Candidate Questionnaire – School Committee

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11/2/2015

The questions below were emailed to School Committee candidates on Monday, October 26th with a deadline of Friday, October 30th at 11:59pm. Answers appear under each question in the order the candidates are on the ballot. Candidate links are at the bottom. (Email addresses were sourced from previous 2015 local election coverage to ensure they were up to date.)

Also see: Ward Councilor Questionnaire / At-Large Councilor Questionnaire

LH: Can you give some specifics about the role the School Committee can play in helping to increase parental and community involvement with the schools, K through 12?

JARED C. NICHOLSON – The School Committee can work to educate the community about the importance of parental and community involvement and adopt policies and programs that encourage it.

Parental Involvement

To increase parental involvement, we need to be clear about what it is. There’s both the traditional kind, where you have some parents doing great work on the PTO and parents attending parents’ night and parent-teacher conferences, and there’s also thinking of parents as partners with the schools on their students’ education.

Parents are our children’s’ first educators, and throughout their education will be the people most attuned to their needs. It’s important that we have two-way communication so that we can help support parents in their role as educators and get their feedback on what’s working and what’s not working for their children.

To develop that kind of two-way communication, we need to think about improving access in innovative ways. One way is language, and while it’s a challenge to reach parents in different languages, it’s obviously something our schools are doing and need to do in order to reach them. Another is technology, which offers potentially low-cost, convenient ways of creating the kind of two-way communication we want with parents.

Community Involvement

To increase community involvement, I would like us to do more with the model of community schools. The community school model a great way to get parents involved and use the public assets we have in our schools to meet important community needs.

New programs have costs, but we can keep them below what they would be otherwise by opening school facilities when they are not in use. We already have a great model for building such a program using grant money in the work of the North Shore Labor Council and Essex County Community Organization on the E-Team. The School Committee can offer leadership to support more of those types of programs.

An important part of the process of building a network community schools is having good connections with community partners. As an attorney who works in legal aid in Lynn, at Northeast Legal Aid on Union Street, I think that’s an area where I’d be able to make a strong contribution.

Finally, a crucial role the School Committee plays is being the go-between for the schools and the community. A large proportion of students in the Lynn Public Schools come from Spanish-speaking families. I speak Spanish, and I think adding another Committee member who can talk directly to the large number of parents who prefer Spanish will hopefully be helpful to the Committee in fulfilling that role as a go-between for the community and could lead to more community involvement.

MICHAEL OUK – The School Committee is the representative voice of the students and parents, especially when many parents cannot make it to every district or school meeting because they’re dutifully providing for their families and managing their households.  This is why it’s very important to elect individuals to the School Committee who have demonstrated some degree of success in bridging communication among under-served and under-represented groups and categories of individuals.  A good School Committee member would be someone who is able to earn the confidence of parents and residents to carry their concerns and questions to the school district, administration, and to our state and federal delegations.

I have been a successful grassroots organizer especially among the Asian American community in Lynn, serving as secretary of the Khmer Cultural Planning Committee which hosts the city’s largest cultural community fair every April and as a former campaign manager to elect the city’s first Asian American Councilor-at-Large.  I’ve been sought out by members of the Haitian, Cambodian, Nigerian, and Albanian communities throughout the Greater Lynn for my advice and to help them understand and connect with the resources available to them.

I also have first-hand experience as a student matriculating through the Lynn Public Schools and as first-generation Cambodian American growing up in bicultural, bilingual home environment.  I think many of the readership of Lynn Happens would agree that I have the ability to bring groups and individuals from various backgrounds together to build consensus and work toward a common vision of equality and community revitalization, making me an ideal candidate to bring a community-centric, forward-thinking perspective to the Lynn School Committee.

JUNE N. NATOLA – The role of the school committee with regard to parental involvement is addressed within the document from Lynn Public School website, under their Committee Policy Manual, on file KBA. “Family involvement is a central,…function of the school system…it is not an add-on task for one segment of the school community. A comprehensive…proactive approach to involving all families may include outreach strategies…improvement councils and parent groups (required). Lynn Public Schools shall establish and maintain nurturing environments for family involvement in all schools and offices of the school system. To achieve these goals all staff are expected and encouraged to…increase the quality and quantity of family involvement.”

