Sunday, October 27, 2019

Franklin Candidate Interview: Timothy Keenan

This interview with Tim Keenan, candidate for Franklin School Committee in 2019, was collaborated on via email. We reviewed the following questions, some of them were ‘crowd sourced.’ Some of you may remember the call for input solicited in August 2019 for this election. Thank you for your contributions.

Hopefully, the information provided here, and in the other interviews, will enable the Franklin voters to make a good choice among the candidates for each position.

For the following FM presents the question. TK represents Tim’s response.

FM = There are and have been many opportunities to volunteer with community groups in Franklin. Have you taken advantage of any of these? Which ones, and why did you choose that/those?

TK = We are fortunate to have many wonderful opportunities to volunteer with different groups in Franklin! I’m a working parent (with two jobs) and a father of two in the public school system… so my volunteer activities tend to be focused around school activities. Some examples… I have been a field trip volunteer multiple times for both of my kids. (Those of you with kids know that it sometimes helps to keep it even between your kids!!) I have also volunteered for sports day for both my kids in multiple years. 

I enjoy the kid-centered volunteer opportunities because my passion is centered around delivering enriching experiences for kids. Such experiences can help kids acquire knowledge, new skills and build confidence.

While my business in Franklin, Strive Ninja Fitness, is not a charity organization, it is focused on delivering similar enriching experiences for kids. I’m the owner of the business… so it’s hard to call my efforts at Strive volunteer. However, I am happy to dedicate any extra free time I have to activities at Strive… as I know these are having a positive impact on kids.

FM = Where do you get your news about Franklin?

TK = It is incredible how much Franklin-related news/information exists in Facebook or on the Internet. I’m sure I’m like some other parents who say “wow, I wish I knew about this before” when they discover a new source. That’s how I felt when I first came across Franklin Matters.

In addition to Facebook groups and the local newspaper, I learn of Franklin news/events/etc., through Social Media as well as from friends. It is super helpful when the community is connected and people are raising topics and referring to news items.

Here’s one thing that could be helpful… It would be great to have a spot somewhere online that listed all of the great information/news sources available to Franklin residents. It could be an amazing resource for anyone new to Franklin as well as those who have been here for years. (Now perhaps there is someone out there who might say… that list already exists! If it does… shoot me a message and let me know where I can go to see that list! 😊)

FM = The possibility of a change in school start times was a recent controversial topic taken up by the School Committee. Where do you stand on the issue of school start times in Franklin and what actions do you plan to take around this issue during the next term of the School Committee?

TK =  I could talk for days on this one. (I apologize in advance for the novel I’m sharing on this question.) 

I recognize this is an emotional topic for many in the community who have strong opinions. If my response here upsets anyone… I would be happy to have a civil discussion in regards to my perspective. I assure you that my perspective is research and data-informed. (Please feel free to message me if you would like to discuss.)

Also, while I have diligently educated myself on this topic, I am still open to the possibility that I may have missed something. If someone feels like I have missed some critical research, I would be happy to hear any thoughts in this regard.

I appreciate the community volunteers who dedicated their time over many months to build a point of view on changing school start times. There were a lot of smart and caring individuals on the “Start time” sub-committee and they should be commended for dedicating their time on a topic intended to help our kids.

That said, there are also many intelligent and caring community members who have raised very reasonable thoughts and questions that challenge the idea of changing start times. My sense is that some key community thoughts have been ignored and some key questions unanswered. While I am not fully opposed to the idea of changing start times, a deep assessment of “start time research” (which is not necessarily the same as “sleep research”) has left me skeptical that changing school start times results with slam-dunk benefits. I say this as someone with extensive professional research and analytic experience who has obsessively educated myself on this topic.

