LETTER: School Committee Candidate Lays Out Her Vision


Dear Watertown

The ballot is set for School Committee elections and I am delighted to be a candidate. My husband and I chose to move to Watertown fifteen years ago and have enjoyed the happiest years of our lives here. Both our children were born and are being raised in Watertown. Since my daughter’s first day at the Lowell Elementary, I have been a ‘classroom mom’, supported PTO events, and have become an active member of the Lowell and Watertown Middle School Site Councils. Professionally, I work for Mathematica Policy Research where I am a Senior International Researcher. I conduct applied evaluation research to help policy makers make data driven decisions and use limited resources effectively. I currently lead projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and work across a range of sectors such as economic development, education, energy, health, and poverty reduction. I want to use my professional skills and experiences—working closely with school systems, governments, and donor agencies globally—to improve education for every child in Watertown.

Like many Watertown residents, I became concerned a couple of years ago, when I realized that our school’s fiscal situation was having a negative impact on teaching and learning. I joined with parents and community members to start Watertown Strong Schools. Our community-based coalition used a data driven approach—combined with grassroots activism—to advocate for restoring the WPS budget. I am proud of our collaborative approach and the relationships that we built across town. As a leader in Watertown Strong Schools, I am also proud of our accomplishments: We rallied widespread support for our schools using concise, powerful data, which led to an increase of $2.6 million above the original town projections in the FY15 school budget. Our work paved the way for a ~7% increase in FY16. These investments have reduced class sizes, improved administrator and teacher morale, and enabled the schools to purchase curricula and materials. I am encouraged by and proud of the town’s continued financial commitment to WPS. The quality of education in WPS is on an upward trajectory.

However, we need strong leadership to move from good to great. We have challenges and opportunities – beyond the budget – that require the committed efforts of a top-notch, highly professional, and productive School Committee. For example:

  • Despite substantial investments in new curricula ($960,000 in fiscal year 2014 and 2015), the Curriculum sub-Committee has not met since 2012. Tax payers have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, without the School Committee rigorously examining the pros and cons and costs of different curricula, asking teachers about their experiences and suggestions, mapping curricula to Common Core standards, or listening to parents about their concerns or expectations. Moving forward, we have to ensure our Curriculum Sub-Committee is functional again.
  • Despite the range of tools and media available, our district is still behind the curve with communication. Parents and community members need information and opportunities to discuss key issues, such as curricular choices, student learning outcomes, classroom activities, the school calendar, standardized testing experiences, critical incidents and mental health issues, bullying, school budget requests and expenditures, new building requests, student lunches, and student busing. We have made some progress with a WPS Facebook page, but we have a long way to go. We need immediate release of draft minutes for School Committee meetings, the WPS website to be filled with up-to-date content that is easy to find and free of dead links, access to and opportunities for discussions with the School Committee and Central Administration. Our School Committee—similar to other towns—should hold public hearings and discussion around important topics, such as our high rate of student absenteeism. Watertown families would benefit from a Superintendent Blog where decisions, such as on standardized testing or summer homework is explained. We need to find ways to engage more fully with our non-English speaking and low-income families whose children need additional support. It is essential that our School Committee moves to make decisions more openly and transparently and encourages greater parental involvement.
  • Our Middle School and High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveals troubling results in students’ reported mental health and use of alcohol and other drugs. We know that poor mental health and high-risk behaviors, while highly problematic on their own, also undermine learning and academic success. Some districts have completed community assessments to learn how to better support students, ensure that policy and other changes are made to reduce student stress, anxiety, and depression. However, when our School Committee was asked to explain WPS’ approach to mental health services, including strengths and gaps, we were told: “Trust us.” Sadly, without adequate information and communication – and because of the tragic student death in 2015 – we can no longer simply trust. We need to verify. We need to identify and fill the gaps in students support services. We must look community-wide from infancy to young adulthood and figure out how to raise healthy kids across our community. A WHS junior said to me “One death is too many. How can we accept this and not do better?”

Every school system has a massive challenge: With only 180 school days per year, and limited resources, educators must teach thousands of students – of different abilities, languages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status – and prepare the next generation for a future we can only attempt to anticipate. Today’s kindergartens will be in the workforce until 2080. The pace of globalization, as well as technological advances in robotics, medical sciences and information technology is unprecedented. Informational resources are growing exponentially. Digital printing and massive online courses are democratizing innovation. Education, from pre-k to grade 12, vocational, and higher education, is also advancing worldwide. Global competition for employment is just beginning. What is the mechanism that our society has to prepare children to flourish in this modern world? Public education.

