Sunday, October 30, 2011
Sean Donahue answers 3 questions
Candidate Sean Donahue is a recent graduate from Bryant with a major in Communications. Since he also is a product of the Franklin Public School system (FHS Class of 2007), he can bring a unique perspective to the School Committee. We got together recently and Sean provided his answers to these three questions.
FM - Tell me a bit about yourself, your family and your life here in Franklin?
SD - My story is a little different from the others running as I am not yet raising a family. My family moved here just before I was born because Franklin was a great place to raise a family. It had a great school system. Will it stay that way, I’m not so sure, but I hope I can help be a part of ensuring it does. My sister and I grew up here. We both went through the school system. We were very involved in the schools; I was in the National Honor Society, Peer Leadership, I did the band all through middle school to high school and then did Jazz band in college. I did the meteorology club with Mr. Schliefke. I did soccer and tennis in high school. I was the manager for the soccer team after freshman year.
From high school, I went to Bryant University. I graduated summa cum laude with a major in Communications. I did a research paper on possible factors to predict students would be interested in studying abroad and presented it at a conference in front of top communication scholars from across the country. That was a good experience. I was Treasurer and Secretary (at different times) for the Communications Society on campus. I got to put together and present and defend budgets, and while not on the same scale as here, I managed to increase our budget 10% in a time when they were cutting budgets. Being honest about the budget was one of the keys for our success. We put in what we needed and were able to justify it. We found what was important and were able to defend that honestly.
For my honors capstone project, I did research and a paper on negative political advertising. I got to present that in front of the school president, a former U.S. Congressman, so that was a great experience. When I graduated I was named the top student in both Communications and Political Science. I also had a Business Administration minor with a 4.0 GPA, so I have taken classes in Accounting, Finance, and all that, many of them at the elevated honors level. So I have a good background in business and communications and communications is a big issue here currently.
FM - What experience or background will help you to serve in this role? or What do you think makes you a good candidate to fulfill this role?
SD - I think what makes me unique is that I am a fairly recent graduate of the high school. I am still very familiar with what is going on there. As I am going around, I talk with parents and their kids tell them of, what they feel are overly tough classes and I had some of those same classes and teachers that were tough too. While I may have been frustrated and not have realized it at the time, some of them I came to find out actually prepared me better than any others for college. I can bring that different perspective and share what is important. There is not that much diversity on the School Committee in that I believe all the members bring the perspective of parents, which isn’t a bad thing. I have a lot of respect for the people in this position. It is a lot of work and unpaid and I give them a lot of credit for making it possible to receive the education I got here. However, I can bring my unique perspective to the committee and maybe we can change some things.
Unfortunately, these are tough times and in the discussions around what can be cut, I can help add what is important. There is a lot more to school than standardized test scores. Just because this school’s test scores are going up doesn’t mean that they are doing a better job. Are they preparing people for college properly? Are they preparing people for the work force? I talked with lots of people about the AP program. It has gone downhill recently. There are less offerings. The test score performance is not there. In some cases, the books are out of date. The AP Program is an area that can really help students stand out on the transcript and get into good colleges and it’s certainly something that helped me.
FM - What do you see as your role’s biggest challenge and do you have any suggestions on how we can resolve it?
SD - There are multiple challenges facing the School Committee. The major item has to be the high school building project. The School Committee needs to assist the School Building Committee in sharing information on the need for the building and really answer the question “Why?” We need to remember that the New England Association of Schools and Colleges has had the high school on warning status for several years because of the issues with the educational effectiveness (actually lack thereof) of the building. The reason they are on “warning” and not on “probation” is that they have shown progress on the school project. Without this issue being addressed, the high school ends up on probation, if we continue to fail to address it, accreditation can go away and even on probation the prospects of high school graduates getting into the college of their choice decrease and getting state and federal funding which we’ve relied so much on can become much more difficult.
Renovation is not a real option as the work would be so disruptive. My college has been under renovation while I was in class, and I can say first hand it is not conducive to learning. When we go back in after the work is done, we’d see the same walls and floors. Much of the money would have been spent on the interior and infrastructure (wiring and boilers, etc stuff that you don’t see) and we could rightfully say, we paid for what? The work wouldn’t be visible. Then when you factor in the nearly 58% the state will fund for the new school, but not renovation, the new building option seems to be the clear choice. We get more school for less money.
We need to do a better job communicating why we need the school. If the vote is coming in March, they are running out of time. If you don’t get the good information out there, it leaves the opportunity for the opponents to lead the discussion with their set of miss-information.
I hear people say, why couldn’t it have been better maintained. For whatever the reasons, we are passed that now. We have a choice of major renovation or build the new school. With the State agreeing to do the model school, that is our best option. We’ll need to look to the future to maintain the new building and our other schools to avoid this scenario the next time.
There are a lot of minor things on the communications front, the School Committee website can be more effective. It is hardly used. The calendar is not updated. The meeting minutes are delayed in getting posted. The School Committee blog is a good thing but it would be nice to see more use of that. And finding more way to get the public involved. There actually is a Facebook page for the School Committee, I think there are like 30 people on it. Can the Committee utilize the schools contact listing for the parents? Sending something out with details after the meetings would be a good way to spread the proper information.
The School Committee meetings themselves could be adjusted to be more of a mix between good news and challenges. The meeting agendas are heavily weighed to share good news, which is good but then when you get to ask for money, there is seems to be little justification for it. They have a presentation say on a summer program, on how good it is, and people are there and then later in the meeting they get to talk about a budget item and no one is there, they have left.
When I started the campaign, I thought people we happy with how the schools were doing considering the budget issues. The more I have talked with folks, I find that not is not the case. I ran into one of my former teachers, now retired, and he ask: “So you’re running to fix this screwed up school system?”
What I haven’t mentioned much during the campaign, is I have 10 years of experience in journalism – starting at a paper that was all college graduates while I was still 13 and at Horace Mann – and including more recent work for the Associated Press and ESPN Boston. Through that I’ve learned to become a great listener and to ask the right questions to get to the heart of problems. I think that skillset will also serve me well on the school committee.
For additional information on Sean’s campaign for School Committee, you can visit his website http://donahueforfranklin.com/ or his page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/donahueforfranklin