SSC Prompt: School Committee & Select Board Candidates’ Responses, 5/18/21 Election

“We can no longer afford to assume that addressing climate change is the sole responsibility of national or local governments, or corporations or individuals. This is an everyone-everywhere mission in which we all must individually and collectively assume responsibility.”

― Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

If you are elected to the School Committee/Select Board, you will be in a position to impact sustainable practices in all facilities and create opportunities to strengthen the environmental literacy of our leaders and residents. What is your plan in this regard and what specific programs or practices will you endorse?

Below are some examples that illustrate the synergy among our Town, Sharon Public Schools (SPS), and Sustainable Sharon Coalition (SSC):

  • At the 2019 Town Meeting, four passionate Sharon High School students presented a warrant article for a public commitment to get the town to zero carbon emissions by 2050. It passed with overwhelming support. What can you do in town and the schools to help Sharon reach net zero emissions by 2050?
  • In 2020, the town voted for a three-year moratorium on an artificial turf athletic field at the high school. If the opportunity to install an artificial turf field comes before the town or school committee again, would you vote for or against it? Why?
  • The position for the SPS Recycling Coordinator was created by SSC through a MassDEP grant. The position has evolved into a Recycling Coordinator working to benefit both the schools and the town. In what ways can you show support for the soon-to-be hired new Recycling Coordinator?
  • SSC Youth Sharon High School students raised $1800 in 2019 and arranged with the town to plant trees at Deborah Sampson Park. What more could be done to plant trees, rewild available areas in town, and support grass-roots initiatives?
  • Black Earth Compost curbside pickup was established by the SPS Recycling Coordinator and SSC volunteers. What could you do to expand and/or incentivize this program to include more households, town buildings, houses of worship, apartments/condos, etc.?
  • SSC offered input into the Imagine Sharon Comprehensive Master Plan. MassDOT grant programs, for example, can help Sharon fulfill the goals developed in that plan and provide safer walking and biking routes to school. If you’re elected, how will you help the town and schools to implement Sharon’s Master Plan?

Responses from Candidates for Select Board:

Emily Smith-Lee

Over the past three years, I have been proud to be involved with several initiatives and projects that tie to sustainability and climate change.  These include:

  • Acquiring Rattlesnake Hill to preserve as conservation land, safeguarding a natural resource that is not only a beautiful piece of open space but also a carbon “sink.”
  • Entering leases on town-owned land for the installation of solar panels, increasing our town’s contribution to renewable energy.
  • Supporting the moratorium on artificial turf.
  • Rolling out the municipal electricity aggregation program, which allows the town to use the purchasing power of a majority of our residents to procure electricity that meets certain renewable energy standards.

There is still much to be done in the next three years.  Among the things I am looking forward to working on:

  • Continuing to find opportunities to use Town land to support solar energy projects.
  • Deepening the conversation around solid waste disposal, so that our trash policies align with the overarching goal of waste reduction and encouraging recycling and composting.
  • Using the turf moratorium to fully explore more sustainable ways to maintain our playing fields, and/or opportunities to expand available playing fields available to our community to allow for effective and sustainable maintenance.

Finally, as we start resuming normal activities, we need to continue to look at how the Town can facilitate and encourage ridership on the commuter rail instead of driving, including addressing parking needs at the train station.

 

Responses from Candidates for School Committee:

Kathleen Currul-Dykeman, J.D., Ph.D.

“We can no longer afford to assume that addressing climate change is the sole responsibility of national or local governments, or corporations or individuals. This is an everyone-everywhere mission in which we all must individually and collectively assume responsibility.” – Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

As a school committee member I will continue to have a direct impact on the policies that govern our committee and a vote on the contents and bottom line of the school’s budget. Through these roles we can make a difference for our greater community and environment by being engaged, educated, and concerned citizens.  We can adopt policies and ultimately practices that conserve and use available resources wisely.  We can accept that climate change is truly everyone’s responsibility and partner with Sustainable Sharon when we have to make decisions that could have environmental consequences.  We can support students and teachers who are dedicated to making a difference and celebrate their great work. We can lead with a collaborative spirit and by example.

Thank you for this opportunity and for all of your great work.

Prisnel Dominique

Thank you, Sustainable Sharon, for the opportunity to speak on environmental sustainability. Climate change is a real threat to our planet and our children. Everyone has a moral obligation to take action. School Committees everywhere have passed resolutions to fight climate change, and as a member of the School Committee I will advocate to join in this effort.

  • On carbon emissions: The school community can reimagine our energy consumption. Installing solar panels on the new high school and in parking lots, and moving toward electric vehicles, are steps in the right direction. We can seek grants to upgrade insulation and heating systems, taking advantage of new technology.
  • On artificial turf: I recognize the coalition’s concerns. I’m not for or against turf or grass. I’m pro-fields. If we revisit this issue (weighing costs, maintenance, environmental impact), my priority will be providing recreational space for our students.
  • On recycling and composting: The incoming recycling coordinator should regularly provide data to the committee. Regarding composting, the School Committee could encourage an information campaign that engages our community
  • On trees: We can encourage our community to undertake volunteer projects and seek grants to further efforts such as planting more trees on school properties.
  • On the Master Plan: The Master Plan survey identified quality of schools as Sharon’s key asset. The focus of my campaign is Excellence and Equity in education, in keeping with our residents’ chief concern. I support the Master Plan suggestion to create safe routes to schools that include walking and biking paths.

Tanya Lewis

As a School Committee member, it would be my role to ensure budget and policy are in place to support sustainability activities. Using both policy and budget, I would support moving to electric vehicles for district transportation. Regarding artificial turf, I recommend conducting a risk benefit analysis considering the number of people harmed by artificial turf, the specific type of harm caused, the amount of water used to water a grass field and maintenance required. This allows me to make an informed decision.

