The Town of Natick depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Natick voters will on or before March 30, 2021 cast their ballots for candidates running for School Committee, a contested race.
The Natick School Committee is an elected town-wide board. Among other things, it approves Natick’s school budget, appoints the Superintendent, and establishes educational goals and policies for Natick’s schools as a whole.
There are three candidates running for two open 3-year seats on the School Committee—Matt Brand, Shai Fuxman, and Catherine Brunell.
Natick Report invited the candidates to answer a few questions about their qualifications and priorities for the Town of Natick. Below is Matt Brand’s Q & A. Here is a link to Shai Fuxman’s and to Catherine Brunell’s.
Matt Brand, candidate for School Committee
Natick Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Matt Brand: I first got involved with Natick town government through the planning and advocacy process associated with the Natick Dog Park project, now opened and named Eddie’s Park. When I would attend the associated town meetings for the park, I started to notice that there didn’t seem to be many volunteers who had younger families in town and I began to wonder if there was some way for me to get more involved. As a professional software engineer and long time startup entrepreneur, I tried to see if there was a place where my technology background could be helpful. I volunteered to be appointed by the members of the Select Board to the Information Systems Advisory Board. This board works closely with the school system and other town departments to make technology infrastructure recommendations to other boards and committees.
From there, as I started to have a better understanding of how the town worked, I became interested in getting more involved. That is when I got appointed to join the Finance Committee, and as part of that, a member of the Education and Learning Subcommittee. This is where I got my first real taste of the Natick Public Schools budget process and loved learning about how the schools worked. In January of 2018, I was craving more involvement and attended a learning session about various open town government positions and that’s when it hit me: the School Committee would be a great way for me to be involved, use my professional skills, and give back to the community where my wife, 2 daughters, and I lived.
I was elected in March of 2018 for my first term on the committee. In addition to being a long-time technologist, I am also a former overnight summer camp director. I have always loved working with and for children and believe that it has always been a wonderful place to practice empathy and listening. I have applied those skills to my technology leadership roles. The combination of engineering and math skills along with critical thinking, empathy, objective reasoning, and creativity have served me well as a member of the Natick School Committee. I was elected by my peers on the committee to serve as the Vice-Chair and also serve as the Chair of the Policy Review subcommittee.
I apply my thoughtful and objective leadership, that I practice in my professional job, to my role on the Natick School Committee and I hope to continue to serve our community for the next 3 years.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish on the School Committee during the upcoming 3-year term?
Brand: As a committee, it is our responsibility to provide the best possible opportunity for all of our students to achieve at their highest levels. That is always the goal and what I would continue to hope to accomplish in the upcoming 3 years.
We need to ensure that all students get the support they need to not only keep up with grade-level expectations, but to thrive. In Natick, we have literacy specialists and it has proven to be a necessity and highly valuable. Data shows that in district assessments, even during COVID-19, our students’ literacy skills have continued to improve. With math, the same cannot be said. We need to hire math specialists to provide that same type of support and make sure our students have all the help they need to successfully progress in math competencies.
In addition, while we’ve done great work on developing and updating policies in the district over the past 3 years, I look forward to building more. We have recently started work on a new microaggression policy that I look forward to continuing to develop with input and feedback from our community. Making sure that ALL students feel safe and welcome in our community is essential. The policies we put in place will provide our educators and students with a framework for how to handle problems that arise and make people feel heard. It is important for us to acknowledge where we have room to improve, listen to each other, and work together to make our community a better place.
NR: Going forward, what are the top challenges you see facing Natick Public Schools from the pandemic?
Brand: The answer to this is a continuation of the previous question about what I hope to accomplish during the upcoming 3-year term. I think we face a tremendous challenge when it comes to COVID Recovery. Even in a district as relatively successful as Natick has been, a district that is used as a model across Massachusetts for how to run hybrid and remote learning models, our students will certainly have a lot of work to do in order to adapt to coming back to school full-time, both academically as well as socially and emotionally.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of students, ranging in age from 5 through 17, about their experience schooling during the COVID pandemic and also about what they most looked forward to when they could go back to “normal” school. We, as adults, often look at this kind of problem through a more tactical and operational lens. I think this is important and necessary. The students’ lens is quite different, and we should acknowledge their perspective as well. They want to eat lunch in the cafeteria. They want to be able to use the lab spaces in school. They want to see their teachers without having to look through plexiglass. They want to see and be with all their friends. The social and emotional wellbeing of our learners will need to be a focus for us and will manifest, for us as a School Committee, through our budget process. This is where we need to make sure we get funding in place for the right staff and proper student services.
The schools, however, do not operate in a vacuum. We have other services and departments in Natick that also have needs and wants. Everyone has had to make sacrifices during COVID and every department has had to put off innovation and improvement in some form or another. Heading into the end of this school year, and preparing for the next year, we need to be a high functioning and efficient School Committee working collaboratively with the district to ensure a full return to school. We will need to collaborate with all of our town partners to figure out the best path forward for all members of our community and make sure that each and every member of our town can transition back to the excellence we know they deserve.
NR: Other area schools have hired a Directory of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Given that promoting equity and inclusion for all students is a top priority in Natick schools, would Natick benefit from such a hire? Why or why not?
Brand: The simple answer is yes, of course Natick would benefit from hiring a Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. We, as a district, have taken big steps to improve our diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Natick Public Schools but having someone in that role, who is entirely focused on continuing and expanding the efforts in place would be of great value and importance for our community. There are a few different facets of DEI that I think are important and our district has already made nice improvements in this area:
It is important to make sure that students see diversity in their teachers. They need to be able to see people who look like them. In addition, there has been an effort to diversify the curriculum in a variety of ways. It starts with training. Part of the training that each teacher and staff member receives is to design a unit for their respective subject using diverse text. Making sure that our curriculum includes and teaches viewpoints from a variety of experiences covering Black, White, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ+, and many others is critical. Having a Director of DEI would be a wonderful way to ensure that this effort is all-encompassing and consistent across the district.
NR: Is there anything else you would like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Brand: The past year has been a historically challenging time for public schooling. Massachusetts ranks as #1 for Pre-K-12 public schooling in the country. The Natick Public Schools has been a model district for others across Massachusetts for how to run hybrid and remote learning models. I am proud to be part of the School Committee that has supported and helped guide our leaders through this difficult time. As we end this year and plan for next year, we must stay focused and efficient as a School Committee and as a community to ensure that all students can safely get back to full-time school. We will always have big challenges in front of us and I believe my objectivity and thoughtful leadership will continue to be a great asset for our town.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?