Jenny at Medford's Labor Unions Candidate Forum
On Tuesday evening, Medford's labor unions held a Candidate Forum for the School Committee candidates. The Medford Teachers Association provided a list of questions shortly before the event that covered a myriad of concerns from our teachers. The event allowed all candidates to give a 3-minute opening statement.
From there, candidates were picked at random and asked to answer specific questions. After the first answer, there was an opportunity for one or two other candidates also to weigh in. All candidate selections were random. Candidates also gave closing statements limited to 2 minutes.
It was a fabulous event, and I'm grateful for the time they spent to organize and the opportunity to participate. I think that the attendees found the discussion enlightening. We all learned something last night, and the overwhelming desire to collaborate, name our problems, and move forward reminded me why I wanted to run in the first place. The President of the union has offered to distribute statements and answers to her membership. These questions are so relevant that I wanted to share it with a broader audience. Our teachers are concerned about the same things I've heard about time and again. Check out the post below, which provides the questions asked, and my thoughts on each.
My name is Jenny Graham, and I am a mother of two children. Lila and Lucas are 5th and 3rd graders. I am pleased to be endorsed by the Local 1032 Firefighters Union. My husband Scott and I are products of public schools, and we believe in the power of education. I am a first generation college graduate with a degree in Finance from Babson College. I own a Medford based consulting business where I advise government agencies and businesses on strategic planning, adult education and curriculum development. I sat on the Superintendent Search Committee in 2018 and have been collaborating with the School Committee for years to make positive change happen.
I co-chair the PTO executive committee at my children’s school and have chaired the fundraising team for 3 years now. Most recently I initiated the Citywide Elementary Alliance. I brought together parents from all of our elementary schools to collaborate in my kitchen in the Summer of 2018! We raised $28,000 last year together, and we’ll do it again this year. That money is providing opportunity for our school PTOs to do more than we’ve been able to do before.
I want to thank the unions who worked hard to put this evening together. I am available tonight and at any time if you have additional questions for me. I ask for your vote on November 5th!
School Committee Questions:
1. All of the present "new" school buildings are in need of repair and MHS is in need of repairs and updating, some more than others. Several playgrounds are sorely in need of a complete and costly overhaul. What is your proposal or plan for budgeting for the costs of repairs when the amount of money needed far exceeds the amount allotted in the Capital Plan?
This is one of the big reasons I decided to run for School Committee. I see the same thing. It has also been a priority for my and my campaign from the beginning. We can’t keep delaying our discussions around the needs for our buildings and I am committed to changing that cycle. Already, I’m pleased with the role I played in advocating for a discussion on this topic at the Buildings and Grounds meeting back in September, which led to the motion to create a special committee to look at the future of Medford High. That committee is happening and we need lots of voices on the committee. I really hope that a number of teachers, and even students, apply to be part of the committee. There are lots of options to explore, including to try to renovate in place, to build and move on the existing premises, or to explore other site options. As these options are vetted and costs are explored, I am committed to advocating for the best interests of our students and teachers. I will collaborate with the City Council and the Mayor’s office. Whether our residents have students in the schools are not, good strong schools are a priority I’ve heard about again and again.
The current capital plan is really more maintenance-focused. When it was created in the spring I was happy to see a first step being taken. Now, we need to revisit this plan annually. I am also working actively with parents from three elementary schools who have major playground issues to submit winning CPA applications that are collaborative and ensure that as a community we are not competing against one another, but working together with a common voice to benefit all our schools. The playgrounds are a great example of the vigilance we need in securing funds for our schools. While they were part of the capital plan to be completed prior to the close of the last fiscal year in June, the plan is not a guarantee of funds and a decision was made not to pursue city funding for these but instead to pursue a CPA grant. While the initial grants were submitted by the district, they did not complete the application or engage the community as the process intends. We are on top of it now and are ready to present winning proposals on November 13th at the CPA meeting.
2. How would you use PILOT funds (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) ?
PILOT funds are not part of the school system budget, so the School Committee will have very little input on these discussions as they continue. As a resident I support efforts to increase these payments to Medford for lots of reasons. I do want to see us move away from accepting ‘free labor’ from Turfs students instead of real tangible $ for Medford. As a parent, I support opportunities to provide community benefits to our teachers such as include continuing ed and free or discounted graduate course credits.
