By Ann Needle
This election year, Nashoba schools face a variety of challenges old and new, from a frugal budget through concerns for safety. The two candidates for the one open Stow seat on the Nashoba School Committee, Nicole Odekirk and Artur Jurczyk, both have young children, giving each a stake in Stow’s schools. Here the candidates answer questions from the Independent regarding their perspectives on how to best tackle the issues facing the district’s schools.
As I sat through three months of school committee meetings, and a five-hour budget review meeting on a Saturday morning in February, as a concerned parent I wanted to do more for the Nashoba School District. When approached by one of the Committee members to see if I would be interested in taking a seat at School Committee, I was thrilled and decide to run for the open seat. I felt that I could help the school district with budgeting, negotiations, and bring additional opinions and perspectives that can aid our community.
Educated as an Electrical Engineer, I currently work as a Principal Software Engineer at EMC and sit on the EMC Innovation Best Practice Committee. I find that education takes center role in all opportunities; the better you are prepared, the more opportunities are available to you.
I would like to see our children have a wonderful experience and be well-prepared as they go through their school years. I feel that by joining the School Committee I can contribute to this experience.
I’m Nicole Odekirk, known in Stow as Nicole Hatlevig, mom to three young Hatlekids currently attending The Center School. I’m running for School Committee because I’d champion enrichment and special education as part of the everyday classroom. I’d be careful to make fiscally responsible decisions that put money directly into instruction. I’d represent not only my fellow parents but also my own parents and their peers, my children’s teachers, my neighbor’s property values, and, most importantly, my children’s interests in getting the best education both academically and socially.
Please see my Facebook page, “Nicole Odekirk for School Committee,” to ask me a question or to talk about what interests you. I would love to hear from you.
Q: If you needed to focus your tenure on one, overriding issue affecting all of the Stow schools (including Nashoba Regional High School), what would it be? For this “overriding issue,” what potential paths would you see to a solution?
Jurczyk: The biggest issue I see is money. Every year things rise in price and we are forced to make tough choices. We need to start thinking differently on how we as a school system operate. There are many initiatives already underway I have been exposed to during my attendance at the School Committee meetings. This underlying issue spills over to our towns to pay the bill for schools. With 68% of the current budget in Stow paying for schools, the way we operate as a district needs to be well-analyzed and inspected. The path that needs to be taken is to analyze all aspect of the school system, from buildings, maintenance, process of how we educate, education effectiveness, salaries, benefits, how we negotiate, to the way we purchase for the schools. This will lead us to the measures that we need to take to be more effective, efficient, and cost sound.
On a personal note, it makes me sad to watch people having to be forced out of their homes and out of town because of the rising taxes.
Odekirk: As a parent, what most concerns me as my sons and daughter grow through the grades is the one-size-fits-all approach that schools must use to get satisfactory results on ever-changing, state-mandated, high-stakes standardized tests. NRSD has begun working toward changing that approach and I’d like to support and build on that momentum. Our teachers already have complex jobs. They are continually being asked to take on extra work to learn about the latest standards and to understand ways to use assessment data to differentiate instruction and best meet the diverse needs of all our children. I’d encourage the administration to do all it can to support teachers (with professional development, built-in planning time, and other resources) as they take on this challenge, so they can focus on opportunities to improve individual student outcomes.
Q: What is your opinion on the new, paid full-day kindergarten program, including the phasing out of half-day (and paid full-day) over the next few years?
Jurczyk: : Considering that I was the concerned parent that spent three months worth of meeting with the school committee, I personally think that it is great that we can join most of the country that supports the full-day kindergarten even if there is payment on my part. But I don’t want the half-day option phased out. I do believe in options and I would like for all parents to assess their and their child’s needs and be able to decide and choose. I want our district to continue to support a half-day kindergarten.
Odekirk: It’s unfortunate that communication about the roll-out wasn’t more timely, and that next year’s half-day families were saddled with a solution that wasn’t what they thought they were signing up for.
But long term, I think the move to full-day kindergarten is the right one for our district. The research is clear that kindergarten is a critical foundational year. Gone are the days when kindergarten was just singing, art, play, and ABCs. Kindergartners now learn important academic skills, including reading and writing, and behaviors like impulse control, collaboration, and sharing ideas productively.
Given how important this year is, NRSD should move toward offering free, full-day K. For families who feel half-day is best for their child, the district is right to offer that option during the transition.
Q: How are the standards-based report cards working for the lower and middle grades? Should these be applied to the high school in any form?
