The Town of Wellesley depends on the active participation of its citizens in governance of the Town. Wellesley has 11 Boards and Committees on the ballot at the Annual Town election each year in March. The 2022 election will be held on Tuesday, March 1.
There are two candidates running for one open 3-year term on the School Committee. The five-member Committee is made up of local residents. The Committee’s responsibilities are to develop and manage school policies; support the allocation of resources by overseeing budget and facilities; hire and review the superintendent of schools; and advocate for the school district.
The Swellesley Report invited the candidates to answer a few questions about their priorities for the Town of Wellesley.
Both candidate interviews appear in this post in the order in which their names appear on the ballot.
Neal Glick, candidate for School Committee
The Swellesley Report: Please introduce yourself to readers.
Neal Glick: My family moved to Wellesley over 16 years ago, in part for the terrific public schools. I am a father of four, with three kids who have attended Wellesley Public Schools (WPS). As the product of an excellent public school education which led me to a degree from Princeton, and a former teacher, I am a strong proponent of public education. My oldest son went through the entire system and graduated from the High School. My youngest is in elementary school at Sprague. I served as a member of the Planning Board and the Wetlands Committee. I am pro bono counsel to the Wellesley Land Conservation Trust. I coached Little League, love being a “Hockey Dad” and I participate in the PTO. My service as a Trustee of the Boston Architectural College taught me a great deal about what is in store for our kids after high school. I practice law in Town.
TSR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish on the School Committee?
Neal Glick: Simply put, positive change. WPS needs a course correction. The metrics are clear. Enrollment has declined more than 18%. Parents are voting with their feet. Rankings are falling drastically, from a High School ranked #4 in the State in 2014 to 26 today, with the Middle School ranked even lower, indicating further decline ahead. MCAS scores are down, especially in the “Exceeds Expectations” category. The number of AP course offerings at the HS is constantly decreasing. Our peer communities are cleaning our clock. Our extraordinarily excellent teaching corps is being depleted and replaced with substitutes. Tutoring businesses are growing on Washington Street. This is not a hidden agenda. When asked recently about academic decline, the Principal of the Middle School stated that it was “unfair” to judge school quality on “academic performance.” We need to change that attitude to make academic performance Job 1.
Meanwhile, per the Advisory Committee, per pupil spending has gone up since 2016 over $5,000 to a proposed $21,250. But is this money going to our kids? No. While enrollment has declined by 18.3%, the number of WPS employees has increased by 51. And parents are being ignored. There is no transparency. When questions about curriculum are asked, the School Committee and Administration ignore the requests. Questions about politics in the schools or other legitimate topics are not responded to. As a Select Board Member recently told me, “talking to the School Committee is like talking to a brick wall.” Finally, the School Committee has recently garnered a great deal of negative publicity. The Committee and WPS officials recently had to admit violations of student civil rights and settle a lawsuit in federal court. The mishandling of a horrible assault on a student received regional press—all bad.
We can stick our heads in the sand and pretend that the status quo is great and these issues don’t exist. We can pretend that the priorities of ideology and academic theory are more important than academic rigor and critical thinking. Or, we can start to bring change. If elected, I will push for: a change in emphasis to achievement of academic excellence for all students, giving every kid in the system equal opportunity to reach their full potential; replacement of “Russian Math” with “Wellesley Math” in the public schools; academic freedom for all students and teachers, full diversity of thought and keeping our public schools free from political bias; ensuring that students are not divided into groups, but are unified in their mission to learn; transparency, respect and responsiveness for parents, opening up Committee meetings to the public, in person; eliminating the administrative bloat in WPS through vigorous oversight and work with Advisory; reigning in budget excesses so that funding is available for excellence in teaching and academic performance; creating a safe environment, physically and emotionally, for all students; and insisting on a full and frank assessment of the reasons for enrollment decline and outreach to parents to keep their families in the system.
TSR: 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 system support students’ mental health?
Neal Glick: Like it or not, the reality is that we are entering onto the off-ramp of COVID restrictions in schools. One can argue about how the last two years have been handled, but what’s done is done. Looking to the future, we need to recognize that our kids have been through a lot. They have been exposed to fear. They have missed time in school. Learning has been interrupted. They have missed athletic competitions, rights of passage and many of the rituals or events that give memories for a lifetime in normal times. They have not been allowed to be just kids. Again, we need to change. We cannot just assume that kids will go back to normal and return to February, 2020. They will need support.
That support starts with parents. The School Committee has to reach out to parents to ensure that there is proper, scientific information available as well as encouragement for handling the effects of COVID restrictions at home. It also entails listening to the kids. Discussions need to occur, in schools and in the home. The input of our children is key.
We need to marshal our existing resources. We have extraordinary teachers. We have school psychologists and, as noted, we have engaged parents. We have a strong Board of Health. With proper planning, we can work together to help our kids through the transition back to the “old normal.” We can learn from other systems in other states and parts of the world who may have already taken the COVID off-ramp, and the published studies on those efforts. Much of this can be done in-house. If outside advice is necessary (and it may well be) then it needs to be viewed as a supplement and not a “go-to” response.
