Do you believe Wareham's current financial allocation toward the schools serves the community, and, if not, how would you seek to change it?
I believe that at this time, the current financial allocation does serve the community. While I certainly acknowledge that the schools are underfunded, the unfortunate reality is that the town as a whole has to operate on limited resources. I don’t support a set percentage formula for new revenue because it reduces flexibility and limits the choices of the community. Some years, for example, the schools will need more money, while in other years, the town may have some unforeseen financial need. For example, the town currently pays the health insurance premiums for school employees; if there is a significant increase in those premiums, the town would need more money to cover that. Alternatively, there may be a year where the schools have an unexpected increase in enrollment and need to hire additional staff. A set percentage formula would make that very difficult. That said, I would absolutely advocate for significant portions of any new revenue (such as from new construction projects, cannabis taxation, etc.) to be allocated to the schools. The financial needs of both the schools and the town as a whole vary year to year, so we need to have some flexibility in deciding how best to utilize the resources that we Have.
I know there has been talk of splitting town income to a specific allocated percentage for both the schools and other town departments. I don't feel that would be in the best interest if the town or the schools. While I feel the schools definitely deserve to benefit most currently from new incomes to the town, other municipalities such as fire and police also need attention which in turn also makes sure our children and citizens are kept safe. I feel that using an "as needed" approach in terms of dividing allocation of funds dependent on which sector or our community is currently in the most dire need.
The budget problems which confront the schools is not a problem related to spending priorities but rather the lack of will to raise operating revenue by increasing property taxes. The Town has been forced to cut in many areas, e.g. municipal maintenance, recreation, library, and council on aging, because there is a basic distrust of government at every level to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and a lack of appreciation for the daily struggle of an increasing number of citizens to maintain their standards of living. The 60% approval of the new school, however, suggests that the demographics of the Town are changing and, if there is a clearly communicated justification for increased capital spending, our citizens will respond favorably.
Budget constraints are an unfortunate reality in Wareham. It is difficult to make decisions based on a hypothetical budget, but I think the first thing I would look at is the different layers of administration, what their roles are and how effective those positions have been. My priority would be to maintain teacher jobs, as teachers are ultimately the ones with the most direct impact on our students. When it comes to the budget, I am aware that difficult decisions need to be made and that, unfortunately, something often has to give. I have the critical thinking skills to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis for any proposed budget cuts or expenditures, and will advocate for decisions that promote efficiency and value while having the greatest impact on the greatest number of students.
If there were a surplus, I would advocate for using that money to increase support staff and/or interventionists at the early childhood levels. Class and group sizes in the early elementary years are currently larger than best practices recommend, and decreasing class size would allow for more in-depth, personalized attention. Increased intervention in the early years can help close skills gaps before they become significant, and can lead to decreased special education referrals and services in later years. Additionally, students who feel successful are less likely to act out in aggressive or disruptive ways, so building skills early on can also potentially help mitigate some of the behavioral and social-emotional challenges teachers face every day. To me, early intervention is a very worthwhile investment.
My second top priority would be providing more specialized staff to handle behavioral disruptions both as they occur and preventatively. While I know additional counselors and therapists have been added, and that is certainly a step in the right direction, I suspect that it is still not enough. Having dedicated staff to address behavior challenges will help free up teachers to do what they do best – teach! When the social-emotional needs of all students are appropriately addressed, everybody wins.
If budget cuts were to happen, I feel that those at the top should have freezes on any raises until all programs and staffing within the schools are adequate enough to meet all of our students needs. Should a surplus arise, I feel that making sure enough paraprofessionals and support staff are in each building. I would also like to see reimplemenation of the cooperative/alternative learning center to better address the needs of some students without the distraction of the remaining majority.
The first cuts should fixed costs/overhead that can no longer be justified by reduced student population, e.g. buildings, principals (two principals at the Middle School), and central office staff. The last things should be cut are classroom teachers that maintain appropriate student/teacher ratios. Department heads and assistant principals appear to be critical to the support of teachers and the maintenance of an positive educational environment. The budget problems which confront the schools is not a problem related to spending priorities but rather the lack of will to raise operating revenue by increasing property taxes. The Town has been forced to cut in many areas, e.g. municipal maintenance, recreation, library, and council on aging, because there is a basic distrust of government at every level to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and a lack of appreciation for the daily struggle of an increasing number of citizens to maintain their standards of living. The 60% approval of the new school, however, suggests that the demographics of the Town are changing and, if there is a clearly communicated justification for increased capital spending, our citizens will respond favorably.
