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Zoom Webinar: Sharon School Committee Candidates

Below is the recording of the webinar held on April 15th, 2021, featuring the nine candidates currently running for School Committee for Sharon. Enjoy!

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School Committee Candidate Spotlight: Prisnel Dominique

What is your name?

Prisnel Dominique

Which School Committee term are you running for?

Three-year

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

My experience is as a parent through the lens of my 3 children in addition to family members who have gone through the Massachusetts public school systems in different districts. 

Overall, Janelle and I have found that it can sometimes be challenging to navigate ensuring that the needs of your children are met, particularly when you have children with special needs. Some districts excel and some do not. 

We’ve also found, in general, that educators and administrators do a really great job overall. We’ve consistently, across districts, have been impressed with the quality and caliber of educators that our children have been fortunate to have.

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

The hallmarks of a good district is one that has a well formulated district strategic plan. That plan should be broadly focused on the goals of the community, the educators, and the administration. It should focus on ensuring that each individual learner is empowered and enabled to achieve their own, individual, highest potential irrespective of other factors that they come to the table with. A district with a Superintendent at the helm who listens to the smart people they have working with them as colleagues. A Superintendent that makes tough decisions in alignment with the goals referenced, and holds all involved accountable towards executing a delivery of education to all learners at all levels in the most equitable way possible ensuring a focus on producing high achieving, well-rounded learners.

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

The School Committee should focus on providing oversight of the budget, is responsible for policy, and is responsible for the hiring, firing, and managing of the Superintendent to the District Strategic goals and other challenges and/or issues that arise within the schools. While the School Committee also should be able to have some influence on some additional matters given that the School Committee is a representative body representing the community, the School Committee should balance that limited influence to ensure that we are mindful of allowing and empowering our educated educators to use their expertise in problem solving that is evidence-based and not meddle into tactical affairs but rather stay high focused on strategy, execution, and accountability. Understanding this distinction is key and important to ensuring that there is a good relationship between the Superintendent and the School Committee overall.

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

A School Committee member is a representative of the town elected by voters. Therefore the communities input is imperative. The Superintendent, Administration, and teachers the the experts in delivery of education and therefore should be responsible for the construction of evidence-based educational practices to our children. Input from all stakeholders referenced is paramount and should be taken into account.

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.

Equity is providing all students the individual access to an education that allows them to achieve their highest potential. This gives every child the best opportunity to succeed at every level of our school system. We owe that to students and learners as a community. Equality means distribution of resources evenly across everyone irrespective of the situation or status. If we truly value diversity, equity, and inclusion then our goal should be focused on equity in our school systems for all of our students.

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?

It’s simple: 

Assume positive intent when engaging in dialogue. 

Be curious and not defensive. 

Approach people with respect in all engagements – don’t make things personal. 

Listen to understand, don’t just listen to respond. 

Actually pause and go beyond hearing – listen, process, and digest others point of view. 

Understand going into the discussion that you won’t always agree with everyone on everything and that’s ok. 

Remain focused on the higher level goal – we are at this table to focus on problem solving and creating an optimal situation for students and teachers – always! 

Ultimately, the answer here is simple and is something that not only do the educators teach our children daily but I know many parents teach their kids. We have only to embody those simple values in order to achieve the desired outcome.

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

What are your biggest challenges as educators? How can the parents and the community better support your work and efforts? What would you change in the school system if you had an opportunity to? Why? We often focus on our challenges which is appropriate, tell me what are the areas that give you hope?

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School Committee Candidate Spotlight: Tanya Lewis

What is your name?

Tanya Lewis I am currently a sitting School Committee member and should note that the views and opinions expressed in this questionnaire are my own and not reflective of the Sharon Committee’s position on any of the matters discussed in this questionnaire.

Which School Committee term are you running for?

One-year

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

I have two daughters in the Sharon Schools. One in high school and the other in middle school. In addition, my closest friends are educators, all at some point educators in K-12 th . Finally, as an undergraduate I developed science course content for a Saturday academic enrichment program for middle school girls in Boston.

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

The hallmarks of a good district are the following. 

  • Joyful children excited about learning new things and interested in improving old things. 
  • Teachers who create safe, interesting and challenging learning environments. 
  • Parents, teachers, administrators and staff who feel supported, consulted and listened to as key stakeholders involved in the education of our children. 
  • A community of people who feel the belong together working to educate our children. 
  • A community in which the children and teachers are exceeding proficiency expectations I would measure this using surveys of students, teachers, parents, administrators and staff. I would also add a district report card with metrics agreed upon between key stakeholders to track performance prior to DESE assessments.

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

“The School Committee is accountable for how schools and students perform.” The School Committee supports the District through budget and policy to improve outcomes for students. The School Committee serves as duty bearers responsible for ensuring the rights of students are protected and the needs of all our students are met. Specifically, the School Committee does the following: 

  • Ensures that a Superintendent is hired with a clear vision for what a world class education looks like for Sharon students 
  • Works with the Superintendent to establish a vision for our District 
  • Works with the Superintendent to establish a diverse and inclusive school environment 
  • Holds School Administration accountable for addressing the opportunity gaps experienced by students 
  • Develops policy that protects the rights of children in our District and directs the activities of the District 
  • Holds Administration accountable for operating consistent with the approved strategic plan 
  • Approves a budget that addresses the needs of all students and teachers 
  • As an elected body the School Committee serves as a bridge between the school district and the community

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

I believe that it is critical to seek input from stakeholders who are impacted by the school district and those who have an impact on the school district. It will continue to be my approach to hear from all stakeholders to arrive at the most robust decisions for our District.

