Framingham District 3 School Committee Candidate Scott Wadland

District 3 School Committee candidate Scott Wadland

District 3 is Precincts  4 and 7

Age: 46

Occupation: IT Project Manager and certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Boston Children’s Hospital

Years lived in Framingham: 21

Family (optional): Married 6 years to my loving wife Tiel; twin 15-year old daughters (Jillian and Jocelyn) in 10th grade at Framingham High School

Volunteerism: Member, Framingham Elks; Vice-Chair, Framingham Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC); Organizer, Pheasant Hill Civic Association; Immediate Past President, Framingham TownWide PTO; Former member, Fuller Middle School Council; Former Vice-Chair, Framingham Technology Advisory Committee; Former volunteer aquatics instructor, MetroWest
YMCA

Website or Facebook page link: www.scottwadland.com; www.facebook.com/scottwadland

 

Editor’s Note: Candidates were asked to provide one-word answers only. If there is no answer the candidate did not submit a response.

  • Framingham Public Schools are full of potential.
  • What was your favorite subject in school? History
  • Should Framingham Public Schools Provide free universal preschool? Yes
  • Wi-Fi access at the middle school and Framingham High is inconsistent.
  • At this time, what letter grade would you give Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay? A
  • Should the $100 athletic fee be eliminated? Yes
  • Favorite children’s book: The Giving Tree
  • What was the last Framingham Public School event you attended: FHS Football game on Friday night
  • What letter grade would you give yourself as a School Committee member? B
  • What is your favorite place in Framingham? (just one): Eastleigh Farm

Editor’s Note: As there have been no forums for School Committee candidates, thus far, Source decided to ask far more questions of these candidates than of the mayor and city council candidates so voters could understand where they stand on issues. Candidates were given up to 350 words to answer each question. If the candidates went over 400 words, they were cut at the closest sentence to 400. Answers to the questions are copied and pasted below.

QUESTION #1 – You are currently serving on the Framingham School Committee, elected town-wide. Why should voters in District 2 elect you to the new Framingham School Committee?

Voters in District 3 should elect me to the School Committee in November in part for the same reasons that they voted for me in April of this year – I am a strong and independent voice; I am a critical and analytical thinker who can study a situation closely, ask tough questions and make tough decisions when necessary; and I have the courage to set clear expectations and give constructive feedback when those expectations are not being met.

Additionally, for this upcoming election I am in the unique position of having 7 months of “on the job” experience as a School Committee member but not so many years that I am (or should be considered) an “entrenched incumbent”.

Working with our new Superintendent and the rest of the School Committee, I am open to revolutionizing the way that that the School Committee and the Framingham Public Schools operate if it allows us to deliver a top-notch education to our children,

and I believe that my experience across the district coupled with my interpersonal and professional skills will allow me to play a significant role in the transition to an all-new School Committee in January of 2018.

 

QUESTION #2 – In your opinion what is the biggest issue facing the Framingham Public Schools? How will you work to fix it?

 

The biggest overall issue facing the Framingham Public Schools is that until very recently we had lost sight of why we are here, which is to drive student growth and achievement and prepare the next generation for college and careers. Through the ineffective and counterproductive leadership of Dr. Stacy Scott as well as a School Committee which (at the time) was unable or unwilling to hold him
accountable, we “took our eye off the ball” and students and staff paid the price.

Thankfully, we now have some new voices on the School Committee (and many more to come in January) as well as a Superintendent who has excelled in the short time he has been here and for whom the School Committee can set realistic but aggressive goals. As a School Committee member, I will work to make sure that administrative and operational issues are minimized and dealt with swiftly, and I will make sure that goals and objectives are set in such a way that we are always pushing ourselves to do better.

 

QUESTION #3 – The district has been criticized for not communicating to staff, parents, and students. What can the School Committee do to improve communication to all stakeholders? What specific steps have you taken since the recommendations of the Communications and Public Relations Task Force?

