Transcript of the ACMi School Committee Debate
for the Annual Town Election, Saturday, June 6, 2020



School Committee Candidates (in ballot order)

Vote for 3
Elizabeth R. Exton,
231 Wasington Street
Lynette Martyn,
18 Eustis Street
Paul Schlichtman,
47 Mystic Street - 8C Candidate for Re-Election
Bill Hayner,
19 Putnam Road
Candidate for Re-Election


Opening Statements

2:30
Schlichtman
: Thank you, ACMi, for organizing this Zoom debate, and thank you to my friends who are sharing a place on the ballot, for this important forum. I’m Paul Schlichtman, running for re-election to the Arlington school committee.
 

Our world has changed significantly since the campaign began. We find ourselves in challenging times. It’s much easier to close down a school system than to bring it back.

We don’t know when the Covid-19 threat will abate. We don’t know when we will be able to bring children back into our schools. We don’t know the ground rules the state will impose on us as we reopen our schools. We don’t know how a decline in state tax revenues will impact school funding.

We do know we need an experienced, collaborative school committee to work together to make the difficult decisions ahead. For that reason, I thank you for watching this debate, and I ask for one of your three votes in our annual town election.

3:33
Exton
: Thank you. Hi. I’m Elizabeth Exton and I’m running for a seat on the school committee because I want to help create a school system where all children can thrive. I’m a mother of two children, a first grader at Stratton and a pre-schooler. I’ve been an early childhood educator for almost 20 years, currently teaching kindergarten, and I’m a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 15. I’ve dedicated much of my personal time to causes right here in town. In 2018 I successfully led a group of parents to advocate for full-time kindergarten teaching assistants in all of our elementary schools. Because our students deserve a modern high school, I worked tirelessly last spring to help pass the operating override and the debt exclusion. The next year is an important one for our schools. We’ll be coming back from a closure. We will be hiring a new superintendent, and continuing construction on the high school. There’s also much work to be done around issues of diversity, inclusion, and special education. The school committee needs the voice of… (time expired)

4:39
Hayner
: I am Bill Hayner, fourth on the ballot for school committee this year. I’ve been married to my best friend Bonnie for 50 years. We have 2 great children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I have a bachelor and masters degree in elementary education. I taught fourth, fifth, sixth grade, and special education for 28 years. I acquired 90 additional graduate credits in regular and special education while teaching, to improve and stay current in educational trends. I earned a law degree concentrating in labor and school law at the end of my teaching career. I attend St. Agnes church, volunteer at the Children’s Room, and I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Arlington. I am president of A-SNAP (Association-Special Needs Activities and Programs), a group that provides social activities for special needs seniors. I’m a Vietnam veteran, honorably discharged, and a member of the Veterans’ Council. I’m a special education advocate outside the Arlington school system, a Town Meeting Member for 15 years. I’ve been on the school committee for 9 years, and serving on the policy, legal, and facilities subcommittee.

5:45

Martyn: Hi. My name is Lynette Martyn. I lived in Arlington for over 10 years, and I come to you today with a vision for a school system that is welcoming and inclusive of all of our families. I come to you with experience as an educator, as a parent who’s experienced APS through the lens of a child who struggled with reading, as an MBA with experience as the director of educational non-profits, and as a dedicated community member who’s collaborated across the district with parents, teachers, students, and administrators to bring the parent-led Diversity and Inclusion Groups, or DIGs, to all of our schools. I’m moved by the stories that I’ve heard in the parent groups, and by the data. You’ll hear me point out a lot of facts today. Facts that add up to students who that are being underserved and overlooked. Facts that demonstrate a disparity gap in our school system. I’m running because I want to make sure we hire a superintendent who’s going to prioritize these disparities, and who’s dedicated to transparency, collaboration, and communication. I’m running because I am passionate about our town and our kids, and I believe I can make… (time expired)


Moderator’s Question 1: What is working well in Arlington schools, and what areas need improvement. And, please, be as specific as possible in your answer.

7:30
Exton
: So, I think in terms of things that are working well, I think we have a very dedicated group of teachers in our schools who work very hard for our students. We have a high school that is, that has many positive and wonderful course offerings. Our graduates go on to do many wonderful things. They serve our community very well. I think some of the things we need to work on, specifically, reprioritizing special education, working to decrease the achievement gap for students, and improving the communication between the central administration and the community. Around special education, I think one of the challenges I’ve heard from community members and from parents is challenges in general education classrooms around implementing accommodations in IEPs, and I think one of the things I    would improve that is having principals give priority to some general education and special education teachers working together during the school day to support implementation of those accommodations, giving teachers time to read and really understand what’s written in IEPs. Many of the children on IEPs are in inclusion settings, and that is where the work needs to be done. Thank you.

