The candidates for School Committee each received the same six questions from the Watertown News about some issues facing the Watertown Schools and themselves. Here are the responses for John Portz:
1) Tell us about yourself and why you are running for School Committee.
I grew up in the Midwest and have lived in Watertown since 1988. I teach government at Northeastern University, and my wife Meredith also works in Boston. I have a daughter who graduated from Watertown High School in 2014 and a son currently in the seventh grade. I have served on the School Committee for three terms, most recently as chair, and look forward to continuing in that role. As a teacher, and I come from a family of teachers, I have always felt that education is one of the most important activities in our society. I am honored to contribute to our community by serving on the School Committee.
2) What is the biggest issue facing the Watertown Public Schools?
There are a number of important issues facing the Watertown schools, but to pick one, I would point to the school buildings. Over the years, we have maintained and improved our school buildings as much as possible, but we need major renovations to create the learning spaces that are needed for today’s teachers and students. We are hiring an architect now to focus on the elementary schools, and we hope to hear soon about acceptance into the state reimbursement process for the high school. These projects can transform the learning environment for our students.
3) What can the Watertown Public Schools do to take the district to the next level, and become a top district?
Major renovation to our school buildings is one important step, but we also need focused and sustained attention to a district-wide effort around teaching and learning that will meet the needs of all our students. This year, the Superintendent will be working with the School Committee and community to develop a district improvement plan that will focus our efforts to strengthen the curriculum at all levels and to provide teachers with the tools they need to work with the diverse student body in the Watertown schools. With 21st Century learning spaces and support for teaching excellence, I think the Watertown schools can move to the next level.
4) What existing program in the Watertown Schools would you like to see improved or expanded? Is there a program you have seen in other districts you would like to see in Watertown?
I am a strong supporter of the new Spanish language program in our elementary schools. Although it has been challenging to find time for this program in a busy elementary school schedule, it is a very important initiative for the district. Developing foreign language skills at this early age can have important learning benefits in other areas, including reading and writing English, and also helps our students become global citizens. At the high school level, among other important areas, we need to insure that our students seeking vocational education continue to have access to Minuteman or another appropriate school.
5) The district has made improving communication with parents and residents a priority. How can this be accomplished?
I do think the Superintendent and Principals have worked at developing communications through newsletters and electronic media, but we definitely need to do more. A few ideas include: an annual report to the community on accomplishment in the schools; a regular article in social and print media on relevant programs and other news from the district; more opportunities for PTOs to interact, perhaps through a town-wide PTO (which used to exist); include in our soon-to-be new/renovated buildings more opportunities for community spaces through libraries, gyms, or other areas of the building.
6) What can the district do to attract and keep quality teachers and staff?
We have many excellent teachers and support staff in the Watertown schools. To keep them, and attract more, we need to help them grow professionally and develop ownership in the school system. Professional development that is meaningful for teachers is very important. They need to be engaged in shaping those experiences and developing other collaborative experiences as well. Providing leadership and other advancement opportunities also are important. The development of career ladders, for example, could provide opportunities for teachers to grow professionally and earn additional compensation. A competitive salary is very important as well.