Newtoon Teachers Association Questionnaire

10/10 School Committee Candidates Questionnaire, 2017

 Dear Candidate:

As President of the Newton Teachers Association, I am requesting that you answer the following questions. After reviewing your responses to these questions, the NTA Executive Committee may make candidate endorsements in some of the races. Be aware that we may share your responses with our members.

I am requesting that you return the completed questionnaire by Tuesday, October 10th.

Thank you for your consideration.

Michael Zilles

Name: Kathy Marchi
Ward: 1

  1. Tell us about your background and why you are running for School Committee.

In 2006 my family moved to Newton so our children could benefit from our outstanding school system. Katja started the 7th grade at F.A. Day Middle School and graduated from Newton North High School in 2012. Dylan started at Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School, went on to Bigelow Middle School and graduated from Newton North in 2015. My husband Chris and I are very grateful for the teachers and staff who ensure that both kids received an outstanding education.

  1. How do you understand your role as a member of the School Committee? What does the School Committee contribute to running the Newton Public Schools?

The primary responsibilities of the School Committee are to select and terminate the superintendent, review and approve budgets for the public school system, and establish educational goals and policies for the district consistent with laws and statewide goals. The role of a School Committee member is to uphold these responsibilities as an informed, committed and collaborative partner along with one’s colleagues. I believe it is also my responsibility to be a champion of our district, our administration, teachers, staff, and students.

The NPS School Committee contributes to the running of our schools by setting priorities and establishing values for our Superintendent, teachers and staff in the form of system wide goals and overall support. The School Committee should have confidence in the leadership of our system while bringing the voice of students and families into ongoing collaboration.

When I worked for the Newton Public School system (I was an NTA member), I presented reports and updates to the School Committee and appreciated their informed questions and suggestions. I pledge to be informed, committed, and collaborative in this role. 

  1. What do see as the strengths of the Newton Public Schools?

The greatest strength of the Newton Public School system is the teaching staff. As a parent whose children experienced very different paths in school, I am deeply grateful for the many teachers and specialists who guided, supported and challenged each of our kids to reach their individual potentials.

In my role as Director of The Newton Partnership, I had the pleasure of working with many of our teachers and am honored to have been a member of the NTA. As a School Committee member I will continue to collaborate and build on the relationships and knowledge I have gained from my volunteer and professional work including 4 years as an employee of the NPS.

  1. What are your concerns? What do you think needs to change?

I have several key priorities.

First, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Cultural Competency:  Newton is a leader in SEL across Massachusetts, and SEL skills are the foundation for the academic, social and emotional success of all students. They are also central to many of my professional and community experiences.

Second, Full-Day Kindergarten and after-school opportunities for all students: When I worked for The Newton Partnership, I developed out-of-school programs to help children across Newton.  Research shows that Full-Day Kindergarten and access to after school programs help to close the achievement gap and play an important role in achieving SEL goals for students.

Third, strong fiscal oversight: We must make thoughtful decisions around trade-offs to continue to build a top-quality school system. Funding for lower class size, SEL, and our early education supports is critical and can only happen if we are effective in building a financially responsible budget. At the same time, we must ensure that our teachers and all staff are appropriately compensated, as acknowledgement of their critical role and so that we can continue to have a committed and enthusiastic group of educators teaching our children.

My kids had a tremendous experience in the Newton schools.  I want to ensure that others do too, regardless of their needs, challenges or income level.

  1. Why are you qualified to serve on the School Committee?

I have spent most of my personal and professional life working to help young people and families in need.  I was Director of The Newton Partnership, a community organization that worked with other community groups to coordinate programs and services for Newton’s youth and families.  We also created non-school based programs that provided real and meaningful opportunities for our children, often those with limited resources.

I was previously a Federal Grant Project Director for NPS, providing support to our youth experiencing mental health or addiction crises.  I was the Community Liaison in the Social and Emotional Learning Department and expanded the training of parents/guardians and after-school staff in Responsive Classroom practices.  These experiences gave me a wonderful insight into how to work effectively with our school system and other organizations to prioritize our students, and lead programs and services that could make a real difference in their lives.

My volunteer commitments have also given me a special window into the challenges facing many in our community, and I have learned that we can make a difference if we focus on the right programs and services.  I am on the Board of Directors of the Centre Street Food Pantry, was a QPR Suicide Prevention Trainer, a teen mentor, and President of the Newton North High School Tiger Athletic Booster Club.  These different opportunities remain central to who I am as a person, to my values and priorities in life, and to my commitment to work for all members of our community regardless of their needs or challenges.

I will continue to work for these values on the School Committee because I believe that the chances for every child’s success are significantly enhanced when families, schools, organizations, and agencies work together.  I am running for School Committee because I want to utilize the skills and experience I have in Newton to help make Newton Public Schools even better than they are today.

  1. What is your position on outsourcing the work of the Newton school custodians?

I am not privy to the confidential information that the School Committee has reviewed.  Any conversation about outsourcing must begin with an overwhelming problem that can only be addressed with outsourcing. That problem may be financial (I am told that we are facing a very serious budget squeeze) and it may also be related to the experiences of our students and staff. I do not know if a compelling case has been made, but I would not want to proceed in the conversation if one cannot be made. Any decision like this has a human toll that does not necessarily show on financial statements and that too must be considered.

  1. What is your position on health insurance coverage for NPS employees?

We must continue to offer comprehensive and affordable health insurance for NPS employees, and I look forward to making that a priority for the next contract negotiation. When I worked for NPS, my family utilized the health insurance coverage available to us under my employment and for this we were very grateful for the coverage.

  1. What would you do to close the funding gap the Newton Public Schools anticipates in FY18?

I will work with the Mayor, City Council and School Committee to determine how to enhance city revenues, to maintain the financial allocation needed to achieve school excellence, and to find efficiencies and savings within our school budget.

We also need to continue to move forward with the city capital improvement plan to ensure that our school facilities continue to be upgraded for both regular and special education students. I will also consider supporting opportunities to increase revenue, including an override, if necessary to rebuild our buildings and if various efforts are not sufficient to prevent the erosion of the education we provide for all of our students.  I do not take the request of an override lightly as I am well aware—given my professional and volunteer experiences in Newton–that many in our community have opposed overrides and could face financial hardships due to an override.  As a result, an override should be a last resort whether it is for capital or operating budget needs.

  1. We are in the last year of a three-year contract between the Newton Public Schools and the Newton School Committee. If you were on the Negotiations Team for the Newton School Committee, what would your priorities be in these negotiations?

As a former member of the Newton Teachers Association, I bring a particular perspective and set of experiences to this issue.  My approach to collective bargaining is to find win-win strategies so that all parties can be satisfied with an agreement. I support ensuring that our employees are well paid, well-trained and treated with dignity and respect. I support the collective bargaining rights of our unions.

  1. If there is anything else you consider pertinent to your candidacy that you would like to share, please feel free to do so.

More than half of next year’s School Committee will be new.  New school committee members need to have experience with both the public schools and with Newton.

I have worked for the Newton public schools and have been a member of the Newton Teachers Association. I have worked with both teachers and parents – on many projects, including training to help a young person in a mental health or addiction crisis, and in responsive classroom/home practices. I know Newton; I have experienced the Newton schools as a parent, as a staff member and as an administrator. 

Newton teachers and staff were great to my kids.  I want other parents and students to have the same support from the Newton schools that my family and my kids did.