Q&A With District 5 School Committee Candidate Priscila Sousa

Editor’s Note: All School Committee candidates received a Q&A from SOURCE last week. Each race had different questions. If an answer is left blank, the candidate chose not to answer the questions. SOURCE gave the candidates a word limit, so some answers may be shorter than what candidates submitted.

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FRAMINGHAM – Former Mayoral candidate Priscila Sousa is running for the District 5 School Committee seat unopposed. The seat is for 2 years.

Sousa is a product of the Framingham Public Schools, and a Marian High graduate.

Current District 5 School Committee member Noval Alexander chose not to seek re-election and instead is running for a seat on the City Council.

Election day is Tuesday, November 5. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Voters will elect 9 School Committee members, by districts. There are three contested races in Districts 3, 8, and 9.

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PRISCILA SOUSA

Age: 31 

Occupation: Sales Manager (Vivint Solar) & Xfinity Authorized Dealer 

Years lived in Framingham: 22

Volunteerism: Hoops and Homework (Board), Daniel’s Table (Board), Amazing Things Arts Center (Board), Framingham FORCE (Board), Voices Against Violence Purple Passion Committee, Human Relations Commission, 2019 Framingham Steering Committee. 

SHORT QUESTIONS
Candidates were asked to submit one word or one sentence answers to a series of questions.

The best thing about the Framingham Public School District is  our students 

What letter grade would you give Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay?

Would you have supported a 6-year contract for the Superintendent of Schools? (yes or no) Yes 

What letter grade would you give the busing system for Framingham Public Schools?

What was the last Framingham Public School event you attended: Framingham Back to School Picnic

Favorite children’s book Anne of Green Gables.

Best subject in school History. 

Worst subject in School Science.

Should the school year start after Labor Day? (yes or no) Yes 

Should February vacation be eliminated from the calendar? (yes or no) No 

Should there be recess at the middle school level (yes or no) Yes 

Do you support free preschool for all 4 year olds? (yes or no) Yes 

Should there even be homework at the elementary school level? (yes or no) Not sure 

Should there be metal detectors at Framingham High School? (yes or no) No 

Would you support virtual classes at Framingham High on snow days? (yes or no) Yes 

Framingham teachers are Our lifeblood.

I would never cut money from the budget for Special Education 

The Framingham Public School System needs Equity.

I would bring energy and dedication to the School Committee.

I would want to serve on the Accountability and Student Achievement subcommittee.

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IN-DEPTH QUESTIONS
(Editor’s Note: Candidates were told they could have 350 words to answer. Longer answers will be cut at the sentence closest to 350 words.)

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1) Specific criteria is used to measure a Superintendent. Criteria is used to evaluate a teacher. How should you as a School Committee member be evaluated? What three things should voters hold you accountable for after your 2-year term? 

Finding a formula to evaluate a body of volunteers, each of which performs a different task within the School Committee, is no easy task. It has been my observation that the most crucial lines in the School Committee Handbook to the success of a term are those that require members to maintain effective working relationships with fellow School Committee members, the Superintendent, administration, school staff, municipal leaders and staff, parents, students and the community at large. 

If I am unable to maintain effective working relationships and create opportunities for collaboration, then not only have I failed the first metric, but also the second metric: ensuring that the level of services and resources we are providing to our students is improving and increasing every year. It is impossible to keep students first without proper collaboration across different bodies. 

With requirements for those two metrics met, I hope to be held to a third: what did I do to help increase efficiency so that a quality education to our students isn’t coming at a detriment to the rest of our community. 

2) As you know, the transportation system is not working at an A+ level. Some students are consistently late for school due to buses, and some children have hour-plus bus rides home. It is a complicated issue, but in the end the School Committee is responsible for the busing contract. What will you do in your second term to fix the busing problem?

I attended Potter Road Elementary School in District 1 while living on Weld St in District 9. It has been many years and childhood memories are not impeccable, but I am fairly certain I spent more than an hour each day on a school bus. In that bus I saw children learn how to throw a punch, I learned about the birds and the bees from my peers, and I heard language my parents would have preferred I not hear at that age. Was it because I was surrounded by “bad seeds”? Absolutely not. 

When children are faced with a long commute after being wound up at the end of a school day, there is an opportunity for the fertile soil of their minds to grow things that shouldn’t. 

The incoming School Committee should not forget what is at stake at the next opportunity to discuss the busing contract. Routes need to be reworked and efficiencies need to be found in order to ensure that transportation is not responsible for undoing what is done inside our classrooms every day. Until the opportunity for renegotiation, it is imperative that communication with parents be improved so that children are not waiting in the cold before school and facing an unnecessary amount of stress before they even sit down at their desks to learn. 

3) One of the major roles of the School Committee is to set policy. Which policy would you like to change or propose in your second term?

The focus of this incoming School Committee should be the new FPS Strategic Plan. Equipped with a bigger student body, a complete equity audit, 3 years with Dr. Tremblay and a full completed first term of the City of Framingham’s first School Committee we will have ample information available to determine what the following 3 years of our school district should look like. 

4) The School Committee is responsible for the budget. Do you support a level-funded, level service, or an increase in the Framingham Public Schools budget for the 2020-2021 school year? Why?  

In the future I’d like to say that I support a level-service budget, however, I know what we are providing to our students is not enough. While I understand that efficiencies are being continuously being found by the Superintendent’s administration for the budget, there are still inequities to be addressed

5) The Superintendent just received a 6-year contract. Accountability is important. What three things will you hold him accountable for over the next two years?  