I can’t claim this with 100% certainty, but I would venture to guess that I have amassed as much or more knowledge and insight on this topic as anyone in the community. In addition to educating myself by reading a large amount of “start time” research, I believe I have taken steps that go beyond what the start time committee considered on this topic. Some examples…
  • I have communicated with multiple authors of start time researcher studies, including the author of the original position statement that suggests 8:30am or later for high school start times
  • I obtained data from published studies in order to conduct analysis
  • I have assessed trended standard test scores for Massachusetts schools that have made start time changes
  • I have exchanged messages on the subject with faculty of Minneapolis high school districts that were part of the highly referenced 1998 study that changed start times from 7:15 to 8:40… and then later moved start times back (between 8 and 8:15)

I feel strongly that I have pertinent information that has likely extended beyond what the committee considered. Unfortunately, I have been frustrated and disappointed that some committee members (who support changing start times) have largely ignored my attempts to share information that I believe can be impactful to the discussion. This made me feel like the committee felt like they had “the answer” and they were not interested in any alternate viewpoints.

For community members who believe any skepticism is unfounded… I encourage you to watch the YouTube replay of the Parent Education event from Feb 2019 at Franklin High School. Within 60 seconds of taking the podium at this event, the event’s sleep research expert (brought in by the committee… Dr Robert Thomas, a Harvard Med School faculty member) stated “I am one of the skeptics of school time changes…” He goes on to explain why he is skeptical. I am not trying to misrepresent… I encourage all community members to form their own opinions by watching the YouTube video.

I believe one can further understand skepticism if there is recognition that it is possible for both of these to be true:
  1. Adolescents need (or could at least benefit from) more sleep
  2. Changing high school start times (to be 8:30 or later) has not proven to be a solution that provides compelling benefits that clearly exceeds potential costs associated with making a change

In other words, it’s possible to believe that adolescents need more sleep AND also believe that changing start times is not a proven sufficient solution.

Aligned with the last couple of points, it is also important to note that “sleep research” is not necessarily the same as “start time research”. In fact, it’s very possible for the following to be true:
  1. Research that underscores the importance of sleep can be highly compelling
  2. Research focused on measuring the benefits of changing school start times might not be highly compelling

In fact, I arrived at a perspective that aligns with these two points. Specifically, while the benefits of sufficient sleep are strongly supported in research, the research on “start time changes” does not feel highly compelling (in my opinion).

I have more information, but I’ll share 3 data-driven points that I think are meaningful (that have probably not been sufficiently discussed/considered in the discussion). It’s important to note that these points are all data-driven:

  1. The average high schooler can (and does, or at least used to) go to bed at 10:30pm (with Freshman around 10pm and moving closer to 11pm by the time they are seniors). I can cite 4 separate research studies (all from highly regarded researchers/sources on this topic) that support this point
  2. Past studies (by sleep/start time researchers) showed a correlation between BEDTIME and grades for high school students (A’s 10:30pm bedtime… Ds/Fs had bedtime after 11pm)
  3. One of the seminal studies on this topic looked at 7 high schools in Minneapolis that moved their start times later in 1997… to 8:40am. NONE of the 7 Minneapolis high schools that moved start times to 8:40am in 1997 currently have a start time that late. All of them have moved their Five of the 7 have start times between 8 and 8:15. The principal of one of these high schools cited sports, activities and jobs among the factors to move earlier

These points are all important.

If we acknowledge #1 (10:30pm average bedtime for high schoolers)… then an 8:30am high school start time is NOT NEEDED to get 8 hours of sleep. (With a 10:30pm bedtime, a 6:30am wake-time gives kids 8 hours of sleep. So it’s reasonable to suggest that we don’t need an 8:30am start time if kids can get 8 hours of sleep with a 6:30am wake time)

If we recognize #2… then this can be a compelling point for parents to know (and decide or not if they might want to promote any night time changes for their kids)

If we are aware of #3 then we should see a clear example of communities that realized pain from making a change and they moved start times earlier (not back to their original place, but earlier than the AAP recommendation of 8:30am that California is currently pursuing)

(If you have made it this far… sorry, I told you I could talk for days on this one!! 😊)

In an effort to discover whether I have missed something, I have asked an open question to members who worked on the committee point of view. Specifically, I asked for any examples of specific “start time” studies that the start time committee found particularly compelling. To date I have not found anyone willing to share a specific “start time” study they found the most compelling.

If we are being honest as a community, the discussion on this topic has probably been sub-optimal. I have seen some unfortunate resentment build upon both sides, some directed towards me. I believe the superintendent’s pause on this topic has given us a great opportunity to re-evaluate the way we approach the dialogue.

