Candidates Talk New High School, Charter Schools at Forum

Candidates running for Somerville School Committee discussed the prospects of a new high school, charter schools, criteria for hiring a new school superintendent and other issues at a forum Tuesday sponsored by the Somerville Progressive Democrats.

Six of the 11 candidates running for School Committee attended the forum, held at the Kesher Center, near Conway Park.

Other topics discussed at the forum included Somerville's middle-school programs, inclusion of special-needs students in the school district, funding for the Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences, and reasons families decide to stay or leave the public school system.

3be5cb5da6c765a717687d48c54bf798.png

The Somerville Progressive Democrats held the forum so members of the political group could vote on endorsments. Candidates also filled out questionnaires, which you can find at the Progressive Democrats website or by clicking on the candidates' names below.

Fred Berman, who moderated the forum, said members would likely be voting on who to endorse over the course of the week. Voting takes place online, and Berman did not know when the Progressive Democrats would announce endorsements.

Candidates participating in the forum included:

  • Steven Roix, the incumbent Ward 1 representative who was appointed to the School Committee and is now running for the first time. His opponent,Kenneth Salvato, filled out the questionnaire but did not attend the forum.
  • Dan Futrell, who's running in Ward 2. His opponent, Michael Nionakis, did not attend the forum.
  • Adam Sweeting, the incumbent Ward 3 representative who's running unopposed.
  • Laura Pitone and Ross Richmond, both running in Ward 5. A third Ward 5 candidate, Caroline Shea Rosas, did not attend the forum.
  • Carrie Normand, who's running unopposed in Ward 7.

Ward 6 incumbent Paul Bockelman planned to attend the forum, but was unable to do so at the last minute, Berman said. Ward 4 incumbent Christine Rafal did not attend the forum but issued a statement of support for the process, according to the Progressive Democtats' website.

New High School

Highlights of the forum included a discussion about building a new high school. The current high school is old and in disrepair, and the city has established a commission to consider repairing the current building or constructing a new one.

Sweeting said, "I think we do need a new high school."

Pitone said, "We're at the point where we're limping along."

"I did not enjoy the smell of mold when I picked up my son last month," said Norman, adding the School Committee needs to make long-term plans for the high school.

Roix said, "We do need a new high school," but he asked where it would be built. "There's not a lot of space."

New Superintendent

Another interesting conversation involved the prospect of hiring a new school superintendent within the next few years, if the need were to arise. Specifically, candidates were asked what qualities they would look for in a superintendent.

Sweeting said, "Hiring a superintendent is the single most important thing that the School Committee does."

Futrell, who served in the Army, said leadership was an important quality, and the city should look for "an aggressive advocate for the school system, and that means asking for more [resources.]"

Richmond said a superintendent that's creative and bilingual would be an asset.

Norman said a new superintendent would need to work well with teachers, saying, "Morale is not at a high point right now."

Charter Schools

On charter schools, most candidates opposed more in Somerville, but they were asked to describe why some parents are attracted to charter schools.

"What charter schools do well is a clear and concise message," said Norman.

There's "a perception, real or imagined, that their child is going to get a better education at a charter school," said Roix.

Futrell said charter schools are thought to be better at innovation. Generally speaking "there's not enough innovation in [standard] schools," he said. However, Futrell said innovation is taking place in Somerville's district schools, and that needs to be supported. He proposed small pilot programs in Somerville's schools to test new approaches, and he said the city can't support charter schools, which can pick students, at the expense of everyone else.

Richmond talked about anxieties some parents have about the public school system, and Sweeting said, "Parents want choice."

Pitone said the recent debate about a proposed charter school in Somerville tore apart the community, and she agreed the city needs more choices.

The Somerville Progressive Democrats are scheduled to hold a similar forum for Board of Aldermen candidates on July 23. 

A preliminary election for races with more than two candidates takes place Sept. 24, and the final election is on Nov. 5.

See who's running in Somerville here.

Ed. note, Wed. July 10: Dan Futrell, who's running in Ward 2, contacted Somerville Patch because he was concerned his quote about charter schools could be misconstrued. He was speaking about innovation in charter schools, and he felt innovation needs to be a priority in district schools, too. The complexity of his thoughts were not fully reflected in the original version of this article, so I have added some language above to reflect those thoughts.

In general, this is a very brief synopsis of Tuesday's forum, which lasted nearly two hours. Candidates' views on many of the matters listed above are fleshed out in their responses to the Progressive Democrats' questionnaire. I encourage you to read those responses. The links are above.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment