The School Committee candidates displayed some of their differences during the Candidate Forum hosted by the Watertown Education Foundation on Thursday night.
For the second week running the School Committee members answered questions about serving on the School Committee, and the challengers and incumbents had differing views. (See highlights from the first forum here.)
The candidates did not share the same view of using test scores and making goals to measure the district’s progress.
School Committee member Julie McMahon said she has participated in the Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald’s evaluation every year and she thinks the goals and evaluation are good ones for Watertown.
“Some people say other towns have these goals,” McMahon said. “I don’t live in those towns. I live in this town.”
Challenger Kendra Foley said she would want to have concrete, measurable goals so that the superintendent can see the progress and adapt so the district better meets the goals.
Challenger Candace Miller said she has tried to follow the progress of the current goals, particularly the goal to have all students being proficient at reading.
“I went to meetings, asked people, but nobody can tell me,” Miller said. “We need to know what is happening in December, what is happening in March and if they aren’t there how we can get there.”
School Committee member Michael Shepard said he does not think the School Committee needs to know the statistics of how each student is doing or what teacher are doing day to day. He added that the district already has a number of ways to measure progress, and getting too deep into those issues would be “dangerously close to micromanaging.”
Eileen Hsu-Balzer, who has been on the committee for 20 years, said she does not make the goals for the superintendent but with her. She added that if looking at the details of how students are doing, it is important to know their background – how long they have been in the district, are they learning English as a second language, do they have special needs.
While all the candidates agreed that communication with parents, residents and other elected officials is important, they differed on how they would like to see that happen.
Hsu-Balzer said she has an open door policy for parents and residents, who are always welcome to call or email her. She added that the district cannot always let out information because either it has not been decided or has not been told to all those involved
“If your husband or wife made a decision and told other people before telling you, you would be really upset,” Hsu-Balzer said.
Miller said she and a group had a long meeting with the superintendent last year and talked about how the district could reach out to parents and improve communication. Nothing discussed at the meeting were put into place, Miller said.
Shepard said he wants the district staff to be focusing on teaching and learning, not communication.
“I want them focusing on how to get the job done, not Tweet about it or put it on a blog,” Shepard said.
Foley said the district needs to do a better job of getting information out to parents, and should do more to send out messages to parents and others.
“It’s not about calling or emailing me, it is about how I communicate with you – how we communicate what’s important and what we want you to know about,” Foley said.
McMahon said she too is always willing to talk to people by phone, email or in person. She added that she thinks people are aware of what’s going on and when a big issue comes up, folks come out in droves to the School Committee meeting.
See more about the School Committee candidates here: