School Committee Candidate Q and A

School Committee Candidate Q and A

Educate Hopkinton posed the following nine questions to our School Commiteee Candidates, including why are you running (question #1), skills and experience (#2), ideas for improvements (#3), your experience on town committees (#4), what are your budget priorities (#5), working with the Selectmen on the budget (#6), the Center School challenge (#7), the next elementary school building committee (#8) and thoughts on improving communication with other committees (#9). We thank them for their responses and for their commitment to Hopkinton. In addition we recommend voters watch the HCAM News Candidate Debate and the Women’s Club Candidates Night, both available on the website.

SCHOOL COMMITTEE, For 3 years, Vote for 2
Jean Bertschmann, Incumbent
Frank D’Urso, Democrat
Frank Sivo, Republican
Jon Graziano

QUESTION 1: Why are you running for School Committee?

Jean Bertschmann
For the past 15 years, I have volunteered in our schools, often on a daily basis. I have served on multiple school projects and committees, and held dozens of roles in the HPTA, including three years as its President. I have a deep understanding of how our system works – its strengths, weaknesses, and potential. I have been a constant contributor to the tremendous growth and success the district has experienced during those 15 years, and am committed to continuing that same level of engagement by running for a second term on the School Committee. Our state and national rankings continue to rise, as does our student performance on state and national testing metrics, as well as in co-curricular activities such as athletics, music, art and performing arts. My primary goals for my second term on the Committee would be:

  • to continue to strengthen our district by engaging the community in a refresh of our Strategic Plan;
  • to continue to work with other town leaders and residents to identify a non-districted solution to the educational and operational constraints of Center School; and
  • to continue to monitor all expenses to keep increases to the operating budget and requests for capital projects at a reasonable rate for the taxpayers.

Frank D’Urso
I am running for School Committee because of the situation with the Fruit Street School project last year. That project was brought forward with maximum tunnelvision and willful ignorance of feedback from constituents. I think that we can do a better job as a town to address the needs of our public schools, and I bring a unique combination of skills that can help us further deliver on our promise of excellence. I know that even as 72% of the town agreed with my position on Districting and the Fruit Street School, many of the Educate Hopkinton members disagreed. I have always thought that open and honest discussion can help people move forward from difficulties. Thanks for providing this forum. I met with Educate Hopkinton last year, at Jon Graziano’s house, and spoke with you in the aftermath of the Fruit Street School project and I think we found some common ground, let’s see how we are situated this year.

Frank Sivo
I am running for School Committee because I believe a great education is the most important responsibility of a community to its children. I believe I have the objectivity, the 21st Century skills and experience to help our community make the right choices to continuously improve educational outcomes through prioritized investment.

Jon Graziano
When my wife and I moved to Hopkinton two years ago the schools were one of the main reasons why we chose the town. I have 3 young children ages 6, 4, and 1 so I have a vested interest in the continued success of the schools. While the performance of the schools has been strong, I want to be a member of the School Committee to help Hopkinton continue to have top performing schools. I have a passion for education. I’m the son of an elementary school teacher and my wife was an elementary school teacher for 7 years until the birth of our daughter. When I think about volunteering my time for the betterment of the town, I think that helping ensure the best education for Hopkinton’s students is the best way I can do that.

QUESTION 2: What skills/experiences do you have that you feel makes you qualified to serve on Hopkinton’s School Committee?

Jean Bertschmann
I am informed, experienced, pro-active, and responsive. In addition to my 15 years volunteering in the schools through several support organizations, I have served on the School Committee for three years. I have held several roles on the Committee: Chair; Vice Chair; ADA Committee Liaison; Youth Commission Liaison; TEC Liaison and Clerk; 300th Anniversary Celebration Liaison; Budget Advisory Group Liaison; Appropriations Committee Liaison; Board of Selectmen Liaison; Legislative Liaison; and Communications Co-Chair. The opportunity to fill these various roles has given me a solid understanding of how the school and town budgets are developed, and how the schools and the town can work collaboratively for the benefit of the residents and taxpayers. My extensive work in the schools has allowed me to develop strong relationships with faculty, staff and administrators, and I have worked hard to be involved in and support the tremendous strides forward taken in our district over the past 15 years. In all my volunteer roles, I have been dedicated to working hard, listening to others, setting priorities, and embracing feedback.

