Sunday, October 23, 2011

What If They Had An Election...

Last Tuesday, October 18th, the one and only Candidates Night for School Committee hopefuls was held at the Newburyport Public Library. 12 people attended, 17 if you counted the moderator, Rob Kaplan, and the four School Committee candidates. Rob did a terrific job ensuring that every question that was intended was asked, and managed to prevent each of us from sucking the oxygen out of the room with windy answers.

You could blame the small turnout on a lot of things. Poor advertising, though every school family was informed, and the Current and the Daily News ran the notices several times. Uninspiring candidates. A lack of burning issues. Voter apathy. Voter happiness with the status quo.

Still, there a few aspects of this Candidates Night that made it unusual. The first was that after talking with a number of groups that usually sponsor these kinds of events, it was clear that while there was some interest in sponsoring a Candidates Night for the City Council at Large race, no one was interested in doing the same for the School Committee. So, I organized it myself. It was a little unusual- a candidate pulling together all of the others running for the seats, giving the opportunity for my fellow candidates to meet the community and respond to questions. No one felt a compelling vested interest in gathering us together and asking us questions. In a democracy, that is troubling.

It leaves me a little puzzled. In the next four years, the School Committee will be bringing two debt questions before the community for renovating the Nock/Molin and building a new Bresnahan. the total of those projects, before reimbursement from the state could exceed fifty million dollars. I would have thought there might be some questions about that. The High School has undergone a schedule change this year, and there are four or maybe five new department heads. A lot of energy is being focused on the Science Department. But there were no questions on that. Our MCAS scores were a mixed bag- real progress in ELA at the Elementary School level, as predicted by Dr. Kerble following our early literacy initiative, and some uneven news about elementary math, and math below the High School. No questions.

I still get comments from people meeting me in the community about my thoughts on PE at the High School, but I had no questions on that issue.

Maybe people haven't started paying attention yet. Maybe people are pre-occupied with the economy. Maybe this election is the calm before the storm.

Regardless, on Tuesday, November 8th, the City of Newburyport will have an election, filling an open School Committee seat, and an open City Council At-Large seat. I'd encourage people to formulate questions, and get them answered. By all of us.

The next four years promise dramatic changes in our schools- curriculum, instructional practices, evaluation, assessment- buildings and grounds. Think about it, and talk with us.


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