Our students need a range of skills and abilities. Our classrooms must be engaging, challenging and supportive. We must train our new teachers, retain our top teachers, support our talented principals, ensure that our students are learning and mastering key concepts and skills so that they are ready for their future. Our school committee is fundamental to ensuring that our resources are used wisely and that WPS builds relationships within, across and beyond our town. Public education requires “all hands on deck”.

We have tremendous opportunities. Watertown is located in one of the world’s preeminent regions for science, technology, and the arts: the Greater Boston area ranks number one in the U.S. for jobs in the life sciences, including pharmaceuticals, biotech, and medical devices; ranks top-five in the U.S. for tech jobs in general; ranks number one in the world for scientific research, and ranks number four for music conservatories. Additionally, Watertown is a vibrant hub of cultural diversity with at least 30 different languages represented in the homes of our schoolchildren. Our students have endless opportunities to learn and practice how to work well with others. We need a strong, connected, visible, and opportunistic School Committee and School Administration to actively build connections and relationships so that these advantages will truly benefit the next generation of Watertown.

I have demonstrated my strong commitment to our town, schools, and students through my work with Watertown Strong Schools, on the Watertown Youth Coalition, and volunteering for Wayside to conduct the evaluation of the Social Services Resource Specialist. I will continue to advocate for children because their love of learning, their learning outcomes, and their futures are a priority. I have dreams for all our students: Whether they are struggling or high achievers; Whether they are artists, athletes, budding scientists, mechanics, or creative writers; Whether they are geography whizzes, math champions, or language enthusiasts; And most critically, if they are currently disengaged or facing emotional difficulties. I want all of our students—from general and special education students, English language learners and native English speakers, recent immigrants and life-long Watertown residents, and kids from every socioeconomic status—to fulfill their highest potential, contribute to our town, engage in our world, and lead a healthy and prosperous life. I want to nourish a school system where kids can’t wait to get to school each morning. A system that inspires, motivates, and encourages life-long learning. We must think critically, learn from best practices, have the courage and energy to build on our strengths, admit our problems, and make positive changes when necessary.

We all have a stake in and a role to play in education. If you are NOT registered to vote, there is still time to register. Go to https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ovr/. Once registered, please learn about the candidates. Visit my website at http://www.candace4wps.com. Come to a candidate event, ask me questions through email at candace4wps@gmail.com, “Like” my Facebook page Candace4WPS, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter, and please stop by and say hello at community events. Then vote on November 3, 2015.

In summary, I am eager to make a deeper commitment to Watertown Public Schools. Every district needs a team with an ambitious vision and the chops to make it a reality. But this takes work. It requires a fire in the belly for public education, fabulous teachers, empowered principals, and tremendous leadership to ensure that every student succeeds. Let’s move Watertown Public Schools to excellence! Together, we can proactively envision and build our district to ensure that all students achieve their best.


Candace Miller
Candidate for School Committee

5 thoughts on “LETTER: School Committee Candidate Lays Out Her Vision

  1. Good luck Candace. You certainly are an articulate and visionary type of person. Above all, you will need patience when dealing with a mediocre school administration, entrenched & secretive school committee and a belligerent teacher’s union which is focused on entitlements. None of these groups trust one another, they speak of collaboration but in the end are only concerned with protecting their turf.

  2. Hi Candace,
    Thanks for your energy, and your focus on ongoing learning and building on evidence.

    I am concerned about the policy in the Hosmer Elementary School to use the denial of recess as a first response to student academic mistakes. I have noted that the American Academy of Pediatricians opposes the denial of recess to children. I notice that some teachers know how to use collaborative problem solving or other techniques; others unpredictably resort to denial of recess. This issue is not unique to one teacher.

    I would be happy to discuss my concerns with you. And again, thanks for your energy and leadership here.


    • Hi Susan,
      I do not know the specifics of the situation but I can tell you that it is against Watertown’s school policy to deny recess to any child as a form of punishment.

      See page 23 or 24 of the School Committee Policy Manual. https://docs.google.com/a/watertown.k12.ma.us/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=d2F0ZXJ0b3duLmsxMi5tYS51c3x3cHN8Z3g6MTRlYTk5NWE4ZTI3MGM5Yg
      “ Recess shall not be taken away as a form of punishment or privilege reduction.”

      I suggest that you contact Principal LaRoche by phone or email.
      All the best, Candace

      • Candace,
        I am reaching out to thank you for your suggestion; I reached out to the new Principal of the Hosmer School, and he took immediate action on this policy issue. He shared the policy you referenced above, affirming that Watertown Public Schools do not allow the loss of recess as a punitive measure, with the Teachers via both email and written memo. Mr LaRoche also communicated his actions with the Superintendent.

        I am relieved to see Watertown aligning with best practice in this important area, and also pleased with the responsiveness you and Mr. LaRoche have shown on this issue.


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