Jurczyk: After few conversations with my neighbors who have their children enrolled at different levels, this system works for the lower grades. When children are in their beginning years of educations this helps children to be more emotionally shielded from feeling bad about their results, fostering a healthy outlook on learning. As the students get older, they will have to face the reality of being judged and to look for a more refined grading system to help them work on their weakness; this system of standards-based report cards will not be to their advantage. When applying to more prestigious colleges and universities, when a student’s measuring system cannot be recognized or widely accepted, it will leave the student being passed up for the more traditional grade standard system students, which can be better measured.
Odekirk: I like that the current report cards in the lower grades make the curriculum more transparent for each of the subjects. It’s easy to understand what our students are supposed to be learning, how they are progressing, where they as individuals need to improve, and where they excel and need greater challenge.
I think this transparency would be a positive for the upper grades as well. For example, in the traditional approach to grading, a student who is amazing at creative writing but struggling with grammar and punctuation might get a ‘C’ in English. The standards-based report card helps the student understand the ‘why’ behind their letter grade, keeps the teachers from having to write individual essays on each student three times a year, and lets parents understand in a concise and definitive way their child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Q: The Nashoba District’s Space Study Task force is still working on findings concerning the high school’s limited space. However, according to Nashoba administration, the school’s Science labs definitely need modernizing. What do you think will be the most cost-effective solutions to assuring NRHS has 21st century Science labs?
Jurczyk: The best thing that we can do is to build a State of the Art Technology and Sciences building. The existing space currently used for Math and Sciences can be renovated and retrofitted for other educational departments. This new building can be built with innovation in mind, green, robots, programming, mechanics modeling after MIT’s Media Lab. We can look for funding beyond the towns: grants, private donations, and corporate sponsorship, aligning ourselves with programs that want home grown engineering (like DARPA and defense contractor Raytheon). Let’s think beyond our town’s resources.
Odekirk: First and foremost, this kind of spending, which puts money directly into better classroom instruction, is exactly the kind of spending I support. In this example, the administration needs to clearly articulate and get agreement on what our curriculum objectives are in the Sciences. Then we can work backward to make decisions on how to update our science labs to match that vision in a very methodical and efficient way. Nothing would be worse than buying a large piece of shiny equipment that is never or rarely used, or that is outdated the year after it is installed.
We have a wealth of biotech and technology companies, universities and hospitals surrounding us – the institutions that will be hiring and/or educating our graduates in the future. They could be involved to ensure that we spend our money on good investments that turn out productive citizens. Also, Hudson’s high school features the Intel Mini Theater. We should explore similar sponsorship opportunities to help offset the costs – maybe the ‘Bose Science Lab’ or the ‘Boston Scientific Room of the Future.’
Q: How would you address concerns over safety and drugs at NRHS?
Jurczyk: Especially as a parent whose child may be in harm’s way, I am big on safety and no drugs. In today’s day and age it appears that anything goes. We can only do so much with educating children to not be abusive and to report abuse. I feel for the families whose children have been victims of bullying, violence, and drugs. With the traditional methods, we can continue to put money into educating, but this has limits to what it can prevent and we should continue educating.
My proposal is to have a resident K-9 dog at the NRHS which is specialized in detecting drugs. The students that want to chance bringing drugs to school or wear clothing that they did drugs in will be sniffed out.
Today on the school property you could find drugs hidden, but to a trained K-9 they are in plain sight (“a sniff away”). This method is highly effective at the airports and border crossings. A police officer on the school property, who regularly gives presentations to classes about safety and what is acceptable behavior and what is not, will go a long way. Colleges have these types of programs, and they gets results by curbing bad behavior before it starts.
Let’s face it; young adults (teens) are full of energy as they explorer life, and it’s in their nature to test the limits. We want to send a strong message to the young adults that some limits are not worth testing, helping them move on to something else like discovering their potentials in positive directions.
Odekirk: Last year the School Committee created the role of Resource Officer whose job it is to focus on these issues – a smart move by our administration, in response to scary national news and a lesser incident or two on our own campus. That person started this school year. As I understand it, the Resource Officer will be reporting to the Superintendent regularly, and I look forward to hearing these reports and generally supporting her recommendations.
Jurczyk: As a professional I take my job quite seriously, developing software at a large company. I would like to share some of my skills with the community by participating on the School Committee as a voting member. Please give me a serious consideration and support me by coming out to vote on May 13th in the Town’s Election.
Odekirk: We put a lot into our schools – roughly 60% of our town budget, plus countless hours of work from parents, staff, students, and members of the community. We need to make sure this time and treasure is prioritized to classroom instruction that teaches to the individual child. Nashoba Regional has a broad base of constituents it has to satisfy, each with a different agenda. Meeting the challenge of satisfying all these different groups, while still making sure our children live up to their unlimited potential, will take hard work and creativity. I am excited about that challenge and I would love to be part of the solution.