Candidates for School Committee: Prompt from SSC at Meeting 4/10/19 and Responses Below

Thank you for joining us! I’m going to read the following prompt for which each of you may respond. Sustainable Sharon Coalition (SSC) sees great potential for more synergy between our town’s sustainability practices and those of students, faculty, staff and administrators in Sharon Public Schools.

Some of many examples that illustrate this are:

  • The four passionate Sharon High students who are presenting a warrant article at town meeting for a non-binding commitment from the town for zero emissions by 2050.
  • The talented high school interns for SSC who are designing and launching our new website.
  • The SSC Youth high school students who are organizing a town-wide tree planting effort at Sharon Green Day.
  • The position for the school district recycling coordinator created by SSC through a MassDEP grant awarded to the town. In fact, recently, the recycling coordinator worked with SSC to bring curbside composting to the town, with the bonus that schools earn money towards their composting with every Sharon household enrolled.
  • And, finally, Safe Routes to School for children walking and riding their bikes.

With that in mind, if you are elected to the School Committee, you will be in a position to impact SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES IN ALL FACILITIES, and you can CREATE OPPORTUNITIES TO STRENGTHEN THE ENVIRONMENTAL LITERACY OF OUR STUDENTS AND STAFF.

What is your plan in this regard and what specific programs or practices will you endorse?

Anna Belak

My name is Anna Belak. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this evening. My passion for education predates my existence. It was instilled in me by my mother and in her by her father. I truly believe that good education dramatically changes lives. I believe this for many reasons — number one being that studies show that it’s true, and number two being that 23 years ago, the course of my life was irreversibly altered when my mom’s education became our golden ticket to the United States.

My passion for protecting the environment was born freshman year of college. It was my first real-grown-up-scientist had-to-wear-an-actual-lab-coat research project. The project was to make polymer-based solar cells because they would be cheaper to produce and could be printed on flexible substrates. At the time, polymer solar cells could achieve about 4%  conversion efficiency, which wasn’t very impressive because silicon consistently hit 20%. But this didn’t matter to me — I was hooked! I went on to earn a PhD in materials engineering. My dissertation was about rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. My first real job was in a solar energy consulting firm. These days I work in IT, but I am and forever will be a huge supporter of renewable energy.

The reason environmental sustainability is so difficult for some people and really easy for others is that it is a mindset. I have been incredibly pleased to discover that our Sharon schools are already doing some great work in teaching this mindset to the next generation. A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered at an all-day Hackathon event that was organized by SHS students. One of the prompts focused on raising awareness about the impact of our everyday actions on the environment. Many participants, MS and HS students, enthusiastically chose this prompt for their coding project. They created some cool code, but they produced a wealth of information on topics including greenhouse gases, pollution, recycling, re-forestation, and renewable energy.

What’s more impressive is that they also produced analysis! For example, the judges asked one group whether single-use plastic, single-use compostable, or re-usable utensils were the most environmentally friendly. The students explained that it’s not a simple question to answer. Everyone agreed that plastic is the worst, but then it gets complicated. On the one hand, compostable products take a lot of resources to produce, which increases their negative impact. On the other hand, washing reusable dishes consumes a lot of water and electricity, so it isn’t without impact either. Overall, I’m incredibly impressed to see our SPS kids really think critically about the environmental challenges that face us today and will certainly face them as they inherit the world. I think our faculty and curriculum teams deserve a special thanks for this accomplishment.

As a school system, we operate on two fronts with respect to environmental issues. We must educate the next generation on how to care for our planet. But we also have the responsibility to practice what we preach and take steps today to leave a healthier planet to our kids tomorrow. We need to be more green in our buildings and our processes. One issue I’d like the school committee to think harder on is redistricting, specifically its environmental aspects. As an engineer, I feel like we should be able to optimize the solution to this problem. I would like all kids that can and want to walk to school to be able and encouraged to do so because it’s great for their health and it’s great for the environment. I would also like to optimize the bus routes for both safety and efficiency because it’s great for the environment and it’s great for our bottom line. Actually, this would make a pretty good hackathon challenge…

I understand that there are many great ideas to make the schools more green in this group and among others in town. I love that and hope to hear about all of them. But I think that at the end of the day it all comes down to budget and mindset. If I get elected to school committee, I will prioritize initiatives that foster an environmentally conscious mindset with careful regard for both short- and long-term fiscal responsibility. I hope I have inspired you to vote for me, and I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions after the end of the meeting. Thank you very much for your attention.

Fern Fergus

It is indeed an honor to run for the school committee and I am reminded, daily, of what an awesome responsibility it will be if I am elected.

