By Luke Canavan
FRAMINGHAM – The Framingham School Committee held a virtual meeting Wednesday night, February 17, to interview four applicants for the vacant District 2 seat left by the late Karen Foran Dempsey.
A joint meeting of the 11-member City Council and the 8-Member School Committee will be held on March 2. The individual who receives 10 votes will serve the rest of Dempsey’s term, which ends December 31 of this year.
The Committee interviewed four applicants, Brandon Ward, Kelly Garofalo, Richard Finlay, and David Gordon, in this order, after spending time at the start of the meeting identifying a half dozen questions.
Brandon Ward is a senior program manager for fellowship operations at the Center for Public Leadership and Harvard Kennedy School. Ward has spent the past 12 years working in government, higher education, and nonprofit sectors, and for the past six years, has worked at the Harvard Graduate School of Government, where he has trained and supported graduate students that are committed to helping communities in need.
Kelly Garofalo is a special education and English as a Second Language teacher, and will be nearing her 20th year in the Boston Public School system this coming September. Garofalo is board certified in Exceptional Needs, Early Childhood Through Young Adulthood, and has been a candidate support provider for the last decade mentoring fellow teachers who are going through the same process.
Richard Finlay has a large history of volunteering amongst the Framingham community. He has held several positions including seats on the Disability Commission, the Fuller Middle School Building Committee, and the City Seal Committee. Finlay was elected twice to serve on the School Committee already, previously serving as an at-large member when Framingham was a Town and as the first-ever District 2 member, when Framingham became a City. Finlay was one of the 2020 Salute to Framingham honorees for his work on behalf of the City’s youth.
David Gordon is the director of finance & operations at the Tenacre Country Day School in Wellesley. Gordon has also worked in various finance and budget roles for Somerville and Boston Public Schools. He is a member of the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials, Inc. and has is certification with DESE.
The four applicants were asked questions covering various topics such as challenges facing the school district, the issue of equity, the school department budget, the school’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and why they will make the greatest impact out of all the candidates.
All four applicants brought up the importance of finding a principal at Mary E. Stapleton Elementary that is willing to stay and really help the students grow.
“When your leadership keeps changing, it’s hard to get traction and create community, and I think that’s what is happening in Stapleton,” said Garofalo.
Finlay said his children, who attended Stapleton Elementary, have personally gone through five principals. Finlay also said not only do students need a strong principal, but the staff does as well in order to feel truly wanted.
When it comes to equity, Ward said he thinks administrators should reflect the same kind of diversity that the student body reflects. Ward also said it is important that there be equity, inclusion, and access for all.
Garofalo also brought up the point that they really need to work on teaching the students what equity is. She talked a lot about how equity can often be mistaken for equality. The same exact treatment for everyone is not what is always best because everyone has different needs.
When discussing the school district’s budget, Gordon said advocacy is a big part of getting the ball rolling.
“One of the biggest things you can do is definitely be an advocate for the district as a whole,” said Gordon, who then went on to talk about how when looking at the budget, it is crucial to make sure the cuts are necessary, that students are still well suited afterwards, and that there are no programming cuts that have a real impact on the students’ ability to learn.
Ward also said it is important to remain frugal.
“[We] need to be fiscally conservative and smart in how we’re spending our money, but also not undercut our values,” said Ward.
On the topic of the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the applicants had varying opinions.
“COVID is something that we have to be kind to each other about,” said Garofalo, who then went on to talk about how everyone is different and some students will thrive in an online learning environment, while others will surely struggle.
Finlay agreed with the students having difficulties, saying he thought the kids should have been back to in-person classes much sooner, that the district should have pushed for cluster testing much earlier on and therefore would have been able to get students back to class.
This meeting was streamed via Facebook Live and parents and District 2 residents can view the entire interview sessions on the Framingham Public Schools Facebook page. Each candidate was interviewed for about 20 minutes.
Luke Canavan is a spring 2021 SOURCE intern. He is currently a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studies Communication and English. He is passionate about film, television, writing, and literature, and upon graduation, he hopes to work in the entertainment industry full-time, where he can pursue his love for storytelling.