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 Julie McDonough’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.
Julie McDonough: My name is Julie McDonough and I am running for a third term on the Natick School Committee. I have three children in the Natick Public Schools—9th grade, 8th grade, and 6th grade.
I started this journey 10 years ago, sitting around a kitchen table with a few of my neighbors wondering why the class size for our kindergarteners was so high. We started to do some digging and found enrollment was rising exponentially in Natick. I started going to School Committee meetings and advocating for a solution.
I was appointed in 2015 and elected for the first time in 2016. I have now served six and a half years on the School Committee. I feel so proud of all we have accomplished, perhaps most importantly the district’s very strong and real commitment to small class sizes. For the past three years, I have served as chair and have learned so much about working in partnership with a strong superintendent and as a team with a diverse set of colleagues.
Navigating through a pandemic is something none of us could ever have imagined, but through the dedication of our administration, our teachers, and our town leaders, we supported the students and families of Natick in profound and meaningful ways.
I ask for your vote on March 29th because I bring experience, knowledge, and a positive and collaborative approach to the work of the School Committee. I know this district has a vision for where it wants to go. I want to be part of the solution, working hand-in-hand with our town partners and the community, to make this vision a reality through proper funding, partnerships, and collaboration.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your 3-year term on School Committee?
Julie McDonough: My priorities if re-elected include the following:
- Class size—Those large kindergarten classes I mentioned above are just now reaching high school. I need to make sure we maintain our commitment to small class sizes at all levels.
- The Johnson transition—The School Committee made the difficult decision to close Johnson this past fall. I am committed to seeing that transition through so that the families most impacted feel supported.
- Support structures for staff and teachers, and districtwide administration—In Natick, we run an extraordinarily lean district operational structure. This means that we ask our administrators to take on significant workloads and we ask our teachers to take on roles outside of their job responsibilities in the classroom. We need to consider more support structures to prevent burn out from our administrators and teachers as a result of attempting to, or being asked to, do too many jobs at the same time.
- Implementing findings from our “audits.”—Audits in the Natick Public Schools are reviews of programs that identify issues and propose solutions. Due to budgetary constraints, these identified areas of need or growth go unrealized. Two areas of focus that have emerged from recent audits that must be implemented are staffing our elementary schools with certified librarians and ensuring proper supports for our students with dyslexia
- Providing competitive compensation to our teachers and staff—Natick consistently ranks in the lower half of the state for teacher pay, and the situation is worse for our most experienced teachers. We must fix this. The contract we are negotiating now must address the disparity we see between what we pay our experienced teachers and what other districts pay. We cannot afford to lose them now.
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?
Julie McDonough: It is absolutely true that schools are seeing increased need for mental health and social-emotional supports for students as a result of the pandemic. As students have transitioned back to full-time in-person school from hybrid in the 2020-21 school year, staff and administrators are recognizing and reporting significant challenges as a result of two years of interrupted academic and social experiences. Our students have missed important academic and social-emotional events and experiences. These missed experiences, and interruption in general, manifests in many different ways. As a School Committee, we must listen carefully to our teachers and staff who are interacting with students every day and we must review the data that has been gathered from students. It is incumbent upon us to provide the appropriate resources, in the form of guidance counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals who have the expertise to help our students navigate this unprecedented experience. As a School Committee member, I have supported the work our superintendent has done to utilize federal and state grants to provide these supports to students. I will continue to advocate for resources to support students as they continue to navigate this pandemic.
NR: What is the best way to manage budget shortfalls in the system and still keep current service levels?
Julie McDonough: Based upon my experience, it is not possible to provide level service when presented with year-over-year budget shortfall. Without proper funding, we cannot serve the needs of our students and we cannot improve the services that we provide to students and families. The budget shortfalls we have experienced in the past several years are a result of the structural budget deficit within the town. For several years, town officials have documented this structural budget deficit. Since the operational override in 2008, we have relied upon new growth, savings from prior years, and revenues that have come in higher than expected. And frankly, we have not invested in the things we should like expanding our parks and trails, paving our roads, and providing adequate staffing to care for all of our town resources. On the school side, we have been unable to add resources and services we have identified as real needs in this district, such as certified librarians to our elementary schools, a K-12 orchestra program, and a robust technical theater, all things that our surrounding districts already have. This deficit also prevents us from paying our teachers and staff on par with other districts like our own. While we have made some progress, our teacher pay for our most experienced teachers continues to be below our neighboring districts. We must address the structural deficit so that we can improve the programs and services we offer to our students, our families, and the entire Natick community.
NR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Julie McDonough: Since my election to Town Meeting in 2012 and appointment to the Natick School Committee in 2015, I have worked to improve the educational experience for all students in the Natick Public Schools. I have focused my efforts on smaller class sizes, better educational facilities, and improved academic opportunities and programs. If re-elected, I will continue to work collaboratively with the superintendent to support her vision for our district. I will also bring the voice of the community to the table to ensure their needs and concerns are addressed. Finally, I will work together with my School Committee colleagues in partnership so that our committee models the skills of communication and collaboration that we expect from our Natick graduates.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?
Julie McDonough: Please learn more about my experience with our schools and Natick town government, as well as my priorities for the next three years at www.juliemcdonough.info.