9:15
Martyn: Thank you. So, I believe our children have a love of learning, and that is a great measure of success, and something that we do well. We need to make sure that our kids, whether they be advanced academically or special needs kids, enjoy being in the classroom. What I would like to see done better is I’d like to see a reduction in the level of stress our students are reporting. Last year’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, over 80% of Arlington High School students reported feeling an overwhelming amount of stress, that was the worst among the schools surveyed. A reduction of parent stress wouldn’t hurt, either. I’d like to see a reduction in bullying and hate graffiti. Absolutely, a reduction in our disparity gaps for MCAS scores, graduation rates, and suspension data for our high needs students. We’re currently failing over 30 percent of our kids and turning the tide on that statistic would signal success for me and I think it’s something we can improve on.

10:17
Schlichtman
: Thank you. I think there are a lot of strengths in the system. We have a good cooperative relationship between the school committee and the school community, the superintendent, the teachers. Teachers are magnificent. We hear all sorts of wonderful stories about how the teachers are making an impact on lives, and the shutdown right now has pointed out how much the kids miss being with each other and with their teachers. I think we have a couple of weaknesses. One, we’re, we spend below the state average per pupil, and so that we cut a lot of corners. We’re not providing a lot of the services as robustly as we could. Obviously, we’ve had special ed struggles that we’ve worked to improve over the years. Also, the biggest problem we have in the district right now is the high school building, and I look forward to the point in a couple of years when we move into a new facility.

11:15
(Cat appears in video.)

Hayner
: Thank you. I think our major strength is our teachers. Our teachers work very hard. I’m just saying that because I was a teacher. They are hard working. We pay, probably, one of the lowest salaries in the area. That being said, what I would like to see is that the system works more in a proactive way.  I think we’ve had a history of being reactive. I think this can be done by having all the schools having the opportunity to work together settling issues and things of that nature. I’ve had the fortune of working with third grade teachers for the past couple of years doing a mock town meeting, and their enthusiasm is just phenomenal. And I’d like to see more of it and support it, and not having the people being in a reactive position.  Thank you.


Moderator’s Question 2: What qualities or experience are you most looking for in a superintendent?

12:22
Martyn
: So, I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. The superintendent will, is the person who will set the course for APS for the next decade or more. This is honestly what led me to running now. I have a perspective of someone who has taught in the classroom, someone who has worked at the director level hiring executives and teachers at educational non-profits, and working in our community conducting listening sessions with parents to learn what their children’s needs are. I want to make sure that we hire a superintendent who has experience, ideally addressing disparity issues in their prior districts, who will prioritize hiring and retaining diverse teachers, and who is dedicated to transparency, collaboration, communication. I’d look for a strong communicator that is open and receptive to both receiving feedback and seeking out answers from the community. I’d look for someone who values data based decision making and strategy. As Bill said, proactivity, someone who’d work proactively at finding solutions, who understands how to take a wholistic approach in everything that we do in the school system, not just look at things from a siloed school perspective, but how our actions intersect and impact with the community at large. For example, I believe that Arlington public school systems and our school committee should be part of the affordable housing and density conversations. We need to understand how enrollment intersects with these issues. We should be looking at getting a statistician in to look at enrollment and if we increase density to increase affordability, where are we going to put those children so that we have answers to that before we make the other decisions. I’d also want, I believe that if we cast a wide net, I know that we can find a superintendent that our community, our students, our parents, and our teachers deserve, and I really look forward to being a part of that process.

14:20
Schlichtman
: Thank you. As a central off, former central office administrator, principal, teacher, and long time school committee member; and also as past president of the Mass Association of School Committees, I’ve worked with and around a lot of superintendents. The most important thing for me is to hire somebody who can understand the system and appreciate who we are and move us to the next level, because we need to build relationships between the superintendent and the school committee, the superintendent and the professional staff, and the superintendent, parents, and community. Their credibility is very important with the finance committee and getting in front of Town Meeting. Obviously, there are a lot of intangible about this, and I think the most important thing we can do is when we look for a superintendent, is do a lot of focus groups to figure out what the community wants, and make sure the community has enough time to meet the people and give us feedback so we get somebody who our community will be comfortable with.

15:21
Hayner
: Thank you. I think the biggest and most important thing with every, all the thing that Mr. Schlichtman said are there, I want those, but I also want a person who is not afraid to say I made a mistake and move forward and correct that mistake. Too often we find ourselves in situations where something has been decided and we keep moving forward, even though it isn’t the best thing. We also need someone who is able to navigate all the political groups in this town. Our town is diverse in many ways and one of them is everyone has their own idea on how things should be resolved. We need a superintendent that has a good strong foundation in education, both at the secondary and the elementary level, to be credible throughout the community. Thank you.

