By Ashlyn Kelly
NATICK – On Tuesday, March 29, voters in Natick will elect 3 members to the School Committee for 3-year terms.
There are five candidates, including three incumbents They are School Committee member Cathi Collins, Kathleen Flathers, Elise Gorseth, School Committee member Henry Haugland, and School Committee member Julie McDonough.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. (See below for polling locations).
Monday, March 28th at noon is the last day and time to file an in-person absentee ballot application and vote in the Town Clerk’s office at the town hall located at 13 East Central St. There is no early voting or voting by mail for this election.
Yes For Natick, a Political action committee, hosted a forum virtually for the five School Committee Candidates on March 8. Questions were submitted by Natick residents.
The forum was moderated by Susan Petroni, owner of SOURCE Media, which publishes www.FraminghamSource.com, which has a Natick section.
Candidates were given two minutes for opening statements.
In her opening statement, Collins said her focus is on “budget, strategic goals, and planning negotiations and policy. The only one it’s not in my platform is hiring the superintendent, because we have a superintendent and I hope that I don’t have to exercise that power.”
In her opening statement, Flathers said the town has “several pressing issues” that will arise in the next few years, and “a balanced approach” is needed “to ensure that the students and educators and Natick have the resources and support they need to be successful,” and she would like to “see us builds strong schools but still try to keep Natick affordable.”
In her opening statement, Gorseth said her goals include addressing “academic and social-emotional learning losses” from the pandemic, providing teachers with resources and support, looking to the future of education in Natick, and improving communication “both within the committee and between the committee and the public at large.”
In his opening statement, Haugland said he was “proud” to have been able to keep children and staff safe during the pandemic and said, “However, 500 kids are receiving intervention to eliminate learning losses they experienced and many of our children are also receiving help for social-emotional issues, and helping them resolve these problems is a key priority of mine. My other priorities include managing, affordability, attracting and retaining exemplary staff, and fostering a culture of excellence and inclusivity.”
In her opening statement, McDonough said her goals include “maintain[ing] our commitment to small class sizes,” seeing the Johnson Elementary School transition through, and creating more “support structures to prevent burnout from our administrators.”
One of the questions asked of the candidates was what are the next key important steps after the decision to close Johnson Elementary School.
Collins said the next step is to “make sure that there’s a smooth supportive transition” for all parties involved, including Johnson families and the other schools who will have to absorb those students.
“Keep class sizes small, which is in our plan, and to not lay off any of the teachers who are currently at Johnson, which is in our plan,” she added.
Flathers said, “The first priority is to give that smooth transition,” but they should also “[know] what comes next and [get] excited about it,” such as “the Memorial [Elementary School] plan and the MSBA.”
“Will we stay at four schools? Move to three schools? … What is the size we’re looking at?” she added. “I think getting really excited about what elementary education can look like”
Gorseth said she believes the town needs to look at all of the elementary school buildings. “We are already talking about rebuilding Memorial [Elementary School]. … And not just the buildings themselves but what we will do in those buildings, where they’ll be located, what grades will be there?”
Haugland said, “I think that people that believe that we are more than likely going to have some kind of significant change in elementary education in the coming years are probably spot on.”
He added because of renewed interest in pre-K from the federal government and the state of Massachusetts, there will be “a lot of discussion” in the future “of these changes.”
McDonough said she is a part of the group to help “guide the transition and help families make the decisions that they have to make.
“There is a website set up for families to reference when they need information and there are open and two-way lines of communication with both the School Committee and the superintendent’s office,” she added.
Another question asked was how will you balance the need to advocate for the schools and its students and staff while still being aware of needs that the entire town has, including plowing the streets, police, and fire?
Collins said she believes it is not that “the current way we fund schools is unsustainable,” it is “the current way we fund the town is unsustainable.”
“They’re simply not enough revenues at the moment for the services that people have said that they want it now,” she added. “As a School Committee member, it’s my job to advocate for the resources for the schools.”
Flathers said she would like to get the town “on board” to help decide what services are wanted, how much would they cost, and what do tax payers need to “bring to the table.”
She added, “And then as we do that, how do we continue to support those in the town that can’t afford and how can we be creative about keeping our seniors here or keeping folks that can’t see additional taxes?”
Gorseth said “I think the important thing to do is to have that conversation at the town level and decide are we going to invest more in both our towns and our schools?
“The role of the School Committee is to take in public opinion and to translate that into guidance for the administration as they plan curriculum going forward,” she said. “But overall, looking at schools as an overall delivery to the community and balancing that with what the community wants in terms of those other services.”
Haugland said what is happening now is “intense collaboration between the school department, School Committee and an account administration.”
“That process has to continue,” he added. “The alternative to generating the resources necessary to maintain the services is obviously to reduce the services and I think that’s a conversation that the citizens of mating will have to have.”
McDonough said she believes they need to look at ways to “work in partnership with the town,” such as offering library services in collaboration with the Morse Institute Library.
“The town clearly has needs that are not met the school has needs that are not met,” she said. “The important thing is to explain it to the taxpayers and to have them understand and make what is their priority for the services they want.”
Another question asked was what can the School Committee do to help attract and retain high quality administrators and staff?
Collins said there is program to recruit candidates “from traditionally marginalized communities,” and the School Committee is supporting “different things” to show teachers that “we care.”
“We need to give them the space if they fail, but fail safely,” she added. “Failure happens and we just need to let them feel safe enough to fail.”
Flathers said teachers should be compensated “competitively and we need to make sure that we give them what they deserve for everything they’ve been through.”
She added that now the School Committee needs to say “we’ve all been here [in the pandemic]. We’re ready to move forward. Here’s how we’re going to support you. What else do you need to get past this? And really, to give it to them.”
Gorseth said “I think that the first thing we need to do is to really ask and understand why people are leaving.”
She added that the School Committee needs to model “what collaboration, empathy and responsiveness looks like.
“And I think that we could start by … modeling behaviors that we expect,” she added. “And also asking what you need to stay in this job?”
Haugland said he thinks it is “really important” for a teacher “to feel trusted, to feel valued, and to feel appreciated.”
He added teachers have to believe “Everybody up through the school committee … believes in them.”
McDonough said she thinks collaboration is important between the School Committee, the superintendent, and the administrators in the central office. She said those relationships are seen by the community and when they “work well, the schools and the staff feel supported in their working environment.”
“We obviously need a competitive contract to pay our teachers and we have been working on that,” she added, “because we need to keep and retain our most experienced teachers and that’s where our current contract doesn’t stand up.”
The polling locations are as follows:
Precinct 1: Kennedy Middle School (165 Mill St.)
Precinct 2: Kennedy Middle School (165 Mill St.)
Precinct 3: Kennedy Middle School (165 Mill St.)
Precinct 4: Wilson Middle School (22 Rutledge Rd.)
Precinct 5: Wilson Middle School (22 Rutledge Rd.)
Precint 6: Lilja Elementary School (41 Bacon St.)
Precinct 7: Community-Senior Center (117 East Central St.)
Precinct 8: Morse Institute LIbrary (14 East Central St.)
Precinct 9: Community-Senior Center (117 East Central St.)
Precinct 10: Community-Senior Center (117 East Central St.)
To find out what you precinct is, visit https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleidx.htm.
Ashlyn Kelly is a Spring 2022 SOURCE intern. She is a is a senior communication arts major with minors in political science and journalism at Framingham State University. When she is not writing an article, you can usually find her in a theatre.