We can ultimately have more productive conversations when we recognize that we have highly intelligent and caring people on both sides. Additionally, I believe we can find common ground if we come together and recognize a large majority on both sides have the same objective: most want to do what is best for kids. Further… we should listen and consider anyone who wants to share a voice on this (and any topic). It is a GREAT thing when the community is engaged!!

FM = While the current School Committee has attempted to reach the community through various forms of communication including coffee chats, email newsletters, attending events such as the farmers market, etc., they have been generally unsuccessful at increasing the engagement with important issues related to the schools. What actions will you take to increase citizen engagement with the School Committee?

TK = Since I yammered on so much with the “start time” question, I’ll try to be brief here…

I believe that we all benefit from more community engagement/involvement. I am appreciative of anyone that wants to volunteer time and thought to enrich the educational experiences and lives of our kids.

First, when people do engage, we need to make sure they understand their voices are heard and considered. There are tons of intelligent and caring people in Franklin… and great ideas, thoughts, etc., can come from anyone. If we do not show that we are listening and considering, community members will not be further encouraged to stay involved/engaged.

I think one thing we can do is to look to other towns/communities that might be having strong success with engagement (between committees and community members). We can develop an understanding from these towns on what has/has not worked. Past Franklin committee members (and the broader community) can also be sources for ideas on how to increase engagement.

FM = The Town Administrator has suggested that the School Committee investigate the possibility of closing Davis Thayer Elementary as a possible cost-saving mechanism for the town in these tight economic times. Where do you stand on this issue and what actions will you take to support your stance?

TK =  I believe it is a positive that I do not have a pre-set opinion in regards to whether Davis Thayer should be closed. As an analytically-minded individual, I prefer to develop data-informed opinions. I believe a structured problem-solving approach could uncover key insights that can inform opinions about the potential closure of Davis Thayer.

I have highly relevant work experiences that can help me contribute on this topic. One pertinent experience is related to facilitating structured problem-solving approaches. Below I’ll provide an initial sense of my perspective… with the assumption that readers recognize that candidates have been asked to limit their response length.

A key step at the beginning of a structured problem-solving approach can be to create a clear and transparent problem statement. This can help those analyzing (and the community) understand key factors driving the discussion.

I could be missing something, but I have seen three main points cited for initiating a closing study:
1. The age and design of the building
2. Decreased district enrollment
3. Economic efficiency

I’m assuming there is greater detail behind the rationale. The process (and community) would benefit from having critical detail integrated into a problem statement so everyone can better understand what is being assessed.

Many questions should be asked to ensure the problem statement is clearly defined. For example, “what aspects of the building design are potentially problematic?” Or “what are the specific data points that suggest decreased enrollment is a persistent problem?”

With a clearly defined problem statement we can better develop an analytic plan that can inform our opinions and recommendations.

Importantly, the emotion associated with the topic should receive careful consideration as a critical input. Accordingly, it will be critical to hear and consider all voices and perspectives in regards to the current situation.

FM = Why should I vote for you?

TK = The School Committee is a team and I can be counted on to be one of the candidates who can be a key contributor on the best possible School Committee for Franklin.
I believe the optimal School Committee would function as a team made up by people who are complementary, supportive, respectful and collaborative. I can fit in and strongly contribute in those ways.

I will bring a unique perspective to the School Committee. First, as mentioned earlier, I am a working father with two kids in our public school system. My kids have many wonderful characteristics as well as challenges they face. I can relate to the struggles of busy parents who have kids that face different challenges in their school and outside lives. 

Additionally, I have strong work experiences from running a kid-centric business in Franklin (Strive Ninja Fitness) plus a corporate job in research/analytics and strategy. People who know me from my Franklin business understand that I care deeply about kids and their families. Those who know me from my corporate life understand that I am highly experienced with facilitating structured, data-driven decision making. 

I say this with strong commitment: If I am fortunately enough to get elected, I can be counted on to do a great job and 100% of my committee efforts will be dedicated to promoting decisions in the best interests of kids and their families.

Franklin Candidate Interview: Timothy Keenan
Franklin Candidate Interview: Tim Keenan

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