Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Lynn Councilor At-Large Candidate Rundown


Buzzy Barton

Dan Cahill

Brian LaPierre

Hong Net

Tim Phelan

Rick Starbard

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lynn School Committee 2015 Q & A: Michael Ouk

Michael Ouk has been living in Lynn for over 21 years.  He is a graduate of Brickett, Marshall, and English, where he graduated from in 2002.  In 2006, he received his B.A. from Gordon College, where, according to Ouk, his desire and his ability to help those less fortunate were broadened and deepened.
Ouk has worked as an ABA Counselor for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, a Teachers’ Assistant for 2nd and 3rd graders, and a Mental Health Counselor for patients diagnosed with chronic mental health illnesses and Substance Use Disorders.  Currently, he’s an Enrollment Coordinator at the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly.

He also volunteers his time as secretary of the Khmer Cultural Planning Committee, which hosts the city’s largest cultural community fair on the Lynn Commons every Spring.  In 2012, Michael co-authored the city ordinance creating Lynn’s first Human Rights Commission.

Here Ouk answers a few questions regarding his candidacy for Lynn School Committee.

Why are you running for School Committee?

Since graduating from Gordon College in 2006, I have been committed to improving Lynn by empowering the under-represented and under-served groups throughout the city, including young people and the elderly.  I decided to run for School Committee because I want to continue making lasting improvements to the quality of life of our young people, our seniors, and working families residing in Lynn.  I believe that doing so has to begin with improving our schools.

We all know that when young working families move into the city it improves our residential tax base, and that those families create a more enticing customer base for potential businesses to locate in the city, which would increase our commercial tax base.  The boosts in revenue would then go back to the people in the form of improved infrastructure, schools, and public services – leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of progress for the city.

I hope to be elected to the School Committee because I want to help accelerate that progress while making it more transparent, equitable, and accountable to all the people of the city.

Describe the knowledge and abilities that you believe a successful graduate of the Lynn Public Schools should possess. 

I believe that good public schools should give our graduates a solid foundation from which they can successfully step into the world of responsible adulthood and into the 21st century workforce.  Good public schools should teach the basic subjects, essential skills, fundamental knowledge, and cultural literacy that all Lynners must possess in order to be good citizens, workers, neighbors, and parents.

Our public school educators have the monumental task of shaping our children’s worldviews (their lasting ideas about themselves, their city, their country, and the world) and of transmitting the principles of our common American culture to each new generation such as those found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence - like the belief that all men and women are created equal and should be treated equally.

There’s no doubt that Lynn Public Schools produce academically successful graduates. However, not all graduates achieve similar degrees of success.  I acknowledge that there may be a number of socioeconomic realities and/or geopolitical backgrounds that can create speed bumps for students’ academic achievement which are beyond the scope of a teacher’s training or available resources, but I think there are ways our school district can mitigate some of those hindrances by expanding linguistically and culturally appropriate wraparound services to our students and their parents.  Doing so would help bridge the achievement gap while unloading some of the burden placed on teachers in the classroom.

In order to provide for my proposed expansion of services, the LPS district must have strong advocacy for a fairer foundation budget formula and adequate funding for public K-12 education at the state level.  That advocacy must begin from within our School Committee, which I would be excited to take part in.

The Lynn Public School System is currently underfunded by approximately $15 million. Given the city's financial constraints, do you think the focus should be on seeking waivers for this deficit and changes to the net school spending language or on finding ways to increase revenue and allocate more money toward public education?

For Fiscal Year 2016, the Massachusetts Legislature created the Foundation Budget Review Committee (FBRC) to reexamine the state's formula for determining how much it costs to adequately educate each child in our public schools.  If elected, I will use my office to seek inclusion in the FBRC's discussions and advocate for the Legislature to take a fresh look at the model school budget in light of the state's potential capacity to invest more in K-12 public education and to update the foundation budget formula to reflect recent changes in Lynn’s education needs, such as new classroom technologies, accounting for Lynn's relatively larger proportion of low-income families, accommodating our many English Language Learners, and meeting the need for more Mental Health services.

Based on data from the US Census Bureau, the percentage of the state’s economic resources that is dedicated to K-12 public education is lower than the national average, which means there may be untapped potential for Massachusetts to invest more in public education.  If the state can dedicate a larger share of resources to education spending while relying less on local revenue to fund K-12 education, it may free up Lynn to allocate more resources to other needs in the city, such as public safety and infrastructure, while still ensuring that our students continue to have the best education possible to prepare them to be competitive in the 21st century workforce.

In your opinion, are the issues facing public education in Lynn overall similar or different from the educational issues being discussed nationally? How so?

The American Society of Civil Engineers notes that most schools in the US were built to educate the baby boomer generation.  The need to modernize our education infrastructure has become more apparent in recent years, and no one feels that urgency as much as our students and teachers.  Lynn's education infrastructure, including sufficient classroom space and technology requires significant upgrades, renovations, and replacements in order to meet the needs of 21st century students and educators.

When the doors of the new Marshall Middle School open in 2016 it will already be at its full capacity of 1,100 students.  Like other urban school districts throughout the nation, student enrollment in Lynn Public Schools has risen steadily since 2009, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education projects enrollment to continue to increase in the coming years.  We must expedite the process of replacing Pickering and other schools that are virtually bursting at the seams so that all of our students can have safe, comfortable spaces to learn.

Why should Lynn voters cast their vote for you on November 3rd?
My philosophy of education is holistic and community-centric, with a strong emphasis on nurturing healthy families.  I believe it takes a 'village' to produce socially adjusted, civically engaged adults who, in turn, produce new healthy families and continue Lynn's progress in the 21st century.  Voting for me would mean voting for someone who is a Lynner through and through; who knows what it's like to grow up in a bi-cultural, multi-lingual home environment; and who has a demonstrated ability to bring people and individuals from various backgrounds together to build consensus and work toward a common vision of equality and community revitalization.

I'm honored and humbled to ask the citizens of Lynn to vote for me on November 3rd, so that I can use my first-hand experience of the Lynn Public Schools to strengthen my advocacy for the needs and concerns of our city's students and families while supporting and building upon the heroic efforts of our teachers and support staff.

Please, don’t hesitate to reach me by phone (781.346.9676) or by email (OukForLynn@gmail.com).  You can also find more information online at www.OukForLynn.com, and on Facebook at facebook.com/Committee4MichaelOuk.