Julie McDonough for School Committee
The Natick School District is a dynamic and complex system serving many different stakeholders. It is one of the foundations of our community and a point of pride for residents. Yet our schools face many challenges as we transform and advance learning to match the skills necessary to succeed in today's world. If re-elected, I would like to focus on the following issues and priorities:
COVID Recovery - Support for Students and Staff
There is no greater impact on our school system that the one we have faced since March 2020 - the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has impacted our students and staff in ways that we are only now beginning to realize. As a district, we need to carefully track student academic progress and address deficits we may identify. We also need to monitor and assess the social-emotional health of our students. Identifying needs, through surveys and classroom evaluation, will help us determine how best to support our students in their recovery.
I also think it is really important that we support our teachers and staff. Over the past two years, we have asked them to completely reinvent how they "do business." They have taken on responsibilities and tasks that they never dreamed they would be asked to do as employees of a public school district. We need to acknowledge the herculean task they have undertaken and support them. This means negotiating a good and fair contract that recognizes their hard work and supports their recovery and their ability to continue to provide outstanding service to our students and our school communities.
Student enrollment has risen dramatically over the past 10 years. Our biggest classes are now reaching middle and high school. We need to ensure that class sizes are conducive to optimal learning. The opening of the new Kennedy building ensures we have the space for our current student population. However, we need to make sure both Kennedy and Wilson are staffed to accommodate students as they enter the upper grades. At the high school, we need to make sure our class sizes stay reasonable so that our teachers can provide constructive, timely feedback to students. In addition, we want to ensure our high school teachers have the time and energy to innovate and explore in the classroom and beyond. Finally, with the phased closing of Johnson Elementary, we need to ensure that our elementary classes stay small. I will continuously monitor class sizes as our district moves through these transitions and I pledge to actively advocate for small class sizes to support a high quality classroom experience for all of our students.
Johnson Elementary Transition
In the fall of 2021, the School Committee voted in favor of a phased closure of Johnson Elementary School. This was one of the most significant votes I have taken as a member of the School Committee. I am firmly committed to closely overseeing this phased closure and ensuring the needs of the students, families, and Johnson staff are heard and valued throughout the process. This includes listening to families and working with staff to make this transition as smooth as possible, while also recognizing the difficulty and loss involved with a transition like a school closure. I am also committed to monitoring the impact on the district as a whole as students from Johnson begin to attend the other elementary schools and then transition to middle school.
Additional Supports for Teachers, Staff, and Administrators
In Natick, we run an extraordinarily lean district operational structure. This means that we do not have as many staff to both coordinate, administer, and implement curriculum and curriculum enhancements across the district. It also means that we ask our administrators to take on significant workloads and we ask our teachers to take on roles outside of their job responsibilities in the classroom. It also means that when employees are sick, must take leave, or we face a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not have any "back-up."
As a district, I think we need to examine our support structures and consider additional supports for staff and teachers, as well as districtwide administration and coordination. One example of a recent success in this area is the addition of math specialists at the elementary level. This position has already made a significant difference for our elementary teachers. We need to consider more supports like this, as well as districtwide coordination to ensure all students in the Natick Public Schools receive the same education, no matter the school they attend. And, we ensure that our teachers and administrators have the support they need to prevent burn out from attempting to, or being asked to, do too many jobs at the same time.
Stronger support in Core Academics and New Pathways in Electives
Over the past three years, Natick has developed an outstanding Response to Intervention model (RTI.) RTI is a model in which students are provided targeted supports in areas of need so that they may continue to advance as expected. Interrupted by the pandemic, we need to refocus our efforts on RTI and ensure that it is a program that helps ALL students.
In addition, we need to really focus on implementing the recommendations found in the audits of our departments that we do every year. These audits identify areas of improvement and/or expansion. However, budgetary constraints often mean that these identified areas of need or growth go unrealized. We must use these audits to provide strategic direction for our district. Areas of focus that have emerged from recent audits that I think are critical are:
- Staffing our elementary schools with certified librarians
- Expanding our technical theater program
- Ensuring proper supports for our students with dyslexia
Impact of Sleep on Teens
Seven years ago, Natick took on the very challenging issue of sleep and its impact on teen health. Since that time, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control have published statements in support of later school start times for teens. These statements have been supported by the organizations' research on the unique circadian rhythms of a teenager's body, as well as the documented health impacts of sleep for teens. Since 2014, many school districts have begun the research into moving the start times of high schools later and some have made the switch already.
The issue is complex and each district should be certain to develop a solution that reflects the unique nature of their community. I would like to Natick to explore this issue more deeply in a way that is thorough, data-driven, and reflective of the families who live in our community. Given the research and the health impact, I believe it is prudent for us to explore if there is a a way in which we can provide our teenagers with the opportunity for more sleep.
I look forward to serving you on School Committee and hope that together we can move the Natick Public Schools forward.