When I ran for School Committee for the first time in 2015 I had the opportunity to speak with an individual who had served on the Communications and Public Relations Task Force, and I witnessed first-hand the frustration that she felt given that the recommendations of the group had essentially been “shelved” by our then-Superintendent. I believe that under the leadership first of Interim Superintendent Ed Gotgart and then Superintendent Bob Tremblay we have taken strides to improve communication, however I also realize that there is always room for improvement and that some of the original recommendations have either not been implemented or not reassessed to measure their effectiveness. In my professional experience we solve many problems like this using a PDCA (Plan-
Do-Check- Act) cycle; in this case we came up with a “plan” and “did” some of it but we have not “checked” to see if it has been effective or figured out how to “act” next. This is due in part to the fact that the time of our Superintendent (who is responsible for communication as an operational activity) has been fully consumed with onboarding, completing his “residencies” in each school and strategic
planning. Because of this I have had limited opportunity to take significant steps regarding communications, but one thing I have done is to push for topics like the “turnaround planning” in our Level 3 schools to be presented to the School Committee and the public so that folks have greater visibility into the work going on in the district.

 

QUESTION #4 – Should Framingham Public Schools return to neighborhoods schools? Why or why not?

I believe that the Framingham Public Schools should return to neighborhood schools for a number of reasons. First, while one of the planned outcomes of School Choice was to achieve racial balance across schools, our experience to date shows that we have missed that mark. For example, Hispanic students make of 29% of our student population across the district but range from low of 7% to a high of 54% at the individual school level (excluding the two-way Spanish program at Barbieri).

Second, I believe that our current School Choice system fractures neighborhoods and makes it harder for kids to build “real” social networks. As a personal example, I live in the Pheasant Hill neighborhood but my kids attended McCarthy, so they knew very few of the other kids in our neighborhood until they got to Fuller and were joined by kids who went to Brophy. It was not until they got to FHS that they met the rest of the kids their age in the neighborhood because those kids had attended other elementary and middle schools.

Lastly, I believe that our current system of School Choice has had the unintended consequence of exacerbating the achievement gap between schools. For example, at one time Brophy was a highly sought-after school, but over time as kids from Pheasant Hill and surrounding neighborhoods got older and moved on the demand for Brophy dropped. This drop in demand opened the door for the
district to place more High Needs students and programs at Brophy (77% of their students are considered High Needs) which in turn makes it incredibly difficult to drive student growth and achievement and open us up to the risk of Brophy (or one of the other Level 3 schools) slipping into Level 4 and receivership by the state.

For these reasons I support moving away from School Choice and back towards neighborhood schools, but such as move is not without its own share of challenges. To start, we have a number of families who already have students in one of the nine elementary schools and who have younger children. It would be grossly unfair and disruptive to reassign kids who have already started elementary school or to split families across two elementary schools, so we would need to phase in a shift towards neighborhood schools. Secondly, we would need to make sure that we have enough excess capacity in our schools to absorb population ebbs and flows within a given area without having
to resort to redistricting on a regular basis.

 

QUESTION #5 – One of the major roles of the School Committee is to set policy. If elected to be the School Committee member from District 3, what policy change would you recommend? Why?

If elected again to the School Committee, one policy area that I would like to revisit is how, when and to what degree we publish meeting materials to the public ahead of a School Committee meeting. We want members of the public to come to meetings (or follow along at home) fully aware of what will be discussed and what (if any) agenda items require action or decision on the part of the School
Committee.

An additional policy area which I think warrants review are those policies that deal with political activity on school property. As highlighted by recent events, I think there is an opportunity to “tighten up” those policies so that they are less open to “interpretation”. I also think that this is an area where we need to strike a careful balance between free speech considerations, using real-time politics to teach students about civic engagement, and making sure that our schools provide an appropriate environment for our students and staff to focus on the task at hand.

 

QUESTION #6 – Framingham has four level 3 schools. Even some of its level 2 school have significant achievement gaps. What have you done as a School Committee member to decrease these gaps and to help improve the underperforming schools in your years service on the School Committee? Be specific.