16:13
Exton
: As a public school teacher, I’ve worked for a number of superintendents and I’ve seen what styles and skills are effective and what leaves parents and educators wanting more. As a teacher, I know what leadership styles motivate educators to give their best every day, and as a parent I know what type of leadership I want for my own children’s schools. Strong leadership is important. Building, training, and retaining quality high class educators is very important. The superintendent sets the tone for the district. We need a superintendent who takes a collaborative approach with their administrative team, with faculty, with parents, with students. We need a superintendent with strong communication skills. Someone who will prioritize communicating both with faculty and with our community about our goals and how we’re going to achieve them. And, finally, an educational philosophy where all students can succeed, someone who values special education programming and improving outcomes for students… (time expired)
 

Moderator’s Question 3: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Arlington schools, and what area or issue would you take a leadership role in tackling?

17:35
Schlichtman:
Well, I think the two major issues that we’re facing right now are one, getting the system back once the health crisis is over. As I mentioned in my opening statement, it’s easy to shut it down relatively speaking. How we bring it back, we don’t know the world we’re going to be in, and we’re going to really need to work together as a school committee to figure out how we’re going to put an Arlington stamp on the requirements being brought before us. Obviously, hiring a new superintendent is a big challenge. Now, the fact is, is that I’m licensed as a superintendent, I’m a former central office administrator, I’ve worked as a principal, I’ve worked around a lot of superintendents. I’m chair of the process committee that is in charge of setting up the process to create an inclusive search process for the superintendent. It’s been thrown out right now because, as is stood, we were supposed to have a lot of focus groups and community input in April and May, and we obviously can’t do that now under the restrictions. So, we’re really going to have to figure out how to go and change the superintendent’s search process to align with the health restrictions we are going to be facing plus meet a deadline for having a really great candidate in place early enough through the process that we have our best choice within the marketplace next year.

19:00
Hayner
: The shutdown is going to overshadow every single thing we do for the next six months, possibly the next year or so. That being said and done, the superintendent search is a high priority that needs to have experienced people on this from all areas. We need the parents’ input, but at the same time we do not need – we need to have the parents’ input, but we don’t need to be totally controlled by this. The other aspect is the construction of the high school. Let’s not forget that. That’s a 290 million dollar project that’s going on that’s going to have a major impact on the system, just as much as the superintendent’s going to have. So, all these balls in the air, plus the pandemic that we’re experiencing right now, as Paul just said we have to find a way to do this, we have to find a way to do it so it’s productive and reflects the best part of all our system. Thank you.

19:57
Exton
: I agree with the previous two candidates, specifically around returning to school after the closure. I think we’re going to need to think a lot about the budget and supports for how we can support students coming back and what extra resources we might need around that, and also being prepared for potentially future closures into next year. The superintendent, hiring a new superintendent is also certainly something the school committee will be thinking a lot about and focusing on in the coming months and year. And I think a longer term outlook is a focus on closing the achievement gap, and focusing on supporting students who are not meeting benchmarks and expectations in their classrooms, specifically students, I mentioned special education before but I also think there are students not on IEPs that need support.

20:59
Martyn
: So, aside from the superintendent hire, which is extremely important and I’d like to bring my hiring experience and perspective to.  Clearly right now our town leaders are facing an unprecedented situation for which there is no rule book. It’s a scary time. The public is looking towards town leadership for guidance. There’s lots of questions and concerns around what the future holds, and more than ever we need to be transparent and open and communicate. I have a communications background, I’ve got a precedent of collaborating across schools to bring the parent level DIGs, to have all the schools collaborating on that. I’d like to see us, especially in this time of need, really work on how we engage our parents, how we can do it efficiently and effectively. I believe there is more space to engage parents and that there’s a real drive and need for that. So, personally, as a concerned resident I’d love to have a weekly check-in space where I could talk to a school committee member about what’s going on and share ideas and concerns.

Moderator’s Question 4: What role should community input play in providing direction for the school district?

