HARVARD — There are two candidates seeking one seat on the five-person Harvard School Committee. The seat carries a three-year term.
Incumbent Stu Sklar seeks a return for a second consecutive term . For more information, visit his website at www.stu4schools.com.
Challenger Kirsten Wright is seeking her first elected office with a fresh run for the Committee. For more information, visit her website at www.wright4schoolcommittee.com.
We asked both candidates to answer the same set questions in 600 words or less, emphasizing answers where they wished to. See also basic biographical information on each candidate, below.
Election Day is Tuesday, May 4. Here’s a snapshot of your School Committee candidates, in order of appearance on the ballot.
Address : 39 Scott Road, Harvard
Age : 51
Marital Status: Married
Children, ages and names and grades : 2 children, ages 13 and 10
(Prior) Occupation : Medical Sales/Marketing
Formal Education : BA, Biochemistry
Previously Held Harvard Government Positions : School Com, Town rep to the Suburban Coalition
Other civic involvement : HAA Soccer Coach for 8 years
Address: 225 Littleton County Rd.
Hometown/Native of: Harvard
Marital Status: Married to Dan D’Amore, science teacher at Nashoba Regional
Children, ages and names and grades : Justin (21, 2006 Bromfield graduate), Joey (11, 5th grade)
(Prior) Occupation: Teacher (30 years), Previously 15 years Nashoba Regional, Currently 3 years- Oak Meadow Montessori
Formal Education: Bachelor of Science Education
Previously Held Harvard Government Positions: Hildreth Elementary School Council (current- 2yrs)
Other civic involvement: Board of Directors- Barn School, Sunday School Teacher- Holy Trinity
Harvard Hillside: Explain your view of a School Committee member’s role in the school district.
STU SKLAR: Our role is clearly defined by Massachusetts law and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education regulations: Hiring and evaluating the superintendent, setting policies that enable administrators to achieve district goals, adopting and managing a budget, negotiating teacher contracts.
Site-based management was the cornerstone of the 1993 education reform law that shifted oversight of all personnel except the superintendent from the committee to the individual schools; principals and other administrators report to the superintendent. While committee members may serve as liaisons to various committees, they shouldn’t become involved in daily school management.
Now more than ever, the SC must concentrate on finding outside funding sources, including additional state aid, to maintain educational excellence.
KIRSTEN WRIGHT: School Committee members are liaisons between our schools and our community, developing policy and educational objectives that reflect state and federal standards, and more importantly, our community’s educational standards. Individually and collectively, School Committee members act like a board of directors overseeing sound educational and financial policy and ensuring our Superintendent is held accountable to the standards set by the committee.
HH: Regarding your qualifications, what sets you apart from your opponent?
SS: My experience, definitely! My track record of locating outside sources of funding, including the Devens contract and a more equitable distribution of state aid, has allowed us to maintain our schools without going to the taxpayer. My negotiation skills contributed to two teacher contract settlements fair to them and affordable for the town.
KW: As an educator, I have a proven 30-year commitment to the well-being and education of children; to the importance of education for society; and a deep understanding of school curriculum, culture, and climate. I know what questions to ask that are pertinent to the School Committee’s core mission. No one else on SC has an educational background.
HH: What operational change(s) would you implement as a School Committee member and why?
SS: Any change requires three votes; no one member can implement changes.
KW: 1. Self-Reflection/Process: I am no stranger to School Committee meetings. Over the years, I have witnessed various dynamics, some productive and some not so. My most recent concern involves the superintendent’s evaluation, and the very different perspectives and expectations that members clearly of him. For starters: Discuss the clarity of goals and expectations for the superintendent; suggest SC establish a code of conduct/expected behavior for meetings; and, self-evaluation of SC.
2. Planning for Future: Clear and timely review of the budget process; solicitation of innovative ideas from community at large and school community; capital improvement planning; and focus on Devens Community relationship/contract.
3. Community Bridging: Continue improving upon providing a welcoming, open environment at SC meetings; being accessible/approachable to folks in town outside of SC meetings; and garnering community feedback about the role and effectiveness of SC.
HH: What do you see as the top three priorities facing the Harvard schools?