Since being elected to the School Committee in April of this year, I have repeatedly pushed for increased visibility into the Collective Turnaround Planning (CTAP) work that is taking place in our three Level 3 elementary school with the help of the state’s District and School Assistance Center (DSAC). This work has been referred to by some School Committee candidates as simply another “status quo strategy” given that the Framingham Public Schools have been engaged with DSAC for a number of years, however this political soundbite ignores the fact that the CTAP assistance was only made available during the 2016-2017 school year, and that past attempts by DSAC for deeper engagement were rebuffed by our then-Superintendent.

At this point I am cautiously optimistic that in collaboration with the Framingham Teachers Association we can take full advantage of this
opportunity to review our educational practices in order to help close the achievement gap, and that those learnings can be applied to other schools in the district.

Prior to serving on the School Committee I served as President of the TownWide PTO and as a member of the Fuller Middle School Council. In these roles and as a parent of children who attended two of our four Level 3 schools (McCarthy and Fuller), closing the achievement gap was something of paramount importance to me, and I took every opportunity afforded to me by those roles to push for
additional focus and attention on our Level 3 schools.

 

QUESTION #7 – Do you support a level funded, level service, or an increase in the Framingham Public Schools budget for the 2018-19 school year? Why?

For the 2018-2019 school year, at the insistence of School Committee like myself our Superintendent is implementing a zero-based budget model, meaning that rather than just carrying last year’s number forward (with or without a percentage adjustment) we are going to start each line item budget at zero and then any increases need to be defended by the building principals and department heads.

The implementation of zero-based budgeting and budget defense meetings represents a significant shift in how FPS budgets have been developed in the past, but I believe that the reward for our extra effort in this space will be an ability to deliver more educational value to our students for every dollar we spend.

Given this shift in our budgeting process as well as our Superintendent’s immediate recognition of nearly a quarter-million dollars in Central Office expenses that could be reinvested in the schools, despite the fact that the budget process has just begun I would estimate that we could come up with a level-funded budget which I would support. This would allow us to be sensitive to the taxpayers of Framingham while still allowing us to provide more educational services by doing things more efficiently.

On a separate but related point, some folks view the financial side of education as unseemly and somehow less noble than advocating for children and families, and imply that that experience and expertise managing budgets is less important when electing School Committee members. This narrow mindset suggests that it’s an “either-or” situation, that either you’re a bean counter or you care about kids. In my mind advocating for children and families is an important part of my role as a School Committee member, but equally important is my responsibility to guide the development and management of a nearly $150M school budget given that (1) the budget is a de facto policy document in that it outlines our spending priorities and (2) the budget is the vehicle by which we are able to deliver educational services to children and families.

 

QUESTION #8 – If you could spend $100,000 in the Framingham Public Schools, where would the money go? Why?

If I had an additional $100,000 to spend in the schools with “no strings attached” as to how and where it could be spent, I would use it to offset the $1M taken out of the FPS capital budget which had been earmarked for technology infrastructure improvements and maintenance. Just as we need to maintain our physical school buildings we need to maintain the systems within those buildings –
especially our technology infrastructure which is critical to our ability to support 21st century teaching methods. For this year we were able to postpone technology upgrades, but over the long term these expenses need to be built into the “cost of doing business” if we are going to be able to support developments in instructional technology.

 

QUESTION #9 –  Framingham is dealing with a significant increase in student enrollment over the last decade. As soon as November 2018, voters may be asked to spend between $30 and $50 million for a new Fuller Middle School. How will you enlist support for bond issues or public school spending from conservative voters or taxpayers with no children in the public schools?

Funding school building projects in any community is a challenge if the need is not clearly articulated, and if folks don’t see the “What’s in it for me?”. For this reason I anticipate that we will leverage the new 9-district structure of Framingham to host community forums on the topic, similar to what is already planned for November of this year regarding the FPS strategic plan. In these “road show” events we need to clearly show why we need a new Fuller Middle School, we need to demonstrate that we’re being frugal with the taxpayers’ money and not building a “Taj Mahal” school like they did in Newton, and we need to clearly illustrate how property values correlate to school district performance (perceived and real) and how we can’t move towards a high-performing school district without the appropriate space in which to work.

