by Justin Liu & Bella Ishanyan, News Reporter and News Editor
graphic by Emily Cheng
Four new School Committee members began their term on Jan. 1. Rajeev Parlikar (Ward 1), Christopher Joseph Brezski (Ward 2), Paul F. Levy (Ward 6) and Cove J. Davis (Ward 8) won their November elections and brought new perspectives to the policy-making aspect of the Newton Public Schools (NPS). The School Committee’s responsibilities include evaluating the superintendent, negotiating labor contracts with the teachers union and preparing the budget for the school system.
Despite the committee not having a direct role with what happens in the classroom, Levy said that a major responsibility of his position entails holding the superintendent accountable and keeping the district on track with plans.
This election comes at a time when many parents, like South parent Shara Ertel, are feeling frustrated with the inadequacy of communication between members of NPS and the School Committee since the arrival of the pandemic.
“[During the pandemic], there was a lack of a lot of things that one would typically use to gauge the effectiveness of any organization,” she said. “There was a lack of rigor, a lack of accountability and a lack of transparency in decision-making, … there were no real forums where [community input and] discussion could occur … and the other thing that were really frustrating to me was the lack of nuance and creativity in [the one-size-fits-all] policies that were implemented.”
Levy said that the committee is prioritizing improving their relationship and transparency with the Newton community.
“In the past, the level of communication between the School Committee and the community has not been as strong as it should be, so I’m in favor of improving that,” he said. “Not only communication in terms of what we’re doing, but communication in terms of why we’re doing it and how we’re doing. We’re all elected officials, and we should be held accountable by the public for being in touch.”
Vice-Chair Kathleen Shields said that the onset of pandemic-induced issues has continued to affect School Committee priorities and put members of NPS in a delicate situation.
“This school year, we have not left the pandemic behind us,” she said. “A lot of people are dealing with a lot of leftover and ongoing stress and anxiety that the pandemic has caused, and so [a challenge is] being able to adapt to those stresses and changes and to try in the best way we can to support both students and staff and our faculty.”
Aside from COVID-19, issues regarding the intensity of South’s academic environment remain on the committee’s radar.
“There’s a lot of tension around high school and what opportunities students have. Are they being pushed hard enough? Are they being pushed too hard? Do they have enough chances to kind of be pushed academically?” Davis said. “Some people think that the standards are not as good as they used to be in the high schools, but some people think things are too stressful for the high schoolers because there’s a lot of stress and social-emotional issues.”
English teacher Alan Reinstein said that the committee should also prioritize their focus on the welfare of educators along with students.
“I believe that good teachers make good students. The School Committee should not only focus on student learning, but also think about the best way to support teachers and to keep them satisfied, which sometimes has to do with salaries and working conditions [or] things like school schedule or time requirements,” he said. “A strong school committee, a successful one, is thinking about the mental and emotional health of teachers in addition to the emotional and academic health of students.”
Co-president of the Booster Club and South parent Teri Ginsburg said that she is hopeful that the new committee will make steps in the right direction with this new term.
“There’s always opportunity for improvement and that’s also what elections are for, that’s why we run our government the way that we do,” she said. “But I would say that School Committee members have an opportunity to use the people who are on the ground and in the schools as a resource. We’re not only constituents, [but also] a resource for them, so they do best when they are in touch with us.”