Frank D’Urso
I represent Hopkinton on the Keefe Regional Technical High School Committee. In May 2011 I was sponsored by Michelle Gates to be her replacement on the Keefe Tech School Committee, and I was nominated by Brian Herr and appointed unanimously by the Board of Selectmen. I’ve helped bring new energy to Keefe Tech School Committee meetings, where I am the next youngest member among many who have served together for decades. We kept our budget increase this year to 3.03%, and this was unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting, (thank you.) I have gotten Keefe students involved with the North Mill Park renovation project, as well as the upcoming outdoor classrooms project in the courtyard of the Hopkinton Middle School. I believe that students should be a vital and active part of our community. Do you know that Keefe students are currently building a house in Hopkinton? I have a Master’s degree in Management and over 25 years of professional experience, from small technology start ups to some of the largest companies in the world, I have seen and learned much that can be applied to our school system.

Frank Sivo
I have four children who all have attended Hopkinton schools since pre-K. I already have 26 school-years of experience, and have another 30 school-years to go. This gives me a deep experience base with our schools and the opportunity to benefit from wise choices we make moving forward.
As a professional, I have 25+ years of experience helping organizations large and small find ways to drive continuous improvement within acceptable fiscal constraints. I currently lead strategic planning processes and the Global Operations Excellence program at Genzyme, a global biotechnology company. I routinely do business across the globe (Europe, Asia, Latin America), and recently lived a year in Japan. Additionally, I have worked my career in knowledge-centric areas such as advanced materials, software development, management consulting, and biotechnology. I am very knowledgeable on technology matters, having been a Director of Product Operations at Oracle and a member of an eBusiness start-up. I am an entrepreneur, patented inventor, and published author. On a daily business, I live the 21st Century Skills we are teaching our children.

Jon Graziano
As a member of the Appropriation Committee I serve as the liaison to the School Committee. For the past year I have been intimately involved in all of the discussions in the formation of the FY13 school budget. This role educated me on the overall school budget process as well as the challenges of balancing the increased costs of educational initiatives with the need to maintain a fiscally responsible budget. I have seen firsthand the difficult decisions that must be made and I have participated in the process of making them.
In my professional role I run the Productivity and Innovation department for New York Life Retirement Solutions. In this role I have experience in reviewing and improving processes and products as well as bringing unique solutions, whether they be new technology or ideas from outside my industry, to challenges my company faces. I think that both of these skills would serve me well as a member of the School Committee.

QUESTION 3: Most prospective School Committee members have several areas in which they are particularly interested and for which they have some ideas for improvement. What are yours?

Jean Bertschmann
In the Hopkinton Public Schools, we have much to celebrate. We have a strong faculty and administration, a curriculum database used as a model by other districts, and tremendous student achievement. We were just recognized by Newsweek Magazine as the #3 high school in the state, and the top public high school for the second year in a row. The vision and dedication that brought us to our current level of success will continue to lead us forward and enhance the educational program we offer our students. In addition to the goals I listed in Question 1 above, I feel we need to:

  • find creative, cost effective ways to broaden our world language and culture offerings;
  • continue to explore the use of technology as a tool for supporting instruction, and strengthening relationships between staff and students; and
  • finalize work on our Facilities Use Policy and Procedures, to streamline and support community use of school facilities.

