The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 5, 2010

Panel interviews Carlisle School Committee candidates

Four candidates for the open Carlisle School Committee (CSC) position, Josh Kablotsky, Mary Storrs, Patti Hartigan and Don Rober, discussed their backgrounds and priorities for the school when they were interviewed on January 28 by a panel composed of members of the CSC and Board of Selectmen. The CSC and Selectmen are jointly responsible to appoint a candidate to fill the position made vacant by the resignation of CSC member Wendell Sykes last November.

The person chosen for the position will fill the seat until the Town Election on May 18. All four candidates indicated that they will run for election to a full three-year term in the spring election. Two positions will be available at that time, since CSC member Dale Ryder’s term is expiring and she has announced she will not run for re-election.

CSC members Bill Fink and Ryder were joined on the panel by BOS members Tim Hult, Bill Tice and Doug Stevenson (with Selectmen John Williams observing from the audience). They spoke with each candidate in turn, asking a similar set of questions. All four candidates expressed a willingness to serve as a CSC representative to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee. Hult explained to the candidates and to the small audience that the goal of the public forum was to “talk with you, to get an idea of your relationship with the school.” He said that the members of the panel will “communicate our discussion to the rest of our peers” and he expected a decision would be made by the 8th of February.

Josh Kablotsky (Photo by Dave Ives)

Josh Kablotsky, an electrical engineer, was the first candidate to speak. He and his wife live on Nickles Lane and moved to Carlisle five years ago. They have two daughters, the older of whom is in first grade at the Carlisle School. Mary Storrs and her husband Lee live on Brook Street. They have a 4th grader at the Carlisle School. “Lee serves as Chair of the Carlisle School Building Committee,” she said. She has a background in finance and software and has had experience as a business manager. The third candidate, Patti Hartigan, a resident of Cross Street, is a writer who has three children in the Carlisle School. The final candidate, Don Rober, is a software engineer who lives on Rutland Street. He has been a Carlisle resident since 1992 and has two children attending the Carlisle School.

The candidates’ comments, grouped by topic, are summarized below:

Why are you seeking the position?

Kablotsky said he doesn’t have a “particular agenda” as a reason for seeking the position. “Rather I have a number of personal observations and I feel I could contribute to the process.” He said he would like to build “more oversight of leadership” in the role of the CSC.


Mary Storrs (Photo by Dave Ives)

Mary Storrs said, “I’ve been at more CSC meetings than anyone at the table today.” She noted the commitment is huge and is underappreciated. “It’s clear it is time for me to step up and sit on that side of the table. I’m happy to do it.”

“Most people, before they have kids, don’t pay attention to education,” Hartigan said. “I’m obsessed with education, and I’m very interested in school government.” She said she cares about the school and has been reading about the School Committee to “really understand how school governance works.”

Rober said, “The school is such an important part of why we moved here. I want to see it be as good as it possibly can be.”

If you could change one thing in the education system, what would it be?

Kablotsky would like to see the “bar raised” for every child and more attention given to the needs of gifted students. “The challenges may not be appropriately sufficient for every individual,” he said, noting that the needs of the group may be more of a focus than the needs of the individual child. He would like to see more differentiated instruction for students who are performing above grade level.

“I’m not coming to the School Committee with an agenda, said Storrs. “It’s a fabulous school.” In response to what she might change about the School Committee, she suggested educating parents on what audience members can and cannot do at meetings.

“If I could change one thing that would be differentiated instruction,” Hartigan replied. She would like to see “extension activities for kids above grade level.” She suggests a focus on the whole child, and would like less focus on testing at the younger grades and more focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.


Don Rober (Photo by Dave Ives)

Rober would like to see more personnel stability, which he said is good for students. He would also like more individualized instruction. “We spend a lot of time with SPED because we have to,” he said, however, he feels the focus is on the “middle 80%.” He said, “We don’t put effort into the other 10%.” Rober gave as an example a situation where a student may want to take advanced courses in Spanish, and suggested the school could look into offering a virtual high school. “Those kids are the reason I want to be on the committee.”

