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.  


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