3. Do you support a prop 2 1/2 override ?
The School Committee has no authority to execute an override. I do support efforts to reform the city’s tax code to create a fair exemption structure. I also support progressive city taxation, and exploring the need for a debt exclusion or a Prop 2½ override to address aging infrastructure and buildings. I am not in favor of pushing seniors out of their homes and will expect our leaders to provide protection for our vulnerable residents through any change like this. Increasing taxes is never a perfect or easy answer, but we have gone for too long pitting our infrastructure needs against one another. We should not be choosing between a Fire Station and a Library. A thriving community requires public buildings that serve the community. If elected, I will be a strong voice describing the WHY behind the need for funding for our school buildings. Right now we don’t name our problems, and we don’t like to talk about the things we don’t have. If we are going to ask for money, from any source, whether it be the state, taxpayers, developers, or commercial taxation, we need to be clear about WHAT the money will do for us. For me, fiscal responsibility is about value. I am willing to advocate for valuable projects, and will do so for our schools.
4. Attracting adequate substitute teachers is a problem that causes support staff and paraprofessional aides to be pulled from their regular schedules so they may act as "subs" for the day. How can we find and hold on to an adequate bank of substitute teachers? Would you address the pay scale issue which is substantially less than neighboring school districts?
We need to take a serious look at our personnel practices and how we attract and retain qualified substitutes. It’s one thing if a teacher is out ill for a day and we are covering a small gap. It’s quite another thing to think or expect that the same staffing approach can work to address extended absences. We should be planning as though extended absences will happen. This is life; not just in education but in every profession. I would like to see our permanent building sub ranks be expanded to align with an analysis of our needs based on real data. Our students and our teachers deserve this support. Once we have completed a real analysis of our needs and identified them, we will then need to prioritize this amongst our many needs in the budget, or be prepared to advocate for additional funding.
Increasing our building subs also addresses security and protocol issues which emerged at the Andrews recently where the sub didn’t know what to do during a lockdown. Full time subs can be shared with other buildings in cases of flu epidemics or other needs but they don’t live past first step teacher salary. It’s also a good way to “interview” candidates you may want to hire as permanent classroom teachers.
Post-Forum Update - I was shocked to hear about the discrepancy in our substitute pay versus surrounding towns. I support a $15 minimum wage, and more importantly a living wage and this includes our substitutes.
5. What are your views on extending the school day beyond the current dismissal time and/or 180 school days?
I am opposed to extending the school day with the exception of the following. In these cases I would be willing to collaborate and discuss changes to our structure:
adding time for recess
extending the length of lunch periods
revisiting the weekly Wednesday elementary early release if we believe that improved PD could be provided with a different model rather than expecting PD to occur in one hour increments. 1 hour training is very limiting in general and I’m open to other ways of delivering PD with better results.
6. What is your plan to address the possible increase in school enrollments due to the ongoing over-development in condo housing units and apartments?
I believe our enrollment numbers are relatively flat actually, but I am committed to ensuring that we complete a population assessment prior to any renovation or building plan at the high school to ensure that we not only know what the past enrollment has been but that we get a read on the future enrollment based on plans for new homes and units. Not all units drive stress on school infrastructure and I think we should be working with the City Council to ensure that ongoing analysis of our anticipated school population occurs. We need real data, and not just speculation on this impact. We know that several of our elementary schools are quite full, and we need to be asking whether this is a population blip or if it’s the beginning of a trend. Our plans will need to be different based on that answer.
7. Given the expanded ELL teacher staffing and student enrollment at the McGlynn middle school, would you support expanding the program to the Andrews school?
I would support this, but would also support a change the entire middle school structure to allow for an upper and lower middle school model which would put all services at both middle schools. There has been talk about a middle school subcommittee and I think it’s time we consider our future plans there too. There are lots of ways to make progress toward a different middle school model before we get to a true structure change and I am hopeful that we will convene a Middle School Subcommittee as well.
8. What are your plans for services (teacher training, materials) for students in the elementary and secondary levels with dyslexia and other reading disabilities?
I will expect our professional educators to provide options and recommendations to the School Committee that are evidence based and broadly regarded as best practices. Evidence and science-based evaluation tools need to include plans for intervention and science back plans for remediation for our struggling learners. I will do my own research. I will ask meaningful questions related to the options offered including asking for the rationale and background behind recommendations. I’ve already committed to holding regular office hours if elected. In a case like this, I would welcome an opportunity to talk with our teachers during scheduled office hours or upon request. I am hopeful that my push for a collaborative environment will encourage a thoughtful process from the start. In the end though, if I believe that the options recommended are not what we need I will reject them.
9. How do you see your role as a school Committee member? Policy maker for the administrative unit? Would you consider “town hall forums” at schools to meet directly with teachers and hear their concerns?
My role as a School Committee member is to be a voice for our community. As an elected official, I would work for the residents of the city. For too long, our School Committee has taken direction from the administration and been pulled along in a sense. I believe it’s the committee’s job to push the agenda forward and set the tone for the administration. And I will do just that. I’ve already committed to holding regular office hours if elected, but there really is no reason to wait for office hours. I would love an opportunity to talk with our teachers about what matters to them. If elected, I’d love to do that before I took office, because I want to be prepared to hit the ground running and understand the needs of each of our school buildings. I also have lots of thoughts about the role of the Curriculum Subcommittee and would hope to be a key contributor there, to draw on my experience developing and delivering adult learning curriculum. We have a lot of work to do and I will be looking for our teachers to be part of those conversations. As a curriculum developer myself, I know that evaluating curricula can’t just be about a single measure. We need to be looking at a well rounded evaluation that takes in feedback from all constituents.
