I am writing to express my support for the incumbents in the School Committee race; Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Michael Shepard and Julie McMahon. Thanks to their hard work, together with the rest of the School Committee members, the Watertown school district is in a much better place than it was four short years ago.
In 2011, contract negotiations between the Watertown Educators Association (WEA), the School Committee and School Administration were at an impasse and teachers had been working without a contract for two years. Teachers were working to rule, and frustration on all sides was high.
After the election, two new voices joined the discussion – Ms. McMahon and Mr. Shepard – and both sides resumed negotiations. After a few months of tough negotiations led by Ms. Hsu-Balzer on the school committee side and myself on the Association side, an agreement was reached and then ratified by the union and the School Committee. Everyone felt relieved. Subsequently, all the other town unions negotiated and reached agreements. After years of turmoil, stress and contention, relations were on the mend.
When the WEA and the School Committee entered negotiations in 2013 for the next contract, negotiations were professional, fair, and respectful. Negotiations went far more smoothly than they did in 2010-11. As a result, an agreement was reached fairly quickly, and ratified by both sides.
In early 2012, Ms. McMahon and Mr. Shepard were part of a town wide search committee to find the next Superintendent for Watertown. This committee included teachers, WEA representatives, parents, Watertown Education Foundation members and a high school senior. After a thorough search and interviews with six highly qualified candidates, Dr. Fitzgerald was selected by the committee and approved by the full School Committee. With her appointment, stability had come, at last, to the Superintendent’s office.
In the last four years of working with these Committee members, I have seen their commitment to improving our schools and their efforts to improve all areas of education in Watertown. They have never shied away from a difficult issue and they work very well together as part of the larger Committee. Their priority is always the students and working with the WEA and administration to build challenging and interesting educational opportunities for all students.
The other two candidates, Ms. Foley and Ms. Miller, raise some concerns based upon what they have presented in their campaigns. Ms. Foley emphasizes her experience with Teach for America and time in the classroom. Teach for America offers 5 weeks of training before sending their corps members into classrooms in rural and inner city schools. The training does not include professional pedagogy, best practices, handling of special needs students or any of the myriad of other subjects professional educators need to master before getting licensed to teach by state or federal agencies. Teach for America obtains its funding from several large foundations including the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), The Gates Foundation, The Eli Broad Foundation and numerous financial institutions including Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Visa. The Walton Family Foundation donated over $100 million dollars to the group and is actively working with cooperative legislators, including Teach for America alumni, in Little Rock, Arkansas to take over the school district and privatize it. This organization pushes a pro-charter school, pro-privatization approach to education. Teach for America also helps alumni get into positions to influence education policy at the state and federal levels and lists this as part of their mission statement: https://www.teachforamerica.org/about-us/our-mission.
Parents and voters should ask themselves: Is this what we want for our children? Is this what we want for Watertown Schools?
Ms. Miller’s positions on improving the Watertown schools seem contradictory: she states that we need more advanced programs and student services, yet she feels that the schools are adequately funded and don’t need additional funds. How will these new offerings be paid for? She has also stated that she wants to be active in using a data driven approach to shape the curriculum and to make the budget process more transparent. The Mass. Education Reform Act of 1993 curtailed the role that School Committees could play in day to day operations of their school districts. This removed the potential for politicization of curricula as has happened in Texas, Alabama and other states. School Committees are now required to put the day to day responsibility with the Superintendent, whom they hire and evaluate. As for the budget process, teachers, curriculum directors, principals and the administration collaborate to prioritize the programming needs and associated costs. The requests are presented in a series of public meetings for review and discussion before being finalized and presented to the full School Committee for approval.
Our students deserve the best educational opportunities we, as a community, can offer them. Many of the challenges currently facing the schools were years in the making and cannot be corrected overnight. I can confidently answer “Yes!” when asked if our schools and our district are better now than they were 4 years ago.
With Ms. Hsu-Balzer, Mr. Shepard and Ms. McMahon on the School Committee, I am confident that the positive changes and momentum we have built in the last four years will continue, and the bar will continue to be raised, for the benefit of all our students. I encourage you to support the three school committee incumbents at the polls on Tuesday, November 3.
Watertown Educators Association