  • School resourcing 
  • School budget management 
  • Student performance data management 

6) The Framingham Elementary Schools are racially imbalanced today. It was this issue that brought about school choice years ago. Should Framingham Public Schools be redistricted to 9 district schools as opposed to school choice? why or why not?  

With the demand in our district for children to enter into our dual-language program that is offered only at 4 elementary schools, divided into two languages, redistricting to 9 district schools would rob many families of such opportunities. Unless the same program is to be offered across all elementary schools, which is an unlikely outcome, redistricting would only serve to increase the inequity across our student body. 

Until there is a better grasp on how to ensure equity across every elementary school, it would be irresponsible to redistrict the schools to 9 district schools. 

7) The state now has MCAS 2.0 to evaluate students and schools? But in your opinion, how should a student or a school be evaluated in Framingham?  How will you know Framingham students are achieving? Be specific. 

The most glaring evidence of the shortcomings of the MCAS 2.0 is the fact that students who are non-traditional learners and cannot take the exam are barred from ever receiving their high school diploma, regardless of their school performance and progress. 

Determining how students should be evaluated is something that needs to be done in conjunction with those that know the students best: the teachers. I have spoken to teachers in Framingham who are unanimous in their frustration that a two-dimensional system cannot recognize the brilliance of all of their complex students. Students should be evaluated on a multidimensional model with testing and evaluation options that go beyond Scantron sheets and computer screens.  

8) There are significant achievement gaps in the Framingham Public Schools. Name three things you can do as a School Committee member to help close those gaps by 2022.

  1. Help advance the Superintendent’s vision for universal preschool 
  2. Increase access, information and transportation for after school and extracurricular programs 
  3. Increase resources for nontraditional learners  

9) Framingham middle and high school students are stressed. The MetroWest Health Foundation studied also showed an alarming rate of suicide attempts. What can the school system and the school committee do to help the mental health of students? Identify 3 specific steps.

  1. Improve our communication with families and educate them on mental health issues 
  2. Continue monitoring of our students online presence and harmful behavior 
  3. Increase mental health and substance recovery support in our school buildings 

10)  Which program/department in the Framingham Public Schools budget needs more financial support? why?

Special education. Up until very recently it was known that whenever budgets were changed, shifted or trimmed, the shears seemingly always made their way to special education first. Aides and teachers were terrified that progress they made all year long with their students would be undone because the resources to continue the efforts would no longer be there. In spring of 2017 the FTA delivered an impassioned presentation to the School Committee on the importance of continued work with special needs students and the dangers of pulling resources from those children. The education of our most vulnerable children should never be under this type of risk. 

11) Attendance is an issue in the district for many students. What can you do as a School Committee member to make classes a priority for students and families? 

Engagement with families, to ensure proper buy in, is crucial to addressing the attendance issue. Providing families with information on the true educational and developmental cost of truancy in their own respective languages helps families understand and assume their responsibility in keeping up with their child’s attendance. 

12) There are more 70 languages spoken in the Framingham Public Schools. For many families English is not their first language. How can you help engage more parents with the school district and get more parents actively involved in their child’s school and education? be specific.

With 70 different languages spoken in our schools, we would be remiss in not recognizing that there are 70 different cultures to consider. Communicating effective with the diverse population in Framingham includes what Dr. Tremblay has been doing: getting out there into the community. We will never be able to engage parents and encourage them to take a more active role in their children’s education in a culture foreign to them unless we meet them where they are. Churches, local immigrant community centers, radio stations, etc. are all over our community and present opportunities to address large numbers of parents at the same time in a place where they are most comfortable, most willing to listen and most likely to buy in. If we make the effort to go to these places and address the parent populations there, we as a district will be much more likely to see success in parent buy in. 

13) City voters approved a new Framingham Middle School, but that is just the begining of the school district’s needs. Framingham will need to replace Hemeingway and Stapleton elementary schools soon. It needs a new space for administration. There are too few schools on the south side where the majority of the students reside. Tell voters your priorities for the district in regards to facilities over the next 5 to 10 years? Be specific.

Our first priority as a district is to provide the administrative offices a home once their lease in the Perini Building is up. With the difficulties in rebuilding more schools in the near future, it is our duty to prioritize the maintenance of those buildings to ensure the longevity of those buildings. Additionally, creative alternatives like modular classrooms may need to be explored within the next decade if the student population outgrows our facilities. 

14) A parent comes to you and complains about their child’s teacher being ethnically-biased.  A parent says the principal is not following your child’s IEP. A teacher complains to you about the principal or central office. What steps do you take?

First, depending on how the information was relayed, I would have a thorough conversation with the parent so there was no doubt I understood the parent’s concerns. Second, I would make contact on behalf of the parent with involved parties to help clarify any miscommunication, misinformation or opportunities to meet the parent’s concern. 

I have faith in the Superintendent’s office and the system that has been set in place that includes recourse in most situations. Should there be an issue that could not be resolved with the above plan, I would accompany the parent through the appropriate process until a resolution was reached. No parent that contacts me will ever be met with just a phone number and a pat on the back. 

15) Do you think students are safe in the Framingham Public Schools? Why or Why Not? Cite ways to improve safety in the schools.

In a country where school shootings, racism, cyber-bullying, homophobia, gang violence, etc. is present, our children will never be safe enough in our schools or anywhere. Framingham, however, has done well to remember that we do not live in a bubble and our school district has measures in place to prepare for the unimaginable. Additionally, our community is rich in resources to help protect our students. From Voices Against Violence to OUT MetroWest to Call2Talk, there are resources to connect to our students for their safety. 

There is, however, always more that can be done. 

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

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

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