DONNA M. COPPOLA – No response

PATRICIA M. CAPANO – No response

DOLORES JEAN DIFILLIPO – As a Lynn School Committee member, I believe it is essential to lead by example. A member of the School Committee should be out in the community, schools, and attend most school related parent meetings and events. Its important to be approachable, listen and be willing to assist as needed. Parents want to be heard and know that someone is going to follow through, if they have a concern. All levels of education should be supported by the School Committee and by meeting regularly with parents/educators/administrators/ school personnel to know what is working and what is not.

NATASHA S. MEGIE-MADDREY – As a school committee member I would advocate for more language support at all school events and at school committee meetings by providing translators and translation equipment. By doing this, all the diverse members of our community would feel included and welcomed. We should also ensure that all notices are sent home in a timely manner and in multiple languages. PTO meeting times should be alternated by holding some meetings during the day and some meetings at night in order to accommodate all parents. I would like to see more social events held at the schools, perhaps we could have bi-monthly pot lucks so parents can get to know one another and have a sense of community. I think all the schools should have updated Facebook pages, where it would be easy to post updates and events. I would advocate that parents and teachers be allowed to communicate through email. Parent teacher conferences should be available before, during and after school.

JOHN E. FORD, JR. – Email receipt received, no response

MARIA O. CARRASCO – I wish I had the correct response for this question, but I believe that having more teachers and principals who are willing to give some extra hours for community involvement will be great. I also believe that if we can have more schools involving the need of the community that such school is serving, we can provide the parents with the tools so they can help the children.

LORRAINE GATELY – My career has been teaching primarily in the Lynn Public Schools . This is a great question. I personally have had discussions with Principals and teachers on getting more involvement from parents and the community. In our schools we have parents night three times a year, we change the times of these nights for each parent night to allow for working parents on different shifts time to participate. We offer the parents times to come in by appointments and discuss their child’s performance. We have socials for students, like seasonal dances, and basketball tournaments for grades 4-8. Each school may have school fundraisers to support the schools. We have concerts, plays inviting parents and community to be involved in their child’s school.

I would like to see before and after school study skills programs (which could include test taking strategies) and also include several enrichment programs in which the child picks one or two per quarter . It seems to me that when the child is doing well more parents want to participate. Let’s face it no one wants their child to fail. However not everyone knows how to study effectively, or take tests, so how can parents help their child with the changes in our curriculum. I believe as a child develops their confidence in learning and understanding the curriculum before they move onto the next level. Then our schools will see greater involvement from the parent and the community.

LH: What is your stance on standardized testing? Too much? Too little? Are they valid or invalid assessments? Do you believe the School Committee has any say in the matter? Please explain your position.

JARED C. NICHOLSON – My Stance on Standardized Testing

There is too much standardized testing in our schools. Teachers and parents generally aren’t against testing. We’ve always had testing in schools. There are concerns about the growth in high stakes testing and the effect that’s having on the learning culture.

Especially in under-resourced districts like Lynn, we rely on the passion and creativity of our teachers. So we have to be careful not to undermine that. It’s important for us to remember that testing should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I also think there should be different types of assessments to improve the validity of the process. I would like to see us experiment with performance-based assessments to support students’ development of social-emotional skills. Studies show that those skills are just as important as traditional knowledge. Parents know they are important and employers want employees who have them. Social-emotional learning does not always show up directly on tests though, so it would be great to find more ways to demonstrate that learning.

The School Committee’s Say In the Matter

Much of our testing policy is set by state and federal mandates. But that does not mean the School Committee has no say. The Committee controls some questions of implementation. In addition, a School Committee member can have a say in the policymaking process at the state and federal level, even when they lack official authority. I would want to help our state and federal delegation and education leaders make sure that the problems we have with overtesting are heard and that we are offering potential solutions by adding a voice from the District.

That’s an approach that I plan to take as a School Committee member, when faced with challenges beyond the scope of the Committee’s authority, like the issues with overtesting, to try to champion those causes on behalf of Lynn’s students in front of whoever the right decision-maker is.