10. Technology in the Medford Public Schools needs attention and additional funding. Computers that are presently used in our computer labs are outdated. What is your plan for updating technology?
I see that there are 4 key steps we need to take:
Inserting an annual budget line item for at least $350K for computer hardware replacement.
Creating budget capacity for proper planning and support personnel so that our technology investments provide an appropriate benefit. The technology alone is not enough if we want to provide a consistent experience for students and teachers.
Identifying our strategic goals around technology. Do our students need a 1 to 1 chromebook ratio in order to access the curriculum? If no, then what do they need? And how big is the gap between what we have today and what we need?
Filling the technology gap.
How fast we move through these 4 steps is a function of budget and priorities.
11. School administrators in the past have issued directives for staff to carry out, that have robbed teachers and students of valuable instructional time that is hard to recoup. A good example is the recent directive that required K-2 elementary teachers to conduct WIN assessments as a Response to Intervention and within the same time span, teachers were directed to screen K-2 students for dyslexia tendencies using various dyslexia screening instruments. These assessments interrupted instruction for several days and weeks and yielded almost identical results. How much "testing" is too much testing and where do we draw the line?
How much testing is too much testing is a great question. As a parent, I was a little surprised by the full list of testing the district provided. The list underscored for me the need to convene a working committee to review all of our assessments, possibly as part of the Curriculum Subcommittee to rationalize our testing profile. We need to be asking ourselves if we NEED all these tests. What do they tell us? Are they more valuable than the time on learning? I work with clients all the time who face similar issues where their own policies are incrementally added to the roster over time, but when you take a step back and look at them all together you realize that there is a huge opportunity to streamline, simplify, AND get better results.
Let’s be honest, testing isn’t free and we should be careful stewards of our money here too. Let’s not just spend to test, but let’s also have a broader conversation about what we are doing with the results and whether we have the right supports in place to act on those results. And if we don’t we need to identify those needs.
During this pilot for our dyslexia screening, we should expect some duplication and disruption. Provided that this disruption moves the district forward, and to a place where we can identify students who need our help sooner, AND where we are ready to intervene, it is time well spent. But pilots shouldn’t go on forever. While they do we should be looking to mitigate the negative impacts as best we can.
12. School safety is a major concern for all teachers in the district, we had a safety committee that was formulated and teacher input was welcomed during the first meeting. We had a complete school climate assessment done at both the McGlynn Middle and Elementary Schools by AIP that was shared with the staff. We had a PD day regarding possible training of ALICE and its possible implementation. Since these events there has been silence on what school safety should look like. The MTA was never asked to attend another safety committee meeting, there has been no communication on ALICE training or as a matter of fact any other training for the staff. The AIP reports have been shared with all invested parties, but it is unclear as to what the next steps regarding safety should be. If elected or reelected to the school committee what are your plans to ensure that all schools are safe and how would you plan to seek teacher input into this process?
I don’t support ALICE training, but I do take school safety very seriously. I send my beautiful children off every day and then watch the news unfold far too often with horrendous stories.
As an outsider looking in during the McGlynn magazine incident, it feels like we just pretended we were going to do ALICE training and then figured if we didn’t talk about it again people would forget. It feels like we made that decision far too quickly because an angry and fearful room of hundreds of people were demanding action. As a community I want us all to commit to being pragmatic and planful, even in the face of a crisis, so we can make the right decisions rather than rash ones. Rash decisions that aren’t fully thought out and can’t be executed. This is really hard all around. If elected I will do my very best, whether in a crisis or on an everyday matter, to be plan-focused and thorough in my decision making.
To come full circle on school security, many of these plans are confidential, so it’s incredibly hard for me to speak about whether our plan is solid or not. I believe our schools are safe. But if elected, I will take this job very seriously.
13. Is there a plan to address the infrastructure at the high school (in particular the internet)? If not, how would you address accommodating for the age of the building?
I plan to submit my application to be part of the Medford High School Vision committee whether I am elected to the School Committee or not. I’m pleased with the role I played in the Buildings and Grounds meeting back in September that led to the motion to create a special committee to look at the future of Medford High. That committee is happening and we need lots of voices on the committee. I really hope that a number of teachers, and even students apply to be part of the committee. The conversation around options will be complex but so necessary. I feel like this should have happened years ago, but we are here, and we have an amazing opportunity before us.
