Friday, October 1, 2021

School Committee candidate John McCormack responds to questions

For the following you can read FM = Steve Sherlock and JM as John McCormack, candidate for School Committee. The answers were provided by John via email in response to the offer made to all the candidates for the Franklin Election Nov 2, 2021. 

Publication of the answers or interview responses does not constitute an endorsement of the candidate. This is my public service effort to enable informed voters for the election Nov 2, 2021.

FM = Briefly, what is your ‘Franklin story’? Tell us briefly about your life here.

JM = My Franklin story has just begun and my family and I could not be more excited! We were living in a smaller home in Norwood, MA and since we have lots of family in the region, we wanted to stay in the area. I always heard great things about Franklin from co-workers as well as Norwood people who moved here, and my wife who grew up in Plainville heard great things about Franklin as well. I have been a high school History teacher for the last 16 years, and my wife has been a guidance counselor for the last 16 years. When we researched the schools here, we made the decision to move to Franklin in 2019 with no reservations at all. Although we looked at homes in other nearby towns, the major deciding factor that drew us to Franklin was the fact that they had high-performing schools. I am running for school committee because I want to ensure that my children and all the children of Franklin are attending a school district that is constantly striving to improve. 

FM = Participating in elections is one of the key freedoms of American life and voting is one of the primary responsibilities of citizens. While the law does not require citizens to vote, voting is a very important part of any democracy. What can you tell us about your own voting record? And if you have not been an active voter, please tell us why? And how important is it that we elect people who are active participants in the election process?

JM = I have consistently voted in local, state, and federal elections since I was 18 years old. My American Government class and AP History classes that I took in high school sparked my interest in history, debate, and politics, as well as inspired me to become a History teacher. At the end of the day voters in a local election are going to elect people based on where they stand on important issues and hopefully not just elect people based on their participation in past elections. Given the fact that local offices are mainly volunteer positions that do not lead to financial gain, I would imagine anyone running for one of these offices would be extremely invested in the future of their community regardless of their previous voting record. 

FM = Have you been vaccinated for COVID-19? Do you think there should be a mask mandate in Franklin? Finally, what measures should the government take to protect the public from the virus, and how should these efforts be delineated between the local, State, and Federal governments?

JM = I am vaccinated for COVID-19. Personally, I have no problem revealing this information, but I realize why many Franklin residents would feel uncomfortable answering this question as it could be interpreted as a violation of medical privacy. Considering there is no federal or state mask mandate and Franklin is not a densely populated city, I do not believe Franklin should have a mask mandate. The state of Massachusetts has access to the most data and resources to effectively protect the people that live in this state. Local governments are obviously very aware of how the pandemic is affecting their regions, but their decisions of how to best protect people have been incredibly inconsistent. Although there is a DESE mandate for masks in schools until November 1st, at some point, local districts are going to be able to make decisions on COVID restrictions and mitigation policies. There is no reason for Franklin to have more COVID-based restrictions than what is being mandated at the state level. 

FM = What are the 3 most important actions you believe are needed to move Franklin forward?

JM =  Increase Supports to Address Learning Deficits Due to COVID:
 The teachers of Franklin worked miracles during the COVID pandemic to deliver instruction while keeping students engaged. However, the teachers could not control variables like technology issues and access or the situations in the homes of students. Students during COVID still missed a massive amount of in-person instruction, and this undoubtedly led to learning deficits for all students. While my wife and I were both working during the school day, a very close relative who was a teacher of 35 years sat right next to my 2nd grade son to ensure that he was able to navigate the complexities of remote learning and make sure that he stayed on task. I was teaching remotely this past year until after Columbus Day and I continued to teach remotely every Wednesday until April, so I was an eyewitness to the challenge that remote learning posed to teachers, students, parents, and caretakers. I often wondered what kids were going through that had to sit at a computer completely alone for hours at a time while their parents had to work? I spoke with many veteran and retired elementary school teachers and reading specialists because I was concerned about learning deficits specifically related to reading, and what those deficits might lead to moving forward. These teachers told me that when a student enters 4th grade, if they are significantly behind in reading, those deficits are very likely to follow a student all the way up until their high school graduation. Franklin cannot just pay lip service to addressing learning deficits or think that the mere mentioning of learning deficits due to COVID in a school improvement plan will yield results. Goals and benchmarks related to learning deficits must continue for years to come in order to ensure that a whole generation of Franklin students are not negatively impacted. 

