Marblehead Beacon School Committee Questionnaire - Liam McGeown
Regardless of whether you are appointed to fill the current vacancy, do you plan to seek election to the School Committee during municipal elections this coming June 2023?
Yes. Of course.
What aspects of your background or experience best prepare you to serve on the School Committee?
My background as it relates to my personal experience with education is certainly not typical. I had to learn a bit differently how to make a blueprint that worked for me, and I have used it time and time again in the mapping of my life. At a young age, while other students would read from the blackboard, I saw a bunch of letters that didn't quite string together as words. Anger, depression, and feelings of inferiority set in. It’s never been in my nature to feel sorry for myself, and I ardently turned these emotions into motivation, determination, and self discipline.
I knew I was smart. I knew I was creative. I just didn’t know what it was that was blocking my ability to learn alongside my peers. The Marblehead School System up to this point had been unable to provide me with clear direction or a solid plan of action, so, with the support of my parents and school administrators, both equally solicitous in their motivation, we set out on a difficult journey towards understanding my unique condition. As a sure sign of the times, the testing through the school was a crudely cobbled together borage of questions that all conveniently pointed to only one answer- medication. Now medicated, I still struggled for results; medication was not the answer.
I’m in the 7th grade at this point, and still struggling to read. My parents now have lost credence in our public school system. They have dug a rabbit holes worth of learning disability’s out, and have begun to compile the soil on my dining room table. My mother has learned of a thing called “dyslexia”. The school refuses to acknowledge this possibility. I am 14 years old. I get great grades. I can not read. None of this makes sense. My parents turn to private testing.
I was brought to Tufts University, where I sat down with a man- a professor, a researcher, a doctor? I couldn’t say. He diagnosed me with Dyslexia, ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, and OCD. Certainly a mouthful in the late 80s early 90’s. I was not scared though. I was not embarrassed or nervous. I felt nothing but relief. What hope it gave to finally have an arrow to follow.
Getting a clear diagnosis was the first step in finding what worked for me. From there, my parents, together with the Marblehead School System and Landmark, began to customized a plan.
My high school years were non traditional compared to my Marblehead classmates. Mornings were spent learning at Landmark. It felt like stepping into Oz. People from all over the world came to Landmark. And they lived there! I was in classes with Saudi Princes, and oil heiresses. I had never seen such sparkle. Here I was, a regular Marblehead kid. My mom grew up in the shipyard. It was 1991, my parents smoked butts and wore cable knit sweaters. Chinese food was for special occasions. The perspective it gave was illuminating and palpable. Landmark showed me that my disability was not a downfall. I could never let it hold me back. Dyslexia could happen to anyone, and as I looked around me, my eyes were wide open to it all. I had a new comprehension of what mental plagues meant, and the unbiased rigor of who gets chosen to be plagued. In the afternoons, and back to reality, I was taxied back to Marblehead Public to finish my school hours. It was a stark contrast. Marblehead’s approach to education was traditional, homogenized, standardized. Public education felt like the GAP. Nothing unique, nothing personal. 3 sizes, 3 colors, make it work. Landmark brought life, and education to me in a very different way. For the first time in my life, it was exciting to learn. I was now a young man with a newfound sense of confidence. I was beginning to rumble. Landmark provided me with a particular- nay, an exclusive learning style, where it helped me move forward. And boy did I. I have lived every day since then like a rocket. I had a map made just for me, that taught me how to learn, how to process what I learned, how to retain what I had learned, how to apply what I had learned. This knowledge became my shield, nothing could hurt me now. That shield quickly turned into my sword. My greatest asset. I fought my way to graduation. Off to college. Graduated cum laude. Got a job. Top earner in the office. I had overcame my obstacles. A few short years ago I couldn’t even read, and now I was thriving. The darker days were behind me, and all that was left of them was the character they gave me.
What I learned is something I think all students and all people can learn at any point in your life. Our weaknesses can almost always become strengths. What can feel like madness can be wielded into genius, with the right education.
