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 Henry Haugland’s Q&A. We will run one School Committee candidate interview per day, then switch over to the Select Board interviews.
Natick Report: Please introduce yourself to Natick Report‘s readers.
Henry Haugland: I am running for re-election to the Natick School Committee because I have the passion and a unique experience blend that will allow me to continue to make a difference for our children and families.
I am completing my fourth term on the Natick School Committee, having served from 1998 to 2007 and again beginning in 2019. Since my first term, I have been deeply invested in researching educational issues and have continuously pushed for excellence in our schools.
In addition to my service on the School Committee, I was also on the Advanced Math and Science Charter School Executive Board, including multiple years as Chair. I am President of the Board of Kids Connect, a Natick non-profit that provides tutoring services to children, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Education Collaborative (TEC). I’m also a new member of the Natick Historical Commission and a long-time Town Meeting member.
I have seven children including two graduates of Natick High School. Along with one of my sons, I helped found the Natick High School Robotics team and am proud to have Team 3737 Hank’s Tanks named after me.
I’ve spent decades in senior executive positions and am currently the CEO of a Natick-based business.
I understand the challenges involved in managing a large, complex organization such as the Natick Public Schools, with its 1,000+ employees, 5,200 students, 3,500 families and $80M budget. My experience, skill set, and creativity help my School Committee colleagues and the administration address the difficult issues.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your 3-year term on School Committee?
Henry Haugland: My priorities are to provide the support the superintendent, leadership team, teachers and staff need to:
- Ensure that each child receives effective, personalized education. Our graduates must have the skills to lead the future they choose.
- Minimize pandemic-related learning losses and increased social-emotional challenges
- Manage budget growth to maintain affordability for town residents
- Attract and retain exemplary teachers and staff
- Foster a culture of excellence and inclusivity within our schools
We learned a great deal during the pandemic about creativity, determination, and finding new ways to meet the individual needs of our children. We need to expand these lessons while continuing to evaluate programs for efficiencies and cost reductions.
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?
Henry Haugland: Over the past couple of years, and especially this current year, NPS has made significant investments to promote the social and emotional (SEL) growth of all our students, while also ensuring that we can both identify and support those students with mental health struggles. For example:
- We have a dedicated district-wide team working on amplifying our social and emotional learning programs and practices to make sure all students develop strong SEL skills including emotional management and resiliency from preK to grade 12.
- We use Panorama, an evidence-based SEL assessment to better understand our students’ social and emotional strengths and weaknesses so we can better target weaknesses.
- This year we started using the DESSA, a research-based mental health screening tool to identify students who are struggling.
- We have expanded the Hey NHS/Wilson/Kennedy How Are You? (a depression prevention and identification program).
- Using COVID grants, we have increased the number of mental health counselors to support pandemic-related struggles.
- Our high school and middle school principals have continued to focus on ensuring every student has a trusted adult in their school.
- We re-started extra-curricular activities as soon as was safe to do during the pandemic.
- We have partnered and continue to partner with William James College’s Interface Referral program, which allows any member of the community including students and teachers, to find mental health professionals outside of school.
- NPS continues to be a key player in Natick 180—our substance misuse prevention, treatment, and recovery coalition.
We have an urgent need to continue these efforts to prioritize mental health issues.
NR: What is the best way to manage budget shortfalls in the system and still keep current service levels?
Henry Haugland: Natick has a structural deficit problem. Revenues are not forecasted to keep pace with expense increases across the entire town. Collaboration between the Superintendent, the Town Administrator and Finance Director has enabled a budget proposal that meets most critical student and town needs for FY23. We were able to meet our budget targets through significant efforts in obtaining grants, minimizing hiring and utilizing revenue from revolving accounts, including state circuit breaker funding for special education. NPS has undertaken a substantial reorganization of personnel and is aggressively pursuing opportunities to improve productivity. However, our reality is that over time we do not have sufficient revenue to support the services being delivered to our residents. Additional revenue is needed or service reductions will be inevitable.
NR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Henry Haugland: In the months ahead, the School Committee will be facing important challenges and opportunities that will impact our students’ academic and social-emotional wellbeing as well as our town’s finances. Based on the learnings over the past two years, my objective is to help NPS continue to improve outcomes for students. I want every graduate to have the preparation necessary for them to pursue their visions. To achieve the best outcomes for the town and our students, we need to elect members who are experienced, know how to collaborate with each other and the administration, and who will always consider the best interests of all Natick stakeholders.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?