Editor’s Note: Next week the town will go to vote on a number of issues including two seats on Belmont’s School Committee. Earlier this month, Blogging Belmont sent questionnaires to the five candidates for those two positions with a number of questions that we felt were important for voters to understand candidates’ positions on before they vote. This week, we’ll be publishing the responses we received, highlighting one candidate each day and posting their responses as received.
Our fourth response is from School Committee Candidate Meg Moriarty. Meg is a resident of Belmont, the mother of two and a Town Meeting member. She has served as president of the Butler School PTA and is the Principal of Megmor Research and Evaluation LLC, which provides services to help organizations to assess the impact of Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) programming. Her campaign website is here.
Click on the links below to jump to the question.
- Many parents are unhappy with the Belmont schools this year because of Covid-19. What would you say to them?
- What can be done to improve things in BPS in the remainder of this year? How about next year?
- Some say – rightly or wrongly – that the School Committee doesn’t know how to work with the Belmont Education Association (BEA) to improve schooling during the pandemic. How would you work with the BEA?
- Many children are experiencing setbacks in their education this year and the learning deficits could be long lasting. What should the School Committee do?
- On a per pupil basis, Belmont ranks near the bottom in the state for spending on our schools and for numbers of teachers. Do you consider that a problem that needs to be addressed? If not, why? If so, how do you plan to fix it?
- How much control does the School Committee have over the budget and what would you do to improve school funding?
- As one of six School Committee members, what is your plan for exercising leadership or making a difference on the School Committee?
- What should we do to improve how our schools respond to children with special needs?
- In your opinion, do Belmont schools have a problem when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and equity? What should our schools be doing differently in hiring, curriculum, school climate, and working to improve outcomes for children of color?
- Many parents are upset at the ending of the accelerated math options in 6th and 7th grades at the Chenery. Should our schools have different math offerings for children of varying ability levels? Or does that cause some children to get left behind?
- Do you plan to vote in support of the Proposition 2 1/2 Override? Please explain your decision to vote YES or NO on the override.
As a parent with children in Belmont schools, I, like many in the community, have lost trust in our School Committee’s ability to act for the good of students in our district. Since the COVID crisis began last year, they have been discussing options and obstacles and have delayed making critical decisions on a variety of issues. These delays have hurt our children’s academic and emotional wellbeing and hindered teachers’ abilities to respond to the academic and social emotional needs of our students.
School Committee meetings have lacked open discussion and debate, making it difficult for the community to discern why they vote in favor or against these issues. As a result, it has appeared that the SC has been neglecting different groups of students. Their opaque decision making process appears reactionary. Belmont deserves a SC that is transparent, respectful, proactive, and decisive.
What can be done to improve things in BPS in the remainder of this year? How about next year?
The SC can regain trust by changing how it communicates with our community. This means going beyond hosting open office hours that only a few people can attend. It means working collaboratively to address immediate issues, answering questions forthrightly and promptly, pushing data-gathering and decision-making processes forward, and explaining how and why they make their decisions. It also means ensuring that all families feel safe, listened to, and considered in the decision making process. If the SC can provide detailed information about its decisions to the community, immediately and in the future, it will be a better governing body.
I have a lot of respect for teachers. My grandfather was a principal in Brockton, my mother taught in Leominster for 36 years, and I was a middle and high school teacher for 4 years. Our teachers are the jewels in the crown of Belmont Schools. But the SC’s role is to advocate for our children and their education. If elected, I would take that very seriously. I would collaborate with my fellow SC members to be prepared for all negotiations and work with the BEA during off years to build and maintain a respectful relationship. If negotiations with the BEA are not progressing in the best interests of our students, I would ask for outside help, for example, from new SC counsel or third-party mediators, because bringing in new voices can often help address stalemates and repair lingering issues.
Use federal COVID relief funds to address learning loss for all students. Belmont teachers have already started assessing students; their assessments will help focus summer enrichment programs. The SC should support this assessment work and use the data to provide for all students who need summer enrichment. The SC should also investigate 2021-22 after-school programs to address learning loss. This needs to be done now in order to plan for space, staffing, and who/what can be effectively addressed through such programming. We must start investigating how we can best use this federal funding to support learning loss now.
In addition, many students have had social emotional and health/wellness set-backs. The SC should reach out to existing committees such as the PTA Health and Wellness Committees to plan for addressing these needs too.
I want to reduce the high student:teacher ratio in our schools. As an education program evaluator, I know that teachers cannot provide quality and timely feedback to students when the ratio is too high. Lack of thorough and timely feedback is a barrier to students’ academic progress and can be a barrier to their social emotional well-being as well.