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.

The underlying principle of equality and equity is access. However, the focus is different. Equality focuses on giving every student access to the same education. While equity focuses on providing every student access to the opportunities that will help that individual student to be successful. Equity takes into account that all students do not start from the same place and each student has different needs that must be addressed to help them achieve their full potential.

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?

The answer to this question is to create an inclusive environment. A key platform issue for me, an inclusive environment is one in which people feel safe sharing how they feel about a particular topic, which results in an exchange of ideas leading to elevated thinking and a sense of belonging. In an inclusive environment, all opinions are heard, respected, and even welcomed. Differences in viewpoints are not considered to be problematic but rather as an opportunity to understand a different perspective. An inclusive environment will allow us to overcome our differences and work together. I believe, When We All Work Together, We Can Achieve Anything!

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

First, I want to thank the educators in our district for all they do to help our children achieve their full potential. I’d like to know what the School Committee can do to help our children receive an exceptional education?

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School Committee Member Spotlight: Wenxiao Tiano

What is your name?

Wenxiao Tiano

Which School Committee term are you running for?

Three-year

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

My eldest is excited to be a Heights Hedgehog this fall!

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

There are a lot of metrics one might look at: high standards, leadership, performance, teacher retention, class size, etc. But for me, the hallmark of an excellent school district is its success at nurturing well-rounded world citizens who are self-aware, who have explored all facets of their potential, and who possess sharply-honed critical thinking skills. And for me, this is most evidenced by the post-graduation plans of our seniors. 

I want to see that the kids in any graduating class choose a diversity of educational institutions and pathways—liberal arts colleges, universities, vocational and tech schools, gap years, travel, workforce, etc.—and that they are furthering their studies and pursuits along a vast spectrum of fields and interests, not just a handful of popular or lucrative ones. This tells me that our district has provided our students with programs that encouraged them and supported them in exploring the depth and breadth of their potential. Each child is unique, and I would expect an excellent K-12 education to embrace that and accentuate that.

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

I view School Committee as the architect of overarching policy geared towards ensuring that all our students have access to high-quality, rigorous education. Committee provides the blueprint goals and leaves the execution to the experts: the administration and the teachers. 

School Committee is also a conduit by which input from administration, educators, students, parents, and community coalesces, and based on this input, they must decide whether these goals have been met or whether they need to be redefined.

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

My campaign manager is a high school student. My team comprises a parent of a student receiving special services, a STEM academic and parent, and a recent SHS grad turned product manager. I truly believe in giving diverse input and expertise all the consideration it deserves. 

Sharon is a very opinionated and passionate community. It is one of our greatest assets and yet often our greatest impediment. While it is incredibly important to hear from all stakeholders, we need to recognize that we all have our biases and blind spots, and that we are basing our opinions on varying degrees of information. 

Ultimately, we need to trust the professionals who are best equipped to make decisions that pertain to their areas of expertise. I trust my team implicitly, and every decision we make is informed by the strengths of its individual members. We are greater than the sum of our parts.

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.

The number one reason my husband and I chose Sharon was the diversity of this community. That was paramount for me, as an Asian American immigrant, as well as for our children who are of mixed race. Having grown up the only person of Asian descent in my entire public school district, I am acutely aware of what lack of inclusivity and lack of equity looks like and *feels* like. 

In building understanding and cultural competency among students, staff, and community, we can create a climate of inclusivity and belonging that lends itself to a productive learning environment where all feel accepted and appreciated. This is the power of education: our problems are not born of malice but lack of awareness. 

The fundamental difference between equality and equity is that equality assumes that students simply need access to the same resources in order to thrive, while equity recognizes the need to parse and deliver on each child’s individual needs. I truly believe that we, as a district, are capable of supporting each one of our unique students. Whether high-achieving, struggling academically, socially, or emotionally, or even meeting expectations across the board, each and every student requires something different. Education is never one-size-fits-all.

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?

We need to provide opportunities for all stakeholders to sit down for face-to-face conversation so we can rebuild trust that can then form the foundation for active collaboration. I would start by establishing regular School Committee coffee hours with PTO, Administration, Educators, and Community. Perhaps School Committee could appoint liaisons to various stakeholder groups. Let’s invite a teacher representative back to the table. We need to listen. 

And at the end of the day, we need to remember that this is a PUBLIC school district. We have to think about how to best serve all our kids. Everyone needs to consider the well-being of the district as a whole. We cannot lose sight of this.

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

What do you, the STA School Committee Relations Task Force, view as the role of School Committee, and what do you think it takes to maintain a healthy relationship? 

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing SPS? 

As we prepare to roll out the MTSS framework in K-5, I wonder if educators feel that the subsequent rollout to 6-12 will require different strategies or perhaps a variation of the base framework?

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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.