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Character, Competence, Commitment to Excellence and Equity, and Conquering Complacency
In this most challenging of campaign years, where it has been difficult to get to meet candidates and hear what they offer, I feel fortunate in already knowing, even before the election season, enough about each of the three candidates to make one of my votes for school committee an easy one: I am voting for Sarah McLaughlin, and I hope you will, as well.
I have lived in Reading for over 20 years and have followed our school committee very closely for the past 11 years, including multiple years running a social media page dedicated to following the Reading Schools, the Reading School Committee, and all matters relating to our schools. From what I have observed during this time, the most effective Reading school committee members over the years have been the ones who have demonstrated character in what they say and do, competence in how they do it (and in what they expect of the superintendent and other administrators), and commitment to excellence and equity for all students of all abilities. Sarah brings all of those qualities and brings in another couple of important “C’s” – Conquering Complacency.
Sarah has demonstrated outstanding character, competence, and commitment to excellence for all, in her thoughtful videos, in her thorough emails to the school committee on remote learning issues, and, most of all, in her past leadership of Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) (an advisory council to the Reading school committee).
Leading the Reading SEPAC, as Sarah did, is a considerable responsibility because the SEPAC advises the school committee on matters that pertain to the education and safety of students with disabilities, participates in the planning, development, and evaluation of special education programs, and provides important information for and connections with families in the district, including running an annual workshop for families about their rights under state and federal special education laws. Sarah’s intimate knowledge of special education matters, both through SEPAC leadership and by herself having a child with disabilities, is an essential perspective and knowledge base that the Reading School committee needs. The Special Education Cost center represents approximately 33% of the FY22 budget, and Sarah is the only candidate in the race with an extensive, first-hand background in special education issues who can help oversee this major chunk of taxpayer money to ensure it is expended in the most effective way to achieve maximum benefit for our students with disabilities.
But, Sarah’s commitment to excellence and equity is not limited to students with disabilities. It encompasses all students. One of her key campaign priorities is helping the school committee cultivate a culture of teaching and learning excellence so that its budgets provide ALL students what they need to reach their full potential, from the top performers to the vast middle, to all those students who struggle and strive to do their best. One way that Sarah wants to do this is, as she noted in a recent interview in the Reading Daily Times Chronicle, is to support policies and initiatives so that Reading can “be seen as an innovative leader in our state.” Sarah noted accurately, in that interview, that Reading has, “stumbled and lost its way a little bit over the past several years and kind of become complacent with where we are.” Sarah’s priorities as a potential school committee member show that she wants to conquer this complacency by providing access to interesting and academically challenging coursework at all levels.
Indeed, many of us who follow and/or have had students in the schools are puzzled why, even before the pandemic, Reading still seems to be offering fewer and fewer academic pathways and electives, particularly in the middle and high schools, especially as compared with neighboring communities under similar budget constraints. Sarah recognizes that vision and planning are needed to get past this complacency and see a new future for Reading Public Schools. With the arrival of a new superintendent, Sarah noted in her interview that “he has a lot of energy and excitement and passion,” providing an excellent opportunity for our district to move forward and reclaim its place near the top of Massachusetts school systems. Sarah’s own energy and ideas will be a great match for our new superintendent, and her additional priority of developing a comprehensive multi-year strategic plan to reach these goals will help to reassure voters that electing Sarah gives our school committee an added voice who will prioritize progress, academic excellence, equity for all, and strategic planning.
I hope you will join me in making one of your two school committee votes be for Sarah McLaughlin!