SCHOOL COMMITTEE RACE Q&A: Fennelly, Ragsdale & Byrnes Discuss What They Want To Accomplish In Year #1, How They’ll Be Responsive To Residents

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple is asking School Committee candidates Jesse Fenelley, David Ragsdale, and MJ Byrnes questions each week leading up to the April 28 Town Election.

This week’s questions focus on accomplishments each candidate hopes to achieve in the first year on the board, plus how they will be responsive to residents. Below are the candidates’ responses, in their own words:

Jesse Fennelly

Jesse Fennelly

What are 3 accomplishments you wish to achieve during your first year in office?

 If I should be fortunate enough to earn the trust of the voters in our community, I am confident that at this time next year we will have achieved a great number of important initiatives. Three accomplishments that I will work to achieve during my first year on the school committee are: a smooth, successful transition of power to a new superintendent; continued improvement in the safety and security of our students, staff and facilities; and an increase in professional development for our teachers.

The single most important issue facing our school district is a lack of continuity in leadership. Our town owes a great deal of appreciation to our former superintendent Joanne Benton. She was instrumental in a number of important advancements made by the town and we would not be where we are as a district without her vision. That vision included hiring Paul Ruggiero, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with this past week. Paul has done an amazing job leading us through a difficult time, and we owe him our sincere gratitude. But now we must begin to move forward, and with the hiring of Dr. Brand, we can begin the work ahead. The first year is sure to have some bumps, but I am confident that with the skills and experience Dr. Brand brings to the role, working in conjunction with the school committee, the transition will be successful. I look forward to working with him to chart a course forward to bigger and better things for our district.

Additionally, we in Wilmington are fortunate to have a school department that works very closely with the public safety department to ensure the security of our schools at all times. Wilmington is widely regarded as a leader in school safety, but we must always be vigilant. I would work closely with Principal Strasnick from the Woburn Street School and Lieutenant Sencabaugh from the Wilmington Police Department, in conjunction with the entire WPS Safety Committee, to identify areas of potential threat and address them quickly and efficiently. I believe, where reasonable to do so, the district should do a top down review of the school buildings to be certain that, in the event the unthinkable happens, we are well prepared for every scenario. I would also encourage the schools to adopt more ALiCE drills. It is important that everyone, students and staff, fully understand what needs to be done in the event of a catastrophe. I am proud that we continue to lead the way on these initiatives, and will work to continue this effort every day.

Lastly, we need to continue to invest in our teachers. Wilmington is fortunate to have a multitude of excellent, dedicated educators. It is of the utmost importance that we continue to provide them with opportunities to grow professionally. The more we contribute to their growth, the more likely they are to stay here in Wilmington, thus the more continuity we have at the staff level. Teachers are an invaluable resource to a community. As a member of the school committee, I will do anything in my power to make certain we invest in our teachers whenever and however possible.

How will you be responsive to residents as a School Committee member?

As for engaging the residents of our community, this is something I have talked at length about since starting this campaign. In my background working at the State House, I regularly attended community meetings, office hours, and town hall sessions in a number of communities, Wilmington included. I intend to use those lessons to serve the residents of our great town. First, folks can always reach me through my campaign Facebook page (www.facebook.com/JesseFennellyforWilmingtonSchoolCommittee). I will have a Wilmington Public Schools email address where residents can contact me at any time to discuss issues with the school department or the school committee. Lastly, I intend to hold, if practical, open office hours. Day/Time/Location will vary, but I will announce it in advance via the campaign page and local news outlets like the Apple, Town Crier or Patch. Residents will be invited to meet with me to discuss anything on their mind as it relates to the school department.

When I announced my intention to run, I said that I was running “to be your voice on the School Committee” and I intend to honor that pledge if you elect me on April 28th. Thank you.

David Ragsdale

David Ragsdale

What are 3 accomplishments you wish to achieve during your first year in office?

I think it’s important to recognize that any accomplishments made in the district that are within the school committee’s purview are accomplishments of the committee and not merely of any one individual. Thus I will focus on the accomplishments I hope we will make as a committee, and include a personal goal as well.