Finally, I want to add that we can be concerned about overtesting, and still celebrate the hard work and exciting progress that’s being made by Lynn students and teachers. I want to make sure we celebrate them and learn from them while we work to make sure there’s a better balance.

MICHAEL OUK – I understand the necessity and value of collecting and analyzing data on student and teacher performance in order to inform decisions about our school district’s policies and resource allocations.  However, I consider testing as only one tool among many that should be used to develop a more accurate picture of how well our students and teachers are doing in the classroom.  Teacher reviews of students and parent reviews of teachers should also be included in our district’s repertoire for evaluating their respective performances.  Just as there are multiple paths to learning, I believe there should be multiple paths to a high school diploma rather than a narrowed down, one-size-fits-all curriculum with such high stakes on one standardized test.

Because of the way the State chooses to classify schools based on percentiles, there will always be at least 20% of schools designated as Level 3.  Urban school districts like Lynn start at a disadvantage because we have a higher proportion of low-income students, who may come to school distracted by various psychosocial baggage, and English Language Learners, whose MCAS scores are also factored into our schools’ averages despite the fact that many test questions can be linguistically and/or culturally biased.  Even though our teachers have been doing a great job of educating our children and bringing up test scores with relatively fewer resources, many of Lynn’s public schools have difficulty breaching that statistical ceiling simply because of the demographic makeup of their student bodies.  I obviously don’t believe this is a fair system of evaluating our students’ or teachers’ performances.

At the most recent Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on October 20th, State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester announced that he will recommend keeping the MCAS (instead of the PARCC) and revamping it into a new “MCAS 2.0” in order for the State to maintain autonomy over the content and results of the test.  Using the PARCC would’ve necessarily meant that control of the test contents and results would’ve fallen under the PARCC consortium, so the commissioner’s decision offers hope that our own Massachusetts educators and school administrators will continue to have direct influence over how the MCAS content will be updated and how the results will be used to evaluate school and district performance.  The education board is scheduled to make a decision about MCAS, PARCC, and the “MCAS 2.0” on November 17th.

School Committees from districts like Lynn must be at the front lines of lobbying the State’s board of education and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education to develop a better and fairer system of administering and interpreting standardized tests.  As an elected representative of the students, families, and educators of Lynn, I plan to do exactly that.

JUNE N. NATOLA – The School Committee legislates policy, the Superintendent executes said policies. As a member of the School Committee, I would request a report from the Superintendent regarding testing, then consider creating policy, if necessary.

DONNA M. COPPOLA – No response

PATRICIA M. CAPANO – No response

DOLORES JEAN DIFILLIPO – I do not agree with Standardized Testing and I feel our students are being over tested. Most of the testing does not take into account a students disabilities (i.e. Autism, ADD, ADHD), language barriers or test anxiety and should not be the only determinant of a students academic ability. Our educators are being put in a position to only teach to a test (i.e. MCAS) and the teacher/student relationships are being lost. Educators are not being allowed to be creative in the classroom and students are lacking the bonding or nurturing from the teacher that they need.

NATASHA S. MEGIE-MADDREY – Our children are being over tested. Although I would agree that we do need some testing in order to measure growth, I believe that standardized tests are not the only way to measure growth. Teachers should have more freedom with regard to teaching. Learning should be more fun and hands on. I have two children with special needs and believe that parents should know their rights to ensure that their children are getting the proper support during testing. As a school committee member I would advocate for less testing and more learning.

JOHN E. FORD, JR. – Email receipt received, no response

MARIA O. CARRASCO – We now have MCAS that is mandate by the state and we had to accept it, our students and teachers are already adjusted to this test. As School Committee, I believe that teachers should be the people who must provide their input in this matter because they are in the classrooms with the students daily and would have a better insight. Right now even our current President, Obama is paying attention to this. As a School Committee Member we can vote to accept or to refuse some tests. My position is that we should have a balance. I believe that we all agree on the need to have tests, but right now our teachers are preparing our students to pass the tests. Our parents are also concerned because students bring too much homework at home.