22:15
Hayner:
The input, they are the taxpayer. They are the ones who are funding us, and we need to hear them. We need to be available, at in as many different ways that we can. But at the same time, we have to take that as input, not the driver. We need to also, as a school committee member, remember that we have a responsibility to the district, and we are limited on what exactly we can do with regard to that. We pass this on, if things are not the way we want them, we bring them up at a school committee meeting. We bring it forward. But the power of the school committee is limited to what it can do and what it can’t do. Community input needs to be heard, but it needs to be heard by all, every group has to be heard and the school committee has done a very good job with regard to the construction of the high school. At the beginning a lot of people felt that they weren’t going to be heard. They worked very tirelessly in setting up communication, a webpage is available, input is available at all times for this group. They’ve been tireless in this. I’ve seen so many people that were upset at the beginning about how much this high school was going to cost, and have turned themselves around and have become ardent supporters of this program as a result of communication with the community and allowing it to stay open. Thank you.

23:47
Exton
: Thank you. So, I agree with many of the things that Mr. Hayner said. The school committee is a governing body who is elected by the voters of the town, so it represents those voters and so it’s important for the school committee to hear their thoughts and their input in a variety of ways. At the same time, as elected officials, the school committee needs to work together with each other to support and implement what the committee feels, by a majority vote, is the best way forward. Personally, I have experience in terms of giving community input to the school committee when I advocated for the full-time kindergarten aides, and it’s important for community input to be two-way communication. Getting feedback back from the committee about what will work, what won’t work, what are the constraints and then giving more feedback about how the two groups might be able to work together.

24:49
Martyn
: So, the school committee is a liaison to the community. They set the agenda for the school committee meetings, and they set the priorities, and I feel like it’s very important to get parent input. Residents need to be given ample opportunities to be heard, to be reassured that the town is doing the best they can, and to be able to reach live people when they need them. I just had an incident on Monday where one of my kids was trying to get on Google classroom. It turns out that APS had spelled his name wrong, and then there was no one I could ask. My kid is like interested to get on with his classmates, and instead of being able to have a contact, an email or a phone number, I’m given a Google form to fill out. I understand that everyone is struggling out there, but that were parents, and we’re going on Week 6 here. We need to be doing better than Google forms. We need to be able to provide opportunities for residents to check-in with school committee members, and our parents, second to our teachers, are our greatest asset. They know what our children need. We need to be leveraging that resource.

25:52
Schlichtman
: Well, thank you very much. I don’t think we’re liaisons. We are a governing board, elected by the people of Arlington to bring the Arlington community’s viewpoint into the governance of the schools. And we operate within the context of a lot of laws that we have to follow, including the open meeting and public records laws. One school committee member is worthless, we only can do something when you get four of us to go and vote for something. As an individual school committee member, I maintain a Facebook page, my phone number is publicly posted, we’ve done coffees once a month, which are poorly attended. I read the Arlington list, I read social media, I interact with a lot of people and try to get the pulse of the community in every opportunity I can. The fact is, is the committee is very accessible. We can all be reached by email or phone, and I don’t know of any member of this committee who has ever turned their back on a member of the community who wanted to talk.


Candidates ask each other questions

 27:27: Elizabeth Exton asks a question.
Exton
: One role of the school committee is to provide feedback to the administration and to work toward continuous growth in the school district. Many areas in need of growth have been highlighted here tonight. In contrast, what do you see as the strengths of our schools?

27:49
Martyn
: So, certainly our teachers are a great asset, despite the fact that we don’t have the most competitive salaries in the areas, they continue to engage our students, and this current crisis shows us that they are very engaged and dedicated to getting us through this pandemic in doing what they can. Also, our parents are an incredible resource. Working in the Diversity and Inclusion Groups, we conducted listening sessions, and parents want to be heard, parents want to share their experiences, positive experiences, what’s working as well as what they feel needs to be done better. So, I think that there are lots of things we can do to continue to engage our parents. Mr. Schlichtman referred to the Saturday check-ins. I think that that’s a great opportunity that we can be publishing those more. I think during this time of distance learning, that’s something we can look to move to an online system. We could have virtual check-ins with one or a couple of school committee members to make sure that we stay within the public open meeting law rules. Also, I think that it would be great if we had a forum similar to the diversity task group. I’d like to look into doing some sort of an immigrant task group where figure out ways we can reach our at-risk communities, and ways to communicate with them. At times like this, the recent closing of our schools demonstrates that if we don’t take care of our most vulnerable, we all lose. And I want to help us transform into a district where we all win. I want decisions to be guided by the members of our community who are most effected by engagement with parents and the community in deciding what’s right for their children. And I believe that there are ways that we can improve on that.