Finally, we need to make the COVID off-ramp a learning experience. We teach science in our schools. All of us, kids included, have lived over the past few years in one of the most significant scientific endeavors in our lifetime. Our kids can study this. They can think about options for handling the effects of the pandemic on them and others. This can be a healing effort as well as a terrific “teachable moment.” We might end up with some future virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts.
TSR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Neal Glick: In a word, community. Public schools are the backbone of our community. They are a source of community pride. The kids in the schools are best friends, teammates, bandmates and lifelong acquaintances. Out teams and athletic competitions bring us together. By virtue of the steep and continuing enrollment decline we are losing that sense of community, as neighbor kids drift off to private schools. Wellesley will lose a great deal if we allow this to continue. We need change and we need it quickly.
Similarly, if we allow the schools to decline academically, we will cease to be a magnet for young families looking for a wonderful town with excellent public schools. Academic excellence, ratings and metrics matter. If we do not change course, eventually our community will suffer. Our property values will suffer as well. Thus, everyone in Town has “skin in this game,” whether you have kids in the system or not. The change that we need will impact us all.
TSR: How should they reach you if they want more information?
Craig Mack, candidate for School Committee
TSR: Please introduce yourself to The Swellesley Report‘s readers.
Craig Mack: My name is Craig Mack and I am honored to be a candidate for Wellesley’s School Committee. I am running because I have a desire to contribute to the town’s education system in a constructive and positive manner. For me, this work is both deeply important and deeply personal. I am the proud father of four strong, independent women. My oldest daughter graduated from Wellesley High School in 2020. My other daughters are in grades 12, 9, and 8 in the Wellesley Public Schools. This is the basis for my pride in the school system and my desire to be involved. Between my children’s education and my 28-year career in higher education, I have a unique perspective to contribute to the School Committee.
My family and I have lived in Wellesley for ten years and my wife is a lifelong Wellesley resident. I am originally from the great state of Ohio but I relocated to New England 28 years ago to work at Boston University. Since that time, I have worked at two other higher education institutions while advancing my professional career. I have worked in both student services and academic affairs where my focus is always about academic success and student well-being. My professional roles have always centered on the well-being and success of students. I currently serve as the Associate Provost for Student Achievement & Success at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences.
I have committed my life and my life’s work to education and student success. We can all agree we want the best for our schools and our children. My career has been focused on bringing people together. For the many issues that face the School Committee in the years to come, I am committed to carefully considering all perspectives of our community members to inform my recommendations and decisions. I would be proud to represent the interests of all members of our community. I am energized by this exciting opportunity and I would be honored to bring my passions, experiences, and commitments to this role.
TSR: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your tenure on the School Committee?
Craig Mack: I would like to recognize that this is a collaborative role, one that requires discussion, active listening, and partnership. While a candidate cannot make promises regarding policy outcomes, I can share my values and beliefs that will guide me in the role. First and foremost, I intend to keep the focus on academic excellence while developing the whole student. As we continue on the path to recovery from the pandemic, it is critically important to support students’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being. These are not mutually exclusive.
Other issues that will be a part of my work include:
- Creating a more effective line of communication between School Committee members, school administrators, parents, and students. The schools remain a top reason why people choose to live in Wellesley. Your voices and contributions are important to the growth and success of the schools.
- Creating more room for student input so that we can better understand their day-to-day experiences.
- Ensuring our students and graduates develop empathy and understanding for others by strengthening our passion for celebrating different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures.
TSR: 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?
Craig Mack: Academic success and socio-emotional well-being go hand in hand. Our students cannot succeed academically if their social, emotional, and developmental needs are not being met. As we discuss every issue and consider all perspectives (community members, teachers and staff, parents, taxpayers, etc.), these discussions must always prioritize the needs of the students, whose education and well-being are entrusted to us.
We have yet to understand the full effect of the pandemic on our students and schools. Our school system needs to remain nimble and well equipped with the resources necessary to support the areas that most benefit students’ developmental needs and academic success. This is why student input is so crucial. We can only best support our students if we are actively engaged in listening to their experiences and needs. Let us tap into current resources such as school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other experts who do this work with our students every day. Let us deploy Adjustment Counselors in all of the school buildings as part of our Pandemic Recovery Plan, and let us commit to keeping these roles as long as their support is needed by our students. While making use of the full potential of current resources and programs, we should expand upon these initiatives and make them core to our pandemic recovery. Let us collaborate with and listen to the students to find out what more we can be doing to best support them.
TSR: Is there anything else you’d like to say that the above questions did not cover?
Craig Mack: The Wellesley Public Schools are a major contributor to our robust community where we have all chosen to live and raise our families. As we look to the future, the School Committee and School Administration will need to foster flexibility and creativity in the schools’ use of constrained resources among competing priorities including:
- Financial resources;
- Personnel, especially teachers and administrative staff;
- Physical resources, including buildings, capital equipment, electronic communications equipment, etc.; and,
- The inevitable variation in the size, composition, and needs of the student population.
The Wellesley Public Schools need someone to galvanize the resources to preserve and improve our schools. I am that candidate. I look forward to the opportunity to serve on the School Committee and contribute to Wellesley’s future and its success.
TSR: How should voters reach you if they want more information?