LORRAINE GATELY – There is a place for summative assessment in our schools but the constant bombardment of state and national testing is becoming ridiculous. Teachers are getting less time to teach the curriculum to our students because of them. What I find odd is that they are supposed to test the students’ knowledge on a curriculum that aligns so all students leave their high school with the same basic knowledge. I worry about the gifted children getting lost because they are bored, not challenged by our curriculums. How can our children succeed in today’s world without the time to explore critical thinking problems, actually use problem solving to answer real questions in our world today. Those skills are developed by teachers guiding them through tougher curriculums and allowing students to truly grow no matter what level they are on…I think too much testing and not enough time is allowed for the teacher to guide students through the curriculum.

LH: What will you do as a School Committee member to promote a safe and inclusive learning environment in our schools and how can the School Committee effectively support administrators and teachers in that endeavor?

JARED C. NICHOLSON – A safe and inclusive learning environment means responding to public health issues that are bound to affect our students. As a School Committee member, I would like to help our schools do more to address an urgent public health issue here in Lynn (and many other communities), which is the rise in the use and abuse of opiates. We should ask the schools to offer educators more tools to take this on, like training for parents, teachers, nurses and coaches on pain management after an injury.

I also think that increasing students’ social-emotional learning, by providing needed social work and mental health services and helping students develop stress management and coping skills, would also help promote a safe and inclusive learning environment.

One way to support administrators and teachers in that would be to ask the District to add to curriculum guides a detailed list of the social-emotional skills that we want our children to be learning at each grade level with input from teachers, health care providers, parents, and, for the older grades, employers. That would remind teachers what to look for and give teachers from different departments, like math and music, a shared language to discuss their students’ development.

Finally, I think school staff diversity can help promote an inclusive learning environment. One way to work on that over the long term is to see if there is more that we could do to prepare our diverse student population to enter the education profession.

Developing a strong pathway to the education profession for Lynn students would be great for those students. Having diverse students who become education professionals want to stay in Lynn would be great for a lot of reasons, including helping to diversify the school department staff.

MICHAEL OUK – Students’ daily interactions with their teachers, even more so than their peers, are typically the most enduring factors that determine how understood, accepted, safe, and included they feel at school.  The Lynn Public Schools are very fortunate to have teachers and staff who care genuinely for their students and have put in a lot of after-work hours improving their awareness of the socioeconomic realities facing Lynn students and adding to their pedagogical repertoires in order to help students overcome some of these barriers.

I plan to use my first-hand experience as a graduate of the Lynn Public Schools to support and build upon the heroic efforts of our teachers and paraprofessionals and to help create more opportunities for their continuing professional development.  As a School Committee member, I will be a leading voice in guiding the expansion of community-based partnerships, such as with Girls, Inc. and Kaya at the YMCA, in order to help students overcome social and non-academic barriers to learning.  These same partnerships would also help students explore education and career options beyond high school.  I also plan to collaborate with our ELL teachers and community nonprofits, like Operation Bootstrap, to improve the transitioning of students who need language and career preparation classes beyond high school.

After the State Legislature’s Foundation Budget Review Commission releases their final comprehensive report in early November, I will use their findings to lobby the Legislature to take a fresh look at the model school budget in light of the State’s potential capacity to invest more in public K-12 schools and I will fight for the resources Lynn needs in order to hire more teachers and bilingual social workers, bridge the language gap for our many English Language Learners, increase Mental Health and wraparound services, and update our city’s education infrastructure.

JUNE N. NATOLA – The way to promote a safe inclusive learning environment in schools is by hiring principals who can demonstrate or have working knowledge of School Councils, and be willing to include teachers in decision making. An inclusive school generates a happy, clean and safe environment.

DONNA M. COPPOLA – No response

PATRICIA M. CAPANO – No response

DOLORES JEAN DIFILLIPO – Its so important to provide a safe, nurturing environment for all of our students in the Lynn Public School system in order for them to be successful. By meeting regularly with the educators and administrators to ensure all needs are being met and provide support when they are not being met. Collaboration is crucial to ensure consistency and equity within the LPS system. We need to support all of our educators and provide all of the resources needed to be effective in the classroom.

