Alison Taylor - Candidate for School Committee
Marblehead Beacon is presenting these candidate profiles in advance of our June 21 town elections with the goal of helping the community learn more about all of the individuals volunteering their time to run for public office. Please note that the answers included here are printed exactly as provided by each candidate, with only minor typographical edits. Marblehead Beacon does not endorse any candidate or validate any responses. All candidates for the Select Board, Town Moderator, Board of Health, Light Department, and School Committee who had available contact information were given the opportunity to respond to a set of questions specific to the office for which they are running.
What is your professional experience, including handling budgets, and how has your background prepared you to serve on the School Committee?
I have a degree in civil engineering. Logic is very important to me - things need to make sense. Professionally, I've worked at two of the top four consulting firms in the country. I've successfully managed countless cross-functional projects of varying sizes on time and on budget in both the private sector and in city/county/state governments. Budgets and resources need to align with sufficient detail. These same budgets need to be made readily available with plenty of notice so our families and community can have the time needed to digest the information and ask questions when necessary. Our community should be able to trust that when money is requested, it is going to be put to good use and directly improve student education. As a Manager of Customer Success and Operations for companies ranging from start-ups to larger, established organizations, I understand how different levels of an organization work, how their needs differ, and most importantly how to effectively communicate with each of them. Respectful communication is one of the cornerstones to success.
If you are currently serving on the School Committee, what do you believe are your most significant accomplishments thus far? If you are not currently serving, how would you evaluate the efforts of the School Committee over the past year?
I firmly believe that respectful communication is a critical piece to a strong foundation and that without it, things start to slowly slip away especially within a group as small as our School Committee. Over the past years I’ve watched as members are ignored, motions are denied, requests for information from the community go unanswered, and blind faith/loyalty are the go forward strategy. I know we can do better. There are hard discussions that we need to have, and we cannot continue to shy away from them. As a committee, we should be setting the example on how to have productive conversations with others, while showing respect for/towards our counterparts - despite whether our belief systems align.
What are your top priorities to accomplish this year if elected or re-elected to the School Committee?
My top priority would be to improve transparency. Parents want to understand what their children are being taught. Teachers need to understand the resources they will or will not be receiving and why. Community members should be able to understand why more money is being requested and exactly how it will be used. They should have access to the budget in line-item detail, online. This is the least we can do for a community that gives so much to our students.
Improving education goes hand in hand with transparency. Everyone agrees that educating our youth is paramount. We can repeat 1000 times over that Marblehead provides an exemplary education to our students - but that does not make it true. Given the phenomenal quality of our educators and staff, we are not fully empowering them to enable our students to reach their potential. Ensuring that our children receive the education they deserve from the place (level) they are currently at with the resources that they so desperately need and deserve is what will make them (and us) successful. This is also what will set them up for a continued life-long love of learning. We should all want that for our children.
Do you support the general override for school funding that will be on the ballot on June 21? Are there any aspects of the funding with which you disagree?
Like most community members when looking at this override the first thought is – wow that’s a lot of money. Any parent with a small child in the school system also thinks – that’s ok because I would give them the world. However, I think it’s important to note that this override comes with a lot of hesitation. We want to make sure that the money is being spent where it is most desperately needed. For example, none of these funds are being put towards one of our most precious resources - our existing teachers, the same teachers who continue to make sacrifices for our children. Like many other full-time working parents in this community, scheduling a meeting on the override presentation during the workday makes it difficult to attend. This often seems like a theme with discussion opportunities. After listening to the recording, I do not think the necessary transparency and detailed responses that we should expect were provided. When there is so much money involved, I don’t think it’s fair to just presume that high-level responses are enough. There is nothing wrong with asking the hard questions, wanting to see the back-up, and reviewing the proof that brought us to these numbers.
Do you support the current trend toward de-leveling high school courses so that all students take classes together rather than having the option of honors, regular and remedial classes?
Our students are beautifully and wondrously different in all kinds of ways – learning levels being one of them. If we want to truly provide our students with an exemplary education, then we need to challenge our children to be the best they can possibly be. Whether that be honors, regular, or remedial, our children deserve to be provided with an education that meets them where they are, while of course satisfying all educational requirements. A child on an IEP has the right to receive everything they are entitled to, and we have an obligation to provide that for them. All children deserve to be challenged and encouraged to meet their best potential. De-leveling high school courses does not provide our students with an exemplary education.
Do you think that relevant public documents should be made available online at least 24 hours in advance of each School Committee meeting?
All School Committee documents made available to the committee should be made readily available to the public. We also need to be able to answer questions. Taking that a step further, we need to have more open forums and provide answers to questions from the public in real-time. Our parents/teachers/community deserve to understand what is being discussed, have time to digest, and formulate questions. When elected, this will be a priority for me. Elected individuals need to remember that this is the community that elected them and not the other way around.
Do you think the superintendent is doing a good job? Why or why not?
I think we can all agree that Dr. Buckey came into his first year as a superintendent during a tumultuous time. With all the craziness of the past two years it’s hard to properly evaluate – which is one of the key responsibilities of the School Committee. Having read his first year’s review online, it makes note of the fact that these things impacted his ability to reach his goals. However, at the same time, he received all proficient performance ratings. I would have expected that anyone in their first year in a new role would have at least some areas where they are making progress and working towards proficiency. In my opinion, this is another example of where hard conversations are needed. No one would look at the unbelievable circumstances of the past two years and not fully understand that there are more areas needing improvement than not.
Do you support hiring a diversity administrator in Marblehead? Why or why not?
While living in other parts of the United States and abroad I recognized how important understanding and learning about other cultures is for everyone. Before jumping straight to hiring a six-figure administrator for this role and putting even more additional strain on the Town budget with benefits and pension for the next 20 years, there are a number of hard questions that need to be answered. Perhaps this role is something we could test out by first having a shared resource with other nearby towns/cities. This would allow us to understand the role better, determine the responsibilities for our small community, and ultimately set benchmarks and qualifiers for if/when we do hire a full time individual in order to set them up for future success.