The Town of Natick depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Natick voters on Tuesday, March 29 will 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 five candidates running for three open 3-year seats on the School Committee—in ballot order they are Cathi Collins, Henry Haugland, Julie McDonough, Kathleen Flathers, and Elise Gorseth.
Natick Report invited the candidates to answer a few questions about their qualifications and priorities for the Town of Natick. Below is the Q&A for Kate Elise Gorseth. This will conclude the School Committee interviews. Select Board candidate interviews will run starting tomorrow.
Natick Report: Please introduce yourself to Natick Report‘s readers.
Elise Gorseth: I’m a proud resident of Natick, who is Mom to triplet daughters who are in middle school. I grew up in a small town in British Columbia, Canada surrounded by lumber mills and cattle ranches. After graduating from university, a job brought me to the Boston area, and I liked it here so much that I never left. Currently, I lead teams of scientists overseeing patient safety for clinical drug trials, I have a background in biochemistry, epidemiology and public health.
I’m a current Town Meeting Member and until recently was the co-chair of the Natick Special Education Parent Advisory Committee. I began to follow Natick Public school issues when my family moved here in 2014 and enrolled our daughters in the Natick Preschool. I heard concerns from other parents about elementary school crowding, budget constraints, and difficulties with special education services. My very first School Committee meeting public comment was sharing my concerns about projected kindergarten class sizes, and I’ve been a passionate follower of all these issues ever since.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your 3-year term on School Committee?
Elise Gorseth: There are four areas I hope to work on if elected to the School Committee. Our top priority has to be addressing academic and social-emotional losses resulting from two years of disrupted learning due to the pandemic. We must ensure our teachers and administrators have the resources and support they need to do a job that is so much harder than it ever has been.
The School Committee has started working on a proposal to update or rebuild the Memorial Elementary School. I would like to see this work expand to be a conversation about what to do with all four of our aging elementary school buildings and what elementary education as a whole might look like in Natick 5, 10, 20 years from now.
I also think that there is an opportunity for the School Committee to do better with respect to both communication within the committee, and with the public at large. One area that could be addressed is rethinking how the school budget is shared with the public. As a direct reflection of our strategic plan, it should be easy to understand and to connect back to our district goals.
And finally, we need to carefully address the use of grants and other one-time funding sources to ensure that the programs we love can be sustainably funded in the years to come.
NR: As we go into our third calendar year of the pandemic, mental health issues are at the forefront of educators’ minds. How best can the school system support students’ mental health?
Elise Gorseth: This is such an important topic. I think that Natick is being very thoughtful in how they are balancing the need to ensure students are able to meet their academic potential while also being mindful of the ongoing stress and trauma caused by the pandemic. I would look to our teachers and administrators to continue to identify individual needs and to meet our students where they are both academically and with respect to their emotional stamina for learning. Our teachers are our front line workers, and we need to enable them with the support and resources that they need to thrive in our “new normal” school environment.
NR: What is the best way to manage budget shortfalls in the system and still keep current service levels?
Elise Gorseth: This is a topic that has been a source of concern for me since my family arrived in Natick and learned about the structural budget deficit. The school budget is lean, yet larger than the amount of tax appropriation available to the schools, and gaps between the two have often been addressed by the use of one-time funding sources. I think it will be necessary to go to the voters to ask for an operational override in order to fully fund both school and municipal services. Going forward, we must ensure that the need for new programs is clearly outlined in the district’s Strategic Plan so that accurate budget forecasting can be done, and we are less likely to be in a position to have to consider cutting beloved programs like theater and music due to budget shortfalls.
NR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Elise Gorseth: My volunteer experience serving on Lilja School Council and as co-chair of SEPAC provided me a great deal of insight into how parts of our school system operate. During my tenure on School Council I was at the table during the development of the Profile of a Natick Graduate, and also saw first-hand how budget constraints impacted staffing and resource allocation at the elementary school level. As SEPAC co-chair I have had the privilege of making presentations to the School Committee and providing feedback on special education programs to our administration. I’m excited about the opportunity to work in close collaboration with our excellent school administrators to continue making certain that every Natick student receives the best education possible.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?