14. Are there plans to either keep the Vocational Tech and the High School as one school or to separate them back out? There were some concerns that the schools were joined without a lot of thought to issues that may occur. What issues do you think still exist and how would you address them?
Because I am not yet a member of the Committee, I can’t speak to the details of the issues we are facing, but I do know we face some serious integration issues. For me, I’m sad that we didn’t think through these issues before we made the decision to merge the two schools. Big changes require a lot of what-ifing to be successful. But as with many things, here we are, and we need to move forward. I believe that the administration is working on a set of recommendations and options to address the issues we face. When we are ready to review those options, I see our teachers as a critical voice in the review process, and I’m ready to weigh all the issues and make the best decision for our district. I know that won’t be an easy task but I’m ready for it.
15. If you are elected, you will be part of the next negotiation cycle with the teachers union. What would be your top priority for negotiations? Please explain why.
I am vocally pro-union and I support a $15 minimum wage for all school employees. I also will advocate that Medford try interest based bargaining. I would like for us to find a way for the union and the administration and the School Committee to become partners and do away with adversarial relationships. We are all committed to our students, and if we can take some time and open doors to have that dialogue before we get to negotiations, I think that we will all be better for it.
Post forum update - I am thrilled to hear that the Teachers Union wants and supports an open and collaborative bargaining process!
16. What is one thing you would change about Medford Public Schools? And how would you do it?
I want us to communicate more effectively on all fronts.
I want the School Committee and the administration to name our problems and create an understanding of what we don’t have and why. We need it to promote understanding, collaboration, and action.
I want us to think of communicating to families as a priority. We need to stop hiding behind the idea that we need only to post public meetings to be compliant and do more to bring families to the table for issues they care about.
I want us to communicate a cohesive story to our prospective families about why MPS is a great choice for their children. We don’t have to be perfect to own our message and control our narrative.
17. What is your opinion on creating a dress code in the schools? We have lots of midriff shirts, etc this year do you think that a dress code is something we could institute and enforce?
Medford public schools has a dress code. Enforcement of this policy, and really all policies, is the responsibility of the building principals. I would recommend that if they are not enforcing the policy that this should be brought to the attention of the principal, and subsequently to assistant superintendent and superintendent. And in general, if people find that School Committee issued policies are not being complied with, our teachers should not hesitate to reach out and make the School Committee aware.
I will not support any dress code policy that places the burden of its dress code on our female students.
As a parent... School Committee
1) How do you plan to address the equity differences between the elementary schools? And the same at the middle school?
What’s fair isn’t always what’s equal. What one school needs isn’t what another needs and the divisiveness comparing which school has/got what doesn’t help. That’s where the term “equity” comes in. You’ll never create “sameness” throughout a city nor should you. Same core curriculum, same basic policies (like recess not being used punitively!), and same expectations of rigor and professionalism BUT a school with greater needs should have greater staffing or a school with creative solutions can share those with those that don’t. I saw the need to address this as a parent, long before I ever considered running for School Committee. This was one of my goals as the initiator of the Citywide Elementary Alliance. It’s why I brought together parents from all of our elementary schools to collaborate in my kitchen in the Summer of 2018. We raised a lot of money last year, and we’ll do it again this year. That money is providing opportunity for our school PTOs to do more than they’ve been able to do before.
The residents that make up each school are different. Our buildings are led by people who are different. Our teachers cut from a standard mold. It is in our differences that we have opportunity. I have never been a fan of the divisive story in Medford that pits schools against each other. When we work together, we can achieve so much more.
To be clear, I will make it a priority to approach our spending in a way that asks the hard questions about what we need and I will never assume that the same in a sufficient answer. And if you see needs in your own school, and you bring them to my attention, the first thing we will do together, is determine whether the issue impacts only you or if the issue and its solutions need to be positioned more globally so that we can appropriately care for all of our children and our teachers.
One of the things we’ve heard tonight is that change and opportunity abound here in Medford and our schools are no exception. We’ve talked about big changes at the high school and also changes at the middle school level in terms of how we structure the middle years. Literally every question tonight asked about some kind of change.
But make no mistake, change is hard. It requires us to be pragmatic, and planful, and ask good questions. Big changes require a lot of what-ifing to be successful. I help clients make change happen every day. They will say to me “I need to improve my outcomes but I have 25 constraints, including a shoestring budget”. So we work with them to understand where they are at, and agree on that outcome they are seeking. And then we take steps, one at a time to move toward the outcome. It’s not easy, and it can take a long time, but there is always an opportunity to make process. Together, we can move more quickly and with better results. As a member of the School Committee I would bring my experience and my passion to the table to work hard, collaborate, and serve. You can find out more about me at www.electjenny.org. There you’ll also find my School Committee summaries and commentary. If you have questions though, don’t hesitate to reach out. I ask for one of your votes on November 5th so we can keep moving forward, together.