NATICK, MA – Natick voters in 2022 will have a big choice to make in the school committee race.
There are three seats up for grabs this spring, and the three incumbents holding those seats – Cathi Collins, Henry Haugland and Julie McDonough – are all seeking re-election. There are also two challengers in the mix: Kathleen Flathers and Elise Gorseth.
To help voters get to know each candidate, Natick Patch sent all five a questionnaire to probe their thoughts on school issues. Here’s what Collins had to say:
Occupation: Banking internal audit manager and retired marketing trainer
Links with Natick schools: Natick School Committee (2019-present), Member of the Finance Committee, Chair of the Education and Learning Sub-Committee. Moved to Natick in 1999 largely due to the strength of the school district.
Experience as elected official: Natick School Committee (2019 – present), current vice-president Town Meeting (2005 – present).
What is the biggest problem facing public schools in Natick and what would you do about it?
As a school district, our most important assets are our teachers and staff. They have a direct impact on every child, every day. For this reason, the biggest issue facing Natick Public Schools (NPS) is retaining our most experienced teachers and staff. Education as we knew it ceased to exist on March 10, 2020. Our educators reinvented the way they teach almost every week – moving from enrichment to distance learning to hybrid and back eventually to full in-person instruction. While challenging for students, families and teachers, Natick served as a model for teaching under pandemic conditions by districts in Massachusetts. Yet despite this impressive work, Natick’s most experienced teachers are paid significantly less than their colleagues with equal, and sometimes even less, experience in neighboring and comparative districts. This must change. The NPS has invested in these experienced and highly effective teachers and it makes no sense to train these people for the benefit of other districts, but that is exactly what is happening. In addition, these educators serve as mentors to our new teachers. We simply cannot afford to encourage, inadvertently encourage, or sit around watching while these people seek better pay elsewhere, as this will negatively impact students and is unlikely to save money. long term money.
Natick voted to close Johnson Elementary last year. If you voted for this closure, can you explain why?
My vote to close Johnson Elementary School was difficult to accept and understandably upsetting Johnson families. I appreciate that and I sympathize with them. School committee members must always think about what is in the best interests of all of our students, across the district, and how best to allocate our limited resources. If I weren’t confident that the quality of education for every child would continue to be strong, I wouldn’t have supported the closure. But I am confident that NPS’s ability to provide a high quality education to all of our students is enhanced by this decision. The experiences of students and staff across the district, including those in the current Johnson District, will be more equitable, benefiting from targeted academic and social-emotional supports. Staff will have more colleagues to interact with and learn from. Additionally, closing Johnson will allow the District to achieve its strategic goals while simultaneously controlling the rate of growth of our budget. It avoids spending at least $18 million of taxpayer dollars just to bring Johnson up to code, and shouldn’t increase class sizes or lead to layoffs. I intend to oversee a smooth and supportive transition of current and emerging Johnson students and staff over the next three years.
What are your thoughts on DESE lifting the statewide mask mandate? Do you think it was too early, or maybe too late?
I was in favor of lifting the school mask mandate, but I was not in favor of lifting it on February 28, 2022 for two reasons. First, it was the first day back from February vacation, when many students and families took long-awaited trips outside of New England for the first time since March 2020. Second, the Natick School Board didn’t could not have lifted the mask requirement in schools on Feb. 28 because there was a Natick Board of Health emergency ordinance in place that superseded the school board mandate. I did, however, introduce the motion to overturn the school mask mandate on the first day of school after the Board of Health lifted its emergency order. This motion meant that the mask requirement could be lifted without waiting for another school committee meeting. The measures Natick has been considering since the start of the pandemic have supported NPS’s move to a flexible mask culture starting March 7. We will continue to review the science in partnership with the Natick Board of Health to determine whether the NPS should revert to a mask mandate in the future in the event of an increase in a variant of COVID-19.
If you could snap your fingers and fix or change one thing in the school system, what would it be?
I would erase the effects of the crisis-driven on-demand culture that has arisen from the pandemic. As of March 2020, most of us have been in “fight or flight” mode. Students in kindergarten through high school exhibit anxious behavior requiring immediate responses several times a day. With the shift to remote learning, parents witnessed their child’s learning experience for the first time. This immediate home access has led some to expect the same immediate access to faculty and staff, expressing frustration if an email is not returned within hours. This crisis-driven, demand-driven culture has encouraged, if not demanded, shallow thinking born of frequent interruptions instead of the deep, transformative thinking and planning that drives a district forward. Constantly responding to the newest problem and putting out the fires is the antithesis of silent contemplation, elaboration, and discovery. If I could snap my fingers, I would ensure that our faculty, staff, administrators, students, families, and the wider Natick community each had time to engage in this important process of contemplation and rejuvenation. . This is how Natick will go from a very good neighborhood to a great neighborhood where each student can be the best possible version of themselves.