Do you understand the role and responsibilities of a School Committee member?

Kablotsky said he has looked into it. He understands the CSC helps to choose the administration and provide direction and oversight. “I know they are not involved in the day-to-day operation of the school.” Hartigan also said she is familiar with the work of the CSC. She mentioned that she started attending meetings last year when “the conflicts came up.” Storrs and Rober were not asked this question.

What attributes do you think are critical for school administrators?

Kablotsky said it is important that the administrators understand “where you are going, the vision, goals and objectives, how to achieve the objectives, and how to bring everybody along, including faculty and parents.”

Storrs answered, “A strong leader who can engage the people they are leading.” She said the leader should not be heavy-handed, but should be able to say no to parents and teachers “but have good reasons.” The school would benefit from a “forward-thinking” leader, looking at “what is coming next further down the road.”

Hartigan said the school “runs pretty well on a day-to-day basis. I think there has been some perceived turmoil in the last few years.” She would like to see a strong cooperation between the superintendent and the School Committee. “The superintendent sets the policy,” she said, but needs to know what the committee wants.” She said a superintendent should have good leadership skills, be knowledgeable, forward-thinking, “and able to listen to people and then make the decision.”

Rober said, “One concern you could have is that the school committee is looking for a superintendent who will produce a world class school.” He suggested the CSC should develop a vision of what a world class school is. “It requires the school committee to not just figure out whether a superintendent can run a school, but where the superintendent can take things.” The committee should review its “academic vision,” he said. “It’s something we constantly have to look at. Every five or ten years we should look back at what we were doing and what we want to do.”

What would you bring to the school committee?

Kablotsky said his professional experience as an electrical engineer and in working on oversight committees would be helpful to the committee.

“I’m even-keeled,” Storrs said, adding that she likes to think strategically, and can say no when appropriate. “I like to approach issues with an open mind, listen to people, and try to explain what the purview is of the school committee. People probably don’t know what the school committee does.”


Patty Hartigan (Photo by Dave Ives)

Hartigan said one of her strengths is her ability to do research. “I read everything. Google is my best friend.” She continued, “I know how to communicate with people and get the word out.” She said many perceived problems are based on bad communication. “Making a phone call, using the media” are strategies that get the word out so that people are not taken by surprise, she said. She noted that she asks “a lot of questions,” and thinks things through. “I don’t like making decisions unless I know about things.”

“I am a strong supporter of the school,” Rober said. He has a business background with management experience. He suggested he could help improve communication with the community. He suggested holding the school committee meetings in the Town Hall so the meetings could be recorded. Lastly, he suggested he would bring listening skills to the committee. “Take the best of ideas and assume if there is a suggestion, there are a dozen more behind with the same idea.”

Do you have experience with hiring personnel or contract negotiations?

Neither Kablotsky nor Storrs said they had experience in those areas. Hartigan said, “I have sat at the other end” in negotiations as part of the Writers’ Guild, but she has not had experience negotiating in a managerial role. Rober said that he has had experience in labor negotiations.

Tell us about your connections with the community

Kablotsky said that his wife is very involved in many things such as the Carlisle Education Foundation and he helps her in her volunteer work. [Ed note: Kablotsky also volunteers as a technical expert for the Mosquito web site.]

“For the last several years,” Storrs said, her experiences have been focused on the school, volunteering in the classroom and for events. In the past she served on the Carlisle Mosquito board and volunteered with the Minuteman Arc for Human Services.

Hartigan said that she has served on the Carlisle Cultural Council and other arts organizations.

Rober’s volunteer work includes serving on the Carlisle School Building Committee (SBC), chairing the town’s Long-Term Capital Requirements (LTCR) Committee and a member of the SBC Technology Committee. He said he would drop the LTCR position if he were named to the School Committee.

