Watertown News: Please provide a brief description of yourself: your family, profession, any other relevant information.
Lisa Capoccia: I have lived in Watertown since 2009 and am the parent of a WHS freshman. I work as a school social worker at a middle school in Newton – a position I love! Before working in education I spent over a decade in public health – most recently as a program director in suicide prevention. My career change was inspired in part by my experience as a Lowell parent. The staff (day time and extended day) were attentive, experienced, and caring, and there was a strong sense of community that could be felt in and out of the building. The experience reminded me that schools are a setting not only for education, but also for helping to establish lifelong protective factors in our young people, and that’s where I wanted to be! My formal education includes a bachelor of arts in Spanish from UMass Amherst, a master of public health from Boston University, and a master of arts in counseling from Lesley University.
Watertown News: Please tell us about what inspired you to run for School Committee, and what experiences you have that would help you serve on the committee.
LC: The most meaningful part of my job is helping my students through barriers that interfere with their education. In my work, it’s clear that some barriers are due to social justice factors such as poverty, discrimination and bias, and stigma. Watertown Public Schools (WPS) has many strengths. Yet, I have concerns about the documented disparities students from historically marginalized groups experience in several areas (e.g., graduation rates, discipline, mental health). I’m running for School Committee because I want to support WPS’ efforts to be responsive to all students and reverse disparities among those in high needs and other marginalized groups. As an educator and a former public health professional, I bring a unique set of skills to this work. They include years of community volunteer work in equity and social justice, expertise in school mental health and special education, an understanding of education sector decision-making, using data to inform decision-making, and public health management (e.g., programs, budgets, assessment and evaluation). Readers can visit the About page of my website to learn more. Lastly, one of my greatest strengths is my ability to listen. It is critical for School Committee members to be able to listen and consider the needs, perspectives and ideas of all of its stakeholders – students, staff, caregivers, the public, and its leaders.
WN: During your campaigning, what have you heard most from Watertown residents, and what was something that was a new issue or surprised you?
I have heard about a wide range of issues during and before this campaign! Some are familiar and others are new. I heard several questions about the state of WPS’ special education infrastructure. I also had questions about staffing and in particular if we have enough, if they’re compensated commensurate with their training and experience, and how to recruit more diverse staff. Other topics of concern among community members focus on equity and seeking greater accountability and public input around the Equity Action Plan development; ensuring staff feel supported when introducing equity material into classrooms, and ensuring curriculum is accurate and representative. The equity audit report captures other community concerns through its focus group data collection. Some community members would like a discussion on the pros and cons of de-tracked math should the district pursue that model in the future, and assurance that WPS is using evidence-based literacy curriculum in elementary grades. Several community members would like to see more transparency with the School Committee’s decision making processes. Yesterday I met a community member who has advocated tirelessly for seating and shade trees at all school playgrounds and we discussed how WPS and the City collaborate on shared issues. While door-knocking, many residents shared about their own past experiences in school, and a few mentioned that “one adult” in their school who changed their life. Lastly, although I knew many of our recent immigrant families have significant needs, I learned about an acute housing crisis in which a large number of our students faced abrupt housing displacement at the start of the school year. I know how disruptive being unhoused is to a student’s education. It was only through significant efforts by Watertown Citizens Refugee Support Group volunteers, WPS family liaisons and outreach staff, and other community groups, that these WPS students could stay in school and avoid a major educational and housing disruption.
WN: Watertown has built two new elementary schools, completely renovated another, and is constructing a new high school. People are coming back to the Watertown Public Schools, or are moving to town for the state-of-the-art facilities. What should the district be doing to deal with the influx of new students, and what would you propose to do if the schools reach capacity?
LC: According to DESE, WPS enrollment (incl. pre-K) ranged from 2,526 to 2,663 over the past six years. Superintendent Galdston provides regular enrollment reports to the School Committee and the most recent K-12 figure given (from 9/26/23) was 2,724. WPS should continue to monitor enrollments closely and collaborate with City departments to identify changes in City demographics that will impact WPS enrollment. To your question, if enrollments continue to climb and surpass current class-size thresholds and/or exceed available space in elementary school buildings, WPS, likely through an ad-hoc School Committee sub-committee, must be able to assess space and staffing needs and make recommendations. The solutions need to maintain educational continuity, minimize student transitions, and balance cost.
WN: While having new school facilities is a bonus, the focus of education is what happens in the classroom. Watertown has been updating curriculum in various subjects at different levels. What curriculum area do you think needs the most attention and why?
LC: It’s true – classroom instruction has the greatest impact on student outcomes. While the physical environment helps, it’s experienced and supported education staff who influence student success the most. And, a close runner-up is the curriculum they use to facilitate learning. At the October 16th candidate forum, we addressed elementary literacy and K-8 math leveling topics. As a School Committee member, my responsibility would be to ensure WPS is using a clear, consistent, transparent process for curriculum reviews. It would also be to ensure that WPS curriculum reviews assess their sensitivity to student backgrounds (equity) and that chosen curriculum have a solid evidence-base and address longer term readiness for post-graduate environment. Curriculum change priorities should be informed by quantitative and qualitative data, and WPS has many tools available to inform curriculum decisions including the February 2022 Equity Audit report recommendations, DESE’s district and school accountability data, WPS curriculum coordinators, the University of Chicago 5E Essentials survey, partnership and input from diversity councils and community groups, and school site councils/school improvement plans, and curriculum coordinator and staff input, among others.
WN: Keeping quality teachers in Watertown is getting more difficult every year. What can the WPS do to encourage the best candidates to come to Watertown, and keep them here?
LC: As an educator, I’m familiar with conditions that can create stress in staff or cause them to leave. For several years I’ve advocated for WPS staff by compiling and sending information at two points (2020 independently and 2022 with fellow Watertown Community for Black Lives members) to WPS leadership on best practices for recruiting and retaining diverse candidates. This past February I compiled and shared data on Unit A and D educator pay scales in Watertown and benchmark districts to assist WPS and WEA in their negotiations.
Paying educators in concert with their training and experience, and ensuring schools are fully staffed, are two of the most important ways to recruit and retain diverse, qualified staff. Across the U.S. we pay educators roughly $3,500 less per year than we did ten years ago when adjusting for inflation. And nationally, education as a share of local and state spending is 5% less than it was in the late 1970s. To recruit the best candidates, WPS can pay competitive wages, staff at levels that fully accommodate student needs and fully support differentiation, invite staff voice into building and district decisions, and provide an emotionally and physically safe environment.
Urban Institute, Elementary and Secondary Education Expenditures: www.urban.org/policy-centers/cross-center-initiatives/state-and-local-finance-initiative/state-and-local-backgrounders/elementary-and-secondary-education-expenditures#Question3K12
WN: Tell us something about yourself that people may not know.
LC: My grandmother attended Lowell elementary school and was a WHS graduate, Class of 1940!