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 Michael Shepard:
1) Tell us about yourself and why you are running for School Committee.
My wife, Catherine, and I have a daughter, Sophie, who has autism and has been in the Connections program in the public schools since kindergarten. I am a project manager in the financial industry and manage a number of applications which report to federal regulatory agencies. We have lived in Watertown since 1989.
I want to work on the issues that will make Watertown a magnet district for students, families and teachers: upgrade our school buildings for a modern educational model, develop challenging and engaging programming/curricula, and develop a sustainable funding model with the Town Council.
2) What is the biggest issue facing the Watertown Public Schools?
The school buildings themselves are the biggest challenge right now due to their age and configuration. To be more effective, the interior spaces need to be renovated and upgraded to meet current teaching styles, like project based learning. To do this, spaces need to be flexible and easily changed when needed. The buildings also need to have old materials removed and replaced with contemporary building materials that are greener and more energy efficient than what is currently in place. Without modern, flexible spaces, making the most of new or modified curricula becomes a challenge.
3) What can the Watertown Public Schools do to take the district to the next level, and become a top district?
To become a top district, in my opinion, we need to do the following things:
• Update all of our schools – investment in modern learning spaces shows a very clear commitment to education and the teachers and staff who work in them.
• We should expand the number of AP course offerings at the high school, for areas where there is a need or sufficient demand.
• Expand the FLES program – languages will continue to be a very important part of a well rounded education and will benefit students their entire lives.
• Develop more work/study partnerships with local high tech companies and universities in order to expose our students to career paths other than Minuteman offerings or the college track.
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?
We need continued improvement in our SPED and Connections programs – we’ve had good success, but we need to continue investing to stay current. This is the best way to prepare students for life after school and give them the skills needed to succeed.
We should expand the FLES program – offer another language and extend through high school.
5) The district has made improving communication with parents and residents a priority. How can this be accomplished?
We need to work with the administration to increase awareness of the successes and good things happening in each of our schools and share this information with the entire community, not just school families. We also need to improve where information can be found (website, Facebook, other channels) by making these channels easier to navigate. Another area to improve is outreach to families whose first language is not English by offering translate updates into other languages.
6) What can the district do to attract and keep quality teachers and staff?
We need to let teachers everywhere know that our district is committed to giving our students and teachers a modern learning environment in which to actively engage and learn with our students. By developing and offering challenging curricula and programs, and then supporting teachers with professional development to stay current in their fields, and learn new approaches to being more effective, this will bring our commitment to education into clear focus.
We need to market our schools as a place for teachers and staff to grow professionally, to know they are supported and engaged, and to help shape the future of education in Watertown.