Frank D’Urso

  1. Parking the bus fleet in Hopkinton would, according to business manager Ralph Dumas, save us over $100,000 a year on fuel costs and excise taxes. As a member of HopGreen I have submitted several ideas that the administration is considering. This is something that we can do for immediate impact. We have 25 buses parked in Ashland, driving at least 8 extra miles everyday (some of the buses go back and forth 4 times), and we pay for all that extra fuel 180 school days a year.
  2. HopGreen has recently earned Hopkinton a Solarize Massachusetts grant, with this we can add further Solar panels to our schools, the Solar panels that we currently have save us money every day that the sun shines (at no additional cost to our town!). This program is also available for our homes and businesses, see for details.
  3. Hopkinton Schools generate 6.5 Million copies per year, that’s over 1900 copies per student per year, this is a cost that can be examined and reduced. I’d like to see us lower this amount by 50% by 2013. (The administration pays a set cost per copy.)
  4. Win , lose or draw, I will work with the Conservation Commission to help find ways to make Loop Road a public way, and qualify for state funding for road repair.
  5. I will work to increase recycling efforts in our schools, our students are willing, we just need to provide better and clearer methods for them to participate. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  6. I support the Outdoor classroom initiative of Middle School Vice Principle Maryellen Grady. Her group has raised private funds of almost $9000 towards a brand new external double door to the Interior courtyard at the Middle School. This under-utilized resource will get a beautiful restoration and be a wonderful asset to the Middle School. I applaud this type of creativity and positive thinking from our educators.

Frank Sivo
My number one priority is to support the building and execution support for the continuous improvement system for education in Hopkinton. The continuous improvement system includes several critical components. First the curriculum (Common Core) needs to be broken-down into assessments that provide teachers, students, parents, and administrators direct information on the learning progression of every child. Next, truly collaborative professional learning communities (PLCs) must be fully supported so that teachers can learn from peer-mentors how to adapt and tailor teaching practices to improve learning. Next, we must have well-designed interventions to support improvement and enrichment. These topics are all part of the structure called Pyramid Response to Intervention. Last, I would support building an educators and administration performance management system that reinforces this approach. Though the district has started down this path, it is critical to provide structure, support, and change management to the roll-out of this transformative approach to education.
Finally, I think it is incredibly important that students and parents have full transparency on assessment performance and a student’s response to the applied interventions/enrichments. The common focus of students, parents, and educators on expected academic outcomes will create a shared responsibility, coordinated set of actions and, ultimately, a shared sense of reward.
I have a large amount of experience helping organizations plan, execute and support transformative programs like this.

Jon Graziano
My top priority is addressing the increasing challenges facing the operating budget. We are facing the increasing cost of supplies and equipment. In order to comply with the state mandate to align with the Common Core Curriculum, our teachers will need new textbooks and specialists to help them with the transition. Necessary advances in classroom technology bring additional costs. These are necessary and worthy advances, but they come at a cost, and it’s important that we ensure maximum value for our tax money. As technology evolves, we need to be mining every possible way of making it work for us – from an educational standpoint as well as an economic one.
Budget-tightening also shouldn’t force us to lose sight of what’s important to our children’s education. This year’s budget discussion initially proposed cutting the Middle School Drama program. An outpouring of public support not only saved that program, it served as a reminder of what we’re really trying to do here. Programs that enrich and broaden our children’s education should be preserved and expanded where possible, not treated as frivolous fat to be trimmed. The argument is that some of these programs are too expensive given the level of interest in them, but there are ways to continue offering these valuable opportunities in spite of that. We can leverage some of our collaboratives that offer online enrichment programs for students curious about different learning opportunities. We have begun this with the TEC collaborative, but expanding it would offer another way of delivering better education in a cost-effective manner.
Another priority is the creation of a long term facilities plan. We have many short term needs including a solution to Center School and some much needed repairs at Elmwood but we need a long term plan showing the upcoming capital needs of all of the buildings as well as an expected replacement or renovation schedule. This should be done in conjunction with all town assets so that the town can make priority decisions based on all of this information. I know that this work has begun but it needs to remain a priority.

QUESTION 4: Describe one activity, committee or subcommittee you’ve been involved with within the school or town. What it meant to you? How it shaped town/school? Impact on schools/town?

Jean Bertschmann
I have learned a great deal from all of my liaison roles and work on the School Committee. One role that I think is critical, and which I feel has strongly benefited the town, is our new role of Communications Co-chairs. The School Committee has always worked hard to communicate with the community, but this year we have identified Communications Co-chairs to focus our efforts to enhance our community wide communications. We have created and executed a School Committee Communications Plan, which will be reviewed and revised annually. We have conducted two community wide surveys – one to learn how best to communicate with all sectors of the community; and the other to learn more about community priorities for a potential Elementary School Building Project. The School Committee is most effective when it is well informed about community priorities, and we are working hard to strengthen those lines of communication across the entire community.

