Editor's Note: There are five candidates running for three seats on the EG School Committee. Four candidates responsed to these questions via email. Links to the responses of the other candidates can be found at the bottom.
Why are you running?
I received a first-rate public education paid for and administered by people who lived in the community where I grew up, and now it's my turn to step up and help ensure that the current generation of students has the same opportunities I had, or better. I believe strongly in public education and recognize that it faces many challenges in the current economic, political, and regulatory environment. To maintain the current level of excellence in the East Greenwich schools going forward, we will need to make good decisions and find creative solutions.
What are the three most important issues facing the East Greenwich School District?
Ultimately the most important issues are the long-term issues. I think governance of the local schools by an elected school committee of local residents is the best way to ensure that the quality of our system can remain consistent against the backdrop of shifting political and economic conditions. The trend of replacing elected school boards with appointees concerns me.
Second, while I applaud many aspects of the “Race to the Tjop” program, as a statistician I am concerned that the evaluation system it mandates (particularly the highly technical method used translate test scores into rankings) has not been completely vetted. If elected I will advocate retaining as much local control as we can over this process through a District Developed Evaluation System, even if this will give us only slightly more say. Tenuring and promotion decisions for teachers and administrators have serious long-term consequences and need to be based on proven and stable measures.
Finally, I think that we need to ensure that there is sound evidence that any proposed changes will actually benefit the system.
Do you favor iPads (or the like) for every EGHS student? If so, how quickly would you like to see that take place?
I strongly believe in evidence-based decision making. Before we spend money on anything to improve education or reduce costs, there needs to be solid evidence that it will work, and new technology often fails to live up to expectations. With the tablets, as with any major investment, there needs to be data showing that that investment will show a good return. Computers can easily become a distraction in class. When I teach in a computer lab, I have to plan carefully to keep students on task. I have been a leader in utilizing our learning management system at the college where I work, and I'm currently running a study with my freshman calculus students to measure its effectiveness. Many of my colleagues are not convinced of its value, so we are going to let the data tell us.
Are you in favor of high school students starting later?
My wife is a psychologist and she tells me there is solid research evidence that teenagers perform better if they can start a bit later. If the logistics can be worked out I would support it.
Should the EGSD expand language offerings (i.e. to include Chinese and/or Arabic), even if that means current language offerings would have to be reduced?
There will never be enough resources to offer all of the worthwhile courses that exist, and some of the most difficult decisions administrators have to make involve these kinds of choices. One of the ways the college I work for handles this is by partnering with other colleges in the area to allow students to take courses that we can't offer at a nearby college. One of the language professors I work with uses the virtual reality software Second Life to create a virtual meeting room where students (or their avatars) can meet and converse even though they are not physically in the same room. It may be possible to find a creative solution that could use technology to allow schools to pool resources. I would not be in favor of cutting existing language programs back to do this unless they lack sufficient enrollment.
Every year, school budgets get tighter, even as the actual budget grows because of personnel costs. List two places where savings might be found.
I'm not privy to specific internal information on our school system, but when I worked in IT we saved a lot of money by negotiating hard and getting proposals from several vendors for all big-ticket items. Software licenses can be a big expense, and there are some excellent free software packages like R for statistics and the Moodle and Sakai learning-management systems.
What, if any, programs should be established or expanded?
The emerging common core standards for mathematics contain objectives for probability, statistics, and quantitative data analysis that recognize the importance of these skills in our present world of huge data sets and predictive modeling. Academic positions in statistics are hard to fill because qualified people can earn twice as much in industry. The college where I work has a general education requirement in statistical reasoning. I think this is an area that you could justify expanding.
What, if any, changes would you like to see in the next teachers contract?
About half my students who are math majors are working towards towards teacher certification. They have no illusions that they are going to become wealthy as teachers, but they are very committed to a career in education, even those who will graduate in debt. Because they take nearly the same courses as the regular math majors (Massachusetts requires a major in mathematics and either a minor or a second major in education, plus a proficiency exam), they have just as many career options. If they vote with their feet, the current wave of education reform initiatives predicated upon teacher excellence is bound to fail. I hope that all of the parties involved in the negotiations will see this side of the issue, as well as the financial side.
In 100 words or less, why should people vote for you?
I have worked in many different areas, including the federal government, state government, for-profit and non-profit corporations, and higher education. I have expertise in some of the areas that will inform important decisions as we implement mandated changes with the potential to be beneficial as well as disruptive, and access to colleagues who are recognized experts in these areas. I believe strongly in public education and would consider it a privilege to serve on the East Greenwich School Committee.
Eugene Quinn is making his first run for elected office.
The other School Committee candidates who responded to the questionnaire are Deidre Gifford, Carolyn Mark, and Domenic Marcone.