I absolutely agree that education is changing, and the desire to be part of a paradigm shift in education is part of what motivated me to run for School Committee. As a full-time, school- based Speech-Language Pathologist, I have had a front-row seat to many changes in public policy and curriculum demands related to public education, and I understand what is expected of students and teachers. I participate in regular professional development trainings and conferences on changes in education, and I firmly believe we need to move toward a more dynamic, interdisciplinary model of public schooling. We don’t need to teach facts that students can Google in a heartbeat; we need to teach them what to do with those facts. As teachers and parents are well aware, today’s students need to learn to generate questions, research and evaluate information, work collaboratively, and express their ideas clearly and effectively. Our teachers are well-equipped to teach students these skills if we step back and let them do it.
As far as Wareham specifically, I will carefully evaluate any new proposals and curriculum changes through the lens of the skills that matter in today’s educational climate. I will strive to ensure that the stated goals of the Superintendent align with best practices, and that they include references to teacher leadership and student agency. Several of the latest school improvement plans include goals in these areas, which I think is a very positive step. Because I work during school hours, I will not be able to visit classrooms in action on a regular basis. However, I do follow each school’s website, read the school improvement plans and superintendent evaluations, and attend events whenever I can. I also plan to solicit input from all stakeholders: families, students, teachers, and administrators. In fact, I began my campaign by sending a mass email to your constituents, whose email addresses I got through the Massachusetts Teacher’s Association. I asked teachers to tell me how they see things in Wareham – what are their daily struggles and victories? I have also used social media to reach out to families and taxpayers about their views and experiences. I want to have real conversations with these people about what is working, what isn’t working, and how we can work together to effect positive change. We need to get beyond complaining on Facebook and start having productive, honest conversations about our challenges and possible solutions.
Having a student currently enrolled in WPS as well as subbing at the middle school I know that we have some amazing and dedicated educators. That said, I would like to sit down with teachers at each school and better understand their wants and needs to help give our students the best possible education. Our teachers are one of our greatest resources and utilizing their knowledge and understanding of our current matriculated students will help us immensely in moving out kids forward.
I have always had the philosophy that a working relationship with just the superintendent is not enough. I want to be on a first name basis with the principals, assistant principals, and department heads at each of our schools in the hope that they will be always willing to "tell truth to power", although I actually think SC members don't have that much real power. The real responsibility of an SC member is to quietly use his or her career experiences to advise administration related to management, but not educational, decisions, publicly support the performance of the schools (which gets easier every year!), and gain as much influence over and exposure to the regional and State level people who make the decisions that impact Wareham schools.
As you are well aware, many of Wareham’s students come from challenging home situations and getting consistent family support is a challenge. I think we need to start by being honest about what we can and can’t control; as much as we’d like to, there are some circumstances we just can’t change. In those cases, increasing the social-emotional supports available to students in school can hopefully mitigate at least some of the negative effects of a difficult home situation.
That said, one way to promote family support is frequent communication – updated information and announcements on the district websites, newspaper articles about special and unique events, social media posts highlighting ongoing activities and student achievements, and individual classroom portals all help to keep families feeling connected to and involved with the schools. From what I can see, these are all things that are currently being done well in the district. The more we can invite families to participate in the everyday activities of the schools, either in person or through various forms of media, the more likely they are to feel that their participation is valued. An added benefit to frequent communication is that it makes the schools seem less mysterious and therefore less intimidating. By highlighting everyday events and activities, families can become familiar with the school routines and values and might then feel more comfortable participating. Because I recognize that family involvement is so critical to student success, I am also not above using positive reinforcements! Many of our students’ caregivers had their own negative experiences with school, and may be reluctant to participate in a system in which they themselves felt unsuccessful. I have some ideas about using gift cards or other small prizes to reward parents who contribute to the classroom in some way a certain number of times per month, or having a raffle for families who complete all required forms on time. I would want to be thoughtful about this, to ensure, for example, that working families are not excluded from potential rewards because they cannot volunteer during school hours, but there could be several different layers and several different ways for families to contribute. We have many local businesses who would be willing to donate gift cards for meals or services in the name of helping the schools, and such donations might provide just enough extra incentive to get some new families involved. I’m also interested in exploring ideas such as having local restaurants donate snacks or meals for PTA meetings or other school events – anything we can do to “sweeten the deal” and entice families to take part!