Frank D’Urso
As a member of HopGreen I had an important role in earning the “Green Communities” Designation for our town. That has allowed HopGreen (through the excellent work of Aubrey Doyle and John Keane, among others) to apply for and receive grants of over $140,000. This money was directly applied to energy conservation measures that have reportedly saved the schools over $200,000 dollars already. I am the only candidate who has saved the school system money, and I am the only candidate to actually have been a teacher.

Frank Sivo
Several years ago, I attended a SPEAC (Special Education Advisory Council) wherein the performance of Hopkinton’s special education sub-group was discussed. In the presentation, there were some indications that the year to year performance of this group (~14% of the total enrollment in Hopkinton schools) had gone down. Concerned by the performance drop, I performed some analysis. My analysis indicated that the SPED literacy performance trend in early elementary grades in Hopkinton had been declining for several years. I shared my analysis with most building principals, Dir. of Student Services, Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, SPEAC, and ultimately the School Committee. I later became a Board member of SPEAC to advance this discussion and find ways to help our children needing specialized services in responsible ways.
Ultimately, I was able to convince all involved that there was an issue with early SPED literacy. Further, I offered evidence that if we did not improve the situation, not only would it underserve our commitment to these children, but it would prove extremely expensive; as “playing catch-up” in later grades is very expensive and can increase the number of costly out-of-district placements.
Since then, the district has taken on the Reading A-Z program to increase SPED literacy through Dr. Ilda King. So, while it may be premature to claim victory, there was a strong improvement in early education literacy for the SPED population, 2010-2011. I cannot take credit for this program, but I do know my advocacy helped to justify a commitment to a seemingly successful program.
This experience helped me to understand that citizens and committees can make a big difference in the education of our children. Sometimes, making a difference starts with just being curious. Finally, it reinforces to me that educational performance and budget need not be thought of in a trade-off manner. In this case, by introducing a programmatic solution to address a very high-leverage problem, the long-term costs (compared to status quo) are likely to be substantially reduced.

Jon Graziano
I have been a part of the Appropriation Committee this year. I have really enjoyed the experience. The role of the Appropriations Committee is to recommend to the town a budget, including capital articles, that creates a healthy financial plan for the town. As a member of the committee it is my responsibility to ask questions of all town departments on their budget and capital proposals to understand the need and priority of all proposals. My work on the committee has allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the town budget needs and process and help educate the town on the priorities of the town’s budget to allow citizens to make informed decisions at town meeting.

QUESTION 5: As a School Committee member, you will have to make some budgetary decisions. How do you define your priorities?

Jean Bertschmann
The Strategic Plan really guides our budget priorities, and supports our focus on the primacy of learning. Built upon community input, the Strategic Plan is our roadmap for the next several years. Currently, we are in year 3 of a 5 year Strategic Plan. Many of our goals have been met, and some have had to be re-thought in light of the economic constraints of the last several years. We are currently engaged in the process of refreshing our Strategic Plan goals so that we can gather community feedback and make additional revisions as necessary. We have made great strides in the areas of curriculum, assessment, communications, and Full Day Kindergarten. Budget constraints have slowed the progress toward our goals in the area of foreign language, and we need to completely revise the goal related to the Elementary School Building Project to reflect the preference stated by the town in our recent survey for a non-districted configuration for our elementary schools. We continue to protect class size, and the needs of our students remain at the forefront of our decision making.

Frank D’Urso
Teachers drive classroom decisions, Principles manage their schools and the Superintendent leads the show. I rely on our professional educators to tell us what their needs are, and my business knowledge to find ways to accomplish these things. If there is not enough money in the budget, we can find other ways, through grants, and proper planning and saving in advance so that the budget isn’t always expanding in leaps.