29:47
Schlichtman
: Thank you. We have a substantive second language learner population in Arlington, and the number one language we have in the public schools, other than English, is Japanese. Our population has changed dramatically over the past few years, and I know that I have done a lot of work with my wife behind the scenes in working with the Japanese community to understand Arlington schools and how things go about. We’ve had a lot of coffee with folks off to the side. We do need to do a lot more for our kids who are not from households with engaged parents, who don’t understand how the system works. That’s a critical issue for me.
Though I think in terms of what we do well, I think that we’ve got an incredible community, and I love the kids in this system. I love the climate in the high school, because kids all seem to get along with each other, and work together well, and look out for each other, and participate in many different activities and groups together. It is probably one of the best high school climates that I’ve seen. And the interactions, the relationships between teachers and students and administrators and our ability to hire well is important. Now, obviously we have an issue with hiring teachers of color, but this is not our issue alone. This is a statewide issue, and Arlington has taken the position, we are the leader in getting rid of the state teacher testing program, which is a huge barrier to recruiting teachers from out of state, because if you’ve got a qualified teacher coming from out-of-state, they can go anywhere. Why would they go to Massachusetts if we throw all these barriers up? So, we took the lead, went to the MASC delegate assembly last year and got a resolution passed calling for abolishing this test, which will help all districts across the state to hire a more diverse teaching force.

31:50
Hayner
: Thank you. As said before, teachers are our strength. Involved parents are an added strength to this. The involvement of parents in the schools, especially at the elementary level, have provided an awful lot of materials and things that the school department itself has not funded. Libraries, for one example, which I would like to see, with new members on the board, very strong advocacy to get librarians in all of our schools and funding for books in the school, not to depend on the parents. I’ll still take the parents’ money, but we can find other places to use that. The other part is we are a highly technological community, but at the same time we have families that still do not have the technology. We need to put them through the schools and help the students gain this knowledge that is invaluable to them and for their future. The business community is an asset that has been tapped but not I’d think as fully as it could be tapped to support these things. Now, again, with the current pandemic, a lot of financing and a lot of things of that nature are going to be in question, because people are going to wonder how they’re going to keep their businesses going. But we need to work together as a group. Special education parents in this town are highly educated and highly motivated, for me for the wrong reason, they have not had the servicing they feel that they need. This needs to improve. We need to work collaboratively together to make this system work as a functioning group and a positive for our children. Thank you.

33:30
Exton
: Many strengths of our schools have already been highlighted. Our strong high school educational programming, our high achieving rates for graduates, our community oriented students, our community oriented parents, our involved parents. We have highly qualified faculty who work very hard for our students. I also think in the last year our community showed us that we have a solid budget. They supported increasing the budget for schools, and supporting things like adding librarians to all of our schools, adding reading and math to support our students. It’s clear from our growing enrollment are very well respected and families want to be here. And I think the relationships educators build with students and their commitment to supporting student needs is what makes Arlington schools great.


34:30 Lynette Martyn asks a question.
Martyn
: I’ve noticed that no school committee candidates have been specifically addressing the state’s data on the extreme disparity gaps for our high needs students, including 15% of our kids on IEPs, the 30% of our kids that identify as students of color, our economically disadvantaged students, and our English language learners. This amounts to thousands of children with disparities in MCAS scores, graduation rates. These students deserve better from our school system and I’d like to understand why no one is talking about the data specifically.

35:00
Schlichtman:
Okay, we have to understand the context of how the accountability system works and how the reporting comes out. High needs students include second language students, and when you have second language students within the mix you are going to have a high growth rate, but a low proficiency rate in English language. We study, in the system, our data very carefully. We have hired an African-American assistant superintendent and an African-American chief financial officer, who care very much about these issues and are very skilled in terms of addressing it. Not to mention the fact that they are also very excellent administrators, and we’re blessed by having such good people working for us.

We do look at this every year, we go over the data. But the one thing is, if you take a look at our accountability scores, our children of color, particularly our Asian students, which is our biggest cohort, achieve at higher levels than our white students. So, it’s a complicated picture and we cannot pigeon-hole it as certain kids are doing well and certain kids aren’t in terms of looking at big groups.

To make things work, we need to do really great teaching one-on-one, classroom level, understanding the unique needs of each and every kid. Looking for things that are systemic, but also going down to the classroom level, building the relationship with each and every child to make sure we are meeting individual needs, through a tiered approach that will demonstrate that good teaching matters; and that’s what we’re looking to do. Every year, we work to improve the quality of teaching with the mandate that this is for all kids, and we’re going to put in the structure and supports to help all kids succeed.