Anyone who knows me knows I think differently. I approach problems differently. I have never shied away from the resistance that comes with self doubt most feel when facing tough situations. My confrontation with adversity left me sure of one thing: Fortune favors the brave. My resilience and bravery in the classroom evolved into a new level of growth in all areas of my adult life. How I run my businesses, how I parent my children, and how I coach my student athletes.
Now I’m a father of 3, living in Marblehead, I own and operate 2 small Marblehead businesses and my children are in the public school system. That's not unique, but my ability to achieve all these things despite my disabilities and experiences is unique. More than unique. It’s remarkable, and extraordinary.
I believe in this town and it’s teachers. I believe the students deserve the best education we can provide. They deserve the empathy, patience, kindness, passion and dedication that I received from Landmark. I still feel the wind of these words on my back. Always pushing me forward. In my experience, it’s not always about understanding the curriculum, Or the subject matter. Of course these things are important, but just as important is learning how we learn. Understanding our own unique minds and then celebrating each and every student.
What do you believe are the most significant strengths and weaknesses of the current school administration?
This should be everyone’s answer, but the Marblehead public school parent community is the biggest strength we have. We have parents who move here specifically to send their kids to public school here. An entire community of people who give a real damn. People who go off and get married, and move their spouses back here to raise kids. We are riding a great reputation wave of having a stellar school system. That wave seems to be sadly ending. We’re seeing the enrollment rate go way down. We have to pause as a community of parents, and just as my parents did, we have to dig out that rabbit hole to get to the problem. Why aren’t you putting your kid in public school? This is a real question to be answered. This is a great town, but we’re about to straddle over to 2023- what sets us apart from other beautiful coastal New England towns? If it’s always been the great school system, and it stops being the great school system, what will convince our children to move back here to raise families? That’s the current weakness of the school system for me. Your not making yourself appealing enough for new generations to enroll. There are so many options in the world of education today. So many things can be learned just from the phone in my pocket. You’ve got to keep up with the times. You’ve got to grab the reins of progress and steer this cart towards the future, while keeping the traditional values of yester year. Gone are the days of learning that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. This is the age of information. This is sailing toward new land. This is an exciting time for education, and we’ve got to make the most of it.
And there needs to be transparency. Being in the age of information doesn’t stop with the kids. Parents are informed about what their kids are doing all day. They monitor their homework, location, steps, when they’ve arrived at home, who is texting, who is liking, who is commenting. We’re seeing pictures and posts. We have a major insight into the world of our children- until it comes to school. What do they do there all day? What are they learning? What are they eating? What is being spent on this? And they care! Again, we are lucky to have a community and culture of caring and interest. Now the school has to be open to more transparency.
Another area that could use improvement is in incorporating a diversity of voices at the level of local politics in Marblehead. As someone emerging from the rarely heard from blue collar community, I believe we need a diversity of ideas and the capacity to be a community of unlike minded people, not like minded people. I believe that it’s not just okay to think differently, it’s healthy when done with the shared purpose of achieving the most benevolent outcome from the children of this amazing town. It’s truly the seed of democracy and community to have different approaches to come together and form new and well embraced policies.
What are your top priorities if you are appointed to the School Committee?
I would like to meet with the current school committee board and find out what their process has been to date. Understand the approaches that got the committee to this point in time. Listen and find out what is working and what needs improvement.
There’s obviously great things that are happening but somewhere along the way the message is getting disrupted. I would want to understand how they are reviewing and evaluating their own performance. Lets set goals and fulfill them, financially and educationally.
What is their mission statement? I’d like to understand how the current group operates. Where can they add improved communication with tax payers, parents, faculty and students.
Transparency, again, huge priority. Show the decision processes, budget and goals. Our decisions should always be bringing us closer to achieving agreed upon goals.
Responsibility: I will support the policies that I build my campaign on. I want to see students and teachers getting back to thinking critically. As I mentioned earlier, all the information is in the phone in my pocket. Who provided that information and why do I believe it? We need to encourage students to embrace the technology but not rely on it completely.
I think the fun and rewarding piece of this position, is the ability to prioritize ideas and try to fund and recommend policies that help us achieve our prioritized goals.