Frank Sivo

  • Making schools safe for all students
  • Driving academic excellence for all students
  • Better maintaining existing educational assets
  • Deliberatively and objectively investing in new educational assets

Jon Graziano
In making budget decisions, my priority would be to make sure that we are getting the best value for the tax money paid by the citizens of Hopkinton. With the current approach to our budget process, we will struggle to meet state mandates, advance our strategic goals, and maintain a reasonable tax and fee impact. We need to think differently about how we approach our expenses and how we deliver education to our students and my top priority will be to find new ways to approach expenses to ensure that we can meet all of these goals.

QUESTION 6: In recent years the Selectmen have requested the School Committee reduce its budget after submission to the Town Manager. What proactive steps would you take to keep communication lines open with the Board of Selectmen to prevent these surprise budget cuts?

Jean Bertschmann
Frequent communication is essential as the town and school budgets are developed. For many years, there has been a Budget Advisory Group facilitated by the Town Manager which allows for budget priorities and challenges for all town departments to be communicated in a timely manner. No town department should operate in a vacuum; it is essential to understand the priorities of all departments in order to collaboratively build a budget that reflects the needs and priorities of all members of our community. I think it is imperative to strengthen this process and continue to work collaboratively with all department heads across the town.

Frank D’Urso
“Surprise budget cuts” = poor planning. There has to be scenario planning involved in budget decisions so that the town isn’t presented with an “All or nothing” approach to budgets as this question seems to indicate. Meanwhile concerning “communication lines” I have pretty good rapport with the current Board of Selectmen, one of the best that we have elected. I served with John Mosher as founding members of Hopkinton Sustainable Green Committee (HopGreen). My children are classmates with Todd Cestari’s and Brian Herr’s children. I get along well with Ben Pallieko. I am a huge fan of Michelle Gates and all that she has done for our town. I think I would closely follow the model of Troy Mick, who was always open to a conversation and in contact with everyone in such a positive manner. (It’s a true loss to our town that Troy decided not to run this year.)

Frank Sivo
I have significant experience dealing with budgeting processes. In fact, I once led the reengineering effort for the US Army (Pentagon) process. This budget encompassed greater than $200 Billion and covered a 7 year process cycle. I have also managed and improved budget processes for many other organizations.
Fundamentally, budgeting processes described in the question are likely to have some of the following problems:

  1. Budgetary targets are not well established (by governing bodies)
  2. Priorities are not clearly established (by those seeking funds)
  3. Since targets and priorities are not clearly established, funding requests will exceed acceptable levels.
  4. Conflict/distrust between those seeking funds and governing body begins to develop.
  5. Governing bodies makes cuts that those seeking funds find irrational or draconian.

In order to avoid some of these pitfalls in the school system, I suggest several things. Budgetary targets must be set by Town Management (TM) and Board of Selectmen (BoS), with some accommodation for truly unpredictable circumstances. The SC must then establish and use a prioritization process that is often drawn from a Strategic Plan or other prioritization tool. Those who come to the SC seeking fiscal support must clearly appreciate the priorities set forth by the SC. SC must show that it is willing to make objective decisions based on a prioritized plan. Budget conflict and organizational distrust will start to wane as proposed budgets get closer to targets. Trust will develop, in the process fewer cuts will be made at the TM/BoS layer.
Building trust in the budgeting process is what it is all about. In my experience, this can take a few cycles for all parties to start acting differently.

Jon Graziano
Through my work on the Appropriations Committee I have formed a strong working relationship with the Town Manager. I would ensure that throughout the school budget creation process that there was regular communication with the Town Manager to understand not only the overall budget message but also what other town department needs are that may impact the amount available to the schools. This would include inviting the Town Manager to all budget discussions and, if he is not available, making sure that regular meetings occur through the school budget process.

QUESTION 7: Based on the recent survey results, how do you suggest the town to move forward with the Center School challenge? What process would you suggest to gain consensus among community members seeing as none of the hypothetical solutions in the survey had support from the required 2/3rds majority?

Jean Bertschmann
At this point, it would be premature to identify a solution to the challenges presented by Center or Elmwood Schools. There are many more steps to the process which need to be accomplished, and vetted with the community. With my School Committee colleagues, I have developed a project timeline for a potential Center School project (available on the district website) which outlines the entire process with the MSBA, and identifies ongoing work to ensure that we are ‘MSBA ready’ when we receive an invitation to re-enter their project pipeline. The timeline identifies all of the steps in each of the eight MSBA project modules, and identifies the community communications process the School Committee will undertake for each step along that path. Using feedback data from the community forums, community survey, and results of the Criteria Working Group, the School Committee will have a more firm understanding of the community priorities for this project.