What are the key things to consider during this period of fiscal constraint?

“Solving the problem collectively,” Kablotsky answered. “If the end point is viewed as suboptimal, but achieved through compromise” then it is valid when all involved are included in the decision.

Storrs said that there will be a “fair amount of turmoil” no matter how things turn out, because the budget will be tight. The school building project is a “huge project for the town,” she said, and the focus should be on how the construction will impact the day-to-day lives of the kids at the school. She sees a need for broader communication with the town, noting that, as school enrollment decreases, “there could be cuts.” She suggested “creative solutions to attacking the budget.”

Rober answered that fiscal stability is a goal, “and that to me means in the large scale we should target what it should cost to teach a student,” he added. He suggested looking at revenue generators, such as renting classrooms during the summer. He noted the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs bring money into the school.

[Hartigan was not asked this or the following question.]

How would you characterize your ability to deal with controversy?

“I’m not prone to displays of emotion,” said Kablotsky. He likes to give people an opportunity to discuss issues, believing that if their voices are heard they will be less upset when decisions are made. “I don’t expect everyone will agree with every decision, but I want to be someone who listens and understands.”

“I have an even-keeled attitude,” Storrs reiterated. “I don’t jump to conclusions.”

Rober said that in dealing with difficult issues he would make sure the school committee and the superintendent are “heading down the same path.” He said he works well as a collaborator.

What do you believe makes the school unique and special?

“It’s the community, the parents, and the involvement of the parents in the school that makes it special,” said Kablotsky. “It’s the value that residents place on education.”

Storrs answered, “It’s the staff. They make the school a community. They invite the parents in and they are willing to make changes to make the school a better place. They care about every kid.” She expressed concern that, as enrollment drops, some faculty may be let go.

“Its small size,” said Hartigan. “They do a great job with special education,” she added, and noted that Director of Special Services Karen Slack attends every IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. “I’m thrilled that, given budget constraints, we retained music, arts, and the library. Those things that are core have not been cut.”

[Rober was not asked this question.]

Any questions for us?

Kablotsky asked, “How ugly do people get” when the CSC is dealing with controversy? “It depends,” replied Ryder. “This year has been particularly strident because the CSC was forced to look at ways to economize.” Fink said that, in general, it is not a controversial position. “You can walk through town . . . and not worry about what happened at the last meeting.”

Storrs asked for the decision criteria for the position. Fink said they are looking for a candidate who is knowledgeable about the school and understands the role and limitations of the school committee. Ryder said she would like the new member to “think creatively” and “embrace what is really good about the school and work collaboratively with the administration.” Hult said that working on the school committee takes balance. “Some people take the tack that whatever the administration wants they would support,” he added, but due to the budget constraints the wider community has to be considered. He would like to see someone who can communicate with the community. Stevenson noted, “It is a political position, where you have to make decisions.”

Hartigan asked for a description of how the work flows from the superintendent to the school and back. Fink, noting there is an open meeting law, he said there is an “open door policy” with the superintendent and that CSC members can visit her office. Ryder said she sometimes would stop in the office to discuss topics. Hartigan asked if there was professional development for CSC members. Ryder explained there is a required training course that all members must attend. In addition the CSC holds a meeting in the summer which often focuses on topics other than school governance.

Rober asked what the goals were for the CSC. Ryder said the major objectives would be to work hard in collaboration with the new superintendent, deal with the ongoing issues surrounding the budget, focus on core values and the new building project. ∆

Storrs answered, “It’s the staff. They make the school a community. They invite the parents in and they are willing to make changes to make the school a better place. They care about every kid.” She expressed concern that, as enrollment drops, some faculty may be let go.

“Its small size,” said Hartigan. “They do a great job with special education,” she added, and noted that Director of Special Services Karen Slack attends every IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. “I’m thrilled that, given budget constraints, we retained music, arts and the library. Those things that are core have not been cut.”

[Rober was not asked this question.] ∆

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