Longmeadow School Committee candidates voice opinions

June 9, 2021 | Sarah Heinonen

LONGMEADOW – In the June 22 town election, Longmeadow School Committee incumbent Bronwyn Monahan, Mary Keane and Zach Verriden are vying to fill two seats on the body. Reminder Publishing reached out to the candidates to ask their opinions on key issues facing the school district. This is part one of a two part story; the June 17 Reminder will have part two.

Reminder Publishing (RP): Briefly, remind voters who you are and why you’re running.

Mary Keane: My name is Mary Keane, and I am mom to three great kids who attend Longmeadow Public Schools. A life-long learner and educator, my career spans more than 20 years during which I have served in a variety of roles: teacher, literacy coach, and district administrator. I am currently the supervisor of English for Westfield Public Schools responsible for teacher support, curriculum design and instruction, research, and professional development. In all that I do, I strive to let kindness and empathy lead the way.

I decided to run for School Committee because the pandemic has created social and academic challenges unlike any in history, and my insight into the perspectives of various stakeholders makes me uniquely qualified to help us emerge from the pandemic stronger.  I have insight into the experiences of students – my own children span all school levels: elementary, middle, and high school. I share concerns facing parents who just experienced a tumultuous school year. And I have experience working in public schools at the district, school, and classroom levels. My varied insights will help me to make sound policy decisions that represent our collective vision for our schools.

As a School Committee member, I will be committed to putting students first; cultivating partnerships with families; promoting equitable, anti-racist practices; and supporting our educators so they can continue to deliver high-quality instruction.

With your support, I look forward to taking an active part in shaping the future of Longmeadow Public Schools.

Please visit http://www.facebook.com/MaryKeaneSchoolCommittee to learn more.

Bronwyn Monahan: “Our students.” When asked why I ran for School Committee three years ago, and why I am running for re-election, my response is always the same: “our students.” As a School Committee (SC) member, I represent the voters of Longmeadow and support the needs of our Longmeadow Public Schools (LPS) students. My decisions on policy, budget and the evaluation of the superintendent are made with all LPS students and stakeholders at the forefront.

As a Longmeadow resident for over 45 years, I am very passionate about the community. In particular, Longmeadow is known for our highly ranked schools. I am very committed to making our schools be the best they can be, always, and in all ways. I will use my experience as a School Committee member, resident, and former educator, to further develop the Longmeadow Public School District. As author Christine Gregoire stated, “Education is the foundation upon which we build our future.”

It has been a privilege to serve on the Longmeadow School Committee. I look forward to the opportunity to serve another three-year term. I believe my experience and my strong commitment to innovative and inclusive education make me a strong candidate for re-election.

Zach Verriden: Hello, I’m Zach Verriden and I need your support. I am running for Longmeadow School Committee and I hope to bring my unparalleled experience as a teacher, principal, superintendent, coach, professor and educational consultant to our schools. I am also a proud parent along with my wife, Anya, of four children in Longmeadow. Our oldest son Henry (8) requires a complex Individualized Education Program (IEP). As a parent and an educator, I hold the unique perspective of being on both sides of the table for all learners. Henry’s younger siblings are Thomas (7), Katherine (5) and Samuel (3).

I have served as the chair of the Longmeadow Select Board’s Coalition for Racial Justice Task Force Chair, a member of the Blueberry Hill Elementary School Council and a leader with the Longmeadow Anti-Racism Coalition. I would bring these experiences and insights to the Longmeadow School Committee in order to build on excellence with an eye toward equity and inclusion.

I am a career educator and learner who received my master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard University and am currently completing my PhD in K-12 Education and Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My dissertation research focuses on equity and identity.

As Longmeadow Public Schools head into strategic planning for the years ahead, I believe my experiences will help to realize the promise of the district’s vision of seeing all students engaged in rigorous, introspective, and culturally responsive learning with a commitment to anti-racism, equity and social justice.

RP: The school district is pursuing funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to explore the option of either rebuilding Williams and Glenbrook Middle Schools or combining them into a single facility. There is also the possibility of simply repairing the schools as they exist now. Which of these options would you support based on current information?

Keane: It is clear from the comprehensive research already conducted that rehabilitating the schools is a costly band-aid ($30.2 million) that serves to return the buildings to their original state, which were educationally appropriate in 1959 (Williams) and 1967 (Glenbrook). In the years since, state guidelines have changed and require more flexible learning spaces, especially in regards to special education programming. Rehabbing would not put us in compliance with these guidelines. Our current buildings do not support best practices in education, so I am not in support of returning them to their original state.

Two buildings ($59 million) are good, but one building ($49.2 million) is better.

One building is the best option for equity, curriculum, and instruction and will best serve the educational needs of students. One building is also the fiscally responsible choice. I have firsthand experience with the 2018 merging of two middle schools in the district in which I work, and in the years since the merger, this is what I have observed:

Students have more equitable learning opportunities because they have access to a broader range of programs and interventions.

Educators are more easily able to collaborate resulting in a cohesive approach to curriculum and instruction, which means that students have a more consistent middle school experience.

Funding is streamlined. We do not need to duplicate resources allowing for more targeted spending.

*Costs with MSBA funding according to “Longmeadow School Committee Faces Middle Schools’ Needs” published in The Reminder on April 21, 2021.

Monahan: Colliers International conducted a Facilities Condition Assessment on Glenbrook Middle School and Williams Middle School, and presented their findings to the School Committee at our May 25 meeting. The report provided detailed information regarding the needs of each school. It would be premature to discuss which option I would support in the future. If we are selected by the MSBA, a School Building Committee would need to be formed, and a feasibility study would be conducted. The feasibility study would provide us with recommendations for the best approach for our community. I believe after this work is complete, I will be able to make an informed decision regarding the most appropriate solution for the middle school(s).

Verriden: I know that the School Committee has been working diligently on this matter for some time. Both buildings are over 50 years old and in need of serious attention. As recently as this spring, the School Committee conducted a facilities condition assessment with Colliers International. Having worked with Colliers International on school building and renovation planning previously, I appreciate the rigorous analysis and valuable insights that they provide.

Colliers has provided three projections for the School Committee to consider. The least expensive option is to renovate and repair both middle school buildings at a cost of $30.2 million to the town, with little to no aid coming from the MSBA. A second projection suggests one new combined middle school building to cost the town $49.2 million with potentially $28.2 million in additional MSBA funding to cover the cost of the project. The third and most expensive option is the new construction of both middle schools with a cost of $59 million to the town with potentially $34.7 million in additional MSBA funding to cover the cost of the project.

The third option may be out of reach due to the price tag. Not only would it cost the town more in the near-term, but the ongoing maintenance and repair of two separate facilities will cost the town more in the long-term, as well. The second option appears to provide the greatest value in terms of near-term and long-term costs, though may not be an option without eligibility to the MSBA capital pipeline.

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