Frank D’Urso
I think, in regards to Center School, we have put the cart before the horse. That building should have been maintained no matter what plan was being followed for future school buildings. We have a responsibility to those students and families to keep up with repairs and proper maintenance. Meanwhile WHAT are the questions we are trying to solve? In the long term a new school building is a good idea, but we need to approach that on our own schedule, many people think that it is not yet time (for many different reasons.)
I think the core argument for more space came with the Full Day Kindergarten Pilot, that year showed that there is great interest in a tuition based program. I have heard that we’d need to have 2 or 3 more classrooms in order to accommodate demand. My suggestion is to bring in Modern Modular construction that is solid, energy efficient and can be accomplished swiftly and paid for by slight increases in the FDK tuition over a ten year span. Harvard University uses EXACTLY this type of building for their daycare center in Cambridge.
I think the question should be “What do we NEED for our schools?” instead of “How can we get a NEW school?”
There eventually will be consensus, the best answer for our town will form, and we will move forward.

Frank Sivo
In my personal research and as a member of the Criteria Working Group, the fundamental problem is trust. Many members of the community feel that the School Committee did not approach the elementary school challenge in an objective manner. Many people feel the districted solution proposed by the School Committee was born out of a very narrow objective with which most people in the town do not agree. Absent, in many people’s opinion, was transparency to the process by which the proposed solution was picked. Once picked, the rationale for picking the solution was not well communicated. In the process, many people have referenced arrogance of professional staff and the School Committee. Many feel they were told the staff and SC “knew best”, and the community should not question the proposal, its impact to home owners/students/parents or the high building cost and its impact on tax payers. Finally, a majority of the town is very concerned about cost, including costs associated with potentially “leaving behind” a school building.
In order to learn from our past, and get 2/3rds of the town to support a new proposal, the following must be done:

  • School Committee and Administration must show willingness to not only “listen to the community”, but also “act on what they hear”.
  • A fully transparent and objective process for (separately) remediating concerns at Center, and subsequently, Elmwood should be conducted.
  • The process must include evaluation of renovation options, in addition to, new building options.
  • The process should avoid dogmatism associated with districting and longer grade spans.
  • Criteria Working Group (CWG), of which I am a member, must provide objective, actionable criteria.
  • The School Committee and Administration should accept the recommendations of the CWG.
  • A full set of options should be explored by a Building Committee against the established criteria.
  • Feasibility studies for these options should be conducted on 2-3 options.
  • The best value option should be selected
  • A “road show” communication plan should be established to inform all facets of the community on the process, outcomes of the process, and projected benefits of the solution to the students and to the town.

Jon Graziano
One thing that has frustrated me is the lack of progress on this project since the vote in March of 2011. While the town did not agree on the solution, Center School continues to be a challenge to the talented staff that educate our youngest students. The survey results show that the town does not have a strong sense of what the available options are. What I would propose is a very public process that outlines all considered options and specific reasons why they were or were not pursued. I was struck in the last process that some straightforward answers to questions were not available like why renovating was not an option. The next proposal needs to be able to provide answers to all questions about alternative solutions. The survey results made it clear that there are options that the town will not support. Clearly any solution that involves a change to a districted school model should are not options at all. While no option got the 2/3 in the survey it’s because all of the hypothetical options were available. As we eliminate the less feasible options, we can create a consensus.

QUESTION 8: What are your thoughts on the implementation and timeline of the next Elementary School Building Committee and Working Group?

Jean Bertschmann
The School Committee has appointed a Criteria Working Group to propose the next set of criteria to be used to evaluate the merits of alternatives developed through the next Feasibility Study. The results of that work are slated to be presented to the School Committee, Board of Selectmen, and community on June 7. At that time, the School Committee will also discuss with the Board of Selectmen the timing and membership for the next Elementary School Building Committee. The membership on this committee is mandated in large part by the MSBA, but the School Committee has worked hard to creatively suggest qualifications for community membership which would strengthen the work of the Elementary School Building Committee, along with identifying the tasks and responsibilities of that committee.