In addition to communicating to the taxpayers of Framingham, we also need to work with our new municipal leaders and push them to institute more stringent financial budgeting and management practices similar to what we are doing in the Framingham Public Schools. To this end, I met with 6 of the 7 mayoral candidates on the preliminary ballot (including both finalists) to encourage them to look at ways to make government more efficient with the recognition that even a 1% efficiency gain (nearly $3M annually) would help offset debt servicing for school building projects.

 

QUESTION #10 –  Will the new Fuller Middle School be enough to deal with the space crunch? What are the 3 biggest capital issues facing the Framingham Public Schools beyond Fuller over the next 5 years?

The new Fuller Middle School will not be enough to deal with the space crunch in the district. We are already at our maximum capacity at Framingham High School, and the recently-reopened King Elementary School is quickly nearing capacity.

Beyond the Fuller replacement project, one of our biggest capital issues is to get back into the Massachusetts School Building Authority queue for a new elementary school project. It took us several attempts to get the Fuller project approved to move forward, so we should act as quickly as we can to get our next request lined up. Ideally a new elementary school would be located south of Route 9, since that area currently houses ⅔ of our students but only ⅓ of our classroom seats.

Secondly we need to determine what the future of the Farley school building is going to be, beyond any potential use during the Fuller replacement project. Its proximity to McCarthy might make it suitable as part of a K-2 / 3-5 complex, or we may come up with another use for it that we have not yet thought of. Regardless of what the future will be, we need to start planning for it out now.

Lastly, in addition to planning for new school buildings we need to continue the ongoing maintenance that our current portfolio of buildings requires. Many of us have seen the impact that deferred maintenance has in other town-owned buildings, so we need to stay on top of maintaining our existing building systems like the building envelope (roofs, windows and doors), utilities (water and electricity), technology infrastructure (such as wireless networking), and safety and security systems.

 

QUESTION #11 – One of the complaints about the district is that there is inequity among the three middle schools. There is a reason that more than 50% of the students at the McAuliffe Charter School hail from Framingham. Superintendent Tremblay said he noticed the differences first hand during his residence program. During your tenure as a School Committee member, what steps did you take to make sure all students received an equal education in grades 6-7- 8?

In my brief tenure on the School Committee (since April of this year) I have repeatedly pushed to make sure that equity across the middle schools (and particularly at Fuller) is at the forefront in all of our discussions regarding such things as the Collective Turnaround Plan (CTAP) and Resiliency for Life (RFL).

In my prior role as President of the TownWide PTO and as a member of the Fuller Middle School Council I repeatedly pushed for the FPS administration to make middle school equity a priority, and as a result of this advocacy I was invited by Dr. Sonia Diaz to participate in a workgroup formed to brainstorm improvement strategies for Fuller.

QUESTION #12 – How can Framingham reduce escalating costs for students with special needs, while at the same time making sure they receive equal education and make progress in their classes? Be specific.

Costs for students with special educational needs is escalating quickly, running at a year-over- year growth rate nearly double that of the district as a whole. This disparity in the growth rates is unsustainable in the long term, so we need to employ multiple strategies to contain costs while making sure that our students receive the education that they deserve and that they continue making progress. To begin, we need to start working with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on strategies to help mitigate what are referred to as “reconstruction costs”.

Reconstruction costs are the additional costs for out-of- district placements which are approved by DESE to account for new programs, services or facilities. Reconstruction costs are especially troublesome for a large district like Framingham which has 246 students placed out-of- district at a combined cost of over $18M because (1) we have no input into the approval process even though we’re the ones who bear the cost and (2) these increases often occur during the school year and they’re retroactive to the start of the school year which makes budgeting for them impossible.

Given that out-of- district tuition costs are one of the biggest variables which we cannot control, another strategy which we should continue to pursue is building capabilities to provide support within the district as we have done for students with an Autism diagnosis.

