teachers have not done it as much. I think we have to continue to move forward and continue to find ways to use it to the best ability of the systems. I think one of the things that comes up on it is that families are put in a place where they need to monitor it. You know, tell kids that they’ve had enough. But I think that that’s a conversation that parents need to have. It’s part of society. There’s the Internet everywhere, you can’t really protect your kids from those things. I think it opens a dialogue about things in our community overall. With anything, we just keep finding out how we can use it to the best of our ability to increase the educational learning. We can find great online learning for different types of learners in our community, which the 1:1 Initiative totally helps because they have that at their fingertips. I think it allows for broader things — you could be talking to someone in China on a topic, which I think is wonderful. It opens up whole new worlds to kids.

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

I have middle-schoolers. The contract is running out on the computers that we have at the middle school, so we need to come up with some plan to bring technology back into the schools. I believe that they found that this was most beneficial in the hardware that it provided and also the pricing, so that seems like a way to go. They need computers in there, and they need to be replaced anyways. I think that they’re having some very thoughtful discussions. My understanding is that currently, eighth graders will be bringing them home and that then there’s still discussion on what to do with the sixth and seventh graders. I heard that they were considering some kind of slow roll-out, maybe the first semester they kept them in school, and then they would start to bring them home. I think that that’s great. I also heard that they were considering allowing parents to have input, which I think is very important because I think that all children learn in different ways, they’re all different people, they’re individuals, so for one kid it’s not a big deal, for another kid it may cause many issues to have that much technology all of the sudden. Maybe they’re not ready in October, but maybe in March they’ll be ready for that much technology in their hands. I think that there are some great things to do on technology, so we just have to keep moving forward with it. Our kids often are ahead of us. I’m excited for it.

What about the elementary school?

Currently, at Happy Hollow, they “team teach” in the fifth grade, and they share a cart of laptops. They have them 50% of the time in their classrooms. Some teachers use them a lot, some teachers are minimal users of it. My son had a teacher last year who used them a lot. I think it was very productive work, but I’m not sure that they need constant access at elementary school. I would think the elementary school might be a little early to have 1:1 because they’re still doing so many things that require not technology, simple things like small motor skills of writing. One of the things that I would hope that, with all the additional increase in technology, is that we actually have a better system teaching keyboarding, which we don’t really currently do very much in the elementary schools. I would think that just like we used to teach script all the time, maybe we would move to keyboarding so that they would have more use. So I think full 1:1 at the elementary school is maybe not quite the right place. I think that you should definitely have more and more access as teachers are prepared to use it in their classrooms.

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

This has been a big topic of conversation with parents around town. Some people are like, “That’s it, I’m just not going to let it happen, they’re not going to have it. They can have an hour a day.” And I chuckle, and I say, “Wait until you get to high school.” I think that it is a very important conversation to have in our communities, and there are lots of different ways you can have where you watch every keystroke that your child does. There’s having conversations with your kids about dangers. I have the conversation with my kids, you know, “just turn the Facebook off and get it done.” I’m not against being on Facebook, Snapchat and everything else, but sometimes, it’s very important to say to really do your homework, to dedicate that time and then use it for social time. I think that it’s a conversation that we have to keep having because I actually think that part of it is that parents are worried because they don’t know. I think that parents can be invaluable to each other in how to do it. Simple things like putting all the computers in one place to plug them in at night, having times to shut off, learning little tips from each other. It goes back to “it takes a village.” We should continue to have those conversations. One piece I would say is that I would like to see a little bit more from the schools giving parents tips, like “this is what you can do.” I feel like there should be a little bit more information that comes from the schools. “Well, listen, if you’re having problems with ‘a,’ ‘b,’ ‘c,’ like your kid is on it all the time playing games.” Things that they can do to help promote healthy use of it versus all socialization.

