Jennifer Susse Candidate Questionnaire 2017

1. What are the biggest challenges to the success of our ongoing school building and renovation projects, and are these projects effectively addressing our enrollment growth?

The biggest challenge, by far, is the strain of doing so many building projects concurrently. Over the next two years we will be completing the renovation at Stratton, renovating Gibbs as a dedicated 6th grade, and adding classrooms to Thompson and Hardy. After that we will begin renovation/construction of the Arlington High School, which will be an extremely complex project. The challenge is that each of these building projects require a great deal of people’s time—administrative time, educators’ time, and community volunteer time.

I do think that these building and renovation projects will likely be sufficient. Certainly, I can see Hardy getting more overcrowded if the Mugar project goes through, but we can alleviate overcrowding at one school by expanding buffer zones or redistricting. It is possible that we will need a third elementary school addition in the future. I suspect that we will not need more than that. Of course, predictions are hard, especially when they are about the future.

2. For FY18 there were a number of requests from teachers and administrators that were not funded because of budget constraints. Which unfunded request do you consider the most critical, and how should we address the resulting issues and any future issues?

In my opinion the most critical requests are for TA’s and building subs. When I’ve talked to principals they have emphasized how important building subs are to the smooth functioning of their schools. We are blessed by having so many teachers who are interested in working collaboratively and observing each other’s approaches (one of the best ways to do professional development), but that can happen only if there are substitutes who can be in the classrooms while the teachers get that professional development. For TA’s we need more in reserve to handle classrooms that are overcrowded, especially at the earlier grades, and we need to pay them more. We pay TA-s less than 18K a year. Given the economic conditions in the Boston area right now (less than 3% unemployment) paying so little means that we often have unfilled positions and high turnover.

Another great need is for additional teachers and administrators at the High School. The enrollment surge that hit the elementary schools these last few years has started to hit the High School. Over the next few years the High School population is expected to increase by an additional 50%.

Currently the most promising way to address our funding issues is to work on the Fair Share Act (the Millionaire’s Tax), which will be on the ballot in 2018. The tax, which only hits people whose income exceeds one million, would potentially raise 2 billion dollars a year, half of which is slated to go towards education.

3. Which curriculum improvement has had the most meaningful effect on our students during your time as a School Committee member, and if you could introduce one innovation into the curriculum at any level, what would it be?

The rollout of the Common Core has been extremely important for Arlington. The Common Core State Standards was inspired by the Massachusetts State Standards, but they go farther in important respects—they emphasize critical thinking and research skills earlier, and the math program promises to give students a genuine feel for numbers. The continued rollout of the Lucy Calkins writing program has been valuable, and the new science FOSS kits (which are project based) at the elementary level has been valuable. Last, but certainly not least, has been the introduction of a computer science curriculum at the middle and high school level. In the coming years, basic programing skills will be just as important as basic reading and math skills for our students.

During the recent presentation on innovations in education the one I found most promising was the presentation on standards-based grading. The idea, as I understand it, is to provide a set of standards that students are expected to reach by the end of the year. Grades throughout the year represent a student’s progress towards this standard, rather than a fixed unchangeable evaluation. Final grades are based on whether the student achieved the standard, regardless of when that happened.

4. According to the state’s diversity report, released in October, 75% of Arlington’s students are white and 84% of the staff is white. What steps do you plan to take in your next term toward closing this gap?

Arlington is not alone in having a disconnect between the number of students of color and the number of teachers. A recent Boston Globe article noted that though 37% of public school students are of color, only 7.1% of the teaching staff statewide is. Many districts, including ours, are earnestly looking to hire teachers with diverse backgrounds, but there are only so many candidates to go around. Arlington used to participate in a great program called “Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers”, which was designed to increase the pipeline, but that program was disbanded when too many districts (not Arlington!!) pulled out.

One thing that would make a difference is if we were to hire teachers before the budget is passed by Town Meeting. Currently we hire only when we are certain that there is a position, but by then some of the best teachers (including teachers with diverse backgrounds) have already committed to positions in other districts.

5. Is there anything else you would like us to know? Please include a Facebook page or website that you have for your campaign.

I just want to say that it has been an honor to serve on the School Committee these past three years with such terrific colleagues and for such a great town. I’ve been slow to develop a website this time around, but I encourage anyone who is interested in getting on my email list who is not on it already to do so here: I send messages about what is going on with building projects and other issues out once or twice a month.