Sunday, November 5, 2017

Voices of Franklin: Vanessa Bilello

Dear Town of Franklin voters-

Community members may not realize the incredible time commitment that all who hold local, elected positions on School Committee or Town Council make to our town. Workshops, subcommittees, and other responsibilities extend far beyond an every other week meeting in Council Chambers. 

Being an active, engaged member requires not only passion for the issues, but also a willingness to balance professional and personal needs with intense demands of public service volunteer work. Several months ago, with elections quickly approaching, I announced my decision to not seek re-election for the Franklin School Committee. The demands were too much given my hectic life as a new public school principal and mom to two middle schoolers. 

In the Town of Franklin, all seven seats on School Committee (and Town Council) roll over every election. For this reason, I urge voters of Franklin to re-elect Mrs. Denise Schultz and Dr. Anne Bergen to the Franklin School Committee, so that they can continue the efforts that they began two years ago and serve as leaders for the newly-formed Committee.

I'm incredibly proud of the hard work and accomplishments during the last two years through the collaboration of our Franklin School Committee and the educators in our schools. Strong District and School Improvement Plans, successful labor negotiations and most critically, the hiring of our new Superintendent, Dr. Sara Ahern are highlights. 

I’m also especially proud of the addition of our active Community Relations subcommittee, which has been instrumental in facilitating dialogue between the community and school leaders on a variety of issues. A huge “thank you” must go out to Denise Schultz and Anne Bergen- for initiating and setting up avenues to engage with the citizens of Franklin through regular coffees and conversations around our town. 

Two-way dialogue is going to be key moving forward in the challenging budget times that Franklin is facing. Anne and Denise- through their dedication, outreach and partnership with other groups, such as the Joint PCCs and MASC, are models for integrated collaboration.

As a School Committee, we’ve established a new liaison role- to promote dialogue with state leadership, which will be critical moving ahead with the challenges of public school funding in our state. Denise Schultz has been instrumental in opening these avenues up and I do believe that while local involvement and budgeting are essential, partnering with area towns and state officials are paramount as we face the growing budgetary challenges of Massachusetts public schools. 

Additionally- improvements to several key policies. Denise has also played a huge role in ensuring that our Policy Sub-Committee tackled such issues as dress code, handbooks, school vacations, and homework. Her dedication and passion for these issues (as well as school start times, social-emotional welfare of our students, and nutrition in schools) make her an ideal choice to continue on the Committee.

I’d like to say thank you to the Franklin educators- teachers, administrators and staff of our district. Having been a colleague of theirs for years as a special educator, I know how incredibly hard they work to give our children the high quality education they benefit from. Despite being in the bottom 30 or so school districts across MA for funding, the education they provide our children is top notch. However, they are asked to do too much with too little. 

Increasing mandates upon our schools along with other budgetary demands, especially combined with the approximately $4.1 million we lose yearly to our area charter have resulted in cut after painful cut - foreign language, music, librarians, kindergarten support aides, so many more. These were not nice to haves- they were needs- and we’ve lost them. 

Mandates are not all bad as people think- they include new technology standards, more rigorous science standards, required mental health screenings, wellness curriculum and improvements to educator evaluation and supervision. I could go on and on. Many of these mandates require more time- and more money. Teaching digital learning and digital citizenship, for example, are expensive- and critical for our children entering the workforce of the future.

As an elementary school principal I can tell you two things we never have enough of- money and time. I would love to have foreign language for fourth graders- or more even just time to immerse students in lessons about kindness - but what do we give up in our packed schedules. And where do we find the money- there is not a growing pot to pull for these increasing needs.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the Franklin Schools- please stay active and informed! Our schools need an active community behind them. I look forward to encouraging my fellow current School committee as they continue this critical work with proven leaders like Mrs. Schultz and Dr. Bergen. 

Alongside some new, incoming members and district leadership I know that they will create a strategic plan to set goals for our district and manage these budgetary constraints. Creative fixes are valiant, but the reality is our schools need more if we want to continue to provide high quality education for all our students- from the highest performing students in need of enrichment and extension, to the most challenged student who so greatly benefit from the various specialized support programs within our district. 

We cannot address the needs of our schools without a commitment to do whatever it takes to provide that to our children. The plight of our public schools here in Franklin are not unique. But given how low we are in terms of funding make these challenges especially alarming. 

So I implore my fellow Franklin citizens- get involved, learn about the needs of our schools and support our talented and dedicated educators in the public schools- with your support and commitment- through most importantly, with your pocketbooks, but also involvement, activism and engagement. 

It is essential that everyone who cares about the future of our town- and especially our children sitting in Franklin Public Schools, get out and vote on Tuesday, November 7th.


Vanessa Bilello
Outgoing Member of the Franklin School Committee

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