If you ask School Committee members what they think the purpose of their committee is, most, if not all, would say the same thing: A School Committee’s main focus is to serve the needs of the students, teachers, and families in the district it presides over. Unfortunately, many committees, including ours, have struggles reaching out to all community members as they pursue this goal. I believe the School Committee must do a better job of Actively Listening to students, teachers, and families in order to better adhere to their needs.
What do I mean by Active Listening? To me, Active Listening is putting yourself out into the community, so that you are receiving as much feedback as possible from everyone involved with the schools. Active Listening means showing up to School Council meetings to get a better insight on the issues that are relevant to the each individual school. Active Listening means public input should be expanded to engaging and thoughtful dialogue between committee members and constituents rather than the short public comments at committee meetings where community members are restricted to three minutes per speaker.
One easy way to achieve this is to flip the script and instead of having constituents come to the committee, have the committee visit the constituents, and not just during campaign season. I like to call it reverse office hours, bringing the conversations to the people. By holding these reverse office hours, it makes it more convenient for families, teachers, and students to be heard. This ensures that all of the concerns for the community are part of the dialogue. Without doing this, more and more voices will slip through the cracks, and if not properly identified, can be very detrimental to an equitable process.
Another struggle students, teachers, and families face when it comes to being heard is the lack of clarity on the schedule of School Committee meetings. While you are able to regularly check on the website, and there is the ListServ that sends out emails about upcoming school committee meetings, the school committee could be using more efficient ways to keep people informed about their meetings. Why not use Facebook? If the School Committee created a Facebook page, everyone could have access to School Committee information without have to sign-up in order to receive it. It would be much easier for constituents to get information they need about the meetings, including alerts on when and where they are.
If elected, I pledge to hold these reverse office hours and advocate for a School Committee Facebook group to adequately listen to the concerns and thoughts from students, families, and teachers themselves. These would be the first steps towards having School Committee lead the way with Active Listening.