SS: Funding, funding, funding! We’ve a great school system with talented personnel and great kids. The School Committee’s responsibility is to provide the resources our teachers and students need. It’s critical we maintain our schools during these lean times so we’re in a solid position when the economy recovers.
KW: 1. Maintaining and improving upon the excellent education and value we offer.
2. Thoughtfully prioritizing expenditures in a resource scarce environment.
3. Providing a continuum of curriculum/services as students move through our schools. We are one school system, not two.
HH: What’s your own opinion of the morale/climate at Hildreth Elementary School and Bromfield?
SS: Last year’s Bromfield climate survey raised some issues currently being addressed by the Bromfield School Council. The recent HES climate survey indicated a small percentage of the staff are unhappy, as might be expected in any workplace. Much of the discord revolves around MCAS, and I appreciate those sentiments. However, if we reject MCAS, we have to answer to the state and forgo substantial funding, which I don’t believe the town is prepared to do. I’d be glad to support a public forum to fully discuss these issues. A good indicator of teacher satisfaction is turnover, which is very low in Harvard.
KW: Morale and climate are critical to a healthy learning environment. Both schools have undertaken surveys which is the right thing to do, and should continue. Much has been learned with much work in progress.
HH: Do you sense discord on the School Committee? If so, what do you propose to be done?
SS: Some discord is to be expected on any committee composed of five people with opinions on important issues. I believe the current board spends too much time micro-managing school administrators while ignoring deeper economic vulnerabilities threatening districts like ours across the commonwealth. I do think we’d benefit from additional training around our roles and responsibilities. I think we get into trouble when we abandon our management and policy-setting role and inject ourselves into school-based decisions.
KW: As stated in question 3, the School Committee needs to take a close look at itself, and invite key stakeholders to provide feedback as well.
HH: In a sentence or less, your views on:
The best aspect of the Harvard school system
SS: The best and the worst aspect of Harvard’s school system is size – being small has great benefits and many limitations.
KW: The unique partnership between the families, who send their children to school ready and willing to learn, and the excellent teachers and staff, who come to school ready and willing to teach.
The worst aspect of the Harvard school system, if any
SS: See Sklar answer above.
KW: The most challenging aspect is meeting the state and federal standards while determining, preserving, and implementing our own educational goals and standards at the local level.
What, if anything, do the Harvard schools lack in terms of curriculum and offerings?
SS: Because of our small size, Harvard doesn’t have the breadth of offerings found in larger schools, which can be limiting for some students.
KW: Harvard is a small district. It is difficult to have the variety of course offerings at Bromfield that larger districts have. At the same time, its small size provides a wonderful opportunity to improve upon the continuum of curriculum/services as students transition from grade to grade, particularly from HES to Bromfield.
Closing school for religious holiday observances
SS: It was my motion to have a thoughtful dialogue around religious holidays and see how the community would like to handle this.
KW: I support the School Committee’s recent decision to keep the calendar “as is” for 2010-11, and to form a representative subcommittee representing various stakeholders to determine the 2011-12 calendar.
The merits or minuses of conducting parent, staff, and student climate surveys
SS: Surveys, when well- done, can be valuable informational tools.
KW: Surveys are as good as the questions being asked, and what is done with the results; when thoughtful attention is given to both, it’s “all good”!
Any innovative ways to trim the budget
SS: We run an extremely lean budget, achieving some of the best results in the country while spending at just the state average. One of the few things the present committee agreed upon was the budget. No more trimming is possible, that was finished years ago – now we’re into amputation.
KW: Begin the process much earlier to firmly establish priorities; provide the time required to do the thinking and planning crucial to making innovation happen; solicit ideas from schools and community members; examine measures other communities have explored/taken.
The degree of taxpayer subsidies you’d support to replace Bromfield athletic fees
SS: Athletics are an important aspect of education, but funding for them was cut years ago. A family with two kids playing 3 sports spends $2,400/year on user fees! As a School Committee member I’d never support cutting academics to fund athletics. As a parent, I support an override that reduces user fees to a flat $225/sport and provides a $600/child cap at an additional cost of $58 on the average tax bill.
KW: The SC needs to focus on this issue through its omnibus budget planning process, not through an override that potentially pits one special interest group against another.