- Repair our deteriorating school infrastructure
- Create opportunity out of our budget crisis
- Attract and retain top quality teachers within a sustainable plan
- Strengthen our math/science curriculum
- Build community-wide support for our schools
In this post-NNHS era, we know that we must maintain, renovate and build new spaces with a sound plan, community consensus and a responsible budget. Newton must commit sufficient funding to the maintenance of our existing buildings to preserve their safety, function, and value. Renovation and building replacement should follow a master plan derived from Mayor Warren’s newly commissioned building inventory survey. Information from our 2007 Long Range School Facilities Plan should be folded into this survey and new recommendations should be developed that reflect the present circumstances of need, enrollment projections, and available budget.
Plato noted that necessity is the mother of invention. How can we turn our budget crisis into a force for positive change within our school system? What actions can Newton take this year in response to our budget crisis? What programs, pilots and other initiatives can help us “make lemonade out of lemons”? • Aggressive pursuit of public/private partnerships • Exploration of online learning, especially to preserve breadth of program • Full utilization of classroom spaces to offset costly new construction • Embrace of new technologies, including 1:1 computing, ELMO, smartboards • Engage in an ongoing review and assessment of best practices
We must attract and retain top-quality teachers while changing the financial model that has become unaffordable. Teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement, so we must find the right balance of pay, benefits, and working conditions to recruit and keep the best. Financial sustainability is a key – we can no longer offer compensation growth that exceeds the growth rate of city revenues. The alternative to this – teacher layoffs, higher class-sizes, greater stress and compromised educational outcomes for our students – can be avoided if we stay focused on the need to modify our compensation model to adjust with the times. What is best for our children? How do we support those with whom we entrust the education and care of our children?
The breadth of our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program is well illustrated in our high school course offerings, yet Newton produces a much lower percentage of STEM-career students than MA as a whole, and much lower than federal goals. Newton should focus on increasing interest in and enthusiasm for STEM offerings, beyond simply making quality programs available. This is about supporting our children, as 80% of new job growth in the next decade will be in STEM-related fields. President Obama promotes the strengthening of STEM education as being critical to our global competitiveness and economic strength. In Newton, support of FIRST Robotics, the DIGITS program, The Innovation Lab and the Greengineering Program are each a way to spark STEM enthusiasm and commitment way beyond what is possible in a traditional classroom teaching environment.
Only 20% of our households have children enrolled in Newton Public Schools. How do we successfully argue to the remaining 80% that our schools are a worthwhile investment? Barney Frank said that “government is what we choose to do as a community.” The most important thing that Newton does as a community is to provide education for our children. Our family, friends, and neighbors did, do, or will benefit from the strong public education available to every Newton student. I believe that we have a cross-generational compact to provide the best learning experiences for our children, through strong financial support via our city government. As a side benefit, excellent schools create for Newton property owners very high, stable property values. School buildings should house enriching activities for all of our residents, through community education programs, access to athletic facilities, meeting spaces, and auditoriums. Our buildings must welcome our residents as community resources. Finally, our city leaders must directly reward community support by demonstrating purposeful, responsible use of tax dollars on school expenditures.