Belmont supports its schools. This year, the community is pushing back because it has lost trust in the School Committee as a fiscally responsible body. The School Committee must show the town that it uses its budget thoughtfully and effectively before asking for more money. It must explain to the Belmont community how it uses town financial resources to fulfill its mission of educating our students.
The SC is not doing this effectively. On a basic level, the budget is not placed in an easily accessible location on the SC website and it does not “tell the story” of how money is spent on a programmatic level. The SC must also establish relationships with other committees in our town and work to be part of the solution to the financial problems. For example, when I watched the last Education Committee of the Warrant Committee meeting, I heard them asking again for more transparency, more detail, and information that they requested for last year and still have not received.
I will engage other SC members and the superintendent in an open, critical analysis of the issues facing our schools during SC meetings. As a consultant, I work with teachers, school districts, non profits, industry leaders, universities and funders so I know the benefits to working collaboratively. As an athlete, I have always thrived on a team with a shared goal. While I have been disappointed with the way that the SC has operated this year, I respect everyone on the SC, which is why I will not back away from asking tough questions or promoting new ideas.
What should we do to improve how our schools respond to children with special needs?
We should hire special education directors for elementary schools to improve the delivery and quality of special education. I have heard from many families who have children with special needs this year that their services have been disrupted and unmet each time that schedules have been changed. I have spoken with some of the special education educators who are also feeling like they have to wait and react to schedule changes. These educators are also overwhelmed with evaluation, paperwork, teaching, and communication responsibilities and want more time to plan and meet the needs of our students. Hiring special education directors at the elementary level would allow our special education teachers to focus on teaching, improving the quality of services and the efficiency of service delivery to these kids.
We need to hire teachers whose backgrounds reflect the backgrounds of Belmont students. I have explored teacher hiring and retention as part of the work I do as an education consultant in Connecticut and as an evaluator for Cambridge. We know that teachers are more likely to stay in school districts when they feel valued and supported. We know students are more motivated and persist longer when they are taught by teachers who share backgrounds, race, ethnicity and even gender. Belmont’s census data shows the percent of residents in Belmont who are foreign-born is about 25%. That is higher than the state (16%) or the US (13%). Of the 6375 residents who were foreign born, 3722 (58%) were from Asia. We also have a small but growing number of students who identify as Black, Brown, Hispanic, or Latino(a). Yet, in the last 21/2 years, Belmont has hired five new principals who do not reflect our diverse community. That is not to say that they are not qualified or a good “fit” for our community in other ways, but our current School Committee has had the goal of increasing diversity among teachers and staff as one of its goals for our district the last few years.
From my perspective, it must be challenging to attract diverse candidates, which means that we need to go out and find them. Many private schools purposefully recruit from Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) as well as from local schools of education. And they do so early by earmarking salaries for this purpose. Belmont should earmark 1-2 FTEs each Spring for recruiting diverse candidates from HBCUs and local SEDs.
Belmont teachers have been doing diversity and equity training and professional development and have established meaningful opportunities to help new, diverse teachers and staff feel valued in our schools and in our community. The SC must recognize the work our teachers have been doing and push the SD to be more proactive in bringing diverse teachers and staff to BPS.
Many parents are upset at the ending of the accelerated math options in 6th and 7th grades at the Chenery.* Should our schools have different math offerings for children of varying ability levels? Or does that cause some children to get left behind?
The vision statement for the Belmont Public Schools says that all students deserve to be engaged in a “rigorous curriculum” so that they may learn by applying “exceptional effort.” The SC must ensure that the curriculum is providing opportunities for all students to achieve excellence; to be their best selves. Every student, regardless of ability, deserves the best opportunity to develop skills and knowledge.
I do not think that the School Committee has fully investigated or adequately explained the reasons for or against changing the way that math is being taught in our schools. They have not been forthright with parents, teachers, and students, explaining the facts behind any decisions made about the math program, for example.
I am excited to think about the future of teaching and learning in Belmont. We have new learning spaces, innovative teachers, excellent students. The SC must ensure that our schools provide all students with challenging courses and appropriate support.
(*) Editor’s note: School Committee Chair Andrea Prestwich informs me that Belmont will be maintaining an accelerated math program based on Somerville’s MX2 Geometry program, which will be implemented in time for the start of the new school year. Superintendent Phelan will be presenting the administration’s plans at a forthcoming School Committee Curriculum Subcommittee meeting.
I will be voting yes on the override. I am running for a seat on the SC to be an advocate for our children and their education. A no vote on the override will have many deleterious impacts on our children’s education.