It is of the utmost important that we prepare our students to serve as adaptable and capable global stewards.  Sustainable consideration is an urgent imperative. Students must be encouraged to analyze daily choices and the impact on their communities, surrounding communities and the world.  Sustainability is an interdisciplinary topic and should not be viewed as just a choice. For example, Social Studies classes and classes in Economics can research real time consequences of waste and the impact it has on people worldwide and the global economy. In short, I support including sustainability as a common theme in many classes in SMS and SHS. In terms of sustainable practices in the schools — all faculty, staff and students should work closely with Kathleen Nasti to support, replicate and expand her efforts.

Thank you for your time and interest.

Marcy Kaplan

This reflects the content of my presentation to Sustainable Sharon given at its April 10th meeting.

Thank you for having me. These issues are very important to me and have been all my life.  I grew up in Canton and went to the University of Michigan. Environmental Advocacy was my first area of advocacy, beginning in college in the 1980s, when I worked for a citizens’ grassroots environmental group call PIRGIM (Public Interest Research Group In Michigan). I would canvass door to door in the suburbs surrounding Ann Arbor to discuss and gather support for the clean water, clean air and recycling initiatives. I also lead the summer canvass for their Massachusetts organization, MassPIRG. Sharon was my favorite town in which to canvass because the residents were always so receptive and concerned about environmental issues. That has not changed all these years later.

As a School Committee member and past Chair, I have been involved in our town and school initiatives. In 2017, Sharon was awarded a Mass DOER Municipal Energy Technical Assistance Grant which enabled it to work with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to develop an Energy Reduction Plan for the town’s Green Communities application. Prior to seeking the Green Community designation, our School District and town reduced its energy consumption between 2015 and 2017 by more than 20%.  We achieved this by retrofitting our elementary schools with LED lights, improved ventilation, HVAC upgrades and funded these improvements thru the district’s Capital Outlay requests. These upgrades helped Sharon qualify for this 2017 grant, which generates approximately $150,000/year for 5 years. Much of this money has been used by the schools to make further improvements to reduce our consumption even more.

During my time on the School Committee, we also were also able to hire a recycling coordinator due to the great work of Sustainable Sharon who obtained a grant for the initial hire. During that grant, I would often let Mr. Farmer (the Superintendent at that time) know that I prioritized funding for that program as part of our operating budget. I vividly remember how excited he was to tell me that the funding had been found. I also was very gratified by having been able to help Megan Sullivan, when she had that role, hire (for free) a college intern who was a sustainability major to help the school’s recycling efforts for a semester.

The School District is also seeking to power its self by solar energy and is working with the Town towards that goal. In fact, there was a presentation at the School Committee meeting by the Sharon Energy Advisory Committee just this week on these plans. My understanding is that we already have contracts to obtain 75% of the schools’ energy. The Town is working on the other 25%. The Town is sending out an RFP for solar canopies at some school locations to generate this power.

In terms of my ideas for educating our students, I would look at each level of school separately. First, elementary level students need to learn how and what to recycle. It should be taught young so it’s internalized for a lifetime. These students need the most support but are also the most eager to learn. We should consider using peer leaders to support these efforts so that we can help students with social and emotional needs to become peer leaders and gain confidence and self-esteem. It is important to link educational goals for our students to not think in educational “silos.”

At the Middle School level, we should use experiments to help students understand not just how to recycle, but why and how we can reuse these materials in our world. At the High School level, we do have science and humanities classes that cover the science and policy and can consider more if there is demand. However, many areas of our schools can be, and are currently, infused by students’ interest in this area. We have clubs and opportunities in public speaking, debate and hope to offer someday more project-based learning. Personally, I would like to see more internships for High School students as part of their requirements or service learning. I am sure many of our students would choose sustainability as an interest area.

Finally, as we build our new building and think about our efforts moving ahead, I encourage our Town and District to look at purchasing appliances with the “passive house” or similar designation to take the heat generated and reuse it elsewhere. I also encourage exploring food waste (generated from our cafeterias) to energy opportunities. That is all my time. Thank you.

Julie Rowe

Thanks to the Sustainable Sharon Coalition for the opportunity to speak with you. I am a parent of three children at East Elementary and co-president of our PTO.

I have been really involved with one aspect of Sustainable Sharon for about five years. I remember one day listening to Sandra Widland speak about Safe Routes to School at a meeting at the YMCA. Soon after, I joined as the East representative to this committee and we began a project where we evaluated different pain points in the school district that prevented kids walking and biking to school. After observation and talking to many residents in the East Elementary area, I realized that the sticking point was an intersection at Hampton and Deerfield Roads. With our Safe Routes to School representative, I worked with the Sharon DPW to:

·       Cut down overgrown trees and bushes to improve visibility for pedestrians, bikers, and cars
·       Paint the crosswalk and add signage to make the intersection more clear
·       Add a “Your Speed” sign at a southbound bend in the road to encourage cars to slow down before approaching the intersection.

