Thursday, October 10, 2019

2019 Lynn School Committee Q & A: Jared Nicholson

Incumbent Lynn School Committee member Jared Nicholson is running for a third term in this year's municipal election. Below are Nicholson's responses to some pressing education-related questions. 

You’re currently running for your third term on the Lynn School Committee. What is motivating you to run again this year?

I am motivated to run for reelection because I am passionate about public education and its importance to my family and to our community.

First, I’m excited to share that my wife and I are expecting our first child any day now. Especially as public school graduates ourselves, we want to send our kids to great public schools.

Second, as a law professor at Northeastern University I work with and study small businesses, in support of community growth. I know how important having great schools is to our community’s hopes for growth. For Lynn to reach our sky-high potential, we have to help our kids reach theirs. We do that in the public schools.

Finally, this year particularly, the District faces challenges from shifting external circumstances, particularly on funding. I believe I can continue to help the District navigate those challenges as a member of the Committee and as an attorney with a business background.

The Lynn Public School District has faced a number of challenges in recent years, most notably funding issues. What is your assessment of where the district is at this point? What is one major challenge that LPS will need to confront in the next year?

Overall, the district is doing well. That’s a testament to the hard work and dedication our wonderful teachers and other education professionals and the great students and families we have in our schools. But there is a lot of work to do.

Last year, for the first time in several years, the Lynn Public Schools was fully funded by the city in the eyes of the state. It’s so important that the city meets its commitment under state law to do that. This is something that my colleagues and I on the School Committee have advocated for and something we will continue to expect.

One major challenge that LPS needs to confront is overcrowding and the physical state of our schools. This continues to be our most pressing issue. We have amazing teachers, but rising class sizes make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn. On the School Committee, we rely on the state, the city and outside organizations for funding. While we can’t allocate funds, we can advocate and innovate.

We are advocating that the state overhaul its school funding formula and for help from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. We are innovating by adding a new 8th grade option at Lynn Tech and looking to outside partners to find more pre-K classrooms. We need to build on this advocacy and innovation to meet our pressing space needs.

Last year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) introduced a new accountability and assistance system that no longer classified schools in Levels 1 - 5. What is your opinion of the additional metrics which are now being considered along with MCAS scores (high school completion rates, chronic absenteeism, advanced coursework completion, etc.)?

I am definitely glad that DESE has expanded its thinking and its methodology for how to measure good schools. I still have concerns about the focus on test scores though, and the damage that focus has done over time even after the changes. When people like magazine editors use MCAS scores to “rank” schools, they fail to capture the amazing learning that happens in the Lynn Public Schools.

One encouraging sign from the additional metrics is that LPS has made progress on some of these new indicators. We have had a successful new attendance initiative, called Every Student Every Day. We are also offering more advanced courses.

How much do you as a School Committee member interact with parents, students and community members? Do you think that the School Committee in general could do more to engage and involve residents in the LPS decision making process?

I interact with parents, students and community members a lot, both when people reach out to me directly and when I’m out spending time in the community. It has been a privilege to listen many parents, students and community members about problems they had and work to help find solutions and connect them with resources. I feel like I have been able to be a resource particularly for our community members who speak Spanish because of my Spanish language skills.

One of the solutions I’ve worked on was helping organize a college fair for Spanish-speaking parents with the MARIAs Center. The MARIAs volunteers invited colleges to bring and share materials in Spanish about the college application process and financial aid.

I have also loved getting student input and feedback, both informally when I meet them and formally from our student representative on the Committee. A few years ago, I pushed for us to add a student representative to our meetings and have been thrilled to experience these wonderful students doing a great job with us.

Yes, I think we could do more to engage and involve residents. We can work on giving parents, students and community members the tools and confidence they need to help them get involved and above all to make them feel welcome and included in our city’s public education.

One example of progress on this issue can be found in our approach to grant funding. We get a lot of interest in the district's pursuit of grants. Outside grants are an important way to bring much needed resources into the district. To support our effort and offer more opportunities to collaborate on grants, I suggested that we try a new tool. LPS will now be creating a page on its website that will track all the grants that we apply for and receive.

Why should Lynn residents cast their vote for you on Tuesday, November 5th?

First, I believe that people should vote for me because I have established a record of leadership and achieving results. For example, I am working with my colleagues on an overhaul of the entire suite of policies of the Lynn Public Schools after discovering that we were still governed by a set of policies that were outdated, some by several decades.

Second, I continue to bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to the committee. For example, one of the issues I have been most focused on is building more pathways for students to college and jobs. A couple of years ago we started the Technical Afterschool Program, a program for students around the district to learn job skills at Lynn Tech. I had read a report by Commonwealth Magazine on the gap between seats at vocational-technical schools and the number of interested students. I asked the team at Lynn Tech if we could offer any programs to students at the other high schools who might be interested in vocational training. Lynn Tech Guidance Counselor Brian O’Connell designed and launched a program that exceeded my expectations

Finally, as a Spanish-speaker who is accessible and responsive, I believe that I have a lot to offer all members of our community in listening to their concerns and helping to find solutions.  


