Friday, November 1, 2019

Franklin Candidate Interview: Ann Bergen

This interview with Dr Ann Bergen, 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. AB represents Ann’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?
AB = I have been a School Committee member for two terms; the last term (2 years) as its chair. I ran because my whole professional life has been devoted to advocacy of public schools. I truly believe that education is the great equalizer.

Social/emotional well-being is the foundation of a happy and fulfilling life; to that end I created and host a cable access TV show: It Takes a Village: Raising Resilient Kids in Today’s World. Because the disease of substance use disorder is impacting so many young lives, I joined forces with Jim Derick from the Safe Coalition and co-host a Franklin a cable access TV show: SAFE COALITION: Confronting our Crisis. In addition, I am part of the Franklin Public Schools Substance Abuse Task Force. 

I will also be serving on the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Task Force on Juvenile Substance Abuse and Mental Health. The Franklin YMCA is the largest charitable organization in our community. The work they do in our community is incredible. Because I believe so much in all they do, I serve on the Board of Managers.  More and more people are living with the disease of Dementia; Karen Alves and Maggie Gundersen from the Senior Center are committed to raising awareness and inspiring empathy and compassion. I serve with them on the Dementia Friendly Franklin Steering Committee.  In addition, I believe there must be a place in our community for local programming on TV and radio. We are so fortunate to have a state of the art cable access studio in our community. I serve on the Board of Directors of Franklin Cable Access TV.

FM = Where do you get your news about Franklin?
AB = I check in with Franklin Matters every day; read the Gazette and the monthly Franklin Town News.

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?
AB = When virtually every major medical and psychological association in the country recommends adjusting start times for our adolescents, our School Committee along with so many across the country and the state voted to investigate; it would have been irresponsible not to. A task force made up of educators, parents, business leaders, etc. spent over a year researching this issue and made a recommendation. 

Based on community impact and our own study of the ramifications of the recommendation, we decided as a committee that we were not yet ready to move forward. For me there were too many unanswered questions (impact on teams, clubs, after school activities). I was left confused by the panel who presented on “the research”. They actually did not address the sleep research, but spoke anecdotally. 

I am looking forward to getting more information from Dr. Judith Owens, a well-known expert on the sleep research. She will be speaking on November 19. We are gathering more data from our schools relative to tardies/absences and are exploring the impact of social media and homework demands on sleep as well. 

We have never been able to match school times to work schedules; that will always be an issue. Just ask the hundreds of families who drop off their kids in day care every day. We have to do the best we can to mitigate the impact on families, but our main goal must always be on what is best for the emotional, social and physical well-being of our students.

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?
AB = It is very important for people to understand that a School Committee is bound by the Open Meeting Law to conduct all business at public meetings. We must deliberate as an entire committee in public, not through social media. We meet twice a month and encourage people to come and engage with us directly. Franklin Cable Access TV broadcasts all of our meetings and rebroadcasts during the week. Franklin Matters also reports on our meetings. Unfortunately, the local newspapers no longer cover our meetings. We have updated our website and all of our contact information is available. We encourage direct contact. We send out a newsletter to the community at least four times a year.

It should be noted that since January alone of this past year, we have provided more than TWENTY-SIX opportunities to engage with us. We have held community coffee hours every month at different times to accommodate work schedules! We have been at the Harvest Festival, Farmer’s Market, Strawberry Stroll, Senior Center, and sporting events! 

We already met twice with Davis Thayer families to address concerns relative to the closing study! We arranged for our state senators and state representative to address concerns relative to funding and issues such as time on learning ; we have arranged for them to return on Feb. 4, 2020. I say with great pride that this past committee has provided unprecedented opportunity for community engagement!!! 

We have been open to address any concern, answer any and all questions. If I have the honor of being reelected, I hope we continue to engage to this extent with the public!

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?
AB = Actually, we as a School Committee following our own policy relative to retirement of facilities based on the recommendation of the Superintendent voted to study the potential closing of Davis Thayer. We did not do this on the recommendation of the Town Administrator but based on our own evaluation of the fiscal issues facing us as a school department. That is the responsibility of the School Committee. 

I truly understand the emotional ramifications of closing Davis Thayer as it was my professional home for many years (teacher, reading specialist, and principal in that very building!!). I loved working there; I loved the community. 

The enrollment there has dwindled to about 200 students. We have to take a hard look at the numbers associated with maintaining such a large building for so few students. Davis Thayer was built and designed as a three-story high school facility (with no elevator). It was renovated as an open space school when I began teaching there. When walls were eventually put up to divide the space, classrooms were left very small! 

There are other limitations which we must consider. It is time, at least, to study, as painful as that is for such a devoted school community. It is one of those tough decisions, but part of our fiscal responsibility.

FM = Why should I vote for you?
AB = We are facing some tough fiscal times. I believe firmly that as a School Committee, it is imperative we are open and transparent about the budget issues facing our schools. We must work cooperatively with the Town Council, Finance Committee, and Town Administrator. We are one community and must all work together to make sure Franklin remains a thriving, safe and vibrant community. I am committed to that partnership. 

We hired an extraordinary superintendent and implemented the rigorous and powerful evaluation process in order to monitor the implementation of our District Goals. Dr. Ahern is working with the representatives from across the community to create A Portrait of a Graduate; a powerful vision of what skills, habits and attitudes that we wish for all of our students to obtain upon graduation. I am committed to supporting that vision. 

Social Emotional well-being of both staff and students must remain a major focus. I am a passionate advocate for public schools and like all of the candidates running for office wish to give back, to serve. I firmly believe that it is so important to use whatever talents we have to serve the greater good. I would love that opportunity and would greatly appreciate your vote on November 5.

Find the election and candidate information gathered in one place on the Election Collection

Franklin Candidate Interview: Ann Bergen
Franklin Candidate Interview: Ann Bergen

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