37:00
Hayner
: Thank you. I have to defer to Paul with regard to stats and figures and stuff, I’ve always been able to rely on him to interpret numbers for me. I’m a slow learner with regard to that. But as a classroom teacher I do, and this system has been very strong on data. The data that’s presented should be an indicator of problems or successes. It should not be a driving force by itself. We need to look at all the entire picture. Somebody wants to look at the stats, go to the Department of Education. Look up Arlington. You can see all the stats. Arlington is not one of the top in the 90th percentile, but that to me is not realistic if that’s all we’re going to work for in the school system. We are within the acceptable range. Now, if people don’t like the word acceptable, all that does, once everybody is in the top range, that becomes the acceptable. We have to be careful on how we treat our statistics. It should be one tool in our arsenal of preparing our students going forward. We have, the other night I was concerned with the MCAS testing for any senior who has not passed. Mr. McCarthy, the assistant principal, indicated that we only have two seniors in the whole senior class that have not successfully passed the MCAS for graduation requirement, and they are working with both those students so that they will be able to pass this year. It is… I have to stress it again, I’ve said it a couple of times, I’m going to say it again, statistics cannot be the driver of our education system. They should be one tool in our arsenal. Thank you.
38:42
Exton: So I think the data gives us some of the information that we need, and then we need to take that information and decide what we’re going to do about it, and this is something that we talk about at the school where I teach as well. And I think that in all communities across the Commonwealth we’re trying to address these disparities in performance and the data. I think that a lot of it comes down to what Mr. Schlichtman talked about and Mr. Hayner touched on, relationships. Are teachers connected with their students? Are teachers knowing their students well and knowing the content well so that they can convey that content to their students? The district has worked to increase the full-time equivalents of reading teachers, of math teachers, they’ve started a student data bank keeping track of how students are doing, and which students are lagging behind, and what kind of strategies we need to use and what we need to put in place to support those students. The professional development is another area; they’ve worked on issues of cultural competency; that comes, that part of that is teaching teachers how to support students from a variety of backgrounds, students with a variety of learning needs. So I think what we really need to think about is, what are the tactics, what are the strategies we’re going to use to close those gaps that the data is showing us.

40:20
Martyn
: Yeah, I believe our decisions have to be data driven, and I believe no one is talking about the problem because we as a society has been conditioned to avoid these difficult conversations. Our graduation rates, MCAS scores, and student discipline data show a significant disparity for our students of color, our English language learners, our economically disadvantaged students, and our kids with disabilities. Last year’s state accountability survey for special education we scored only 51 percent, that was second to last to our comparable schools. Our students of color make up 30 percent of the student population but 50 to 60 percent of our suspensions. Our Asian kids might be doing better on our MCAS scores but they are being disciplined at five times the rate of our white kids. Arlington prides itself on a 96 percent graduation rate but they are significantly lower and as low as 79 percent for our economically disadvantaged kids. We don’t know how to talk about these uncomfortable truths. If we aren’t willing to lean into these difficult conversations, then we’re not going to be able to tackle the systemic issues, and as Liz says we need to come up solutions and they need to be based on the data.


41:26 Paul Schlichtman asks a question.
Schlichtman:
On Lynette Martyn’s campaign website, she offers a long list of things she would like to see accomplished during her tenure on the School Committee.
The second item on the list is, “a state accountability score above 90 percent.” Do you agree? And if so, what should we do to achieve it?

41:46
Hayner: I, I, it’s hard to say whether I agree or disagree. I don’t support driving the school into achieving a 90 percent rating. As far as I know there are only 7 or 8 schools that have achieved that type of a rating, and all but one of them is a K-8 school system; small population, and, very, I think, I’ll stand corrected, according to the Department of Education web page, these schools are very, from very affluent school communities. If somebody gave us a billion dollars, could we raise our rates? Yeah. I’m pretty sure we can. We could drive our class sizes down to a 5 to 1 ratio. These aren’t realistic. As I’ve said before, and I don’t want, I apologize for beating the drum, this data is important. There’s no question about it, but it can’t be the only thing going. As far as percentages of students of color not graduating, I was surprised to hear that number of 30 percent of color. I’ll look into it. That would bother me if that’s a fact. I’ve not seen anything like it. I’m not questioning the number, but it’s just surprising. Data, again, cannot be the driver. Thank you.

43:15
Exton
: So I think the district needs to strive for continued growth, and focus on improving the accountability score. I don’t know that 90 percent is a target number, especially in a three-year tenure as a school committee member. The effort and focus of our district should be on providing resources, interventions, and supports to our students who are performing below benchmark. We need to improve our Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports for students across all grade levels, and we need to re-prioritize special education. For middle school students… excuse me, for middle elementary, third through fifth graders, we need to increase the reading and math support as the expectation shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. As I said before, thank you to our voters. Next year’s budget has increased supports in those areas to address this disparity that we’re seeing. But I don’t think a specific artificial score in a single measure, that’s only met by a small handful of schools in the Commonwealth, is the best way to measure growth and achievement in a school district.