For more information: 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Lynn School Committee Candidates Share their Thoughts School Funding, State of LPS School Buildings During LTU Education Forum

This evening, the Lynn Teachers Union hosted an education forum at Breed Middle School featuring seven of the eight candidates on the ballot for Lynn School Committee this fall. Incumbents Brian Castellanos, Donna Coppola, John Ford, Lorraine Gately, Jared Nicholson and Michael Satterwhite along with challenger Tiffany Magnolia were in attendance for tonight's forum; Sandra Lopez is on the November ballot, but was not present tonight. 

After a brief introduction by LTU President, Sheila O'Neill, the moderator started the forum with the first question regarding what each candidate saw as their responsibility as a potential School Committee member. Castellanos referenced his background as a low income, first generation student in answering the question saying that this was his "passion" and that he saw his responsibility as advocating for resources and "sticking up for educators." Coppola talked about both educating students and parents as to what is being asked them while also communicating to community members without children in the school system why good public schools are beneficial while Ford focused more the policy-making aspects of being a Committee Member along with supporting the superintendent and administration. Gately said that being a SC member involved "a lot of listening" and bringing issues of importance to the district administration. Challenger Magnolia saw being on the SC as an opportunity to bridge the gap between policy and real life application, amplify parent voices and provide a bigger voice for unions. 

Next, the candidates were asked what fully funding education means to them. Ford mentioned his background working on this issue since 2010 when he worked for former State Senator Steve Walsh and said that ultimately the city is aiming to provide between 100% and 105% of net school spending, "the best the city will do." Nicholson, however, noted that the current Chapter 70 funding formula (developed in 1993) has been identified as "broken," therefore funding allocations based on that formula are also broken. He went on to say that the current formula is undervaluing the cost of educating certain populations (English Language Learners and special education for example) and that the funding formula needs to be reformed. Satterwhite stated that he saw fully funding education as "providing all necessary services so all students receive the best education." Magnolia was of the mind that the city should start with what the students need resource-wise and work backward to advocate for certain funding allocations; specifically, she believes that Lynn's per pupil spending should be closer $15,000 per students similar to communities like Peabody (up from ~$13,000 per student). Gately was in favor of advocating for additional funding for teachers and previously attended an event in Malden earlier this year to advocate for increased state funding. 

The candidates were then asked about a particular situation that occurred this summer in which the city received an additional $18 million in state funding for education with $7.3 million going to the city budget side in terms of how that money was spent. There was mostly consensus among the current members of the School Committee on this topic with the members noting that the money was largely spent on school building maintenance and utilities, health care costs and funding the teachers' contract. Coppola did say during this portion of the forum that there have been several major emergencies that have resulted in necessary major repairs which has been a drain on resources and that she would like to see the funds spent on these major repairs being allocated toward educationally beneficial after-school programs run by teachers.

The topic of building maintenance segued into a question regarding the state of Lynn's learning environments and its effect on student learning. Gately said she would be a strong advocate for new schools as she has been concerned about Pickering Middle School's classroom space since she was a teacher there before her retirement. Castellanos was similarly concerned saying that he was "appalled" by the state of the schools and thought it was important to mobilize members of the community around this issue now even if Lynn is currently not in the pipeline for a new school. Satterwhite, however, noted some of the difficulties on this saying that some residents without children in LPS might not see the value in new schools, so the challenge was getting buy-in from the larger community; Nicholson agreed saying that communicating the need for new schools was a "top priority." Gately noted that in the last campaign for a new school in 2017 there was "misinformation" that was hard to fight against, but that, if given the opportunity, she would hold neighborhood meetings and meet with senior citizens and other constituents around this issue. Overall, Magnolia thought there was lack of uniformity in communication during that campaign for a new Pickering Middle School and that a communication structure needs to be in place with information potentially flowing out from school councils and parent-teacher organizations out to the community. While Ford was in agreement that Lynn needs new schools, he also said that the city currently cannot build them fast enough to accommodate the city's growing school population given that Lynn English as one example is on track to enroll 2,000 students next year; last week, the idea of portable classrooms was introduced at a School Committee meeting as an at least temporary solution to the city's overcrowding issue. Ford mentioned that there were ~460 new high school students in Lynn this year alone. 

Finally, the candidates were asked about the disrespect some educators may feel in today's educational climate. Magnolia did not feel comfortable saying how educators felt but did say there should be some sort of the 'State of the Teachers/Staff' type update at School Committee meetings to get a better sense of how teachers are feeling and that educators should be included more in the decision-making process. Satterwhite said that educators probably feel overworked and underappreciated, noting that respect has to come from and start at the top (meaning school leadership). Castellanos agreed saying that recognition is nice but that teachers are underpaid and that has implications for equity for Lynn students. Gately thought it was important to listen more to teachers in the form of surveys and other mechanisms as a way of showing respect; Coppola said she hoped that Lynn teachers "feel the love" in Lynn but recognized it can be difficult when they are being asked to provide a 21st century education with 30 - 40 students in a classroom. 


The Lynn General Election will be held on Tuesday, November 5th. For sample ballots or to check your voter registration status, see here. 


For Lynn Community Television 2019 School Candidate profiles (YouTube), here