Reading, MA — The three candidates for the two seats on the School Committee in the upcoming April 6 election introduced themselves to the community on Wednesday evening in a “Meet the Candidates” forum sponsored by the Reading Democratic Town Committee. Committee Chair Cathy Zeek hosted the forum wherein each candidate was given a 5-7 minute opportunity to speak and asked a couple of questions on the issues.
Incumbent Shawn Brant spoke first. He shared what he believes to be the importance of representing young families on the committee. “[I] have a lot of skin in the game.” Brandt stated as he has three young children and “a cumulative 37 years of schooling in Reading ahead.” He expressed gratitude for all he has learned in the past year and believes that he can find a common cause with his colleagues on the committee.
Brandt spoke of his strong support for universal full-day kindergarten in Reading, expressing the concern that because Reading’s current tuition-based system is the second most expensive in the state, it will lead to equity issues. He also shared that the discussion regarding elementary space needs should be seen as a future-focused investment.
Brandt referred to himself as “thoughtful, pragmatic, and fair.” Brandt concluded, “I’ve been an effective member of the School Committee and have helped get us through some difficult conversations over this past year.”
Zeek asked Brandt about which lessons learned from the past year he would like to take forward. Brandt recognized the strides made by staff in collaboration and meeting formats used during the pandemic. He also discussed the use of technology as a learning tool. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to look at how we deliver public education,” Brandt stated. When asked about communications with the community, Brandt emphasized accessibility as being of prime importance. He also referred to the School Committee’s new Facebook page as “a big step forward.”
Former short-term School Committee member Geoffrey Coram spoke next. He shared some of the positive experiences that his two daughters have had in the Reading Public Schools. These have led to his broad experience as a budget parent and PTO member throughout his time in Reading. “I’ve seen financial needs at all three levels,” Coram explained.
Coram believes that his experience and insight would be valuable as the new superintendent transitions to the district. He mentioned his most crucial vote while previously on the committee, like confirming the director of student services’ selection. Coram also shared that getting to know students in the drama club has given him insight into many students’ needs. “Evaluation metrics need to go beyond MCAS,” Coram affirmed.
Zeek then asked Coram about what has been learned from the pandemic that could be carried forward. Coram agreed with Brandt regarding collaboration and mentioned all that has been discovered in terms of what students can do at home and alone and what needs to be done in classrooms. Coram suggested the possibility of using technology to provide exposure to specific experiences and events instead of field trips. When asked about initiatives that he would like to pursue, he echoed the need for universal full-day kindergarten, sharing that it would meet all kids’ needs. When asked about communication to the community, Coram suggested seeking ways for the currently produced newsletters to be shared more broadly. He also suggested an update to the school department website.
Sarah McLaughlin has two middle school-aged daughters and is the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee’s former chair. She shared that her profession “requires me to be data-driven, innovative, and collaborative,” suggesting that she would bring these same qualities to the School Committee. “My focus is on education.” She stated. “With the coming of a new superintendent, a new high school principal, and a [recently hired director of student services] we have an immense opportunity to build on our strengths.” McLaughlin continued.
McLaughlin expressed a commitment to academic excellence that meets all students’ needs sharing the need to develop a “comprehensive, multi-year strategic plan to act as a roadmap for the district.” She believes that this would provide goals, benchmarks, and the ability to evaluate progress over the long term. “Innovation cannot come from the top; it comes from within.” She continued.
When Zeek asked about an initiative she would like to undertake, she referred to her idea regarding a strategic plan. “I am excited to work collaboratively to build a new vision for Reading Public Schools,” she affirmed. When asked about communications, McLaughlin stated that it should be clear, brief, with concise language, and provided in multiple locations for people to access.
The full forum can be viewed on RCTV or through RCTV’s YouTube page. The local election will be held on April 6 at the Hawks Field House at Reading Memorial High School. As of this writing, the state has not yet authorized mail-in voting for the local election.