Q&A with Brookline school committee election candidates

Ella Kitterman , News Writing Editor

On Tuesday, May 2. the Brookline community will be voting on the members for three seats of the Brookline School Committee. The four candidates running are  Michael Glover, Julie Schreiner-Oldham, Paul Harris and Suzanne Federspiel.

School Committee Candidate Michael Glover stands with daughter as he comes out to show support for Julie Schreiner-Oldham who is also running.

Michael Glover has served one term on the School Committee and is running for re-election. He is an attorney at Northeastern University and has two young children within the Brookline school system.

 What are your priorities?

“First and foremost, making student-centered decisions in terms of what we need to be doing going forward, particularly with respect to the building projects that we have, the ninth elementary school, the high school expansion, and in managing our budget. I also think there is a lot of work to be done in terms of communications within our systems. I would also like to spend a lot of time working on issues of racial equity. I want to hire and retain more teachers of color and I want to continue to do a lot of work on trying to figure out how to close our achievement gap. It’s been persistent in the district and I think there is still a lot of work to be done there.”

What do you bring as a candidate?

“I think I bring experience of having been on the School Committee for three years. I think that has given me a lot of insight into how thing go. I think that being a parent is really important. I am very invested in it as a parent. My kids are young, six and four, so they are going to grow up in the system. So it really matters to me that the system remains strong.  I think my experience as an attorney is helpful. I do a lot of real estate work and work on a lot of building projects and I think that is relevant to some of the things we have going on as well.”

What would you say to critics who say that it is time for change within the composition of the School Committee?

“I understand where they are coming from and I think there is a lot of frustration around how some of the contract negotiations went and it was frustrating for us as well. I think at the end of the day, we don’t necessarily have different goals, it’s just a question of how we get there and the resources that we have to be able to provide. So I think there is a lot of frustration but I think that frustration grows out of our situation rather than the leadership on the School Committee.”

 

Julie Schreiner-Oldham poses with husband and three young daughters who will all be in the Brookline Public School System. It is Schreiner-Oldham first time running for School Committee.

Julie Schreiner-Oldham was appointed to the School Committee for three months to fill the vacant seat left by Rebecca Stone. She has three young children at Baker and previously worked as an employment and labor attorney.

What are your priorities?

“I think the first concern facing the schools right now is the overcrowding and that has implications for every part of the schools, so if we don’t address the overcrowding that we have and the enrollment growth we know is coming, then that really impacts everything else about the system and how we can be functioning in the system.”

What do you bring as a candidate?

“I bring who I am. First, I am a mom. I have three girls. They are in the schools right now and they will be in the school for a very long time. McKenzie, my youngest, will graduate hopefully from Brookline High School in 2033 and so I am committed to the long-term success of the schools for my girls and for all of the students in the Brookline schools. I also bring the perspective of a former PTO president. I was on the PTO Executive Board for several years before joining the school committee and through that experience I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of the members of the community, to talk with the teachers at the school and to really get a good feeling about what the concerns were, where we were doing our best and where we had areas of improvement. Finally, as an attorney I have skills that I used in my professional life that would help in the role.”

Why did you decide to run? 

“I am running for my girls. They have really enjoyed being part of the campaigning process. I have brought them out door knocking with me, they wear their buttons with pride.   My daughter wants to bring buttons to schools and pass them out to all of her friends. One of Emily, my six-year old’s classmates was walking into schools with me and he turned and looked at me and said “Julie, lots of people are voting for you. I am voting for you too!” That moment right there, that’s why I am running. My kids have been so inspired by it and to show them that if there is something you really believe in and something that you want to change and be part of, then you have to put yourself out there and you have to step up to it and not look around for someone else to do that work and be willing to jump in yourself.”

 

Paul Harris is running for School Committee, supported by the same organizations as Susan Federspiel. It is his first time running for this office.

Paul Harris is running for School Committee for the first time. He is retired from a career in investment management and raised two children who went through Brookline Public School system.

What are your priorities?

“I think the number one priority that I would have on the school committee is to improve the relationship between the school committee and the teachers and paraprofessionals.”

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the school system?

“There are a lot of very big challenges. For example, just recently last October the School Committee picked a site for the 9th K-8 school, the Baldwin site and that’s just one of the major building initiatives.  So there’s a lot in terms of major funding that would need to be made for buildings and that’s a huge challenge. In addition to that there is the challenge of the racial justice and equity and closing the achievement gap. I have reviewed the MCAS results and I have seen the achievement gap still exists.  Then there is the whole issue of testing and standardized tests and teaching to the whole child. I support very much teaching to the whole child.”

What would you say to people who would criticize your candidacy because you don’t have kids currently in the school system or a very specific background in education?

“First of all, my kids were all the way K-12, so I have seen the whole process of going through the schools. Second, because I don’t have kids in the school, I don’t have any particular stake in one school versus another school or one class versus another class. I can be more neutral about it all. The third big advantage I think that I have is because our kids are grown and now have jobs and lives of their own, I have the time. People with kids at home and have jobs, how much time can they really devote to the school committee job? So I would really put everything into the school committee job.”

 

This is Susan Federspiel’s first time running for office. She is currently semi-retired but was a principle in the Boston Public School systems for 15 years.

Susan Federspiel is running for her first time for School Committee. She was a principal in the Boston Public School system for 15 years and has raised two children in the Brookline Public School system.

What are your priorities?

“One priority is to make sure that the School Committee is working well with teachers, staff and families. The negotiations for the last contract took three years and that is way too long. I think that morale goes down with the teachers when it takes that long and it’s hard for the families to understand especially when there is a curtailing of activities.  Another area is to make sure that we have a good balance between testing and hands-on project based learnings. I think there is too much high-stakes testing going on.”

What do you bring as a candidate?

“My background is in education. I have been a principal in Boston for 15 years, so I know education well and I know a lot of the issues. I also follow state and federal public education issues. I think that Brookline should be a stronger voice at the state level and eventually the federal level. I have testified at the State House and with DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) on areas that I believe strongly in.  There is only one educator on the committee now, Barbara Scotto, and she endorsed me early on because she thinks there should be another educator on the committee. Out of nine we only have one. We should at least have two.”

Why did you decide to run?

“I believe passionately in public education. I was asked to run by people in town because they know of my passion and I am semi-retired. I am no longer a principal, so I have the time and energy to work on our schools. We have good schools in Brookline and we want to keep them strong and there are always places we can improve. I would like to bring my background and my passion to the School Committee.”