44:24
Martyn
: First of all to address Bill’s question, the 30 percent number is just the number of kids of color in our school system, that was the 30 percent number I gave, so I just wanted to clarify that. So, I think we should strive for whatever we want. We should strive to get to 90 percent. That doesn’t mean we fail if we hit 80 percent or 70 percent, any increase from where we are is a win. So, yeah, I’m gonna strive for us to get to 90 percent for Arlington Public Schools because I’m passionate about our school system. I think that we have a lot to offer. We do great things. We’re halfway there. If you’re a white kid who comes from an economically stable family, and is a native English speaker, and learns the same way as everyone else, Arlington Public Schools is great. We’re meeting the needs there, and we’re on a (inaudible at 45:22) kids that are being underserved are overlooked and we really need to focus on them. And these statistics are, the statistics come from the state. They are the state keeping us accountable, and so I think they are important data to look at. I think we should be more transparent about it with the community. We need to lean into these conversations about how this is happening, what we can do. It’s not just an Arlington problem. It’s a systemic problem, it takes a lot of work and it, the first thing is to just like accept it. Notice it. Talk about it. One of the things that the Diversity and Inclusion Groups did was to bring in a consultant to speak with parents about how to have difficult conversations. It was very well attended, and then APS brought in the same consultant this fall for professional development for our teachers. We need to continue to get comfortable having these conversations to talk about these problems and figure out solutions that would work. And we should use our parents and engage them in coming up with solutions.

46:27
Schlichtman
: Okay, our accountability percentage score is about 71 percent right now. 75 percent, believe it or not, is a perfect score, because 75 percent on a 0-4 scale, with 3 means you’re meeting your targets, is the goal that the state is setting for you. And some of the goals are very reasonable, and some of the goals shift to become unattainable. So, we’re in the top 20 percent of districts.

I also want to clarify something. I invite everybody to go to the state website, doe.mass.edu, and go take a look at School and District Profiles. Every source of data about our district is here. 100 percent of our Asian students graduated last year. 100 percent. Our white kids underperform the district relative to students of color in this district, consistently. Look at the data.


47:30 Bill Hayner asks a question.
Hayner
: Thank you. What is the school committee’s role with regard to the superintendent, and are there limits?

47:40
Exton
: I think it’s very important that the school committee and superintendent work closely together. The superintendent is the leader of the district, and sets the tone for the district. Therefore, it’s important to have strong two-way communication between the school committee and the superintendent in order to effectively lead our school system. The school committee is responsible for hiring, firing, and evaluating the superintendent. The school committee provides feedback on the superintendent’s goals, and reviews the performance of the superintendent with regard to those specific goals each year. The superintendent is responsible for leading their administrative team, for managing the budget that the school committee approves, and enacting the policies that have been approved by the school committee. So, in effect, the school committee says what, and the superintendent determines how. So, in terms of limits, the committee is just that; a committee. A governing body where decisions require the consensus of the committee, of majority vote. And so that is why it is so important to have a collaborative, thoughtful, and highly functioning school committee, and a positive working relationship between the school committee and the superintendent.

49:00
Martyn
: So, I’d echo a lot of what Liz said. The function of the school committee is to hire, evaluate, and if needed, fire the superintendent. Also to work on policy and to review and approve the budget. So, I’ve worked with the superintendent on the superintendent diversity task group for the past several years. I also worked with Bill on that for a while, and, you know, there are lots of things that the superintendent is collaborating with the school committee, as we know, in a lot of the subcommittees and everything. But I feel like a lot of the work done in these subcommittees is not translated out to the community. For example, the superintendent diversity advisory committee that I’ve been collaborating on with the superintendent, most parents don’t know that that’s happening, and the school committee has a role on the committee but is not always there. So, I think it would be great if we could find ways to collaborate more in that sort of situation, and have the meeting notes available to the public be more transparent. As far as working with the superintendent, collaboration is super important which is why I think that the hiring of the new superintendent is extremely important. We want to find a superintendent who is very collaborative, who is open and wants to communicate with parents, with the community, wants to be sitting in on a lot of these school committee members. Someone who is really engaged and hands-on, and as Mr. Hayner had mentioned before, a superintendent who is, you know, willing to acknowledge when a mistake is made, is willing to learn from that and take a couple of steps backwards if they need to start over again. So, those are all things that I look forward to collaborating with, the current superintendent, and the new superintendent, on in the future.