NATASHA S. MEGIE-MADDREY – In order to promote a safe and inclusive environment we should have anti-bullying programs offered at all the schools, these programs would teach kids what bullying is and how to stop bullying if they see a student being bullied. We should also have drug prevention programs in all of our schools. Students need to be educated on the dangers of drugs and what the effects of using drugs are. School committee members should attend these programs so the administrators and teachers feel supported. Parents should also be invited to take part in these programs so they can further discuss the issues with their students. School committee members should also review disciplinary procedures and ensure that the proper procedures are being followed.

JOHN E. FORD, JR. – Email receipt received, no response

MARIA O. CARRASCO – As School Committee Member, I HAVE always concentrated my effort to make sure that our teachers are receiving the necessary materials so they can be able to work with more efficiency with our students. We have inclusive learning environment in our schools, but I think that we can do much more. We are integrating our Special and ESL students to regular classes as during and providing them with some technology tools to advance.

LORRAINE GATELY – First I will listen to all sides of argument then research possible solutions before I make a decision. I have been in the system for a while now and know that there are many views but there are quite a few state mandates that we have to follow. I have experienced in my career safe and inclusive learning environments in our schools; my students always had to show respect to others and to the learning environment in my classes. The system is very sensitive to our students’ needs which now includes social workers to help students cope with issues they may be dealing with on a daily basis. For example, a student may have a family emergency/issue that not all teachers are aware of so our social workers can check on them, letting them know someone cares and the teacher can be supportive while continuing to teaching the whole class the day’s lessons. This has definitely been an asset to show support of our students.

I will show respect for the whole system which includes the student, teachers, parents and administrators. We all want the same thing which is for each student to succeed. I would back the principals and teachers of the schools and question their behaviors if they need to be questioned. I really don’t care who they are, my number one goal has always been and will be the students success. We cannot have that if we do not have a safe and inclusive learning environment and respect amongst all levels of Lynn Public Schools.

LH: Please share your thoughts on the physical conditions of Lynn’s schools and how you as a School Committee member would like to influence both maintenance of existing assets and the building of new schools.

JARED C. NICHOLSON – The physical conditions of our schools need to be improved. It is one of the most urgent issues facing public education here in Lynn. Poor conditions affect the schools’ learning environments. It has also contributed to overcrowding because it has made it hard to find acceptable space for new classrooms.

The need for new classrooms is a strain on our teachers, who are asked to achieve more learning even as class sizes rise. It is also a logistical challenge, given the difficulty finding physical space in the city and resources in the city’s budget to build new schools.

But the physical state of the schools in a community is a reflection of the priority that it puts on education. I know that our community cares more about education than the physical state of our schools would suggest.

We’ve obviously had some major issues in school construction in the past that have put us behind. It’s exciting to have the new Marshall opening next year. As we begin the process with the state for the construction of a new Pickering Middle School and a potential expansion at Breed, we should make the most of the opportunity and make sure that the planning accounts for the rising student enrollment that we know will continue. I believe that my legal training and quantitative skills from my business experience will be particularly valuable in that work.

MICHAEL OUK – The need to upgrade our education infrastructure, including school buildings and classroom technologies, has become more apparent in recent years, and no one feels that urgency as much as our students and teachers.  You will notice the bomb shelter signs on many of our old school buildings because they were created during the Cold War era.  Even though they were built to potentially withstand bombs from the former USSR, many of these buildings are falling apart.

When the doors of the new Marshall Middle School open in 2016 it will already be at its full capacity of 1,100 students.  Like other urban school districts throughout the nation, student enrollment in Lynn Public Schools has risen steadily since 2009, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education projects enrollment to continue increasing in the coming years.  We must expedite the process of replacing Pickering, Tracy, and other schools that are virtually bursting at the seams so that all of our students and teachers can have safe, comfortable spaces to learn and work.

JUNE N. NATOLA – Lynn is an old city whose infrastructure is crumbling; most schools are poorly maintained because of the lack of funds. The fiscal house of the school department is in need of an audit to help determine exactly how much money it receives and how it is spent.