Out of the 210 students in our district with an Autism diagnosis, 155 of them receive supports here in Framingham. More importantly than just making financial sense though, if we are able to provide equivalent supports within the district it is better for the student and family because they are able to receive their education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as mandated by law and they are able to be a part of the Framingham school community.

On a personal note, I have a niece who has Down Syndrome and I know that my sister and brother-in- law chose the town that they live in partly because she would be able to receive supports in their district and they enjoy being more a part of the community. This type of strategy, however, has additional building space implications so it needs to be considered as we look at our long-range school building program.

Lastly, to control costs but also provide a better educational experience for our students we need to focus on identification of needs and intervention as early as possible, so that our students can get the supports they need when they need them and situations don’t escalate. This strategy applies not only to students with special education needs but also to students with social and emotional wellness
challenges.

 

QUESTION #13 – School bus rides are often quite long as we bus kids from every corner of the district to every
other corner of the district. I would fix it by moving away from School Choice, although busing is not one of the primary motivators for me.

 

QUESTION #14 – You will represent a specific part of the city. How will you balance the needs of your constituents with the needs of the overall school district? Be specific in your answer.

Given that we do not have district-based schools, I anticipate that more often than not the needs of my constituents will align with the needs of overall school district and of Framingham as a whole.

However, when those needs do differ I will (1) work to make sure that my constituents have all of the information that they need to take a fully-informed position and (2) remember that I have been elected to represent my constituents and not to impose my will upon them.

 

QUESTION #15 – What do you do when a parent complaints to you about a teacher? What do you do when a teacher complains about a principal to you?

When a parent complains to me about a teacher or a teacher complains to me about a principal (as they have done since before I was elected to the School Committee) my first step is always to go back to what I have taught my daughters since they were young – if you have an issue with someone the first step is for you to address that issue with them. I specifically avoid being the stereotypical “helicopter parent” who swoops in whenever there is a problem, but rather I’ve taught my daughters to be their own best advocate and I apply the same strategy with parents and teachers who bring complaints to me. However, if a situation has followed the appropriate escalation path and is not still resolved or if I hear the same issue from multiple parents or teachers, in that case I would go to the Superintendent either directly (when I was TWPTO President) or through the School Committee chair (as a School Committee member) to make sure that the issue was brought to his attention and resolved.

 

QUESTION #16 – Name three things you have specifically done to improve education in Framingham.

● As President of the TownWide PTO I reinvigorated that group into one that now meets on a regular and consistent basis, covers topics that are of broad interest across the district, and provides a forum for discussing issues and sharing best practices across the individual school PTOs.
● As President of the TownWide PTO and as a former member of the Fuller Middle School Council, I worked with other parents to successfully lobby the FPS administration and the School Committee to ensure that Fuller students would have equal access to highly qualified Social Studies teachers as did students at the other middle schools.
● Since being elected to the School Committee in April of this year, I have drafted critical revisions to our policy which governs Open Session and Executive Session minutes, so that we can be as open and transparent with the public as possible and so that we can be held
accountable for the actions we take and the decisions we make as elected officials.

 

QUESTION #17 –  There is criteria to measure a Superintendent. Criteria to evaluate a teacher. How should you as a School Committee member be evaluated? What three things should voters hold you accountable for? Why?

In my opinion, evaluation of School Committee members should align with the role and legal purview of the School Committee as defined by Massachusetts General Law:
● As the policy-making body for the Framingham Public Schools, we should be held accountable for developing and implementing school policies which reflect the will of our constituents and provide an environment for preparing our students for college and careers.
● As the group that hires and oversees the Superintendent, we should be held accountable for setting and achieving strategic goals which are SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, time-boxed) and that relate directly to improved student growth and achievement.
● As the body with overall responsibility for the school budget and for managing expenditures within the total appropriation voted on by Town Meeting or the City Council, the school committee should be held accountable for developing a budget that best aligns with our
spending priorities and for management of that budget to make sure that we’re getting the maximum benefit of every educational dollar we spend.

Given that the legal purview of the School Committee is often misunderstood, I would recommend to folks who want to learn more that they review the Advisory on School Governance published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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