Frank D’Urso
I think that we have some great people involved with these ideas, (and we had great people involved before), it’s important to remember that ALL the community needs to be included in decision making at this scale, and we should come up with real answers to real questions.

Frank Sivo
As long as it takes to execute the deliberate, objective and process outlined in question 7. In the meantime, all required maintenance repairs that impede safety or would avoid additional building deterioration at Center and Elmwood, should be addressed quickly.

Jon Graziano
The use of the Criteria Working Group seems beneficial to creating a consensus among the town for how the town should select the preferred option to solve the Center School challenge. It appears that the process outlined will allow the amount of transparency that the town is seeking. I think this is a great first step to ensure a thoughtful, thorough and inclusive process.

QUESTION 9: What can the school committee do to better collaborate and communicate with other committees?

Jean Bertschmann
Communication and a willingness to compromise are the keys to collaboration. As Chair of the School Committee, I have created agendas which included presentations to the School Committee from several other town departments, so that we could understand their perspective and benefit from their wisdom on matters pertaining to the schools. Additionally, I have scheduled reports from all School Committee liaison roles, to keep the Committee and the community informed about the important work of other committees and boards. I have been proactive about reaching out to other town departments, and attended many additional meetings to learn more about the work being done across the town. As a result, I have several suggestions for improving communications and collaboration across all town committees, boards, and departments:

  • I believe that it is essential to develop a volunteer training for new community volunteers to help them understand what all of the departments in town are responsible for, and how they are interrelated. Understanding the broader scope of how our town operates strengthens our ability to make connections and work collaboratively with other town departments, which ultimately will improve the ability of all elected town leaders to present budgets and capital articles that meet the needs of all residents in a responsible, cost effective way.
  • I also feel that it is critical to develop a volunteer training for newly elected volunteers to explain the intricacies of municipal finance, so that budget and capital requests which are moved forward can be comprehensively and collaboratively built by informed committees.
  • Finally, I think an annual, post-Town Meeting de-brief session to reflect upon the budget and capital process and develop positive suggestions to strengthen that process for the following budget cycle would strengthen the process for all committees, and improve the Town Meeting experience for all residents.

As we approach the ten-year review date for the Town Charter, many of these suggestions will be relevant for the committee which undertakes that work. These are simple but concrete steps which would enhance communications and collaboration among all town boards and committees.

Frank D’Urso
Liaisons to other committees should continue, and the School Committee should remember that just because they have a meeting about something, they should be careful to consider the feedback. As a member of the Conservation Commission and HopGreen I participated in Fruit Street School discussions, and it was so frustrating that feedback was not taken to heart. Even after last year’s STM and election, watching SC meetings would be so frustrating because there seemed to be a lack of acceptance among some members of the results. I think that the SC has made some progress since then, and I think that I can work with the current SC and whoever gets elected to improve this situation.

Frank Sivo
It appears through liaison processes; the School Committee already puts a great deal of hours into working with other committees. Perhaps areas for improvement is to develop some join goals that can cross-pollenate into each other’s strategic plans, and would turn participation into action with benefits.

Jon Graziano
More than other departments, the schools seem to be on their own island when it comes to budgets and building improvements. The process of developing the school budget is thorough and open, but while the schools make up 53% of the town’s operating budget I think that it would benefit the schools as well as the town overall for the school’s budget and capital needs to be developed in conjunction with those of other town departments. This would involve more constant communication with the Board of Selectmen and the Town Manager. I also think that the School Committee should more closely involve town resources such as the Permanent Building Committee in their assessment of building needs and large scale replacement or renovation projects like the Center School project.

Don’t Forget To Vote Monday, May 21!
Polls are open 7:00 AM – 8:00 PM in the Middle School Gym, 88 Hayden Rowe St (enter by Grove Street). There are two contested races: School Committee and Library Trustee as well as ten ballot questions. Click to read the 10 Ballot Questions. Click to read the List of All Candidates.