I feel that the at home piece is a huge opportunity for many of our students. Family support is key to ensuring success for kids. I think we have a lot of great resources that may be underutilized either due to lack of knowledge or due to the stigma of asking for help. I feel that mandating parental or at home guardian support in an encouraging manner can not only help the student, but the entire district.
This is probably my greatest area of frustration as I believe the likelihood of a child being successful in any school is directly related to what happens when the child goes home. I would increase as much as possible the contact with parents and make sure they feel accountable for supporting the demands that teachers place on their children. Every parent makes sure that a child takes the medicine that a pediatrician prescribes and acts appropriately during an office visit. They should feel the same responsibility when a teacher gives a child an assignment and goes to school to learn.
Unfortunately, it is not just a perception. I have heard first hand from parents and teachers about disruptive behaviors that interfere with the learning progress and interrupt classroom routines, and the statistic you include in the next question about documented assaults on staff is further evidence that disciplinary issues are a very real concern. In order to change the culture, we need to start by ensuring the physical safety of our students and teachers. Children cannot learn effectively if they are sitting in class waiting for the next outburst, and teachers cannot teach effectively if they are concerned that placing a demand could trigger an aggressive act. We need to send the message that we value the safety of everyone in the school, and this message needs to be supported by administrative action. Disciplinary standards and consequences must be clearly stated and consequences must be consistently applied. I would advocate to have teachers involved with any proposed changes to disciplinary standards, and their suggestions and concerns must be heard and taken into consideration.
My interest in increasing specific social-emotional teaching is directly tied to this. I have in mind one specific program that can be integrated into the everyday routines of the general education classrooms to support the social-emotional growth of all our students in a systematic, research-based fashion. Incorporating a specific and intentional social-emotional curriculum into all classes could, in the long term, potentially help improve some of the behavioral disruptions and bullying concerns that occur. The specific program I have in mind can be implemented by regular classroom teachers, requires little to no prep time, and costs nothing more than the price of a manual or two. It has been supported by research studies and helps promote a variety of pro-social skills, including self-regulation, impulse control, and perspective-taking. This is the kind of program I intend to promote if elected; effective, meaningful interventions that can be done without taxing our already overstretched budget or putting unreasonable demands on teachers. While I am not naïve enough to think it will fix all of our behavior issues, it could be a step in the right direction.
A lot of discipline issues start with the same at home piece aforementioned. I also feel that after seeing some disciplinary matters addressed while subbing, that consistency across the board amongst both teachers and administrators is paramount. All children should be consistently disciplined and consequences should not vary child to child. While I understand that 504, IEP and other issues may hinder consistency in some cases, there should be far less exceptions than "norms".
This is, by far, the toughest question that could be asked and gets to the heart of public education. I've had more than one parent AND student refer to other students as "riffraff", i.e. disruptive individuals who are not in school to learn. I do not believe any student has the right to chronically disrupt the learning environment of other students. I recognize that some of the disruptive students behave in that manner out of frustration for their inability to learn. Nevertheless, if the provision of special services is unsuccessful, I would take what ever actions that are permitted by law to remove those students from the school. Having said that, it is the nature of a truly public school that its student population will be a cross section of the community and having some challenging students is inevitable. I believe the solution to the problem is neither school choice to a wealthier community nor a charter school that essentially creates a "gated community" for only young people with supportive parents and good behavior.
I don’t feel prepared to adequately answer this question, as I don’t know what the conditions were that led to the assaults, the age and status of the aggressors, and the actions that were taken before and after each incident. I assume that these 60 reported attacks were committed by far fewer than 60 different students, so we need to look at what is going on with those students and how their needs can be met without endangering others. For repeated aggressors, we need to have difficult conversations with families and administrators about what constitutes an appropriate placement for that student; perhaps a period of time out of the classroom and in a more specialized setting would give that student the chance to re-regulate, catch up on skill gaps, and learn more productive coping mechanisms. For some students with severe disabilities, the regular education classroom may not be the most appropriate fit, and alternate placements must be provided. I know that aggressive acts often go unreported due to a variety of reasons; administrators need to take all aggressive acts against teachers and other students seriously, and need to make it clear that the safety of all school members is the top priority. Teachers should be encouraged to report acts of aggression as they occur in their classroom and should be supported when they do so. When assaults go unreported, the true scope of the problem cannot be evaluated and addressed.