50:55
Schlichtman
: Thank you. Prior to 1993 when the Education Reform Act was instituted, the school committee had a lot more power than it does. It was a deliberate move to change the dynamic to constitute a school committee as a board of directors, so that we hire and fire the superintendent and a couple of key officers in the group. We delegate the day-to-day operations of the district to the superintendent. We set the policy, we set the expectations, we set the budget, we give the context and we need to support the superintendent within the relationship. In a good working relationship, we get together at the same table and work as a team in a collaborative environment; and that every interaction, every meeting, every subcommittee meeting, every discussion with teachers, all comes to form into this big group of quote data, which is really just building the relationships. So if the superintendent understands the expectations of the committee and the community, and the school committee understands what the superintendent is trying to do, and can monitor through every meeting how we’re making progress toward the broad district goals. So it really is a portion of building relationships in the context of what we are able to do legally.

52:20
Hayner
: As Paul just said, in 1993, prior to that the school committee had almost absolute authority. They hired every single position in the district from food service, custodians, teachers, administrators, all the way down. Right now we hire the superintendent, and 4 or 5 other positions. We can only remove one position and that’s the superintendent. The policy is, the policy committee is one of the most important committees on the school committee. They set the rules in going forward. If things are not communicated well, the superintendent is responsible to an active board that holds that person responsible. The role of a school committee member is very, very limited, and it needs to be learned by any new member coming on board. That limit is that you are not a free agent to do as you please to do, going forward. Thank you.


Closing statements

53:37
Schlichtman: Thank you. We find ourselves in challenging times.
We need an experienced, collaborative school committee to work together to make the difficult decisions ahead.
I am asking you to weigh what you heard in this debate, and decide who has earned your vote.
You have three votes for school committee. I ask for one of your votes. I also ask that you use all three votes to put together the best possible team for Arlington. This is why I posted links to the websites of each of the candidates on schlichtman.org. I also have a link to instructions for no-excuse absentee voting – by mail - on my website. You can also find more information about candidates on the League of Women Voters website, and in-depth profiles at yourarlington.com.
All of us need to use the mail to overcome the social distancing restrictions. This is expensive. Please consider making a donation to your favorite candidates.

Remember, the deadline for voting is June 6. I’m Paul Schlichtman, thank you for watching.

54:40
Exton
: Thank you to ACMi for hosting this debate, and thank you to my fellow candidates for a great discussion. I hope you heard tonight how committed I am to our schools and to our students from all backgrounds. In closing, I want to remind you of my priorities.
I am committed to hiring an exceptional superintendent. The superintendent is the backbone of our school system. We will hire a superintendent who can train and retain a world class faculty and approaches the community looking outward, collaboratively engaging with all the ideas that come forward.
Second, I will work to improve diversity and inclusion efforts and special education efforts. We know we can do better for our learners.
Finally, I will work towards improving special education across the district. I look forward to working with my school committee colleagues, the administration, and parents, to improve our students’ outcomes.
My name is Elizabeth Exton, and I ask for your vote on or before June 6.

55:44
Hayner
: Thank you ACMi. You, the Arlington voter, need to ask the following questions. In selecting the next school committee, are they proactive, accountable, and have a solid education background? Will they reflect your views on school librarians, class size, special education, and school construction? Will they select a superintendent that is at the top of his or her profession, and is proactive, accountable, and most of all an educator? Will your school committee select a superintendent that will have support of the entire community of citizens, parents, and faculty, and not be driven by a minority?

Selection and voting for a superintendent needs to be done by an experienced school committee that reflects the entire community, not just one special interest group. This school committee will set the course for the Arlington schools for the next 20 years. I am Bill Hayner, and I humbly ask for one of your three votes on June 6 for Arlington School Committee. Thank you.

56:50
Martyn
: So I believe we can create an Arlington Public School system that is more welcoming and inclusive of all of our families, and I want to bring all of you watching with me on this journey. We can win this, but I can’t do it on my own. I need everyone to step up. I’ll only be successful if everyone who believes in this mission stands behind me and says that this is the change that you want for your community. If you love Arlington as much as I do, and if you want your community to reflect out the equity and inclusion that you want to see in the rest of the world, then I implore you to act locally with me. Visit my website at electlynette.com, come meet me at one of my upcoming virtual meet the candidate events every Thursday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at noon. Sign up to volunteer, get out and vote, tell your family and neighbors to vote, and additionally I am wishing everyone out there in our community health and safety, both emotionally and physically, right now as we navigate through this crisis. Thank you to our teachers and our town leaders who are working hard to get us through this, and to ACMi for hosting this portion tonight, and to our grocery workers for keeping us fed. Thank you.