Priorities for our Schools, our Students, and our Community
♦ Responding to COVID-19 in a way that prioritizes access, support, and learning. Responding to coronavirus poses the greatest challenge public school districts have faced in recent times; K-12 public school districts were not created to operate remotely, and many core elements of education — especially for our youngest learners — don’t translate well to online learning. Challenges include ensuring access to technology, creating robust learning, and preparing to catch our students up when they return in the Fall.
Our district leadership in Shrewsbury Public Schools have done an outstanding job, though the challenges of remote learning mean that many families will continue to struggle, and some students will face greater barriers than others. What have my points of focus been as a School Committee member in responding to COVID-19?
- Access to technology. Not every family has access to multiple personal technology devices, or adequate internet connectivity. Further, with parents working from home, some families need their devices for employment purposes. I’ve encouraged our district leadership in their efforts to connect families with technology, and have been impressed by their quick work meeting families’ needs on a case-by-case basis, addressing each unique barrier.
- Access to supports and services. I spoke up early on the need to ensure continued access to food services for students who depend on schools for meals, something I praise our administration and Food Services Departments for addressing quickly and efficiently.
- A focus on learning. Establishing remote learning will continue to be a challenge for the duration of the year, reflecting the reality of taking hands-on, group learning experiences in a classroom and turning them into web-based activities. Every family’s situation at home remains different; some may find the learning opportunities too light, while some find them burdensome and stressful. I’ve addressed at School Committee meetings the need to prepare for learning in the Fall, when we will need to do intensive work to catch up our students.
I’ve been incredibly proud of our Shrewsbury Public Schools staff at all levels — teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, food services, and our district leadership team — for rising to this challenge. There will be many bumps in this road ahead; we must focus on our core principals in order to ensure the best outcomes for our students.
♦ Making the right decisions during tough financial times. Even before COVID-19 hit Massachusetts, Shrewsbury Public Schools faced a significant budget crunch resulting from built-in cost drivers increasing faster than revenues. Now, a recession and diminished state and local revenues are sure to compound the problem. The School Committee will face hard choices about allocating our resources; I will prioritize learning, and make sure we don’t back away from innovation just because times are tough.
♦ Free, Full Day Kindergarten for all students who want it. I remain committed to this goal, and refuse to let a crisis deter us from this important challenge. 96% of school districts in Massachusetts offer full-day Kindergarten to all students who want it; it’s one of the few areas where Shrewsbury lags behind the times. We’ll have the space when the new building opens, but it’s time to eliminate the tuition fee. Every family should be able to access the full Kindergarten program.
♦ Connecting our schools with the business community, and Shrewsbury’s kids with real-world opportunities. I’ve supported new high-level focus on generating more partnerships with the area’s businesses, both to generate private dollars for educational opportunities, and to connect our students with real-world learning opportunities outside the classroom — essential to doing our best to prepare today’s kids for tomorrow’s world.
♦ Ensuring residents continue to earn great value from our schools. Shrewsbury schools continue to perform in the top tier while spending among the fewest dollars per student, providing great education for our kids while being responsible with taxpayer dollars. Increasing investment will be a necessity in the future, as built-in costs continue to climb: the health of our schools directly impacts the health of our community.
♦ Resources for mental and emotional health challenges. I’ve supported increased focus on the need to address the general wellness of Shrewsbury students — not just their academic standing — through new wellness programming and increased adjustment counselors.