Elections 2019 – Meeting with School Committee Candidates

School Connections invited all candidates running for the School Committee in November 2019 to attend one of our regular meetings and share their thoughts about environmental sustainability in Newton Schools.

All 11 candidates – in contested and uncontested races – were invited by email to participate in the 10/10/19 meeting. Bridget Ray-Canada, Galina Rosenblit,  Ruth Goldman, Anping Shen and Matthew Miller sent their regrets but were not able to attend. Other candidates did not respond to the invitation.

We thank Tamika Olszewski, Emily Prenner, Margaret Albright, Kathy Shields for accepting our invitation to get to know our group and to answer our questions in person.

Candidates had 2 minutes each introduce themselves and then each of them answered the same three questions. Here we have a short sample of their answers

1) Newton schools lack a comprehensive approach to teaching environmental topics across grades K-12. The curriculum ought to do more to educate students about the science of climate change and how it is impacting all life and ecosystems on our planet. Students should also learn about green technology innovation, in order to prepare them to work in a clean energy economy. In your view, how might the School Committee prioritize education on environmental topics in our schools?  

Margaret Albright: This would need to be added to the curriculum at the state level. Adult behaviour is a great concern and we need to address that as well.  Educate and encourage the adults as well as the students.

Tamika Olszewski: We need to align policy goals with curriculum. Practices can be woven into the curriculum. For instance, a school garden provides the opportunity to weave in lessons about history, science, math and other teachings. Equal access to programming projects.

Emily Prenner: Students can be empowered as they already feel the need to do something for the environment. In programs like Generation Citizen, funded by Newton School Foundation, many students focused on climate change last year.

Kathy Shields: 6th grade classes are studying the UN Global Goals and 8th grade, Generation Citizen. The challenge is to emphasize sustainability through many classes, holistically, across different subject areas.

2) Is there any date on # of people who drive their kids to school? How can the School Committee prioritize/encourage biking, walking and bus rides?

Margaret Albright: I am a member of Safe Routes to School and  of the Transportation Steering Group.  We are creating walking maps and promoting walking to school. We need to make it more convenient to walk and bike to school and less convenient to drop off by car. Walking brings independence too. We have been trying out new things to see how they work.

Kathy Shields: We need to encourage, show the value of walking in elementary and middle school. 

Emily Prenner: It is important to incentivize bus ridership in high schools. 

Tamika Olszewski: Our family walks to school every day. One approach could be to make the blue zone smaller, in order to reduce hazards and idling.

3) Our group defends that it is necessary to hire a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator for Newton Public Schools, in order to institutionalize sustainable practices in our schools, such as recycling, as those practices are now being carried on by volunteers, and the district cannot rely solely on a few well intended parents or dedicated educators. What is your position on hiring such a professional?

Tamika Olszewski: We need to work across schools and with the city with a collaborative mindset and have aligned sustainability goals. Not sure if it should be one person or cross-promoting practices. Money may not be available, but the will to make it happen is there.

Emily Prenner: Yearly system-wide goals drive budget priorities. For FY20 transportation and sustainability were added to the goals. But it’s important to know who would be responsible for the hiring:  NPS or city. City sustainability office could help provide some coordination among the schools.

Margaret Albright: City and Schools need to work together. We need to think of this more broadly and holistically to accomplish more.  Need to break down the silos and bring groups together. We need to have a coordinated response across city and schools. 

Kathy Shields: Now that sustainability has been elevated in system-wide goals, there may be an opportunity to propose a FTE or part time, but staffing has been focused more on mental and physical health. Need to look at the trade offs during every budget cycle. The SC recently adopted a recycling policy because it was a requirement to possibly get grants.

Candidates were also invited to send answers to the questions in writing. Please see the answers here.