Educating today for the Opportunities of Tomorrow
There is nothing more important than educating our children in an environment that promotes self-esteem, positive social interactions and enthusiasm for life-long learning. Waltham has the good fortune of having dedicated teachers and supportive families, but the city’s leadership on education is insufficient and our teachers have not been provided with the necessary tools to succeed. The turnover rate for teachers and administrators is too high, creating instability within the system. The long-anticipated overcrowding at our elementary schools has now ballooned into a critical problem. Despite repeated warnings for many years about the potential failure to meet accreditation standards of the high school, the plan for a new high school facility is only just beginning.
Waltham needs a sustained and active commitment to educational excellence. We should demand a school system where the students are excelling, facilities are modern and up-to-date, the diversity of our student body is both addressed and celebrated, special needs students get the support they need to achieve their highest potential, innovative teaching and programming is our competitive advantage, and music, arts and enrichment programming is abundant. Our world is innovating and our public school system needs to keep up in order to prepare our students for the workforce of the future. Educational excellence is the foundation of every great community and it is an achievable goal for Waltham as well.
THE CHALLENGES OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM FACES
The Waltham Public Schools was responsible for educating 5,254 students across nine schools during the 2014-15 school year. During the 2013-14 school year, our high school dropout rate was significantly higher than the state average and our high school dropout rate among English Language Learners (ELL) students was more than three times the state average. Our ELL population is more than double the state average at 17.3 percent, with more than 60 languages spoken in the Waltham Public Schools. The turnover within the school administration is astoundingly high, with six new superintendents and dozens of new principals over the past 12 years. Some of our elementary schools are bursting at the seams due to overcrowding and our high school facility is outdated and inadequate for 21st century learning. Our teacher salaries are below the state average and our per pupil spending decreased over the last two school years, yet the overall school budget continues to rise year after year and our facilities are getting worse rather than better. Something needs to change and it needs to change now.
MY EDUCATION AGENDA
As the parent of a current Waltham Public Schools student, I know there is a lot going right in our schools, but I also know that we can do better. We need to ensure that every student has the opportunity to start life on the right foot. We need to know that our educators are excited and empowered to teach our kids in the best ways possible. We need to do more to leverage the opportunities at our doorstep, by working with our cutting edge companies and institutions of higher learning to improve opportunities to our students, teachers and administrators. Waltham students deserve nothing but the best, and I will deliver the focus, leadership and vision from the mayor’s office to accomplish all of these objectives and more.
Collaboration and Empowerment
In Waltham, the office of mayor serves as a non-voting member of the school committee. Over the years, different mayors have approached this role in different ways. Regardless of how a mayor engages in this role, be it as a micromanager, or in a truly “hands off” fashion, the mayor of our city is ultimately responsible for the quality of our schools. But the mayor does not act alone in matters pertaining to the schools. The school committee plays an important part in setting the agenda and direction for our public school system. As mayor, I will seek to empower the school committee to act as an independent body as intended by the city charter. I will provide the leadership to ensure that city government prioritizes educational excellence for all students and supports the school committee to do its job, but I will not micromanage the committee. Under my leadership, the school committee will return to an independent body serving at the will of the voters to serve the needs of our students.
I will partner with the school superintendent, school committee, parent associations and teachers union to address the consistent problem of administrator and teacher turnover throughout our school system. Waltham loses valuable experience and relationships every time we lose a member of our administration or faculty. Educator retention needs to be a priority for Waltham, and one of my primary goals will be to improve the policies or conditions that will lead to higher rates of teacher and administrator retention.
Waltham has an outstanding opportunity to partner with our local institutions of higher learning and corporate leaders to achieve a unique educational experience for our students. The current administration has failed to fully realize those opportunities, resulting in missed opportunities for Waltham. I will partner with area colleges to maximize the mutual benefit that can be realized when college students and their professors connect with city departments, schools and area non-profits.
Financial Stability and Facilities Management
Waltham Public Schools needs a long-range financial plan that is transparent, understandable and consistent. I will support long-range financial planning across all departments, but specifically in our public school system to better understand the current and future financial needs for our schools. We need to fully understand the funding requirements of operating the schools for peak performance. We also need to
recognize the capital investments that will be necessary to keep our facilities in good condition and our equipment modern and relevant for 21st century learning techniques. I will work with the school committee, teachers union, city council and parent organizations to craft a plan that addresses our school funding needs with fiscal discipline for taxpayers.
To support educational excellence from the mayor’s office, I will collaborate with the school committee, superintendent, administrators, teachers, and legislators, as I have as a city councilor and state representative, on efforts to build a new high school. Additionally, I will work to ensure that the overcrowding and other facilities issues are addressed in the near term and consistently addressed in the future throughout the regular course of business. I will promote shared services, such as IT, human resources and other “back office” functions between the school district and city administration to reduce administrative cost burdens to the taxpayer and use our valuable financial resources on items that will improve the quality of education in Waltham.
Similarly, there are opportunities to partner with innovative companies in Waltham to promote cutting edge STEM education and technology preparedness that is required of every job in the 21st century. Such partnerships will create high school internship opportunities for our students with these companies located in our very own backyard. To facilitate these partnerships, I will establish a private-public educational task force comprised of businesses, higher education centers, Waltham Public Schools representatives and parents to seek ways to formulate more of these collaborative opportunities to improve the educational experience in Waltham.
Diverse Needs and Diverse Solutions
Waltham is a unique City full of cultural diversity and I believe that our diversity should be celebrated and considered an opportunity rather than a challenge. One distinct opportunity for Waltham Public Schools is the proposed dual language immersion program that offers our students the opportunity to learn foreign language skills beginning at a young age, making it easier for those students to learn even more languages later in life. The dual language immersion program would be a competitive advantage for our schools. It would also serve as a community development tool to bring students and families of diverse cultural ethnicities together toward common objectives. I believe that the dual language immersion program is a win-win for Waltham and it represents the spirit of innovation that we should promote in Waltham Public Schools.
While our community’s cultural diversity provides opportunities for Waltham, it also brings challenges for our educators who need to address the unique needs of all students. As mayor, I will work with all relevant stakeholders to focus on the unique needs of ELL students and their families to ensure that they are able to access all of the services and supports that Waltham and its school system offer. I will support the district to reduce performance gaps and to improve the performance and opportunities for ELL
students and the school system at large by collaborating with mayors in other parts of the country who are facing the same challenges and developing best practices. Waltham should be at the forefront of developing best practices, potentially serving as a role model for other cities and towns looking to address similar challenges.
During the 2013-2014 school year alone, 52 high school students dropped out; nearly half of these students have disabilities. To better prepare our students for the workforce, we need to keep them in school that may require alternative solutions. Following the lead of nearby communities, I will work with stakeholders to establish an alternative high school for students with unique demands who cannot be integrated into the mainstream educational environment but still deserve and require a free and appropriate education that prepares them for the future. I will work with administrators and others to create workforce training and school-to-work programming for older ELL students entering our school system with diverse experiences, expectations and needs for the future. These are the realities Waltham schools are facing today and I will support the district in finding new and inventive solutions that meet these needs.
WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU
I want families in Waltham to choose the public schools over private school options because of our district’s superior performance and unique offerings. I want teachers and administrators to stay in the district for the bulk of their career, getting to know families and making a long-term commitment to our city. I want other districts to look to Waltham for best practices to close achievement gaps, reduce dropout rates, increase MCAS and SAT scores, and create a seamless college placement and school-to-work program. This is my vision for educational excellence in Waltham and I know it is achievable with hard work, public engagement and innovative thinking.