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

I’m in favor of the elementary reconfiguration because our current elementary schools are facing various problems. Overcrowding, underutilization and being too big a school — for those reasons. There was actually a study done by an outside firm that brought all those things to our attention. Happy Hollow has major overcrowding issues, including an art room without a sink, no nurses room, a lunchroom that is too small — it fits about 85 kids and there is about 100 kids in a grade. All the common areas are too small, and “strings” are in the library. They don’t have any more classroom space available, so every time more kids come, the classrooms just get bigger. The class sizes are sometimes jumping over guidelines. At Loker, they just said that, first of all, the classrooms are too small for the kindergarten parameters. They’re supposed to be larger by square footage. They use extra classrooms, but that is an issue. Second of all, to just have one grade all by itself. Claypit is just very large and also has some issues with common space size. There’s just a lot of overall issues with it. There’s tons of kids riding buses for very long periods. We’ve had a lot of busing over the last six years, and we keep adding them, which is expensive. Those were some of the things that have been noticed in our elementary schools. In order to make them better places, the reconfiguration back to the K-5 school systems should alleviate all of those problems. One of the major things it will do is bring flexibility. Because we’re a small community, if we get 10 or 20 new students, that can make us need a new classroom. This will allow flexibility in each school to add sections if needed. That would be a huge help in comparison to how the elementary schools are currently, and it would allow for better delivery of services.

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

I’m definitely in favor of funding a program which helps the issue facing teens regarding alcohol and drugs. I know that there has been some concern in that the last plan failed at last town meeting because it maybe wasn’t as well thought out. I think that the new plan is better written and better put together, so I hope that it does come out that that is supported because I know that they have lost their grant money, which is how they used to run. I have done some work with them, collaborating and bringing things together, in my time on PTO to not always be going after the same groups. I definitely think there is a need. I think that they will provide those services.

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

I am in favor of the budget increase. There has been a lot of talk about the budget increase, but actually, $720,000 of that increase are mandated state spending that we have to do. The rest of the increase is the reconfiguration and some other funds. If we took the 720 off of the top, we actually come in under the request. I think it’s tough to put that money on the school budget side only because we have to spend it. We are obligated to do that by federal law. So, I do support it. I truly understand taxpayers’ concern about an ever-increasing budget, but I do believe that the reconfiguration, after it’s fully rolled out — they’re rolling out all the grades but fifth grade the first year. The following year, I think that we will find some savings in the busing. Right now we spend a lot of money on busing because we’re taking kids from the south side of town all the way up to Claypit. Now they’ll be left back on the south side of town, so there will be savings there in the coming years. I think the new teacher’s contract in the years to come is going to save us some money. I am all in favor of continuing to look for efficiencies in our budget. I would be a fresh pair of eyes to look at things. I think one of the things is you do things the same way because that’s the way they’ve been done. One thing that I’m really good at is looking at something and saying, “Wait, maybe we can do it this way. Has anybody thought of this? Let’s look at other towns.” I worked in the state legislature, so one of the things I did was a lot of collaborative efforts across the state. I have those skills, and I am ready to use those.

How will you increase budget efficiency?

Some of the things that are currently being looked at is to combine the finance committees — the finance jobs — between the town and the schools. We should definitely investigate that. We should look for efficiencies, as I said, in the busing. I think that our busing fees are going up a bit this year, and we should review how we provide busing and what we’re charging for it. We could also look for efficiencies in what we need and what we don’t need, or what we used to need — things change. For instance, we were talking about school supplies at the middle school, what’s needed. I was working with one of the administrators there, and we were looking at possibly doing a PTO fundraiser, putting supplies together. It was very interesting, the list that we were looking at was a bit outdated. Just changing that, and looking at it in the idea of bringing in the Chromebooks, is going to change so much. That’s a simple little thing, but that’s going to change how much money people have to spend on school supplies because now they’re going to be using this piece of technology. I think that those are the kind of things that I think that you can always look at, every little thing. Small things can add up to significant savings.

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

For the district wide goals, I think that a very important one is the “Response to Intervention,” which we’ve been rolling out for the last couple of years. It has been going on in the elementary schools, and it’s going well, they’re really addressing individual children’s needs. They’re using all of the testing that we’ve done to really address children’s individual needs and group them. Based on that success, they’re able to help kids move on to new levels. They’re really finding out what individual children’s needs are and what they’re styles of learning are. I think that one is going well, we have to continue it, continue to expand it, to help all the groups in the elementary schools. I know that they have started to roll out in the middle school, and that is just starting, I think in the last couple of months, so that’s good to see that rolling out. It’s important because it’s really trying to address some of the things that we’re missing. We’re not just teaching to the tests, we’re teaching to their individual needs, where they’ve actually missed something because at both the elementary and the middle school, we’re providing the base so that they can be excellent learners at the high school.