First, I hope that by next April, the school committee and Glenn Brand, our new superintendent, have established a good working relationship. Good relationships between school committees and superintendents bode well for making progress on important issues. I hope that reporting to the school committee every two weeks will help focus Dr. Brand on communicating the progress of his entry plan, and that the committee will be able to give him useful feedback.

Second, I hope that the school committee has made substantial progress on, or adopted, a new strategic plan. The most recent strategic plan ended this year, and as the board responsible for setting the educational direction of the district, the school committee (in consultation with the superintendent) should begin working on a new plan that will guide the Wilmington Public Schools in the coming years.

Finally, a personal goal of mine as a first-year school committee member if I am elected is to get fully up to speed with all of the committee’s current work. Although I have been attending school committee meetings for two years, not all of the school committee’s work occurs in open session. There is much work done in subcommittees and in executive session that I have not been able to see. I intend to fill in those gaps as quickly as possible. Massachusetts law also requires that new school committee members complete at least 8 hours of orientation on their roles and responsibilities within 1 year of being appointed or elected, and I intend to fulfill that requirement as quickly as possible in my term if I am elected.

How will you be responsive to residents as a School Committee member?

A big part of it is letting people know that they can approach me anytime. If people see me at Market Basket, or on the sidelines of the Shawsheen fields, or at the annual STEM fair, they are welcome to say hello and bring up any concerns they have. I also encourage residents to use the school committee email addresses, which are publicly available on the Wilmington Public Schools website (www.wpsk12.com). I am also reachable through Facebook, and residents are welcome to call me on the phone. As a policy-making body rather than an administrative one, the school committee is not empowered to address every concern that residents have about the school system, yet it is vitally important for us to know about these concerns so that we can properly perform our responsibility of overseeing the superintendent and the operation of the schools.

MJ Byrnes

MJ Byrnes

What are 3 accomplishments you wish to achieve during your first year in office?

Since this is going to be a big transitional year for our School District, it’s tricky to prioritize what specifically I would like to accomplish individually. I anticipate my priorities to be determined by what issues arise as our district moves forward in this new chapter, which will drive and create my goals for the upcoming year. In saying this, the most over arching goal/accomplishment that I hope to see achieved in my first year is to see our district make noticeable progress in increasing stability, strengthening our curriculum/programming and continuing to build upon trust within our schools and community.

To see this come to fruition, some actions I am currently undertaking and will continue to work towards are as follows:

– Contributing to the successful entry of our new Superintendent into the District, so that he is able to prioritize and tackle those areas that require his most immediate guidance and leadership. Through collaboration and by building a strong working rapport with Dr. Brand, I hope to assist him however I can to ensure that his transition into our District is effective and efficient.

-It is my intent to continue to seek out resources and tools that will not only strengthen my knowledge and skills as a school Committee member, but will also allow me to make well informed decisions that will have a more positive impact for our School District. Just like ongoing Professional Development is key for our Teachers and Staff in the success of our students, I believe it is just as essential for Board members to do so, as well. In understanding and learning more about new pathways and resources that might more effectively drive and better support student learning, I have found attending various workshops through the Massachusetts Association of School Committees has afforded me to be a more effective, contributing Board Member.

– I would like to work towards finding solutions in order to create and foster more collaboration and better communication between constituents and our Board. The School Committee currently has a sub-committee created for this purpose, which has not had an opportunity to really be utilized. With Dr. Brand’s desire to meet the families and members of our community, I think this would be an optimal time to get this committee off the ground. The work of this committee would not only give him another avenue to do so, but could also give the Board an opportunity to create stronger relations with our constituents at the same time.

How will you be responsive to residents as a School Committee member?

I have always and will continue to avail myself to all constituents. Through email or by phone, I have always prided myself in my timely responses to all inquiries, at any time of the day or evening. I have met with folks at local establishments, their homes and at times, my home in order to address concerns. Those who have reached out to me previously will tell you that if I’m unsure of an answer, I am diligent in finding it out, responding back and following through. By working in this capacity, it is my belief that I have built a solid reputation in being very responsive, as well as, gained the respect of those I serve in addressing their concerns.

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