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 Shai Fuxman’s Q & A. Here is a link to Matt Brand’s and to Catherine Brunell’s.
Shai Fuxman, candidate for School Committee
Natick Report: What is your background and what qualifies you for this position?
Shai Fuxman: My professional background in education, my passion for service, and my personal experiences as a parent qualify me for School Committee re-election. Professionally, I have a Doctorate in Education and over 20 years of experience applying research to improve educational practice and policy. I provide training and consultation to states’ departments of education—including the MA Department of Education (DESE)—and school districts across the country. I also bring years of commitment to serving my community. Since I first arrived in Natick over 11 years ago, I got involved in various volunteer roles including the Natick Education Foundation, Natick Soccer, as a board member of my faith community, and as chair of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC). Finally, I bring a unique set of personal experiences as a relatively new and proud American, and as a parent of a child with special needs. Through these various experiences—both personal and professional—I bring a set of perspectives and expertise that uniquely qualify me to continue my role on the committee overseeing our children’s education.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish on the School Committee during the upcoming 3-year term?
Fuxman: I have three main goals for the School Committee over the next three years: supporting students academic and social-emotional growth in the aftermath of the pandemic (see next question), promoting inclusion and equity in our schools, and collaborating with town partners to find solutions to our difficult budget challenges.
As a parent of a child with special needs, promoting equity and inclusion is a very personal cause for me. My heart was broken too many times when she, and I, were made to feel excluded because she was different. As a current School Committee member, I have advocated—and will continue to advocate—so no student in our schools feels excluded or forced to hide who they are due to race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or political ideology. To do so, we need a K-12 approach to teaching the value of inclusion through academic instruction—we can promote these values through literacy, social studies, civic education, health, and world language classes. We also need to teach students to be active bystanders in the face of microaggressions, bullying and other forms of exclusionary behaviors. Lastly, we need to make sure that we have the staff and resources to support students’ various needs, including students with special needs, English language learners, and those requiring mental health supports.
Lastly, during my time on School Committee I have learned that those of us in local government often find ourselves, particularly during budget season, working against each other to defend our piece of the pie rather than working together to solve common challenges. Ever since I joined the School Committee, I have been reaching out to colleagues in town government including members of the Select Board, Finance Committee, and Town Meeting. This has allowed me to both better understand other people’s perspectives, as well as to explain mine to them. If re-elected, I will continue to build bridges between my Committee and the other entities of town government so we can work on finding common solutions to our common challenges.
NR: Going forward, what are the top challenges you see facing Natick Public Schools from the pandemic?
Fuxman: The top challenge facing our schools is finding the balance between three critical areas of need for students’ wellbeing: COVID-19 health concerns, academic recovery, and social-emotional well-being/mental health. Realistically speaking, it is likely that next fall we will need to continue to put in place health-related precautions such as mask wearing and physical distancing in buildings. The process for easing these precautions over time will be determined by the school district, based on federal and state guidelines, and in close collaboration with our local department of health.
At the same time students are going to need, to varying degrees, supports for academic recovery associated with the learning time lost in the past 1.5 years of restricted education (for example, according to some national studies students are showing regression particularly in math). On top of the health and academic challenges, there are mental health concerns associated with students struggling with the sense of isolation, lack of proper structure and routine, and a general sense of fear and disorientation related to the pandemic (various studies are showing an increase in mental health struggles for children and youth). Over-emphasizing the need for academic recovery can also exacerbate students’ social-emotional wellbeing. In short, the challenge over the coming year is to find the right balance between keeping our children healthy—physically and mental health-wise—while helping them get back on track academically. Addressing this issue begins with the recognition that different students will need different types of supports. We will need to tackle this trifecta of challenges through a personalized learning approach. This includes assessing students both for academic and social-emotional needs, and providing necessary supports through a well-implemented tiered approach (i.e., Response to Intervention or RTI).
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?
Fuxman: I have personally worked with Directors of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in other districts and value the contribution that such a role can bring to helping us achieve our stated commitment to equity and inclusion here in Natick. Therefore, my answer to the question is yes, we should consider creating a role of Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Creating this role will need some consideration given the town’s current budget crunch. In my view, the solution is to re-define current district-level roles, for example director of human resources and/or director of communications to create this new role, rather than adding a new position in central office beyond those that already exist. It is important to note that while this is a recommendation the School Committee can and should put forth, the decision for hiring and managing central office roles lies with the Superintendent. Lastly, it is also important to note that one person alone cannot address the critical issues of equity and inclusion facing our schools and our community. Even with a Director of Equity & Inclusion, everyone will need to do their part to ensure we are meeting our equity and inclusion goals.
NR: Is there anything else you would like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Fuxman: My commitment to improving education began over 22 years ago when I chose to pursue a career in this field. Throughout this two-decade journey I have expanded my horizons and deepened my expertise by obtaining both my Masters and Doctorate in Education; working with state agencies, school districts, and community-based organizations throughout the country (and internationally too); and volunteering in various capacities, both within and outside of Natick. This is my calling! Serving my community through my passion and expertise has been an honor and a privilege. I look forward to continuing to serve my community over the next three years and beyond.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?
Fuxman: I welcome voters to reach out to me via email: email@example.com or by following me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shaiforschoolcommittee. They can also read more about my background on my website: www.shaiforschoolcommittee.org.