Align Curriculum At The Elementary and Middle School Level:
I have taught high school for the last 16 years, and a consistent issue that I have observed are large discrepancies in how prepared students are when entering high school. I firmly believe that these discrepancies do not begin in middle school, but they begin at the elementary level and these issues arise due to curriculum not being aligned across all schools. This is a systemic issue within school districts, and in no way am I placing the blame on individual teachers for this problem. Franklin public schools need to align the curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels and teachers must be provided with more consistent training for how the complex puzzle of an aligned curriculum fits together. I am not saying that the curriculum needs to be micromanaged to strip all autonomy and creativity away from teachers, but no matter what elementary school a student comes from when they enter middle school, that student should have the same academic access as the rest of their peers, and the same should hold true for when middle school students enter high school. If the curriculum were more consistently aligned at the lower levels, when students entered high school, they would be more prepared to enroll in more rigorous courses. 

Increase Parental Engagement in the Schools by Expanding Parental Voice:
If parents feel that their voices are being heard, they will be more likely to engage in their child’s education.  This will lead to more consistent dialogue between parents and all school staff which will ultimately benefit the child. From my own experience the schools respond well to parent inquiries, but increasing parental engagement goes beyond replying to parent questions or concerns. To increase parental engagement in a way that allows parents to be stakeholders in their child’s education, the school committee and the district must solicit more parental input through the use of parent surveys, public meetings, and parental participation in decision-making groups that determine such crucial issues like curriculum and school-wide policies and procedures. 

FM =
 What experience or background will help you to serve in this role? Or what do you bring to the table that helps to set you apart from the others?

JM =   My experience as a high school teacher for the last 16 years gives me the knowledge that I need to serve on the school committee. I can approach policies and decisions from the perspective of a teacher that understands how they will affect the instruction of teachers and the learning of students. Being on a school committee should mean that the committee member is not satisfied with the status quo of the school district, but instead, the committee member is constantly striving for the district to be better. As a teacher that has worked on whole school improvement initiatives at both Everett High School and King Philip Regional High School, I feel confident that I can be a committee member that helps Franklin schools improve in the short term and thrive in the long term. I do not feel comfortable saying what sets me apart from the other candidates because I do not want to devalue the work of the members that have served on the committee. All of the candidates can bring unique skills and perspectives to the school committee and like me, I am sure that they are invested in the future of Franklin. Personally, I know that I am not afraid of a challenge or drastic change. Four years ago I started teaching Advanced Placement History and I had to completely immerse myself into a new curriculum and an entirely new method of teaching that I had no experience doing. Although the planning, teaching, and grading for an AP course never gets easier, I can confidently say that the course has solidified my belief that consistent effort leads to results. Any of my former students would say that I consistently try to motivate them by talking about the value of perseverance and taking pride in their work, and I have always believed that even if I do not have the most experience when I start something new, my willingness to work hard day after day will always lead to success. 

FM =  With the Franklin Public School District managing the largest portion of Franklin's budget, what are your ideas to help solve the structural deficit in the operating budget?

JM =  My main approach to solving the structural deficit in the district’s operating budget would be for me to learn everything I can about the school budget. A structural deficit in a school budget does not happen overnight, and short term and long term solutions will be needed to fix this complex problem. I cannot say that my ideas to address the budget deficit will magically solve an issue that is plaguing many local districts, but I can ask as many questions as possible to find out which segments of the budget contribute the most to the deficit. Once I have had the chance to learn as much about the budget as I can, my main goal would be finding out if parts of the budget are being mismanaged, or if money could be spent more efficiently to help close the budget shortfalls. 

Some of the questions I would want to ask about the budget would include:
  • What is the budget for professional development for teachers, and I want to know how much of this professional development actually relates to teacher instruction and student outcomes?
  • What percentage of the budget is made up of transportation costs and is there any way for money to be spent more efficiently related to this?
  • How much does Franklin spend on outside placements for Special Education, and are there any programs that the district could implement to bring more students back into the district? 
  • How many collaboratives or cost-sharing programs for outside placement or Special Education services is Franklin participating in?
  • How did the closing of the Davis Thayer School affect the operating budget?
  • According to DESE stats on school enrollment, Franklin had nearly 6,000 students in 2011 and 4,800 this past year. How has this decrease in enrollment affected state aid(since some of state aid is based on enrollment), and what is the projected enrollment over the next few years? Lastly, how many students has Franklin lost over the past few years to Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School, and why are families choosing the charter school over our district schools? 
For additional information about John, or to follow up on a question, visit his Facebook page ->

School Committee candidate John McCormack
School Committee candidate John McCormack

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