DONNA M. COPPOLA – No response

PATRICIA M. CAPANO – No response

DOLORES JEAN DIFILLIPO – Most of our schools in Lynn are over 100 years old. I will advocate strongly for new school buildings and ensure that the current School Improvement plans for all of our schools are being addressed. We have been discussing over crowding and poor school conditions for years, now is the time to address these problems. We need to advocate for more state and federal funding, as well as, ensure budget accountability. All of our schools need to be addressed and its imperative that we have the next schools lined up to be sent to the MSBA for consideration for new schools. We can not afford t let another application expire that is sent to the MSBA. Our district has a growing population with limited resources, we need to be more creative and apply for grants, budget accountability and request more funding from the state. Collaboration will be the key for the best interest of the LPS district.

NATASHA S. MEGIE-MADDREY – The physical condition of Lynn’s schools are in terrible shape. I am very happy that the Marshall middle school is almost complete, but there are several other schools that also need to be rebuilt. The majority of our school buildings are over a 100 years old, and desperately need to be replaced. I would as a school committee member advocate for more funding to be allocated to the schools so our buildings can be repaired or replaced. We need to apply for more grants and other resources to secure more funding in our schools, and then we can continue rebuilding. We should also organize community groups and paint and repair our schools. High school students should be required to complete a certain amount of community service hours, and they could complete those hours by helping to paint and clean up the schools and neighborhoods around the schools. These are some of the ideas I have to maintain and build new schools.

JOHN E. FORD, JR. – Email receipt received, no response

MARIA O. CARRASCO – If someone owns their home, they try to fix any repairs as soon as possible because if they don’t , that little problem will bring another one. We all know that many of our schools are too old and the cost to repair is more than to build new ones . I believe in the past we neglected the buildings and now we are confronting a big problem because it is so difficult to find space for new schools. I believe that we need to have employees that feel like they are responsible for the building and proud of what they do.

LORRAINE GATELY – My thoughts on the physical conditions of our schools are they are in bad shape, some are antiquated. Our system has completed three high schools and now are working on our Middle School. I supported the building of a new Thurgood Marshall Middle School when it was out on the ballot in 2013. It will be completed before schedule in March 2016. I support a new Pickering Middle School to be built next and I want it to hold a maximum of 1100 students. This will alleviate the overcrowded conditions at Breed Middle School. Our city enrollment is increasing yearly so I may have to adjust my thoughts to meet the needs of our system. We need new Elementary Schools desperately, some are over 100 years old, I believe the last new elementary school was Hood Elementary in the early 1960’s.

Some elementary schools can be renovated; Lynn English High School completed being renovated in 2001. Our city will be using state mandated feasibility reports which will dictate which elementary schools will be renewed or built first, second and so forth will have my full support. Our students deserve first rate schools and when this happens I will be so happy for all our students.

Candidate links
Jared Nicholson – www.jarednicholson.org
Michael Ouk – https://www.facebook.com/committee4michaelouk/
June Natola – no link provided / none found
Donna Cappola – non provided / none found
Patricia Capano – https://www.facebook.com/Patricia-Capano-228389727212719/
Dolores Jean DiFillipo – https://www.facebook.com/Elect-Dolores-Dee-DiFillipo-to-Lynn-School-Committee-967025693318871/
Natasha Megie-Maddrey – http://www.natashaforlynn.com
John Ford Jr. – None found
Lorraine Gately – https://www.facebook.com/ElectLorraineGatelyToTheLynnSchoolCommittee/

Sample ballots for each ward can be found here.


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Lori D'Amico

Language is a barrier to parental involvement in LPS. Complaints were filed over two years ago with the Office for Civil Rights due to LPS failing to provide required interpretation and translation services for students and parents. Dr. Latham signed a resolution agreement with the OCR which specified several changes and requirements LPS must make and have. For starters, they are suppose to have an official policy clearly stating the procedures for obtaining these translation and interpretation services in schools and the district and these procedures are suppose to be posted. To my knowledge, LPS still has not done this… Read more »