Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Franklin Candidate for School Committee - Kevin O'Malley

Kevin O’Malley and I met recently at Panera to talk about his campaign for School Committee. This is the summary of our discussion.

FM - What is your Franklin story?

O’Malley - Actually, my story is a story of education. I grew up in Boston, South Boston tenement poor kid story. As much as Southie believes in the church, it believes in education as a liberating force. So I was imbued in education from an early age. I've always been in education, interested in education and treated it with a seriousness somewhat beyond my calling. I went to BC High, then put myself through college and got my master’s degree and then I continued to get my doctorate at UMass Amherst. Education is a journey that doesn’t end. 
My mother was a teacher. I married a teacher. We had four children who went college and had all gone through the Franklin Public Schools. The most important experience of Franklin I have is that my kids went here and all did well. I am grateful for that. 
I was a teacher in Boston and came out here during the days of Dorothy Swanbeck and Jack Doherty. I was the assistant principal. So some of my voters, I know I had the opportunity to suspend at some time. I hope they don’t hold that against me. I went on to become the principal at Leominster High School. A good school. I’m a big fan of teenagers. The experience at the high school then led me to be the assistant superintendent at Leominster. And then to the superintendent of school in Ayer. 
With my doctorate I taught at Fitchburg State College. I taught at UMass. I taught a term at WPI. Teaching is part of learning. There is no line where one stops and the other begins. I got a call out of the blue and ended up at the Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School. An unbelievable experience. It had started and run into some rocky times. They hired me initially for a short period of time and I ended up staying for six years. In that time, things calmed down and the true excellence of the school came through. Charter schools are parent choice schools. You can’t do better by our parents than by giving them the choice.  
As it turns out the Franklin schools are good schools. So they are hard competition for the charter school. And the charter school is pretty good competition for Franklin so it has worked out the way they drew it upon the drawing board. Both get better because of the existence of the other. 
There was an opening for School Committee so I put my name in for it and was fortunate to win. It was the first time I’d ever run for office. I am running on a vision of the importance of education and not out of any need of something I need to fix. I am a big booster of education in Franklin, I believe it can be better. I can be better. I am in it for as long as I can get out of bed. This is the stamp that I have put on my life. I have benefited from education all my life and that’s a long winded answer as to why I am here.

FM - What do you see as a challenge for the position of School Committee?

O’Malley – The first and most important challenge is the need for this town to recognize what they have. The more people hear about the schools, the more they will see Franklin schools are worthy of their support. Our schools need more financial support. We are 18% under the state average. We are building a decent school system and we are doing it without some of the funding that could get us to the next level. We’re heading there. I think we have the teaching corp. I can’t image why the funding of the schools is not a more hot button issue in this town. Every year we are at the same 18% deficit. We are not catching up. 
Education is a people business. Teachers teach children. You can have any number of sparkling things but without the right teachers in the classroom, you don’t have a strong education. Every time I drive by the high school I think the town did a good thing. That is step one. Step two is to support those teachers and to keep them. We do lose teachers. Ten miles down the road they get more money. I am now retired and I understand what fixed income means. But they need more than what we are giving them. 
The other issue is one that has grown over time is that of safety. In my day, we wanted doors that were covered so the kids couldn’t run out. It is different now. You can’t say anything more important to the children and to their parents than “Your school is safe”. School safety is dominant. We have a good handle on it and we can do more. We were meeting this summer on school safety. That group will make a report and we’ll see how much it will cost. 
Third thing is technology. My iPad is a continuous amazement but technology is more than stuff. Having teachers who can use it well is important. Having a technologically literate staff is a blessing. We need to provide every possible support for teachers to work with technology. Training, bringing people in, using good software, whatever it takes. The potential of technology to me is spectacular in this regard. For too long in education we had the approach that if we taught to the middle of the class, the ends would fall in. That doesn’t work today. Technology allows you to meet more kids where they are. 
We have become lost in our priorities because of the expense and complexity of modern education. Today, I believe some children are getting left behind. We have resource challenges in all areas of education and in particular have unfathomable costs in special education. We are all God’s children and everyone should achieve to their maximum. The promise of the circuit breaker funding plan by the state was to mitigate the increase in costs and the state would pick it up. That hasn’t happened. 
Education is a people business and 85% of the school budget is in support of the personnel costs. The benefits costs look to continue on an upward trend. Where is our funding priority? We need to get our house in order. I feel development in town needs to be sensible. 
One more thing: PARCC. Our theme this year is more rigor and more complexity. I couldn’t agree more. We need to challenge our kids. We are not competing against Bellingham, we are competing against the world. They need to be the best they can be to quote an ad. PARCC takes them from memorizing the times tables to understanding music, and that is a level up from our old educational model. We voted for the pilot. I am sure we’ll see it again. Complexity and rigor is not a punishment for kids, ultimately it is a real war for talent. The studious kids need to reach higher levels. It demands of us to work with the kids who less swiftly access the curriculum. They deserve that. 
Teachers are such heroic people in my view. All the issues of family wind up on their doorstep everyday. The most important teachers in the world are the elementary school teachers. They have to teach all the subjects, and they have to teach those who are most vulnerable. I like to tell this story in my college classes. On 9/11 the first responders saved America. On 9/12 teachers save America. Every kid who went to school was greeted by a teacher who assured them that it was going to be all right. They never got the credit for that which they deserve. They are the glue that keeps this culture together and we are fortunate to have them.

FM - What do you bring to the position that would set you apart from the other candidates?

O'Malley - I will say that I think there is no one wanting the School Committee position who will bring more passion to this. The finest thing we do in this culture is teach our young. We do it well in Franklin. We can do it better. School Committee is not a place for beginners. The issues are complex. We need to be accessible to the public. We need to have an open mind. 
The experience I have, the commitment I have, I have no particular issues in the fire, so to speak, this makes me a good candidate. I am anxious to serve another term. Education needs the best people. I hope I will be there. I will support who ever does get it.

If you have any follow up questions for Kevin, you can contact him via

Noteworthy: This information is intended to help the Franklin voters when we all head to the ballot box on November 3rd. The interview candidates have had an opportunity to review the text before publishing to ensure the accuracy of our discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment