Kristin Pangallo Answers Our Questions
Information Management, Leadership Stability, Budget Priorities
Question 1 – Salem has 10 schools including the Early Education Center. Information can come from many and varied sources. How will you navigate your way through all of these sources in your decision making process?
Finding and assessing information is a critical role for a School Committee (SC) member. Clearly members must be attentive to public comments at SC meetings and responsive to direct calls, emails or messages. However, SC members must also seek out information from sources who are otherwise not heard. That would certainly mean visiting the schools, PTO meetings, events and other more formal occasions. But it also means reaching out through as many channels as possible to learn from different perspectives that might not otherwise be present in that member’s day-to-day life. While it might not be possible to fully investigate all small decisions, certainly the large ones require a more active role in hearing about the different experiences within our community.
Question 2 – Over the last few years our Superintendents and Principals have been in what can best be described as “state of flux?” What can be done to bring long-term stability to those key administrative positions?
This is a question of leadership. In order to maintain our Principals we need to have a strong Superintendent whose experiences, expertise and interests are well matched to our districts challenges and strengths. It is my opinion that the current search committee should contain a current or former successful Superintendent from a district similar to our own in order to provide their unique perspective on the hiring process. As currently described no one will necessarily have this perspective, and I think that it problematic. We need to get the right person, and it starts in the hiring.
We then need to ensure that our administrators will have both support and accountability from the School Committee. Difficult choices will inevitably be necessary as we make changes within our system, and we need leaders who will be able to make those hard decisions and be accountable for them. This means that our School Committee members must strike a balance between supporting our administrators and holding them accountable – not unlike teachers do with students. Administrators should know that if they propose and implement sound process for their decisions, they will be supported. And they should equally be aware that the School Committee members will not tolerate a process that does not meet those requirements.
Finally, part of this is communication – a current problem within our district. We must have the expectation and habit of clear, transparent, and constructive communication between the district leadership, the School Committee, and the public. Inevitably people from these groups will disagree, and hopefully so. As long the discussion remains constructive, disagreements can lead to stronger and better solutions to difficult problems than when everyone agrees immediately.
Our administrators will have an excellent working community if know that they are supported in making difficult decision, that they will be held accountable for both results and process, and feel confident that they can have constructive conversations with all parties.
Question 3 – If you were given the option of designating 10% of the Salem Schools budget in any way that you choose. How would you spend that money?
Universal PreK. Repeatedly while speaking with students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators, I have heard how a growing population of our students struggle in the elementary years because they are not accustomed to the school culture and expectations, and Universal PreK would have a major positive impact on this problem. The National Education Association (NEA) has an excellent webpage devoted to summarizing the benefits, and I urge everyone to explore it (http://www.nea.org/home/18226.htm ). Ensuring that all of our youngest learners have access to high quality PreK programs will allow them to enter Kindergarten academically, socially, and emotionally more ready to learn. Teachers in grades K-12, but especially those in the younger years, will be able to focus on teaching rather than assisting these learners on how to be students
When my older daughter entered Kindergarten 4 years ago I had a conversation with her former preschool teacher. I wanted to let them know how grateful we were that Aurelia was entering elementary school knowing her letters and numbers and some of the academic fundamentals. This knowledgeable and experienced teacher gently corrected me. She pointed out that the most important things she teachers are the expectations and behaviors involved in being in a classroom. She was absolutely right.
If we can provide Universal PreK for all our kids then we will be setting them up for success in their future schooling and in their lives.