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 Flathers. 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.
Kate Flathers: Hi. I’m Kate Flathers. Kathleen on the ballot, and Mrs. Pollock to my kids’ friends. I am a parent to four kids who will be at Natick elementary, middle, and high schools next year, and I have been deeply engaged in school committee and budget discussions over the last two years. I am also a healthcare tech executive with decades of experience building and launching products. In this role, I am rarely the expert, but I live at the intersection of knowledge, discipline, and experience to help people create magic through collaboration. I believe I can bring that experience and a moderate, balanced voice to the Natick School Committee.
NR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your 3-year term on School Committee?
Kate Flathers: COVID recovery is going to be the focus over the next several years, and we will want to see all students returning to pre-pandemic normal in terms of mental health and academic achievement. The vast majority of that work will come from our educators. As a committee member I will be a strong ally in that pursuit by working with the administration in two key ways. I want to ensure that this recovery also focuses on our teachers by listening to their needs and advocating for fair compensation. Secondly, I want to work with the administration to find the right metrics to measure progress for all students. Too often, the reports focus on the students with the highest academic achievement or the ones missing benchmarks. I want to know that we’re providing students with pathways outside of traditional secondary education, and I want us to make meaningful progress on increasing diversity in both students and staff. I want us to know that we have adequately served the 80% that fall in the middle.
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?
Kate Flathers: I would lean heavily on our teachers, school counselors and psychologists to recommend the best way to support students. I would advocate for mechanisms to ensure that the parent and student perspective is heard and considered. As a committee member, my main role will be to interpret what I hear from the experts, help translate that into clear metrics, advocate for funding appropriate support, and assess the effectiveness of any intervention we put in place. How do we know that they are beneficial? Clear metrics will help avoid the trap of being distracted by anecdotes and provide the fortitude to pursue the big picture goals.
NR: What is the best way to manage budget shortfalls in the system and still keep current service levels?
Kate Flathers: There are really only 2 ways to manage a shortfall while keeping service levels: 1) increase revenues or 2) make service delivery more efficient.
Ideally, our town finds ways to increase revenues as we exit COVID, but it is more likely that we will need to consider an operational override in the next few years. As a committee member, I would want the town to view me as a partner in evaluating options for our town holistically. As a partner, I want to make sure that the schools have done their due diligence to streamline service delivery as much as possible without reducing services or impacting student outcomes. To that end, it is crucial that the financial data from the schools clearly outlines how services are funded and how students benefit from those expenditures. I think this justification is true even for our capital investments where we need to assess how building features correlate to improved student outcomes. It is through this metrics based assessment that we also create more visibility into services that are less impactful and gather information for streamlining delivery.
NR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Kate Flathers: My professional career has been marked by interpreting and translating an organization’s foundational goals into measurable outcomes. I have honed the skills of aligning everyone to the big picture, listening to concerns when they are raised without offering false assurances, and seeking common ground for the best outcomes. The next three years are critical for our students, school system, and whole town and will require all of these skills from our leaders. I would be honored to serve at this time.
NR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?