As a result, I see so many children walking and biking to school – even my own! It also had the side benefit of making the intersection better for adults who walk or run on Hampton Road for exercise. I’m proud to have worked on this project that has had lasting effects in my neighborhood.

Cheryl asked us to speak directly to a few issues, such as building the high school to net-zero specifications and adding solar panels to Heights. There have been many positive interactions with SSC and the schools – at East Elementary, we’ve had great interactions with the recycling coordinator, who is working with the East School Council. And of course I have heard all about it from my kids.

The most interesting part of this campaign is meeting so many different people dedicated to improving the education and experience of children in the schools.  Everyone wants to know what my opinion is about various topics, whether it is curriculum, Spanish, athletic fees and so on, and how, if elected, I would evaluate the issue that they feel most passionately about.

As we go forward, I would give you the answer I give everyone else…if you are passionate about it, I’d like to hear about it. If you were to bring potentially valuable ideas to the school committee, I would look at them carefully and have a process for evaluation:

·       What are the details of the proposal?
·       How much would it cost?
·       What are the benefits?
·       What are the trade-offs and opportunity costs?

As a marketing consultant in my past life, I would conduct research through surveys, interviews, and other sources before coming up with an analysis and recommendations for future action. As a school committee member, I would make sure that everyone feels like they have been heard and given a chance to make their best case.  SSC has started many creative projects and I would look forward to a productive relationship in the future.

Adam Shain

Good evening. Thank you for having me tonight and for having all of the candidates in to speak.

Before I address Cheryl’s question, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself.
While I grew up in Canton, I’m a proud Sharon resident and have lived here for almost 10 years. I have two children in the Cottage elementary school and two more who will be entering shortly. And I’m proud to say that my children walk home from school every day – rain or shine.

I would also note that I have always cared about the environment. As a student at Canton High School I started and managed the paper recycling program in 1996. We have solar panels on our house and as a family of 6, with one still in diapers, we fit every week into a 35g trash bin.

During the day, I work as a software executive and have worked at some of the most trusted companies in the world, like Google and Intuit and at award-winning startups. In my role I work with stakeholders throughout the business to understand problems and build a shared vision for a solution.

I’m running for school committee on a platform of transparency and community engagement. We have smart, well-educated, professionals in our community who care deeply about our town and we need to invite them to the table. Sustainable Sharon is a model organization in this regard and we should be actively working with you to help bring more programs about sustainability to our schools. Cheryl mentioned writing the grant proposal for the school district recycling program and that’s a brilliant example. I’ve also heard of examples where specific teachers and parents have collaborated on projects like the Cottage Greenhouse and gardening projects across the school system.

I don’t claim to be an expert in sustainability but I am an expert in bringing people to the table to understand their needs and prioritize how to address their problems. In the case of sustainability, the goals may be waste reduction, decreasing carbon footprint or student understanding of sustainability and best practices. We should be working with organizations like Sustainable Sharon to identify areas for improvement to present more broadly to the school community and then measure the impact of changes that are implemented. If elected, I’ll work to put in place a sustainability sub-committee to assist the various school “green teams” at the administrative level.

And I don’t think you can undersell the value of that education. Does anyone here remember Horizons for Youth? It was located where Camp Everwood is today and was a camp that ran a lot of environmental programs. In 6th grade my elementary school did a week long program there and I can clearly remember that after every meal, you would clear all of your food into a bucket and they would report on the waste. Over the course of a single week we had progressed from an almost full bucket to a nearly empty one. And in fact, the cafeteria at Google does the same thing – reporting daily on how much waste is produced by Googlers on a daily basis.

In terms of ideas for specific programs there are a number of areas where we can improve. For example, there are small improvements to the existing school programs, such as reducing paper use by sending permission slips digitally, ensuring that each school has a functioning water station and encouraging walking programs. Walking Wednesday at Cottage is a great program, but as a parent whose children walk home rain or shine, I never understand why they cancel the program due to inclement weather.

There are larger efforts promoting school gardening programs throughout the school systems, the new high school building, whose plans call for LEED certification, reducing the environmental impact of the building while also qualifying the project for an additional 2% reimbursement from the state, and the Sharon Energy Advisory Committee is actually presenting to the School Committee tonight regarding the potential to place solar panels on school roofs and parking lots.

We can also ensure that the entire school system considers sustainability when making decisions. For example, in the kindergarten lottery at Cottage, distance to a school isn’t taken into account, forcing would-be-walkers to ride to school.

In closing, if elected to the School Committee I will work to make sure that Sustainable Sharon and likeminded community members are invited into the conversation so that we can work together to find the best solution for the Sharon school system and the environment.

Thank you.

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