To further support activities, I would encourage the Superintendent to seek matching grant funding for student fundraisers to plant trees at all five schools creating real world experience for students to understand their impact on the environment. To help with planting/maintenance of trees and rewilding of areas, I would encourage the Superintendent to evaluate the Black Earth Compost program as a potentially low-cost initiative.

To implement the Sharon Master Plan at the school level, I recommend developing School Committee policies that address sustainable practices and develop environmental literacy through presentations at School Committee meetings and at the building level. I would also applaud the efforts of students that are trying to make a difference at School Committee meetings. I would encourage all school committee members to attend sustainability activities sponsored by students.

Finally, I would ask the new Superintendent to add a discussion of environmental sustainability as a part of the new strategic plan for the district identifying a set of priorities over the next three years.

Chethana (Rani) Naik

Thank you to Sustainable Sharon Coalition for the ways in which you are making our small piece of the planet a better place live and leave for our kids. I believe education should be looked at wholistically. Our kids are our future so in addition to making sure we focus on education we also want to instill in them the responsibility of leaving a better world for generations yet to come.

As a school committee member, I believe there are always to encourage and promote ways in which we can continue to maintain the focus on environmental initiatives. As elected bodies, we have opportunities to work together cross functionally especially when talking about specifics such as a Recycling coordinator who can benefit the school and town level. We can and should look into ways we bring awareness to our kids on the importance of everyday tasks such as recycling, composting and no littering. Being part of the local boy scout troop with my boys, we always talk about the concept of leave no trace when on hike so that you leave the place as pristine for the next person who comes along.

As a resident of this fine planet my everyday goal is to find simple ways where I can continually make a positive impact for our planet. If given the opportunity to do this at a larger level, I then consider myself honored and duty bound to ensure we leave Sharon just as beautiful for generations yet to come.

Wenxiao Tiano

I grew up in a household that rationed shower time and electricity; that tolerated zero food waste; that cut open every lotion bottle to scrape out the dredges. Our environmentally conscious lifestyle was rooted both in the necessity of immigrant frugality as well as an appreciation for the collective responsibility we have to preserve our one Earth.

We need to create a committed cultural mentality. Here are some proposals to augment and complement the inspiring initiatives that our students and our community have spear-headed:

  • Distinguished speaker program: Sharon is blessed with brilliant professionals across all industries, and we should assemble panels of scientists, engineers, behavioral psychologists, etc., to present a multi-faceted big picture overview.
  • Mentorship program: Pairing professionals with students who are galvanized to take action.
  • Compiling a comprehensive resource guide/portal accessible to all.
  • Partnering with Black Earth to bring zero-waste initiatives to SPS: setting benchmark goals and designating certain zero-waste days or events throughout the year.
  • Minimizing our footprint to meet 2050 zero carbon emissions goals by maximizing bus route efficiency and encouraging 100% participation. We should be collecting survey data to determine how we might incentivize students to bike more to school and applying for grant funding. Grant writing is something I have extensive experience with.
  • Working with curriculum coordinators to weave environmental consciousness into the fabric of our curriculum.

I truly believe in the power of education to shape our mentality and dedication to the one place we all call home. We are in this together.

Veronica Wiseman

The global warming that’s changing our climate is already having dire consequences on our planet. Whenever the anxiety attending that reality gets close to overwhelming me, I remember the adage “think globally and act locally”. In Sharon, we are incredibly fortunate to have a variety of open green spaces, a working farm, an active CSA program run through Mass Audubon Moose Hill and or course our beautiful Lake Massapoag. As our community works to protect these precious assets, we must model and educate our children to do so as well.

Thanks to a MassDEP grant, the town will soon have a Recycling Coordinator, who will oversee and build on critical waste management and recycling initiatives already in place in our school buildings. As a school committee member, I can support this work by advocating for our recycling coordinator to partner with SPS science teachers and curriculum coordinators, expanding the emphasis on issues within our curriculum related to waste management and its impact on our town. From preschool to graduation, our students should understand their role in maintaining the health of our planet, and how local action in their own community is essential to that goal.

As a 23 year resident of Sharon, I am grateful for the commitment and work of the Sustainable Sharon Coalition – which has been a tremendous educational resource for our family, our community and our schools – and to prior generations of Sharonites who have held fast to their commitment to keep Sharon “naturally beautiful”.

Heather Zelevinsky

Although the pandemic is the crisis of the moment, I’ve never forgotten the broader climate crisis we’re still experiencing, and I continue to support mitigation through wise infrastructure spending. I would love more kids safely walking or biking to school, assuming they’re willing and able. This would reduce vehicular traffic, and improve students’ physical and mental health.

In 2017, I helped the Town of Sharon adopt a Complete Streets Policy to make streets more walkable and bikeable. I also helped the Department of Public Works create a Complete Streets Prioritization Plan (see pp. 160-163 of the Master Plan for more information), which allowed the town to achieve Tier 2 Status with MassDOT’s Complete Streets Funding Program. It also led the DPW to undertake additional sidewalk improvements, though we still need more.

Regarding the turf, I believe the town made the right choice, given what we know now. If an opportunity to install more solar panels comes up, I would support it. Regarding waste, last summer I looked into the environmental impact of PPE, and how to reduce it without compromising safety. The thought of thousands of discarded masks and gloves was one of the many reasons I advocated for the creation of the Remote Academy option for this highly unusual year.

The schools reaching the goal of net zero emissions by 2050 will depend largely on whether a majority of the School Committee decides to make it a priority. I support it, and thank you for all your hard work.