Which goals do you think are most important?

I would say that I think the RTI is the biggest one that we have going right now. I think that it can be an excellent tool to reach all of our students — the ones at the top, the ones at the middle, the ones at the bottom — and to also really put them in a place where they’re learning what’s right for them at that moment. I think it’s also really looking at the learning styles. That’s one thing about the use of technology. The use of technology is great, but some kids don’t learn as well visually, so do we need things done different ways? The use of all of the technology is great, but sometimes you just need a teacher, an instructor to explain something.

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

I think that health and wellness has improved greatly in the last couple of years. I know that they recently had a review done, I believe last year. I’ve seen changes across the board at all three of levels about how it’s being delivered. I think that there are some really interesting things being delivered at the middle and the high school level about dating relationships, health, interpersonal relationships, how to eat healthy, things that some people think everyone knows, but sometimes you just need to do the nuts and bolts of those different topics. One thing I heard was, over Winter Week, I heard a student had done slam poetry and had mentioned that, while there’s a self defense segment for girls, there was not a piece for the male students at the school. I would like to see that addressed, I think that was an interesting point of view, which maybe someone didn’t see. She was saying, “Well, why aren’t we teaching our male students the same thing that we’re teaching female students? It’s a universal population problem, not just a girl or a boy problem.” So, that’s one place that I saw it. I think that at the elementary schools, we could do a little bit more with talking about healthy eating and about portions versus exclusions. I think that it’s a program that’s definitely going in the right direction.

How do you plan to evaluate teachers and administration?

The school committee and the administrators have been working all year long to put into place a new evaluation system, which is a huge job. It requires many additional visits in classrooms. It requires administrators to fill out a lot of reports. It requires a great attention to a lot of detail, we’ve actually had to change the structure of administrators at the high school. We added an assistant principal because we needed another position that could review. You have to have a certain level of administrator to review teachers below them. So, I think that they have been actively working on it. I think that it’s one of those processes that’s going to take us a little while. Hopefully, it will be productive, in that we’ll be able to use that information to help our teachers be better teachers and to find improvements along the way. So, I think that they are well on their way to doing a good job, and if I was a member of the committee, I would continue on that same path.

How can we close the achievement gap?

I think that we’ve taken some steps to really address that. A few years ago, we started bringing in METCO students at the kindergarten age. I think starting kids off at the beginning is great. They come in and they get the same foundation that all of our students get. I think that it is a difficult thing, I don’t think there is a good solution for it. I know that they’ve started some tutoring programs, which seem to be successful to fill where gaps in education have occurred. We just have to continue to keep it at the forefront, to make it a priority, and we will continue to get better and better at it.

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

They’ve been using Response to Intervention in the elementary schools for a few years, and they do groupings, and they do a lot of work based on the testing of where kids need assistance. One place I would like to see more use of the Response to Intervention is the group of kids who are not really missing anything in the benchmarks. What are we doing with that group of kids who are going to meet benchmarks, but what is the response to their educational needs? So, I’d like to see some more groupings for them and some more extensions of education for them. At the middle school, they’re just rolling it out. I believe it has only been rolled out in the sixth grade. They’re taking a little bit of time off of each class so that teachers can similarly make groupings, work with kids where there are issues. Again, it would be nice to see some extensions. One of the hard things is that it’s hard to start these programs up, but once you get them up and going, they’re reusable. So, it’s work upfront, but hopefully once we get them off the ground, it will be a very easy tool to use.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

One of the reasons I’m really running for school committee is I feel like there’s a lot of divisiveness and divisions amongst the community. I’m a person who really thinks it’s important to use communication to make everyone feel a part of the process. When we did the reconfiguration process, we tried to get the community to comment, we went to different communities and found information and brought it back, we sent emails with information, sent out a survey, asked for everyone to respond to us along the way to let us know their opinions on things. I think that that just showed that you’re never going to make everyone happy, but if everyone feels like they’ve been a part of the process, they can at least understand and accept the outcome of things. I think that that’s one thing that we have really missed on our current school committee, inclusion of everyone. Everyone has a right to have a voice, and that’s really why I want to be on the school committee. I want to represent all the voices of Wayland, not just the ones with school age children. We are safeguarding all the funds from all of our taxpayers in town. That’s basically why I’d like to be on the committee.