Having witnesses this first hand, at the same time understanding that there are some instances where the child possible diagnoses may play as a factor, I feel that having district sponsored restraint training for a majority if not all teachers as opposed to a select few may help in preventing injury. I also go back to the at home piece and the disciplinary consistency throughout the district.
A culture of zero tolerance for any verbal or physical assault of an educator or another student must be created. It is my understanding that major strides to achieve this goal in the Middle School have taken place under the new leadership. No State law should be allowed to create an environment that permits a teacher to feel threatened by a student. It is a failure of leadership if this is allowed to occur and the responsibility of leadership to take whatever actions are necessary to stop it.
This question is actually directly related to the questions just before and after it, so my answers to these three go together. This is obviously a very complicated and challenging issue, as we have mandated services to provide and limited resources with which to do it. We all know that out-of-district placements are very expensive, but are sometimes also the most appropriate intervention for some students. The safety of teachers and all students must be paramount. I am interested in exploring the idea of creating sub-separate programs that could provide regional services; if we can create specialized programs in-house, we could then meet those student’s needs in a more cost-effective manner and could potentially generate additional revenue by having students from other districts pay a tuition to attend. I don’t know if this is a viable option, but I think it is worth looking into.
I feel that support staff is an integral part of being able to provide the best for all of our students. I defer again to my previous answer regarding the alternative/cooperative learning center being reintroduced as well as making sure we have enough support staff to accommodate their needs.
I was very pleased to see that a significant number of additional paraprofessionals have been added to the 2020 budget. I believe this should significantly ameliorate the problems of SPED student behavior but I will be routinely asking the SPED Director and Department Heads if any further actions are necessary.
A major impetus for this campaign was the fact that special education costs have increased significantly since the foundation formula was last updated. This initiative was designed, in part, to help school districts fund the many special education services that they are legally (and morally) required to provide, and I think that’s where the focus of this funding should be directed. Increased staff to provide intensive behavior support, academic instruction, and social- emotional counseling should be a priority, as this will then help all classrooms run more smoothly. Perhaps some of that funding could be used to create in-house sub-separate programs for those students who are unable to be successful in a general education classroom, as I described above.
I would also love to see some of this increased funding be used to support vocational opportunities for Wareham High School students. This might include funding to bring local business people into the schools to provide direct instruction on a regular basis, paying for transportation so that students can get to and from off-campus internship opportunities, and/or setting up dedicated in-house work areas where students can learn hands-on skills. Vocational skills are increasingly in demand, and providing some of that instruction within our schools could potentially help us retain students that would otherwise leave to attend vocational schools. Retaining those students then also helps keep more money within the district, money that could then be used to continue to support vocational education as well as other programs.
I feel increased funding should go towards staffing support as well as making sure every classroom has up to date materials to adequately serve modern learning.
This is the easiest of all your good questions. The increasing cost of SPED students, especially for communities like Wareham, is not recognized by the current Foundation Budget formula. In addition, the Circuit Breaker is never fully funded, i.e. the law says 75% of 4 times the State's average cost per child but the legislature routinely appropriates in the high 60s or low 70s. The cost of health care for our employees is also a major problem for the Schools and Town government. The portion of Chapter 70 that compensates Cities/Towns for these costs must be increased and indexed to the real inflation of healthcare expenses. Finally, if the State wants to allow the continued erosion of public schools by these pseudo innovative education gated communities they call charter schools, the reimbursement for the loss of revenue they create for real public schools must be 100% every year, not some arbitrary formula that pretends to cover the financial loss created by the departure of these students.
A little bit about me: Through my experiences working closely with students, families, teachers and administrators within the school setting, I have developed a solid ability to work collaboratively with all invested parties to generate solutions. I am able to consider multiple perspectives and to facilitate decisions that are for the greatest good. School Committee members are tasked with making complex decisions on many varied issues, such as policy changes, curriculum content, and prioritizing finances; my education has given me strong critical thinking skills that will enable me to fully understand these issues and evaluate the potential outcomes of each decision. Additionally, my experience in leadership trainings, regular team meetings, and conducting large-scale presentations has helped me hone my communication skills so that I am able to effectively and concisely state my opinions to the other members of the board and to the community at large. Having held a current Massachusetts state teaching license for the past eight years, I am very familiar with the policies and regulations of the Massachusetts Department of Early and Secondary Education (DESE). This knowledge will enable me to evaluate proposals in accordance with state regulations as well as best practices in education. Thank you for this opportunity to share my ideas. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or through my Facebook page at Jennifer Bailey for Wareham School Committee.