The six people running for School Committee shared their views on a variety of subjects during the School Committee Candidate Forum co-hosted by Watertown News and Watertown Cable Access Television on Thursday night at the Watertown Free Public Library.
Three challengers – Amy Donohue, Michael Shepard and Lily Rayman-Read – appeared along with the three candidates seeking re-election – Guido Guidotti, Liz Yusem and John Portz.
The candidates shared similar views on several questions, including:
• Wanting to renovate or rebuild schools that will be able to provide a modern education
• Seeking to improve communication with parents and with the school administration
• Continue to expand the Spanish lessons for elementary students up through fifth grade
• The start time for the middle and high schools should be moved later
• Watertown should explore joining the Minuteman Vocational District, or find another way to offer vocational education
Each candidate had their own views on certain subjects.
Cutting Costs if the Schools Have a Budget Shortfall
Guidotti, a healthcare management consultant who seeks a second term, said that he thinks there is always room for more efficiency in the schools, but said the tough thing is to find efficiency without “cutting the lights off” for important people and programs.
Shepard, who served one term on the School Committee previously, said he wants to save the district money by leasing equipment, particularly technology, instead of purchasing it. By purchasing items outright, the district is stuck with the maintenance and upkeep, he said, but the district should see if any efficiency can be gained by leasing.
Yusem, who is finishing her first term and has a background in architecture, agreed that cuts should be avoided and said that she looks forward to working with the new Superintendent Dede Galdston and her leadership team to find new ways to spend the district’s funds more effectively.
Portz, who seeks his fourth term and teaches at Northeastern University, said the schools teamed with the town recently to hire a joint Director of Public Buildings which he believes will lead to efficiencies, he also sees purchasing as a place where the town and schools might join together.
Rayman-Read, who is a special education teacher at Cambridge Rindge & Latin, said she prefers to seek grants and other opportunities to raise money to preserve programs rather than making cuts.
Donohue, who is an occupational therapist in the Watertown Schools and an entrepreneur, said the School Committee needs to work with the Town Council to find ways to keep costs down, and she also things in important to get community input.
How to Improve WHS (Besides a Renovated/New School)
One person attending the forum asked what can be done so students stay in Watertown for high school rather than heading to other public and private options.
While the school desperately needs to be renovated, Donohue said that there are things that need to be done now include making the building ready for 21st century education. An example is making sure the wifi works all over the school. Also, the school needs to offer the most current curriculum.
Rayman-Read said she believes if teachers and staff have enough professional development and curriculum planning time they will be able to educate Watertown students better. “When you give them the professional development they need and focus on excellence in education you will retain students.”
Portz agreed that teachers need more time and space to collaborate. The current building makes it difficult for staff to collaborate. He also believes the district should look at expanding on the Advanced Placement (AP). WHS offers 13 but there are 34 different tests offered.
Not having WHS be the goto choice is terrible, Yusem said. She says there needs to be more understanding and communication about how the different programs are woven together and she wants to work with the new administration to come up with an overarching vision.
Shepard said WHS has a good program, but there is always room for improvement. “We need to fight the perception that the school’s aren’t doing what they they need to. One-third (of WHS) graduates go on to excellent schools.”
Guidotti said improving three areas would take the high school to the next level. “Building a new building is important but without programming, curriculum, and professional development a new building will not do much.”
Yusem said she tries to be involved in the school. Beyond being a School Committee member and serving on the PTO, she recently attended the College Fair at the high school to represent her college. “It only took an hour and a half of my time but it was incredible to participate and engage with students.”
Northeastern, where Portz works, is famous for its experiential learning program. “That can be applied to the K-12 level. It is a potential opportunity for students to connect to the community and bring the experience back to the classroom.”
Shepard said he used to work in the technology world and said that there are good and bad sides to bringing technology into classrooms. Often there are high expectations for a new shiny device but it is just a tool. For it to add to students’ education teachers must have “the space” to learn to use technology to its fullest potential.
Rayman-Read said she is not afraid to be the only person to speak against something if she thinks something is wrong. She said she has done so as a parent in the Watertown Schools.
While all agreed that the Watertown Public Schools seek to hire more teachers from minority groups, Guidotti said that students who are racial minorities are more likely to face discipline that white students and hiring more teachers like them would help.
Donohue said that Watertown has a great new superintendent and great staff, but people do not always know what is happening in the school. “Other schools showcase their schools and recruit our kids. What are we doing to showcase our schools. We need to recruit our students and let them know what the kids are doing in Watertown.”
The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7, and voters will choose three out of the six candidates for the four-year School Committee seats.
The School Committee Forum will be replayed on Watertown Cable, and will be available on its website at WCATV.org. A second Candidate Forum featuring the Town Councilor At-Large candidates will be held on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Watertown Library at 6:30 p.m. It will also be shown live on Watertown Cable.