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School Committee Candidate Spotlight: Heather Zelevinsky

What is your name?

Heather Zelevinsky

Which School Committee term are you running for?

Currently Undecided (UPDATE 4/15: 1 year)

What is your personal experience or background with PreK-12th grade public education in Massachusetts?

In addition to serving on the Sharon School Committee since 2018, I sent both my kids to the district’s Early Childhood Center and to Heights. I also had the pleasure of taking several Sharon community ed classes myself, though this wasn’t PreK-12, of course. In Boston, I used to volunteer with the M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program teaching real world financial skills to students at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.

In your opinion, what are the hallmarks of a “good school district”? How do you measure if a school district is deemed “good”?

A “good” school district: (a) produces young adults who love to learn and hopefully will become caring and productive members of a world community; (b) measures achievement in multiple ways that families value, whether that means letter grades, test scores, or something else; (c) remains mindful of the performance goals set by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE); (d) is transparent and honest about its failures and limitations; (e) makes everyone feel welcome, heard, and understood; (f) has buildings that feel good to enter and are safe for students, teachers, and staff; (g) shows good stewardship toward the environment; (h) uses professional development and manages resources to improve teacher workload and educational outcomes; and (i) uses every opportunity available to help students grow, empathize, critique, create, and understand.

What do you view is the role of the School Committee in the way the district functions?

The short answer is that the School Committee, being elected, is the main tool to make sure the schools are run in a way the town wants. In general, it has a commitment to support educational programming reasonably calculated to enable all children to make progress in light of their individual circumstances. This often entails research, discussion, and voting on matters that concern policy, budget, and the district’s educational goals. The School Committee is also responsible for ensuring that administration is working effectively to implement the goals of the town. In addition, the School Committee negotiates with various bargaining units, and has a duty of care to the taxpayers to ensure that district finances are sufficiently transparent to protect the public interest. On top of all that, individual committee members often liaise with other town committees, like capital outlay, etc. See: https://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/advisory/cm1115gov.html

Please describe your thoughts and feelings on input from various stakeholders (educators, parents, and students) on informing decisions.

I especially like it when students reach out to us by email or by attending our meetings. They are the reason we do what we do. I also love to hear from teachers, who can reach out to us pursuant to School Committee policies BHC and KCB. However, it can be frustrating sometimes that I’m not allowed to reach out to them directly due to policy and the collective bargaining law. Similarly, the open meeting law can make it difficult to bounce ideas off other committee members. So, I rely a lot on parents and sometimes social media to get a sense of what people want as a whole.

Sharon is home to a very diverse public school district. The district is working on moving past just the celebration of diversity and toward creating a culture of inclusivity and belonging for all students, families, and educators. In your words, please explain the difference between “equality” and “equity” in a diverse public school system.

“Equality” means treating everyone the same, and “equity” means giving each person appropriate support to succeed in light of their circumstances. To provide excellence for all, it is necessary to be responsive to individual differences, rather than treating people as if they are interchangeable. I also think the district has room to improve to become truly inclusive without succumbing to a one-size-fits-all approach or the perception of anti-intellectualism, which is a frequent criticism.

In your opinion, what would it take to maintain a healthy relationship between the School Committee, Administration, the Sharon families and the Educators in the school?

A certain level of transparency, trust, acceptance, and mutual respect is needed to build healthy, working relationships between various stakeholders. I also think people need to recognize when it’s OK to agree to disagree, preferably in a considerate manner.

What questions do you have for the educators in our district?

My understanding of the collective bargaining law somewhat limits my ability to answer this question, so I’ll try to be general. I’m curious to know what is working well and what could be improved, especially as it relates to things the School Committee can actually control. I also want to know what would make it easier for teachers to empower all children to make progress every year.

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